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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Amberville

Amberville, part 3 of Tim Davys' Mollisan Town Quartet, is a slightly offbeat, mildly
disturbing, thought-provoking, entertaining crime novel.  It touches on the nature of life and
death, mistaken identity, law and order, and good and evil, all viewed through the
perspective of stuffed animals.

Yes, you read that right.  Stuffed animals.  Mollisan Town is populated with stuffed
animals of varying moral alignments, from the holy penguin Archdeacon Odenkirk to the
malicious gangster Nicholas Dove.

Eric Bear, former mob enforcer, now a successful ad exec and devoted husband, is asked
to do a favor for his former employer, the aforementioned Nicholas Dove: locate the
Death List -- a roster of all the stuffed animals slated to die on a particular day --
and remove his name from it, or suffer the death of his beloved Emma Rabbit.  The
problem is no one knows if the Death List actually even exists, much less where it is or
how to remove a name.  Eric assembles his old crew from the old days -- the hulking yet
sweet Tom-Tom Crow, the effete Sam Gazelle, and the dispassionate Snake Marek -- and
the foursome search Mollisan Town high and low for leads on this Death List.  Along the
way, we see interludes about the characters' seedy past, especially one concerning a
case of mistaken identity.

Amberville is shockingly adult, in stark contrast to the idea of the characters being
stuffed toys.  There's drinking, smoking, drug use, and sex all over this book, and on
several occasions you forget you're reading a book about stuffed animals.  It is
imaginative and wildly fun, and I honestly can't help but to recommend it.

8 out of 10.

Friday, October 26, 2012

With Regards to Aretha Franklin...

There has been a disturbing trend in this country for the last four years, and that trend is bubbling over in the weeks before the election.

Earlier this week, Ann Coulter praised Mitt Romney for being "kind and gentle to the retard" at the debate.  The retard being  the President of the United States.  Donald Trump a few days later issued a "prove your citizenship" $5 million challenge.

Am I the only one that sees this?

Regardless of your politics, this is the LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD we're talking about here, and when is it ever okay to so openly disrespect him?   The POTUS is our representative on the global stage, and the vehement public disrespect of the man makes us as citizens look like morons.  It wasn't okay with George W. Bush -- a man who I've said none too kind things about in private company -- and it definitely is not okay now.

Ann Coulter used a derisive slur aimed at our leader.  It was meant in that tense.  It's offensive and insensitive and needed to be put on blast.  I'm so very glad that one John Franklin Stephens put her in her place with his eloquent and classy response.  I aspire to have that kind of class and grace in the face of such rampant insensitivity and disrespect.

Donald Trump, three and three-quarter years into the President's first term (yes, that's right, I said first term) still asserts the ludicrous claim that the President is not from around here.  That he wasn't born in Hawaii.  That he's not one of us.  On the surface, that is a reference to the fact that his father was Kenyan.  Beneath the surface is the kind of fear-monger code that is used to hint at something far more sinister.  What Trump doesn't quite understand, however, is that it's nearly impossible to get a job at White Castle without being born here, much more the White House.  How dare he diminish the accomplishment by saying -- groundlessly, at that -- that it doesn't count because he wasn't born here?

All this is, of course, ancillary to the fact that the office of the President of the United States has been so horrifically disrespect in casual public discourse over the last four years that it would be unappealing for a child to wish to hold it anymore.  And maybe, as we devolve into a post-political, pseudo-corporate entity, that's kind of the point.

But that's a topic for another rant.

Monday, October 15, 2012

... and I can't stands no more...

I've tried to abstain from making comments of an overly political nature.  I've ignored the circus largely because I know where my voting tendencies lie and I'm not in the business of trying to convince people to agree with me.  People have a right to believe in who they want to believe in and vote how they want to vote.  It's why I was on Stacey Dash's side last week when she was vilified for going public with her support of Mitt Romney.  I mean, I don't agree with her politics, but they're HER politics.

(I didn't necessarily agree with her quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. to defend her choice, but hey, she's an adult.)

The last ten days, however, I've seen the culmination of some of the most blatantly anti-American policies and politics in my lifetime.  This is stuff that hearkens back to the Jim Crow-era South.  Voter intimidation and voter disenfranchisement have become the stories of the summer, what with redistricting and new voter ID laws seemingly targeting minority and potential Liberal voters.  The voter ID laws in Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina are aimed at a non-existent voter fraud problem, and really only serve to eliminate the vote of underprivileged by requiring them to obtain  expensive and difficult to acquire state ID.

The most egregious stuff has happened within the last week.  David Seigel, the owner of Westwood Resorts in Florida, sent his 7000 employees a mass email that said that if President Obama were reelected, he would be forced to shutter his business and move to the Cayman Islands, thereby forcing 7,000 people out of work.  The Koch Brothers, billionaire conservative contributors, sent out a similar mass mailing that warned employees would "suffer the consequences" if Obama won a second term -- higher gas prices, higher mortgages, and a thinly veiled threat of higher unemployment.

Come on, man.  Isn't this illegal?

The so-called "job-creators," men with the keys to the kingdom,  threatening higher unemployment if we vote in our own interests?  If a place of employment did this kind of intimidation to people trying to unionize, they could be brought up on charges.

I can handle the constant pandering by our politicians.  I can handle the lies they tell, either blatantly or by omission.  I can handle "pundits" and "experts" decrying the opposition with hyperbole and exaggeration.  But don't fuck with my vote.

Don't try to tell me that I need six points of ID to have an opinion on the direction of my country.

Don't try to threaten my jobs if I don't vote the way you want.

I am a grown-ass man.  I will not be bullied.

Oh yeah, I'm not pulling these stories out of my ass.  Read about them here and here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Paved With Good Intentions (short post)

On October 1, a school district in Texas began requiring its students wear new ID badges with an RFID tracking chip, similar to those used in passports and Enhanced Driver's Licenses.  The purpose of this is to track when and where a student is in school.  This was met with obvious and appropriate outrage, leading some parents and students to balk at the idea of wearing them.  In response, the schools in question restricted their access to the cafeteria, library and deny them the right to participate in extracurricular activities.

Whoo boy.  What's wrong with this picture?

I'm going to skip over the idea that the schools in question have a large Latino population, largely because that is an assumption not based in anything but how bad this COULD be.  However, the bagging and tagging of children, essentially turning school into house arrest, this seems a little over the top.  Put aside the fact that an intrepid student can figure out how to beat the system when and if necessary; treating our kids like inmates in school isn't going to keep them safer, or make them go to class.  The measures, as well as the consequences for non-compliance, simply enhance the notion that we are turning into an Orwellian state, where Big Brother is watching you.  The school system essentially becomes a stalker.

To be honest, why hasn't anyone even thought of the idea that RFID isn't the most secure tracking system in the world, and these children can be tracked by anyone equipped to do it, such as people with card scanners.

I've said enough.  Read it here for yourself, draw your own conclusion.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Who The (Hell) Do You Think You Are?!

It's been a while.

I haven't written in this thing for a while, part self-promotion tool, part political platform, part self-discovery item, for a very simple reason: I thought I had run out of worthwhile things to say.  For someone who not only prides himself on the ability to use words to make a point, but thinks that this ability will directly impact and influence his future, this represents a sizable crisis of faith.

Ordinarily, especially in a political cycle rife with causes worth championing, I would have no shortage of opinion on either of the Presidential candidates, or the completely screwed-up times we live in.  I would offer up a cautionary tale of where we were headed as a society.  I didn't, not because I had a shortage of opinion.  This summer I let the thought creep into my head that I had a shortage of qualification.

More accurately, I asked myself the hard question "Who am I?"

If you want to split hairs, the words "the f***" might have appeared in that question somewhere.

We all have these times, I've noticed, where we wonder what business we have doing what we're doing.  Even the most confident, bold, and ambitious of us stop and look around as ask ourselves what in the blue hell we did to get here and what in the world we are exactly trying to accomplish.  This past summer I privately questioned a lot of things about myself as a writer, as an intellectual, and as a man.

Who the (hell) am I to have an opinion on politics?  These things are bigger than me.
Who the (hell) am I to expect to be taken seriously as a writer?  Serious writers don't self-publish.
Who the (hell) am I to think I have a chance at success?  Successful people have a lot more going for them.

Well, for starters, I am a citizen.  Not just an American citizen.  That is simply my nationality.  I am a member of the 7 billion-strong global community, where as small as my voice is on the grander scale of things, it still matters.  The policies put forth by the people who represent me to the country and to the world are of great importance, and I have a right and a responsibility to make my voice heard in that process.  I am represented by a group of people who will marginalize me and people like me at their convenience unless we make it impossible to do so, and the way to do that is to pay attention, absorb the information, form an opinion, and join the debate.

I expect to be taken seriously as a writer simply because I take myself seriously as a writer.  It's impossible to take someone seriously who doesn't present themselves as serious.  And you don't do that by screaming at the top of your lungs "Hey, I'm a writer, take me seriously."  You learn the craft.  You evolve your style.  you ignore the nay-sayers, and when they ask you if you're still doing that, you shrug and say "well, yeah, why wouldn't I be?"

As for success, well, I came to realize that there are two components: vision and drive.  Know what you want to the point that you can see it, and go get it.  Chase it like it were the most important thing in the world to you.  Never stop.  Sure, the successful people have something going for them that I may not yet: success.  But effort is the catalyst.  See it.  Get it.  Every success story has a beginning.

As the calendar turns to October, I find my faith renewed and my resolve strengthened.  I will use my voice. I will be more serious about my writing.  I will succeed.  These things are well within the scope of ability.

To anyone out there suffering a crisis of faith, and who finds themselves asking that question "Who the (hell) am I to..."  the answer is simple.  You are the author of your success story.  And today is chapter one.