Saturday, November 10, 2007

Literary Travesties

Why did no one tell me that the Mitchell estate had commissioned another GWTW book? I had to find out on the streets. In a grocery store. Since I was not forewarned, I had to pick it up and look at it, to establish what it was.

I feel so dirty.

I came home and googled it, and it looks as if a 'real' writer got the job this time... but it's a man. And not just a man, but a man who had, in fact, never read the original before he was hired.

Sigh. Facepalm.

Firstly, no one should ever have tried writing an authorised sequel/prequel or anything else. Unauthorised? Fine. Make with the fanfic, paid and otherwise. But slapping a label on it and calling it the "authorised" companion book doesn't mean a damn thing; it is NOT Margaret Mitchell. I view Ripley's "Scarlett" as very expensive (and not very well written) fanfic. This new book is just very expensive, slightly better written fanfic. "Gone With the Wind" is a classic piece of American literature; it may be THE "Great American Novel." So... if the idea is to pay someone to render up well written fanfic on the subject... perhaps the best start might have been to hire someone who, erm... knew and loved the book? Not just the period, but the book itself, and its characters?

Of course, it might be harder to find willing participant writers among the book's fanbase- since most of them (like myself) are a) satisfied with the book's original ending, and b)view Margaret Mitchell as something of a literary deity and personal saint. Walk a mile in those writerly slippers? No, thank you. I lack for sufficient hubris.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Genesis, the Program!

Dunno how long this has been around, but I just stumbled across it tonight. Genesis, the computer program! Warning, it's kind of long. But hysterical. Spew warning, beverage advisory, whatever, just don't spray your monitor when you laugh.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Clovis First is the new Flat Earth

This one's for my prehistory/anthro loving pals. It's a link to the board I lurk on regularly- Hall of Ma'at, a board which is largely responsible for my decision to take so many anthro classes this year. (I'm still dithering between a Humanities or Anthro major.) Anyway... some great pictures of microwear analyses at Pedra Furada.,464743,464743#msg-464743

Sunday, September 09, 2007

miscellaneous musings

Nothing much here, just wanted to share some linkage:

There's a movement afoot to reopen the authorship question. The petition is signed by a number of people I respect and admire, and the declaration is a beautifully worded, short explanation of why the doubts remain. I encourage anyone who reads Shakespeare to check it out. (Okay, I encourage EVERYONE to check it out.) It's a well-made site, with a functional, realistic goal: making the Authorship Question academically viable, and reopening intellectual discussion of the issue. It doesn't purport to identify the writer (Though I'm a De Vere enthusiast) merely to make the debate available.

I stumbled over a great first-person account of what it's like to have Asperger's Syndrome, and thought some of you might enjoy the read.

After reading evilbearhunter's recent linguistics post, I decided to see if anything else had come out about Piraha. (This is that language I mentioned a while ago- the one without numbers, creation myths, and recursion.) I found a fascinating article about the folks who've been studying the people and their language. It focuses a great deal on the thoughts of the researchers, on their personal lives- but that only serves to make it more readable. It's a great description of the kind of work ethnologists and linguists do in describing a newfound language. (And it manages to discuss the issues without resorting to Chomskyan dry techspeak . This is a very good thing! I don't dispute the validity of Universal Grammar as a theory- I just wish to heaven Noam was a better writer. I have this sneaking suspicion that most people who love Chomsky have never tried to actually read him.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Disarmed Populace = Sitting Ducks

Right now, the shrinks and the talking heads are formulating their questions: Who bears responsibility for the massacre? Why did it happen? What can we do to make sure it never happens again? They'll talk about the killer's emotional state, they'll talk about the "Gun Culture" and the dangers inherent to violent videogames and Tarantino movies.

It's all sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing. The Boomtown Rats had it right twentysome years ago: 'You can see no reasons cause there ARE no reasons.' Furthermore? I don't give a flying fig newton for what the shooter thought or felt. Why? Because I don't think EVIL can ever really be comprehended by ordinary men. What matters to me is that last question, the whole "How do we ensure it doesn't happen again?"

The answer to that seems so obvious to me that I can't imagine why anyone else cannot see it. Simply put, no one has as vested an interest in your own well being as you do. Ergo, enable everyone to protect themselves, and the problem solves itself.

I'm sure it's not a new idea to anyone. But watching the news, all I can think is, "If only some of them had been armed." But no, VA Tech was a "Gun Free Zone" for the safety and security of its students. Everyone felt soo much safer after concealed carry was banned from campus, I'm sure. Right up until the shooter chained the doors, lined people up, and started mowing them down like paper targets at the gun range.

The bad guys will get weapons. There isn't a damn thing anyone can do about that; if they can't get them legally then they will get them ILLEGALLY. But bad guys don't respect "Gun Free Zones" or anything else. If you don't mind killing people then you don't mind breaking a few arbitrary rules. Hell, in the case of Gun-Free Campus rules, you RELY on them to make your murder easier to commit. ARMED people make bad victims. They don't do what you tell them to, and they have this nasty habit of SHOOTING BACK.

An armed society is not only a polite society, it is a safer society. No matter how loudly the antigun zealots protest, the logic cannot be denied: Unarmed people are just easier to murder than people who can fight back.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Global Warming Swindle

Some days I just LOVE Littlegreenfootballs. Today? Would be one of those days. I have heard nothing about the Channel Four Global Warming documentary. So I didn't get a chance to be properly upset that I haven't seen it mentioned on the news, before tripping over the whole damn thing on LGF.

It's entertaining. It's well made. And it's intelligent, informative, and incredibly daring in this time of anthropogenic global warming mass hysteria. I can't believe they were brave enough to air this in Britain.

I am not going to argue the issue with anyone else ever again. Henceforth, when someone annoys me with their ignorance or cites AlGore at me... I'm just going to send them a copy. No more debate, just "Here, go watch this and leave me alone."

Hmm. Wonder if I can get a copy into Gore's own hot little hands?

Anyway- Watch. Learn. Understand the myriad ways in which you have been deceived.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Great Reagan Speech

I can't believe I'd never seen this bit before. But it is surprisingly relevant, even now. Damn, but I love this man. Damn, but I do miss him.

Tipping my hat to The Anchoress and Cuanas for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Never too late to learn

I left school six weeks before my high school graduation. In the intervening years, I have gotten my diploma and am no longer stigmatised as a "dropout." But the sensation of intellectual inferiority remains. I frequently encounter "holes" in my public school education. (This, despite having received what JCPS called an Advanced Program education from the third grade to the twelfth.) I learned more about US history doing genealogy research in adulthood than I had ever learned in school. (Aside from "Wash Ad Jeff Mad Mo Ad Jack Van Har Ty..." I learned nothing of our presidents. I'd have been hard pressed to discuss with certainty anything that occurred after the Civil War. And we can thank my grandfather for my familiarity with that period- not my teachers.) I learned my meager math skills calculating change and tips in my first few jobs.

That is not to say that I am stupid. Far from it; I consider myself relatively bright, and fairly well educated on a number of subjects. I read extensively, and have perseverating interests in a broad variety of topics that permit me to bore my friends and relations on a regular basis. But those holes, they remain. And I trip over them all too often.

One of the areas of confusion for me has always been earth history/geology. I did not take classes in the subject. Back in elementary school, I recall cutting apart a map and gluing together Pangaea for an assignment; that was my first and last childhood exposure to continental drift or plate tectonics. Later, I would have half a semester of "earth science"- which nicely informed me that some rocks form from molten lava, some from smushed sediment, and some from alterations of the first two. That's pretty much all I took away from that class.

But I don't live in a vacuum. I read, I watch Tv. I talk to people with better academic backgrounds than my own. And so I understood, academically, at least, the idea that continents had once been united. But I didn't really comprehend it. I'd often wondered "but what about what was under the water? How does Pangaea relate to that? What topological features would have existed there? If earth is a sphere of rock, floating on a molten core, where does continental drift come in? Where would the LAND go? Where did all that land at the bottom of the oceans come from?"

Only I was much too ashamed to ask for an explanation. I am allergic to looking stupid.

Bear with me. Y'all had the benefit of learning this stuff in school; I didn't.

So I am all excited to say that, as of an hour ago this morning, I get it! I have a mental picture for the formation of seafloor. (But I still want to know what Pangaea's seafloor would have looked like.)

Lovely, lovely website.

It's like the science textbook I never had. I bookmarked it, and plan to read much more. But the best thing so far?

Have a look-see at that. Nifty animations that show how it all works! I can't wait to show this to my children.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Copyright Law

I wrote a letter to some newspapers recently, and I think it might be enjoyed over here. So I thought I'd post it. I babble rather too long, about a subject that bores too many people, so it probably won't make print. But here goes:

I just put a book in the mail again. It's my tattered sixteenth printing of Lucile Morrison's "Lost Queen of Egypt." This book has been out of print for decades, and I loan it to at least two or three new readers every year. It's not a spectacularly important book, just a once-popular piece of young adult fiction published in the 1930's. It contains no great governmental secrets or dangerous ideas. Walt Disney has not seen fit to make a movie out of it. Simply put, the book is no threat to anyone. It is not making any money for any publisher. And it is firmly out of reach of the public domain, thanks to the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension of 1988. It will continue to be so, as long as the nice folks at the Walt Disney Company keep paying our congressmen for eternal copyright on the installment plan.

I love this book. But no school library is going to carry it today, as they did when I was growing up in the seventies. They cannot afford it. No sixth grade girl is going to stumble over a copy, discover Ancient Egypt and fall in love with the Amarna Period, as I did, unless a collector puts the book into their hands.

"Lost Queen of Egypt" was due to enter public domain concurrent with Disney's "Steamboat Willie" cartoon. This unfortunate coincidence, coupled with the heavy lobbying of our lawmakers by Disney and its subsidiaries, will keep this book forever out of the reach of its target audience. This would be a terrible thing in its own right. But Morrison's book is merely one of thousands of pieces of media essentially locked up, locked away, by this misguided piece of legislation. Right now, as I write this, there are early twentieth century newsreels and films, relics of our national history, disintegrating to dust. They are unable to be restored because of their copyright situation. There are books that will never interest another publisher, which cannot be legally distributed by any means, regardless of whether an audience exists for them.

The public needs to be made aware of the manner in which our rights in the public domain have been stolen from us. Were Walt Disney alive today, he could not legally create his "Steamboat Willie" cartoon, because that cartoon itself was a derivative of Buster Keaton's "Steamboat Bill" movie. The Disney corporation has ensured, through their deep pockets and legalized bribery, that no creator of new content is able to do to them, what Walt himself did to the Brothers Grim and Buster Keaton.

We as a culture are poorer for it.

The copyright issues facing this country are not about property rights. They're not about "theft" or "piracy" or any of the other buzzwords the RIAA, MPAA, and the like enjoy in their thirty second soundbytes. The issue is public culture- who controls it and who benefits thereby. Right now, the only people benefiting are those with enough money to bribe the senate and the house of representatives. Our common culture is for sale, and big business is buying. Congress is having a bargain basement fire sale of our intellectual liberties while we sit around arguing over who got a low-quality digital copy of this week's number one bubblegum pop tune without paying for it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Altering our children for convenience

I'll be honest. I'm an opinionated sort of person. Rarely do I come across an ethical issue which confounds me- by and large, my innate sense of right and wrong comes through loudly, and clearly.

So when I read about the girl who will never grow up, my first instinct was horror. How could a parent do that to their child? Certainly, she'll be easier to lift, bathe, feed, and dress in the body of a six year old rather than a fully grown woman. And that might keep her at home, and out of an institution, longer. In the care of her parents, and not strangers.

I discounted the idea that keeping her from growing breasts will prevent rape; that is so much nonsense. There are scores of children the world over who've been sexually assaulted. Cutting out her uterus? Well, she wasn't going to be using it, I suppose. And that definitely won't prevent rape, but it would prevent a pregnancy. And lord knows her caretakers have enough responsibility without dealing with a future pregnancy anyway.

But it didn't sit well with me, the idea of carving off "unnecessary" bits on a human being.

But I've been thinking about it, and I find myself, if not fully endorsing, then at least Understanding, their choice. I tried putting myself in the girl's position (a decidedly uncomfortable task) and tried to imagine what it would be like.

Imagine the intellect and comprehension of an infant; or even that of a very young child. Then imagine the body undergoes puberty. What would that be like? How frightening might it become?

It's not that hard for me to imagine, actually. Precocious puberty is defined in females as early onset of menses. For me, this horror struck at age eight. It came coupled with b-cup breasts and, in short order, height greater than the tallest boys in my school. Back in the seventies, no one called this a medical disorder. You just "Bloomed Early." And the physical and psychological effects were not discussed nor commonly understood.

Today that would be a treatable disorder. Puberty may be staved off to a more developmentally desirable time. I cannot blame my mother; she did the best she could with what she knew. There was no option of stalling the clock for me. But what if there had been? Would I have been better or worse off? I might have eliminated some of the terrors of my own childhood- the embarrassment, the teasing, the unwanted male attention in gradeschool. I might not have tried to stuff my breasts into my armpits and I might not have walked slump-shouldered to appear shorter. But I cannot actually KNOW that I would have turned out any healthier, or been more welcoming of menses at a later date. I might have hated my boobs and dreaded my periods anyway. Plenty of women do.

But I think of that fear and uncertainty- the worry that I was bleeding to death. The sudden clumsiness that came with a radically altered center of gravity. The disbelief and disgust when the biological purpose behind all these changes was made clear to me. ("THAT's how you make babies? Ugh. Gross!")And I can ask myself, if that was a traumatic thing to go through as a bright, healthy third-grader- how much worse would it be for someone with the mind of a baby? To suffer the menstrual cramps and indignity each month, for no earthy reason?

This poor girl is never going to marry or become a mother. She will never have intelligence enough to consent to anything. She will remain a happy, burbling infant, but now she'll be travel-sized for her parents' convenience.

Perhaps that last was uncalled for. But it does express my own murky feelings on the subject. I understand why they did it. I can even argue their point logically. But emotionally? It doesn't sit well. It feels dirty to even think that way, to think about making those kinds of very permanent decisions for another human being, even if it were my own child.

Because I have to wonder... if it's okay to shrink your mentally disabled child so you can always lift her, how far away is it to consider altering other aspects of biology in order to make your child easier to handle? We've already got mass dopings for difficult kids. We make them sit still, make them cooperate... when will we start making them prettier? Smaller? Bigger? Thinner?

And I worry. Because if you'd asked me at age nine, I'd have agreed to anything to keep from reaching this height. I once went to my mother to ask if anyone in this country practiced feet-binding. I was hoping to prevent my own (inevitable) growth into a size eleven shoe. What if my mother had encouraged me? What if she had allowed that? Is mutilation for acceptance that much of a stretch from mutilation for accessibility?