2017-10-12

Preliminary notes toward a perhaps-never-to-be-written monograph defining American liberalism and American conservatism, both their individual goals and how these should work together

.

One of the great thing about reading Jeff Flake's recent book was hearing conservatism defined by a thoughtful person for whom conservatism is a philosophically grounded means to thought rather than, you know, code for hating Obama or something. One of my complaints about American politics is that conservative and liberal are no longer words with clearly defined meanings but labels we proudly apply to what we like and viciously sling at things we don't like. I identify as a conservative (or a liberal) and therefore what I hate I will label liberal (conservative). It's childish thinking and grotesquely unhelpful.

Which is one of Flake's misfires. He does a good job defining conservatism and makes a strong argument for working with liberals, suggesting America is healthiest when ideas from both sides arrive, in compromise, to conclusions. However! The best definition he can come up with for liberalism is that it's about freedom-limiting big government and handouts. Not sure why that's a valuable viewpoint that deserves balance with your own carefully reasoned positions, Jeff.

Also, I've always felt that American conservatism is simply a form of liberalism. If you go back to classical liberalism---the Enlightenment, the birth of liberal thought--then we find that democracy is a liberal concept; the Constitution is a liberal document; freedom is liberalism. Until the alt-right, no American conservatives called for a return to feudalism or monarchy. Conservatism and liberalism, it seems to me, are not opposites. At least, certainly not in America. Other nations can define these words however they like.

And so, as I read Flake's book, I desired to find an Occam-like definition of these American political movements. Something simple, but something more fundamentally true than conservatives want a small government and liberals want a big government (it's nonsense to consider these goals rather than means to whatever the goal actually is) or liberals want to help people while conservatives want people to help themselves.

And I've found the solution. And the solution is simple because this is America. American liberals and American conservatives share the same goal: Freedom.

Americans desire freedom.

And here's the difference between American liberalism and American conservatism:

American liberalism works to increase access to freedom
American conservatism works to prevent barriers to freedom

From these basic stands, we can extrapolate everything else in American politics. We can see why liberals and conservatives gravitate toward types of solutions to classes of problems. (E.g., the stereotype that liberals want more laws and conservatives fewer.) We can also discover why liberals are prone to certain intellectual errors and why conservatives are prone to their own set of intellectual errors.

But, fundamentally, we can see why it's not just lip service to say we need both parties working together to arrive at the best solutions for our people. Because increasing access to freedom and preventing barriers to freedom are not identical, but they are both massively important.

Before I get to examples of how this plays out, I want to make two corollaries which are rather obvious is we accept my axioms but which need to be stated clearly.

First, no one's political feelings will be purely liberal or conservative. I'll have plenty of examples of this should I write the monograph, but considering health care should be enough to show how a simple antithesis can still lead to complicated arguments.

If you have health issues, your freedoms are necessarily restricted. If you have asthma, you can't run a marathon. Therefore increasing access to health care increases people's access to their Creator-bestowed rights. It's a liberal cause. But making people pay for insurance decreases people's on-hand money which decreases their freedom to spend that money as they damn well please. Conservatism. Thus we see the way health care is currently portrayed.

However, so-called Obamacare's entire structure was created by conservative thinkers (largely). How can this be? Because having health removes barriers to people's freedoms. That's why.

Anything that increases freedom can be pitched as a liberal or conservative cause. One might argue this makes my axioms useless, but no. What it means is that when we call ourselves a liberal or a conservative, we are pitching our tent with our cultural crew. Plenty of policies from both parties betray their key beliefs. But this is why the axioms are so important. When we talk not about liberal or conservative persons but liberal or conservative policies or principles or, most importantly, actions, then we can really stick to the point instead of getting distracted yelling about God or Russians.

It will also help us judge whether our parties are on the right track or not. Are the Republicans on the right track as of October 12, 2017? I dunno. Seems to me they're more about winning and supporting a president with authoritarian leanings than preventing barriers to freedom. I give them a D.

The Democrats? They're doing better, but I think reacting against a party that swore to make Obama one-term and denied him his rightful Supreme Court pick has made them crazy. Calls for single-payer health care seem a lot less about increasing freedom through health and therefore at least equally about distinguishing themselves from self-destructive Republicans. C.

A couple more notes on this before I go back to principles again.

First, their good intentions (freedom, whether increasing access or preventing barriers) lead both parties to predictable sins. Democrats might work to increase access to freedom even if it takes freedom away somewhere else. Republicans might desire to prevent barriers to freedom even if it places barriers to another freedom.

That these outcomes are possible is a fundamental thing to understand about the American experiment. And navigating conflicting freedoms is a fundamental job of the Supreme Court. I could pick a less controversial example, but let's rip something from the headlines, shall we?

The evil slaughter we experienced in Las Vegas must change the way we think about the Second Amendment. I'm not going to pick gun-control sides in this embryonic essay, but we at the very least need to admit that gun rights do not exist independently of our other rights. Today, it is reasonable to consider that any peacable assembly may be the target of someone who used their Second Amendment rights to prepare for an evil action. This is, in principle, the same as my freedom of speech conflicting with your right not be trampled, or any other weighing of rights. It's a free country because freedoms are curtailed in freedom-biased ways. Your freedom to not get stabbed is a more important freedom than my freedom to stab.

Gun control is an appropriate example of how liberal and conservative thought can work together to arrive at the best solution. But this is a longer argument and I'm already over 1200 words---way too long for a blog post.

So too more things I want to talk about come monograph time, and I'm out.

First, the ACLU. By my math, the ACLU sounds extremely conservative, working overtime to prevent barriers to rights. But the actions they take are proactive barrier-destroying which, to me, still sounds more liberal.

Second, one place Flake deliberately broke with Goldwater is with what Goldwater is best remembered for today, outside conservative intellectuals: his failure to support the Civil Rights Act.


This, I think is a healthful viewpoint. But it also opens a difficult problem. Because racist laws cast a much bigger shadow than most of us realize. For instance, my the city my in-laws grew up in was underwritten by the federal government to provide housing. If you were a veteran, you didn't even have to put down a down payment. And everyone got interest help. Business boomed and people had homes. This is why the American dream blossomed mid-century---the feds footed the bill.

But! All across America---yes, even here in the Bay Area---suburban areas like this were monetarily supported by the government of the United States of America if and only if those areas were explicitly white only. Which boggles my mind, but is a fact.

In other words, the reason white families have been building wealth at record rates since World War Two while black families have been stuck in aging prospects (#grossoversimplificationwarning) is because of, well, the government. It doesn't take much imagination to see that almost every crisis in America is no more than two degrees of separation away from this decades-long policy. It might be, in fact, too late not to involve government in almost anything, by Flake's estimation. In which case, perhaps conservatism's goals should be evening the playing field---refairifying America---in order to return to minimal interference? I dunno.

This as well needs more development, but I'm done for now.* This is enough to chew over. Please chew and help me improve my thinking.

American liberalism works to increase access to freedom
American conservatism works to prevent barriers to freedom

We all agree on freedom. Where do we go from here?

Historical reasons most American Mormons are conservative
Sex and law
Libertarianism
The Constitution is both liberal (defining a government) and conservative (the First Amendment / preventing ex post facto laws)

2017-10-11

A book from a sitting Senator
a book from one of America's great figures
and an extremely popular piece of crap

.

116) Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Jeff Flake, finished October 11

Jeff Flake came to the House before the Tea Party, but I've always associated him with that crowd. And it wasn't until the last couple years that I became aware of him as anything other than [generic Republican]. Then he pushed back---firmly---against Trump. And I started looking around and paying attention and listening to him. Now I have an appreciation for the man and, having recently read and enjoyed Al Franken's new book, I decided to balance my diet with Flake's.

It was hard to imagine me, Theric,
reading two full books by two sitting senators in one year, but at least I would start it. But then it arrived and, hey, it's under 150 pages and, hey, it's well written. Compelling. Interesting. Largely fair and insightful. I ate it up.

Of course, having written a book about why being fair and insightful---honest---is part of the reason he will almost certainly lose his primary next year. But he's doing the right thing and I hope that keeps him warm at night.

Flake's book is modeled after one with a near-identical title by Barry Goldwater, Flake's Arizonan progenitor. Goldwater of course is remembered very differently by different people. Flake is a fan, but a clear-eyed fan. As part of his demonstration in favor of truth, he calls Goldwater on his sins---and calls himself on his own sins as well.

In fact, one thing that Flake and Franken have in common---at least according to their books---is a desire to state the truth and find political compromise honestly through a path paved with truth. I can't tell you how refreshing it was to read this from both sides of the aisle. In a world which seems cast from venomous polemic,
hearing people in positions of authority, both Democrat and Republican, call their own party out (while, granted, hinting the other side's even worse) and to call for more bipartisan work, warms the ol' heart cockles.

It's hard to look at 2017's Senate and think "functional," but for all the Garland-shaped horrors, there are bright spots of hope.

At least until Bannon's Senate is seated, I suppose.

In the meantime, we can share our faith in American priciples and idealism and move forward.
under two weeks



===========================================================



115) Stickeen by John Muir, finished October 4

My eight-year-old read and enjoyed this very much. So did I. This is a much more impressive read than most of the stuff he's picking up. It helps that we went to Muir Woods than the Muir House (where he let me buy this for him). It also helps that this edition is beautifully designed and illustrated.

Get your kids to read something a hundred years old with a philosophical bent and a cute dog. Pick up Stickeen.
fourish days



===========================================================



114) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, finished October 3

According to the acknowledgments page in the back, this novel went through a plurality of drafts with much professional help to get it into its mussy final form. I almost wish I hadn't forced myself to finish the book and read this depressing fact.

Look: the plot's dandy and the worldbuilding is excellent. It's everything else that's crap. Here's a couple examples so you know what kind of blonkey goes on in this trash heap.

1. Two thirds of the way through the book, the protagonist needs to be able to play guitar well. He can! Guitar is never never mentioned anywhere else in the entire book.

2. The first time we meet the hero's best friend, Aech, we learn the hero usually calls him a random name beginning in H such as Hugh or Humphrey. This literally never happens again over the next 300+ pages.

These are egregious examples, but the book is rife with laziness and sloppiness and ugliness. It's astonishing to me that this is from a major press.

Sigh....

Anyway, Hitchcock said he would never make a film of Crime and Punishment because it was already perfect so why bother. But a good book? Or a mediocre book? That's where you find the source material for a great movie.

Which is just a way to say that I have a lot of faith in Spielberg. And his willingness to improve on this subject matter.



Okay, one more thing. You know what would have helped a lot? Ditching the first-person p-o-v. That's not a law of nature when writing a teenaged protag. And it would have forced Cline to solve a lot of the book's most pervasive problems.

Okay, done.
two weeks









Previously in 2017

Thbiblio

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Since thmazing.com is down (and at risk of having to be bombed into oblivion as part of its salvation), I thought I would reproduce its list of publication credits here. It's the only clean list I have.

.

Novels
•Byuck (Strange Violin Editions 2012) *buy*

Novellas
•Perky Erect Nipples (Antemoff Ebookery 2015) *buy*

Short stories
•Armageddon, Burning, And, Hell (The Looking Glass 1994)
•Afterlife (Quantum Muse March 2006) *read*
•The Widower (Dialogue Paperless June 2007, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Summer 2009) *read* *read offsite*
•The Oracle (Nossa Morte February 2008) *read*
•Happy St. Patrick's Day (Arkham Tales May 2009) *read*
•Blood-Red Fruit (with Danny Nelson, The Fob Bible 2009) *read* *buy*
•How Long Till Two Times (The Fob Bible 2009) *read* *buy*
•Along with the Rainbow (The Fob Bible 2009)  *buy*
•Solomon's Reprise (The Fob Bible 2009) *buy*
•Them Bones Them Bones Gonna—Walk Around (The Fob Bible 2009) *buy*
•Ezra's Inbox (The Fob Bible 2009) *buy*
•The Avon Lady (Pandora's Nightmare 2010; Faed 2015) *read* *buy*
•17 Facts About Angels (Irreantum Fall/Winter 2010) *read* *buy*
•Davey Dow and Lala (Wilderness Interface Zone October 2011) *read*
•The Legend of Boitown (Scars.tv May 2012; Children, Churches and Daddies August 2012; the Mission (issues) May-August 2012; After the Apocalypse: Prose Edition forthcoming) *read offsite* *buy*
•Lovely, Fearful Symmetry (Surreal Grotesque Magazine June 2012) *read offsite*
•Swallowing Bones (Windmills 2012 Ninth Edition) *buy*
•Stars Were Gleaming (Sing We Now of Christmas 2012) *buy*
•Maurine Whipple, age 16, takes a train north (Everyday Mormon Writer October 2012) *read*
•The Dancing Monkeys of Blackpool (Windmills 2012 Tenth Edition) *buy*
•Bearing Testimonies of Death (Lowly Seraphim 2013)  *read offsite*
•Laurel Wistian and the Adventure of the Dangerous Mice of Dr. Mortimus Alexander Fitzbottom, PhD, AlcD (Midnight Movie Creature Feature 2 March 2013) *buy* *read offsite*
•Do Not Open Until Christmas (Carol of the Tales and Other Nightly Noels 2013) *buy*
•Out for Santa (When Red Snow Melts 2013) *buy*
•The Great Mormon Novel of the 21st Century (Antemoff Ebookery 2013) *buy*
•Yes, Snow White Ate the Apple. It Was a Suicide. (MicroHorror January 2014) *read offsite*
•Then, at 2:30. . . . (365 Tomorrows February 2014) *read offsite*
•A Laurel's First-Night Fantasies (longlisted in Mormon Lit Blitz 2014, Dialogue Summer 2016)
•All Right, Have It Your Way – You Heard a Seal Bark (365 Tomorrows January 2015) *read offsite*
•An Excerpt from But Very Little Meat (Modern Mormon Men February 2015) *read offsite*
•The Naked Woman (Pulp Literature Spring 2015) *buy*
•Angry Sunbeam (Mormon Lit Blitz May 2015) *read*
•The Swimming Hole (Redneck Eldritch April 2016) *preview* *buy*
Duties of a Deacon (forthcoming in Dialogue)

Chapbooks
•After Chadwick (Antemoff Ebookery 2015) *buy*

Poems
•Chores (From the Asylum June 2007) *read*
•Morning Walk, Spring 2009 (Wilderness Interface Zone March 2009) *read*
•Maher-shalal-hash-baz (The Fob Bible 2009) *read* *buy*
•Gomer (The Fob Bible 2009) *buy*
•My Latest Trip to the Berkeley Botanical Gardens (Wilderness Interface Zone February 2013) *read offsite*
•Rifflection: “To His Mistress Going to Bed” by John Donne (Psaltery & Lyre May 2013) *read offsite*
•Completely Static Account (3by3by3 June 2013)  *read offsite*
•Goal Stunning Goal (3by3by3 June 2013) *read offsite*
•God (Psaltery & Lyre July 2013) *read offsite*
•A Hymn for Mother's Day in Long Meter (first accepted to be published as part of "Our Mother Who Art in Heaven" in A Mantle of Stars December 2013; first published on A Mother Here) *read offsite* *buy*
•Sponsored Funeral (Quantum Fairy Tales May 2013)*read offsite*
•Amtrak to SAC (Psaltery & Lyre July 2013) *read offsite*
•Being a High-School Teacher Is a Great Disguise (Psaltery & Lyre August 2013) *read offsite*
•Accidentally Deleted (Quantum Fairy Tales October 2013) *read offsite*
•Overall Free (無μ November 2013) *read offsite*
•Rifflection on the Climax of “The Monkey’s Paw” (Passages of Pain, Lyrics of Loss February 2014) *buy*
•In Memoriam: B (Passages of Pain, Lyrics of Loss February 2014) *buy*
•The Young Amateur Imagines the Editor’s Pen, ca 1997 (Passages of Pain, Lyrics of Loss February 2014) *buy*
•Enough Is (The Poet's Haven March 2014) *read offsite*
•Solstice (Boston Literary Magazine March 2014) *read offsite*
•The Fiberglass Giraffe in Davis, California (Epigraph Magazine April 2014) *read offsite*
•Some seduction this— (Psaltery & Lyre July 2014, After Chadwick 2015) *read offsite* *buy*
•Jesus Fishing the Styx (Psaltery & Lyre August 2014, After Chadwick 2015) *read offsite* *buy*
•After Party (Psaltery & Lyre October 2014, After Chadwick 2015) *read offsite* *buy*
•Creator (Psaltery & Lyre November 2014, After Chadwick 2015) *read offsite* *buy*
•If I had a Book of Mormon Broadway show (LDS.net Poetry Contest Finalist February 2015) *read offsite*
•Vulnerability / Intimacy (Quatrain.Fish 2015, After Chadwick 2015) *read offsite* *buy*
•Sheep (have poetry) (After Chadwick 2015, forthcoming in Wilderness Interface Zone) *buy*
•Appreciation to the first poet (After Chadwick 2015, forthcoming in Wilderness Interface Zone) *buy*
•Doline (forthcoming in Califragile)
•El Niño (forthcoming in Califragile)
•If Joseph Smith Had Been Born in California (forthcoming in Dialogue)
•Domestiku (forthcoming in Dialogue)
•Sonnet—for Solstice (forthcoming in Dialogue)
•Sixth Mass Extinction Event (forthcoming in Califragile)
•Working Theory (forthcoming in American Journal of Poetry)

Comics
•Mormons by the Bay (SF Weekly Dec. 12-18, 2012) *read*
•Inappropriate Book Illustrations Redeemed through the Glory of Dance (Red Fez February 2014) *read offsite

Essays and Criticism &c.
•Living Literature (flashquake Spring 2007) *read*
•Saturday's Werewolf: Vestiges of the Premortal Romance in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Novels (Reading Until Dark April 2009) *read offsite*
•Saturday’s Werewolves: The Doctrine that Makes Stephenie Meyer’s Lycanthropes Golden Investigators (Sunstone Magazine December 2009) *read offsite*
•How to Get Over It (The Fob Bible 2009) *buy*
•Communion with the Small (Wilderness Interface Zone July 2009) *read offsite*
•The Ambiguity of Excellence: Kazu Kabushi’s Daisy Kutter (Fantasy Magazine December 2009) *read offsite*
•Foreword (foreword to Cetera Desunt by Danny Nelson 2010) *buy*
•Space Opera 101: Jake Parker’s Missile Mouse (Fantasy Magazine March 2010) *read offsite*
•Annie & Kah Leong Poon (Mormon Artist April 2010) *read offsite*
•How to Become a Mormon-Comics Snob in Five Easy Steps (Sunstone Magazine September 2010) *read*
•Why Church Artists Owe Ric Estrada a Thank-You Card (Sunstone Magazine September 2010) *read*
•Pow! Zot! Amen!: Mormon Theology in Michael Allred's Madman (with Stephen Carter, Sunstone Magazine September 2010) *read*
•Ain't No Such Thing: Moving Beyond the First Series of The Lonely Polygamist Reviews (Irreantum Fall/Winter 2010) *buy*
•Orson Scott Card (Mormon Artist December 2010/January 2011) *read offsite*
•Monsters and Mormons and the Deseret Book (Monsters & Mormons 2011) *buy*
•The Bold Spirit of Bryan Mark Taylor (introduction to 200 Paintings by Bryan Mark Taylor 2012; introduction to Bryan Mark Taylor: Cities by the Sea 2013) *read offsite* *buy*
•Connecting the Generations through Disco: A review of David Clark’s The Death of a Disco Dancer (Irreantum 14.1 2012)
•Mormons in Comics (Mormons and Popular Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon 2012) *buy*
•Marital Matters (Antemoff Ebookery 2013)  *buy (free)*
•What if Mickey Mouse Isn’t Mormon? (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Summer 2013) *buy*
•Our Mother Who Art in Heaven (published as an introduction to "A Mother's Day Hymn in Long Meter" in A Mantle of Stars December 2013) *buy*

•Luisa Perkins (Mormon Artist November 2013) *read offsite*
•Steven L. Peck (Mormon Artist November 2013) *read offsite*
•Denise Gasser (Mormon Artist February 2014) *read offsite*
•Seriously—Why the Hell Can't You Be More Like the Nelsons? (Sunstone Summer 2015)
•. . . then he was like, “Mind if I hang out here for a while?” (foreword to The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Part Two) *buy*
•Foreword (foreword to States of Deseret 2017) *buy*
•Something Outside the Temporal (Whale Road Review Fall 2017) *link*

Presentations/Panels/Lectures/Whatever
•Saturday's Werewolf: Vestiges of the Premortal Romance in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Novels (Sunstone West Symposium March 2009; Life, the Universe and Everything Symposium February 2010)
•Mormonism and the Arts: Mormon Fiction (Berkeley Institute of Religion December 2009)
•Funny Papers: Sunstone’s Comics Issue (Sunstone West Symposium March 2011)
•Rehabilitating Nephi Anderson, a Mormon Norwegian-American Writer Lost to Assimilation (part of the panel "Nephi Anderson, Mormonism's Norwegian-American Novelist" at the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study conference May 2013) *report*
•Mormon Culture and Comic Books (Salt Lake Comic Con September 2013) *view*
•Mormonism & the Arts: Poetry (Berkeley Institute of Religion October 2013)
•Mormonism & the Arts: Fiction, literary (Berkeley Institute of Religion November 2013)
•Mormonism & the Arts: Fiction, sf/f (Berkeley Institute of Religion November 2013)
•Monsters & Mormons: Reclaiming the Peculiar (Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Xperience April 2014)
•Representations of Mormons and Utah in Comics (Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Xperience April 2014)
•Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century (Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Xperience April 2014)
•Mormons in Comics (San Diego Comic-Con International July 2016)

Plays
•Fuzzy Vision, Straight Aim (The Looking Glass 1994)
•Balaam's Sin (The Fob Bible 2009) *buy*

Positions
•President-elect (Association for Mormon Letters August 2016 – 2017)

Peculiar Pages
•The Fob Bible (primary editor) *buy*
•Out of the Mount: 19 from New Play Project (publisher only) *buy*
•Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-first Century Mormon Poets (initiator) *buy*
•Monsters & Mormons (co-editor) *buy*
•Dorian: A Peculiar Edition with Annotated Text & Scholarship (editor) *buy*
States of Deseret (publisher) *buy*

2017-10-07

Tom Petty Counsels Us as He Leaves Us

.

Today in Las Vegas
they bathe in our prayers
but blood stains
are not
prayer-soluble.

And Wayne LaPierre,
a god since ’91,
grows rich
in the iron-rich soil.

But professionals will always
outlast damaged amateurs
or at least
so far that’s true.

Yet one voice cries,
an echo away,
Well, I won't back down
No, I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down
Some look through blood
and some look through tears,
but with sweat we must stand
to declare
Well I know what's right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I stand my ground

And I won't back down

2017-10-02

So
many
books

.

113) Paper Girls Volume Three by Vaughn/Chiang/Wilson/Fletcher, finished September 29

I kind of hate serial fiction. Now I'm supposed to wait? Ugh.

Yet serial fiction lives and dies by people reading it as it comes out.

No way left to love myself....
two days



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112) Paper Girls Volume Two by Vaughn/Chiang/Wilson/Fletcher, finished September 28

Although not as mindblowing as the first volume, it also doesn't feel at all derivative anymore. It has shed any last vestiges of similarity as it has figured itself out and boldly being itself.

One great thing about this book is that I really don't know which group from the future is the good guys and which group from the future is the bad guys. I genuinely do not know. And that's great. Because it means the storytelling will keep me guessing and we may stay ambiguous all the way through. And that excites me.
two days



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111) Artichoke Tales by Megan Kelso, finished September 26

This is a lovely, striking book. From the cover I was expecting something cutesy that belonged in the kids section. You might argue cute, but certainly not cutesy.
And it definitely doesn't belong in the kids section.


The sex, in fact, is one of the most mature aspects of the book. (MATURE in the dictionary sense, not the euphemistic sense.) Along with the violence and the politics and the family dynamics and the business and ritual and culture---the sex arises naturally from the lived lives of these characters. It's natural and functional and inevitable. It's life.

This is a book about collisions between the micro (me and you) and the macro (my nation and your nation and the drive of history).

If you don't mind monohromatic cartoon characters living fully realized lives---dirt and all---check it out.
four or five days



===========================================================



110) Adulthood Is a Myth: A Sarah Scribbles Collection by Sarah Andersen, finished September 20

Sometimes---you know how a comic can be great when you occasionally bump into it on Twitter or Facebook, but then when you sit down to eat a big happy lump of it it becomes repetitive and boring and kind of dumb? That's what happened here.

I mean---it probably didn't help that this collection was put together by theme like a gift book. Maybe if The Far Side had put out a book of, say, duck comics, we would have had a similar problem. Who knows.
one sitting



===========================================================



109) The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe by Thomas Levenson, finished September 19

I first learned about the planet Vulcan in a book of astrology I picked up somewhere. (You can get one too! Hurry! Only two copies left!) It was the first (and, to date, only) book by a serious astrologist I've ever read. It was fascinating---the mix of math and science with utter nonsense fascinated and delighted. It didn't convince however, and I didn't really ever think about Vulcan again. I rather assumed it was born of astrology and that was that.

Wrong. It was born of the fer-reals math and science!

My amateur astronomer friend with whom I viewed the recent eclipse (life-changing),
told me I must read this book as eclipses are frequent guest stars in the story of trying to understand why Mercury behaves so nonNewtonianly---the reason Vulcan was initially predicted, and problem left unsolved until Einstein rolled around. The book is written for someone with my capacity to understand sciences I didn't get to in college, and is thrilling intellectual fun.

I think I liked best though the final section with Einstein. A man who loved to think and who was willing to work through enormously blocking problems until he changed the world. But he simply succeeded. All the failures and missteps before him were usually not that at all. They were stumbles forward. I also really like how this book showed how Einstein was a man of his time and building from what his contemporaries were doing. No genius creates alone.

I do have one unanswered questions. The failed sightings of Vulcan---particularly the one by Watson---can they be explained by the increased bending of light near the sun that was later used to prove general relativity?
under a month





Previously in 2017

2017-09-30

Are we still writing poems
about players kneeling down?

.

Are we still writing poems about players kneeling down?

Of course we are.
It’s now immoral not to write a poem or ten
about the brave souls kneeling as crowds boo them then cheer on cue
at free,
at brave.

Bruce Maxwell kneeled at a baseball game last week,
and for his first at-bat two days later
the hometown crowd cheered him.
Leeet's go, Oaaakland—

Then
he was getting booed in Texas.

Next door, this Sunday, the lastweekkneeling Cowboys
will play a home game.

I wonder how that’ll go.

Are we still writing poems about players kneeling down?
Of course we are, of course we are.

As long the middle class is definitely probably maybe I don’t know
not getting no tax increase
and our glorious leader is flying his too-expensive airplane to his
              beautiful tremendous golf course
and our Big Water-surrounded brothers and sisters scramble for internet and food
and the occasional brutal policeman gets a nice severance

I suppose we’ll be digging through our metaphors
to write one more stupid poem about players kneeling down.


At least football’s on tv.

2017: Tʜᴇ Mᴏᴠɪᴇs
part three

.

In theaters:


Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017): This doesn't rise to the heights of its most obvious forebear (1977's Star Wars---perhaps you've heard of it?), but it has a pleasing humanity that's clear from the opening sequence explaining how the titular city came to be. It has some flaws, many of which would have been easily fixed (establish that the leads had been working together for some time; tweak the bad guy's exposure; show Rihanna taking an injury), but overall I thought this movie gave me something I haven't seen before and did so with panache. I also appreciated its ability to be original while allowing subtle nods to its ancestry (including at least two to that 1977 film). I don't think it's a masterpiece but I hope it succeeds---if for no other reason than to show that a new way of funding blockbusters has validity. (And hey---it's at least as good as Tomorrowland.)

Dunkirk (2017): I read on Facebook, someone complaining that this film was too simple with not enough subplots. Perhaps on some level this is true, in terms of sheer numbers, but I see this complaint as high praise for a film that attempted something rather complex in terms of how it interweaves its three stories (I'm sure you've heard, but the three differ in time covered: a week, a day, an hour [ish]) I'm not a big one for war movies, but it was that innovative angle that got me into the theater. And Nolan pulls it off with aplomb. I don't know whether this is a "great" movie (only time can answer that question), but no question it succeeded as a suspenseful sequence of tiny character studies splashed over a large canvas of human suffering. Although all does not end perfectly, the heroism and survival that does come to the front is pretty awesome.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): This. Was a great movie. Sure, I laughed, I cried---but I do that a lot. Let me give you a couple examples that lifts this above other well made, heartfelt popular film. One. The bad guy. Although they may have been more evocative comic book villains, there ain't many. And probably none of them has been as human as this Vulture. Somehow, in very few scenes, they managed to tell a tragedy. And, post-credits-spoiler alert, then they managed to drop in an earned redemption. That is no mean feat. Two. Partway through the movie, I thought to myself, Hey, self. I'm disappointed there hasn't been more of Aunt May and Peter's relationship here. Well, I may have thought that, but clearly I was wrong. Because that I-cried, I mentioned later? Two May scenes did that. And I haven't even talked about Peter as a true high-school student or the use of action or the layering of father figures or the trust of audience or anything else. I know I say Marvel movies often don't hold up to rewatching, but I'm confident this one will. It's the best Marvel movie yet.*

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): I've finally seen it. And on the big screen, on scratched film, preceded by the mighty Wurlitzer and a cartoon. And I recognized the DNA that's appeared in future films: sometimes just as I expected (WALL-E), sometimes quite differently than I expected (Star Wars), sometimes much more than I expected (Interstellar), and sometimes where I hadn't expected to see it at all (The Meaning of Life). I also was surprised that some of its own DNA came out of the sort of experiments I'd just seen at the Berkeley Art Museum. Look: I knew this wasn't going to be a typical commercial project. I did not expect how exquisitely straight-up weird it was going to be. Even knowing what I knew (which was a lot), I was not prepared. It blows my mind that, in 1968, this movie could be produced, released, and successful. As for me, it will have to lay in my mind for a while before I have real opinions. Next time it's on a big screen, I'll take those opinions with me and try them out.

Dunkirk (2017): My thirteen-year-old's been begging so I took him. Definitely worth seeing again. I found it more emotionally moving this time. And I'm just as impressed with the composition. Something I meant to mention last time is how excellent Tom Hardy must be to act so well with only his eyes visible (again), but this time I was even more impressed by Mark Rylance. There's something about an actor who can choke you up with what he does not say.



At home:


Napoleon Dynamite (2004): Still as wonderful and marvelous as ever. All I can say is that Jared Hess is the American Edgar Wright but we're too blind to see it. WHEN WILL HE GET FIRED FROM A MARVEL MOVIE???

Moana (2016): For a movie whose making was almost entirely led by men, I sure feel like a feminist now! I enjoyed this movie. Would watch again.

Swiss Army Man (2016): I'm not sure what to say about this movie. I certainly liked it. I certainly appreciated how it took apart some tropes and reassembled them into something bizarre yet familiar. Without the omnidirectional penis and masturbation talk, I might well pair this movie with teaching Frankenstein. It's definitely the sort of thing I use in my classroom. I just usually stick with shorts. Anyway---it's exactly what was advertised and yet still not what I "expected"---largely because how can one expect ANYTHING? I mean really. (One last note: Has there been any other movie ever to provide farting with such breadth and depth of symbolism? Everything from self-actualization to catharsis to friendship to shame to existential loneliness. Not at all in that order.)

De Palma (2015): I love movie documentaries and this was a good one, but no one was shocked more than me that the only De Palma movie I've ever seen is the one I knew I'd seen (Mission: Impossible). Now I'm even more interested in his oeuvre, but even less sure where to start.

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997): Lady Steed graduated high school the year this reunion movie came out, and her reunion is this weekend. So! Time to finally watch it! It's not one of Film's Great Comedies, but it was certainly a fun flick. A couple questions (where are Grosse Pointe's police??), but overall a tight and coherent script.

Doctor Strange (2016): I was in and out some as the kids watched it, but guess what? I think we've found another Marvel movie that holds up to a second viewing!

The Eagle Huntress (2016): If you watch this, I recommend pairing it with its making-of because it answered some questions for me regarding the honesty of the editing (questions one should ask of every documentary). As the director points out, although, sure, this is a female-empowerment film, it is first and foremost the story of a dad and a daughter. Or---more correctly---the girl's entire family. The small shots of her mother reveal how much each person is giving here, even if it isn't a big, showy gift. My boys enjoyed this movie. And it's beautifully shot. Shocking to watch the making-of and realize how few people and how little money made this happen. (One caveat the film should have mentioned. Fuller version.)

Arrival (2016): This is a smart and complicated movie. It's still unspooling in my head. I can't remember the last time a movie's content and form were so well intertwined. The movie I think it most closely ties to is The Tree of Life---I think thinking of it as a more popcorn-friendly version of that film might be more useful than thinking of it as an improved Interstellar or an intelligent genre film generic. I hope to watch it again, to watch it with my kids, maybe even show it to students to promote another kind of heroism. Who knows.

Magnolia (1999): Wow. I think the mark of greatness is putting something together that really should not work and yet totally does. A movie that relies on coincidence? That's unrelentingly sad? That wants to be realistic but has frogs fall from the sky? That has meta intro and outro? That's over three hours long? Dude. None of that sounds like a good idea. And yet----what a movie. This is powerful, moving stuff. And it comes down to craft. Good writing. Excellent acting. Smart direction and cinematography. It's daring. And being daring is the only thing that can really, really pay off. Of course, being daring can result in absolute crap too. But that's why greatness dares. Greatness is willing to fail. Let that be a lesson to us all.

Trolls (2016): When I first saw a trailer for this I immediately determined that American culture had reached its nadir. Then Trump was elected and I decided to see just how wrong I had been. (Joke.) This is clearly a movie for people willing to set aside their cynicism. It's not easy. It's the plot of a feelgood animated TV movie from the '80s and an overblown toy commercial to boot, but all that said, if you can set your cynicism aside, it will reward you. The thing I liked best about the film was the creature and set designs in the world between the trolls and the enemies. Those were creative and willing to leave behind the tired sameness we expect of most large-studio, big-budget animated flicks. And now it's time to let my cynicism return lest I start scrapbooking.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004): I don't know how YOU define "favorite movie" but I suppose if I tried to think of a movie I've seen many many times and never tired of; a movie that brings me joy each time I see it; a movie that makes me tear up during a final montage; a movie that makes me laugh out loud every single time; a movie that took a song I've never heard before, played it over the closing credits, and made it one I love; a movie I will always say yes to; a movie I can quote all the way through---then Napoleon Dynamite might be my favorite movie.




Elsewhere:




What We Do in the Shadows (2014): In many ways, it was funnier this time around. Less concerned with what I know and with what I don't, I could just enjoy it. And so I certainly did.

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966): I'm not going to pretend the plot is airtight or anything like that, but this is truly a great comedy. First, it's one of the best showcases of Don Knotts's comedic abilities. Second, it's generously directed with shots that last a bit longer than a more nervous director would allow. Third, it's generously written---a movie like this doesn't require added gags like ATTABOY, LUTHOR! It also has one of my all-time favorite movie kisses (but not a favorite kiss for the normal reasons), even if the age difference between leads is among the most ridiculous ever.

Ladyhawke (1985): This was our pre-eclipse movie and it was an awesome choice. Now sure, the music is ... hilarious, and the love story is so-so, and there are plenty of ways to dismiss this as a Cheesy Eighties Movie, but you should watch it anyway because Matthew Broderick's character is brilliantly written and brilliantly executed. I will take anyone up on watching this movie just to see him again. But I reserve the right to mock the astronomy.

Logan (2017): the first X-Men movie wasn't much of a movie, but it showed the promise serial film could have. X2 was one of the worst in-theater experiences I've ever had so I really have no idea if the movie's any good or not. I may have seen X3? I'm really not sure. And I haven't bothered with any of the in-between films before this chapter. And I wouldn't have watched this either except that it garnered such high praise from the critics. And well deserved, may I say. This is what I want out of my superhero movies: human stories. Superheroes are only useful when they allow us to see ourselves, heightened, not fantasy versions of ourselves. Special shoutouts to Hugh Jackman who was excellent, and Stephen Merchant in his First Dramatic Role who is standout as Caliban. One final note, the little girl is rather a lot like Wonder Woman---growing up outside the normal world and fascinated when placed into this real world. Everything else just goes to show how widely the flesh can differ on a story skeleton. (Oh: one more: the intertextual use of Shane was pretty bully as well. That's how they got me to cry.)

Unfaithfully Yours (1948): So I knew contemporary audiences were thrown by this movie, confused by its shifts in tone. But you know what? I was still thrown by this movie, confused by its shifts in tone. I laughed a lot in this movie. I covered my face in horror. I was perplexed. I was whiplashed by a sudden turn, then, when it looked like I would have to live through it again, I cried aloud, "No, Preston! No!" (Read a longer version of this review here.)

Tyrus (2015): This is a lovely documentary with a perfect closing thirty seconds about a wonderful man and an incredible artist. If you're like me (or the yahoos who run IMDb), you pretty much only know about Tyus Wong because of his exquisite work on Bambi. Which I love. But he worked inbetweening some Mickey shorts, and worked for Warner Brothers and Republic's art departments on many, many films for years. Besides that, before his movie work he was already a lauded fine artist and he never stopped creating. He died at 106. He lived long enough to be part of the ugly backstory of California's racial history, but he seems to have come out the other end only more beautiful. I'm very sad to have missed his show at the Walt Disney Family Museum. Their Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle shows were incredible.

Elevator to the Gallows (1958): I love how the elevator takes him to the gallows by not going anywhere. If he hadn't been stuck in the elevator, he would not have been accused of a murder he didn't commit. If he hadn't been stuck in the elevator, that murder, in fact would not have been committed. And it was the investigation of that murder that uncovered his guilt in the murder he did commit! Egad! This film is allegedly pre-New Wave, but it feels very New Wave to me (I disclaim expertise).

Fences (2016): This movie wrecks me, even when I'm watching it three times at once, spread over three noncontiguous days.




Previous films watched


2016
qu1 qu2 qu3

2015

2014

2013

2017-09-19

Mostly good comics, but also Fences

.

0108) Gast by Carol Swain, finished September 19

This book is wonderful. It reminds me of Duncan the Wonder Dog---and not just because this is a world as normal as ours exept the animals talk, although that's an obvious point.

Largely, what makes this book great is its quiet. It doesn't rush. It's not anxious to prove anything. It just presents the days of this eleven-year-old girl and allows her to live them.

Here's the basics: she moves to Wales with her parents. Shortly thereafter she learns that her neighbor recently killed himself and she undertakes learning all she can about him. She learns plenty, but what she comes to understand hasn't much to do with the facts uncovered.

My favorite characters are the dogs. The way they look at each other. The way they talk does, I think, better catch the way dogs would talk, could they talk,
than, say, Up. My favorite dog bit is when they're leading the girl somewhere and one of them keeps biting her ankle and she keeps complaining and the dog says, "Sorry, I keep thinking you're a sheep." and I love that.
two days



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107) Paper Girls Volume One by Brian K Vaughan et al, finished September 16

Brilliant! I don't know what the what's going on, but every new layer to the mystery makes me more excited for the eventual conclusions (which there had better be). I can't remember the last first-collection I was this exited about.

The art, with its line style, dynamism, faces, religious allusions, and colors, looks like Mike and Laura Allred's work much of the time---which is just the right homage to make with this madness.

So we have time travelers and ancient reptiles and the '80s and more, and I've already put the next two volumes on hold.

afternoon



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104, 105, 106) Fences by August Wilson, finished September 15

I'm not sure there's any play I more enjoy reading in class with my students.
a week



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103) Drama by Raina Telgemeier, finished September 11

This is my first full book of Telgemeier's and I have to say I like her long. I get why the kids like her. And if this is typical, it's probably a very good thing for America that the kids like her. This is just straight up middleschoolers being decent human being as they try to figure themselves and each other out. And although these kids are putting on a grotesquely more complex show than anything I did in middle school, it still felt real. And I love that kids taking on big tasks could feel real.

I suppose, maybe, this book is aspirational. But what, pray tell, is wrong with that?

an evening



Previously in 2017