Inhuman Swill : March 2010

The wages of fear

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It's 2010, and America has finally started dragging itself into the 20th century's world of social responsibility. We have a health-care reform bill, and that's a thing to celebrated. Meanwhile, as you will have heard, a few opponents of progress are doing their best to drag us back to the worst parts of the 19th century*, as in these incidents (as reported in the New York Times) against House members who voted for the reform bill:

At least two Congressional district offices were vandalized and Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a senior Democrat from New York, received a phone message threatening sniper attacks against lawmakers and their families.

Ms. Slaughter also reported that a brick was thrown through a window of her office in Niagara Falls, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, said Monday that her Tucson office was vandalized after the vote.

The Associated Press reported that the authorities in Virginia were investigating a cut propane line to an outdoor grill at the home of a brother of Representative Tom Perriello of Virginia, after the address was mistakenly listed on a Tea Party Web site as the residence of the congressman. Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and a central figure in the measure's abortion provisions, reported receiving threatening phone calls.

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Beware of dog

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Earlier from the second-story deck
I caught a glimpse of the gate
slamming shut as Ella chased
someone out of the yard.
Her wild barking was
what had summoned me.
The thunk of something landing
solidly on the wooden deck below
brought me down the stairs
to find a package for my wife,
too big to fit through the mail slot.
The gate latch was still vibrating
at a high B or C.

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Why I love Malcolm Tucker

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I think most people know me as a fairly laid-back guy in person, never getting too exercised or losing my cool, even when someone's being a jerk to me. If that's your opinion, then you've never worked in an office with me. Seriously. Ask the good, long-suffering people at BenefitsCheckUp or Sesame Workshop. (Actually, don't ask the people at Sesame Workshop. Most of the folks I used to work with there got the ax even before I did.)

If you talked to them, you'd find out that I could be a real bastard in the workplace. Some people at my last job were apparently afraid to talk to me when I thought they'd messed up, or at all. I made at least one producer at the Sesame Street website cry. Mind you, I'm not proud of this. No, wait, actually I am.

Over the past week or so, I've watched the recent film In the Loop three times on DVD. Besides its scathing, cynical view of the political process that lubricated our way into Iraq, I can't get enough of Malcolm Tucker, the angry, profane press secretary who never encountered a functionary he couldn't intimidate or a problem he couldn't spin his way out of. I want to be Malcolm Tucker, or at least be that articulate when I'm enraged.

Tucker, as played by Peter Capaldi, is also a character on the BBC comedy series The Thick of It. That's the source of the short video clip below (decidedly NSFW in its language), which pretty well sums up the Tucker philosophy.

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U QT!

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Sometimes as I glance through my website's server logs, I see the anonymous messages people have sent through my little Scrabble-izer. Here's one of the sweetest I've seen, which just caught my eye:

If you were a Scrabble tile, you'd be a Z - one of a kind and worth more than everyone else
Or see it in Scrabble tiles.
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Deception

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Ladybug
This morning in the back window of the car
I found a ladybug
bleached bone-white and fragile under the glass,
like a tiny skull.

With eyespots faded almost to nothing,
blinded by the sun,
it was as if the creature had only slowly,
and jealously,

let go of the urge to outwit its predators.


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Nice review

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Via the PS Publishing newsroom, here are excerpts from Peter Tennant's recent Black Static review of my collaboration with Derryl Murphy, Cast a Cold Eye:

This short novella does many things right. For starters, its setting is immaculately captured on the page, with a real sense of rural Nebraska in 1921 coming over thanks to a wealth of tiny details, such as the ins and outs of photography or a look inside the house of a wealthy widow. There's a strong emotional grounding too, for both Luke and the society in which he is placed, an aching sense of despair undercut with a feeling that perhaps the worst is past, so people can look to the future with hope, an optimism confirmed in its denouement. Characterisation is spot on, with no-one who can be considered either evil or a criminal, just ordinary men and woman with all the flaws and virtues that implies....

The supernatural side of the story is suitably understated, so that we believe but also take on board the possibility that the ghosts could only exist inside the hearts and minds of the people who see them. With a subtext suggesting that the spectral world is just another aspect of life, wishing us neither good nor evil, but just there, a case could be made for Luke as the 'I see ghosts' boy from Sixth Sense picked up, rather like a reverse Dorothy, and put down in rural Nebraska, but that might be stretching things. In any event, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it without reservation.

Order yourself a copy, without reservation, here.

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The giving trees

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This morning is Plant a Tree day on WBEZ. If you pledge any amount today, they will plant a tree in your name anywhere in the world.

"Anywhere?" said Laura. (We often talk back to the radio in the morning.). "I want them to plant a tree in my back yard."

"I want them to plant a tree in Antarctica," I said. "It's pretty barren down there."

Does this make us jerks?

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In the March 8 New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg makes an interesting throwaway observation in the course of discussing the Republican disinformation campaign that has labeled Obama's health-care effort as "socialist":

The Democrats' bill more closely resembles Richard Nixon's health-care proposal—the one that Ted Kennedy went to his grave regretting he hadn't embraced—than it does Bill Clinton's, to say nothing of Harry Truman's.  [full article]
It's clear that politicians who bloviate about the dangers of socialism in this country are either ignorant or lying. Do you think that when a smart guy like Newt Gingrich calls 1984 an argument against socialism, he doesn't know Orwell was himself a radical socialist? Do you think that when Jim DeMint calls "discredited socialist policies" the "enemy of freedom for centuries all over the world," he doesn't know that Europe and Canada are not exactly collapsing into anarchy and ruin as he speaks?

No, they're not ignorant. What they're doing is putting Orwell to use in a different way—deploying careful buzzwords—socialism, totalitarianism, 1984, Big Brother—that have become freighted with decades of fear-inducing associations, words that slice through rational processing and detonate like smart bombs in the reptile brain.

The worst indictment of socialist ideas I can think of is that our equitable, cooperative, socialist education system has so completely failed to instill in us the ability to see through all this doublespeak.

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Sham shakes rock

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And the links to other complaints about Shamrock Shakes just keep pouring in! Here's an oldie but goodie from The Onion:

Sinn Fein Leaders Demand Year-Round Shamrock Shake Availability

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Okay, I have to come clean somewhere, so you just got voted my confessor. Lucky you.

So Laura and I started playing Wednesday nights in a pub trivia league late last spring. It's a uniform game that takes place in different bars not just all over Chicago but in several cities around the country. Our first few outings were dismal, but gradually we improved to the point where we took several firsts at our home bar, and we regularly place near the top of the pack. During this past season, our team—then known as The Reigning Cats and Dogs—did well enough to get invited to the city league championship match on February 13th. We placed 15th out of about 25 teams.

Using cell phones to look up answers is strictly forbidden, and we never cheat on that score. Sometimes, though, if we're nervous about a question, we'll look up the answer after we've already turned in our response. We're there to have fun, but we also love winning, and we can get pretty competitive with the other regular teams. It's a friendly competition, though.

Besides Laura and me, we have a few regulars on the team, most consistently Diane and Chuck. On a normal night, we have three or four players. There is no real limit on team size, though. We've had as many as six and as few as two. Everyone has categories they're strong and weak in. Laura does great at business and advertising and celebrity questions. Diane has TV and politics. I'm good at music and science and geography. Chuck has history, and he's pretty good at sports too. We generally dread sports questions, though, and there are usually a lot of them, so we recently recruited a new player, Randy, to help shore up that weak area.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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William Shunn

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