Look, I don’t have to explain myself or justify my choices, so save your “I quit watching that after the first episode” cracks for someone who’ll be impressed by your brilliance and discretion, all right? I will admit, however, that I’ve fallen into some lazy habits when it comes to watching TV, because I’ve been watching The Strain, Extant, and Under the Dome.
I enjoyed the first book of Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain trilogy but found the second one so full of illogical non-sequiturs I struggled to finish it. I never got around to reading the third. My reaction to the TV series has been about the same. We’re in season two now, with one or two episodes to go, and I no longer care very much what happens (although I’m still DVR’ing it and will probably stay with it through the season finale). You want a good vampire story? Go read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I don’t know if there’s a faithful movie or TV version of that, but if you tell me there is, I’ll watch it.
The TV series Extant, with Halle Berry as half-alien astronaut Molly Wood, hasn’t been half bad. I’m glad the director killed off Molly’s unlikable, wooden husband John (played by Goran Visnjic) and replaced him with a more raffish and lively character named JD (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). My only quibble is that humanics shouldn’t be spelled humanichs, because when you see it in print it looks like something you’d cough up. I caught up with the season two finale last night and plan to be there for season three if the series is renewed.
Why am I still watching Under the Dome? That is truly a question for the ages. Early in season one the storyline veered away from the novel by Stephen King; by now there’s no resemblance at all. As far as I can tell, new episodes are written over three-martini lunches on the day they are to air, containing curveball after curveball, making it impossible to guess where the story might go next. And yet I watched every episode, up to and including the season three finale, which promised a fourth season to come. If the series is renewed, I’ll probably give it a pass.
What else? In a week or two I’ll start taping Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show, just to see how he does. I haven’t been recording Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show, but I do watch it when I’m up late.
MSNBC has gone full corporate, to the point where I wonder if Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow any longer have editorial control over their nightly news hours. I’m pretty sure Chris has been forced into all-Trump-all-the-time mode by his overlords, but when it comes to Rachel, I’m beginning to suspect her heart’s always been in the minutia of presidential election horse races, because that’s almost all she reports on any more, and she genuinely seems to love her some Trump. Last night Chris Hayes cut away to a Donald Trump speech in Dallas, airing it in its entirety, labeling it “breaking news.” Yes, breaking news. What, you don’t believe me?
Breaking news would be Donald Trump dropping trou at the next debate and mooning the other GOP candidates. Fuck you, MSNBC.
Which brings me to Stephen Colbert and The Late Show. The first episodes were to air during our recent road trip, so I asked Polly, who stayed home to house-sit, to tape them. I watched the first two when I got home. Then I deleted the others and canceled the series recording. It’s not that I’ve turned against Stephen Colbert, as I turned against Jon Stewart, it’s that he’s now hosting just another look-alike late-night talk show with the obligatory opening monolog, glitzy band, and celebrity guests.
The “real Stephen,” it turns out, is very like the Stephen who parodied Bill O’Reilly on his old show, no longer in character but still witty, insightful, and clever. He’ll probably carry the new gig off because his stage presence is so large, but he’s stuck with this sacred cow of a network talk show format. I hate to see him locked into being just like every other late night talk show host.
I don’t tape Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, because HBO tapes it for me. I watch the show, not on a regular schedule but when I get around to it. What John Oliver is doing so successfully — satirizing the news and highlighting important issues that are being ignored by everyone else — is what I wish Stephen Colbert would do, not as a character but as himself, possibly in an hour-long format, not the half-hour he had before. And boy would I love to see him as a moderator at one of the presidential candidate debates!
Wow! My IQ has dropped 20 points in the course of writing this post. That’s what watching TV — or even writing about it — will do to you.
I know, let’s start Monday off with a mixed bag of bloggage and unconnected thoughts.
In a previous post I mentioned driving through Phoenix on Interstate 10. We knew about the I-10 shooter, of course, and had actually considered changing our route through town, but then there was a shooting on the other freeway, I-17, so we said screw it and took our chances on I-10. Half an hour down the road, safely south of Phoenix, we heard they’d arrested a suspect. On Saturday they said the suspect was merely a “person of interest,” not actually under arrest and probably not the shooter. Later that day Sheriff Joe’s boys arrested three teenaged idiots who were committing copycat shootings east of the city, not with firearms but with slingshots and projectiles. The long and short of it is the shooter remains at large. Meanwhile, armed civilians have stationed themselves on the shoulders of the freeway. Let’s hope they don’t hear a backfire and start spraying rounds into rush hour traffic.
I associate this kind of random violence not with terrorism but with plain stupidity, the kind where the afflicted have no impulse control, no ability to consider consequences. I’m not saying there’s more stupidity these days … the stupids have always been with us and always will be. Witness Dylan Roof’s trailer mates, who heard him talking about going to a church to kill people, shrugged, and went back to their shoot-’em-up video games. To be fair, at one point they did hide his gun … but then they gave it back. To an actual terrorist.
And then there’s this guy, the drunk who got on a flight and passed out in his seat, seemingly harmless and haven’t we all been there, etc … except he then woke up, stood up, unzipped, and pissed all over the passengers in the seats ahead of him. I have a suggestion: no drunks on public transportation. Show up drunk, you ain’t getting on board. No plane, train, or bus ride for you. But of course that would mean hiring screeners. TSA could easily handle it at airports, but who would keep drunks off trains and buses?
Well, in my socialist utopia, there’ll be jobs for everyone, and the rule will be you have to work at one to reap the benefits: living wages, affordable housing, free college tuition, nationalized health care. There’s a few thousand new jobs right there, turning away drunks at train and bus stations. The rest of you slackers … most definitely including me … can get busy installing solar panels and rebuilding America’s roads, bridges, and highways.
Speaking of infrastructure, Tucson voters are going to get to vote on whether the city should keep or remove its red light cameras. I ran a red light a few years ago and got one of those photo tickets in the mail. Same thing happened to Donna. Even though we both thought our tickets were unfair, we bit the bullet and went to traffic safety class. In spite of our own experiences, we’re all for red light cameras. We’ve lived in Tucson since late 1997 and in all that time virtually every accident we’ve seen in town was caused by someone running a red light. People know about the cameras now and they don’t run lights nearly as often as they used to. I think there ought to be more cameras, frankly. People talk about freedom and the American way, and that’s just bullshit. If you drive on public roads, you have to obey the rules. That’s not “taking away freedoms.” You’re always free to put up a red light in your own back yard and run it all you want.
Big news! I’m going back to double-edged safety razors. Ordered one from Amazon, along with a 20-pack of stainless steel blades, yesterday. Total price? Less than a four-pack of Gillette Mach 3 replacement cartridges.
On Sunday afternoons our NPR station replays TED talks. The one I listened to yesterday was so overblown I almost changed stations: the speaker, a woman executive in the IT industry, described smartphones as artificial intelligences. Artificial intelligences? Way back in 1995, the Air Force envisioned the development of personal digital assistants, or PDAs, devices that could store huge amounts of information (flight routes, waypoints, approach charts, radio frequencies, etc) and could be plugged into receptacles in cockpits to relieve pilots of some of the more mundane duties of aerial navigation. To my mind, that is what smartphones have become: PDAs, and very good ones. But they’re a long way from achieving consciousness. Rein it in, TED talker lady!
Last week Donna and I went to a big national Hash House Harrier event in Portland, Oregon. We loved seeing friends we used to hash with, but we and our friends are of a certain age, mellower than we once were, less inclined to drink and party, individual islands of calm in a sea of shouting young louts and loutesses. The next national event will be just up the road in Phoenix, in October 2017. We probably won’t go. It’s been fun, but we’ve parted ways with the drinking club side of hashing.
Remember when “You’ve got mail” meant there was something worth reading in your email inbox? Well, some of that old-time AOL excitement came back to me when I opened my inbox and found this email from a reader:
Recently discovered your blog, really enjoy your aviation posts! Although a former Army ground pounder, would have tried the AF except I wasn’t 20/20. Was in Civil Air Patrol in HS.
Especially like your posts on CAS. I was at Grafenwoher Training area in ’77 when the first A-10s flew practice missions there. I really felt good that they were coming, giving us a better chance if the Red Tide ever came. Course, ultimately we were the tripwire…
Always a positive to find another progressive former military officer on the net… Funny, I always considered myself a moderate to conservative FDR/Truman Anti communist. The Republican Party has gone so far right it makes me a commie.
I hope the R’s return to sanity, (fat chance). Guess I’m voting for Bernie this go round.
That’ll keep me going for another year! I actually sent Jack a short answer:
Thanks for the vote of confidence. I’m trying to get my aviation posts out to a wider audience, so it’s great to hear you know about them.
Most of the men I flew with were Colin Powell conservatives. A few were rabid rightwingers; one or two were former hippies like me, although truth be told I’ve always thought of myself as an Eisenhower Republican. Personally I’m very conservative, by which I mean I value hard work, honesty, and moral behavior. When it comes to public policy, I’m way to the left, basically a socialist. I’m keeping an eye on Bernie. He hasn’t been exposed to the naked hostility Hillary has battled for the past 20 years, and frankly I don’t know how he’d hold up under it. Maybe Biden & Warren will give it a shot. We can always hope. And we must absolutely, positively vote!
Any minute now. For reals.
We’re back from a two-week road trip, during which I neglected the hell out of this little blog. But never fear, I gathered material for a couple of Air-Minded posts, not to mention a future post recounting our adventures. I’ll get cracking as soon as I catch up with all the other neglected domestic chores.
Meanwhile, here’a a photo I took from the passenger seat yesterday while Donna navigated through Phoenix on I-10:
An hour down the road we learned from the radio that Phoenix PD has apprehended a suspect, or at the very least a “person of interest.” Even if it turns out they’ve got the guy, though, you just know there are going to be copycats. End times are surely here.
You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.
Here’s a Bookriot editorial on the overuse of scare phrases like “book banning.” Wait a minute! I use the phrase, but (I like to think) carefully and with intent. Here’s my rationale, paraphrased from earlier YCRT! posts:
I find I have to explain my use of the word “banned” every so often. My position is that any time someone tries to restrict access to a book in order to prevent people from reading it, that’s banning … even if the ban affects only one school, library, or bookstore, and the book can be found elsewhere.
The US Post Office once officially banned Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. People would argue it wasn’t really banned, because you could always hop on an ocean liner, go to Paris, and buy a copy there.
We hear the same argument today. “So your teacher can’t assign Sherman Alexie’s The Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and it isn’t on the shelves in the school library? So what? You can still get a copy on Amazon, can’t you?”
The problem is school districts in several states have bowed to those who want to control what others read and taken books away to prevent students from reading them. This is book banning.
Merriam-Webster backs me up on my assertion that banning, however localized, is still banning. This is a usage example from M-W’s entry on the word ban: “The school banned that book for many years.”
I rest my case (until next year, when I’ll have to post this again).
YCRT! News Roundup:
Click image to link to story
An argument against the use of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a text in high school history classes. Here’s a YCRT! review of A People’s History, if you’re interested in my take.
Patriotic parents combat creeping sharia in Florida schools.
In an earlier post I mentioned a scary poll showing increasing public support for book banning. This article goes into more detail on the poll and its results.
South Carolina high school principal caves, pulls Courtney Summers’ Some Girls Are from a summer reading list after a single parental complaint, bypassing his district’s book review policy.
Another principal caves to parental complaints, pulling Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time from a Tallahassee, Florida high school summer reading list, end-running school district policy. Here’s a more in-depth look at the banning of the book in Tallahassee and elsewhere.
This is a little different: residents of Pleasant Grove, Utah asked the city council to remove R-rated movies from the public library, but for now at least the council has decided not to interfere in library decisions. There are only eight R-rated movies in the library’s catalog, and patrons under the age of 18 can’t check them out anyway.
Every now and then I see a Facebook post that isn’t just a photo of someone’s cat:
It’s easy to scoff at the college campus trigger warning zealots, but what if administrators use student complaints as an excuse to fire tenured professors they don’t like but can’t get rid of by other means?
I’ve been keeping an eye on a book-banning organization called Safe Libraries, which in addition to attacking books frequently goes after public libraries and the American Library Association with trumped-up charges about librarians encouraging patrons to surf child porn sites on library computers. The charges are false, but Safe Libraries makes a lot of noise, even sending speakers out on the road to rile up communities with scary slide shows about the dangers of local libraries. I think (but admit I don’t know) that Safe Libraries is behind a recent attempt to shut down a public library in Orland Park, Illinois.
Some incoming Duke University freshmen refused to read a summer assignment, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home, citing “deeply-held religious beliefs.” Fine with me, as long as they don’t insist other students can’t read it either. Their protest gives me an excuse to wrap up this installment of YCRT! with my previously-posted review of Fun Home.
YCRT! Banned Book Review
I’ll admit up front to a snobbish attitude toward graphic novels. I was raised to think they were for people who don’t like to read. Still, I’m willing to expand my horizons, and when I learned the theme of this year’s Banned Books Week (September 21-27, 2014) is to be graphic novels, I pressed members of my book club to pick one for our September selection. I went a step further and recommended Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. We have agreed to read a graphic novel that month; whether it’ll be Fun Home or another selection remains to be seen. I decided to read it anyway, and borrowed a copy from my local library.
You’ve probably heard of the Bechdel Test, a feminist litmus test for movies. To pass the test, a movie must have:
- At least two woman in it, who
- talk to each other about
- something besides a man
Yes, this is the same Alison Bechdel.
Fun Home is Bechdel’s memoir of her childhood and college years. It’s about her family … her father, mother, and two brothers … and focuses most tightly on her relationship with her father, a troubled man, and her discovery of her own sexuality. This is no comic book; it’s a surprisingly literary and deep self-examination, filled with references and hints that drive you deeper into the text and illustrations. Although it’s a fast read, it’s also a demanding read, not at all what my inner snob was expecting.
Fun Home is touching and extememly personal … I was moved in places, particularly those sections where Bechdel revisits key interactions with her father, showing how her understanding of his complicated character grew as she herself got older. She seems to hold little back; her depiction of a distant relationship with her father doesn’t hide her love for him (I know that’s speculative on my part, but Alison Bechdel made me believe it).
I rarely feel as if I’ve truly shared an author’s humanity, especially not across gaps of gender and sexuality; given that I finished this book knowing only what Alison Bechdel wanted me to know, I was convinced she had shared most of herself with me. I felt connected, and it enriched my appreciation of this book.
When I gather material for new YCRT! columns, I search Google for news articles about book challenges and banning attempts. This is how I first learned of Fun Home, reading articles about attempts to ban or restrict it.
Since its publication in June 2006, would-be censors have repeatedly tried to have Fun Home removed from libraries and school reading lists. The first challenge came just months after publication, in October 2006: residents of Marshall, Missouri tried to have the book removed from the public library. The book was removed but eventually reviewed and reinstated. In 2008 a University of Utah English professor added it to a class reading list. A student objected, and even though the professor gave the student an alternate reading assignment, the student contacted a local organization called “No More Pornography,” which started an online petition calling for the book to be removed from the syllabus (the university stood its ground). Most recently, Fun Home has been challenged in South Carolina, where it was included as a summer reading selection for incoming freshmen at the College of Charleston. Organized religious groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council became involved, and though the college also stood its ground, the South Carolina House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee cut the college’s funding by $52,000 … the cost of the summer reading program … to punish it for selecting Fun Home.
What is it about Fun Home that attracts this kind of attention? The good citizens of Marshall, Missouri characterized it as pornography, expressed concern that it would be read by children, and worried that it would attract seedy elements to the library. Pornography was the label used against the book in Utah. Again in South Carolina, the book’s opponents called it pornography, accusing the book of promoting the “gay and lesbian lifestyle.” One of the state representatives who voted to penalize the college said “This book trampled on freedom of conservatives … teaching with this book, and the pictures, goes too far.” In addition to the budgetary cuts, the legislature required the college to provide alternate books to any student who objects to a reading assignment because of a “religious, moral, or cultural belief.”
Alison Bechdel has described the attempted banning of her book as “a great honor,” describing attacks against it as “part of the whole evolution of the graphic-novel form.” As to claims her work is pornographic, Bechdel points out that pornography is designed to cause sexual arousal, which is not the purpose of her book. Bechdel’s supporters point out that Fun Home has been praised by professional book review journals and is the recipient of several literary awards. As noted, both the University of Utah and the College of Charleston stood by their decisions to retain Fun Home; the provost of the College of Charleston stating that its themes of identity are especially appropriate for college freshmen.
My own reaction? I agree with Bechdel and her defenders: this novel is not only literature but good literature, and while it explores adult themes and sexual identity is it absolutely not pornographic. Yes, Bechdel describes her realization, while in college, that she is lesbian. She describes her growing acceptance of her sexuality and even parts of her sexual life. This is guaranteed to make some readers uncomfortable. As she revisits parts of her earlier life from this new perspective, she discovers her own father’s homosexual past, another potentially uncomfortable subject. And then there are the illustrations depicting Bechdel’s early lesbian experiences:
Some panels are even more graphic, and I can certainly understand why some parents would not want their kids to read this book. I have a hard time, though, seeing where college-aged adults need to be protected from it. Had the censorship attempts in Utah and South Carolina been triggered by the inclusion of Fun Home on a middle or high school reading list, I would not have been particularly surprised. But colleges and universities? Just how grown-up does one have to be to read a book about a lesbian?
I suspect lesbianism … the explicitly sexual drawings in particular … is key to conservative outrage over Fun Home. I thought Bechdel’s story important, especially in an era when we’re increasingly aware that some of our friends, relatives, co-workers, and fellow students are gay. I thought her illustrations frank but not titillating, an essential part of the story. Others, however, see in Bechdel’s story and illustrations an attempt to overturn morality and religion by “promoting the gay and lesbian lifestyle.”
Significant numbers of people, and sadly many parents, believe homosexuality is a conscious choice. Accompanying that belief is the fear that exposing kids to sympathetic depictions of homosexuality, particularly kids who are just beginning to discover their own sexuality, might tempt them to experiment with, or even become, homosexual. Religious conservatives have always gone after books that depict or even mention sex, but books featuring happy, well-adjusted, sympathetic homosexual characters really bring out their wrath. Fun Home is obviously such a book, and we certainly haven’t heard the last about it.
Judy Blume, another author whose books have been banned and suppressed, has this to say to parents who worry about what their kids are reading:
A lot of people worry much too much about what their children are reading. A lot of people will want to control everything in their children’s lives, or everything in other people’s children’s lives.
If a child picks up a book and reads something she has a question about, if she can go to her parents, great. Or else they will read right over it. It won’t mean a thing.
They are very good, I think, at monitoring what makes them feel uncomfortable. If something makes them feel uncomfortable they will put it down.
I think Ms Blume is on to something. With regard to Fun Home, if the subject of sexual identity makes you uncomfortable, if it is an affront to your religious, moral, or cultural beliefs, don’t read it … just don’t assume your decision should apply to others.
A friend forwards an item making the rightwing rounds:
The woman’s name is Peggy Hubbard, and she’s talking … eloquently and convincingly … about the Black Lives Matter movement in the context of two recent shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, during the continuing street protests there.
Peggy’s really good … hey, she got me all fired up … but she bases her argument on apocryphal stories and stereotypes. She says black protestors in Ferguson are ignoring the little black girl killed by a stray bullet and focusing BLM protests on a criminal who shot at the police and was shot dead in return.
That doesn’t ring true to me. Aren’t BLM protests about the lives of innocent black Americans killed by cops? The little girl this woman mentioned, the boy in Cleveland with the air gun, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, that poor guy who reached into his car for the drivers license the cop told him to show, the other poor schmoe who had his hands in the air when the cop shot him dead, and so many more, seemingly a new life taken every day by a cop somewhere in this country?
I can’t speak for black Americans, but these are the lives white sympathizers think of when we say black lives matter. I’m pretty sure the black protestors in Ferguson aren’t all that worked up about the justified police killing of a black man who was exchanging gunfire with the police. Of course, I could be wrong.
The continuing protests in Ferguson have all along been about Michael Brown, the teenager shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson just over a year ago. I remember, when it first happened, reading media report after media report describing Brown as an innocent high schooler gunned down with his hands in the air while running away from a deranged racist cop who had jacked him up for no reason. A year later I read an article about Darren Wilson in the New Yorker, which laid out the basic facts of the incident. Brown stole some cigarillos from a convenience store and roughed up the store clerk while he was doing it. Wilson, on patrol, had been alerted to be on the lookout for the suspect. When Wilson stopped Brown (who was walking down the middle of the street with the stolen cigarillos in his hand), Brown reached inside Wilson’s patrol car and scuffled with him, according to Wilson trying to grab his gun. Brown was not only facing Wilson when Wilson opened fire, but was advancing toward him. The story we hear today is substantially different from the story we heard at the time. And yet Michael Brown is one of many inspirations behind the BLM movement.
There are very real reasons for the Ferguson protests. The city and its police force are totally corrupt and there’s rampant racial discrimination at every level. And here’s the thing: the cops left Brown’s body lying on the road for hours afterward, like he was road kill slated for removal by the sanitation department … whenever they might get around to it, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. Fucking hell, they may as well have dragged his body through the streets as a message to a despised minority!
Anyway, Peggy Hubbard is basically giving an encore of Bill Cosby’s “Pound Cake” speech, which went over pretty damn well with a lot of black Americans, never mind whites who liked it for all the wrong reasons. We are reluctant today to acknowledge pathologies in cultures other than our own, because to do so is inherently racist. It would be almost unimaginable for a modern-day Daniel Patrick Moynihan to write a study titled The Negro Family: The Case For National Action. Some black Americans are willing to acknowledge the kinds of problems Peggy Hubbard addresses, but her message will be rejected and ridiculed by many of those for whom it is meant, while being hailed and embraced by racist white rabble … again, for all the wrong reasons.
But I am beginning to rant, and my inner conservative is showing.