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Friday, March 24, 2017

frightening things are going to happen

Through the newspapers, you witnessed the seemingly inexorable rise of Chun Doo-hwan, the young general who had been the former President's favorite. You could practically see him in your mind's eye, riding in to Seoul on a tank as in a Roman triumph, swiftly appropriating the highest position in the central government. Goose bumps rose on your arms and neck. Frightening things are going to happen. The middle-aged tailor used to tease you: "You're cozying up with that newspaper like it's your new beau, Miss Lim. What a thing it is to be young, and be able to read such fine print without glasses."
-Han Kang, Human Acts




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Story of My Teeth and A Bit About Suspenders


My luck was without equal, my life was a poem, and I was certain that one day, someone was going to write the beautiful tale of my dental autobiography. End of story. - Valeria Luiselli, The Story of My Teeth

I had a great idea in the shower, which is where all great ideas come from. The idea of the burrito almost certainly happened in the shower, for example. Lunchables? Total shower idea. I have it on good authority that George Foreman himself was in the shower when he imagined the first prototype for the grill that he totally invented and was not just hired to be the spokesman for. Why do you think there were the Dark Ages? No bathing. Sir Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further than others, it is from standing (in the shower) on the shoulders of giants."

Newton was into some pretty wild stuff.

Anyway, the idea was this: I should do a podcast. Here's what I imagined. I would bring on one or two friends to discuss both the book and whatever astute ground-breaking savagery I laid down in the post. I'd have them read the post out loud, and then we'd use that as a launching point. Like a real book club and not just a pity-followed Facebook page and a rarely-clicked-on website. I know, you guys, that everyone has a podcast now. I also imagine that this is being done elsewhere and nobody is listening. But hear me out. It would be fun to talk to my friends about books and a podcast would be a good excuse.

The thing that got me the most excited was when I have a friend on, the first thing I could ask them is their version of how we got to be friends (or enemies, they're invited too). The more I thought about this the more I wanted to listen to it. I am both fascinated and terrified to know what people think of me, and especially how my account of our meeting and friendship came about differs from theirs. Obviously they probably wouldn't, you know, just let me have it and air grievances, but I bet they have terrible stories about me that I've completely forgotten. "What's the dumbest thing you remember me doing?" I'd ask them.

I love the literary technique of the unreliable narrator. Someone who is telling you their story, but who is not necessarily trustworthy, because that's all of us all of the time. Even when we do our best, we are all unreliable narrators. According to Wikipedia, there are five major types of unreliable narrators, and also "according to Wikipedia" is pretty meta when you think about it considering what we're talking about here.

Anyway, here you go:




The Pícaro
a narrator who is characterized by exaggeration and bragging, the first example probably being the soldier in Plautus's comedy Miles Gloriosus. Examples in modern literature are Moll FlandersSimplicius Simplicissimus or Felix Krull.
The Madman
a narrator who is either only experiencing mental defense mechanisms, such as (post-traumatic) dissociation and self-alienation, or severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or paranoia. Examples include Franz Kafka's self-alienating narrators, Noir fiction and Hardboiled fiction's "tough" (cynical) narrator who unreliably describes his own emotions, Barbara Covett in Notes on a Scandal, and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
The Clown
a narrator who does not take narrations seriously and consciously plays with conventions, truth, and the reader's expectations. Examples of the type include Tristram Shandy and Bras Cubas.
The Naïf
a narrator whose perception is immature or limited through their point of view. Examples of naïves include Huckleberry FinnHolden Caulfield and Forrest Gump.
The Liar
a mature narrator of sound cognition who deliberately misrepresents themselves, often to obscure their unseemly or discreditable past conduct. John Dowell in Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier exemplifies this kind of narrator.
Wikipedia


In other words, unreliable narrator, thy name is Howie.

If I were able to fully divorce myself from the inherent bias of being me, I imagine I could find examples of each of these situations here on the figurative pages of Howie's Book Club (editor: when these are published in book form, please change this to "literal," thank you. Also, I'm sorry that your career has led you to this point), not to mention sundry Facebook status updates and Instagram posts. When one is writing a biography, the journals of one's subject are valuable, but it would be irresponsible to publish something as history without at least a secondary source.

I want to take people by the lapels, if they are wearing them (and if they aren't, ask "why not?"), and just seriously say to them in a way that is somehow neither creepy nor distressing, "What do you remember about that time when I wore a plastic bowtie and suspenders as the singer in a band that played a Tool song during a high school assembly?" And, the much more crucial question, the one that haunts me to this day, is this: "What was your reaction when we did the exact same song at the next assembly because the guy who was supposed to sing a Rage Against the Machine song didn't show up and my friends convinced me that it was a good idea to just, like, do that other one again?"

I have very clear memories of these events. But are they the true memories? Here's what I do know: I was not then and am not now a good singer. In order to make it through, I employed a very 90's tactic of shouting the higher notes into a megaphone because I couldn't dream of matching Maynard James Keenan's range. Also, and I know I brought this up but it bears repeating, I wore a plastic bow-tie and suspenders, my "uniform" from my job at the movie theater. You will see them pictured below in a photo I took this last Halloween while rummaging through some old stuff.

Floyd, I'm running you out of town if you don't put that cell phone down
I worry that there is still video of these events. In the meantime, I pray for the day when some nerd somewhere declares that all VHS tapes have degraded to the point of uselessness. Only then can I relax. These events are some of a handful that prevent me from ever running for office.

Well, as Valeria Luiselli says in The Story of My Teeth, "The most important thing in this life, Master Oklahoma used to say at the end of each session, is to have a destiny." So, with the assumption that I will have at some point accomplished great things, and that a historian will be poring over these pages (figurative or literal), I implore you, historians, to get it right. Find those people who were in the audience that day. Publish what they said about me, however harsh. Tell that entire story. Just wait until I'm dead first.
Demented is the man who is always clenching his teeth on that solid, immutable block of stone that is the past.
Ok, I get it, book. I'm moving on. To the present! I read the aforementioned book, and again, the title of said book is The Story of My Teeth. It sounds like a very metaphorical title, the kind that you will puzzle over later to figure out what it means and why, but in this case it literally is the story of a man's teeth. Or, to be more precise, the story of Marilyn Monroe's teeth transplanted into a man's mouth. Yes. It is that kind of story.

Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, aka Highway, narrates a bizarre, meandering tale that at its roots is not a fantastical story. But Highway learned how to auction, and the key to auction is to tell fantastical stories about everyday objects, so it's no surprise that his own tale would take on such mythical proportions. "I wasn't just a lowly seller of objects but, first and foremost, a lover and collector of good stories, which is the only honest way of modifying the value of an object." The story is set in a Mexico City suburb, and we watch as Highway spins stories about the objects he sells, their stories imbuing value to otherwise worthless things. Let's be clear, these stories are completely made up, and yet darnit if we don't see why someone would pay handsomely for the objects in which they are rooted.

It's almost like this whole book is an argument for the value of fiction. Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, you see, isn't actually a real person. He didn't live on this Earth, but in the back of the book we see photos of his house and a handful of key locations that were dear to him for one reason or another. The photos are real, albeit of mundane real-life locations. But after going along with Highway, they take on value beyond the subjects they portray. If Luiselli were to auction the photos after the success of her novel, I wouldn't be surprised to see them sell for surprising amounts.

I've never knowingly misled anyone in this blog, but I will admit that for a huge amount of my life I thought that the word "misled" was pronounced my-zelled. That was my reality. Is it important that my interpretation of reality differed from literally everyone else on earth's? Yes. It makes me an unreliable narrator. No matter how hard I try to get the facts right, it's all coming from what is, let's face it, only a mediocre memory from a very distinct viewpoint. My only hope is that it still makes for an interesting story.

What I'm saying is that the bidding for these suspenders starts at $800. Who would like to get the ball rolling before the podcast blows up and makes them priceless?



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Fever Dream and That One Moment When Everything Changes

Part of my method when I write these posts is to look up some quotes from the book to structure the thing around. I usually go to Goodreads for this, though this exposes me to the toxic strains of ignorance and big-word blatherance that one only finds in communities of English majors without jobs. They seem to subsist almost exclusively on free books that they receive because they've written so many reviews on a website that profits handsomely from the free content their users provide in exchange for nothing beyond that oh so tempting specter known as "exposure." Also known as the model for the entire internet in 2017.

I went through this meat-grinder for a few years as a young college student with creative writing stars in my eyes and single dollars in my pocket every day to exchange for the one daily corn dog for lunch that my budget allowed. I changed majors for two reasons: the first was that I realized that there wasn't a job at the other end of a creative writing bachelor's degree and I found myself in constant fear of graduating and applying for the same jobs I was applying for before spending thousands of dollars and hours at school.

The second was that I started to hate reading and writing. During those years I was trained not to read the book for the story or characters or to find out who, if anyone, really done it. The point of reading instead was to decipher the subtext. What was the author really trying to say, we asked ourselves, knowing full well that often what the author was trying to say was this: "I don't know what's going on. Do you? Anyway here's a story about a girl detective and her sarcastic dragon, Duncanarian."

Actually it didn't matter what the author was really trying to say, it's what lessons we could get from it anyway. Part of the appeal of being a writer is to have your words live on in perpetuity after your death, I imagine. But I also think it would be weird for people to be pulling out all of these analogies about socialism from your lighthearted romp through the magical faerie land of Tanverkan one hundred years after you thought up the characters in high school.

Does this sound familiar because it happens here every week on Wednesday's, usually around 10 AM unless I forgot to post it. The logical leaps I've taken to try to rope a poor, unassuming book into a rambling story about me or a tangential political statement do not come easily. You need to sit in a lot of college classrooms to pull of that kind of literary derring-do, believe me. You think Margaret Atwood thought when she wrote Stone Mattress, "Gee, I hope someone figures out a way to tie this to the acquisition and collection of old video games."? I hope so, honestly. She would be so excited to find this blog (until she reads my other posts).

It took nearly a decade before I could read for fun. It took longer still before I could let myself write just because it feels good to write, regardless of who is reading (which is nice because hardly anyone is). Writing these posts really is like play for me. I'm super stoked and eternally grateful when I find out that any of you have read it, but here is the honest truth: if I were writing in order to gain and retain readers I would have given up years ago.

I don't blame this on my professors, by the way. They were almost universally awesome and very encouraging. In a lot of ways I flourished in that program. What I had to force myself to admit, though, was that I didn't love reading and writing as much as I needed to in order to finish that degree and attempt to carve out a life as a professional writer. In that sense it was a complete success, in that it forced me to reconsider and find myself in a job and profession that provides a great deal of satisfaction and thank goodness for that. Also, the critical thinking and writing skills I developed in that couple of years of intensive reading and writing still benefit me on a regular basis in my job.

It also introduced me to nature writing, which in turn got me interested in ecosystems. I thought that I would write creative nonfiction based on ecological systems, so when I decided to change career paths, the choice was pretty simple. Instead of writing about natural resources in order to influence others to try to fix them, I could do it myself.

What a story! So inspiring!

The funny thing is that I spent a large part of my adult life lamenting the time I wasted. I watched people my same age get master's degrees in the time it took me to get a bachelor's. As they quickly surpassed me, career-wise, I identified my failed ambitions of being a professional writer as the reason I was always perpetually behind. I was embarrassed to have been suckered by society into thinking that it was worthwhile to pursue a dream. How freaking dare I?

It's super-duper easy to blame one thing in your life on how the rest of it turned out, especially if we can blame it on someone else. We're all a bunch of Uncle Ricos secure in the knowledge that if Coach had put us in, we would have won state. Looking back on my career, I can identify times when I was given a responsibility which I misunderstood, or didn't try to get better clarification, or just plain screwed up. There were times when I was working long hours for weeks in a row in 100-degree weather and maybe my mind didn't hold up like a hundred percent of the time. Some things I just wasn't good at.

Sometimes our lives do spin around a very certain event, though, and that's the case in Samanta Schweblin's Fever Dream, a book that I read that is like nothing else I've experienced. It's a slim little volume meant to be read in one sitting. And y'all, it's deeply and profoundly terrifying. It also doesn't explain much, which in this case I find to be a positive. It feels very much like a good good Twilight Zone episode told by an expert storyteller.

I complained at length once about a book that introduced lots of questions but didn't answer them, but my issue with that was that there simply weren't answers until the 3rd book. In other words, it was one third of a story packaged as if it were a complete novel. Fever Dream is its own story and the answers are there, you just need to look for them. At no point is the scary thing directly addressed, but as we learned from last year's Stranger Things, the longer we were kept in the dark about the scary thing, the scarier it was. Only when confronted with the actual computer generated scary thing did it lose some of its foreboding.

That was one of the Goodreads complaints. The other one is that several folks said that they couldn't believe that such a thing could happen. Surely someone would step up and put a stop to it. To this I say, HA. Thank you for proving the very point I think this book is meant to make. In fact this very thing is happening all over the world on various levels. Read it and let's talk.

By the time we catch up with the main character and the strange little boy who is talking to her, the major life-changing event has happened and there is nothing that can now be done. The terror is learning the consequences. Without giving away too much, there's a very unsettling parallel to be found here beyond the scary story at hand, again, like a good Twilight Zone episode. Or just your average day on Howie's Book Club.





Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Do Not Say We Have Nothing and There's Lots of Ways This Thing Can Go Wrong


We're all having a lot of fun on the social medias comparing Donald Trump to Hitler, and by fun, I mean an existential crisis of humanity in which we want to make jokes but also we don't want to look back on our crumbling society and say "haha that was a zinger." Not that this is new. We've been comparing things to Hitler since the invention of post-Hitler things. We are all the boys who cry Hitler at this point. And by boy I don't mean we're all boys, I mean that in the story the character was the "boy who called wolf," which is a metaphor as gender neutral as your average anime character.

Second only to the Hitler comparisons is saying that we're in 1984 now. Which, come to think of it, I think I've heard that before, too. You guys, this isn't even the first time Amazon's sales of the book have "soared" after a scandal. In 2013, following news of the NSA's aggressive phone-tapping, the book broke the top 100. That's a far cry from the number 1 spot it hit this year, but also totally a thing. When people on the right and the left both use the same examples to point out how wrong their opponent is, what does that even mean anymore? It's like if the same word meant two exact opposite things.



I wrote a post about Hitler, too. I also used a picture in that post that was uncredited and it almost took down the entirety of Howie's Book Club Dot Com, The Blog. Which I'm going to go ahead and blame on Big Brother in order to tie this whole thing together.
Let's say you have a dirty job that needs doing, and this job is (again hypothetically) to root out members of a certain religion or racial group because they were deemed to be dangerous to the greater populous. Most people you and I know would not enjoy this job, as it entails separating families from their loved ones for no reason other than the border they were born within or the church they go to. Some would do it out of a feeling of duty towards their nation. Or because it's their job. Others would do it because they believe in an organized society of laws and the flaunting of said laws motivates them. But there will be people who do it because they like to do it. - Me. I said that. Pretty good, huh?
In that post I do the same thing that keeps happening all over the world wide web, which is pointing out parallels between that horrible, horrible person and today's current political climate. There are definitely some pretty interesting and worrisome comparisons to be made. But here's why I'm disappointed in both myself and everyone else who keeps doing it: it's lazy.

Here's my defense: I'd just read a book about it and it would be silly not to sit and think about how it applies to the current world. That's what I think we should be doing with every book we read, period. When I read the first half of Ravensbruck, it was impossible not to think about the people who at the time were being scapegoated for our nation's problems, and conjecture about how that same mentality could apply to oppress people today. At the time these were simply campaign promises. Now, I'm pleased to say, everything is fine. Whew.

That's the whole thing, though, right? I worry that for a lot of us, our learning kind of stopped around the time when we were all reading 1984 and picking up some basic history. At 17 or whatever we were super impressionable and a couple of things really stood out. One is the pretty simple logical conditional statement: Indiana Jones is cool. Indiana Jones hates Nazis. Nazis must not be cool. Then there was the little girl with the red coat in Schindler's List. Somehow everyone but Richard Spencer got the message by then.

Universal Pictures
Most of us: crying
Richard Spencer: "cool overcoats"

The other is this: 1984 scared the pants off of us. "Man," we thought, in between making bad decisions that would haunt us well into adulthood, "I sure hope that something like this has never happened in the history of people and also I hope it doesn't happen to me in the future. I especially don't like the idea of varicose veins that sounds gross."

That's basically it, I guess. The only shared cultural touchstones we have that help us define and interpret disturbing trends in our own society are the holocaust and a book by a socialist critiquing the dangers he saw within his own movement. You know the Abraham Maslow quote, "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." These are some pretty specific tools given the multitude of ways a society can collapse.

I think 80% of the time I sit down to write one of these posts my main driving thought is that I wish everyone would just read the book I read and we could talk about it. The other 20% of the time I'm just hoping someone reads my post and tells me that it's good and by extension that I am good (haha let's be real, this is 100%). I know it's hard and that it can sometimes take as long to read a long book as it does to binge-watch a TV show and nobody you know is talking about it, but oh my gosh, you guys. There is just nothing else that compares to reading good books. But you've got to read a lot of them. That's kind of the trick.

Then, when you're watching the events of the world unfurl around you, you can say things like "Actually this is less like 1984 and more like The Handmaid's Tale," and sound like a big ol' pedantic douche. When discussions tend towards the United States never being more divided, you can say, in your most mansplainy voice "Actually, if you read News of the World, you'd see that post-Civil War United States was a pretty crazy time and place, too, and somehow we survived it." Really, all you need to do is say, "If you read Howie's Book Club Dot Com, The Blog, you'll see that there are lots and lots of books out there and every one of them can be related to either a story from one guy's life or a major political talking point in one way or another." And doggone it, you'd be right.

For example, Madeleine Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a beautiful and moving and downright terrifying book. Holy cats, you guys, it's scary. And this is going to blow you away, but even though it's about China in the 60's there are things about it that we should really know about today. Is it readily applicable to everything we are reading in the news? Some of it is. But what's scary to me is the parts that aren't -- yet (thunder rumbles).

A few weeks ago I wrote a very rambling, very political piece about the state of one political party in comparison to The White Tiger. I almost didn't post it so predictably it became one of my most-clicked posts. Here's what I said to my Republican brothers and sisters in that post, I said, "Anyway, I don't know if any of you are reading this, but conservatives: y'all party's gone off the ever-loving rails." I feel like I backed that up with some real-ass science mixed with my trademark self-effacing gentle humor, but I understand that it takes some pretty selective reading of the news to think that this isn't happening on both sides. Luckily, selective reading seems to be the only thing any of us are good at these days.

In The White Tiger we see modern India as a corrupt plutocracy masquerading as a democracy. At my most cynical it feels like my beloved country is on that path. It feels like -- and stop me if this seems crazy -- it's being run by billionaires who live in literal gold penthouses who pretend to care about the average working person just long enough to take them on a bus to the polls before going back to adding more gold layers to more penthouses. Like if the only way to win is to cheat, then cheating becomes not unethical, but necessary. And then we find ourselves praising a cheater for being the cheatingest billionaire and therefore the best leader for a party previously obsessed with personal achievement that currently really just cares about how much you've inherited.

Anyway it's a good thing I got that out of my system in that post and that clearly none of it is still hanging out back there in my mind like so many Republicans who quietly object to the direction their party has gone. But don't want to admit it because they don't want to ruin their careers. Or because it would make their bishop sad. Free of bitterness, that's me. Super excited about the future.

Guess what, though, Democrats have every bit of potential to be the crazy ones. A lot of folks think that they already are. Right leaning news sources spend all day reminding everyone that there's an Obama or Clinton version of everything Donald Trump is trying to do now. Privatizing prisons? That's a big Clinton thing. The prison-industrial complex has donkey signatures all over it. Bill Clinton admitted that his 1994 Crime Bill (including the three strikes rule), "...wound up...putting so many people in prison that there wasn't enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out so they could live productive lives." What about the mass deportations you see me freaking out about on Facebook? Well that's an easy one.

A lot of my liberal friends are pulling their hair out at executive orders that they disagree with, but praised the same law-making tool when they thought it was the only way to help suffering people in spite of an obstructionist congress. If Obama had spent some of his time reducing the power of the Executive Branch instead of increasing it while he was in office, we wouldn't be looking at an uneducated, inexperienced old man signing documents willy-nilly, now would we? So instead of, like, real laws, we get stuff like a Department of Education rule that gave transgender kids eight months of freedom to make their own decisions before losing it again. I suppose the administration thought for sure that there would be another Democrat in office and a nice down ballot majority to solidify it down the road, but alas and alack, you guys. Alas and alack.

I think Bernie Sanders is a neat guy, I do. His consistency is something we don't see often in politics. He has an ideological purity that honestly could only survive in Vermont, but it's laudable. I wouldn't have minded seeing him in the White House. The things I saw his supporters say, though, especially here on this sacred internet, generate concern. Cult of Personality isn't just a cool Living Colour song. We can't hold that kind of reverence for anyone in power. Let's say Bernie won, and he was everything his supporters wanted him to be. Dude would be hard-pressed to get many if not any of his promises through even a Democratic majority congress.  That kind of change would put an enormous amount of power in one branch of government, it just would have to. "Well," you say. "It takes drastic measures to do what's right."

I'm trying to be nice here, but that's the kind of thinking that put Donald Trump in office. "Right" means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

I don't think we're supposed to love our leaders. I've been doing a lot of soul-searching about my blindness to some of the directions my country headed under the Obama administration. I think he's a very charismatic and funny guy. He seems like a great dad and husband. He seemed sober and professional. But it was wrong to let that cloud my vision and see his administration through a lens of optimism. I accept that many of his decisions came from pragmatism gained when you start to see all of the little ways we're in danger every day that most of us are completely unaware of, but I still dislike a lot of things that happened. When we say about a leader "I would follow that person anywhere," we're giving ourselves permission to do some nasty stuff and blame someone else for it. That just doesn't fly and it never will. I'm looking at you when I say this, ICE agents.

In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, the story moves back and forth between Marie, a young girl in modern Vancouver meeting Ai-Ming, a woman fleeing China after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and their fathers, who lived through the Cultural Revolution in the 60s. Marie and Ai-Ming's fathers were friends decades prior. Marie's father Kai was a brilliant pianist, and Ai-Ming's father Sparrow, a composer. What follows is a history of the brutal and horrifying impact of Chairman Mao's crackdown on university professors, musicians, artists, authors -- anyone representing the bourgeois corruption in institutions and government -- and later, the same government's crackdown on protesting college students.

On the one hand, we see that stuff happening now. Right-wing news sources and the politicians whose talking points they provide obsess about how universities are liberalizing our poor impressionable youth while somehow at the same time protecting our resilient strong youth who can definitely handle life without trigger warnings. Elitism is bad now, even though elite used to mean good. Elite, by definition, means the best of anything considered collectively. But it also means smarty-pants professors who are out of touch with "real" Americans. (In this case "real" makes as much sense as the "real" in The Real Ghostbusters.)

But also most American universities are pretty rough places for conservative kids. I get that. I went to school in one of the most conservative counties in the United State and still I felt bad for the Young Republicans club. Mostly because they wore suits to school.

There's a rap group I like quite a bit, and one of their members is a really smart interesting dude who calls himself Killer Mike. He raps lyrics like, "A revolutionary bangin' on my adversaries/And I love Dr. King but violence might be necessary/Cause when you live on MLK and it gets very scary/You might have to pull your AK, send one to the cemetery." Now we get that it's rap and it's going to be incendiary and that this is a kind of poetry putting words to the voiceless. You and I get that. Also, we get that the song rules. That being said, American universities regularly invite Killer Mike to speak without protest. I think that's great. He's got interesting things to say.


Some of his lyrics, though (and let's be honest, it's a lot of his lyrics), could be easily interpreted as advocating violence against police officers. That's a real thing. Police officers are killed by people in the communities where they work. I'm not making that up. I understand that according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, it's safer to be a police officer than ever before. That statistic doesn't mean much if it's your husband, wife, mother, or father who was killed. This isn't a blue lives matter post and I'm not discounting the radical notion that police officers who break the law or use their power abusively should be punished by law. All I'm saying is that one could point to lyrics that say, "When you (blanks) gon' unite and kill the police?" is not something that a family member of a police officer would get excited about, even if Mike's own father was a police officer.

                                                            Mass Appeal
This video has bad words in it. It also has a complex social message that requires nuance, something that we don't have a lot of patience for these days

When the conservative club at New York University invited Gavin McInnes to speak at New York University, it was probably because they feel like they can't speak up, like they have to keep their beliefs a secret. It makes them sad and maybe they can't get dates. So they thought it would be funny to make their fellow students angry and get some headlines. It worked. He was protested and 11 people were arrested.

Yeah, he carried his own baggage with him. He's a British comedian who regularly appears on conservative talk radio. He has said that feminism "has made women less happy," and wrote an article titled "Transphobia is Perfectly Natural." He called Trump's Muslim ban "brash and bold, but it's also what we need in this day and age." I don't agree with any of that. Hopefully I've been on the record multiple times saying that all of those things are bad. I think that his statements regarding the trans and muslim communities could lead to violence against people in extremely vulnerable groups. There's a lot to be said about the debate over what "free speech" really means. That's not what this is about. Apparently America's youth can clearly handle a message that is traditionally considered offensive as long as they agree with it politically.

Note that this protest happened just a day after the big Berkeley kerfuffle, but I don't have to give that snot waffle any more attention because this is my blog and I can do whatever the heck I want on it.

Where are we at here? There are some pretty good discussions to be had defending profane rap music. Generally fans (and research) dismiss the idea that rap lyrics cause crimes. 
Rap fans would also point out the double standard that brings their genre more scrutiny than other styles. Rock-and-roll history is full of sexist, predatory lyrics, including those that use the “p word” and the “b word.” But it’s understood that rock is an art form for fantasy and exaggeration, a distinction that isn’t always afforded rap, long a scapegoat for those looking to blame social problems on the cultural output of people trying to survive those very problems. - The Bizarre Attempt to Excuse Donald Trump's Misogyny With Racy Lyrics, The Atlantic
Ugh, I set out specifically not to get into this free speech thing and here I am. I just deleted like 8 paragraphs, and I NEVER delete paragraphs. This is why I'm not a good writer, by the way. Here's what I think: we want Killer Mike on campuses because he represents a group that historically has not had a say as a voice of a community. A community of people who have finally found a way for their plight to be spread beyond their neighborhoods and into the ears of the people who actually have power. That this vehicle is couched in offensive language and the kind of lyrics that bloggers delight in surrounding with scare quotes is what makes it resonate with the people for whom it speaks.

What we don't need more of is another representative of the ruling class reaffirming the institutions and philosophies that have lead to centuries (at least) of oppression. College campuses have plenty of white men saying that feminism actually makes women sad. It has plenty of people in power who would very much like to stay in power who will tell us that these voices are actually divisive when in real life they're asking for inclusivity. The reason, perhaps, why universities invite traditionally ignored voices is to counter the samey-same vanilla message in suburban white communities that invented segregation and still has the gall to call it the "good old days."

The last thing we need is an avatar of The Man "telling it like it is." People keep railing on about political correctness, but politically correct is the status quo, and always will be. What these guys call PC culture is actually the tip of the spear of a more inclusive world. Every time a privileged man or woman wants to go to a college campus and tell them that gay people talk silly and that black women are best as sassy sidekicks they aren't blowing anyone's minds because we've been hearing that our whole life. They are mad that the world is changing and that they are going to die and they want to scream that in the faces of the young, hopeful, and beautiful and say "This is not how it was when I was young and that's bad." Much brave. Many edgy. Wow.

I'm glad that young people are standing up for themselves, even if it's clumsy sometimes. In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, though, we see the scary, scary extreme. See, the revolutionaries from the 20's who incited revolts and murder against landowners and encouraged neighbors to inform on one another were rewarded with status and power and sent their kids to the best schools. The next generation didn't have much interest in their heroics, however, and only saw a new elite. They saw kids their age training to be artists and musicians and poets while they themselves worked in factories and farms. They were probably already mad, but then their great leader (who himself grew up wealthy) gave them a reason to do something about it, and they followed enthusiastically.
She wanted to tell him that whatever happened, whatever they chose, one day they would have to come awake, everyone would have to stand up and confront themselves and realize that it wasn’t the Party that made them do it. One day, they would be alone with their actions.
Mao used the young to perpetuate his Cultural Revolution, and for 10 years, they sure did. He encouraged college-aged kids to join the Red Guard, and told the police and military to leave them alone. The Red Guard got whipped up into a socialist frenzy and started denouncing all of their professors. Many were sent to work camps. There were beatings, humiliations, and then public executions. This didn't just apply to the teachers and professors, though, but also the students. China's cities were in chaos. Musicians were sent to factories, artists to farms, and many professors were beaten to death in the streets. An entire generation of college-aged kids actively prevented each other from attending college, creating a generation of adults without jobs who later watched their children thrive with the education they were denied. A crashed economy. A gaping whole where achievement should have been.
Zhuli had overheard her mother saying that the bodies of those who died in the desert camps were left to decompose in the sand dunes. Scientists and teachers, longtime Party members, doctors, soldiers, paper-pushers and engineers, more than enough to build a better China in the underworld.
Here's the thing. There are lots of authoritarian governments, and to assume that there are just two ways for them to come to be is ignorant. That's why we need to read more books. Don't just study Hitler. Don't just read the one book you read in high school. Read more histories. Read more stories. Otherwise, we end up with some pretty silly opinions.

Do you remember when Susan Sarandon said "People feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately, if he gets in then things will really explode."? Can you imagine a whiter thing to say?
They had never been targeted and so, deep in their bones, did not believe they could be. They were free because, in their minds, they persisted in believing they were. Maybe they were right but Zhuli felt as if she were watching an oil drum that was about to explode.
In this revolution that she wants so badly, is there a guarantee that "Hollywood elites" aren't a target? Will the angry members of an oppressed class look at her $3 million dollar NYC penthouse and says, "well she was always a tireless supporter of liberal causes so she's fine." Maybe. But what about the people who suffer in this "revolution" that she's so excited about? You know who I didn't hear saying that they hope Trump wins so that they can get this revolution started already? Muslims. Immigrants (documented or otherwise). Men and women of color. LGBTQ+ people. They've seen this story already. They know who ends up on the front lines. They know who will get chased around by abusive men who threaten to "cut them" if they call 911, and it's not the liberal rich white woman. It's the gay couple in Miami being told "You live in Trump Country now."

This is the thought I kept having while reading this book: This crap can come from anywhere. Left, right, military, religious leaders, etc. China was around for tens of thousands of years of unbroken China-ness. They were just China-ing the heck out of it. We've got nothing on them, history-wise. And things went super south and they went super south again in 1989 when hundreds of unarmed protesters were killed. We think because we produce the fastest swimmers or the best basketball players or the coolest movies that somehow we're untouchable and I'm sorry but that's just a bunch of nonsense. Lists of the warning signs of dictators are easy to share and extremely easy to tailor to your own viewpoint, but they are also overly simplistic and don't cover all the bases. This is what happens when your only source of the state of things is from reactionary headlines and Facebook posts. Read books. Get some context in there.

I love millennials. I'm so excited about them. I'm so excited about their passion and I read that they have a favorable view towards socialism while simultaneously not understanding what it means and I don't freak out. They mean like the hip Scandinavian socialism that means free school and healthcare and very pretty girls.

Here's Bernie Sanders' definition:
In terms of socialism, I think there is a lot to be learned from Scandinavia and from some of the work, very good work that people have done in Europe. In countries like Finland, Norway, Denmark, poverty has almost been eliminated. All people have health care as a right of citizenship. College education is available to all people, regardless of income, virtually free. I have been very aggressive in trying to move to sustainable energy. They have a lot of political participation, high voter turnouts. I think there is a lot to be learned from countries that have created more egalitarian societies than has the United States of America. - 14 Things Bernie Sanders Has Said About Socialism, Politico
They grew up seeing Fidel Castro as a pretty cool guy who hung out with the dude on the Rage Against the Machine shirts. Not, like, the despot.
It began with mass summary executions of Batista officials and soon progressed to internment of thousands of gay men and lesbians; systematic, block-by-block surveillance of the entire citizenry; repeated purges, complete with show trials and executions, of the ruling party; and punishment for dissident artists, writers and journalists. - Fidel Castro's Terrible Legacy, Washington Post
According to that first article, though, it's been a pretty common trend that each generation looks fondly on big government while they benefit from it, but start to frown at it when they foot the bill. Cool, cool. That kind of generational mix makes for an interesting dynamic. I'm all about listening. I just don't want to see those arm-bands come out. I'm watching all y'all.

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Hey Howie I reject your straw man argument