Stopped Clocks and All That

When you’ve lost Ron Paul, you know you’re on the wrong side of history:

Is the controversy over building a mosque near ground zero a grand distraction or a grand opportunity? Or is it, once again, grandiose demagoguery?

It has been said, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Are we not overly preoccupied with this controversy, now being used in various ways by grandstanding politicians? It looks to me like the politicians are “fiddling while the economy burns.”

The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque.

Instead, we hear lip service given to the property rights position while demanding that the need to be “sensitive” requires an all-out assault on the building of a mosque, several blocks from “ground zero.”

The property rights angle is standard Libertarian “property is more important than people” nonsense but it at least points him in the general direction of freedom, iberty and all that stuff. So, Progress! Sort of.

Anything that helps end this long slog through the racist hate mongering underbelly of America is a good thing, so credit where credit is due. Still, two points of quibble:

The Cordoba House is a Mosque in the same way that your local YMCA is a Cathedral. As in, not at all. Unless you think every Mosque comes with a pool and a squash court. In which case, sign me up!

Quibble point 2: the scare quotes around “Ground Zero.” As someone somewhere pointed out, Ground Zero is where you set off a nuke. Comparing the WTC tragedy to, say, Nagasaki is disengenuous to say the least. So there’s something else Paul managed to hit upon, in his klunky and self-interrested way. Looks like assholes are a lot like stopped clocks: right twice a day. If he keeps this up, he may eventually become a decent person. Though he’s still a Republican, so that’s unlikely.

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Constituents?

Robert Gibbs can eat a bag of dicks:

During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.

“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”

The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

Go fuck yourself sideways with a brick, Mr. Gibbs. I’ve defended your boss and his mealy mouthed centrism for nearly 3 years, in the hopes that he’d accomplish a fraction of what he promised. So far he’s done shit. GTMO is still open, we’re still in Afghanistan and Iraq with no end to either occupation in sight and the healthcare bill is a fucking joke. You’ve rolled over for every right wing lunatic’s racist conspiracy theory and now you lash out at your supporters in the feeblest way possible, by building hippie straw men.* Nice. You’re supposed to talk shit about your opponents, not the people who support you.

You don’t want my support, fine, see if I vote for your boss again in 2012.

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* No one wants to shut down the Pentagon. Though turning it into a university once the ludicrously bloated defense budget is cut in half would be nice. I’m all for recycling. I’m also in favor of Canadian style health care, because it covers everyone and costs half as much as our current sloppy wet corporate blowjob of a healthcare system. The only people who dismiss “Canadian Style” Healthcare are fucking Right Wing sociopaths, hoping for some of that trickle down money they keep praying to Supply-Side Jesus for. Man I’m such a hippy!

California May Not Sink Into the Sea After All!

As Rogers put it, if you want to live in the 21 C, stand over here:

A federal judge in San Francisco decided today that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, striking down Proposition 8, the voter approved ballot measure that banned same-sex unions.

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker said Proposition 8, passed by voters in November 2008, violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choice. His ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is going to be a popcorn muncher, to be sure. If SCOTUS punt and let the circuit court ruling stand, they get called activist judges by their right wing handlers from now until doomsday. Same if they hear the case and let the ruling stand. If they overturn it, they’ll have a hell of a time writing that decision in English that hasn’t been sent through the GTMO ringer.

Good on ya, California! Now: get rid of Schwarzenegger and start paying your librarians again. Chop chop!

If You’re Seeing Snow, it’s Time to Change the Channel

The book club is discussing Neuromancer this month. This is the second book by William Gibson I’ve read, the first being Spook Country. Since they were written a good 20 years apart, I’m taking them as emblematic of his writing style and themes.

I’ll go ahead and admit this first off: I seem to be the only sci-fi geek in the world who doesn’t like Gibson’s work. His books just leave me cold. I’m not entirely sure why. His writing is crisp, if a bit sententious at times and prone to excess lingo but these are the usual tics of vocabulary that you find in most science fiction authors, so it’s not off-putting.[1] I think what I find cold about his writing is the atmosphere.

Gibson — especially in Neuromancer — is mainlining Chandlarian noir. It’s all bad people doing bad things in a fallen world. Which is fine but it’s a little too clinical and detached for me to really get engaged with the characters. Not even the psychopaths seem to have any passion. His characters all have shadowy pasts or just enough pasts to facilitate the plot and nothing more. As if they are conscious of their artificial nature, never having anything more revealed about them than the plot demands. They’re just people doing things for dubious reasons, many of which are never explained or even hinted at.[2] I honestly have no idea why I’m supposed to care about Case or Molly. I feel sorry for Armitage and nothing at all for Riviera. I’m not sure why he’s even there, other than to show off his cool holographic technology.

The characters with the most striking personalities are stereotypes: the Rasta freebooters and the Dixie Flatline, which is the neurological ghost of a dead hacker stored on a hard drive. With a southern accent. They’ll probably be relegated to the comic relief in the movie,[3] which is a shame because they are far more interesting than the main cast.[4]

I suppose I’m supposed to care about the plot but in that reverse osmosis of storytelling, where the bones of Neuromancer have been picked clean by 25 years worth of writers (some of them better at Gibson’s own shtick than he is) I’m finding that a monumental task. I guess it boils down tot the fact that I just don’t give a crap about the whole AI Question.

Science fiction for the last forty years or so has been preoccupied with the tin plated Pinocchios of our imagination and frankly, I’m bored with robots who want to be real boys. I’m even more bored by disembodied consciosusnesses who may or may not be PoMo stand-ins for the God we wished was there but isn’t. I’m fine living in a godless mechanistic universe devoid of rational control or preordained design and I certainly don’t want to build a machine that thinks it’s better than me just because it doesn’t have to poop or ever want to fuck. I’m comfortable in my skin and not interested in escaping it. Which apparently makes me a weirdo in this here twenty first century. I guess my old fashioned humanism isn’t cool any more.[5]

Though on second thought, I think what is missing is a touch of humor. This is a clearly absurd situation, yet every character seems to grok that they’re in a hardboiled sci-fi novel. None of them laugh, except for the Dixie Flatline and even he has trouble with it, because he’s just a simulation of a dead man. Perhaps that’s what’s missing in all this grim grimmy grimness: a bit of gallows humor.

Whatever. Neuromancer needed more heart and soul, or at least a dick joke or two and it’s total lack thereof left me wanting more of something the author clearly is not interested in providing. So clearly it’s not my cup of tea.

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1. There’s probably a whole essay to be written on this topic. Something related to the sci-fi/fantasy vocabulary and the needs of world building that demands a certain level of self conscious lingo. This lingo is a signifier of sorts. It says to the reader that you’re in that world, not this one, and you can tell because we use these weird words. More on that later, after many more cups of coffee.

2. This was especially the case in Spook Country, which I found annoying. Characters run around and do things without much reflection. It reads like a movie script, which would be fine, if it were a movie because then the actors would be telegraphing their motivations through body language and facial expression. But Gibson doesn’t describe people except when he has too and then its filtered through brand name clothing.

3.The movie was mentioned briefly during one of the panels I attended at comic con, by Lou Anders, the editor of Pyre books, who wandered aloud if the movie would be a period piece or contemporary. He was only half joking. But that’s typical Hollywood, where a novel old enough to  drink is a cutting edge hot property. I hear next year, they’re adapting that scandalous sex novel, Portnoy’s Complaint.

4. Even Molly. You’ve probably heard of Molly, even if you’ve never read Neuromancer, because she’s become an archetype, the burgeoning post-human with extensive body modifications who is also a cute girl who can kick your ass. She’s Buffy, without the snark or fashion sense and a set of mirror shades over her eyes. After reading the book, I think this reputation is pure fanwank because on the page, she’s a shallow, sad shell of a person and it takes 300 pages just to get that much out of her.

5. Well, there goes my Hugo.