Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's actually kinda scary how well he nails us.

The pleasure of hating, like a poisonous mineral, eats into the heart of religion, and turns it to rankling spleen and bigotry; it makes patriotism an excuse or carrying fire, pestilence, and famine into other lands; it leaves to virtue nothing but the spirit of censoriousness, and a narrow, jealous, inquisitorial watchfulness over the actions and motives of others. What have the different sects, creeds, doctrines in religion been but so many pretexts set up for men to wrangle, to quarrel, to tear one another in pieces about, like a target as a mark to shoot at? Does any one suppose that the love of country in an Englishman implies any friendly feeling or disposition to serve another bearing the same name? No, it means only hatred to the French or the inhabitants of any other country that we happen to be at war with for the time. Does the love of virtue denote any wish to discover or amend our own faults? No, but it atones for an obstinate adherence to our own vices by the most virulent intolerance of human frailties. This principle is of a most universal application.
--William Hazlitt, "On the Pleasure of Hating"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you

Vachel Lindsay's Congo is something I think about a lot--and only partially because I think of it every time I see or hear anything about Resident Evil 5. It exerts a weird fascination on me, and I never quite know what to make of it. What's going on here? What's Lindsay's deal? I suppose there have been papers written that try to answer that question, but I haven't read them. You might suggest that before I talk I should read...a book, but the fact is, I'm not going to.

How is this poem racist? The subtitle "a Study of the Negro Race," immediately followed by "1. Their Basic Savagery" does not seem very ambiguous, and all the business about Mumbo Jumbo (one assumes that this is where Ishmael Reed got the title) and voodoo and witch doctors certainly seems to confirm this.

But then you get to the rather disappointing ending, where everyone converts to Christianity and the savagery is defeated and everyone is happy and civilized hurrah. This would seem to make the poem more imperialistic than racist, per se, even if the two concepts are closely linked. Under this interpretation, we would take "basic" to mean "initial" rather than "fundamental."

But if we want to take the "white man's burden" approach, we have to confront the part about King Leopold being tortured in Hell--as well he should be, be there such a place. This would seem to indicate a dim view of colonialism in general. Is Lindsay trying to say that all of this savagery is the result of corruption by occidental influences? Certainly some of the images of native barbarism seem to take this view:

Just then from the doorway, fat as shotes,
Came the cake-walk princes in their long red coats,
Canes with a brilliant lacquer shine,
And tall silk hats that were red as wine.

So we might say that the poem is really describing the problems that result when a "primitive" culture is suddenly confronted with Western, capitalist society. The fact that Lindsay himself was a socialist would seem to lend credence to that interpretation.

Really, though, I don't think that interpretation is going to fly. Because if this is only the result of European interference, then "basic" can't mean "initial," can it? But a lot of the behavior described obviously has nothing to do with later influences. Come on, people:

Then along that riverbank
A thousand miles
Tattooed cannibals danced in files;
Then I heard the boom of the blood-lust song
And a thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong.
And "BLOOD" screamed the whistles and the fifes of the warriors,
"BLOOD" screamed the skull-faced, lean witch-doctors,

and so on. It's not a hard case to make. So just what the fuck does King Leopold have to do with this? I feel as though all we can do at this point is to equivocate, and say, okay, so things were bad initially, but then Leopold came and ruined things in a different way. But is that really what you're arguing, Vachel? Really? And what kind of a name is "Vachel," anyway? It sounds like something one of the terrifying parents-to-be showcased on Baby's Named a Bad, Bad Thing would come up with. Seriously, guys and gals, but mostly gals: YOUR CHILDREN ARE NOT FASHION ACCESSORIES. Some people really, REALLY should not be parents.

But I digress. The point is: we're really supposed to believe that African petty nobility imitating Western fashions is pretty much just as bad as BLOOD MURDER VOODOO CURSES BLARGH? Unfortunately, I really do think that Lindsay is making some version of this argument--if anyone has any other interpretation, I'd be all ears.

So in conclusion: the milieu of Resident Evil 5 is pretty seductive/evocative, but I still kind of think it was ill-advised. And although "The Congo" still contains some striking imagery, I think that Vachel Lindsay was, at the least, guilty of some very woolly thinking (and a casually orientalist mindset--but if you're gonna unequivocally condemn people for that, not too many people of his era are gonna get out alive)--which, however, is much less bad than other things he could have been.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I am also thankful for Mother 3 in English.

I will refrain from saying anything specific 'til I've finished it, but so far (I'm on the fifth chapter), this game is--not wanting to sound hyperbolic, BUT--one of the best things I've ever played.

New Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice, definitely a real thing.

Definitely something to be thankful for! This Penguin catalogue has a cover and a short excerpt. The setting and milieu call to mind both The Crying of Lot 49 and Vineland, in different ways. Long story short, send me a review copy, you bastards.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Wolf within

Believe me--you do NOT want to miss this. I know there's not much currency in holding the writings of high school kids up for...scrutiny, let's say...but hey: SHE'S the one who opted to put it out there in front of god and everyone, even if she WAS enabled by some sadistic editor.

The paper also deserves part of the credit (although there's plenty of "credit" to go around), for, in addition to publishing it, not even bothering to subject Ms Hamilton's piece to the most cursory kind of copy-editing. Seriously: what kind of crap-ass newspaper IS this? Does the fact that it appears in the "Education" section indicate that this is someone's subtle indictment of public education? Or what?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This is all that matters.

This. I mean yeah, I'd like universal marriage rights. And I'd like us out of Iraq. And I'd like the economy to be fixed. And so on. But really, if these things aren't accomplished immediately, it's not, in a literal sense, the end of the world. Whereas this kinda is. Or at least the end of civilization and we know it, and that isn't hyperbole. Hell, it may well already be too late. I think the most hopeful thing one can say is that this is some pretty damned complex-ass stuff, and that there are probably unforeseeable factors that will have a big effect and that even super-smart scientists can't predict that might mean we're not as doomed as we seem to be. But that's Pollyanna thinking. Maybe we've already irreversibly fucked ourselves over with our stupidity, short-sightedness, and greed; maybe not. But we CERTAINLY will have pretty damned soon if we don't get our act together. So yeah. Even if this is the only success of Obama's Presidency, I'll still say it was a Presidency worth having.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How one's mind works

Glancing at this headline on yahoo, my first instinctive thought was that the article was somehow about neutering insects. And wouldn't it be much more interesting if it were?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Exquisite Ironies that One Would Prefer to Avoid

Student's review paper happens to contains the following:

Under Forrester's schooling, Jamal writing progressively improves to the peak where Jamal's arrogant prep professor accuses Jamal of plagiarism. The professor could not believe and African American like Jamal was capable to writing such impressive writings.

Student happens to be African American.

Review happens to mostly consist of this.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fun with Math

Let's be optimistic and assume that California overturns Proposition 8. It seems more than likely, and even if it doesn't happen now, I'd be amazed if it lasted more than a few years. Let's further assume that New York legalizes same-sex marriage, as it almost certainly will since Governor Patterson is in favor and the Dems finally control the entire state government. Let us take the population of these two states and add in the populations of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont (which has same-sex marriage literally in all but name). For the time being, we will overlook states with non-equal partnership benefits. So we take this number, which is 76,426,010. Then, we note in passing that, for all of Canada's progressivism, this means that more that twice as many Americans than Canadians (all of them, but what the hey) can gay-marry. Then, we divide this number by the total US population, which is estimated at 301,139,947. Then, we note that this means that already, more than a quarter of the US population can or very likely soon will be able to get gay-married. Then, we note that demography is destiny, bitches. Then, we enjoy the sight of Mormons and other assorted undesirables shivering and hysterically sobbing and pissing themselves out of fear. Because really, although we do try our best here at InchoatiaCo® to be Compassionate Liberals™, we are, after all, only human.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fascinating background information

Right now you may not be wondering where the name "GeoX" comes from. The answer may not surprise you. Eight-odd years ago, I created a gamefaqs account. Up to that point, I had been commenting regularly on rpgclassics as plain ol' "Geo," but I jumped ship when my interactions with the site's webmaster at the time became, as one of this blog's readers can attest, Not Fun.* So anyway, I wanted to be "Geo" on gamefaqs as well, but usernames had to be four letters or more, so, using the lighting-fast mental agility for which I have become famous, I hit on "GeoX." The idea was that it would be analogous to second-tier Breath of Fire enemies like BowmanX and CactusX. I would be willing to bet that in the eight years following, nobody has ever made that connection. And the rest is history, albeit not history that is of interest to anyone.

*I take a modest pleasure in the thought that this individual is probably extremely unhappy with the recent election results.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dear Anheuser-Busch

Please stop pretending that "drinkability" is a real thing. You are embarrassing yourselves and everyone around you. I mean, the speciousness of this term is self-evident of course, but to spell it out: YOU don't believe in it. WE don't believe in it. You KNOW we don't. We know you know we don't--so it's just condescending and kind of insulting. Please go back to talking lizards and the like. They make a more convincing argument.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Well, I like our new President so far.

See. It's fucking surreal to see him proposing unambiguously good things like this. The last eight years were SUCH a long, painful, dispiriting, more-often-than-not-futile slog to prevent the worst of bush's horrible policies from getting through, and all of a sudden, BAM--the new President does what I want him to do. Like Macs, he Just Works. Stem cell research? Here it is. Environmental protections? Right here. Sure, he's inevitably going to do things I don't like, and them I'll criticize him, but the overall philosophical difference is just night and day. More like this, please. And I can say that with the full expectation that there WILL be more like this. Extraordinary.


The genius defines "inappropriate response": "Suppose my friend telephones and asks, 'Is my wife there?' 'No,' I reply, 'they went out, your wife and my wife, wearing new hats, they are giving themselves to sailors.' My friend is astounded at this news. 'But it's Election Day!' he cries. 'And it's beginning to rain!' I say."
--Donald Barthelme, "The Genius"

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Madness of Wingnut Crowds

This Get Your War On video is fantastic. I order you to watch it.

In all fairness, some right-wingers have been surprisingly gracious in defeat. And some, uh, not.Here is a good Sadly, No! post compiling some of the more unhinged reactions. It's some seriously ugly shit, but I highly recommend it, even if you're not a wingnut-watcher by nature, just to get an idea of what these induhviduals are like. Here's the thing that really gets me: obviously, these are the ones who actually, seriously believed all the nonsense that McCain and his surrogates were spewing throughout the campaign. Okay, fair, if insane, enough. But you and I both know that Obama is going to govern, at most, from the center-left. Further right on some issues. He is not going to nationalize the means of production. He is not going to return tax rates to Eisenhower levels (ooh, that commie Ike!). He is not going to invade Israel or institute Sharia law or mandate gay abortions for all or confiscate guns or send Sean Hannity to a re-education camp (actually, I'd be in favor of that one). Nor is he going to make even a preliminary move in any of these directions.

And yet and yet and yet: I guaranfuckingtee you that, four years from now, these wingnuts will remain utterly convinced of the absolute truth of the crazed bellowings they're emitting today. I want to say that they're really incredibly dumb, but, while they're clearly not the brightest stars in the firmament, intelligence doesn't really enter into it. It's tribalism taken to truly self-parodic heights. Is there something in the water? one wonders. Chemical imbalances in their brains? As-yet undocumented mental disorders? It's actually a little frightening: sure, one thinks and devoutly hopes that people like this represent substantially less than one percent of the population. And out of those, one hopes and believes that more than ninety-nine percent are all talk. But are all of them? All I'm saying is that I won't be surprised if there's a serious act of domestic terrorism in the next four years, and if so, we'll know who to blame it on.

Friday, November 07, 2008

New Chick Tract!

Man, so much for the warmer, fuzzier Jack Chick. Hurricanes are caused by insufficient fealty to Israel, it turns out. Also, Islam sucks, etc. I'm a little confused, though. Dude claims that "it's because of what we did to Israel today that this happened." Is there some current-events context for this that I'm missing? Because the cause-and-effect model here seems singularly bizarre, even by Chick standards. How do we know that god isn't sending the hurricanes because he's pissed off about gayness? Or abortion? Or evolution? Or President-Elect B. Hussein Obama? Chickgod IS a pretty temperamental sumbitch, after all. To just automatically assume it's all about Israel seems crazy in a way that goes beyond normal Chick-craziness. It's a particularly vivid illustration of what one sees as one looks through the Chick ouevre: the worldview evinced therein is not particularly unified or coherent. Also, protip: in spite of what you may read in evangelical comix, the power of prayer is not going to be sufficient hurricane preparation. I hope to god no one's deranged enough to take this additional layer of nuttiness seriously.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Fun with autocorrect

One gets a LOT of papers that use "defiant" for "definite." This is because the kid writes out "definate" and Word's autocorrect thus "corrects" it. Today, however, is the first time I've read a paper where, for "cautious," a student wrote "couscous." I find that ineffably awesome.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Yes, McCain gave a gracious concession speech last night, but seriously, foax, what else was he going to do? He's a politician, for god's sake. Did we think he was going to turn beet-red and start shouting racial epiphets? He wants to salvage his reputation as much as possible. It would have been mind-boggling if he'd done anything else. There's something to be said for forgiveness, sure, but I am NOT COOL with the idea that you should be able to run the most sleazy, underhanded, racist campaign I've ever seen and then instantly make everything cool again by giving a pretty speech. Do we let murderers and rapists atone in that manner? Come on. Politics is never not going to be dirty, of course, but if you let them get away with it that easily, you're just encouraging them.

Was there some sort of election or something yesterday?


1. President Barack HUSSEIN Obama. Really pretty impressive, admittedly. It still hasn't quite sunk in. Whatever sort of President he turns out to be, the fact remains that we just elected a man of African descent with a scary name to the highest office in the land. It's hard to deny the symbolic significance.

2. Now John Paul Stevens can retire. Dude deserves major credit for sticking it out through eight fuckin' years of bush.

3. Big-time schadenfreude browsing right-wing blogs. I don't want to actually provide a LINK, because it might attract the creatures, but this is deee-lightful:


1. Evil psychobitch Michelle Bachmann reelected

2. Convicted Felon Senator Ted Stevens. What the fuck is WRONG with you, Alaska? And I don't mean that the rhetorical way. You appear to be quite literally a rogue state. Todd Palin had the right idea: PLEASE secede already.

3. As I said earlier: Proposition 8 passes and sours the whole experience for me. I HATE Mormons SO MUCH. Hey LDSers: your so-called "church" is an obvious pyramid scheme, its teachings are transparent nonsense, and it was founded mainly as an excuse for Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to fuck a whole bunch of underage girls. And you piously spout off about "sanctity of marriage." Christ Jesus you make me sick.

I think I know another reason why this happened, too: increased black turnout. Oh the irony. I had a kid in my class last year who perfectly fits the mold: huge Obama fan; raving homophobe. I don't know what I should feel about that.

4. Obama hasn't instituted Sharia law yet. What the hell did I vote for?

UPDATE: Okay, I just read this comment on Balloon Juice, and it put me in a slightly less enraged frame of mind:

As a lesbian in a committed relationship for nearly 10 years, (nonlegally) married for 6 years, it sickens me. Although today I will not be sad. One of the reasons I support Obama is that I know that he can change this too—for pete’s sake he actually said "gay people" in his speech last night. I know that doesn’t seem like much but that attitude of inclusion is critical. We must remember that we have time on our side, we just need to keep pushing for the necessary cultural shift and help more people realize that we are not a threat to anyone else’s family. We are families ourselves. It’s all been a lot faster than most of us ever would have expected. Before Lawrence in 2003 many states still had laws that made our relationships criminal acts.

I suppose one should try to follow a "father forgive them for they know not what they do" philosophy, but lord knows it's hard.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Mallard Fun

So a little while again there was anasinine Mallard Fillmore Halloween comic (shocking!). So I wrote a little sauce-for-the-goose-type alternative strip which really should have been photoshopped in, but I was too lazy. So Marion Delgado, unbidden, did it for me:

Cheers to Marion. I especially love the little Turner Diaries. Incidentally, can I just point out that Godwin's Law is predictive, like the Law of Gravity? It is not a prohibition, like thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's ass. You're not violating it by comparing your opponents to Nazis; you're validating it. Stop getting this wrong, internet!

A Companion to V.

Stephen Weiseburger's Gravity's Rainbow Companion is a hugely helpful book for anyone looking to penetrate Pynchon's magnum opus. It doesn't unlock all of the novel's secrets--I kind of doubt that any book could do as much--but it does provide the copious scientific/mathematial/political/cultural context necessary for the reader to at least approach the novel on an even footing. I highly recommend it.

Here, on the other hand, we have J. Kerry Grant's Companion to V. Is this book truly necessary? you might well ask. The first time I read V., I didn't have no goldurned guidebook, and I did just fine. It's a great novel, but it's orders of magnitude less allusive and perplexing than GR. Curiosity overtook me, however, so I decided to see if the guidebook would enhance my experience upon rereading it.

Short answer: no. I can confirm that V. remains a brilliant book, if, on reflection, not quite on the level of GR or Mason & Dixon, but the guide proved to be generally unhelpful.

Since V. contains much less esoteric material that needs glossing than Gravity's Rainbow, how does Grant fill up the pages here? By including much more interpretive material than Weisenburger did, culled from a wide variety of critics. This seems like a potentially useful approach, but in practice, it's almost worthless. There are useful bits and pieces here and there, but not too often. Grant takes a seemingly random assortment of phrases, ideas, and paragraphs as they come up in the text and provides interpretive speculation, sometimes his own but mostly from other critics. There's no guarantee that a passage that you find perplexing will be glossed, and there are plenty of glosses that make you ask, was this really necessary? It's all very arbitrary.

The real problem with this is that it doesn't aid the reader at all in gaining any sort of holistic understanding of the novel. The bits and pieces of interpretation never add up to anything, and taken out of context as they are, they sometimes feel almost meaningless. You might argue that, as a postmodern novel, V. resists any kind of global interpretation, but that seems to me to be a highly disingenuous argument, and it doesn't make the guide any less unhelpful.

In addition to interpretation, Grant does gloss historical names and concepts, but this is just as bad as if not worse than the rest of the book. There's a distinct feel of laziness here; one often gets the impression that a lot of these entries were the result of cursory google searches. No joke: he sites online encyclopedias. What exactly are we paying for here? There are many sections for things that didn't need to be glossed: did Grant really imagine that it would be at all helpful to anyone to include entries for non-obscure figures like Grace Kelly and David Ben-Gurion? Of course not. They're there to take up space, and that's ALL they're there for. Meanwhile, "boys rape our young girls behind victory garden walls," a mnemonic device for resistor codes--something a trifle more esoteric, I would have thought-- goes entirely unremarked. I don't want to sound too harsh, because obviously a significant amount of effort went into this book, but one does sense a certain 'path of least resistance' quality at times.

I've also gotten ahold of a copy of Grant's Companion to the Crying of Lot 49, in preparation for teaching the novel next semester. I haven't gotten very deeply into it, but my first impression is that it's as bad as the Companion to V. or worse--which is a shame, since Lot 49 is significantly more mystifying than V. These books aren't completely without value, but they're not very good either. I think a guide to Mason & Dixon would be great, but might I suggest, in the kindest way possible, that someone other than Grant be responsible for that one?