How to Sell Your Soul

Hope you guessed my name...

February 5, 2010

I had a conversation with a friend a few days ago. I mentioned wanting to sell ad space on this site, to which he jokingly remarked, “Why you selling out, man?”

He was joking. At least, I think he was joking.

The idea of “selling out” is kind of like the abortion debate. You have the pro-life and pro-choice sides, but by the very nature of their names, one side is already seen as the best, even if you know nothing of the pro-choice argument. If you are not pro-life, you must be for its opposite, which is death. Linguistics skewers the debate and argument becomes impossible, usually devolving into a shouting match. In the same way, “selling out” is the connotation that making money from doing something you love, something which you may believe in, is inherently wrong.


americana by *relaxeder on deviantART

The term’s proper definition is that someone accepts money, power, prestige, or otherwise advances by compromising his or her ideals. In other words, the person in question continues to do something that once meant something, but now alters or otherwise compromises its integrity for the sake of payment. However, too many people instantly assume that if you’re making money from doing something you like doing, you’re selling out. The idea is most often used for musicians and other artists who may develop a loyal fan following, but then break out big and the core fans suddenly feel as though the artist’s newfound fame has diluted the work. It’s been applied to U2, Greenday, and many, many other bands. Any time an artist does something with mass appeal, the core fan base feels as if it has been betrayed, as if their cherished artists have done something simply for the sake of money, ratings, and fame.

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Will artists make better or worse work when a major backer puts money into art? It’s never definite. You can have the biggest budget in the world, no strings attached, but it won’t guarantee a hit. It will, however, force the artist to focus solely on the project since work is now irrelevant. The artist no longer needs that part-time job getting in the way. This brings us to the fact that, well, artists are people and have needs. We still need housing, food, electricity, and in my case, an internet connection to help with research and, oh yes, to update the website you are now reading.

Thanks for reading, by the way. I mean it.

To show my appreciation, here’s a video of a slinky-cat::

Artists have to make money, the same as everybody else, except that what they produce is held to a higher standard. We tend to view art as something that must be pure, something that must not be tampered with in any way shape or form. Accepting money for these creations, oh these holiest of creations, is like throwing a beautiful woman on a dirty shag carpet. To accept money is to tarnish the sanctity of creation. Won’t someone think of the children?

…Hang on a second.

Art does not exist by itself. Creating art takes time. It took years. I’m counting eleven years of hardcore writing training, both personal and professional, on my part. Want to know how long it took to put this site up? Two weeks searching for a place to host it, designing the layout, putting the images together, checking that all the links worked, and finally setting up the Facebook Fan Page, then sending out invites. That was a lot of time seeing as how I’ve never done any of this before, and I wish could have gotten paid for it. Furthermore, each article takes at least a day of work. We’re talking research into the subject, images, videos, then editing, spell-check, video and image embedding, and making sure the page doesn’t go all wonky when it publishes.

Wonky’s a word.

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I have a job, one that gives me these neat little W-2 forms every January, helps pay the bills, and does use my skills to do something productive. Not that I don’t think this website is unproductive, but as of this writing, the site doesn’t do anything other than show articles. If I wanted to make it a full-time deal, as in hire someone to clean up the design and make it more accessible than my code-ignorant attempt, if I wanted to, say, pay for articles so I didn’t do all the writing and we could feature others on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or even hold contests and sell merchandise (whatever that may be in the future), then this site has to turn a profit.

The same goes for any artistic endeavor. Musicians need instruments, promotion, money for a recording studio, and equipment like speakers. Painters need paint, canvases, and sometimes subjects to pose. Filmmakers are going to need cameras, actors, scriptwriters, and a small army of people to make the movie. All these people also need plenty of booze to fuel the creative process. It’s a well-known fact that alcohol lubricates the brain.

Not really. Don’t drink and write. Whiskey makes the ink run.


Good ol’ whiskey by ~Boo-the-hamster on deviantART

The point remains that artists need to find capital. Unless the National Endowment for the Arts gives me the money to fund this project, this website will remain limited. Advertising is non-existent except for word of mouth at the moment.

Am I selling out by putting ads on this page or trying to increase views?

I certainly don’t think so.

If I could do this and write my own fiction without having to worry about housing, food, bills, and entertainment, I’d probably do it, but that’s not the world we live in. Will this website be better when it starts getting ad revenue? I think so. There are plans. I’ve touched on a few of them, so as we near the end of this baby site’s third week, I’d ask you to think about what artists you enjoy. Are they special because you like them, or are they special for the things they create? Do they compromise their craft when they advertise on the radio, in television, or when they sign a big contract? It’s certainly possible that some people are in it for the money, but if anyone gets into any type of art, either music, visual, or other, with the intent of becoming rich, they’re not the sharpest crayon in the box.


being an artist by =MalvaAlcea on deviantART

I knew exactly what I was doing when I decided to become a writer. Would I like to make money from it? Sure, but I’m not right now, and that’s fine. If I never made a cent from Randomology, I’d be okay with just knowing people read and enjoyed my work. When I was a teacher, I didn’t have to make my students pass. I could have given them the easiest assignments in the world and had them all pass. I didn’t. I made them work for it. I cursed them out in class. This site? Could easily have been a free blog, like Divining by Zero, but I wanted to be able to do things I could not in that format. I would not accept a cent if someone asked me to change the way I wrote for the sake of views.

I’m going to do that by offering something you can’t get anywhere else. I’m going to be honest with you. I’m going to entertain you. I’m not going to jerk you around. A real artist knows that canvas would stay in a corner of the room if it wasn’t for the fans. A real artist knows the most beautiful prose in the world is worthless if someone doesn’t read it. A real artist loves his fans.

I’d like to think I’m a real artist.

The Zen of Beck

It makes more sense when you get to the end of the article.

February 24, 2010

Education is one of the pillars in my life, both personally and professionally. When the Texas educational system failed me, I looked on my own. I was lucky enough to find teachers and mentors willing to share their knowledge and experience with me. They helped me grow. Eventually, I went to college and met some of the most influential people in my life. I asked questions of people who had traveled the world, studied with great men and women, and challenged me to question not only my own beliefs, but their own teachings. I’m in debt up to my eyeballs, but the things I learned, both about writing and life, will stay with me until the day I die.

Apparently, you can have the equivalent kind of experience by going to a bookstore. Combine that with the belief that a little blip on the radar MUST be an incoming attack from your enemies and not a flock of seagulls or balloons, and you get Glenn Beck. The man has never had a formal education in… well, anything, and he’s not only proud of it, but he thinks it makes him some kind of superhero.

I swear the entire conference was a massive call to war. “This is it, boys,” I could hear them thinking. “This is war!”

If you skipped the video, Glenn “Master of His Own Domain” Beck goes on about how we have the right to the pursuit of happiness. It’s the one things conservatives hold to be most true. Okay, so far so good. The pursuit of happiness is a good summary, I think, of the rights of speech and religion. However, Becky-Boy goes off the deep end. And he didn’t see the pool wasn’t filled with water.

We are not entitled to anything else, he claims. We are not guaranteed “health care, housing, or handouts.” If we let the government help others with our tax money, we will ruin our children’s futures.

Everyone say it with me: Who will think of the children?!


children by ~csillagharcos on deviantART

Beck then goes into education. He proudly exclaims that he went to college for all of one semester and took a single class because that was all he could afford. He is not bitter about it, though, because he never thought he was owed an education. He was thirty and continued on his own. Glenn Beck got his education in a library “where books are free.” “When did it become a matter of ridicule to be a self-made man?” he passionately asks his audience. The man practically oozes dignity as he exclaims he didn’t pay a cent to learn.

And boy does it show…

Oh, where to begin? I’ve had to grade ESL papers written by first-generation immigrants with a low understanding of the English language who went through the Texas public school system and made more sense than this clown.

Beck seems to forget that this precious right to the pursuit of happiness is accompanied by two others: Life and Liberty. All are capitalized in the Declaration of Independence. The full phrase is:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I had a whole article prepared on health care, the right to live and not die, and other tasty rants… but his statements on education, I think, are much more dangerous than any of these.

As an educator, I can tell where some of his “pride” comes from. He’s not bitter, he says. I think he is. He proclaims he is proud his education cost nothing. Nothing wrong with educating yourself, but to claim that it is the same caliber as a formal education really misses the point. Did he learn? He learned things, but without others to question, people to debate with, or people who knew what they were talking about pointing him towards reputable sources, all he learned was the masturbatory texts of whatever books he managed to pick up and fueled his preconceptions. It’s even more daunting to say that he questioned anything he read. He wasn’t asked to read anything he didn’t want to read. I’m actually glad that I had to read some of the things I did when I was in college. I would never have read Indian novels on my own. I probably would have skipped right past Freud, and I was lucky enough to be around people who could ask questions, answer them, and lead to intellectual growth. What did Beck have? The library and the bookstore.

That boy got his learning at B. Dalton. Good for him.

Still, one thing about this entitlement to education and story about how he learned everything by himself without a government handout is blatantly false, or it should be to anyone taking notes.

He got his education at a library, a government-sponsored institution. It cost the tax-payers. It’s not free. Just like the education his kids get if they go to public school.


Education by ~CJTheRainbow on deviantART

We are not entitled to an education, which is why, I’m sure, Glenn Beck would agree that we should shut down the Texas A&M system, other state-sponsored universities like the University of California, and should stop funding public schools with public money. After all, our kids aren’t promised an education in the Declaration of Independence, and Beck seems to be doing fine without the ability to spell “oligarchy,” so why should our kids have to go?

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We’re also not entitled to fire departments, police, Medicare, paved roads, trash collection, recycling centers, libraries, a space program, nature parks, and FDIC. Hey, if you chose the wrong bank, it’s your fault all your money went under. Personally, I’m sick and tired of people thinking they can have someone else pick up their garbage for them. It’s your crap! YOU pick it up!


trash by ~jseanXD on deviantART

If we hold the text of the Declaration of Independence to be the foundation for all future laws and regulations in this country, we should at least look at the full text. It implies there are other rights not mentioned. We’ve said that the government has a duty to provide for its citizens, but some see that help stretching too far and shout “Communism!” It’s indicative of people, Beck included, who not only don’t understand the concepts of governments and economic systems, but fail to appreciate what actual education can teach you. Spending years living and working with people, some of whom share your beliefs and many who don’t, is not a bad thing. I learn art from new experiences. I learn to write by reading things that have nothing to do with my genre. Progressing is not a bad thing, and some people can’t afford to go to college, so if government grants, loans, and schools are what they can afford, great! Let’s use what we have!

I’m not trying to mock people who didn’t go to college, so don’t misunderstand me. My grandfather earned his GED around 1994, long after it should have been a concern for someone who was retired. He wanted to better himself and prove that if he, at his age, could do it, there was no excuse for his grandchildren to ever slack off in their studies. I respect him for that one act more than I can write here, but he’s traveled, worked an assortment of jobs, and talks with people.

Glenn beck is convinced of his own superiority while proclaiming he is Everyman, superhero for the masses. Because, you know, Batman’s a trust-fund baby elitist, Superman’s an immigrant, and Wonder Woman’s a Sapphic feminist with a bondage fetish. So remember, kids, Uncle Glenn says you shouldn’t go to school, use those commie parks, and you can only get that degree to become a doctor if you already have the money. Oh, and the Aggies can’t play because, well, their school is socialist.

Beck’s entire rant, entire career, is built on the premise that you are under siege and must stand on your own two feet while subscribing to someone else’s ideology. Panic bells. It’s red alert. There’s something here from somewhere else. The conservatives, they spring to life, open up one eager eye. Focusing it on the sky, where-

Okay, I knew Beck’s paranoia sounded familiar.

Or, if you prefer a more mellow version (click on the lower right to get rid of the green window):

Socialist Vocabulary

The red-coats are coming!

February 3, 2010

There are three things you’re not supposed to talk about if you want pleasant conversation: sex, politics, and religion. Let’s talk about politics since we’ve already discussed sex in another article. Religion will make an appearance later, I promise. I’m slowly trying to work this site into a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

People need to get emotional in order to act. As much as I love science, I didn’t get involved with astronomy until I made the leap that we are all made from the dust and remains of dead stars. I don’t get excited about money and numbers until I remember the things I can do once I pay off my debt. Grabbing a beer doesn’t hold as much allure unless I can share the experience with a friend.

Now, with an economy in ruins, two wars, and social schisms everywhere, members of our government want to make it easy for us to get health care.

And we’re telling them, in so many words, no.

protester
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I’ve heard the word “socialism” thrown around so much you’d think it was a football. Or cooties. Fox News, members of the Right, and anyone else opposed to this plan keeps coming back to this idea that health care reform, at least this version of it, is a stepping stone to a socialist takeover, quiet revolution. Never mind the debacle with Palin’s so-called death panels or the fact that our health care, if we can afford it, is already regulated by companies. It’s socialism, they say! Government wants to control our lives! They already bailed out banks, own the auto-industry, and next thing you know they’ll put fluoride in the water!

I swear to God, Allah, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster that the Right has screwed the word “socialism” over like it was a five-dollar whore.

Vocabulary time, boys and girls. “Socialism,” according to Dictionary.com, means:

1. a theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.

2. procedure or practice in accordance with this theory.

3. (in Marxist theory) the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to communism, characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.

The Cultural Definition, lower than the regular definitions on the page, says all Marxists are socialists, but not all socialists are Marxists. Let’s think about this for a moment. The first definition seems to be the most open-ended. The second simply refers back to the original word and the third refers to Marxist theory.

However, I like this definition better: “Where capitalism stresses competition and profit, socialism calls for cooperation and social service.” It’s from Yahoo Education, and I think it sums the core difference between socialism and capitalism. It doesn’t have any of the connotations and political stigma of either and it sums up the main difference without applying the practices to any particular political ideology. After all, socialism is an economic system. If we really think about it, our country already has socialist aspects.

Don’t believe me? Ever seen one of these?

Government-controlled. Think you can run a business without reporting to the government and abiding by certain government regulations on everything from proper pay to environmental impact? All of that is government-controlled. Ever seen community gardens, public parks, or social security? All of it is government-controlled, maintained, and run.

These are facts. I’m not twisting anything. It’s not a matter of opinion whether we have socialism in this country. It’s there because we as a people said a long time ago that government had the responsibility to protect its citizens, that we needed laws to safeguard against certain kinds of behavior. I’m not arguing whether or not socialism’s a good thing. I’m just showing that the underlying concept is already present in our society.

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The part of the definition that gets a lot of people is the third one I mentioned, that socialism is a step towards Marxism. Well, having a drink is the first step towards becoming an alcoholic. Getting a girlfriend is the first step towards getting that girl pregnant. Buying a car is the first step towards dying in a mangled wreck. Maybe this slippery slope argument isn’t strong enough, so let me put it another way.

Do we need healthcare? Yes. WebMD reported that over 45,000 deaths each year could be prevented by having access to affordable health care. You’re 40% more likely to die if you have no health care.

How many people would die if the government didn’t mandate seat belts in cars?

Is socialism bad? That’s not what this article is about. It’s about learning the truth. Unlike what some would have you believe, it’s not a matter or Right and Left, good and evil, or progressive versus conservative. At the most basic level, socialism is the belief that communities matter, perhaps more than the individual. We’ve had such a backlash against this word because, at first glance, such a concept goes against the American ideals of the rugged individual, the country that doesn’t need anyone’s help and can do just fine by itself.

It’s the country that’s in debt to China. It’s the country that employs illegal labor in its fields. It’s the country that has an educational system designed to make children pass school, not challenge them to do it themselves and learn from their mistakes. It’s the country where we demand social security and Medicare.

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If you’re going to use the word “socialism” when discussing health care reform, know what it means. Know history. Know what’s at stake. Understand the problem, the vocabulary, and understand the concept of fear tactics. Understand that you’re already living a country where the government does regulate our lives.

Maybe when everyone learns the meaning of “socialism,” we’ll work on learning the phrase “high educational standards.”

Again! Again!

You are about to enter another dimension...

February 21, 2010

Bad movies are more than just a good waste of ninety minutes. They’re an affirmation that there has to be something good out there. This dribble I am watching, your brain tells you ten minutes into your cinematic guano pile, cannot be the best in movies, or even the average in movies. I watch bad movies, specifically science fiction and horror movies, because they are the unintentional comedies of our time. I laugh more with them than I do with legitimate comedies. Sure, someone probably put a lot of love and care into each film, poured blood onto the camera like a writer pours his or her blood onto paper and ink…

But it didn’t work. And now we have accidental comedic genius.

It does beg the question, though, of why anyone would want to remake this particular cinematic gem:

Yes, it is going to be remade into THIS:

Okay, I’ll admit. I’ve said it more than once that if you’re going to remake something, don’t remake something that has a great following or is well-respected. You’ll get in trouble. Sometimes you strike gold like Chris Nolan with Batman Begins or you make something new that actually surpasses the original, like Ron Moore with Battlestar Galactica. However, these are the exceptions to the rule. I’ve always said that if you want to remake something, you should remake a film so bad you’ll HAVE to do better. It’s the only safe bet.

Now I’m kind of wishing I’d kept my mouth shut.

This remake of Plan 9 does bring to light another trend in American cinema in the last several years, one that we need to address. So many movies become hits or simply gather a cult following because of a combination of luck, planning, mistakes, and the enjoyment of the first time you saw the movie. Do you think The Rocky Horror Picture Show would ever be remade? No, because it was such a unique collection of shortfalls and successes that it could not be replicated without looking and sounding artificial. While the play is still performed to packed audiences, the actors and spectators both participate and turn it into a social event. Ever tried watching the movie by yourself? Or in a theater with people just watching it quietly? It’s weird…


The Creation of Rocky by ~love-and-commissions on deviantART

Why remake something that’s already good? To capitalize on it. Why remake something that failed worse than Dubya at a spelling bee? Because you think you can do better. There’s a certain amount of hubris in trying to remake someone else’s work, though. You don’t just say, “I love your work and want to build on it,” but “I can do better,” and writers have fragile egos. No matter how much someone says they want to build upon another person’s work, the original author will always feel like something’s gone awry, like he or she failed at something. Writers are people too, and we bleed like a kosher chicken.

And that’s not what art is about.

Artists borrow from each other. You can’t exactly claim that any zombie movie that comes out is ripping off Night of the Living Dead. Resident Evil, Evil Dead, and any of the dozens of zombie films that have come out in recent years pay homage to Romero’s work because it laid the foundation, but no one’s remade it except a few idiots who thought it was a good idea:

And when I heard someone was adapting Inferno into a video game, I was somewhat… scared out of my mind.

At this point, I’m waiting for Thomas Moore’s Utopia. I’m figuring it’s going to have Moore in a Mario-like outfit as he battles his way through a maze of puzzles. Should come out on the Wii soon.

Movies, books, and music can all create new genres. “Johnny B. Goode” wasn’t remade forty-two times when it became popular. It helped spawn rock and roll. Watchmen showed comic books what they could become if they pushed the envelope. Star Wars changed the way we looked at science fiction movies. It almost seems as though there is a sweet spot on success. If something is successful enough, it can be remade, but if it’s TOO successful, it can stand on its own.

And if it sucks like the vacuum of space, hey go wild. Let’s learn from past movies and books. We don’t need another remake of The Italian Job. I think we’ve seen enough versions of King Kong. We’re smarter and more creative than this. Or at least we should be. Let’s make new gods and monsters.

Palin Hates Babies

Target acquired. Unleash the fury!

February 19, 2010

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the Family Guy episode “Extra-Large Medium” (Season 8, Episode 12), originally aired 2/14/2010

It’s been famously said that dying is easy, but comedy is hard. It’s true. Ever told a joke that went flat? Your elation at possibly making someone feel good turns to ash as you realize everyone is looking at you like you just pulled a dead rat out of your nose and started giggling like a madman. It also takes a sharp mind to get comedy, especially complex jokes, or, for some people, anything more confusing than a joke about a chicken and a road.

Enter Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin is a mother who loves God and country and family. I’m still not sure on the order of the first two, though. On Valentine’s Day, Fox aired an episode of Family Guy that featured Chris trying to and eventually going on a date with a girl with Down syndrome named Ellen. I highly recommend you watch the full episode. The… and I use the term loosely… offending clip is at 16:02.

Basically, Ellen makes an off-hand remark about her mother being the former governor of Alaska. Palin is the former governor of Alaska. And she has a child with Down syndrome named Trig. Seth McFarlane and the Family Guy writers are obviously making fun of her child and everyone with Down syndrome. It’s an outrage. It’s inhuman! Won’t someone think of the children! On top of all this Rahm Emanuel went and called someone “retarded” behind closed doors, insulting the entire mentally handicapped community.

And yet… not a few days after the Family Guy incident, Palin goes and does THIS:

Yup… Satire. Let’s wind the clock back and pull out the ol’ dictionary. Satire is the use of comedy to point out some vice either in a group or individual, usually with the goal of making people aware of the fault so it can be fixed. The tone of the work may be playful or abrasive, but it has the same goal. Satire uses a strong dose of sarcasm, parody, contrast, and other literary tools to make the point as obvious as possible. Satire goes all the way back to ancient times, to both the Egyptians and the Greeks. It’s older than Christianity. Its purpose has always been to point something out we would otherwise miss or might be too scared to accept by showing us the ridiculousness of our situation, going to extremes to highlight the absurdities of life.

Good satire teaches us.

Bad satire is simply parody with delusions of grandeur.

Which was the Family Guy episode? If you actually watched it, and I wonder if Palin herself did, you know Ellen was not teased because she had Down syndrome. Stewie made a few short quips when he met her and in his musical number, but nothing terrible. It looked as if it was more shock that Chris went for the non-traditional girl, that he picked Ellen over the other girls around her.

In fact, he and Chris are convinced that she is a good person, sweet, and is simply handicapped. Stewie helps Chris get ready for his big date, but once the date starts, Ellen makes several snippy comments at Chris, becomes highly demanding, then at the end of the night demands an ice cream Sunday, saying that if Chris wants access to her “temple,” his tribute should be much better. Chris, rightly so, points out that, despite having Down syndrome, she is just like every girl he knows: conceited and demanding.

Did they make fun of her for having Down syndrome? Not really. Like I said, Stewie got off a few snide remarks when he first met her, but he seemed to like her. The only reference to Palin is the one line early in the date where she mentions her mother is the former governor of Alaska.

What was the point of this satire, then? Chris summed it up. We treat others with disabilities as though they were special, wonderful, kind people simply because they are handicapped. Did the show imply that all people with Down syndrome are like this? Only if you believe that a single example is indicative of the whole, which is a logical fallacy. If they’d meant to imply that all people with Down syndrome were mean and conceited, Chris would have said that ALL people with Down syndrome were like this, not just Ellen. Instead, he was referring to her specific behavior.


bitchy little tiger by ~loveshugah on deviantART

Then, to top off this little hypocrisy sundae, Palin went on to defend Rush Limbaugh. Is she really upset over the show? Maybe. She seemed visibly upset, but it couldn’t have been because of the way the character was treated. Ellen was treated fairly, though she did end up being the villain. She was treated like a normal human being. Maybe there’s something else at work here…

Remember a few years ago when no one was allowed to mention that Dick Cheney had a gay daughter? Mary Cheney has been in a committed lesbian relationship for years, and yet when the same-sex debate heated up a few years ago, no one could bring her up as an example of the Right’s hypocrisy. While they railed against the destruction of American values, the daughter of the Vice-President was not only in a loving relationship with her partner and parents, but she soon had a child with said partner. It’s almost as if they were ashamed to acknowledge her existence. Tricky Dick Cheney himself dodged the question in interviews.

Wait a minute…

Palin hates her son.

Think about it. Either she completely missed the episode’s theme or she is embarrassed to be reminded that she was a son with Down syndrome. It’s likely that she just didn’t get the satire in the show, but at the same time, if she is reacting only to the fact that they made a reference to her son having Down syndrome, this isn’t outrage on her part. It’s shame.

She is ashamed of him and being reminded that her son, a child not even able to walk yet, is not perfect. After Limbaugh used the word “retarded” and she didn’t call him out like she did Rahm Emanuel, she showed she wasn’t willing to speak against her political allies. Going after Family Guy after they didn’t even make fun of a character with no physical or gender resemblance to any of her children shows her sensitivity with the issue, but not her commitment to actually protecting Trig. There was nothing, NOTHING for her to complain about. They made an ALLUSION to her.

But, like I said, it’s just as likely that she didn’t get it.

It’s one thing to peddle your daughter across a stage and use her unwanted pregnancy to further your agenda. It’s what any good politician would do… but it takes a special kind of icy evil to do the same to a child who is not only going to face hardships later in life, but can’t even speak out yet.

And what have we learned from this?

Trig Palin has Down syndrome. His mother’s the retarded one.

Get Used to Reality

It's a pun! Oh, but I am witty!

January 29, 2010

Seeing as how Sarah Palin is everywhere lately, much like oxygen, I think we need to discuss something. Unlike oxygen, we don’t need Palin or people like her. I don’t like her, but this isn’t going to be an article on Palin herself. This is going to be an article on something that’s bugged me for a few weeks. Actually, a few years.

Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures
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I seem to remember that, at one point, the Fifth Estate held power. Newspapers, news programs, all of them had a responsibility to report the news, more of a mission, really. I remember watching Live from Baghdad a few years ago and marveling at reporters going out and risking their lives to report on the important events. I’m not trying to make this into a “When I was a kid,” speech, much like O’Reilly, Beck, and others have done.

I’m trying to understand if the image of the hard-hitting journalist is just that: an image. I used to think archeologists were like Indiana Jones. I was a bit devastated when I found out they weren’t. Reporters, too, had a certain aura of power to them. Bernstein and Woodward, Mencken, Murrow… they all still stand as some of the most figures of the 20th century. Reporters, at least to me, had an aura of being like the detectives of pulp noir. They traveled the mean streets, asked the hard questions, and exposed the wrongs of society for others to read or watch. Then, I met a superhero who was also a reporter: Clark Kent. If there was ever was a metaphor for the job or the ideal reporter, he was it. A hero for the people. And he was an immigrant, too!

So what happened?

The media has two jobs. It must inform on the important issues and investigate the facts. This is the job everyone associates with the Fourth Estate. We want to know what’s going on. However, the media must also attract ratings and make a profit in order to stay afloat. Equipment and crew don’t get paid on dreams and Starbucks gift cards. As a result, the news needs to attract viewership and often enlists analysts to supplement their repertoire of reporters.

The result is general confusion between two terms: reporter and analyst.

Oh, and boy is there a difference. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, news analysts, often called anchors or newscasters, “examine, interpret, and broadcast news received from various sources.” A reporter, on the other hand, will “investigate leads and news tips, look at documents, observe events at the scene, and interview people. Reporters take notes and also may take photographs or shoot videos.” This doesn’t seem like a lot, but think of it like this. The reporter is the cook in the kitchen making a dish with available materials, trying to find out what works best. The analyst is the waiter who suggests dishes and smiles and may not know about actual cooking, but tries to find out what you want and sells it to you.

Don’t think I’m trying to demean waiters, though. Used to be one myself.

And no, I never spat in anyone’s food, so stop looking at me like that.

In recent weeks, we’ve gotten official confirmation of what many of us already knew. The most watched news network on American television, Fox News, promotes its analysts as though they were reporters. I think Jon Steward said it best, though.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – The Fourth Estate
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Why did I bring up Palin in the beginning? She’s recently become an analyst at Fox News. Aside from other… concerns I have with Fox News regarding how much they actually report the news as opposed to serving as a conservative propaganda machine, I’m going to use them as an example for a larger problem that’s been festering for some years. According to the network itself, as shown in the first few minutes of the Daily Show clip above, the personalities most associated and most heavily advertised on the network are all commentators or analysts. In other words, they don’t actually do the investigating, the field work. Fox viewers generally get the news through the filter of the analyst’s television segment, and it seems the network knows the kind of people that watch it.

And this is where we’ve gone wrong. We now have celebrities on Fox that tell us the news. It’s the same kind of criticism the right throws at the left for Hollywood supposedly trying to tell everyone what to do. Now, we have voices on the air that explain the news to us, how we should feel, and what it will mean for us. There is no investigation. That’s another department. I’m sure Fox has its own team of actual reporters, but something tells me they do the kind of work that a researcher does: they gather facts already gathered elsewhere.

I realize none of this is groundbreaking info to many reading this.

Analysts, however long they’ve been reporting news, are NOT reporters. Stephanie Meyer’s been selling books for years, but I don’t consider her a writer. Paris Hilton’s been in twenty-one television shows and movies and she’s not an actress. Hannity’s been an analyst for years, but I don’t consider him a reporter. He started his career in radio and, as far as I can find, never had anything resembling a journalistic career, instead spending his airtime spreading political and social agendas. If we called all these analysts “newscasters,” would we still take them seriously? Would we look to them as entertainers rather than the voice of reason? Would we follow their words as the truth?


Party Like A Pundit by *Shirozora on deviantART

Maybe not.

If there’s one thing I tried to hammer into my students, it’s the importance of knowing your sources. Partial truths are difficult to work with since it’s hard to distinguish where the lie ends and where the truth begins. Watching Palin go from governor of Alaska to presidential hopeful and now to an analyst on Fox, I can only marvel at the kinds of things I’ve heard this woman say. I’m even more surprised people listen to her. In the three years I’ve worked as a tutor and a teacher, I’ve never had students use her, or any analysts, as sources in essays.

I guess it’s a sign that they’re not really acceptable as credible sources on the news. If they don’t look to them as reliable at this age, maybe in a generation, we won’t look to talking heads to tell us the news. Maybe they’ll actually report the news and we’ll demand unbiased, truthful work as opposed to political spin.

This distinction is very important. Analysts are not journalists. They are the speaker. My iPod, shiny as it is, did not write and record Helter Skelter. It can show me nice little graphics to go with it, but it’s not the music. It’s a means for me to get the music. J. Michael Straczynski once wrote that the truth can take care of itself once it’s out there. I’m not going to stop letting it out. I want the Fourth Estate, the news in all its forms, to be what it should be. It’s not Superman in disguise, but it should at least have more guts than Clark Kent.

Seriously. I want to clone H. L. Mencken and have him sit down with Fox News. It’s going to be like matter and anti-matter colliding.

Learning Evil

As we all know, smart people are evil.

February 16, 2010

Lewis Black once said that the difference between a Democrat and a Republican is that a Democrat blows and a Republican sucks. More broadly, I think he may have been referring to the idea of liberals and conservatives. Both words carry a lot of hatred for the other side. They’re loaded words, and each side has spent years trying to reach out to people in the middle. The truth is that most of us are conservative in some issues and liberal in others. Very few people are only on one side.

However, it looks like some book-learnin’ will turn you into a damn dirty hippy:

Alright kids, pull up to the counter. It’s time for another installment of “How to Make a Bad Argument.”

Wait, did we even have a first?

Anyway, if you skipped the video, here’s the back of the DVD cover. A study conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute shows that people with a college degree are more likely to be liberal in their political and social stances, but are not receiving a proper civics education. In other words, they don’t learn the kinds of things you should learn in a middle school social studies class. Fox News is telling me that this is bad, because if you go to college and become a liberal, what’s the point?

Let’s back up. The video clip actually has three main problems with it.

1) We don’t know who was interviewed.

2) Because A follows B, B is not caused by A.

3) Fox News sucks

The first problem is not as clear as it sounds. While the anchor does ask whether or not there are problems with the study, a legitimate concern any good scientist might ask, Tucker Carlson says he doesn’t have any specifics but the results look legitimate.

…He doesn’t know how the study was conducted, but it looks good.
Let me put this another way. A guy on the street hands you a paper plate with some cooked meat. He says it’s your favorite. You don’t know what it is, but you trust him because it’s your favorite dish.
Then you die of salmonella.

Fox News is biased towards a single narrative that states that liberals are all these elitists, heartless un-Americans who want to abort babies and feed them to communists. Or something like that. We just saw… we SAW them find a report that backed up that narrative and they went with it without going into background. They saw the synopsis and are now praising the study for confirming their beliefs. I think the clip stops before they start drooling.

In the real world, you have to do a slightly more thorough job. What age group did the study target? If it was a study of college graduates from across the country and across all age groups, that’s one thing. If it only asked questions to people who graduated from college in the last five or six years, that’s another. Education in this country needs a serious overhaul, so more current graduates are more likely to fail basic civics. Our Fox News buddies make a big deal, for example, about the statistic that 18% of the participants could only name one branch of the federal government. That’s terrible, they say.


I see dumb people o_O by ~cool-slayer on deviantART

This brings us to the second part of the argument. When I get up in the morning, I go to the bathroom. However, I’m sure no one would say waking up causes me to go to the bathroom. It’s a logical fallacy called “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” which translates as “After, therefore, because of it” when you take a course in Latin.

…Or you look it up.

Basically, one thing occurs after another, which some people will see as being cause and effect. It might be true if it the world was a perfectly closed system. In science, you try to isolate variables and make sure you have as few unknown factors as possible. The same thing happens in crime scenes. When was the last time you watched CSI and someone walked into a crime scene, smoked, threw the butt away, then popped open a can of soda to drink while he or she collected evidence? It’s all based on the scientific method, one of the most important things to come out of the last several hundred years. It is, however, the basis for superstition and magical thought.

And yet, somehow, that little tidbit of analytical application is lost on our boys here.

To say that “College makes you liberal” ignores many, many, MANY factors. Without having read the report, I wonder if it makes this statement or something else Fox has taken to mean what they want. I mean, these are pretty bad numbers for people who went to college, but…

I wonder what the statistics are for people who never even went to college.


Go to SCHOOL by =eugeniaclara on deviantART

Even so, there is one more piece of information this video clip, and perhaps people who use this article for their Luddite campaigns (hey, look it up if you don’t know) will not think about or will shy away from. Is it possible, not that college makes liberals, but that liberals go to college?

It seems just as possible. Like I said, you have to factor in all variables or somehow eliminate them. Since people aren’t blank slates when they get to college, they must already have had certain world-views before arriving. They’re adults when they start, and Fox and Friends echoes the popular concern that these are innocent children, clean surfaces on which liberal professors take a squat to desecrate minds.

Oh, the children. Is there anything they don’t get into?

By the time you’re eighteen, you do have a point of view. Is it likely to change? Of course. Mine changed quite drastically between 2000 and 2002. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to your guns, but what if you’re sticking up for the wrong thing? If you’re racist, nothing gets rid of that mindset better than having to live with these people, hear them talk on everything from religion, politics, and family. Had something that irked you about gays? Hey, you gotta live in the same building as them. Turns out they’re just guys and gals like you.

Education helps you grow, usually for the better. You find out uncomfortable truths, and sometimes you change based on these experiences. If you do change… so what? You know better. You’ve grown as a person. You don’t have to be as the little children. Be an adult. Knowledge is not a sin, and the more you ignore it, the more likely you are to blow a vein in your head as reality conflicts in there.

By the way, the study interviewed 2,500 people, not 14,000 as the clip states. Whoops. Silly facts… If you want to take the quiz yourself, just click here, then check out the rundown of results.

Merriam-Webster: Rated xXx

It's like porn for intellectuals.

January 26, 2010

Censoring or destroying knowledge is a long tradition that goes back to such prestigious groups as Nazis, the Inquisition, and the crusade of those here in America to protect us from words, thoughts, and ideas that could corrupt us and make us worship the almighty Leviathan in his fiery pit of pitchforks. Many groups, particularly fundamentalist groups and even many moderate religious groups, still consider certain books too dangerous for children or the general population to read. The Harry Potter series, for example, is supposedly a gateway to dirty, dirty pagan worship and filthy thoughts.

These groups have their reasons, twisted as they are, for having these books banned from schools and libraries, so imagine my surprise when I read THIS:

That’s right, folks, now the evil masterminds at Merriam-Webster are conspiring to turn children into sodomizing Cthulhu-worshipers from the Twelfth Dimension. If you skipped the article, let me give you cliff notes version. A school district in California recently banned the famous dictionary because a parent found out it contained the phrase “oral sex” as well as a “graphic” description of said act.

fail owned pwned pictures
see more Epic Fails

If you have children in the room… they don’t have to leave. The definition in the book is “oral stimulation of the genitals.”

Wow. Typically you need an Adult Pass for that kind of graphic carnality.

Sex is, admittedly, one of the most taboo areas in any society. Very few cultures widely accept sex as something casual. Sex is acknowledged, but rarely openly discussed. However, it exists. Denying its existence doesn’t make it go away. I know that many won’t see it that way, but that’s what this school district did. They’re going to bury the information and hope their kids don’t find out about it from a purely academic book, a text with no agenda other than containing raw, factual information for reference. Maybe these kids can research it on their own. I hear you get some funny things if you type “oral sex” into Google.


-Google SafeSearch Won’t Help- by ~RaineSageRocks on deviantART

The other problem with the ban is that the parents didn’t ban some book from a sex ed class or a biology book that maybe went into a little too much detail. They banned the dictionary.

The DICTIONARY.

As far as basic books go, dictionaries are up there with thesauruses, atlases, and other books that sound awkward in the plural. The most telling part of the article is the acknowledgement by a member of the district that they will look through the book for other objectionable terms. Look, Big Brother, if you look for something to hate, you’re going to find it. It’s easy to hate. All you need is a justification. I’d love to follow this story more closely, maybe interview parents who support the move, and see how many more objectionable terms they can find in the dictionary.

Actually… I went to Merriam-Webster’s site for the latest in lexiconic pornography and general filth. You ready for this?

Cracker.

Ball.

Bed.

Knocker.

Coprophilia.

If you don’t know what the last one means, I suggest not Googling it. Just look it up in the dictionary.

At least the people who wanted to ban Harry Potter had some sort of religious backing as their evidence, however tenuous it was to reality, but this one’s actually giving me a headache trying to figure out. Normally, when a book is going to get banned, it’s for its subject matter and not individual words. At one point, the FCC didn’t fine stations for unforseable swears on live television. Now, one BLEEP and you’ve got to fork over a few thousand dollars. Sarah Palin tried to ban books while Mayor of Wasilla. She didn’t succeed, but I’m sure she had her reasons for asking the librarian what she could do to get certain books removed should the need arise. I’m sure I wouldn’t agree with them.

But this?

The dictionary? The DICTIONARY?!

The sad thing is that the articles detailing this incident all say that one parent called to complain. ONE. Too may times, I’ve heard people make arguments based on one dumb person speaking up or one anomaly in the data. It’s the same tactic creationists use to try and discredit carbon dating and, by extension, evolution. They will point to the most absurd or out-there finds from radiocarbon dating and hold them up and some kind of proof that the science doesn’t work. In reality, this just shows that somewhere along the line, something went wrong in an experiment, and science generally catches these mistakes and addresses the problem. Science acknowledges these mistakes and learns from them. It’s the beauty of the scientific method.

If one person objects to something, people cry about the tyranny of the mob. Yes, sometimes democracy isn’t the best policy. Sometimes the group is wrong. If it weren’t for a few people speaking out and forcing change, we’d still have legal segregation in this country. This, however, is different. This is one person decrying a book for containing a fact he or she found objectionable. Democracy is not “all or nothing.” We don’t hold elections until everyone votes the same way. We don’t make education decisions based on public opinion, or at least I don’t. I proudly say that I didn’t follow the regulations set forth in my teaching curriculum, and my students were better for it. We don’t even vote for American Idol by unanimous vote, so why do we rush to remove whatever one person or a small group deems offensive without any valid reason? Some things ARE offensive, but we can usually articulate some sort of response, explain our reasoning.

We can have a debate.

You know, there are entire populations killed in the Bible. I find blood and warfare disgusting. Let’s ban that one next. Hey, The Lord of the Rings has elves, dwarves, and feudal kingdoms, a thoroughly European construction. I think we should take it out of our libraries before we infect our youth with socialist ideas. I get my info on the world from Fox News. While we’re at it, I can’t pronounce names in German, so let’s not teach kids about World War II. I also don’t like cauliflower. Let’s ban cauliflower.

Is there a number all these yahoos call?

Everyman Sucks

You're going to see this face in your nightmares from now on.

February 15, 2010

Stories rely on characters. Well, the good ones do, anyway. If we don’t care for our main character or characters, it’ll turn into unintentional comedy. Schindler’s List would have been put up on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Still, one archetype used since the 1500’s is the concept of the Everyman. Everyman was, well, everyone. He represented the average Christian and served as the audience’s eyes and ears. It was easy to relate to him. Even today, we still use Everyman. Homer Simpson, Truman Burbank, and even the Narrator in Fight Club are all examples of the man on the street, John Doe, John Q. Public, whatever. They are not special, overtly smart, physical, or otherwise unique in any way. They’re designed like this so they can represent as many people as possible.

Why then, do we trust the “average” person to run things?

In the 2008 election, Sarah Palin made a big deal about being average, sticking out for Joe the Plumber and the “real America,” as she called it. She was crusading for the average citizen, not the elites with their college degrees and jobs in the big cities, because we all know that big cities are where Godless heathens live atop their thrones of servants’ bones.


Liberal Devil by ~RubleZ on deviantART

Can anyone actually claim to represent the average man on the street? Can we actually find a real Everyman? The problem is that we don’t really have a definition for “average” American. We have a new census this year, so the best information we have is ten years old. Despite some fears, the census is not a way for the government to track you and implant liberal thoughts in your brain while you sleep. Still, these numbers are better than nothing.

I hate using Wikipedia as a source, but in this case it’s the best place for all these statistics. Basically, there isn’t a single average on all fronts. Almost half of Americans have some college education, but only a quarter have an actual degree, for example. Family units are also split equally between nuclear families, no children, and divorced. Financially, no group fits more than a fifth of the population. All in all, it’s very difficult to find the Everyman in America. Despite this, some people still think they can find or they themselves are the everyman.

The relevant portion of the video below ends after about 2:21.

Why the need to find the average? Is it really that important? We’ve always wanted to find our identity as a country, to find the one thing that makes us all the same. Math says there is nothing in our bank accounts, race, creed, voting patterns, family, or even language that unites us. We’re too different. How different are you from your own family? A sister? Brother? How much do you think you’d have in common with a guy on the other side of the country that also votes? Probably not a lot.

Looking for the mean is also fruitless. It’s like the joke goes. Think of the average American. Now think about the fact that half the population is dumber than that.

This need to identify and glorify the Everyman has completely missed the point of the use of the Everyman. Everyman is the protagonist, but he is rarely a hero. He is the eyes and ears that filter the story. He doesn’t tell you the story. In fact, Everyman doesn’t act. Things happen to him. Let’s face it. The Simpsons is a great show, but Homer isn’t what you’d call inspiration.


American beauty by `edwheeler on deviantART

This fascination with Everyman has brought us to a point where anti-intellectualism is not only encouraged, it is essential. Why? When has education been a bad thing? Everyman is statistically smarter than half the country. Why not dumb him down? People who claim to speak for the people have, historically, not represented the people. Revolutions in Latin America have failed for decades because the people leading them claimed to speak for everyone, yet they were either outsiders or a representation of a small minority.

In another time, Everyman may have been easy to find. We could find the one thing that bound everyone together. Religion was simpler. Obey or die. Enter heaven here. That’s not the case any more. We’re different, unique, and otherwise bound by little more than nationality. Is this enough?

Maybe. Maybe we have bonds stronger than race and financial demographic. Trends come and go. I’m sure within a few years, the whole emo thing will be a trend. Maybe country music will fade away. For all I know, Star Wars fans will be looked on as little more than rabid Warsies. Whatever the case may be, we are Americans. No one person represents everyone. He or she may have informed opinions, but they are just that.

Opinions.

There is no “real America.” There is America. Joe the Plumber is a lie. Sarah Palin is a joke. Glenn Beck has a television show. One or all of these things should haunt your dreams. This is one of the shortest articles on the site so far, but take comfort in the fact that America is not on the brink of civil war. At least according to the math. People make wars. People find differences.

And people can solve problems. Don’t be average. It’s not a goal.

The Valentine’s Day Massacre

She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah...

February 12, 2010

There’s a holiday around the corner. As we speak, millions of men are trying to find out what to get that special someone. Others are just now realizing how utterly hosed they are since they forgot what day it is. Children are exchanging little candy hearts. Drama is nigh. Oh, it is nigh, my friends.

This is the season when Hallmark and others remind us that love is special and we should show it this day by buying their pink frilly products for the one we love. Saint Valentine’s Day has its roots in Christian antiquity and Geoffrey Chaucer, and while we may be jaded by all the pink and hearts and Zales commercials, this isn’t an article about the holiday. This is, after all, a site devoted to language.

It’s about love.

Poets devote themselves to it. Greeting card companies make a killing from it. Rick Astley will never give you up and he will never let you down. A video told me that last one. Movies tell us how romantic it is. However, I firmly believe it is the one word in English that has lost all meaning. We use the word in casual conversation so much that many of us don’t realize it. Try counting how many times you say “love” in a given day.

People often say you don’t know when you’re in love, that you just know it. It’s funny, but no one ever says you can’t tell when you’re angry, happy, sad, or any other of the vast spectrum of emotions humans feel. We just do. For some reason, “love” is a puzzle box of an emotion, a feeling so rare and mysterious that we don’t even know when we feel it, kind of like someone who is colorblind suddenly seeing red and green for the first time.


Colorblind by ~chaos-of-fire on deviantART

Dictionary.com has twenty-two definitions for the word, fourteen nouns, seven verbs and verb phrases, plus six idioms. These cover everything from admiration and longing to sexual desire. Can one word mean so may things?

Part of the problem, like I said, is that we’ve used the word like a roll of duct tape. If it works, okay, fine. We love pizza. We love our country. We love tea in the morning. We’re only happy when it rains. We’re only happy when it’s complicated even though we know you won’t appreciate it. The word’s lost all meaning. It’s not even a word. It’s a comma. Language changes when people change. Dictionaries add new words every year as slang enters common usage and words gain new meanings. I’d love to blame romantic comedies, bad romance novels, or Glenn Beck in some way, but the truth is we’ve interbred the word with different meanings and situations to the point that, were it a horse, it would be sterile and have five legs.

However, there has to be some common ground, something every definition has in common. They all refer to some kind of longing, wanting something or someone. That seems reasonable. If we’re away from the person we love, we want them even more, just like the saying goes. But “longing” is already a word. Besides, it’s too close to “lust” and “greed” in meaning. I’m sure stalkers everywhere could use this definition to justify their actions.

And if you are a stalker and you quote me on this at your trial, I will hurt you in ways they haven’t named yet.

Could it simply be a more severe version of liking something? Does it really just mean you like something very, very, very much? Like, times a million? Maybe I like cheeseburgers, but LOVE flame-broiled bacon cheeseburgers. Is this it? Do you gain enjoyment from something you love? What about unconditional love?

No wonder we’ve been writing about this for centuries. It’s hard. Like Chinese algebra on Viagra.

If it’s simply a word that means we like something so much, why are people willing to die for it? Soldiers, pilots, marines, and sailors all give their lives for the country they love. No greater love hath a man than he lay down his life for another. Most of us will agree there are “grades” of love. You don’t “love” your husband or wife the same way you “love” the Beatles. People don’t like God. They love God. What does “love” mean, though?

I once had a good friend tell me to not use the word “love” unless I knew what it meant. I didn’t, not for a long time. I know what it means to me now, and only a few others know it, too. I’ve since wondered how many people can actually know what the word means when they say it. How do they use it? Does it really mean something no other word can describe, or is a placeholder?

Cultures shape their language. Words have power. I took back this one word and gave it meaning. When I say it, it means something no other word can duplicate. What about you?

Ever loved someone?

And did you know what it meant?