Give a Man A fish, and He Eats For a Day; Give a Man A Fishing Pole and He Beats You to Death With It and Claims It Was Self Defense

In case you had any lingering doubts that the Tea Baggers are hypocritical idiots, the New York Times clears that right up for you:

Mr. Grimes, who receives Social Security, has filled the back seat of his Mercury Grand Marquis with the literature of the movement, including Glenn Beck’s “Arguing With Idiots” and Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law,” which denounces public benefits as “false philanthropy.”

“If you quit giving people that stuff, they would figure out how to do it on their own,” Mr. Grimes said.

Just so we’re all on the same page: Mr. Grimes is on Social Security, Medicare and drawing unemployment benefits. So naturally, he spends his free time actively protesting against the government programs that comfortably ensure him from depredation.

The article does make one thing clear: that the primary motivation behind the Teabagger protests, as incoherent as it is, relates almost exclusively to their frustration with the economy. These are people forced into early retirement or laid off because the economy went south. They can’t flip their houses and move into smaller places to save money because the housing bubble burst, leaving them in overvalued homes now worth less than the mortgages they took out on them. So yes, they’re frustrated. That’s the part that makes sense.

The part that flips your lid is how they choose to exercise that frustration. Years of listening to Right Wing lunatics like Beck and Limbaugh have atrophied their brains to the point where they no longer can engage in civic life in any meaningful way. They see a malfunctioning system in need of repair but instead of directing their new-found free time towards fixing the situation by volunteering in their communities or pressuring their elected officials to change things, they gather with other idiots to demand that their leaders do less for them. As if things were only slightly worse for the Teabaggers, then they’d be motivated to pull on their own bootstraps. But until they have to eat cat food and sleep in their station wagons, they’ll demand the government quit wasting money on lowlife bottom feeders like them and… well, that’s not very clear. In my previous post, I suggested that the Teabaggers were vehemently in favor of the status quo. But that’s not quite right. They do want change, just of an amorphous undefined sort. What they do know is they don’t like the flavor of change Obama is offering. There’s just something… dark about his kind of hope. Those ideas of his are down right… socialist? That’s not quite the word they were searching for but it’ll do, especially since it’s impolite to say the N word in public, like it used to be in the good old days of their youth.

Oh, if Only those fiscally responsible Republicans were in charge again…

The Republican National Committee spent tens of thousands of dollars last month on luxury jets, posh hotels and other high-flying expenses, according to new Federal Election Commission filings, including nearly $2,000 for “meals” at Voyeur West Hollywood, a lesbian-themed nightclub that features topless dancers in bondage outfits.

First link via TomTomorrow, second via tnielsenhayden.

HCR 4ever!

So we have health Care Reform! Yippee! I have the same advice for President Obama that I did when he was elected: Congrats! Now don’t fuck this up.

As to the substance of the bill… Meh. It ain’t what I, in my socialist heart of hearts would really want. That would be medicare for all. We’re still a ways away form that. Not that this minor step in the right direction has stopped the Tea Baggers from unleashing their furious furry of furiousness all over themselves and apparently, some Democrats windows.

The interesting thing about the Tea Baggers, besides their inability to take five seconds to Google that name, is they are probably the first revolutionary movement in the history of the world who are vehemently for the status quo.

They want absolutely NO change! And they want it now!

If incrimental pro-corporate health care reform done with complete transparency and governmental oversight strikes them as runaway Marxist tyranny, it’ll be fun to see what they make of actual dramatic reform (“Repeal No Child Left Behind?!? Satanist!”). And by fun I mean scarry.

The Story Thus Far, Part 7: As You Know Bob

Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders has a great post on the art of the Infodump. As you know, Bob, the infodump is one of those tools writers, especially those of us int he speculative field,[1] use to build worlds and describe all the crazy, outrageous and weird concepts we write about.

Ironically, there’s not a whole lot to say about infodumps. They’re necessary and inescapable and when done well, add to the texture of the story.[2] And when done badly, they’re a cancerous grown on the text. The problem is, there’s no real way to tell which is which.

And that’s why the case study approach is helpful. Head on over to io9 and see for yourself.

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1. While the Infodump is most common in sci-fi and fantasy novels, it does show up from time to time in literary fiction, especially hisotrical novels where the cultural differences are enough that they may as well be set in fantasy worlds. There’s an interresting overlap between those two and it’s sometimes fun to read a hisotrical novel as a fantasy.

2. Neal Stephenson is argulably the reigning master of the infodump. But even he has his detractors and they have valid points. Sometimes, there is a thing as too much information.

Would Health Care Reform Help You?

This is a guest post by Barbara O’ Brien, a writer on progressive political and health care matters. You can read other articles by her at The Mahablog, Crooks and Liars and AlterNet.

*****

Many obstacles and stumbling blocks remain in the way of health care reform. The House and Senate bills will have to be merged, and then the House and Senate both will vote on the final bill. We don’t yet know what will be in the final bill, or if the final bill will be passed into law. Passage will be especially difficult in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to pass. It is still possible that after all this angst, just one grandstanding senator could kill the whole thing.

But just for fun, let’s look at what conventional wisdom says will be in the final bill and see if there is anything in it that will be an immediate benefit to people with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related disease.

It is likely that the final bill will provide additional funding for state high-risk insurance pools. Currently more than 30 states run such pools, which are nonprofit, state-sponsored health insurance plans for people who can’t buy insurance because of pre-existing conditions. The biggest problem with such pools is that, often, the insurance they offer is too expensive for many who might need it. Both the Senate and House bills provide $5 billion in subsidies for state high-risk pools to make the insurance more affordable.

Under the Senate bill, beginning in 2014, private companies would no longer be able to deny coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions, nor could they charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. Until then, the state high-risk pools could provide some help.

Closing the Medicare Part D coverage gap — also called the “doughnut hole” — is another potential provision that could help some patients with asbestos-related disease. The “doughnut hole” is the gap between the coverage for yearly out-of-pocket expenses provided by Medicare Part D and Medicare’s “catastrophic coverage” threshold.

For example, in 2009 Medicare Part D paid at least 75 percent of what patients paid for prescription drugs up to $2,700. After that, patients must pay for all of their prescription medications until what they have paid exceeds $6,154. At that point, the catastrophic coverage takes over, and Medicare pays for all but 5 percent of the patient’s drug bills. The final health care reform bill probably will provide for paying at least 50 percent of out-of-pocket costs in the doughnut hole.

You may have heard the bills include budget cuts to the Medicare program, and this has been a big concern to many people. Proponents of the bill insist that savings can be found to pay for the cuts, and that people who depend on Medicare won’t face reduced services. But this is a complex issue that I want to address in a later post.

The long-term provisions probably will include many other provisions that would benefit patients with asbestos-related disease, including increased funding for medical research. Although there are many complaints about the bill coming from all parts of the political spectrum, on the whole it would be a huge benefit to many people.

— Barbara O’Brien

Walking Down the Middle of the Road Only Gets You Run Over

David Brooks, having woken up to find the Tea Party he went home with last night is in fact a giant rat king of cretinous lunatics, is attempting to climb out of bed quietly, and as per his usual “moderate” acrobatics, stumbling blindly through the kitchen, upending pots and pans and throwing dishes to the floor with all the grace of a hangover victim the day after Mardis Gras. This week’s tactic is to equate the Tea Baggers with the New Left of the sixties:

Because of this assumption, members of both movements go in big for conspiracy theories. The ’60s left developed elaborate theories of how world history was being manipulated by shadowy corporatist/imperialist networks — theories that live on in the works of Noam Chomsky. In its short life, the Tea Party movement has developed a dizzying array of conspiracy theories involving the Fed, the F.B.I., the big banks and corporations and black helicopters.

I see what you did there, Dave. and it’s not working.

This is what we call a false equivalency (also known as Moderate Spin attack). By implying that two extremes are diametrically opposed, he’s suggesting that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. If this were true, than in between chocolate and vanilla would be frozen yogurt. Or strawberry. Or I don’t know what. A decrease in the capital gains tax, most likely. But Brooks, master of GOP Judo, is using the obvious lunacy of one group to tar his arbitrarily chosen opposite as being equally nuts. The problem with his two opposites is that they aren’t really even remotely the same. It’s not just apples vs. oranges. It’s apples vs. an imaginary fruit that is both invisible and purple, smells like summer on your grandpa’s farm and makes you virile like a double shot of Viagra.

Noam Chomsky may have some rhetorical flourishes that get up the nose of some folks but he and the lefties of the sixties were essentially right in their criticism of corporatism of American culture. He’s only been proven more right by recent events, such as the bank bailouts and privatization of the Middle Eastern War effort. But some of Chomskey’s fans were hippies and hippies smell funny! And David Brooks was once turned down for a date in San Francisco, by a girl with flowers in her hair.

Meanwhile the Tea baggers believe things that aren’t even negotiably true. There’s no wiggle room around Obama’s birth certificate or their obsession with the Fed or beleif in the righteousness of the gold standard. They’re a bunch of inattentive, scared middle class white folk, stirred into a fear frenzy by the very visible failure of their party to do anything constructive for an entire decade (or more), all fueled by the lingering racist backlash directed incoherently at our country’s first African American president. They’re threatened by change and their own inability to do anything to stop that change. Perhaps the New Left failed to effect any major change back in the sixties but that may have more to do with the Republican counter revolution (of which Brooks is a card-carying member) than anything inherently unworkable in the general outlook of the sixties Left. Yeah sure, world peace wasn’t really going to happen but stopping the napalming of Vietnamese villagers (and subsequent profit generated by the sale of said napalm) would sure go along way towards an incremental step in that direction. I’m not sure what the Tea Baggers want to achieve but screaming about a government (Muslim/Kenyan/Socialist) scheme designed to kill your dreams isn’t going to get there.

Link via @ebertchicago

The Wookie Always Wins

Paul Campos over at Lawyers Guns and Money makes an interesting observation about the lingua franca of our modern world, pop culture references:

[…] at this point I find that the only two film references that I can always count on the vast majority of the class to get are The Wizard of Oz and the first Star Wars trilogy. I’m wonder about the extent to which technology has and will gradually change this circumstance — that it is or will make pop culture, both in its high art and low schlock manifestations, more reliably intergenerational as pedogogical references or just subjects of general conversation.

Technological innovations in distribution like Netflix and streaming video are certainly going to provide a much larger window onto the collective pop culture scene than was previously available. Netflix alone has recently been granted access to stream the entire back catalog of MGM. There are silent movies on YouTube, in their entirety. This is a far cry from even when I was a kid, and we only knew the movies that could be rented on VHS. If ti was out of print or hadn’t ever been issued to begin with, it may as well have not existed. However. This doesn’t mean the kids these days are going to know what you’re talking about when you mention China Town or Dirty Harry or even The Shining. Just because they can watch those movies doesn’t mean they’re going to. Other than the odd teenage cinophile, there’s no reason to expect every teenager[1] to have seen The Princess Bride, even if it is one of the best movies ever.The flip side of this are the outliers. Movies like Star Wars and Wizard of Oz and Indiana Jones, those pieces of art that have become embededed in the culture at large. Everyone gets a star Wars reference or an Oz reference, even if they’v enever seen the movies because parts of those stories have become so pervasive, you pick it up through osmosis, or just repetition and homage.[2]

This is part of a larger set of assumptions that educators and librarians are runnign into when it comes to the younger generation of students. I keep seeing this in the university where I work, where everyone assumes the Millennials[3] are all computer experts. The problem is, this expectation has been around since they were children and what I’m finding more and more is, since everyone assumes these kids already know how to work with computers, they’ve never bothered to train them to do anything. So they come to college and something as simple as format a word document is beyond their ability to comprehend.

Basically, it’s safe to assume that they’ll get the Star Wars references but if you want to riff on The Venture Bros.or Firefly, you may need to test their knowledge before hand. You may be surprised at what they have seen but will definitely be shocked at what they haven’t.

That, and for the love of Steve, add a basic computer literacy course to your school’s curriculum.

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1. Or even people in their mid twenties. I’m surprised at the number of people just five or six years younger than me who had never seen Labyrinth and had no idea that something like the Dark Crystal even existed. And these weren’t exactly sheltered people. It’s just not something they would have thought to look for and so never were exposed to it.

2. My wife had enver seen Casablanca until a few years ago. After watching it she wass startled at just how many lines and scenes she knew, because that movie had been so thoroughly assimilated into our culture.

3. I detest generational tags like this but that’s to be expect form an old Gen Xer like myself.

The Story Thus Far, Part 6: Words, Words, Words

The single best writing day I ever had was when I was writing The Machine of the World. I wrote 7000 words in a span of 8 hours. I took a half an hour break for lunch but otherwise wrote for an entire day. This was exhilarating in itself, to see that I was capable of such a creative output.[1] It was also a total fluke.

Seeing as how most books range between 40 and 100,000 words,[2] congratulating myself on completing 7000 at a go seems silly. But the hardest part of writing is the process of putting words on a page.[3] because unless you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, (and even if yo are) you won’t be dropping 7000 every day. Unless you’re Jack Kerouac, but then the Speed helped and he was typing so fast, he forgot to use punctuation.

But you should have a reasonable daily word count for yourself. This will vary by the author.

Tom Robbins, famously, doesn’t count at all, he works on one sentence, getting it perfect before he moves on to the next. So some days he’ll write a page, others, just one sentence. This is of course absurd but not as absurd as Marcel Proust, who wrote as the whim moved him, and only in a cork-lined room.

[find some other author word count anecdotes]

For those like me, who are just starting out and may have a day job as well, you won’t have time to wait for the whim of the muse to grip you by the wrist and dip your perfumed fingers in the ink. You have to find an hour in the evening or thirty minutes on your lunch break, bang out a few hundred words and then get back to work. For the working writer, Cory Doctorow makes a good argument for aiming at a nice and tidy 500 words a day:

  • Short, regular work schedule
    When I’m working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I’m working on it. It’s not plausible or desirable to try to get the world to go away for hours at a time, but it’s entirely possible to make it all shut up for 20 minutes. Writing a page every day gets me more than a novel per year — do the math — and there’s always 20 minutes to be found in a day, no matter what else is going on. Twenty minutes is a short enough interval that it can be claimed from a sleep or meal-break (though this shouldn’t become a habit). The secret is to do it every day, weekends included, to keep the momentum going, and to allow your thoughts to wander to your next day’s page between sessions. Try to find one or two vivid sensory details to work into the next page, or a bon mot, so that you’ve already got some material when you sit down at the keyboard.
  • Leave yourself a rough edge
    When you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you’re in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you’re in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work. Knitters leave a bit of yarn sticking out of the day’s knitting so they know where to pick up the next day — they call it the “hint.” Potters leave a rough edge on the wet clay before they wrap it in plastic for the night — it’s hard to build on a smooth edge.

This has been working for me for the past few months. I feel a nice sense of accomplishment if I get that 500 goal. Some days, I can’t resist the urge and keep going, regularly breaking 1000. But that extra 500 words? That’s gravy. Doesn’t count towards the next day. Still need to do 500 words then, too. And the day after that. Unless it’s Saturday. I usually take Saturdays off.

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1. The most impressive part is that most of those 7000 words are still in the finished book. For those interested, it’s the second part of chapter two, all of three and four and the end of seventeen. I didn’t say they were consecutive words.

2. The SFWA says a novel starts at 40K words. NaNoWriMo requires yo to write 50K in 30 days. there’s no standard length for a novel but generally speaking, you only get to break 150K if you’re Stephen King or Neil Stephenson. If you’re getting into that range, you should probably set aside a few minutes to examine your plot and see if you aren’t trying to shoehorn too much into one story.

3. Or a screen. Some authors write longhand in notebooks with actual ink pens. This strikes me as archaic. But hey whatever works for you. I’ve tried writing longhand and before I finish a page, I’ve usually crossed out half of what I’ve written, forgotten how to spell the other half and filled the margins with addendum and arrows identifying which sentence goes before or after which other sentence. I am a decidedly untidy writer. I think in images and phrases, not in paragraphs. if it weren’t for word processing software, I probably would never finish so much as a blog post and would have even worse spelling.