A Few of My Favorite Things, 2007 Edition

It seems kind of obligatory to create a list of great things from 2007. So here's mine. To be clear, though, this is my 2007 list-- stuff I encountered in 2007. Some of this stuff might not exactly be of this year, but these things were all experienced by me this year.

Best Movies
No Country for Old Men
Sweeney Todd
The King of Kong

Best Demonic Possession
Marlena's on Days of Our Lives from the 90s (recently rerun on SoapNet)

Best Books
A Good War is Hard to Find by David Griffith
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
Enough About You: Adventures in Autobiography by David Shields
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Beer of the Year

Best Television Shows
Battlestar Galactica
South Park
Metal Mania (you know, on VH-1 Classic from midnight to four a.m. on Saturday nights/ Sunday mornings?)
Curb Your Enthusiasm

Best Television Shows on DVD to Watch to Unwind
Arrested Development
The Simpsons (seasons 2-9)
South Park
Freaks and Geeks
Battlestar Galactica

Best Online Columns
My Year of Flops by Nathan Rabin
Savage Love by Dan Savage
Permanent Damage by Steven Grant

Best newly-minted PhD/ Vegetarian/ Lutheran/ Thumb Wrestling Opponent

Best Way to Prepare Eggs
Scrambled, with just a little bit of the shredded 2% Milk Kraft Mexican Cheese blend and some tabasco sauce.

Best Songs
Regina Spektor, "Us" and "Samson"
Feist, "1 2 3 4"
John Cale, most of blackAcetate

Best Skinemax-style science fiction softcore porn

Best Fritter
The lobster fritters at Prime Catch in Boynton Beach

Best Soap Opera
General Hospital from 1982

Best Blog
Incertus (naturally)

Don't Drink and Wii

It's been two days since I had the time of my life at a party drinking wine and playing the Wii.

The Wii is everything it's cracked up to be: exciting, cute -- yes, a little sexy -- really social, and a lot of fun.

But heed my cautionary tale! If you play Wii while drinking, you will throw something out! I'm two days into nursing shoulder and back injuries!

(By the way, I'm totally getting a Wii. It's the most fun thing ever. But...) Oh, my aching shoulder!

Me and Elia Ring in 2008

"Every man," Charles Lamb wrote, "hath two birth-days: two days, at least, in every year, which set him upon revolving the lapse of time, as it affects his mortal duration." He goes on to say, "No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam."

I don't really tend to make New Year's resolutions anymore-- not because I've achieved some level of perfection (or even satisifaction with who and how I am), but because I'm realistic. I might resolve to stick to an exercise schedule-- run three days out of the week, swim every morning, whatever-- but that will go by the wayside at some point before mid-semester. And then I'll just hate myself even more. And who needs that? I will say that I plan to eat healthier and exercise more than I have in the past month or so, but that's not a resolution so much as prediction-- now that the holidays are over, there won't be so many casseroles, and I'll have more time for sit-ups.

So while self-improvement isn't a huge priority, I do find myself considering all that I've failed to do with my life so far, and how I might try to get more of this stuff done in 2007. I was talking to a friend at MLA a couple days ago and said, "If I could just get the book out I'd be completely satisfied with my life forever," and he gently reminded me that, at different times, I'd said "If I could just get one publication..." or "If I could just get a tenure-track job..." The more I have, the more I want. Nevertheless, the book weighs heavily on my mind these days. The great rejection of 2007 said, essentially, that the book wasn't depressing enough, and that the narrator seemed unreliable in his positive outlook and general good humor in certain places (not in others, like when he flips out and screams at his mother or broods upon the exciting sex life he just knows his ex-girlfriend is enjoying even while he suffers through chemotherapy treatments). An unreliable narrator can be a useful literary device, but not in a memoir, which is what my book is. So that one stung.

The memoir's been put on the back-burner at the moment, though, as I've now embarked on creating a collection of linked essays that I'm more excited about. Maybe 2008 will be kind to that book.

Otherwise, there's not a whole hell of a lot to be dissatisfied with. Not in my personal or professional lives, anyway. Good job. Great colleagues. Strong, happy marriage-- I found out at MLA that my relationship is the envy of some of my friends, which is nice to know. I'm not sure how that happened-- we're both quite crazy, but in compatible ways, I suppose. My parents and siblings all seem happy and healthy, as do my friends. And I guess I'd rather have that than a book (but can't I please please please have both?).

Culturally, I think 2008 will be better than the last few years. I think compassion is fashionable again, and that people in America are becoming kinder and more reflective. Not all of them, mind you-- I was just in Aurora, Illinois, where people still have obnoxious signs in their yard arguing against providing affordable health care to women. But still-- we're going to be getting rid of Dennis Hastert, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush. 2008 will be great, if only for that.

New Indiana Jones, Batman, Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man movies this summer. New episodes of David Letterman with the participation of the WGA. New studio album from R.E.M. New episodes of Battlestar Galactica. A new Paul Thomas Anderson film based on an Upton Sinclair novel starring Daniel Day Lewis (technically, this is a 2007 thing, but by the time I get around to seeing it...). The final trade paperback of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol comics from the early 90s. Yep. Entertainiment in 2008 looks downright... entertaining.

I know I said at the start of this blog post that I don't really make New Year's resolutions, and I don't. But I do periodically resolve to try to be a better, more open-minded person-- even when I just know I'm right-- and I guess that on this day, one of my two birth-days, I can go ahead and try to recommit myself to being more tolerant of and respectful towards those I disagree with. To avoid the arrogant certainty that I always know what's right. That's not to say that I'll keep my convictions to myself or avoid passionate disagreement, but I'll be more careful-- in the coming year-- to remember that people themselves don't deserve my hatred, no matter how loathesome or destructive their ideologies may be. People are to be loved, pitied, and/or feared-- never hated, regardless of what they believe.

Well, people who think that my sense of humor makes me an unreliable narrator in my own book about my own experiences, maybe...

Happy New Year, one and all.

"Of all sounds of all bells--(bells, the music nighest bordering upon heaven)--most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year. I never hear it without a gathering-up of my mind to a concentration of all the images that have been diffused over the past twelvemonth; all I have done or suffered, performed or neglected--in that regretted time. I begin to know its worth, as when a person dies."

-- Charles Lamb, "New Year's Eve"

Here he comes

I don't know what it is--am I just trying desperately to get in a few more blog posts before the year ends? Am I staying up late so I can sleep in tomorrow in preparation for the New years Eve festivities? Well, yes on the latter. But I'm also feeling a little prescient right now, thanks to this article about Michael Bloomberg. See, when I wrote earlier about a Howard Fineman piece on Bloomberg, I said this:

In fact, it's probably better for Bloomberg if he doesn't wait. He needs to knock out the other contenders to the Republican nomination if he wants to have a shot at the big ring--there has to be a clear difference between him and the Republican nominee, and Huckabee is the guy in that case. There's not enough difference between Bloomberg and Romney, or Bloomberg and Giuliani to play up that politics of contrast.
And here we are, three days before the Iowa caucuses, where Huckabee has surged (though according to one poll, Romney has taken his lead back) and Bloomberg is in the news openly considering a run. If the Iowa power players are listening, he's saying "don't bother caucusing--let Huckabee win and I'll be your guy." Hell, I'll let Bloomberg speak through the reporter:
Despite public denials, the mayor has privately suggested several scenarios in which he might be a viable candidate: for instance, if the opposing major party candidates are poles apart, like Mike Huckabee, a Republican, versus Barack Obama or John Edwards as the Democratic nominee.

I'll be clear here--I think a Bloomberg candidacy helps the Democrats way more than hurts them. US politics are very polarized right now, and for good reason--the right has spent the last 7 years destroying much of this country, and there are a lot of people looking for some payback. This will be a party-line election, I believe, and while there may not be a progressive majority in this country, I think there's a plurality, and that will be enough since the Electoral College is still in place.

Oh, and if you need a good progressive reason to not consider Bloomberg for the Presidency, I have one for you.
Mr. Bloomberg, who has tried to seize a national platform on gun control, the environment and other issues, has been regularly briefed in recent months on foreign policy by, among others, Henry A. Kissinger, his friend and the former secretary of state,

Enough said.

Bradley Came to Miami, F-L-A

Actually, it was Boynton Beach via Ft. Lauderdale, but I can't imagine anyone really cares that much when there's a Lou Reed reference on the line.

Emily and I are back from our trip to the Chicago area-- we were at her mom and stepdad's in Aurora up through Christmas, then went into the city for the big Modern Language Association conference. Emily's job interviews seemed to go okay-- there was no shouting or crying or swearing or biting, at any rate. And I had a good time visiting with old grad school friends-- particularly the poet Steve Gehrke and the fiction writer and occassional essayist Michael Piafsky, who I went out drinking with last night and who I have decided to blame for today's massive exhaustion.

The conference itself was pretty good, as far as I could tell-- I didn't actually go to any panels. I wanted to hang around with Emily before and after her interviews, which basically meant that I really couldn't do much during the day. And I don't like going to evening panels-- I'm always afraid that I'll fall asleep. But still, this conference seemed pretty well-organized, and-- judging from the PMLA-- there were any number of really good panels that I'm sure someone attended and enjoyed. I did spend a significant amount of time at the book fair, where I picked up a ton of examination copies-- including the latest edition of Sam Cohen's anthology 50 Essays, Root and Steinberg's The Fourth Genre, and Dinty W. Moore's The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction. Among lots and lots of other stuff.

Anyway. We're both glad to be back. All this travel lately has been exhuasting, and I'm looking to sleeping in my own bed tonight. In fact, I think I might go see about that right now...

Oh, Christmas was good. My godson sent me a Superman and Jor-El action figure two-pack, which was pretty rad. And we got some new beer glasses. And we had a nice time with my mother-in-law and my... step-father-in-law? Yeah, all good. Just so you know.

Okay, now about that bed...

Brian's Endorsements for the Democratic and Republican Presidential Nominations

Bradley opened the nominating process just over a week ago, so I figure it's my turn. I'm not sure if Amy and Emily are going to weigh in, but I encourage both of them to do so. I get the feeling that I'm going to be the odd one out on the Democratic side, but I can live with that. So without further ado, here are my choices.

John Edwards
I've been leaning this way for a couple of months now, and I've solidified my support in the last couple of weeks. Edwards's rhetoric on the problems with corporate control of the US has gotten nothing but stronger, and that's what I've been looking for here. Yes, I know Dennis Kucinich is just as strong on labor, if not more so, but I am factoring in the ability to win the nomination into my consideration. If I felt absolutely the same about Edwards, Obama and Clinton, I might consider supporting Kucinich, but I honestly do have a preference among the big three, and I have to follow that.

But there's more to it. I've been reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine over the last couple of days--incredible book--and this passage is part of the reason I decided to do this post. From page 140:

The kind of crisis [Milton] Friedman had in mind was not military but economic. What he understood was that in normal circumstances, economic decisions are made based on the push and pull of competing interests--workers want jobs and raises, owners want low taxes and relaxed regulation, and politicians have to strike a balance between these competing forces. However, if an economic crisis hits and is severe enough--a currency meltdown, a market crash, a major recession--it blows everything else out of the water, and leaders are liberated to do whatever is necessary (or said to be necessary) in the name of responding to a national emergency. Crises are, in a way, democracy-free zones--gaps in politics as usual when the need for consent and consensus do not seem to apply
We're facing a potential economic firestorm right now, which means there's real potential for change in the way we've been doing things for the last 27 years or so. We can reinstate the power of unions, we can bring about universal health care, we can take some power back from the corporate elites who have held it for far too long, thanks to people like Milton Friedman, and of the big three candidates, I think Edwards is the one who is most likely to take on those interests. He did it as a lawyer, and he's been making noises like he's willing to fight a class war on the side of the economically disadvantaged as well as the middle class.

So he's my guy. I'll vote gladly for whoever the nominee is, but I hope it's him--and I hope Barack Obama is his Vice President.

Mike Huckabee
Let me begin by saying that as a politician, Mike Huckabee scares the ever-loving shit out of me. He's really good, in the same way that both Edwards and Bill Clinton are good, and if you know anything about me, you know that Mike Huckabee is the last person I would ever actually want to be President. So why am I endorsing his candidacy, when Bradley has taken the eminently more sensible tack of endorsing Alan Keyes?

Because I think Mike Huckabee has the greatest chance to finally explode the growing rift between the social conservatives--the gay-hating, fetus-worshiping, evolution-denying psychopaths--and the pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-social program conservatives into a yawning, terrifying, mountaineer-eating chasm. Look at the right-wing blogs and you'll see the attitude--people who support torturing brown people, who think that the problem with Iraq is that we didn't nuke it, who think Stephen Colbert's fiery moat with fire-proof crocodiles at the base of the border wall is not only a good idea, but workable--that Huckabee is anathema to them. He's the mo-ped in the garage, that they are all secretly glad they have, but which they will mock mercilessly if they see someone on one in public. Some of them have gone so far as to say they would vote for Hillary Clinton over Huckabee, and given the level of Hillary-hatred among this set, that's saying something.

I think that a Huckabee nomination will result in either a wholesale defection of economic conservatives from the party, or a third-party run by someone like Michael Bloomberg, and either scenario is good for Democrats and progressives alike.

So those are my choices, for better or worse. The nomination process starts officially in 3 days, so we'll get to see how these two do. It's possible they could be gone by the time Floridians get to vote, or they could be in the thick of it. I'm interested in your choices, and in what you think of my reasons for these choices.

Welcome to the World of Tomorrow!

One hundred years ago, some NY newspapers predicted the following about our age:

We may have aeroplanes winging the once inconquerable air. The tides that ebb and flow to waste may take the place of our spent coal and flash their strength by wire to every point of need. Who can say?”


“When the expectations of wireless experts are realized, everyone will have his own pocket telephone and may be called wherever he happens to be,” one magazine predicted in 1908. Equally farsighted was a prediction made by Dr. Simon Flexner, the first director of the Rockefeller Institute. The same New Year’s Day that The World was conjuring gyroscopic trains, Dr. Flexner declared that human organ transplants would someday be common.
The NYTimes goes on to ask an assortment of people what they think NY 2108 will be like:

Kevin Perlin (Inventor): it’s reasonable to suppose that in a hundred years everyone’s eyes will be implanted with tiny displays. All the information we need about the city will be accessible to us without conscious effort: where to go, what to buy, when the next subway will arrive, how to hook up with friends. We’ll be able to see a virtual reality superimposed over the physical grid.

Jim Cramer (host of "Mad Money"): The city will be the international city to live in. It’s just that we won’t be able to afford it. The financial capital of the world will be probably Dubai or Beijing, and New York will be owned by Chinese and Arab investors, among others. Travel will be much faster and more fluid, and coming to New York from the Emirates, say, will be as easy as going to Mecca. It’ll be like a country place for the wealthy elite of the world. “Oh, yeah, I have a country place — I have the Essex House.”

Robin Nagle (anthropologist): people will visit Fresh Kills landfill the way tourists go to the cemeteries in France. It will stand for us as a grand monument, like the Great Wall of China. [...] In 2108, somebody may have the curiosity or foresight to excavate the landfill to learn about the culture that created this vast repository. They will do it, too, because there will be a lot of resources that can be mined, like tin cans.

Bill T. Jones (a dancer): Our cultural landmarks will be supported by private individuals with private armies.

Kate Kaplan (a child): Central Park will be preserved in a bubble to protect it from the adverse effects of global warming. Everything will be shiny and nice and big. The subway cars and stations will have TVs in them. The Empire State Building will no longer be New York’s largest building; it will probably be replaced by a giant Starbucks.
Because this is a very fun game, I'd like to play. Would you like to play? Let's play. But I can't stick to NY. I'm doing the US in general. Okay:

Amy Letter (author): In 100 years, paper will be a rare, expensive luxury, and origami will be the planet's most admired art form. Words and communications will be as cheap and ubiquitous as commodity corn, and it will be impossible to escape advertisement, even out in the woods, where guerrilla advertisers will leave holographic displays perched in the trees. On the subject of food, I believe the US will, in 100 years, have the world's most humane agricultural system, having worked the actual animal out of it entirely: steaks will be "grown" on conveyor belts from chemical constituents; "nuggets" will form in like manner, inside little "nugget-shaped" pods arranged into vast industrial sheets for easy packaging; only the very rich and very perverse will actually kill and eat something with a brain. The middle-class of India will be the dominant force in North America and perhaps the world: their tastes, whims, and causes celebres will determine the human and civil rights of billions. "Nations" and "religions" will have negative connotations, and people will believe in the umbra of the corporation, proudly counting themselves "citizens of Disney" and whatnot.

What's your future?

Posted without much comment


SAN FRANCISCO — Nearly a year ago, Wal-Mart Stores grandly announced plans to enter the movie download business. It has exited with much less fanfare.

Wal-Mart posted a short message on the Web site of its movie download service saying that operation had closed as of Dec. 21. The move went largely unnoticed for a week, an unmistakable sign that the service had not caught on with consumers. Gizmodo.com, an equipment review site, was one of the first to point it out Thursday with a headline: Wal-Mart Kills Video Download Store Before Christmas, No One Notices.

I love it when a giant fails.

I Got an iPhone for Saturnalia, And My First Random Ten

I've never before participated in the hearty pan-incertian tradition that is the Random Ten, because I haven't had the "equipment." But as of this holiday season, I am officially packing the awesomest toy in the history of awesomeness (nod), the Apple iPhone, which is an almost obscenely touchable little gizmo -- you can hardly stand to be without it, once you've got it.

I haven't felt this way since the day I first realized I have the toxoplasmosis.

So here goes: here's what's on baby so far...

1. Volkswagon Thing -- Wammo
2. Dinah -- Lionel Hampton
3. Viola Lee Blues -- Grateful Dead
4. Run Through the Jungle -- Creedence Clearwater Revival
5. Death Letter -- John Mellencamp
6. Come On -- The Verve
7. Don't Pass Me By -- The Beatles
8. Glad Tidings -- Van Morrison
9. "Fish" Cheer I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin-To-Die-Rag -- Country Joe McDonald
10. With A Little Help From My Friends -- The Beatles

Negative psychology and the Random Ten

"Clearly a negative psychology pervades consumers, which has hurt home buying," Baumohl said.

That's a quote from this piece on the continuing woes in the housing market. It's one of those "duh" pieces to anyone who's been following the story--the most fascinating thing to me has been the attempted spin by almost everyone involved in the financial side of the story. The problem is always taxes or negative psychology or negativity in the press or a lack of enthusiasm in the market. You know what it never seems to be? Prices are too high for what people are earning. That's really it--prices are too high for what people are earning.

Think about how many times you've read these words or something like them over the last couple of years, as the housing market went into free-fall.
For many borrowers, exotic subprime loans featuring adjustable rates, interest-only payments or short-term teaser rates were viewed as the only way they could afford to get into the housing market. But soaring monthly payments have led many to default, and most lenders no longer offer these types of mortgages.
If that's the only way you can get into the housing market, then you can't afford to get into it--but to acknowledge that prices are too high would mean that everyone on the financial side would have to back down on their goal of making even more money every year.

I mean, this is basic economics--a thing is worth what someone is willing and able to pay for it. In the case of a lot of these houses, there were people who were plenty willing, but completely unable; ergo, the houses are too expensive. These people didn't need "creative financing;" they needed cheaper houses. As do we, seeing as we live in one of those places where the majority of middle-class wage earners who own houses couldn't afford to buy their own houses at the peak of the boom.

There are only a couple of realistic options for correcting this problem, it seems to me. Either salaries have to go up so that people can afford the asking prices for these houses without having to resort to creative financing, or the prices have to come down. I'd prefer the former, frankly, as I have some other, fixed-interest debt that would be cheaper to me if my salary went up, but I'll take what I can get either way. I suspect that in the long term, there will be some sort of meeting in the middle, and that house prices will hit bottom and then remain flat for a few years until the next ridiculous expansion begins.

This is the last Random Ten of the year for me, obviously--no special attempts at hipness or sarcasm--just ten songs from the shuffle mode of my new iPod Touch, which is one slim piece of awesome. Here we go:
1. Soon--Squirrel Nut Zippers
2. More Than a Woman--911
3. Tread Water--De La Soul
4. Super-Hoe--Boogie Down Productions
5. Go to the Mardi Gras--Professor Longhair
6. Get Back--The Beatles
7. Sol Tapado--Thievery Corporation
8. Instinct Blues--The White Stripes
9. Magic Suitcase--Carbon/Silicon
10. Ever Fallen In Love--Nouvelle Vague
Musical question of the week--what's the best album you discovered this year? Doesn't have to be one that came out this year--it just has to be new to you.

Do you love the USA?

Hacksaw Jim Duggan does.

Just thought you should know.

Online at altitude

It's a little amusing to read this hand-wringing piece over the potential etiquette problems in the move toward installing WiFi on airplanes, considering that flying--in coach at least--has become so unpleasant in recent years that I only do it if I have no other option.

Let me begin by saying that, internet junkie though I am, I think this is going to make an already aggravating process even worse, in part because of the problems described in this article.

Seat 17D is yapping endlessly on an Internet phone call. Seat 16F is flaming Seat 16D with expletive-laden chats. Seat 16E is too busy surfing pornography sites to care. Seat 17C just wants to sleep.

Welcome to the promise of the Internet at 33,000 feet — and the questions of etiquette, openness and free speech that airlines and service providers will have to grapple with as they bring Internet access to the skies in the coming months.
It's the first one that I would find unbearable, frankly. I find the practice of having private conversations in public places to be about as rude as shitting in the garden, if not more so. When I'm in a store, and I'm near someone who's yapping on about some banality, I can always move along. If I'm in my classroom, and a student get a call, I can always do this.

But if I'm trapped in a long, aluminum, winged tube tens of thousands of feet above the ground, I have no escape. At least I can sympathize with a baby whose ears are popping and can only express its discomfort with wailing. Being forced to listen to someone's description of their awesome weekend where they got totally trashed is one of those things that drives me to near-violence.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't see the other things they talk about as being as much of a problem. Playing music loudly? Don't need the internet for that, and it's not an issue so far. Looking at porn? Same thing, really--sure, you could use the internet to access it, but if you're the kind of wanker who's going to pop open a browser of boobs and cock in public, aren't you probably the kind of person who has a detailed, indexed, cross-referenced personal collection on your laptop?

And then there's this:
What if the passenger in front of you wants to recline, making it difficult to surf comfortably on your laptop? What if you're finishing a crucial e-mail on deadline and an adjacent passenger needs to leave for the bathroom? What if the person next to you keeps peering over while you're trying to review a confidential Web site?
What this is really addressing is one of the major problems with flying--too many people crammed into too little space. It's the primary reason I don't fly unless I have to--I can't afford first-class, and there's no room for anything in coach. Internet access isn't going to exacerbate this problem. It's only going to point it out in a different way.

I will admit, it would be nice to be able to distract myself from the cramped quarters, the horrible movies, the noisy neighbors, the lack of service on most flights by looking at blogs and the like on my iPod Touch (thanks Amy!) via its Wi-Fi access, assuming I was forced to be on a plane in the first place, but you know what would be even better? Free Wi-Fi on Amtrak.

The Elves Have Rescued Xmas Day!

Political Philosophy for a New Year

Forgive me if I frequently reframe the frame, but I just watched yesterday's Ron Paul interview on Meet the Press (thank you youtube), and it got me thinking about the basics of political philosophy. Don't take my (or anyone's) word for it, go watch the vids, but Ron Paul looks good up there: his no-BS approach had Russert and backpedaling over his own "gotcha" questions. And there is a certain eloquence to Paul's answers to things: Israel is just welfare mother we've allowed to become too dependent; Vietnam shows what would happen if we left Korea alone; the Dept of Education is a money-sucking bureaucracy that can logically be lumped in with the Pentagon when it comes to spending-slashing; living in a tax-free economy is just a matter of "spending less."

I, of course, agree with none of this. Israel isn't a welfare mother -- it's a thug on payroll. Korea and Vietnam are two completely different countries with different histories, cultures, and fates. The Department of Education was built in response to a need that simply returns when the dept. goes away (or is weakened to ineffectualness). Taxing income is bullshit and I hate it, but there's no such thing as a free lunch: in a democracy, the government is US, and WE need to have money or WE will have no power. So tell me you're going to tax property or tell me you're going to tax carbon emissions, but don't tell me you're going to make the vehicle of my political power in this world into a volunteer fire brigade that uses borrowed buckets.

Not that I don't want to change the world too: after buying it a coke and taking it back to my place for a little "singing," I'd like to increase the say I have in things -- and your say too! -- by removing money from the political process, by making the vote, not the dollar, the unit of power and influence, and by convincing the populi that participation is not optional in a democracy -- perhaps through High School civics classes -- let's get the Dept. of Education on that. Ron Paul says Fascism is taking over America, and does the extra service of calling Fascism by it's (he says "softer") I say "more descriptive" name Corporatism. I couldn't agree more. But when the threat is rich, massive corporations, and the "force" we have to fight this threat is a "people's democratic collective" known as "our government," explain to me how disempowering that body makes things better instead of worse?

I'd like to point out here that I like Paul because his speech actually opens the door to these kinds of conversations. I disagree with him and respect him. But the only good thing about a Paul presidency, as far as I can see, is that he's probably the only candidate who could be relied upon to abdicate the great powers bu$h has gathered for the executive office. That said, his vision could only lead to disaster. Right now corporations are corrupting and weakening the power of the people -- but one doesn't shoot one's daughter because she got the flu, or "iaciet baby cum bathwater," as it's known. But I prefer the sick daughter metaphor, because the idea should be to make the girl stronger, and better, so that she will expel the virus and emerge from the experience stronger and more resistant in the future.

For the majority of human history, most people have lived under tyranny. Tyranny seems to be the default. Through great cleverness, a people might get together and design a way for themselves to tyrannize themselves, and thereby be free from the whims of kings. This is a great idea. But it's never been a perfect idea. American democracy in practice has always fallen a little short of the ideal. From the plantations to the rail barons to the oil kings to today's consortium elite, powerful people have always twisted things to their benefit. And yet, at the same time, things have, over the long-haul, gotten progressively better for people: emancipation, suffrage, and so on, not to mention the internet (don't underestimate the internet!).

And in every case when things have gotten better for people, it was through the collective democratic force that is the federal government -- not through individual action. The cure for our ills is not to try to go back to a time when people were less free, but to imagine and enact a future in which people are more free, and in which that freedom is protected by themselves acting in concert to protect their means, through unions and through a strong people-run federal government.

The cure for our ills is actually deceptively simple: we all need to take the democracy out of the hands of corporations and hold it firmly in our own. Then we need to beat the shit out of those corporations with regulations, to make them serve us, as our bitches, instead of the other way around.

Maybe he's in the TARDIS?

As Amy and I eagerly await procuring (by unnamed means) a copy of this year's Doctor Who Christmas Special, I provide you this story of holiday cheer.

A statue of the infant Jesus on display near Miami in Florida is being fitted with a Global Positioning System device after the original figurine was stolen.

The near-life-size figure forms part of a nativity scene in Bal Harbour.

The original vanished three weeks ago, despite being bolted to the ground.

You've got to really want a baby Jesus to unbolt it from the ground--unless you have a sonic screwdriver and the Jesus is really some relic of an ancient race that has it in for Earth, which always seems to be the case. Is attaching GPS to everything one of the early stages of Cyberman development? Am I blathering because I assume that no one will ever read this because it's Christmas Eve? Kylie Minogue? And what cruel bastard at Dish Network decided to put Fox News and BBC America on the same tier and can I punch that person really really hard?

Those are my deep thoughts for this Xmas Eve. So while I'm geeking out, protect yourself from Robot Santa, and save your strength for New Years.

Oh, and for no reason whatsoever, I give you this as my Xmas present.

Symbolism, people!

It's really not that difficult. After all, the majority of western literature is predicated on it, as is most religious belief. Yes, there are some people who literally believe that the earth is 6,000 years old and that fossils are God's way of testing our faith, but they're the exception, not the rule. What's so difficult about the symbolism in this story?

(Man, I wish I could find a picture of this.)
EDIT: Merry Xmas Brian

BREMERTON, Wash. - Art Conrad has an issue with the commercialism of Christmas, and his protest has gone way beyond just shunning the malls or turning off his television.

The Bremerton resident nailed Santa Claus to a 15-foot crucifix in front of his house....

A photo of the crucified Santa adorns Conrad's Christmas cards, with the message "Santa died for your MasterCard."

And yet...
Jake Tally walked by on Friday and chuckled, but did not pretend to understand the message.

"I don't really know what to think. I know it's about God but Santa has nothing to do with it," he told the Kitsap Sun newspaper.

Oh Jake, why dost thou test me so?

Away We Go (Again)

In less than twelve hours, Emily and I will be on a plane once again, this time heading to her mom's house in Aurora, Illinois for Christmas. After that, we'll be in Chicago for MLA-- if you're there, you'll recognize me as the only person at the conference wearing jeans, I'm sure. Hey, I'm not on the job market this year-- no sense in wearing the black suit that seems to be the official uniform of the Modern Language Association.

Anyway. We'll be back next Sunday night, but then we may or may not have friends in town (we're still figuring out just when they're coming). So it may be a few days before Emily and I blog again.

With that in mind, it seemed appropriate to extend holiday wishes to all off the online friends we've gotten to know since Brian invited us to join this community back in May. So Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings to the Misanthrope, Teh Portly Dyke, Melissa McEwan, Bobby, Heather, TheCunningRunt, Batocchio, SJ, Shannon, Mark, Papatya, and everyone else I'm surely overlooking right now. (Cut me some slack, though-- I'm still trying to get over this killer head cold from hell).

And, of course, we both want to extend our best wishes and season's greetings to our most excellent co-bloggers, Amy and Brian.


Bradley (and Emily, too)

Some Clarifications

Look, when I said I "marched with" Martin Luther King, what I meant by "marched with" was simply that I was aware that a man named Martin Luther King existed, and that he did some marching. Did I personally "march" with him? No, of course not-- I'm sorry if anybody misunderstood. What can I say? I was an English major.

Also, when I claimed to have "majored" in political science, of course what I meant was that I lived in a dorm not too far from the political science building, and that I was once held by the legs by a poltiical science major while doing a keg stand. Or was he an art student? Who the the hell knows? Does it matter? I didn't expect people to take me literally.

Speaking of college... when I claimed to have "French-kissed" Daphne Du Maurier at the ATO house's "Rasta Pasta" party, of course what I meant was that I read Rebecca in the 9th grade (this one should have been obvious-- Daphne Du Maurier died five years before I started college).

And finally, when I said that America "could probably be okay with Mitt Romney as president," I was-- of course-- completely talking out of my ass. Mitt Romney would be a terrible president. We all know that, right?

Bradley's Endorsements for the Democratic and Republican Nominations

Last week, the Des Moines Register and the Boston Globe made national headlines as they announced their endorsements for candidates seeking the major parties' nominations for president. John McCain was each paper's preferred Republican, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama got support from the Register and the Globe, respectively.

Anyway, I figured I've kept people in suspense long enough. It's time that I endorsed some candidates. So, here goes.

Democrat: Dennis Kucinich

I'm sick of the "conventional wisdom" that says that Kucinich is "unelectable." I can't really get excited by a candidate who authorized the current occupation of Iraq (like Clinton or Edwards), and I also think he's the one candidate with really bold initiatives in a variety of areas-- the environment, the economy, health care, you name it. Of all the candidates, I suppose Kucinich strikes me as the most principled and the most idealistic-- and those two qualities make him a better candidate than anyone else on the field.

Republican: Alan Keyes

Alan Keyes is similarly principled, except his principles are absolutely bat-shit crazy. He even threw his own daughter out of the house and cut her off completely because he thinks that his God commands him to hate gay people, even his own children. And frankly, I think Republicans ought to get excited about Keyes-- he's anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and in favor of abstinence-only sex education. Seriously, he's the most consistent guy the rightwingers have. So let him run!

And then, in January, 2009, we can all welcome President Kucinich to the White House. Pretty sweet, huh?

Some More Movie Reviews from Casa BrIsaacson

Emily and I just got back from Sweeney Todd, which I think should be renamed Swelly Todd or Sweeney Toddally Awesome! Okay, maybe not. But it was quite a good movie-- and I say that as someone who does not normally have much of a fondness for Stephen Sondheim musicals (I'm much more of a Oscar Hammerstein kinda guy, if you couldn't tell). But I am someone who generally really likes Tim Burton movies-- I know that they often seem like confections, style over substance, all that. But in a film, I can sometimes appreciate style over substance. And in some Tim Burton films, I can often find some amount of substance to appreciate. Big Fish and Ed Wood are both just lovely, as far as I'm concerned.

Sweeney Todd has all the style you'd expect from a Tim Burton film-- the costuming evokes a sense of grimy aristocracy, the main characters' hair disobeys certain laws of physics, and he's using that red paint for blood that he used in Sleepy Hollow to evoke those old Hammer Horror movies from the 60s and 70s. But there's also a surprising amount of depth here, too-- as Sondheim, Burton, and Johnny Depp present him, Sweeney Todd is a violent man whose rage consumes him to the point that he... Nah. That would be telling. But, needless to say, Sweeney Todd joins Atonement and No Country for Old Men as part of our recent trifecta of brutally violent movies that serve to illustrate a larger point about the role violence plays in our lives. I highly recommend seeing it.

The other movie Emily and I recently watched was Menham Golan's 1980 musical/ drug-induced celluloid nightmare The Apple. I know for a fact that at some point I wrote about wanting to see this movie very very badly on this blog, because I feel like Brian agreed with me that Nathan Rabin's review of the film made it sound like something everyone in the world needs to see to believe. Alas, a quick search of this blog does not turn up anything. I probably mentioned it in a comment or something.

Anyway, The Apple was everything I hoped it would be. And then some. Take a gander at this:

I know, right?

The movie tells the story of a not-too-distant future (1994, to be precise) where disco has taken over the world and people drive cars that look like they were first sold in 1978, but that have cool, futuristic looking "fins" on them. Oh, and the rock stars all rock so hard, they wear helmets adorned with glitter. 'Cause if you're gonna rock that hard, you want to protect yourself.

Our heroes, Bebe and Alfie (Catherine Mary Stewart and George Gilmour) are, as Rabin wrote, "so sickeningly wholesome that Donny & Marie would probably watch them perform and marvel 'God, what a coupla pussies.'” And their lame-ass accoustic folk sound poses a threat to the omnipresent, world government-controlling Boogalow International Music (BIM)... for some reason. So, the head of the the company, Boogalow (who also happens to be Satan himself) quickly signs Bebe up to be his next big star. Alfie smells a rat and refuses to sign the contract so he gets, like, beaten up and stuff while Bebe goes off the fuck one of the other rock stars in Boogalow's employ. It should also be noted that George Gilmour portrays Alfie with a certain Shakespearean flair-- and by "Shakespearean" I mean "like a dead guy." In fact, the acting in this movies is pretty across-the-board terrible, except for Vladek Sheybal as Boogalow, who seems to be the only performer in the film with any background in musical theatre. Or an intro to acting class.

(Interesting note-- as we watched the movie, Emily asked me when Sheybal appeared, "Who is that guy? He looks familiar." And he does. Actually, though, I think it's that he sort of looks like Peter Cushing or Vincent Price-- thin frame, sharp features, and that perfectly-sculpted, stiffly combed-back kinda hair. Emily and I have taken to referring to that hairstyle as "a hairline you can set your watch to," and we encourage you to do the same).

Anyway. I don't want to give too much away. Let's just say that The Apple is a disco/ glam rock retelling of the story of Adam and Eve, and that it Out-Xanadoes Xanadu. Emily and I watched it without the benefit of any type of mind-altering substances, but I imagine it would go quite well with any number of cocktails. Or plants or funguses or whatever.

The latest on media consolidation

No one who reads this blog will be surprised to learn that about the only major media figure doing anything on the story of media consolidation is Bill Moyers. He's been on the story for a long time, and has been consistently the best mainstream (if you can call PBS mainstream) voice discussing this issue. And when I say discussing, I mean mentioning in the slightest.

In this clip from last night's program, Moyers' team talks about the move made earlier this week by FCC Chairman Martin, about whom I've written before, to change the rules of media ownership over the objections of both the public and a bipartisan Congressional group, including such disparate voices as Byron Dorgan and Ted "the Internet is a series of tubes" Stevens. Yeah, I was a little surprised by the latter, too.

Side note to the Moyers people--make it possible for bloggers to imbed your video on our sites, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease.

It was this quote that I thought exemplified the Republican FCC Commissioners.

FCC COMMISSIONER DEBORAH TATE: We traveled literally from sea to shining sea. These lengthy hearings provided an opportunity for thousands of American citizens to have unprecedented access to a governmental body about the role media plays in their lives and their opinion regarding media ownership. Over my 20-plus years of public service - at all levels of government - I cannot remember a single time that an agency expended this much institutional energy and investment on an issue, or was this open and thorough regarding a matter of public interest.
Everything she said was true. Everything she said was factually accurate. There was no dissembling or falsity in what she said. It's what she didn't say that was so disturbing, which was that no matter how much access they offered, no matter how many hours they spent before the public hearing how much we don't want more consolidation, no matter how much institutional energy and investment was expended by the FCC, it didn't matter, and it wasn't going to.

That's the real key. No matter what the public or Congress said or did, nothing was going to change. Kevin Martin and the other Republicans on the panel had decided that the rules were going to change, and the hearings were basically a show, a matter of form, a way of being able to say to the public who is blissfully unaware of what's going on (because the very media companies who benefit most from this rule change aren't reporting on it--how convenient!) "we gave you a chance to speak out on this before we made the rule change." A dog and pony show of massive proportions, in other words.

There are two replies in the works right now. Congress is mulling a bill that would reverse the FCC's decision, but I don't hold out much hope for it. It has bi-partisan support, but there's little doubt in my mind that Bush would veto any law doing so--Martin is his boy, after all. The other is a lawsuit being filed by a public interest group in D.C., which has a better chance of success, I think. Either way, the story continues, and Moyers will no doubt continue to cover it.

Rose Petal Cottage

I have to thank one of my students for calling this to my attention: there is apparently a "toy" being promoted on television right now called the "Rose Petal Cottage" -- it's supposed to be a play house for girls. So what's in it? A laundry machine, a dishwasher, and a baby in a rocker.


As NOW president Kim Gandy says:

Honestly, if I didn't know better, I would think they were beamed in from 1955, via some lost satellite in space. Or maybe it's a deeply subversive parody that a clever (and rich) band of feminists snuck onto the airwaves in heavy rotation.

According to the makers at Playskool, the Rose Petal Cottage is "a place where her dreams have room to grow." And what might those dreams be? Well, baking muffins, arranging furniture and doing the dishes. The voiceover even declares that the toy house will "entertain her imagination" just before the little girl opens the miniature washing machine and says – I kid you not – "Let's do laundry!"

Now, I'm not knocking the important work of housekeeping, but this commercial is aimed solely at females (there are two versions -- one designed to entice little girls and one targeting their moms). Products like the Rose Petal Cottage and the marketing campaigns that accompany them perpetuate the notion that cooking and cleaning are women's work, and girls might as well start getting used to that fact at an early age. C'mon Susie, this scrubbing and ironing look like fun!

Unlike her, I would like to "knock" the important work of housekeeping: not that it's unimportant, but frankly, if I could buy a robot to do all these things, like the one that cleans my floors, I would. I want a laundry basket that auto-sorts and send them to the wash when the basket's full, folds and returns them to my drawers. I want a slot built into my kitchen counter into which I can drop all dirty dishes, and see them miraculously appear back in the cabinets, super-clean. I don't think this is work to inspire the "imagination" of anyone, girl or boy -- unless that girl or boy is the one who designs and builds the robots!

Toy manufacturers may be working hard to discourage that as well; Gandy again:

Imagine my surprise when NOW received an email from a woman alerting us to the fact that even the Discovery Channel's online store organizes toys by gender beginning at age five. As the email writer explains: "Since the store is a major one for science and technology toys, I worry that it is just another way women are being discouraged from pursuing interest in science and technology at an early age."

Our lives are a war, and we have been traitors every one of our born days. Spies in the enemy's country. Sometimes we forget that. And then we see something like this.

Yet another reason for me to be anxious

Concealed weapons laws make me very nervous. Perhaps because I'm generally a nervous person. Perhaps because I don't really like guns. Perhaps because I lost a number of classmates to gun violence in middle and high school. Perhaps because I am a relatively small woman who teaches (sometimes angry) young people.

The list could probably go on.

But this makes me particularly unhappy -- and points to a moment when government inefficiency becomes not just frustrating, but potentially dangerous:

State workers have moved too slowly in rescinding the gun licenses of people arrested or convicted of crimes in many cases sampled by outside auditors, according to a critical review of Florida's concealed weapons program.

As a result, the newly released report by Florida's Auditor General states that there is "an increased risk that unqualified persons may remain licensed to carry a concealed weapon or firearm."

Um ... that's not very good. The Sun-Sentinel has the whole story.

Christmas with the Hitch

Obviously, I'm not an atheist, but I found this interview with Christopher Hitchens about atheism in America (and the way he celebrates the Festivus season with his kids) really interesting. While I disagree with him on quite a few large issues, Hitchens has an eloquent and persuasive style of argumentation, whether he's writing or speaking. Consider this:

"Everyone has the need to experience something larger than their mammalian self, to be just a bit more than a primate. Knowing that we are primates, I think, is a fascinating discovery, and a very interesting and rather cheering one. To find out how much we have in common with other creatures and with other forms of life like vegetation, in our DNA—it's all very interesting, as well as giving us a more modest sense of ourselves. But we can't just be primates all day. We need to fall in love; we have a very strong connection with music, and a feeling for landscape. And in my case—because I'm not a great outdoors person, though I love the sea—for literature and poetry."

Good stuff. Consider this a postscript to my previous blog entry about interesting stuff I've read today.

Stuff Worth Reading and a Random Ten

So I've got this cold that's just kicking my ass. I thought I was getting better for a while there on Wednesday, but apparently celebrating my newly-restored health with a couple bottles of Pinot Grigio caused a setback. So I'm not going to write much today, but will instead direct your attention to some stuff I've been reading online.

First of all, we'll never be able to repay Jeff Fecke for his recent blogposts about Jonah Goldberg's new book. Today's entry is particularly vital, as Fecke points out that Goldberg actually cites the pseudo-historical hate tract The Pink Swastika as a source to claim that modern liberal values are somehow the same as the values espoused by Nazi leaders in Germany. The Pink Swastika is a book that the Reverend Fred Phelps was hawking on his repulsive website for a long time, for those of you unfamiliar with the text.

As part of his coverage of the Jena 6 case, Brian has written a bit about white liberals and discussions of race, and today on Alternet Alex Jung has written a pretty compelling piece called White Liberals Have White Privilege Too! I find myself agreeing with most of Jung's assertions, but even if you find the article less persuasive than I did, chances are you'll find something insightful in it.

Also at Alternet, Melissa Roddy examines how Tom Hanks, Mike Nichols, and Aaron Sorkin have cleaned up history in order to turn Charlie Wilson's War into a more positive, upbeat crowd-pleaser of a film. From the beginning, I had my doubts about this one-- how do you turn the arming of the Afghan Mujahiddin into a Tom Hanks movie, especially considering how that kinda came back to bite us in the ass less than two decades later? The answer, it seems, it to selectively edit the history you're going to portray-- rewrite the facts in order to give the folks a character they can admire. I wasn't a fan of Hanks, Nichols, or Sorkin before this one (I think that Forest Gump, Primary Colors, and The West Wing were all way overrated)-- this movie, I suspect, might be enough for me to completely avoid them in the future.

Anyway, here's my Random Ten. Grab a box of Kleenex and a bag of Halls with Vitamin C, sit on your couch with a thermometer sticking out of your mouth, shuffle your music player, and record the first ten songs to come up.

1) Nine Inch Nails-- "Hyperpower!"
2) Uncle Tupelo-- "No Depression"
3) Wilco-- "Burned"
4) Feist-- "Honey Honey"
5) They Might Be Giants-- "Spiralling Shape"
6) Reel Big Fish-- "Everything Sucks"
7) White Stripes-- "Indistinct Blues"
8) REM-- "It's a Free World Baby"
9) Prince-- "She's Always in My Hair"
10) Reel Big Fish-- "Boys Don't Cry"


Like most Americans, I'm interested in where my people came from: who are my ancestors, and when and how did they get to this continent?

In my case I'm particularly attached to the strand of family traced by my surname: Letter. One reason for this is that this is the family I grew up around. But also, there simply aren't many of us. If I run into someone named Letter in America, I know we're related, and closely, too. (This actually just came up when a colleague, one JG, mentioned that he had a friend at Tulane with my last name. I immediately said, "he's got to be related to me!" and JG disconcertedly said, "that's exactly what he said" -- turns out he's my dad's first cousin.) The Letter family as we know it has a not-so-long and somewhat illustrious lore -- we were coal barons, rich but dirty, and to the best of anyone's knowledge, the first Letter in America is one Mr. Owen Letter, who came to the US in the late 1800s, and whose grandson is my grandfather.

At least I thought so before today.

I have probably mentioned before that The Proceedings of the Old Bailey are available online, and are searchable. You can search for particular crimes (homosexuality is an interesting one), particular names (your own family name, for example... and don't fret if your name isn't English; plenty of foreigners appeared in court as victims, witnesses, judges, prosecutors (plaintiffs), officers, jury members, and, of course, criminals), and of course you can search by punishment.

The most interesting punishment to me is Transportation.

As the website explains:

The first major innovation in eighteenth-century penal practice was the extensive use of transportation. Although there was some idea that transportation might lead to the reformation of the offender, the primary motivations behind this punishment were deterrence and the exile of hardened criminals from society.

convicts sentenced to transportation being led to a boat at blackfriars bridge.  they include some children and are chained together by their necks. reproduced courtesy of and with thanks to mark herber from criminal london: a pictorial history from medieval times to 1939 (chichester, 2002).Although many convicts were transported in the seventeenth century, it had to be done at their own expense or at the expense of merchants or shipowners. In the early eighteenth century there was a desire to extend transportation as a way of creating a more effective alternative to the death penalty (in terms of deterring crime) than benefit of clergy and whipping. In 1718 the first Transportation Act allowed the courts to sentence felons guilty of offences subject to benefit of clergy to seven years transportation to America. In 1720 a further statute authorized payments by the state to the merchants who contracted to take the convicts to America.

The first Transportation Act also allowed those guilty of capital offences and pardoned by the king to be sentenced to transportation, and it established returning from transportation as a capital offence.

Under the terms of the Transportation Act, those sentenced to death could be granted a royal pardon on condition of being transported for fourteen years or life. From 1739, a number of such cases appear in the Proceedings.

In 1776 transportation was halted by the outbreak of war with America. Although convicts continued to be sentenced to transportation, male convicts were confined to hard labour in hulks on the Thames, while women were imprisoned. Transportation resumed in 1787 with a new destination: Australia. This was seen as a more serious punishment than imprisonment, since it involved exile to a distant land.

In the early nineteenth century, as part of the revisions of the criminal law, transportation for life was substituted as the maximum punishment for several offences which had previously been punishable by death.

Or, more interestingly put (in this case from my birthday, July 17, 1674):

Besides these persons Condemned to die, there were 5. Convicted of severall Felonies which desired the mercy of the Court for transportation, and had it granted, being sentence'd accordingly, of whom one Mall. Floyd was particularly remarkable for her Crime, she having it seems found out a new Trade not simply to Kidnapp or steal little Children quite away, But to Inveigle them to some strange by places and there rifle them, and so turn them abroad to shift for themselves, Thus the Third of July meeting a pretty little Child of about 8 yeares of Age neatly drest in Shoe Lane, She pretending She came from her Mother, carryed it with her as farr as St Giles's, and had it into an Alehouse there, where seeing it rain, She pretended all the Childs Cloathes would be Spoiled, and under that pretence took away from it Severall Laces and peices of Linnen Knots and the like, and then carrying her into St Giles's Churchyard where there then happened to be a Burial, She Lost her in the Crowd of People , who then not Knowing where She was, nor the way home, fell a crying, and was brought home that Night by some honest Inhabitant there abouts, where she told all the sad Story, but could not in the least declare who it was had served her so, or where she might be heard of, nor was there any probability of her being discovered, had it not strangely been disclosed by Accident, for the very next day the Childs Mother passing up Holbourn, saw some of her Childs things hang up in a Shop to be sold, which She knew again and acquainted the people of the Shop there with, who after some time and much trouble found out this Woman that sold the things to them who upon her Examination Confessed the whole matter before the Justice , and was Committed to Newgate, (having been often a distressed Lady before in that Inchanted Castle) from whence She is now by Sentence to be Transported to some of the Plantations beyond the Seas .

Yes, Transported to some of the Plantations beyond the Seas -- Oh, Mall Floyd, you oft distressed lady of the Inchanted Castle, How romantic.

My ancestor, Elizabeth Letter, whose trial is recorded happening on October 26th 1757, appears to have been nothing worse than a drunk and a pickpocket -- at least she was accused as such. She does have her side of the story to tell:

Prisoner's Defence.

I was coming down Holbourn, when this gentleman was near Hatton Garden raving in the street with two or three people round him. I never saw him in my life; people were advising him to go home, and there was a soldier advised him so too; he said no, shew me the beer-house; then he said you had better come and have some beer. I will not go in said I, but at last I did; we had a tankard at one house (he was very drunk) and the people turned him out and would not draw him any more; then he went into another house and said he would have some beer (this was near Holbourn-Bars ) they said he should have none. A woman was coming out of the cellar with some beer, which he took out of her hand; she said if she had known it she would not have drawn it. He said I was his wife, but I never saw him before; he said to the soldier, you I go along with us; the soldier said to me do not you go. I being in liquor went out of the house, the prosecutor gave me the things and said he'd go with me; so I went home with them, but did not know what was in the box till I came almost home, when I open'd it at a lamp and put one of the things on my finger; my landlady went and fetched Mr. Cooley, I told him the things were given me, and he should have them all.

What do you mean you don't believe her? Well, the judge didn't either. She was sentenced to transportation when that still meant America, not Australia. So it's very possible that my family has been wrong all these years: the first Letter in America was not a man named Owen, but a woman named Elizabeth. Sure, I'm directly descended from Owen. But this is interesting anyway.

What ever happened to Elizabeth? Did she really get sent? Did she survive the journey? Did she survive 1750's North America? Did she toil in slavery? Did she witness the revolution? Participate? Give a rat's behind? Did she marry? Did she have children? Did she get kidnapped by Indians? Did she pickpocket the Indians? Did she cry herself to sleep every night, and dream of London?

Did she feel quite Transported to the Plantations beyond the Seas?

The year-end ICFU and the Random Ten

Welcome once again to the least-read sports column on the internet. The Mighty Burrow Owls open a new chapter in their sports history tonight when they face Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl, and if you didn't know there was such a thing, you could be excused for that. See, there's 32 bowl games this year, with 64 teams competing, and since there are 120 teams total in the formerly-known-as-Division-1-and-I-can't-be-bothered-to-learn-the-new-name, that means that 53% of the teams in said division are in a bowl game, which makes it only slighty more compelling than the first round of the NHL playoffs.

But still, the Mighty Burrow Owls are the Sun Belt Conference co-champions this year, and are in New Orleans on the strength of their season-ending win over Troy State, with whom they share the championship. Woo hoo? If you're a college football fan, it's an interesting story, seeing as FAU's program is the fastest to go from non-existent to a bowl game, no doubt aided by the fact that 1) there's a bit more parity in college football in general and 2) that there are so many freaking bowl games. It's also an interesting story because for the coach, Howard Schnellenberger, this is another example of how he's taken a program from either obscurity or from scratch and built it into a viable program in a short period of time. He's 73 now, and he's unlikely to get another shot at it. The Mighty Burrow Owls will be on tv tonight.

As for the other teams in the update, well, they get to face off against each other in the Cotton Bowl, on New Years Day. The game starts at 11:30, when all sensible people are still asleep on New Years Day. I don't expect any of us will be watching, nor do I expect much in the way of alumni boasting no matter who wins the game. I wore a plastic hog nose once when I was at Arkansas, mostly as a joke, and because it was chilly at the game I was attending. That's about the extent of my excitement for the team. Hurray?

Here's the Random Ten, first week off school, the break's not long enough for me to have stomach problems edition. Put your iTunes on party shuffle and post the next ten songs to pop up. Who's down with O.P.P.?

1. First Love--Stereo MCs
2. Walk On the Ocean--Toad the Wet Sprocket
3. The Stand--The Coup
4. Personal Jesus--Johnny Cash
5. Who Got It--Talib Kweli
6. Cuandao Cuando--Ozomatli
7. Scenario--A Tribe Called Quest
8. Brown Skin Lady--Black Star
9. Missing Link--Squirrel Nut Zippers
10. The Negro Speaks of Rivers--Langston Hughes (thanks Emily!)

Here's a question of the day sort of thing for anyone interested. What's the oddest non-music thing on either your iPod or iPod equivalent or in your computer's music player?

Blood and Egg Nog

Some of you might recall that a couple months ago, in anticipation of Halloween, I blogged about my ideas for a 24 hour Halloween horror movie marathon. With Christmas fast approaching, I thought that maybe I'd do something similar. Of course, it's not Halloween, so consider this the lineup for my 24 hour Christmas horror movie marathon.

(Those of you who don't celebrate Christmas-- or for some odd reason celebrate the holiday without the traditional horror movie marathon-- can feel free to either ignore this post or consider this a secular, Winter Wonderland kinda horror movie marathon. No skin off my mask made of human flesh).

Noon-- Christmas Evil (dir. Lewis Jackson, 1980)

Let's get this thing started right! This might be the best serial killer in a Santa Claus costume ever, if only for the killer's origin. It seems that, as a kid, our killer loved Christmas, and he especially loved the fact that on Christmas Eve one night, Santa came to his house to hang out for a bit. Of course, we the viewer know that Santa is really Dad dressed up, but this kid doesn't realize it. Or, at least, he doesn't realize it until he wanders downstairs hours later and sees Santa going down on his mom! So, naturally, he becomes a serial killer. You'd do the same thing.

1:30-- Santa Claus (dir. René Cardona, 1959)

This isn't really much of a horror movie, but Santa fights Satan to save Christmas. Satan's scary, right? Well, not in this movie-- where he's basically just a guy wearing red long underwear-- but in general. Right?

3:00-- Silent Night, Deadly Night (dir. Charles E. Sellier, Jr., 1984)

This is probably the most famous of the "serial killer in a Santa suit" subgenre, but I'm kind of tempted to just do Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, which is largely just a collection of flashbacks (featuring about 40 minutes from the original film) arranged around some framing devices-- it's not a sequel so much as a re-edited version of the first film. But this movie is important, if only because at the time Mickey Rooney penned a letter of protest against the movie saying that the "scum" responsible for such tasteless holiday exploitation should be "run out of town."

4:30-- Silent Night, Bloody Night (dir. Theodore Gershuny, 1974)

If only to prove that this is not the same movie as Silent Night, Deadly Night.

6:00-- Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (dir. Nicholas Webster, 1964)

There aren't enough movies about Santa Claus "conquering" people. I mean, he's got a flying sleigh and all sorts of sophisticated surveillance equipment-- you just know this guy could kick some ass. As the Martian sons of bitches are about to find out...

7:30-- Gremlins (dir. Joe Dante, 1984)

Some of you might be thinking right about now, "Bradley-- though you're unbearably handsome and undeniably brilliant-- many of these movies aren't that scary." To which I say, "Perhaps you're right-- but here's a movie that features Judge Reinhold in a supporting role. Judge 'Spooky' Reinhold." Quake in terror, motherfuckers.

9:30-- The Nightmare Before Christmas (dir. Henry Selick, 1993)

'Cause we needed some Christmas music.

11:00-- Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker (dir. Martin Kitrosser, 1991)

You know who plays The Toymaker? None other than Mickey "Run 'em Out of Town" Rooney. Things were a bit rough for poor Mickey in the 90s...

12:30-- Jack Frost (dir. Michael Cooney, 1996)

This isn't the movie where Michael Keaton gets reincarnated as a snowman so he can play hockey with his kid. This is the movie where a snowman fucking kills people. A lot of people think that's a stupid concept. That's why I egged their cars.

2:00-- Black Christmas (dir. Bob Clark, 1974)

No surprise here, right? I mean, it's the best horror and Christmas movie ever.

It dawns on me at this point that I'm kinda out of movies. I mean, I could add things like Santa Claws, but I haven't seen that, and don't know a damn thing about it. So that feels like cheating. Plus, if we don't get to bed soon, Santa won't come. And I've hung my stocking by the chimney with care and have been quite good this year, so there's no way I'm missing out on this year's Christmas booze and porn. So at this point, I'm kicking everyone out so I can get some sleep. No hard feelings, I hope.

Defending the family name

It's been amusing to watch the Jamie Lynn Spears saga unfold from a distance. I'd like to say that I'm only interested because of the shared name and other coincidental similarities between my family and hers, but that's only what got me in the door. Now I'm hooked because this is a perfect example of watching reporters and editorial writers not know what to do with an entertainment type who doesn't follow expectations.

Jamie Lynn is certainly not the first teen actress to wind up pregnant, but she is the first in recent memory to come out publicly with the pregnancy. (Of course, I don't follow these things, so there could be another one right now and I wouldn't know it, but hey...) Atrios has pointed out that there's some considerable slut-shaming going on as a result of Jamie Lynn's decision to carry the pregnancy publicly. I wish it were a surprise that it's happening, but it isn't. After all, her older sister's stock-in-trade was the teen virgin/whore act, and when it came out that Britney wasn't as pure as her publicists had made her out to be, it was greeted with a giant "meh," largely because Britney was well into her meltdown by then.

But when this has happened before--and it surely has--then either the actress must have disappeared from public view for a while, her career effectively over, or had a quiet abortion and soldiered on with her career. That's what's expected, right? She's only 16, after all, which makes this borderline illegal, depending on the age of her partner, and there's no career upside in taking this public.

And yet she has, which means that the entertainment news is confused. And I like it that way.

And some public good could come out of this. After all, it's not like she's the only teenager having sex--this might spark a good public discussion about teen sexuality, and how someone with all the advantages, with no reason to engage in risky sexual behavior, would still do so. I doubt we'll have that discussion, because it's not salacious enough, but it would be a nice one to have.

Sorry Fineman

I think you're very wrong here. Fineman is trying to game out the 2008 election, and pondering whether or not Bloomberg will jump in the race. I think he's right on one count--Bloomberg will have to make his mind up relatively early, but other than that, I think he's fairly well off the mark.

Fineman's thesis is based on the idea that what Bloomberg needs is for the two candidates to be shaken out fairly early, so he can then assess the field and see if he can mount a charge. But Bloomberg can be a king-maker of sorts if he wants to.

There's been a lot of talk lately about the split between the business side of the Republican party and the religious wing, and a lot of right-wing pundits have come out and flatly said that Huckabee is unacceptable to them because he's (my words) one of the dirty unwashed. He's from the side of the party that the business cons want votes from, but don't want to have in charge. They're elitists, and the rabble are fighting back. Tim over at Balloon Juice just made a post which details this split.

Here's where Bloomberg comes in. If Huckabee proves that he's more than just a flash in the pan, if he wins in Iowa, Bloomberg can effectively end the Republican nominating process by stepping into the race. He can make that split happen, because he can give business-minded Republicans an option outside the party. They don't have to vote for Clibamawards as the lesser of two evils (from their perspective--I find Clibamawards just fine). They can call themselves the "New Republicans" or something similarly silly, and lay claim to that 20% or so of the population that wants to be Republican but doesn't want to be associated with the preachers and gay-haters.

In fact, it's probably better for Bloomberg if he doesn't wait. He needs to knock out the other contenders to the Republican nomination if he wants to have a shot at the big ring--there has to be a clear difference between him and the Republican nominee, and Huckabee is the guy in that case. There's not enough difference between Bloomberg and Romney, or Bloomberg and Giuliani to play up that politics of contrast.

On the other side, Bloomberg has to hope for an Edwards or Obama win, and to my mind, the former is better for him, again because of the contrast. You can never underestimate the power of racism, but the rhetoric coming from Edwards (rhetoric I applaud, by the way) is that of class, and Bloomberg's natural constituency is of the moneyed elites and those who think they're of the moneyed elite, even though they're not. He won't be able to play the contrast game with Clinton--she's as business friendly as he is, and the Hillary-hate game will solidify an otherwise lukewarm progressive movement behind her.

So if that happens--Huckabee and Edwards/Obama win in Iowa--expect the Bloomberg noise to start. And if Huckabee turns an Iowa win into a better-than-expected New Hampshire showing and a South Carolina win, I'd be shocked if Bloomberg isn't in the race.

Which is fine with me. I like the Democratic chances in a head-on race with the Republicans. I like them even better with a divided field.

Go. Read.

You can expect a heavy dose of "liberals are really fascists" in the political discourse over the next few months, thanks in part to Jonah Goldberg's new book. The people over at Sadly, No! have an advance copy and are posting some of the more egregious passages ("The white male is the Jew of liberal fascism: is one example). But if you really want a one-stop source for blasting this despicable meme out of the water, go read Dave Neiwert at Orcinus. People familiar with Neiwert's work won't be surprised that he's tackled this, and done it so thoroughly, and if he's not on your bookmarks, he should be.

In slightly related news, Tom Tancredo is out of the Presidential race. I guess that "scare the fuck out of everyone" commercial didn't bring the bucks in like he'd hoped.

Sad News

In whole, without comment:

December 19, 2007

Kucinich’s Brother Found Dead

Filed at 3:48 p.m. ET

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The youngest brother of Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was found dead at his home Wednesday.

Perry Kucinich, 52, was found face down by another brother, Larry, at about 9 a.m., said Powell Caesar, a spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Coroner's office.

There were no signs of foul play, Caesar said. An autopsy was being performed Wednesday to determine the cause of death.

Larry Kucinich had taken his brother shopping Tuesday and then took him home but couldn't get an answer when he tried calling him Wednesday, Caesar said.

Dennis Kucinich took a flight from Washington to Cleveland after learning of the death and was not immediately available for comment, said his office press secretary, Natalie Laber.

''He was very close to Perry and he's taking this very hard,'' Laber said.

Kucinich, 61, is a six-term congressman from Ohio who is making his second bid for his party's nomination; he sought the nod in 2004. He registers in low single digits in polls and has raised little money for what is considered another long-shot run. Kucinich, who is known for his liberal views, has attracted a devoted following.

A Democratic rival, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, offered his condolences to Kucinich and his family. ''Barbara and I will keep your family in our thoughts and prayers,'' Richardson said in a statement.

Yep, we're still dealing with this
Jena is back in the news, on a much smaller scale than before, but for a couple of reasons. First, from Feministe, the news that Mychal Bell, the one member of the Jena Six known to have had a criminal record before the incident that sparked all the controversy, has, as a part of his plea deal, been told that he may have to testify against the other five, which likely means jail time for the others. As I've written before, I think the only solution to this issue is to drop all the charges against everyone involved. This became a problem because the white power structure in Jena refused to take a stand against the racist actions of their youths, thereby siding with them. If the city had stepped in when the nooses had first appeared, maybe this doesn't escalate, and if it had, it would be easier to assess blame in the matter.

And there are goups looking to exploit the mess that Jena has come to symbolize.

JENA, Louisiana - A white separatist group planning a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade next month in Jena is suing the town, claiming officials are violating the Constitution by asking participants not to bring firearms, changing the parade route by one block and requiring the posting of a bond.

The Nationalist Movement filed the federal lawsuit Dec. 14 and is seeking a temporary restraining order to keep the town from interfering with the Learned, Mississippi-based group's "Jena Justice Day" rally. Group officials claim the town's rules violate their 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution to due process.

This actually dovetails nicely with the discussion we've been having about tolerance below. My belief in a strong First Amendment requires that these people be given the same space that the protesters in support of the Jena Six were given--but it doesn't require me to give them anything more than that. And it's curious that a group which is asking to return to a day of openly segregated schools (including at the University of Mississippi, which sports perhaps the most racist mascot in the nation) is also asking for "no noise from hecklers." No no, sir. You have the right to spout your hateful drivel, but the locals have the right to shout you down if they are able. That's how this freedom thing works.

It looks like Mayor McMillin, a man who hasn't been the most supportive of racial harmony in the past, is trying to take a fair, middle ground in this case, which is good. It's a start, and maybe he's learned something from this debacle. I hope so, because that's the only way the issue of racism is going to change--white people in a position to have an effect have to stand up to their fellow whites and say "enough is enough." It won't be easy, and it won't happen quickly, and in fact, it may not happen at all, but if it's going to happen, that's where it has to start.

Stuff Worth Readin'

So I just finished Bridge of Sighs, and I just started Bill Bryson's new biography of William Shakespeare (it's a slim little volume, and I'm stretching before reading the much longer biography I'm really looking forward to) . I typically despise Bill Bryson-- what others call his "wit," I call his unwarranted smugness and self-satisfaction-- but so far his Shakespeare book is surprisingly inoffensive (mostly because he's wisely chosen to keep his own personality out of the damn thing, I suspect). Still, I've only read the first chapter-- there's plenty of time for Bryson to rant and rave about how stupid other people are or to make fun of fat people-- two of his less endearing rhetorical tricks.

Still, I'm reading a lot online today, and figured I'd point out some of the more interesting stuff I've encountered.

SJ tells us that her sister is raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This is an important and worthwhile cause, obviously-- they do a lot of work to raise money not only for research, but also to create programs for patients and their families to improve their quality of life. So toss a few dollars her way, if you can spare it.

Jeff Fecke makes me laugh at Jonah Goldberg's utter stupidity. Okay, granted-- that's an easy thing to do. But Jeff's still a great writer with an insightful mind, and we should all thank him for taking a gander at Jonah Goldberg's... ahem... "book," so that we don't have to.

The AV Club has a list of the worst movies of 2007. Turns out Norbit wasn't very good. Who knew?

I can't decide if Rupert Everett has lost his mind, or is the most honest person in Hollywood. Maybe six of one, half dozen of the other? He seems like a remarkably unpleasant man (and has seemed that way even since My Best Friend's Wedding), but really-- what is the fundamental difference between Robert Downey, Jr. and Brittney Spears's substance abuse problems? Why is one a tragic national treasure, and the other the subject of scorn and cruel jokes?

And there's still one more day to vote in This week's Ethical Exhibitionist Poll-- What's Your Favorite Print Literary Magazine? So far, The Missouri Review and Fourth Genre are battling it out. Funny thing-- I know I voted for one of those two, but I can't remember which.

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