Wednesday, September 23, 2009

PERSONAL- A Late Night Alone: Three Songs

A late night alone. I sit in a favorite chair, one that has held me so many times that has learned my shape well enough for us to blur together. The lights are off. And in the dark the music coils around me like wafting smoke. I can look inward, into the depths of my soul, and outward, to the heights of infinity.

Once during an interview Mick Fleetwood said that he and John McVie used to stand in the wings and cry every night while Christine sang this song. It’s easy to see why.

Life is sweet. I’ve never understood people who say that hell is here on earth. Someday not too far away, I’ll be gone. I want this song played at my funeral. This rendition is especially sweet. James and Carly were still very much in love when it was done.

And as usual, Steely Dan has said it better than I ever could. Looking back on life you can’t help but think about the things you miss. Fagan and Becker realize that talk comes before sex and that cars and houses are nice but the bridge reminds us that looking back and having loved someone completely, even if “by morning she was gone” makes life worth living.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

PERSONAL- The Nail That Sticks Up

I’ve just finished reading John Scalzi’s articles for AMC back to the beginning of the year and I highly recommend them to anyone who is interested in fantastic films or the ramblings of a great Sci-fi author. As usual I was “late to the boom” in becoming aware of Scalzi, but that’s OK because it allowed me to pick up his first three books all at once. Since I read far faster then most people write (and who doesn’t?) this gave me almost a week of Scalzigasm as an introduction, and I’ve been a fan ever since. His novel Old Man’s War is as good as it gets in Sci-fi, an interesting premise, memorable characters, scattered insight into both military culture and life itself, and a plausible universe if you can believe the incredible luck of the protagonist. The follow-up novels weren’t quite as good, but it’s a rare work that is. Nevertheless, finding a new author who writes in classical SF style so well is always a treat and Scalzi was that.

Just like his blog (one of the older and most read on the net), his column for AMC bounces around a lot, but no matter what the subject he’s entertaining and thoughtful. A few of the better columns deal with things like what makes a Sci-fi movie Sci fi, why 3-D movies don’t work, some of the EPIC FAIL in the design of the STAR WARS and STAR TREK universes, and even a Father’s Day scorecard of SF fathers (titled Who’s Your Daddy? and including an evaluation of Darth Vader’s parenting skills).

But while the AMC column is fun and lighthearted, it’s a particular entry on his blog that is the kind of thing that endears him to me. “Being Poor” is a blog entry that everyone, simply EVERYONE, should read.

Read it now, I’ll wait.

No really, READ IT!

I know all about being poor. When I was nine years old my mother finally left my alcoholic, abusive father; bundling up my seven year old brother and me and taking us to a different state in the middle of the night. It isn’t exaggerating to say that everything in my life changed. I went from living in a big city to living in a small town. I went from a predominantly black neighborhood to a place where black people were almost nonexistent. I went from being a child prodigy who had been tagged to be in the first group of students to go to an experimental school for advanced children to being placed in a class for developmentally challenged children when the officials at my new school misunderstood my mother’s explanation of the “special” school I was supposed to go to. But the biggest change was that I went from being a middle class kid to being poor.

When you are a kid for the most part such things don’t mean that much. The world is what it is and you don’t make fine distinctions. But even given that, it’s hard not to notice when you go from being a little bit better off financially than most of the kids you go to school with to barely having enough to eat and sometimes not having that. And, no doubt, the change was exacerbated by the southern small-town culture that I found myself in. In a small town everybody knows everybody and in the south everybody knows where they fit in the social hierarchy. Being poor and without a father in the home back then got me labeled as “white trash” immediately. I noticed it right away the first time I walked into the local 5 &10 cent store. The wizened crones that served as clerks only had two questions for me. “What fer ya, boy?” and “Who’s yer daddy?”. This was the same store that had been the highlight of my summer vacations every year when we visited my mother’s family. You see, this dime store had a table full of comic books with the covers half torn off that they sold for 5 cents each, and every year my father would take me there and let me pick out all the comics I wanted, which would then be hidden away in my parent’s closet until Christmas. But after my parents split up the store was different. Now I wasn’t buying a dollar or two worth of comics with my father watching. Now I was a poor kid who would pour through the pile trying to find which of books was worth the investment of my lone nickel or dime, watched over the whole time as if at any point I might suddenly scoop up an armload of the precious (presumed destroyed) books and bolt from the store, thus plunging it into financial ruin.

But the biggest change in my life wasn’t my new caloric intake or even my presumption of guilt whenever I walked across the threshold of a local merchant. The biggest change in my life was at school.

Even after the mistake of putting me with the “slow” children was rectified (a mistake that, looking back on it, was probably abetted by my mother also having to register my brother, who was profoundly mentally retarded, at the same time) (and, yah, we called it “retarded” back then) I was still never looked at the same way again. Luckily the people teaching the “special” class were a married couple of graduate students working on their PhD’s in education who caught on in a couple of days. It took me a week to confront one of them and ask what was going on (I’d been raised to respect my elders but by that time I knew that either some kind of mistake had been made or all the stereotypes I’d heard about inbred southern morons were horribly true). They administered a series of tests and soon my mother was faced with the idea that they wanted me to skip to the 10th grade. Rightly or wrongly, mom figured that I was dealing with enough culture shocks without suddenly finding myself with kids five years older than I was, so she vetoed this plan and I was moved to a regular fifth grade class. But being poor still was what most of my teachers saw.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Fall of Empire- America as Rome- Talking to the Police

The other day at work I had a particularly stupid woman say to me that she wasn't worried about the government looking into her private life. She had nothing to worry about because "I've never done anything wrong." You have to realize that this woman is someone who believes that the world was created in six twenty-four hour days, thinks that a hotel she stayed in once near the equator proves corolis force because two sinks in her bathroom drained different ways, and has been a nurse for over thirty years without knowing what the different sounds a lung makes on auscultation are. The infuriating thing about this moron is that she talks to everyone in a condescending tone without realizing that she is little more than an idiot. Making what Harlan Ellison said about arrogant stupidity all the more relivant.

("There's nothing worse than arrogant stupidity;
arrogance you can tolerate,idiocy you can get around,
but both together are inscrutable," he said.)

I've debunked her ideas about coralis force by siting without depending on the common sense argument (Common sense is not so common.- Voltare) that her two hotel sinks would have to straddle the equator perfectly to display such a thing even if the laws of centrifugal force didn't apply. I've read medical texts to her about lung sounds only to be told that the words "didn't mean that" even though they were plain. Yet here I am again trying to reason with a person who is, obviously, immune to logic. Thus is the fate of someone with more than a high-school-dropout mentality attempting to live in modern America. Every day you have to "suffer fools gladly" in spite of the fact that they are FOOLS.

But on the subject that innocent people are protected by our American system, I defer to a person who is far more aquainted with the workings of the law than I am. Here is what a law professor has to say about talking to the police. Listen to it and remember it if you have any dealings with the law. I've been a police officer and I can tell you that if you think the cops are looking for the guilty you are as naive and gullible as my friend at work.