They Don’t Hate Us For Our Freedoms after All

Over at the Awl, we find this enlightening piece on Egypt and Egyptians attitudes towards the US. Far from being the fever dream of our own would-be theocrats on the right, the situation is a lot more complicated and positive. Turns out the majority of the Muslim world doesn’t actually hate us for our freedoms, they’re just suspicious of the bullshit we peddle:

The other argument for popular sovereignty in the Muslim world is far more straightforward: It’s what the vast majority of Muslims actually want. The 2005-2007 Gallup World Survey of more than 30 Muslim majority countries found that, far from hating Western freedoms, most respondents coveted them—especially the freedom of speech and worship. It’s true that they also overwhelmingly endorsed the idea of Sharia law—but that is not a prescription for jihadist theocracy, as witless American commentators and state legislatures are prone to conclude. Sharia, rather, is a cultural tradition seeking to imbue broad ideals of personal conduct under the rule of law—and far from a monolithic regime of hand-amputating, honor-killing and adulterer-stoning one encounters in dispatches from the American right. Here, yet again, the Iranian theocracy has been made the poster regime for a wide panoply of Muslim believers it does not, in fact, actually represent. You’d think a conservative movement so besotted with lip service to the idea of democracy in the Islamic world would pay closer attention to such pesky details.

That’s because the Egyptians and most everyone else, rightly suspects that our leaders are feeding them a line when we start nattering on about democracy and liberty and all that happy Tom Paine bullshit. The US sells 1.2 Billion dollars worth of military hardware to Egypt. They’re our biggest client in the Middle East, (after Israel, naturally) and those Abrams tanks and RPGs aren’t exactly in the hands of the nicest guys in the government. So when our leaders stand up and say, “Fuck yeah, Egyptian democracy! We’re with you!” and then hand Mubarak another boatload of anti-demonstration hardware, people tend to notice. Especially the people who are getting the boot to head. They can look up and see “Made in America” stamped on the heal on their throat. You may be able to sell that as promoting Liberty to the FoxNews mouth breathers but the rest of the world knows a turd sandwhich when they see one. And they ain’t buying what we’re selling.

I am far from an expert on Egypt and have no idea how this whole thing will play out. But if there’s a chance that the Egyptian People can take their country back form a dictator, I’m all for it. Even if it means a strongly Islamic-identified government that isn’t necessarily pro-US rises to take it’s place. Sometimes the price of freedom means loosing a client for our big shiny weapons.But I think the Military Industrial complex will get over it, somehow.

If I was President, This is the Speech I Would Give Tonight

My fellow Americans, we are well and truly fucked.

For far too long, we let the Republicans, and their corporate overlords, have their way with our country. On all fronts–the economy, social welfare, foreign and domestic policy–we let a bunch of cretinous sociopaths run amok, enacting the sorts of deranged and unscrupulous policies that would have made Ayn Rand look like a bleeding heart liberal.

And when I say we, I don’t mean just the spineless Democrats like myself who refused to stand up and be heard, or to stand for anything but business as usual. You are all to blame as well. Every single citizen of this country. You let demagogues like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh convince you that socialist bogeymen are hiding under your bed, and that the only way to scare them off is to hoard gold and grease up your guns. You should have shouted these lunatics down, mocked them off the airwaves and forced their publishers to pulp their ghost-written tomes. Instead, you made these racist nitwits multimillionaires, because they tickled your grievances and fondled your repressed bigotries.

You, my fellow citizens, have become convinced that taxes are the same thing as tyranny rather than the wages of civilization and that helping your neighbors and fellow citizens in their hour of need is a sin. And you still have the balls to call yourselves a Christian Nation! You go hunting for commies and pinkos and atheists when you should be hanging bankers from lampposts all along Wall Street. We’re in the middle of the worst depression since the Great One, and not only are you not out in the streets demanding jobs, fair wages and health care, but you’re bending over and letting the bankers fuck you sideways and then thanking them for it with a no-strings-attached bailout. It’s no wonder that, in ten short years, we’ve gone form the envy of the world to the embarrassment of nations.

Our economy is circling the drain. Everyone keeps asking “why?” and “what did we do?” like it’s a big fucking mystery. We outsourced all our jobs to other countries. We don’t make anything anymore. Other than overly elaborate shell games that swindle poeple out of their savings. In pursuit of cheap sneakers and cheaper television sets, we sent all our manufacturing jobs to India and China. Instead of paying people to work decent jobs we shuffle them into a hellish merry go round of bureaucracy, shuttling them between unemployment lines until they feel so disheartened and confused that they stop asking for help. The new American spirit is one that settles for drudgery out of fear. we used to be the nation that could count on there being a chicken in every pot. Now we settle for grade G beef (now with extra sawdust!) in our faux-tacos and hope we win the lottery, so we can afford all the overrated status symbols on which we’ve pinned all our life’s meaning.

We could put every unemployed, able-bodied American to work rebuilding our crumbling Infrastructure. Not only would it repair our roads and make our electrical grid and water system modern and terrorist-proof, but employ hundreds of thousands and stimulate the economy. But it might require a modest increase in taxes to fund, so fuck it. I hear rolling blackouts and potholes the size of craters on the moon are all the rage in developing nations. At least the ones we haven’t bombed back to the stone age.

Our fun little wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are, well, I’d be lying if I said they were going well. Frankly, we have no metric for success, since the bozo who started them didn’t outline any clear goals. And sure, I haven’t done anything to end them because I’m deathly afraid of looking like a pussy to this guy. We’ll never achieve anything that resembles a victory but then, that was never the point. We went to war to funnel taxpayer money to the defense industry. The wars exist solely to make more money for already-rich psychopaths who make bombs because they can’t get hard ons. Sure, we’re closing grocery stores and turning off the lights in small towns all across America, but at least our friends at Blackwater/Xe can enjoy the finer things in their new corporate headquarters in Dubai.

And if you have the misfortune to get sick, well, good luck. Our watered down Health Care Reform bill won’t nearly cut it and the Republican alternative plan, known as “Die quickly, you poor bastard” shockingly won’t help. But what did you really expect, genuine reform of a multibillion dollar industry that we let regulate itself? We didn’t do anything to fix the banks, who are scalping you into a stress-related heart condition (not covered by your employer’s plan) and we’re probably not going to do anything to stop the health care industry from profiting on your sickness either. Because this is a free market and we’re all capitalists now, even those of you who are poor and would actually benefit form a little judicious socialism, applied liberally. But go ahead and keep voting against your interests. Maybe one day, you really will win the lottery and then you can be a celebrity jackass, just like you’ve always dreamed.

And for you school age kids out there, well, I hope you weren’t expecting a job when you graduate from college. Selling you those inflationary loans for four years of undergrad wasn’t done out of goodwill, a desire to see the youth of today succeed, or any of that  civics and citizenship crap. You’re an integral part of the Education Bubble, kids. We need you to keep gobbling up credit and generating debt because at this point, it’s all that’s keeping our economy afloat. And don’t bother going to mommy and daddy for help because your father’s pension that he was earning for 30 years vanished in a game of Wall Street roulette.

Think of all that debt as doing your part for the future of this country. Seriously though, consider going back to grad school kids. Those new high tech fighter drones, the ones that are just like your military training simulations video games? Yeah, those won’t pay for themselves. But don’t worry, you’ll be flying them for real, and soon, because before long, we’ll have eliminated social security and the last shreds of the New Deal safety net, and you’ll have no other option but to join the army or starve to death in your parents basement. We desperately need a million more liberal arts grads with Masters degrees in English Literature. Putting you to work as a desk jockey in Kabul is the only way we can explain irony.

The truth is, we’re broke, and don’t have any real ideas how to fix the problems that are threatening to destabilize our once-great country. And if you think the economy is bad, keep in mind, all the smart people we have left in this country have actually been trying to fix that problem. We haven’t even started thinking about global warming and that one’s actually real, unlike our economy, which is just a bunch of paper dolls and voodoo.

If you want to see what the next few years will bring, go visit the ruins of Detroit. That’s not just the state of our union writ large, it’s our future come to haunt us in the present.

Good night, America, and kiss your asses goodbye.

The Millennial Myth

You may have heard of the Millennials (and count yourself lucky if you haven’t). They’re the tech savvy kids born since the late 1980s, who grew up with the Internet and mobile phones and are plugged in, turned on and engaged in the use of web-based technology in ways that are both dazzling and frightening. Or so we’re told. Because the Millennials, like Gen X and the baby Boomers before them, are a demographic construct, a social fiction made up to sell a narrative and more importantly, to sell product.

These kids aren’t engaging in a digital environment that speaks to a spectacular, intuitive grasp of technology. They’re thumbing cell phone keyboards because it’s easier than actually using a phone. And that’s the problem with ubiquitous technology: it becomes easy to use on the surface for the most shallow of purposes. We can bounce packets of data off satellites in geosynchronous orbit but mostly, that data we’re sending is teenage gossip and cute cat pictures. The kids these days, they aren’t engaged in the savvy use of technology. They’re banging digital rocks together because they don’t know how to do anything else. Jaded grownups just assume they already know everything and so don’t bother to teach them anything.

Other than a very small minority of plugged in super nerds, none of the kids in the Millennial generation knows anything about computers. I’ve been around them now, in an academic environment, for 8 years. I’ve met 20 year-olds who’ve never opened a word document. Every Fall semester, I encounter a new crop of recent high school grads whose only experience with the Internet is posting updates on their friends MySpace pages. If you’re lucky, they have a Yahoo account and may have sent an e-mail or two, but usually just to their parents.

But the Millennial Myth is a popular delusion that persists and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why. Until today. While listening to a candidate for a new Instructional technologist position at the University, I heard yet another Boomer tell a room full of Gen Xers and other Boomers that these Millennials needed to be handled differently because the were savvy customers. In what other area do we assume teenagers know more than parents and teachers? And who benefits from this assumption? Cut out the bullshit lingo and what you have left is the truth: they’re customers.

The Millennial Myth is a consumer model. “We don’t need to teach kids how to properly use technology,” the Micky Marketeers tell us, “Because that way, we can sell them products they don’t know they don’t need.” The handful of young (and old) savvy tech users will search out their own technology needs and find their way to the Open Source fringe sector or other specialty areas. They’re not the Millennial demographic. They’re the 1 in a million inoculated against these slogans. Marketeers don’t give a shit about them and so neither do educators who have adopted the MBA approach to education, where students are just a special class of customers. What the Marketeers and Business Model Academics are after are the non-savvy tech users. Because they’ll buy whatever shiny thing the Marketeers and BMAs want to sell them this fiscal semester. Maybe it’s a new style of mobile phone, or maybe it’s a useless degree in business management, physical therapy or library science. Whatever keeps the profit margins in the black.

The Word That Shall Not Be Named

when it comes to the matter of censoring the word “nigger” form Huck Finn, I’m with the Rude Pundit:

You can’t take the word “nigger”? Then, sorry, you don’t get to enjoy the rest of Twain’s satire of human degradation and idiocy (and you should probably avoid Pudd’nhead Wilson, too). You don’t get to watch Pulp Fiction. You don’t get to watch unedited episodes of The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son. You don’t get to hear Archie Bunker explain about how he got his ass kicked when he was a kid by a black boy because he used the word: “That’s what all them people was called in them days. I mean everybody we knew called them people ‘niggers.’ That’s all my old man ever called them, there.” No, we’re just not that mature anymore. (Yeah, yeah, you can say we’ve gotten more “sensitive” or some such shit. All that’s happened is that we’ve made the word more powerful by its false invisibility.)

You’re not protecting your children from bad ideas by refusing to say the word. Your kids know this, because they learned it form Harry Potter. In the HP books, the wizards all refused to say Voldemort’s name, because names have power. But by treating the name like it didn’t exist, they created negative space in which it’s power to corrupt grew. Being sensative to racial matters by refusing to talk about racism doesn’t make it go away. That is the genius of Mark Twain’s fiction. He forces the reader to confront the prejudices of themselves and their families and friends. Huck Finn makes us confront the fact that our grandfathers and great grandfathers were nice people and racist as hell. Because they were people, flawed and blinded by the circumstances of the society they grew up in, and they had to learn the hard way how to change. Censoring all the “niggers” in Huck Finn robs young readers of the power iof that story. It becomes another exercise in rote memorization and avoidance rather than confronting the themes that are right there below the surface.

Just a Theory

I woke up this morning thinking about the Bible. People ask why I don’t sleep well. The bags under my eyes? it’s because my brain is trying to kill me so it can slip off and find a new host, one that will feed it beer more often, expanding waistline be damned.

Anyway. The Bible. More specifically, it’s publishing/marketing department, i.e. organized religion, hereafter referred to simply as The Church, because I like to pretend it’s the 15th century sometimes and there aren’t 8000 churches, most of them occupying dilapidated storefronts, as if spiritual enlightenment were something you could find as easily as orange juice.

Every other year or so, the media retreads a story about some godly scientist who has just discovered the Religion Gene or the God Chromosome for the umpteenth time, and so now we have proof that humans have an innate need for religion and therefore, God exists, so take that, all you smug atheist bastards. My thought, as I staggered out of bed and wandered naked towards the toilet was that, as per anything having to do with religion or the numinous, unquantifiable experiences we humans have as a byproduct of our giant buzzing brains, is that this argument has it backwards.

It’s not religion that people like, it’s the Bible, specifically the emotionally gratifying (if completely effed-up) story it tells. The Bible tells the so-called greatest story EVAR!!1!1!eleven!111! A debatable point we can arguer at length later. Of course, the only reason the Bible is considered the Greatest Story EVAR told is because for about 1000 years, the Church, that publishing house in charge of marketing this First Among Bestsellers, went to great lengths to ensure it had no competition. Imagine Stephen King’s publisher setting fire to Dan Brown using copies of The Davinci Code as fire starters. The warm flames, the screams of panic and desperation as that fat-headed cretin is eaten alive by a ravenous flame beast fed on his own drivel…

The Church cornered the market on storytelling for  a large chunk of written history, and quite a bit before that, since most stories that survived antiquity were framed up with the same basic structure of fall and redemption. because hay, it’s a tidy little arc and makes sense, right? At least, emotional sense.

Humans don’t have a religion gene, we have a narrative gene. It evolved a million years ago, when we were still living in the savanna, and needed to make sense of the world around us. Back then, the world could kill you. You needed to stay one step ahead of the other animals and over time, we started to notice patterns, the shape of shadows in the tall grass, the faces of predators, the way they hunted and moved and left for seasons but always came back. That flocks of birds could swerve on a turn, like one mind guided them. Today we are still hunters and gathers, trying to find meaning and arrange it into a story, because a story is easy way to remember the important stuff, arrange facts and dreams and wishes. Story creates a structure so that we can make a laughable attempt at understanding the vast and complex world around us. Stories allow us to imagine the happy endings that reality always, always withholds.

That’s a pretty solid thesis, right? Too bad it’s bollocks. I made it up, as a way to try and understand why the gibbering half-apes I share the planet with think that a three thousand year old book of shepherd poetry is all the excuse they need to hate gay people and treat women like shit. That an anthology of fairy tales whitewashed by editors with an agenda can be used as the first last and only reason why a gang of perverts can rain fire down on foreigners and rape children to satisfy their darkest desires.

Because the alternative is that there is no reason. That the world is vast, unsympathetic and full of animals who will kill you soon as look at you, and some of them wear neckties and comb their hair. I need some way to understand this tragic sitcom we call life and since there’s no other option, I have to come up with my own explanation. That’s my story anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

Upping the Resolution

It’s a brand new year and so time to make resolutions! But let’s be honest, most resolutions frankly suck. They’re something vague about loosing weight or being a better person or goodwill towards humanity.  You can easily ignore these resolutions when they fail because they were not attainable to begin with, or pretend that they were achieved just resolving to be generically better.

The key to a good resolution is to make it specific, tangible and realistic. Like mine.

In 2011, I resolve to finish a novel and have it on the desk of an agent. This is a 2 parter, and as such has 2 deadlines. The first, to finish a novel, is very tangible and attainable. If I write a certain number of words a day, I can have a novel length manuscript done in 6 months. This is not as arbitrary a deadline as it may at first seem.[1] The second deadline, getting the finished, polished manuscript on the desk of an agent is a bit more subjective, as it’s reliant on the first being completed in a timely manner. I’m confident though that I can make this deadline, but to get there, I’m going to need help. That’s where you come in.

Yes, you, the person at the other end of this computer screen, whose eyes are reading these words right now.

I’m going to need guinea pigs beta readers to help me stay on target and reach my goal. A beta reader is someone who likes to read, (science fiction, specifically) who wants to be a part of the creative process (because it’s fun)  and above all, a beta reader is someone who has a well-manicured pedantic streak. If you have an eye peeled for typos, like to quibble about grammar and come out of a movie plotting all the ways the writers could have told the story better, than you are who I’m taking about. Dear pedants: your finely tuned eye and perspicacity is not a curse, but a virtue, one I wish to exploit for the mutual gain of the world! Or at least me.

So, how this works: I send you, dear beta readers, part of the manuscript every 2-3 weeks.[2] your job will be to do your thing and read the story, looking for grammatical and continuity errors, writing notes asking questions and generally acting as a spare set of eyeballs and remote brains, using your finely honed instinct as habitual editors and creative types to make this the best novel it can be. Finally you get to look over an author’s shoulder and tell them what they’re doing wrong! You’ve wanted to do this your whole life and now I’m offering you the chance. Let’s fulfill our dreams together!

If you want o be one of my dear beta readers and new best friends, send me a message via email, Twitter or Facebook.

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1. I loose my job in six months and I’m tired of doing other things, badly, and writing as a hobby. Hence, the six month deadline. My true, not-so-secret resolution is to become a professional writer this year. That’s the new job I plan to start July 1st. This means finances will be…creative this year. But so be it. I wanted to loose weight anyway, and starving is a kind of diet. So see, it’s a traditional resolution after all!

2. I’m planning on using Google Docs to track comments and changes, though I can arrange to deliver hard copies to those of you who live in the Portland metro area.