The Mundane At Best and the Inane at Worst

I’ve recently been making some changes around here, for the first time in a long, long time. Among the many changes was the following ‘graph, which I cut out of my “About Me” page:

I don’t social network much anymore; haven’t for some years. I know, I know — everybody and their grandma does it; you can’t fight city hall (which is now on Facebook). Whatever. Facebook, et al, cheapens the social discourse with the mundane at best and the inane at worst.

Gee, someone should write that down.

Facebook friends. I don't have them.I still don’t particularly like Facebook and all of its various incarnations and wanna-bes, etc. I still don’t know anyone who admits to actually liking Facebook, either  — at least to my face, anyway. Anyone who will say “Yeah, I like Facebook and I hangout on it everyday for several hours a day.” But I’m sure they must be out there, and their numbers are legion.

Of course I should append my statement to read “anyone in the Western world.”  I know plenty of people — nice ordinary people — in Thailand and Viet Nam, for example, who use Facebook and Whatsapp and whatnot all the time and do so happily; they don’t understand my reticence at all.

There’s a broader statement in there about East and West and their differences that I’ve remarked on before, but I digress.

The fact is most everyone, East or West, uses Facebook all the time, for ill or good — except me. I left it in 2011 and haven’t looked back. I think it was June, but I can’t be sure. But yeah, 2011. That was five years ago, so one reason I’m removing it is that I’ve made my point; it’s time to move on.

But there is a larger reason: I’m just not angry anymore. Looking back through the years on here, I realize that I was angry much of the time, and that was what drove much of my writing. Of course I was angry about lots of things —  politics, for example was a big one,  and emblematic of what’s changed about me; I find it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get worked up about the upcoming presidential election.

I just don’t care about it. Not faulting anyone who does; more power too you. But me? Don’t care. About any of it.

What’s more is, I don’t care about a lot of things that I used to care about, including a lot things I used to get angry about. It all changed when I had that stroke two-and-a-half years ago. It all sounds horribly cliché, I know. Forty-five, living abroad, seeking some meaning in life, has a life-changing event: he literally stares death in the face, descends into the belly of the beast and comes out on the other side a changed man, yadda yadda yadda.

Yuck. Double yuck. Yuck cubed. Yuck times infinity plus one.

Nevertheless, that’s what happened. I would just say I was getting older, and hence mellower, and that is certainly true at least — that I’m getting older. But I was still angry in 2013. Now, in 2016, most of those things I used to care about — politics, sports, popular culture — meh, as the kids say. Do they still? Probably not. Oh well.

But speaking of pop culture, that brings us back to Facebook. I used to get annoyed at Facebook pretty much all the time and angry much of the time. Now? If someone needs to ask me for my Facebook, as the modern vernacular goes, I’ll tell them I don’t have one; it they ask why, I’ll tell them that, too. if they want. If they don’t, that’s fine too. Either way — I don’t care.

In Which the Gecko Barks About Books

A Cub Scout Reading and Writing Merit Badge. I was never a scout -- or a Weblo *snigger* -- but if I was, I would have had this badge.A Life Less Ordinary? Check. But It’s Books and Writing That Float My Boat

I suppose I have lead a life less ordinary – not a fantastic life, or one worthy of particular note, no — not the stuff of books. But I’ve taken roads less traveled that have taken me far away from my MidWestern, suburban American roots. Such is the life of a journalist with a penchant for wanderlust, I suppose.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, when left to my own devices, two of the things I like to do are read books and write about books, which one can do anywhere. Perhaps I should have minored in journalism and majored in English back in college — fewer reporter’s notebooks and more books.

But then it’s journalism that set me on those Bobby Frost paths less traveled (a metaphor I’ve employed befor). I sometimes wonder if it was my experiences as a journalist that gave me wanderlust, or was it an inherently restless nature that was subsequently fed/exacerbated by writing gigs? I suspect the latter. Maybe it was a book that I read as an impressionable child.

*cough* Tolkien *cough*

In any event I do know – unless we assume the depressing idea of fate and predestination – that were it not for my travel experiences as a journalist — namely a month spent in China — I doubt I would have ever pursued a career in teaching ESL as a means of living abroad. Whether that continues to develop into some sort of second career, or not, remains to be seen. But if it does, it will always be an offshoot of my first career in a very direct way.

I need to find a faux pen and ink drawing of a keyboard; I think that would be a more apt symbol than ye olde feathered quill and ink. But I suppose it’s irrelevant at this point; I do what I do. And lately, in my free time, as the quadriceps tendon snafu settles down, that’s been reading and writing (but no arithmetic) — reading books and writing about books.

I don’t want to repeat myself too much though; let it suffice to say that Barking Book Reviews has gotten a lot of attention from me as of late; most recently it was to review the latest from one of my favorites: The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, by Caitlín R. Kiernan.

Consequently, Barking Book Reviews has been getting some interesting attention from without, which you can read about on my quote-unquote professional site.

As I note there, where will it lead, if anywhere? And to what end? I don’t know. But here’s to hoping it continues to be unexpected and a bit out of the ordinary.

Ceasing to Care (?) About Lance Armstrong

Where There’s Smoke, There’s …  Syringes?
Tyler’s, Floyd’s and now George’s? Is Lance Next?

And who in the world of cycling do these syringes belong to? I’ve done my best to ignore the latest doping scandal – or rather the latest episode in the ongoing scandal/soap opera that is professional drug use cycling; thank you 60 Minutes. In fact cycling was the last professional sport I actually followed to any degree or otherwise gave a damn about. But my love affair with the pro cycling tour and pro sports in general ended in 2007.

I don’t want entertainment. I want sport. Drugs and doping turn professional sports into a freakshow. I don’t want a superhuman circus. I want human athletes performing at the top of their game, not their drug dealer’s or doctor’s game. If you perform at a level you otherwise couldn’t perform by using performance enhancing drugs, well, that’s the drug, not you.

As for cycling, some people argue: why not let them all dope? Sanction it, institutionalize it and be done with it. If we’re going to go that route, maybe we should just pay chemists millions of dollars to see who can make the fastest, strongest lab rat, and call that professional sport. The pharmaceutical companies could even sponsor and field teams, and spectators could wager on the rats.

If you’re doping as a professional cyclist, what’s the difference between that and cheating by using a mechanized bicycle, for example? Either way your performance is artificially enhanced – it’s not you getting you up on the podium. I don’t want to watch the Wide World of Pharmaceuticals; I want to watch the Wide World of Sports. But if such a thing ever existed – and I’m not talking about the eponymous ABC Sports show – it is long gone.

Lance Armstrong in 2010 in Radioshack team kit. Photo courtesy Jan Jacob Mekes via Wikipedia.But What About Our Cycling Lord and Savior Lance Armstrong?

Consider that 41 out of 70 top-ten finishers in the record seven Tours de France that Lance Armstrong won have either been convicted of doping or otherwise confessed to it – more than half. If we look at those who placed second and third in each race for those years — the other podium finishers besides Lance — we see that all but one of them has been convicted or otherwise connected with doping. If we assume (and it is almost certainly true) that others doped and didn’t get caught … well, it makes the question of whether or not Armstrong doped seem academic, doesn’t it?

So I can’t get really worked up about it anymore; for me at this point it’s just mildly interesting interesting and entertaining as an  observer to watch how the story continues to unfold along with the public reactions. “Lance is a heroic saint who’s urine share’s the same chemical consistency of holy water. Of course he didn’t dope. A future saint would never dope.” verses “Lance is the spawn of Satan and a sign of the apocalypse and should be drawn and quartered at the top of L’Alpe de Huez by Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain and the ghosts of Bernard Hinault and Fausto Coppi!

Of course Lance is like … oh, I don’t know, the Jesus of the cycling world. Okay, maybe not Jesus, but certainly a hero, or at least an American one. Beats cancer, raises money and awareness to continue to fight cancer, and accomplishes what no one else has done in the world of professional cycling – a sport dominated by Europeans. In fact before Armstrong came to the fore, the only bragging rights we had in cycling was Greg LeMond.

While Armstrong divides the cycling world, he is practically next to Jesus after all in the cancer funding world, and for good reason. Not only has he raised millions for cancer research, but he has inspired a lot of cancer patients and filled them with hope. That’s no small legacy; no one can deny that.

But about this latest wrinkle in the ongoing saga that is doping and pro cycling. I refer of course to Tyler Hamilton’s appearance on 60 Minutes. I didn’t even pay attention to this at first, but since then there have been several tidbits of information that have come out of that interview or afterward that seem pretty damning to Lance Armstrong, and it seems like few outlets in either the mainstream media or the cycling press have picked up on them – some, but not as many as one would think.

The first of these is the revelation that George Hincapie testified in the U.S. federal grand jury investigation of Lance. Per the 60 Minutes voice over:

But now we’re told that Hincapie, for the first time, has told federal investigators that he and Armstrong supplied each other with the blood booster EPO and discussed having used testosterone, another banned substance, during their preparation for races.

Through his attorney, Hincapie declined to be interviewed, citing the ongoing investigation.

George_Hincapie at the Tour Of California Prologue, 2008. Photo courtesy Thomas Fanghaenel via Wikipedia.Hincapie was Armstrong’s teammate and lieutenant for all of his Tour de France assaults. Armstrong has called him a brother. Hincapie has never been tainted by scandal before and is, by all accounts, one of the nice guys in the pro peloton. He really has nothing to gain and a lot to loose, if this is true.

Tellingly, perhaps, Tyler Hamilton used to be one of those nice guys that no one ever had anything bad to say about.

Hincapie has been understandably tight-lipped since this came out. As he told the Associated Press (AP) on Sunday: “It’s just unfortunate that that’s all people want to talk about now. I’m not going to partake in any cycling-bashing. I have done everything to be the best I can be. … I want the focus on the future of the sport, what it’s done to clean itself up. I believe in cycling and want to support it.”

Then came a statement through Hincapie’s lawyer, also per the AP:

I can confirm to you that I never spoke with 60 Minutes. I have no idea where they got their information. As I’ve said in the past, I continue to be disappointed that people are talking about the past in cycling instead of the future. As for the substance of anything in the 60 Minutes story, I cannot comment on anything relating to the ongoing investigation.

Ouch. No denial of the substance or the facts regarding what 60 Minutes reported about him, merely that he didn’t talk to them himself. If it were completely false, he would have had no reason not to say otherwise, grand jury investigation or no.

As the 60 Minutes transcript states, “now we’re told” would imply a source who is obviously remaining anonymous; now we know that this wasn’t Hincapie itself. But Hincapie’s statement doesn’t give us any indication that it isn’t factually incorrect.

While this has been reported on considerably, where it’s been lacking has been in the analysis. If there was ever a time for an impassioned defense, this was it. Instead we have Hincapie hiding behind lawyerly skirts, and what he doesn’t say is truly damning; one can’t help but think that he got offered the same deal by federal prosecutors as that offered to Hamilton: agree to testify and get limited immunity from prosecution.

Of course Armstrong’s lawyers have tried to attack the credibility of 60 Minutes. “The only others with access to Hincapie’s testimony — government investigators and prosecutors — have likewise assured us that they are not the source of the information attributed by CBS to Hincapie,” Armstrong’s lawyer said in a prepared statement.

Here again, a lawyerly tactic: no one’s trying to actually deny the actual content of what 60 Minutes claims is Hincapie’s testimony to the federal grand jury, but rather cast doubt on the credibility of the reporting. It is perhaps telling, this.

And it’s a shame that nice-guy Hincapie is getting caught up in this, but then it may turn out to be a case of live by the syringe, die by the syringe. This can certainly be said of former nice-guy turned bad-guy Tyler Hamilton.

Speaking of (In) Credibility …

A notable and particularly damning fact that hasn’t been widely reported is that at one point Lance Armstrong’s lawyers approached Hamilton’s lawyer, Chris Manderson, about coordinating a mutual defense in the federal government’s ongoing investigation over doping and the federally funded U.S. Postal cycling team. As reported in VeloNews’ interveiw with Manderson today:

That spring, Manderson told VeloNews, he was approached by Armstrong’s legal team in an apparent effort to coordinate a response to the burgeoning investigation.

“Yes, I was contacted by attorneys representing Lance Armstrong,” Manderson said. “Keep in mind that everyone was being subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, and it was public information that I was Tyler Hamilton’s lawyer.”

Federal authorities had offered Hamilton limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, a deal that would be negated were he to be shown to have lied before the grand jury. Manderson said that at that point, there was little incentive to coordinate a defense with Armstrong’s legal team.

“Yes, they proposed a joint defense agreement, but I told them ‘I don’t think my client is going to be a defendant.'”

When contacted by VeloNews for a response to Manderson’s comments, Armstrong attorney and spokesman, Mark Fabiani, declined to comment.

Lance Armstrong lawyer and spokesman Mark FabianiThis is the same Fabiani that has derided Hamilton in the press since the 60 Minutes story broke, claiming that Hamilton isn’t credible. The Lance camp has even created a website, Facts4Lance.com, much of which is dedicated to discrediting Hamilton. But there is no new information here; nothing about Hamilton that erodes his credibility any further than it was back in 2009 when he got busted for doping a second time and handed an eight-year suspension from cycling.

So if Hamilton’s credibility was so awful, why approach him for a joint defense? It seems to me that someone with such injured credibility would be a liability to Lance’s defense, not an asset, if that were indeed the case.

Furthermore, Facts4Lance reads like it was written by an angry and indignant teenager. Rather than bring anything new to Lance’s defense, it just rehashes arguments that have been made before, in an angry, self indulgent tone. Even if Lance is completely innocent, this isn’t doing him any favors.

In fact, in the VeloNews article quoted above, Manderson refutes one claim cited on Facts4Lance regarding Hamilton’s credibility. As it states on Facts4Lance:

TYLER HAMILTON’S BACKROOM DEAL WITH THE GOVERNMENT

Despite his doping conviction, Hamilton retains his Olympic Gold Medal. We believe government investigators have promised Hamilton that he can keep his gold medal — even after he publicly admits to doping — as long as he implicates Lance Armstrong.

Manderson tells VeloNews this wasn’t the case, that in fact Hamilton had relinquished the medal last week.

Manderson said that no such deal existed, nor could it exist, since the federal government lacks any authority to take away an Olympic medal or to allow an athlete to keep it. Hamilton, said Manderson, had already decided to give up the medal before going public with his allegations. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and USADA both confirmed last week that Hamilton had given the medal to a USADA official.

So this particular accusation is clearly silly, and in fact only serves to question the credibility of Lance Armstrong’s position, rather than further erode Hamilton’s. One can’t help but wonder what other facts on Facts4Lance are incorrect.

So who is lying? Which side is telling the truth? Who knows? I sure don’t. I’d like to believe Lance Armstrong. I also wanted to believe Tyler Hamilton. And Floyd Landis. And all the rest.

And What Was That about the $100,000 Donation?

And if we’re going to talk about credibility, doesn’t it seem rather astoundingly incredulous that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the governing body of professional cycling, would accept a $100,000 donation from Lance Armstrong? It gets better: this donation was ostensibly for a drug testing machine, to help keep the sport clean.

This news actually broke a year ago but it seems relevant still – particularly since Armstrong’s camp wants to question everyone else’s credibility. Here is the professional body that oversees athletic competition and the people who tests its athletes, the body that is responsible for disciplining said athletes who get caught doping – here is the same professional body receiving a whopping huge donation from one of the athletes it is responsible for overseeing.

If that’s not outright illegal somehow, it is at the least a huge conflict of interest. It’s like a lobbyist making a campaign contribution to a politician. Even if it was all on the up and up – Lance is on the podium with Jesus and the Dalai Lama, after all – I find it hard to believe that neither side thought that others might find it the least bit suspicious, that no one could see the exchange of money as a conflict of interest – and yet this is exactly what UCI says. Here’s what UCI president Pat McQuaid told The (London) Telegraph newspaper last year:

“… there is no way that the UCI or its former president Hein Verbruggen could have accepted a bribe. It’s just not possible.”

“To the best of my knowledge,” continued McQuaid, “the UCI has not accepted other donations and I’d just like to clarify that there was only one donation from Lance Armstrong not two or three.

“You have to consider that at the time, in 2002, no accusations against Lance Armstrong had been made. They’ve all came up since then. We accepted the donation to help develop the sport. We didn’t think there’s a conflict of interest. It’s easy to say in hindsight what could or would have been done. You have to put yourself in the situation at the time.”

McQuaid has repeated this statement in the wake of Hamilton’s allegations. I must confess I can’t believe this for a second. I’m willing to concede that it’s entirely possible (although seemingly unlikely at this point) that the donation was made in good faith. But that it never occurred to either side, especially the UCI, that it could be viewed as a conflict of interest? I have to cry bullshit on that.

What makes it looks worse? This occurred not long after the 2001 Tour de Suisse in which Armstrong allegedly tested positive but then covered it up with the UCI’s help.

On the other hand, if the allegations that Armstrong tested positive are true and that a coverup ensued, I find it hard to believe that both sides would be dumb enough to pursue a $100,000 bribe as a “donation” to be used for drug testing equipment. No could be that dumb, surely? Regardless of whether or not Armstrong doped or even tested positive, people in the UCI and Armstrong camps were clearly naive and gullible at best and downright stupid at worst.

I Never Tested Positive: the Equivalent of Not Inhaling?

Tyler Hamilton on 60 Minutes. Photo copyright Associated Press/CBS News.Speaking of naiveté and gullibility (something I’m guilty of, for ever having believed Tyler Hamilton’s vanishing twin defense), another thing that has always troubled me about Lance Armstrong is his statement – more of a mantra, at this point – that he is the most tested athlete in the world, and that he’s never tested positive. Even if we take that at face value, at best it’s still not a denial of doping but merely a statement that no one has ever caught him. We’re supposed to then infer on our own that he doesn’t, in point of fact, dope.

Isn’t this what politicians do? This almost seems akin to Clinton saying he never inhaled when asked if he ever smoked marijuana; we’re supposed to infer then that he did not; that this doesn’t, in fact, count as smoking. Or better yet: when he said he didn’t have sex with Monica Lewinsky, because oral sex doesn’t count as sex sex, does it?

Right. Just like no one could ever possibly conceive that this might be perceived as a conflict of interest: the most tested athlete in the world giving the professional body that oversees his drug tests $100,000.

Maybe Lance has stated on the record unequivocally that he never has doped, but if he has, I missed it, and can’t find that statement now. It’s always the “I’ve never tested positive” refrain. I’d like to see that unequivocal public statement if it’s out there.

But I’m not sure that it would make any difference. Hincapie’s reported testimony is pretty damning if it’s true – and he’s not given us any reason to believe that it isn’t, at this point. Coupled with the fact that Lance Armstrong’s lawyers only recourse seems to be to get angry and try and destroy the credibility of everyone else … well, like stereotypes, clichés often have a grain of truth to them. And this whole situation suggests that where there is this much smoke (and possibly mirrors), there must be fire.

Sigh. For someone that doesn’t give a damn about cycling anymore, I still managed to write nearly 3,000 words. Screw it. I’m going to go ride my bike now.

Postcript: Incidentally, Mark Fabiani defended the Clintons during the Whitewater scandal in the 1990s. More recently he worked with Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs when the investment firm got put through the congressional ringer over the sub prime loan debacle and subsequent financial meltdown.

The Conspiracy of Radical English

The Timing of Osama bin Laden’s Death?
A Plot to Replace Your Budweiser with Earl Grey Tea!

The X-Files' Deepthroat isn't the man that told me the truth about bin Laden, the United States government and Radical English ... or was he?So, the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden begs the question, why now? I’m not normally a conspiracy theorist by nature. I’m even convinced there was a moon landing; those laser retroflectors on the moon that scientists around the world have used for the last several decades weren’t put there by aliens (or were they? Maybe every scientist in the world is in on it!).

But as a trained and practicing journalist – I went to a special school and everything – I’m prone to asking questions and finding answers.

So why has it taken a decade? Well, dear gentle ignorant reader, the U.S. government – the real one, the U.S. Shadow GovernmentTM, not the fake one in Washington D.C. – has known where Bin Laden was all along. It simply bided its time until it was most opportune politically to take out its former tool.

So why now? As always, it was the damn English (note I didn’t say British – the Scottish, Welsh, Irish, et. al. are just helpless pawns crushed under the heel of Downing Street’s British Isles hegemony). Sure, the English are supposed to be our pals, our bosom buddies against the bad guys, right – Churchill, WWII and all that? But Radical English has been the problem all along – our Founding Fathers knew this of course, which is why we fought the American Revolution. But we’ve lost our way over the years — the American WayTM.

See, the whole War on Terror is actually just a smokescreen for radical elements in the English government to cover up their attempts to reclaim the British Empire. With the fall of the Soviet Union, there was no unifying boogeyman to unify (read, distract) the other Western Powers, so Radical English had to invent one: enter one Osama bin Laden. Thus, with the fictitious spectre of violent terrorism distracting the East and the rest of the West, this left Radical English free to engage in their covert war to reclaim the Empire’s lost glory.

Cricket? Where the hell is first base? WTF? Before you know it, we’ll be drinking tea and crumpets instead of Budweiser, hot dogs and apple pie and singing God Save the Queen – the original version, not the ironic Sex Pistols one. One year it will be the World Series you’ll be watching on TV, the next it will be cricket. Did you really think you could trust a culture whose national past time is named after a noisy bug? Instead of going out for burritos from Taco Bell when you and your friends are knackered, you’ll be headed out for a curry and mushy peas.

The British are coming, again! Mushy freakin’ peas, America! Is that what you want? We’re Americans, we eat mashed potatoes, dammit (except when we’re drunk or stoned, then we eat fake Mexican food. But that’s beside my cloudy, nebulous point)!

When will this happen? Dear gentle ignorant reader, it’s already begun. It’s been going on for years. What do you think the Beatles were about … really? The British Invasion was more aptly named than we ever realized. Conspiracy theories? More distractions planted by the agents of Radical English to distract you, America!

So, now you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with Osama bin Laden and the timing of his death? Just wait for it; as a noob conspiracy theorist I’m new at this, but it’s my understanding that I have to do a significant amount of incoherent ranting and raving that’s only tangentially related – at best – to the subject at hand before I draw a completely illogical and only remotely related conclusion.

Kate and William: bow to your Royal British Overlords as they serve you mushy peas, America!See, what has everyone – everyone in America – been talking about for the past week or so? What English cultural event? Even though we haven’t – supposedly – been part of the commonwealth (Radical English’s sly term for Empire) for a few centuries? That’s right, the British Royal Wedding. All week long, wherever you went – bars, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. – there were red-blooded (or were they stiff-upper lipped blue bloods?) Americans yammering on and on about Kate and some balding git (git – see, it’s already started) whose – supposedly (see what I’m doing there?) a licensed rescue pilot, or so the Radical English press keeps telling us, blithely skipping over the fact that he would ascend to the throne of the would-be-again British Empire.

See, unlike us, the Radical English know they don’t need troops to reclaim their Empire; they just need culture. If we were smart, we would have been dropping Playboys and Playstations on Afghanistan and Iraq, along with commemorative plates of Jenna Bush’s wedding, instead of predator drones and bombs. But no. While we’ve been distracted with a conventional war, Radical English has been busy planting reactionary seeds on U.S. soil.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE QUOTE-UNQUOTE TEA PARTY IS REALLY ABOUT!? The U.S. Tea Party … the English drink tea … the original tea party started the American Revolution … do I need to draw you a map, people? The Tea Party is just another fake front to hide the machinations of Radical English! Wake up America! Mushy peas!

Finally Getting to the Point(y Head)

Kate and William's royal wedding: here is the insidious evidence of a covert culture war.Fortunately, I’m not the only one that sees what the wily Radical English are up to – the U.S. Shadow Government obviously monitors Google, and noticed that searches for “royal wedding” were getting abnormally high – spiking way beyond normal. Something had to be done before the Union Jack was flying over the White House and the Washington Monument was replaced by a replica of Big Ben.

Mushy peas! No!

See, most conspiracy theorists would say we “found” bin Laden “now” to distract from President Obama’s plummeting popularity, sky-rocketing gas prices, ecological/climate Armageddon etc. – those are all just clever parts of the actual Radical English conspiracy to reclaim the Empire – as is what you think of as the legitimate U.S. Government.

You’ve all been going on about Obama being Muslim … but he’s actually a Loyalist. A Tory! Benedict Obama!

Remember you heard it here first.

I want to believe the Nigels are coming! Beware the mushy peas!

Disclaimer to Teh Internets

This is obviously a work of parody. I don’t actually believe any of this; it’s all rubbish put here to amuse myself and my friends. Some of my friends are even English, and I actually like English beer – Sammy Smith’s Nut Brown Ale comes to mind, or Newcastle – although Irish beer, namely Guinness, is still the best (although the Scottish have the best whisky; it should always be spelled without the “e”). I even don’t mind mushy peas now and again, albeit with bountiful amounts of salt and pepper. And fish and chips with lots of vinegar? Yum.

Or was this disclaimer put here by Radical English? Maybe I’m just a pawn of the conspiracy.

Trust no one.

Pondering the Politicizing of Tucson

Walt Kelly's Pogo: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."Even before the dead are buried and the survivors have healed physically from their wounds – seemingly before the blood was washed from the sidewalk — the left and the right stepped in with pointed fingers, wielding the same tired old clichés of their respective rhetorics. The survivors – both the wounded and those who lost loved ones and friends – have barely begun to grieve, and yet the wounded and the dead have already become American political pawns.

I don’t believe for a moment that right-wing rhetoric caused Jared Loughner’s mental imbalance, but I think it’s undeniable that he was influenced by that rhetoric in his choice of victims and the way in which he chose to attack them. The strategic editing and sanitizing of Sarah Palin’s website and Twitter stream in the wake of the shooting is telling; the fact that right-wing mouthpieces immediately went on the defensive even more so.

It’s utterly reprehensible and disgusting.

What’s also equally utterly reprehensible and disgusting is the way the left immediately began pointing fingers and crying “See, see! Your fault!” From the mainstream media all the way down to my Facebook page, index fingers were flexed within hours.

The real shame of it is that there was opportunity in this tragedy – an opportunity to perhaps wrangle a bit of meaning out of otherwise senseless death. Both sides could have taken a thoughtful and nuanced approach and suggest that maybe we as an American culture should examine the nature of the current political discourse in the wake of this tragedy.

But no. The left resorted to the same tools that they claim to loathe when wielded by the right: rhetoric founded on baser emotions rather than logic, and finger pointing. And the right immediately began defending their own choice of rhetoric by spouting the same – an excellent opportunity for more of the same angry polemic pontification that they love so much.

Well played, left and right. You have met the enemy, and they are you. These days I fear we have already given up the ship.*

So many people lamented the right-wing politicizing of 9/11; here those same left-wing people are politicizing another tragedy, albeit a smaller one (at least to those of us who didn’t lose a loved one in Tucson). And here we have the right-wing polemicists refusing to even accept the possibility that they may have influenced Loughner’s choice of manifesting his insanity.

Have we learned nothing? Will we ever?

I’ve said it before; I’ve no doubt I’ll say it again. There is only one thing more disgusting than a Republican, and that’s a Democrat. But today I think it is the other way around. People on the right played to type. People on the left, however, for all their claimed enlightenment, should conceivably have known better, and conducted themselves accordingly; they did not.

I might say they chose not to, but I don’t think it was actually a matter of choice, unfortunately.

If we want to find someone to blame for this tragedy, as Americans, we should each of us look in the mirror.

*Apologies to Walt Kelly and Oliver Perry.

P.S.  Editorial cartoonist Matt Bors has an interesting take on the Tucson tragedy, most of which I happen to agree with. Plus this sadly amusing comic:

Matt Bors' take on the Tucson Tragedy and what's happening in its wake.

Web Comic Philosophy

In Which Diesel Sweeties Illustrates a Most Excellent and Worthy Belief System for Life

Diesel Sweeties web comic: Selfish EsteemDiesel Sweeties proves yet again that it is a comic to be reckoned with. While I can’t lay claim to being an 8-bit aficionado, I’m old enough to appreciate the sense of nostalgia and irony. But what makes this comic — and any comic, really, for my money — is the writing; great art is great for it’s own sake, but even that can not save a poorly written comic any more than a brilliant cast can save a poorly written film.

But I digress (as is my wont). This comic I’m reposting here because it perfectly sums up my philosophy on life vis à vis relationships. I’m tempted to embark on a rather long diatribe on Rand, objectivism and enlightened self interest, if for no other reason than to amuse myself by pissing off my good friend John. But I’ll save it for some other time.

Let it suffice to say that I think I’ve reached a point in life whereby the thought of embarking on romantic entanglements fills me with … exhaustion. Just doesn’t seem worth the hassle. Past experience? A rich inner life? Middle age? Perhaps some combination of these factors. But recent experience has given me pause to think about these things, which is why this comic struck home.

Of course sex is another matter; I’m not that old yet. Although sometimes I wish I were. But then I’m a dude; I can separate sex, love, and relationships. But then I guess I am old enough to say that sex in and of itself is definitely not worth the hassle of a relationship.

My life experience has been such that I readily acknowledge that irony may be around the corner; existence works in such ways that it wouldn’t surprise me to meet a like-minded woman in the near future, and be forced to look back on these words and consume them like so much crow.

But then I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I’ll continue to read the worthy web comic Diesel Sweeties, among others. You should too.

Farewell to Denis Dutton, Arts & Letters Daily Founder, Editor

author and Arts & Letters Daily founder and editor Denis DuttonI just learned today that the founder of Arts & Letters Daily, Denis Dutton, died December 28. I confess I didn’t know who he was until after I spied “Denis Dutton, founder of ‘Arts & Letters Daily,’ has died” on Boing Boing. But I have been a long-time reader of Arts & Letters Daily.

Until I moved abroad at the beginning of this year, I usually consumed A&L Daily just that, daily, along with my cubanos at my local coffee shop, after I had checked my email and the news headlines. I can’t remember how I discovered A&L at first, but was pleasantly surprised to find it: a website resembling a newspaper broadsheet from a couple centuries ago, with links to interesting, thought-provoking articles covering all aspects of art, culture and politics.

Something other than porn, Matt Drudge, Gawker, and Lolcats. No way!

I never really gave much thought to operated it. By the time I discovered it – apparently Dutton started it in 1998 – it was owned by the Chronicle of Higher Education; I always just assumed it was some eggheads there that operated A&L Daily. Dutton continued to run A&L Daily after the Chronicle purchased it in 2002, hand-picking all the linked content, and writing the headline links and blurbs that appeared on the site – apparently right on up to the moment he died of cancer a few days ago.

I was surprised to learn that A&L Daily – such an astute observer and aggregator of … well, arts and letters, of all things on the Internet, that I was surprised to learn that it was founded and run by a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand who is, or rather was, 24 years my senior. How cool is that? As I naturally ponder age and death at this time of year, it is comforting to learn that age doesn’t have to equal irrelevancy.

But then, as I’m learning from the New Yorker and other sources, Denis Dutton was a pretty hip old guy. As I ponder the future and what I want to do in it, I’ll take his life as an inspiration.

Just last year he published a book that attempts to elucidate a Darwinian theory of art – an apt subject for a professor of philosophy and the curator of Arts & Letters Daily. I think The Art Instinct will be the next book to be added to my Kindle.

Wherever you now dwell, Mr. Dutton, you have my thanks, for entertaining me with A&L Daily, and now for the inspiration. Godspeed.

As for Arts and Letters Daily, his Dutton’s colleagues at the Chronicle of Higher Education have pledged to carry on. While I have faith, of course it won’t be quite the same, I’m sure, without Dutton behind the keyboard.

No, Not Even Close

J. D. Salinger is no John Hughes.Okay, so far today (well, it’s still today to me, as in Thursday, but I suppose that technically, it is Friday and has been for nearly six hours … ah, the joys of being marginally employed AND telecommuting) I’ve read and or heard people compare John Hughes to no less than Chekhov and Salinger. I have only one thing to say about that. Several things, actually — more than several. And here they are:

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. And finally, just let me emphasize … no. Not. Even. Close.

Look, I’m sorry he’s dead, okay? Death sucks; I’ve had a ring-side seat for it a few times now, so trust me on this one. Wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Really. But he apparently went quick, no lingering in a hospital being poked and prodded and toyed with like a lab rat, only to have his suffering prolonged. So there’s that. And he made it to 59. Okay, that’s well under par for Western standards, but for much if not a majority of the world, that’s a ripe old age; most people in Asia and Africa are damn lucky to see 59 years.

Nope, not a John Hughes movie. And I realize his fans were legion; I guess I’m the only Gen X’er who made it out of the ’80s thinking that his movies were at best, okay, and at worst, sucked ass (in a bad way, as a girl I used to date would say — ah, I still carry a torch for you, Brandy). This is the man responsible for the Home Alone franchise, after all. Okay, for all of those people that will accuse me of being negative, I’ll say this: his movies were better than Armageddon or anything touched by Jerry Yuckheimer; the Breakfast Club didn’t make me want to stick a fork in my eye. And I really liked Say Anything . Oh, wait, yeah, that was Cameron Crowe, wasn’t it? Your Honor, the defense rests.

Okay, in all honesty, there are a few pieces of the Hughes oeuvre I genuinely like: Vacation. That’s good stuff (he was the writer but not the director on that one).  Ferris Bueller had a few moments, granted.  And the fact that he authored The National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper Parody with P.J. O’Rourke way back when almost makes up for the Home Alone franchise. If you find this in a used book store, buy it; you won’t be disappointed. And then send it to me; I haven’t read it since my j-school days in college.

But please, comparing John Hughes to Anton Chekhov or J.D. Salinger is like comparing the Monkees to Mozart. I don’t care how much 16 Candles or any of his other flicks tickled your angsty adolescent fancy. Just because they may have explored some of the same issues and themes does not an apt comparison make. The Monkees made a few clever pop tunes — I even liked “Pleasant Valley Sunday” — but Mozart was a musical genius. And this wasn’t some moron on an Internet chat board or some random wall posting on Assbook. I quote from the Associated Press story:

A native of Lansing, Michigan, who moved to suburban Chicago and set much of his work there, Hughes rose from comedy writer to ad writer to silver screen champ with his affectionate and idealized portraits of teens, whether the romantic and sexual insecurity of “Sixteen Candles,” or the J.D. Salinger-esque rebellion against conformity in “The Breakfast Club.”

Anton Chekhov. NOT John Hughes in the '70s. No. The Breakfast Club is nothing even close to or remotely resembling Catcher in the Rye. No. Not. Even. Close. Although I guess Chekhov did kinda look like John Hughes. Of course, maybe they’re somewhere in the next world, knocking back vodka and Chekhov is saying “No really, I thought it was an apt comparison. I’m flattered, really.”

Or not.  In any event, it’s getting light out, and birds are chirping. I should probably go to bed.

Goodnight Opus. All Good Things …

No please don’t thank me, Mr. Breathed. Rather, let me thank you; you deserve it.

Thank you for the all the comics over the years … [tag]Bloom County[/tag], [tag]Outland[/tag], and [tag]Opus[/tag]. It almost seems a shame to call them comics, as your humor, often drenched in political satire and social commentary, was consistently clever and amusing, and frequently bordered on brilliant – sometimes it even crossed that border into a land that few reach. At times your work was also touching, even poignant, and for that I think the term “art” can be applied, and deservedly so.

You came along at a critical time for me; I turned 12 at the end of 1980, the year that Bloom County debuted. I didn’t really get Bloom County then, but I kept reading; I was an avid comics reader. And as my adolescent mind began to … well, I hesitate to say mature; some might say my mind has yet to mature, and I would admittedly be hard pressed to disagree – let’s just say as I traveled headlong toward adulthood, somewhere along the line I began to get the strip. I even started to look forward to it. When I would read the funnies while eating cereal before school or stretched out on the living floor late on a Sunday morning, Bloom County was always the last strip I read; I always saved the best for last.

So thanks for all that. Looking back with the Bloom County books over the years, it’s been fun to enjoy all the humor that I didn’t get or misinterpreted the first time around. You can even see how Bloom County emerged from the omnipresent shadow of Doonesbury and found its own footing on new ground. I could go on and on about various story lines, but the parodies of Star Trek and heavy metal warrant special mention; sometimes I still tell people that my favorite band is Deathtöngue. And let us not forget Oliver, Bloom County’s resident scientist, hacker, and back-alley plastic surgeon and liposuctionist. We have seen the nerds, and they is us. Thank you.

I was a year away from graduating college when Bloom County became a comic strip for the ages. I admit, I was slow to figure out that it was gone, as I had other things on my mind, such as girls, alcohol, getting an acceptable grade in News Writing 101, and deadlines at the Athens News and Southeast Ohio Magazine. Fortunately Outland came along soon after, so I could still get my comic strip fix once a week. So thanks for that, too. If I ever have a daughter, I won’t name her Ronald Ann (unless maybe her mother turns out to be exceptionally cool), but as a gesture to you, I’ll briefly consider it.

So Outland left us in the mid 1990s, going out with a bang – Steve came out, and Opus reunited with his mother in Antarctica. Soon afterward, I set out for Arizona with a fiancée and all my worldly possessions in tow. 2003 found me in Northern California, single (thank the god(s)), riding my bike a lot, and working for the online version of a high-tech trade publication that helped usher in the Internet age that lead to its demise – irony of ironies for a newspaper refugee (I caught that “-30-” next to your name in the last strip; you’re dating yourself, Mr. [tag]Breathed[/tag]). I had also had a taste of travel abroad by this time – several in fact – which only seemed to inflame my already restless soul.

It was a strange time, both within and without, so I was happy to welcome back Opus and the Bloom County gang back into my life; sometimes seeing old friends can be disturbing, but usually it’s a happy, joyful occurrence, and Opus definitely fell into the latter, even though now we more often met via the Internet rather than the Sunday funnies. Again, that’s an irony that isn’t lost on either of us, I’m sure. But thanks just the same. The Bush II era, the Aughts – whatever this decade ends up being called, as fucked up as it was, it was a little easier to stomach with Opus every Sunday.

So now Opus and Opus are … gone. While the rest of the cast joined Milo and Cutter John over in the meadow, Opus escaped the insanity of our times for the eternal comfort of Goodnight Moon.

Above all else, thank you for this too, Mr. Breathed. It is the end that Opus deserves. Thank you for following your muse, and ending the strip when she told you it was time. I understand why you want to end it now, leaving Opus comfortably enshrined in his dreams, tucked safe and sound between the covers of a cherished children’s book, lest he fall into the dark precipice that looms before us. Now that vulnerable, lovable, nature that was coupled with comic naïveté and insecurity will always remain intact. Would that we could all go there. I don’t seem to share the Audacity of Hopetm like so many others on the eve of this 2008 election, regardless of who wins; and I would not want to see Opus lose his.

And thank you for refusing to make an Opus animated feature film without having complete creative control. I hate to think what would become of Opus and the Bloom County crew in the hands of commercial Hollywood. I doubt many would follow your example were they in your shoes; most would no doubt sell out Opus, Milo, and Binkley for the big bucks. Given what the future may hold, perhaps it would be hard to blame them. Nevertheless – and I think I can safely speak for many here – for those of us who hold Opus dear, thanks again.

Seriously, it is we, or at least I, who should thank you. Of course, I’ll miss Opus and the rest, but I know where to find them when I need them. And you, Mr. Breathed, have my respect and admiration, in addition to my thanks, for having the courage and wisdom to let Opus go when he was ready.

You know, I’ve never read your children’s books. Now perhaps I will.

So long, Opus, my old friend; pleasant dreams, forever and always. And Milo (always my favorite), Binkley, Bill, Cutter John, Oliver, Portnoy, Hodge Podge, Steve Dallas, Rosebud, Milquetoast, and Lola – I’ll see you all in the meadow sometime.

The Birds, Part Deaux

Just looking over the last post …

There is no better salve for a restless soul than the open road and singing at the top of one’s lungs to [tag]Social Distortion[/tag].

That’s good stuff. Too bad it was tempered by idiots on the super highways and the economic meltdown (I love the [tag]BBC[/tag], but it got a wee bit carried away with the doomsday proclamations). Anyway, so I was in [tag]Savannah[/tag], GA last week for business. No, I didn’t meet Chardonnay or any of the other real-life characters in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but I did see the house. I also managed to find time to take a few shots. My primary photographic goal was to capture the moon coming up over the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most spectacular of [tag]moon[/tag] rises (the night that would have made a most kick-ass picture — clouds and lighting on the horizon, with the moon ducking in and out — I was sitting through boring presenations. Plus, the night I did shoot, while I had a tripod out, and was using the timer, I still had camera shake in many shots, thanks to the wind. Having camped on the beach numerous times, I should have thought of this, but alas, I did not … live and learn, I suppose.

I did manage to get some half-way acceptable shots of the [tag]sunrise[/tag], despite the fact that it was so hot and humid my lenses fogged the second I emerged from the car. But in a not uncommon occurrence (for me, at any rate), the best photos of the trip were the ones I took just screwing around, in this case waiting for the moon to come up … I really like these two below.

Watch Your Back

Lone Gull

Not much tweaking in [tag]Photoshop[/tag] on these two, although in the one with the solitary gull, I did add a slight diffuse glow filter, just cuz I dig the way it looks on backgrounds and subjects with little color (clouds, water, and whatnot). I also tweaked the color contrast a bit to bring out the sand a bit more. The other one is pretty much straight-out camera raw; I just cropped it a bit better and added a slight overlay (10 percent, if memory serves) to make the highlights pop out a bit more.

The rest are over at Flickr.