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January 29, 2013 - January 22, 2013

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving:

Give thanks you're not
in the One-Percent

Barbara Hutton: American Princess

EPISTLE TO THE 'OCCUPY' PROTESTERS. What's it like to be in the one-percent? Since we're all pissed off about them these days. And which one-percent are we talking about anyway? I'm assuming nobody wants to belong to the talented one percent who lead lives of misery and depression in exchange for producing the great works that inspire all us lowly 99-percenters. I mean you don't want to be Edgar Allan Poe expiring in a gutter or Wolfgang Mozart buried in a pauper's grave or Miles Davis a corpse with a needle in his arm or Leonardo catatonic because there's literally no one left to talk to or Sylvia Plath in her glass bell jar or Hemingway alone with his shotgun or Jackson Pollock dead on his lawn....

You don't envy and hate that one-percent, do you? Do you hate the great industrialists who saw an opportunity and sacrificed everything in their personal lives to seize it? John D. Rockefeller with his oil and his dimes. Henry Ford whose flinty parsimony invented the assembly line and ushered in the age of the automobile. Thomas Edison, who slept in his lab and never bedded a starlet because he was always thinking. Or even Steve Jobs, who refused to bathe and persecuted everyone around him while he was dreaming up the McIntosh, the iPod, and the iPhone. I mean, would you trade with them? Your life for theirs? I doubt it. They were obsessed, and the first word we think of in connection with their lives is not pleasure but work. Far more work than most of us could ever be capable of.

No. That's not your grievance. You don't simmer and seethe about the one-percent who have actually made your life what it is. What you don't like is that they had children just like you, inert parasites who glide into the best schools and yet have trust funds waiting for them even when they fail at everything important. Occupy Wall Street isn't about the founder of Merrill Lynch; it's about too many reality shows starring Paris Hilton. Not right that some people can just clip coupons and live off the fat of a land they know nothing of.

That's the one-percent you camp in smelly tents to protest. The greater fools you. You seek something called 'social justice.' What you fail to observe is that society usually provides it without any federal intervention. As it happens, ordinary life is expert at social justice. No need to deprive your own material wants while you're waiting for it.

Why I've prepared a one-percent list for you to think about on this Thanksgiving Day. To help you offload or drain away your irrational bile. Guess what. If you don't actually have one-percent talent, there's no amount of money that can save your life from ruin. Read about these poor little rich folk. And weep. And then give thanks that their lives are not yours:

The trust fund babies. Part of the price paid by the able for their success. No way they could have known that their effort and brilliance would cause their descendants to become victims of murder and psychosis or perpetrators of same. Or that money can be the world's most utter prison and an invitation to venial criminality and disgrace.

But what do you want? Is shared mediocrity really the highest virtue? Or is superiority and achievement worth the price it exacts? Should we all stop trying and just resent the alphas among us? You tell me.

Happy Thanksgiving. But this year, think for a moment about what you're giving thanks for and why. Paris Hilton will receive her comeuppance. No need for you to hate and stew and assault Wall Streete drones while you wait. Just, uh, chill. And be patient.

All I ask.

P.S. My wife sent me flowers for Thanksgiving. Nobody ever sent me flowers before.

And I have an iPhone now. Why I'm too busy at the moment to talk. Has anyone ever sent you flowers? I'm still trying to figure out who to tell on my iPhone....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Amateur Annotations:
Psayings 5Y, Part Two

PART ONE. Cromwell? What about him? What'd he do in 1640?

Short entry today. Tomorrow's is much bigger, and features something RL has been trying to get his devotees to do for at least a decade. Unless it's two decades.

11. 1688. Spanish Armada? Is that 1588 or 1688? Not that I know what the Spanish Armada was. Looking.

GLORIOUS REVOLUTION! Son of a... Should have known that. I just read it a couple days ago. Ass.

12. 753 BC. Socrates? Lookin' 'er up.

13. 44 BC. Julius Caesar assassinated. Props to Junior English, which taught the Shakespeare play like it was straight history.

14. 476. Uh... Hmm... Fall of Rome? That's a shot in the dark. Let's confirm.

I guessed right. Romulus Augustus deposed. I have an old Gibbon paperback on my shelf. Ought to thumb through that one of these days.

15. 1453. Vague sense of recognition, don't fail me now!

It failed me. To Wiki.

Gutenberg invents the printing press, DAMNIT. End of the Middle Ages, too. Couldn't have happened to a nicer era.

16. 1783. End of the American Revolution. Spoiler: We effing won!

17. 1865. End of the Civil War. And Lincoln assassinated. Here's a not-safe-in-the-slightest-for-work reinactment.

18. 1918. This is getting embarassing. Wasn't the end of WWI in 1919? Why am I thinking 1919? Did something happen in 1919? As with every question, the internet will set me straight.

November 11, 1918: WWI ends. Ass again. So what was 1919? Looking... Prohibition begins. That must have been what I was thinking. And here's some(yet another)thing I didn't know: Woodrow Wilson tried to veto the 18th Amendment. I hope God took some small measure of mercy on his soul for that.

Oops, I'm wrong again. Wilson vetoed a bill enacted in accordance with the 18th Amendent's "enforce this article by appropriate legislation" clause, and did so "largely on technical grounds" because it limited the executive branch's wartime powers. Still an asshole, then.

Speaking of WWI, are you ready to be moved to tears by a Motorhead song?

19. 1945. Atomic bombs dropped, WWII ends.

20. 1799. French Revolution... begins? Reign of Terror begins, maybe? Crud.

1799 was Napoleon. END of the French Revolution. OK.

21. 1820. This one's easy. Spring of 1820: Mormon founder Joseph Smith receives his First Vision in upstate New York. What? Something else might have happened that year? Fine, I'll take a gander.

I'm stumped. Some things seem kind of notable, but is any event big enough that it would stick in Dave the Dad's head? Missouri Compromise? Discovery of the Venus de Milo?

22. 1815. Another stumper. War of 1812 ends? Napoleon's Hundred Days? Restoration of the French Monarchy?

TOMORROW: A big one.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Amateur Annotations:
Psayings 5Y, Part One

LET'S TRY ANOTHER TACK. I'm part of a fairly recent influx of poor people into an otherwise affluent town. Lots of Mexicans, lots of poor white video game nerds who move here to work at the oversized computer store (do you have Fry's in your neck of the woods? It's like a Radio Shack the size of Costco). This overlap of wealth and privation has created one of nature's perfect marvels: A Goodwill store in a rich neighborhood. An inexpensive trove of treasures donated by the guilty well-off. Valuable old toys and games, kitchen equipment whose only defect is being 20 years out of fashion, designer clothes never worn with the department store tags still attached donated because it wasn't worth the hassle to drive all the way down to the boutique and try to return a measly thousand-dollar sweater without the gift receipt that the maid threw away by mistake.

But I go for the books. Not to tell tales out of school, but if the selection at the Goodwills in seedy neighborhoods is any indication, the poor only ever read John Grisham, Stephen King, Harequinn romances, the Left Behind series, and the Alcoholics Anonymous blue book. Night and day from my Goodwill. In the last month alone I've scored The I Ching Workbook, the brilliant 7 Events That Made America America, A Brief History of Time (revised 10th anniversary edition, whut whuuuuut), two collections of Camile Paglia essays from the 90s, and the Max Weber classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. All for about 3 bucks a piece. Also found a copy of The Case For Mars, a book I've wanted to read for a while, but I had to leave it on the shelf. They don't call me poor for nothing.

Out of that haul, the real prize is a tome called Cultural Literacy. The title's a little misleading. I thought I was getting an encyclopedia of cultural literacy. Or even an introduction to cultural literacy. What it is, is a case for cultural literacy. Preaching to the choir, in my case. The author's argument could be summed up in a sentence: Kids need to know about the world they came from. Maybe that's not a no-brainer for everyone else like it is for us.

The book redeems itself with its appendix, a big list of "what every American needs to know." Stuff from history, science, pop culture, The Bible, all fields of human thought and endeavor. A sample page:

I bought it with an eye towards googling and wikipedia-ing the entries in my spare time. Autodidact for the win.

On the way home, I worried at a nagging sense of familiarity, the way one worries at a cold sore with one's tongue. Couldn't shake the feeling I'd bought something like this before. I was through the door when it hit me: THE BOOMER BIBLE! Best book of the last century. That little thing. In particular, Cultural Literacy's index reminded mo of the discussions on the ancient Boomer Bible forum about the coyness of the Intercolumn Reference. There's a couple opportunities when the ICR could have unified the text of TBB in a big index-- but it suddenly goes silent. TBB wants to be understood, but she’s not the kind of girl who puts out on the first date. In the author’s blunt, immortal phrase, “work is required to get what you want.” That theme underlies almost everything he’s written. You want something? Figure out how to get it. Do the work it takes to learn.

Well, with the advent of the internet, learning has never taken less work. I don’t even have to walk the two blocks to my local library anymore. From the comfort of my own butt, the whole of history is open to me. With a few keystrokes, I can learn just about anything that ever happened.

Realizing all this, I was going to take Literacy’s index to Wikipedia and start typing. But September’s dust-up over God and history still looms in my mind. When he issued his 50-state challenge, I stalled out at around 37. Something from Psayings 5, maybe.

I’ve decided to make a game of it. Starting with the lengthy list of years from Psayings 5Y (to contrast, the Cultural Literacy index only lists about 7 dates), I’m going to see how well I know the dates I should. When I know the date, I’ll gloat, as is my right. When I don’t know the date, it’s off to Wikipedia’s handy year entries to see if I know history well enough to guess the important event.

Here goes nothin’.

Verse 1 In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Was that the same year he discovered America? Or was that 1493? He just set sail in 1492, right? Nope, hang on, incoming memory... He discovers America in October of 1492. Looking it up to see if I’m right... Yep. Nailed it. School wasn't a total waste after all!

3. 1776. That's funny. I remember not knowing most of the years in Psayings 5Y when I first read it (except for verse 35 of course). Maybe I didn’t recognize years when spelled out. 1776: Declaration of Independence signed.

You know what's cool about America? Besides a lot of things? We date the birth of our country from the start of the Revolutionary War. Not the end. We became independent the moment we declared it, by God. Britain just took an extra 7 years to convince. Yes, I had to look up when the Revolutionary War ended.

4. 1812. More low-hanging fruit: The War of 1812. Could I tell you when the war started if the year wasn't right in the name? Doubt it.

Something I didn't know: The War of 1812 lasted until 1815. Kind of misleading, right? A war's called the War of 1812, you expect it to be over and done inside the specified 12 month span. We don't call the Revolutionary War "the War of 1776," do we? Lasted way past '76! Maybe the name's a decent historical marker for a war that was about a lot of little things instead of one big thing.

What must that have been like? The old mother country invades and burns the capital barely three decades after the Revolution. How fragile our experiment with freedom must have seemed. Did the second coming of the British feel like history reasserting itself to the young nation? I can imagine the editorial cartoons of the day: A giant, open yoke coming across the ocean, balanced on the Royal Naval fleet. Dave the Dad calls it "a kind of strange and stupid war," but I bet we fought like hell.

5. 1860. Hmm. The Civil War was 1861 to 1865. 1860 was... secession of South Carolina? Gotta look it up.

Let's see... wow, 1860 was a busy year. "June 30 – The historic debate about evolution is held at the Oxford University Museum." That's probably not it. Nov 6, Lincoln wins presidential election? Could be. Lincoln's a big deal in TBB.

Hey, I was right after all: "December 20 – South Carolina becomes the first state to secede from the United States Union." That’s the state that still flies the goddamn Stars and Bars over their capitol, right? I'm conflicted about that. On the one hand, it ticks the NAACP off, and I'm all for that. Maybe once upon a time the National Association for the Advancement of Colored (racist!) People was a force for good, but lately any action whatsoever they take is to batter their legacy. The organization that once crusaded against segregation and lynching now fearlessly leads the charge against racist greeting card companies that try to hide their racism behind a lot of fancy talk about "astronomical phenomena" and "science." To paraphrase Proverbs, opposing the modern NAACP on any issue, no matter what, is the beginning of wisdom.

(and sometimes their chapter presidents join the Klan in denouncing the international Zionist conspiracy, but I'm sure those comments were an abberation and in no way reflect the views of the black community at large)

On the other hand, it's the Stars and Bars. I don't care that half the Americans in my income bracket try to make it a symbol of rebelious individualism. It's the banner of slavery! Once upon a time, large swaths of Americans were so committed to keeping their slaves that they quit the country! That was evil, period, and should be revilled accordingly. Imagine if disgruntled Germans started flying the swastika from their pickups. "No, we don't hate the Jews or anything like that. We hate the European Union, and the swastika is from a time when Germany really stood up to the world, you know? It represents defiance and civic pride now. Not so much the other, nastier stuff." Would that just fine and dandy?

6. 1914. Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Start of WWI.

7. 1941. Pearl Harbor. America enters WWII.

8. 1066. What? No idea. To the wiki.

In Asia, a chap named Shen Kuo "receives a post in the capital China." Good for him. I doubt Shen Kuo is on Dave's radar. Maybe it's the Granada massacre? "A Muslim mob storms the royal palace in Granada, crucifies Jewish vizier Joseph ibn Naghrela and massacres most of the Jewish population of the city." Damn, dude. Good thing those psychopaths didn't make it out of the Middle Ages!

Wait, here it is: "Conquest of England"! I bet that didn't happen very often. The wiki entry has a timeline of events, and some of the events have names and everything. Looks like it spanned the whole year-- BATTLE OF HASTINGS! I've heard of that once! Those words in that order, at least.

Fun fact: The Wikipedia contributor who wrote this-- Often erroneously labeled "the last successful invasion of Great Britain", it was in fact the last successful conquest of Great Britain (the last successful invasion of Great Britain in general – by the Dutch in 1688 – was upon invitation by Parliament to overthrow King James II of England)-- is an asshole.

Have to bookmark this page. There's a thousand-year gap in my mental chronology of the world where I've scribbled "Kings, knights, swords, crusades, bad science, no bathing" in parentheses.

9. 1215. Magna Carta. The reform seems meager to modern eyes-- now the king AND rich people have rights!-- but it was a huge deal at the time. The idea that the law be something other than the king's whim, that it be something objective, led to every good ­innovation in government since.

10. 1640. Pre-enlightenment, so again I have no clue.

Charles I, that’s something. That’s a name I know. Summoned the Short Parliament in April... but that can’t be notable enough. Ditto for the Long Parliament in November. (I’d heard of the Long, but not the Short. That’s kinda funny)

Aha: Treaty of Ripon. Scotland makes off like bandits. That’s gotta be a favorite historical event of R.F. Laird.


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