We don’t need no thought control

29 05 2013

Does it infringe upon the rights of parents to raise their children to insist that they educate their children up to a certain point and to certain standards?

Yes. So?

We in the US (and most other places on the planet) sensibly grant parents the right to raise their children as they see fit, but this particular right is conditional, not absolute. If they neglect or abuse or deny medical treatment to their children they will lose those rights, and once the children reach certain ages (these vary depending upon the circumstances), the parents lose those rights, regardless.

(“Right” is an awkward term to use in this case, largely because rights are assumed—not by me!—to be absolute and inalienable, such that to speak of “conditional rights” seems nonsensical. “Privilege”, however, seems too cramped a term; “authority” works pretty well. . . so, ah, yeah, I’ll use authority here on out.)

In any case, what I now call “authority” and what others might insist is a “right” has nonetheless come to be seen as something which, unfortunately unique among our understanding of rights, is paired tightly to “responsibility”. The default mode is parental authority/right/responsibility for children, such than an abuse of authority/failure to meet responsibility leads to loss of said authority/right.

Christ, I’m really talking around the issue, aren’t I? Nothing like spending two days in a writing seminar to unmake one’s ability to write.

Anyway. That we as a polity might infringe upon parental authority is neither new nor necessarily unjust. We might have good reasons to be suspicious of state mandates regarding children—see the history of removing Native American children from their homes, as unjust a policy as there was—but it is also the case that, absent state action, children suffer at the hands of their parents.

I can’t really object to religious or cultural communities wanting to instill their values into minor members of their communities (even though I do), because as deep a civic republican as I am, I am also a narrow civic republican who thinks pluralism is the bee’s knees (even if I am occasionally exasperated by those bee’s knees).

I”m losing the thread again, aren’t I? Shit.

Okay, I’ll just skip to the conclusion since I”m obviously skipping all over the place anyway. Requiring parents to educate their children is not an unjust limitation of their freedom to raise their children as they see fit, because parents ought not have the freedom to deny freedom to their children.

And the parts I skip over? All of the tough balancing between parents’ rational desires to pass their values along to their children and what to do when those values hinder their kids’ abilities to make, when they come of age, their own decisions. Amish and Satmar and FLDS children are not just Amish and Satmar and FLDS members, but individuals who, like every other individual, deserve to be recognized in and covered by the law, and not merely covered by their parents.

Or something like that.


We don’t need no education

27 05 2013

If your local  high school students thought Martin Luther King had something to do with slavery or never heard of Abraham Lincoln, you’d probably think, Huh, that’s a pretty lousy school.

And if those local school students attended a school  in a community in which education is required only through the 8th grade?

Would you think, My, isn’t it wonderful that the oppressive state isn’t forcing that nice community to teach anything contrary to their values?

Or maybe, How marvelous that parents retain the right to so completely control their children that those children are utterly unequipped to find their own way in the world, and are thus effectively prevented from ever leaving the community?

It’s even better when they get state support for such community-building. . . .

Every move you make

25 05 2013

I know I don’t speak for everyone, but for me, the freedoms enjoyed by artists and journalists are worth possible breaches of privacy.
Kathy Ryan

So said the journalist (or artist), not the person whose privacy is breached.

Given my rants against Google Glass and Facebook and the general hoovering-up of every last bit of ourselves in the name of Big Data, it is no surprise that I consider someone taking a photograph of me in my home an offense against all that is Good and Holy.

I draw lines between private and public, lines which, in practice, can be difficult to maintain. I want to reveal what I want to reveal and nothing more, but, of course, in the writing of this (now-less-than-) pseudonymous blog I say things about myself of which I am completely unaware.

I know that, but I choose—I choose—to do it anyway.

But sitting in my apartment on a cool spring day, drinking coffee and doing crosswords, no, I do not choose to have you record me, take something from me.

When I enter a public space I am aware of myself as being “in public”. I’m not much concerned I’ll be recorded—I am unremarkable in appearance—but I recognize, however gruffly, that if someone snaps a pic of me there’s little I can do about it. And even if you do grab me with your camera, I’ll almost certainly remain anonymous, in the background or a (drab) bit of the local scenery.

And, in any case, if I am in public so too are you: there is a symmetry of risk in our interactions.

(This is among the reasons I am leery of CCTV and apparatuses like Google Glass: the asymmetry of risk, which makes the person watched vulnerable to the person watching. And no, telling me I can even the score by recording back is not a sufficient answer, not least because such a response would force me deeper into a regime to which existence I object.)

In my apartment, however, I am not “in public”, windows be damned. That you can see me and I can see you is, of course, where the blur comes in, but part of living in a city means you maintain a set of manners in which the blur serves to protect privacy. I might see you playing your guitar and you might see me dancing, but we each let it go, unmentioned.

That we leave our curtains open as we strum or dance or eat or play with the dog or tickle the baby doesn’t mean we’re putting ourselves on display; it just means we want some light.

Yes, some people do put themselves on display, and within (generous) limits, that’s fine; that one person is an exhibitionist, however, does not mean the person next to her is.

This is, for me, theoretical. I live in an un-hip section of Brooklyn where few people would be so foolish as to think they could point a camera in someone’s window without consequence. I certainly wouldn’t advocate violence against that fool, but if the camera were, ah, rendered inoperable, well, them’s the risks you take.

Is this the real life

22 05 2013

I’m so late.

With the edits on Home Away Home, that is. Some time ago K. had expressed interest in the manuscript—she’d liked  The Unexpected Neighbor*—and I said, Ah, yeah, okay, as soon as I give it one last go around.

And then I did nothing.

K. bugged me, and I said Yeah yeah—I know, how awful that someone wants to read your work!—and did nothing. Repeat. And then I thought, Huh, I should get this done.

I made it easier by editing it section by section and sending those off to K. Some sections required sanding, others, sawing, but edits for one through five went pretty well.

And then I got busy with ghosting and grading and in the meantime K. was reading what I’d sent and then she finished and said, Hey. . . and I said Two weeks. And then did nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing: I started with the edits and again with the sanding and sawing and then I hit a point at which I realized Oh, crap, I’m gonna need a bigger saw, and stepped off.

I’ve stepped back up, proceeding bit by bit, but MAN do I have to dial it back. Both The Unexpected Neighbor and Home Away Home are dialogue-heavy and both suffer from the same defect: my tendency to make the characters too knowing.

Actually, it’s not just that they’re too knowing; it’s that this knowingness gets in the way of realistic dialogue. Now, were I writing a mannered piece, this wouldn’t be an issue, but the characters of both of these novels inhabit worlds I’d like readers to recognize; thus, they have to sound like real people.

I don’t mind that I over-write on the first draft; what I do mind is that it’s not until many drafts later that I manage to pare it back. I don’t know what I’m doing on those other drafts—it’s not as if these two works are plot-heavy—but apparently I can’t see the over-knowing dialogue until after I’ve worked everything else out.

Presuming, that is, that I’ve worked everything else out. . . .


*Click on that link and it’ll take you to Smashwords, where you can buy the novel for the princely sum of 3 bucks! Half the cost of a pint of Guinness! Less than a latte! Totally worth it!

Back to where you once belonged

20 05 2013

Caught spinning, once again.

I’m not sure why: the semester is ending and I’m scheduled to teach both summer sessions, but something feels. . . off. Unmoored.

This makes no sense. Yes, I’ll have a bit of time before classes begin, but I feel that same sense of drift I’ve had something has ended and there’s nothing else to begin. I hate this feeling; I dread this feeling.

It’s as if I’m cycling around and around, moving, but stuck all the same.

It’s about money. It’s about career. It’s about commitment. It’s about discipline. It’s about every god-damned thing it’s been about every god-damned previous cycle.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about my friend M. and her need to go back and around with her cruddy boyfriend again and again until she managed to set herself free.

At least she stretched herself with each go-around; at least she tried.

I’m tethered to nothing and no one and all I do is go around and around anyway.

I’m going to have to stick to something if I am to get unstuck.

And lay all your lazybones down

18 05 2013

I’m not gonna talk about the final episode of Bones.

Why not? Because I didn’t watch it.

Oh, sure, I skimmed through it, and watched the last few minutes, but I hate this latest psycho and I hate this storyline and I triple-hate the goddamned wrench-everything-out-of-joint cliffhanger.

Pelant, that’s the psycho killer’s name. Had to look it up. He’s horrible.

Yeah, I know: psycho killer. But I mean, he’s horrible as the resident psycho because he’s like goddamned Freddie from the Friday the 13th pics or, even more, like Stefano DiMera from Days of Our Lives, springing back into the picture, just because.

(I was actually a devoted As the World Turns fan for a number of years back in the day, but I watched enough Days to know the score. And, of course, DiMera kept returning, so it wasn’t hard to remember him as an über bad guy.)

And that, precisely, is the problem with Pelant: he’s an über bad guy. He’s a computer genius who’s able to kill a bunch of people and get away with it. He frames Brennan for murder, and while Team Jefferson ends up proving her innocence, Pelant is somehow able to pass himself off as an Egyptian (!) citizen and get released from custody and into the arms of Egyptian officials, easy-peasy.

Then he returns (of course), drugs Hodgins and Angela and threatens their baby, then finds a job at a security firm, from where he steals all of Hodgin’s money (by almost blowing up an Afghan school for girls—don’t ask), kills more people, escapes from this high-security joint, and then kills a vet in order to . . . oh, christ, am I really recounting this?

Then he comes back to menace Team Jefferson and inflict psychological torture by splitting up Brennan and Booth.

Why not just have the guy go BwwaaHAHAHAHAH! I have you in my evil clutches now!


Bones has had serial bad guys before: Howard Epps over seasons 1 & 2, the Widow’s Son in 3 & 4, (and the Gravedigger! I forgot about the Gravedigger, across seasons 2-5) and then the boring sniper guy in season 6, and now this guy, nerdy superkiller Pelant.

You’d think that it would be hard to top a ritualistic cannibalistic serial killer in the no-fucking-way department, but at least in that theme, they allowed for the requisite amount of humor, and, in the end, they didn’t bother dignifying the guy with a name. He was just some creepy dude who Booth shot and killed, the end.

Brennan once referred to Epps as a “creepy serial killer” (actually, in explaining why she broke his wrist, she said something along the lines of “he touched me with his creepy serial killer hands”), and that about sums it up. He’s introduced as a guy about to be put to death who  insists upon his innocence; by the end up the episode it’s clear that he’s played the team and that he’s even worse than first thought.

One of the things I really liked about this storyline was that, in the episode in which Epps escapes from jail and comes after the Jeffersonian team (of course!), his constant invocations of his genius are undercut. At one point Zack reminds Booth that Epps isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.

Yes, exactly: Epps might be very smart, but he ain’t no superman.

That’s what I’ve been missing in this whole stupid Pelant storyline: cutting him down to size. If he’s just going to pop back up after every blow, then why bother even making him a human being? He’s a cartoon psychopath, an avatar of evil, and utterly uninteresting for his demon meep meep ways: there’s no hook, no dimensions, just the flat sketch of a none-too-clever plot device.

Bones will be back next season—have to pull ’em back from that cliff!—and I’ll probably watch it. But where I once used to enjoy the show, now I’m just enduring it.

Whoops Mr. Moto I’m a coffee pot

16 05 2013

Scientists at the Oregon Health & Science University created the first human embryo clones and used them to derive embryonic stem cells.

Their secret?

The OHSU team added caffeine to the growth medium that nourished the eggs after they were stripped of their original DNA and awaited the new DNA from a skin cell.

Coffee really does make everything better.
Someday I’ll figure out how to use that nifty Logitech camera-&-microphone to record sound, at which point I’ll sing you my coffee song.
I do like “Java Jive”, with one large reservation: the inclusion of tea as a drink deserving of equal adoration.

Mmmmm, no.

All things weird and wonderful, 32

14 05 2013

Not weird, definitely wonderful:

Photograph by Gunjan Sinha, National Geographic Photo of the Day

You should really pop over to the Nat Geo site to see this in full form. Gorgeous.

I’ve mentioned my tornado dreams in the past; this isn’t a tornado, but this is the kind of cloud that if you see it you know something’s brewing.

I miss that, being able to see the weather brewing.


Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man

13 05 2013

So, shit happened and it wasn’t awful and it wasn’t unexpected but it’s still shit and I need to just deal with it but before I deal with it I need to breathe and say Yep, shit happened and it wasn’t awful and it wasn’t unexpected and it can in fact be dealt with and I will in fact deal with it but first I need to breathe.

Oh, and when NPR tells you that the story about rhinoceros horn smuggling includes audio that might upset some listeners TURN THAT SHIT OFF or you will end up listening to a rhino crying as it tries to escape poachers and goddammit a crying rhino will ruin your whole damned evening and make your anti-capital-punishment self want to kill every last poacher if that’s what needs to be done to save the rhinos and elephants and lions and tigers and bears.

Oh my.

Listen to the music: I live by the river

12 05 2013

When I was young and pure I thought less of musicians who didn’t write their own music nothing of musicians who didn’t write their own music, and was skeptical of covers.

Okay, sure, if they’re putting out a live album, maybe then it was okay to cover a song, but on a new disk of ORIGINAL tunes, well, they best be original, bestn’t they be?

Then I got old and things got “complicated” (read: all my standards went to hell) and while I’m still biased in favor of the singer-songwriter model, I’ve moved from bare tolerance of to wistfulness for covers.

Wistfulness might be the wrong word: it’s more that I wish pop musicians dealt with covers the way jazz musicians do, as ways to take apples and turn them into oranges or mountains or the sea. John Coltrane turned that little slip of a song, “My Favorite Things”, into a classic, fer pete’s sake, which, even given my love for all things Sound of Music, is a helluva thing to have done.

Still, there are a few songs which I don’t think should ever be covered because there is no way to top the original version: The Clash’s “London Calling”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On?”, and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. (I used to have more on this list, but, y’know, old and lax and all that.)

There are plenty of great covers, even of those songs which were great in the original. If Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” (Springsteen) doesn’t put you on the floor, I have to wonder what exactly is pulsing through your veins, and Tori Amos’s version of Eminem’s ” ’97 Bonnie & Clyde” so creeps me out I can’t listen to it through headphones.

Some versions are a lot of fun—Billy Bragg and his band did a great version of Dee-Lite’s “Groove Is In the Heart” for an encore at a First Ave show years ago, and I like the B-52’s “Downtown”—and some are sad: Peter Gabriel’s solo-piano cover of his own “Here Comes the Flood”. Placebo’s “Running Up That Hill” works because they take Kate Bush’s lush original and strip it down to bony need. Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris kill just about everything on their Western Wall: Tucson Sessions, but I particularly like “The Western Wall” (Rosanne Cash) and “Falling Down” (Patty Griffin).

(Patty Griffin is one of those singer-songwriters, like Leonard Cohen, whose music is more well-known in their cover versions than the originals. And no, I’m not going to get into a discussion of which version of “Hallelujah” is best, because, jesus, that’s such a magnificent and magnificently overwrought song that you’d have to be a real bonehead to screw that one up—and if there is a boneheaded version out there, I don’t want to hear it.)

Some songs are well-covered even if they don’t top the original. Eva Cassidy’s “Songbird” is lovely, but so, too, is the original Fleetwood Mac song. Jorane’s “I Feel Love” is very good, but largely because Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” is great; ditto with Talking Heads’s and Al Green’s “Take Me to the River”. And while I’ve heard and liked a fair number of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time,” with the exception of Cassandra Wilson’s treatment, I like the original best.

Cassandra Wilson: she is the queen and empress and goddess of song interpretation. Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm” is an amazing song, and his jangly original hits all the bitter-sweet spots. But Wilson’s turn at this song turns it into longing promise, broken and fulfilled. Wilson shows you how to do covers: Pick the songs well, and make them your own.

That sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Given all of the lame covers out there—and by “lame” I mean, “uninspired, insipid, money-grubbing”—however, it apparently is not. For every Natalie Maine’s grabbing hold of “Mother” (Pink Floyd), there’s some limp Tom Petty wannabe with a country-smooth blanding of his cranky originals.

No, if you want to do more than just punch the song ticket, you have to reach down, grab the guts of the song, rip it out of the throat of the original, and make your own meal of it. Nina Simone did that with Billie Holiday’s (okay, actually Abel Meeropol’s) simmering, aching “Strange Fruit”, turning her low voice to ice as she drops the song to cold fury. The irony in Holiday’s song becomes harrowing in Simone’s. It’s the same song, and a new song.

That’s a successful cover: the same song, and a new song.


77. Kate Bush, The Whole Story
78. Cake, Fashion Nugget
79. Camera Obscura, Underachievers Please Try Harder
80. Kate Bush, The Sensual World
81. Camera Obscura, to change the shape of an envelope
82. Vinicius Cantuarias, Vinicius
83. Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Come On Come On
84. Neko Case and Her Boyfriends, Furnace Room Lullaby
85. Johnny Cash, American Recordings
86. Rosanne Cash, 10 Song Demo
87. Rosanne Cash, Interiors
88. Rosanne Cash, Rules of Travel
89. Rosanne Cash, The Wheel
90. Eva Cassidy, Songbird
91. Eva Cassidy, time after time
92. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Murder Ballads
93. Exene Cervenka, Old Wives’ Tales
94. Charms, Pussycat
95. Chop Chop (eponymous)
96. Clannad, Bamba
97. Clash, London Calling
98. Clash, Combat Rock
99. Clash, Super Black Market Clash