Category Archives: Fomenting

If you start lying to your kids at a very young age, when are you going to stop?

Well, when?

I make sure my daughter (age 3) loses regularly at Candyland.  (Truth learned: you aren’t going to be a winner every time.  And – losing sucks.)

I don’t tell her she writes like Shakespeare when her little “F” looks like a mangled strand of DNA.  (Truth learned: it takes a lot of hard work to get better at something, particularly something difficult, like learning to manipulate a pencil in your chubby little 3 year old hands.)

I don’t tell her there are unicorns up in heaven with God.  (Truth learned – fairy tales are fairy tales.)

I read stories to her every night.  (Truth learned – stories don’t have to be true to be wonderful.  In fact, the best stories are the ones which aren’t true.  That’s why they’re stories.)

She knows that everyone she knows is going to die, and so is she.  (Truth learned – everyone she knows is going to die, and so is she.)

*Corollary truth: The delicious, delicious meat she eats comes from dead animals.  (Truth learned – The delicious, delicious meat she eats consists of dead pigs, cows, fish, chicken, and lambs.)

She knows the stork didn’t drop her little brother down the chimney. Mom and Dad doing the deed got that job done.  (Truth learned: Sex exists. To which she shrugs her shoulders and goes back to playing. She doesn’t give a shit. She’s 3.)

She knows Dad doesn’t know everything, and sometimes doesn’t know shit.  (Truth learned – No one knows everything.  Question everything.  Including yourself.)

I feel I will have done my job as a parent if my kids go forth into life with very, very sensitive bullshit meters.  If they’ve got that, I don’t worry about their self-esteem.  Their self-esteem will be just fine.

H/t Dead End Follies.

Screw the royals

By which I do not mean the hapless baseball franchise.  No, that archaic institution belongs in a living history museum, at best. (The king and queen, I mean. Not the Royals. Even if they do play like it sometimes.)

‘We confess to having more respect and honour for the raggedest child of the poorest labourer in Ireland today than for any, even the most virtuous, descendant of the long array of murderers, adulterers and madmen who have sat upon the throne of England.’

Although King Friday is okay, I guess.

Via China Mieville.

Why people in this country founded upon the overthrow of monarchical tyranny take any interest in the doings of these inbred winners of the genetic lottery is beyond me.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

I’m an equal-opportunity skeptic.  No religion, howsoever joyless, is more sacred than the First Amendment.  May 20, 2010, folks.  It’s Draw Mohammed Day.

Cartoon via Molly Norris.  Spotted at Idiotprogrammer.  For context on the whole kerfluffle, see this by David Itzkoff.

Note: Please ignore spelling errors … “hearby”??

Tax Day postscript: Tea Party in a public park

Thursday night is Story Time at the library.  The scionness and I drop the scionness mama off at class and now that the weather’s nicer, go to the park for half an hour or so.  There’s an orange turtle there the scionness likes to climb on.

Yesterday the part of the park by the playground had been taken over by teabaggers.  Damned if I was going to deny the scionness her date with the turtle, so we went on ahead and played anyway as crap country music (and I say this as someone that loves country – real country) blared from the speakers and a small clump of palefaces gathered to protest Tax Day.  In a public park.  Paid for by taxes.  I think it’s safe to say the irony was lost on them.

It's lost on them, too.

Not unrelatedly, 2010 likely marks the first year more minority babies than white babies will be born in the US.  The teabaggers don’t like it.  Good.  If everything goes smoothly, the scionness mama and will be doing our part to overthrow the honky hegemony come November.

As the scionness and I were betaking ourselves to the public library (paid for by you-know-what) some cowboy hat had the mike, talking about how this isn’t the country he grew up in anymore. He’s right.  It sure ain’t.

Suck it up, teabaggers

Steve Almond writes fair-to-middling short stories but he’s come up with knee-slapper of a column for Tax Day.  My favorite parts:

You dittoheads know how it works: Every April 15, millions of decent, hardworking Americans get shaken down by the IRS, whose sadistic geeks make them fill out really complicated forms, then send checks. This moolah is handed directly to welfare queens and illegal immigrants, who are required to mate in the hopes of producing a Mongrel Super Race of Criminal Freeloaders. If there’s any dough left over, it goes into the Super Secret Christian Baby Abortion Fund. …

1. Tax Day Forced Me to Get My Fiscal Shit Together

As has been clear to everyone in my life for a very long time, I am super-disorganized and (more insidiously) I am deeply invested in my disorganization, which I consider to be a cute, writerly affectation, à la Dickens, but which is really more like an excuse for being lazy and inconsiderate.

My wife, who is also a writer, helpfully pointed this out shortly after our wedding, in late March of 2006. My refusal to keep records of any kind, my blithe yen for guesstimating figures, my rakish refusal to pay estimated taxes — all these quirks, she argued, might land me in prison. “A little time in the hoosegow wouldn’t be so bad,” I said. “Think about it: lots of free time, almost no overhead.”

My wife, pregnant at the time, did not find this funny. …

2. Children, It Turns Out, Are Extremely Fragile

This hadn’t occurred to me until I had two of my own. I now spend a lot of time worrying about stuff that I never used to worry about. Such as: the quality of my drinking water and food and local public schools and parks and playgrounds and roads. And thus the notion that my taxes actually pay for things required by my fragile children has managed to burrow its way through my thick American skull. Paying a small portion of my income for these collective benefits is not only a basic civic duty, in other words, but it is in my interest.

Funnily enough, paying taxes also forced me to get my fiscal shit together.  Well, that and returning to America and having a kid and getting a job and trying to buying a house and then working on having another kid.  But also Tax Day.

The takehome: suck it up, teabaggers, and pay your taxes.

Jayber Crow and the problem of evil

This is the problem of evil:

So is this:

I think about this more than is probably healthy.  How can there be a benevolent God and such suffering still exist?  My answer is there can’t be.  A God.  When I am tempted to faith I remember these children and can go no further.

Is there a solution to the problem of evil?  The brittle contortions of philosophers fail to satisfy and science shrugs its shoulders.  Mystics ask for faith and churches ask for donations and poets preen in pretty verse.   Does nothing for the starving child stalked by a vulture, nor explain how she got there.

But Wendell Berry, speaking through the mouthpiece of the character Jayber Crow in the novel of the same name, has a stab at the ancient antimony:

Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave.  And why not otherwise?  Wouldn’t it have put fine comical expressions on the faces of the scribes and the chief priests and the soldiers if at that moment He had come down in power and glory?  Why didn’t He do it?  Why hasn’t He done it at any of the thousand good times between now and then?

I knew the answer.  I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it.  He didn’t, He hasn’t, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves.  Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then.  From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us to one another by love forever would be ended.

And so, I thought, He must forebear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures.  Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world.

Could the problem of evil be solved by beautiful literary passages, it would be done.  As it is, I remain unconvinced.  But if the problem of evil has a heavenly solution, perhaps this is it.

Kicking the habit back

It took me about 20 tries, but I managed to kick the smoking habit about 5 years ago.  (Not without the habit kicking me back – I was hacking up tarry nastiness for a good 3 months afterwards.)  I wonder if I would ever have started if there’d been ads like this staring me in the face (click the picture to enlarge):

The French says "To smoke is to be a slave to tobacco." Ain't it the truth? Tell me that those hunched figures getting frostbitten sucking on butts in the 5-degree cold outside your building aren't slaves.

Currently generating controversy in France, I think these ads are great.  They ought to run them here.  I wonder if they’d have any effect.  Who knows what the kids think is cool these days.

Even better would be a five-dollar tax.  I couldn’t have afforded to even start smoking if a pack of smokes cost me $7.

Seditious, or shrug-worthy?

This sign was right off the highway on my daily commute:


The reference is of course to Thomas Jefferson:

“The tree of Liberty needs to be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Let me preface further remarks by saying that the sign has since changed to “Don’t take yourself 2 seriously no 1 else does.”  The following comments should perhaps be taken in that light.

Anti-BHO sentiment runs high here in God’s country, that socialistic communistic Constitution-destroyin’ America-hater.  As as a First Amendment fundamentalist, I absolutely champion anyone’s right to denigrate any elected official to their heart’s content.  Lord knows they probably deserve it.  However, I do wonder if calling for the blood of said officials isn’t a bridge too far.  I mean, Dick Cheney should probably rot in a prison cell next to Henry Kissinger for war crimes and perjury and general assholery till the end of his natural life, but you don’t hear me calling for his blood.  The mark of civilization, after all, is quorum and committee, not mobs and vigilantes.  Unless it’s the British coming to tax our tea.  Then it’s revolution time.

No, what I think this sign really reflects is frustration at being out of power.  After the Dubya years, the pendulum has swung the other way and now the signowner is on the outside looking in.  (Well, he was always on the outside looking in – the fake Texan was no more a friend of the little guy than he was of the Constitution – but these days there’s no denying it.) The patriots that rallied to Dubya’s mangling of the Bill of Rights now think BHO is shredding that same document in bailing out Wall Street fatcats by the billion-dollar bucketful and trying to give kids health insurance.  Sucky feeling, ain’t it, boys?

Now, I’m not going to shill for BHO here. He may be an improvement over Dubya, but that’s hardly a headliner for the resume.  I wanted a world-historical figure who was going to seize the reins of history and lead us to a new day.  Be a leader worthy of extended metaphors.  Nope.  Not gonna happen.  Chris Hedges wrote, “those attracted to power tend to be venal mediocrities.” I have no idea who Chris Hedges is, but I think he’s probably right. BHO is no prophet that’s going to lead us to the promised land, hopeful imaginings notwithstanding.  This is America, you see.  We were never in the wilderness to begin with.

The beauty of the Constitution and the whole American system is that it is stronger than any president or mob of malcontents, however loud they scream. Hell, in this country you can publically advertise for the President’s blood, and not even get a shrug of indifference out of a highwayful of commuters.  Business goes on as usual.  Beautiful.  Nope, there’s no sedition to see here.

Snark is not enough: Green Apple Books takes on the Kindle

Planning an overnight layover in San Francisco a few years back, I asked a friend from the Bay Area what the best used bookstore in town was.

Without hesitation, he said, “Green Apple Books.”

Green Apple logSo I went there.  It’s just what you’d expect: the slightly standoffish clerks, the vast selection of Buddhist-themed tomes, the glowing Sherman Alexie recommendations.

I surrendered to that wonderful vertigo every avid reader experiences when there are too many good books to count, not enough time, and not enough money.  I walked out exhilarated with two bulging bags of used paperbacks.

So I was intrigued to see that Green Apple is mounting an anti-Kindle campaign via YouTube.

Their point, evidently, is that a Kindle will get you nowhere in a used bookstore.  Fair enough, and amusingly presented.  (Irony #1: Green Apple using electronic technology to refute the value of e-books.  Irony #2  the Kindle transforming hipster Left Coasters into the fuddy-duddy conservatives of the book world.)

Of course, Green Apple doesn’t mention that the Kindle and other e-readers have the potential to make places such as Green Apple obsolete, the recent brouhaha surrounding Amazon’s 1984-like silent zapping of 1984 notwithstanding.

E-readers have all kinds of issues to work out before that ever happens, needless to say.  But traditional bookstores can’t just void their existence with dollops of meta-snarkasm.  I, for one, hope that Green Apple and others like it find a way to adapt and survive.  But they’re going to have to do it in a world of e-readers.  I don’t know that trading on their hipster appeal is going to be enough to keep them afloat.

The videos here are Parts One and Two a planned series of ten. Stayed tuned to Green Apple’s YouTube channel and their blog for updates.

(Note: this post also appeared at TeleRead.)

The expatriate's fate escaped

Yesterday I wrote that the reason I didn’t take any Hem to Thailand with me was because it made me into a rank imitator.  Perhaps I should have re-read some more before I left:


Hem living it up at a Paris cafe with fellow ruined expatriates

You know what’s the trouble with you?  You’re an expatriate.  One of the worst type.  Haven’t you heard that?  Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing.  Not even in the newspapers … you’re an expatriate.  You’ve lost touch with the soil.  You get precious.  Fake European standards have ruined you.  You drink yourself to death.  You become obsessed with sex.  You spend all your time talking, not working.  You are an expatriate, see?  You hang around cafes.”

Maybe if I’d re-read that, from The Sun Also Rises, instead of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, I’d have reconsidered my trip, which ultimately lasted five and a half years.  Well – now safely ensconced back in America’s cold embrace and thus free of the danger of detriorating into a dithering expat – seems to me that the equivalent of the Paris cafes of the 20s are the lit blogs.  To wit, from Hem’s “A Paris Letter”:

“… loafers expending the energy that an artist puts into his creative work in talking about what they are going to do and condemning the work of all artists who have gained any degree of recognition. By talking about art they obtain the same satisfaction that the real artist does in his work.”

Except on many a lit blog, they don’t condemn, they praise to ridiculous excess.  Daisy chains of unearned affirmations. Writers writing about writers writing about writing.  Hem would not approve.  Hem also spent many an hour in the cafes of Paris.  Anyone care to sort out the moral of the story?