So on, etc., und so weiter

Came across this website by a journalist in Haiti while reading an article about the whole Mac McClellan mess. I know hardly anything about Haiti, and there are a lot of interesting revelations involving Wikileaks and US policy in Haiti. Surprise: it’s not that great. Case in point:

Washington’s decision to send thousands of troops in response to the 7.0 earthquake that rocked the Haitian capital and surrounding areas drew sharp criticism from aid workers and government officials around the world at the time. They criticized the militarized response to Haiti’s humanitarian crisis as inappropriate and counterproductive. French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet famously said that international aid efforts should be “about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.”

Mark Rosenfelder is finally publishing one of the novels he’s been alluding to on his website forever. Check out his website, by the way; the guy has an extremely well-developed fantasy world with detailed conlangs (=constructed languages), and has a lot of resources about linguistics and conlanging that inspired me when I was but a wee lass, plus some nice comic reviews.

The Comics Curmudgeon continues to be hilarious.

After years of biding his time, Dennis has finally decided to go into environmental menacing. “Once those mountains have been leveled so we can get at the coal underneath them, and the forests have been stripped and replaced by endless cul-de-sacs filled with vulgar homes far too large for their lots, this will be a vista worth looking at, by God.”

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He’s Having a Little Trouble With the Fireplace

One of the best Disney villain songs ever.

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Mariel of Redwall, Chapter 3

We return to Terramort Island, and find out that Gabool’s fortress is called Fort Bladegirt. Do you think that could be a place where villains live? It’s so innocent-sounding. We also learn that Bladegirt is the headquarters for all the rat pirates. These books are where I learned the word “corsair,” by the way. Also, the idea of little rodents sailing the high seas and yelling stuff like, “Ahoy, matey!” is pretty hilarious now that I’m older.

Gabool’s got a bell! It’s a very big bell, made of lots of nice shiny metals. Gabool makes it ring by tapping it with his sword. Again: dumbass! You’ll scratch your precious bell! The bell has odd carvings on it, which Gabool can’t understand. Semi-spoiler: there’s lots of build-up around these carvings for not much payoff, so don’t get too excited.

A drunk rat (see? Drunk pirate rats with overly broad pirate accents are even funnier) yells for Gabool to hit the bell harder, and gets kicked onto “an open cask of wine” for his trouble by the searat king. The other corsairs find this hilarious, “but not Bludrigg—Bludrigg the surly, Bludrigg the argumentative, Bludrigg the trouble-causer, the seadeck lawyer.” Sounds kind of badass, right? Sub-villains who hate the main villains are always good times, especially when they’re smart. I mean, he’s like a lawyer, only he’s also a pirate. Awesome. I look forward to surreptitious-undermining-of-Gabool-due-to-obsessive-jealousy hijinks.

The narrator exposits that there’s been bad blood between Bludrigg and Gabool for a long time, and Gabool has finally decided to take action. He pretends to be all friendly and drunk and lumbers over to Bludrigg, trying to convince him to eat or drink something. Bludrigg’s all, “I can get my own wine, douche.” (Yes, that’s a paraphrase. There’s no cursing in these books.) Gabool asks what Bludrigg does want, and Bludrigg’s all, “My fair share of the treasure, douche!” But Gabool plays it cool and acts like it’s a totally reasonable request, why didn’t Bludrigg ask him sooner, Gabool’s always happy to provide for his captains, which of course completely takes Bludrigg off guard. Gabool’s a decent villain too—he’s fairly entertaining and intelligent so far, much more so than one would expect from the raging-against-the-storm nonsense in the first chapter. Gabool puts a gold crown on Bludrigg, who gets all excited because Gabool never gives in to demands for more treasure from his captains . . . and then Gabool slices Bludrigg’s head off. WHAT?! I liked Bludrigg! He and Gabool had a good dynamic going! Why did you have to kill Bludrigg off on page seventeen, Brian Jacques? Why do you do this to me?

We end, as we did in chapter three, with a description of the mysterious mousemaid. The storm has finally broken, and the girl is somehow still alive, and what’s more, on land, if hacking up an alarming amount of saltwater. A gull is swirling around her, about to eat her. (I suppose gulls are like the vultures of the ocean?) But before he (or she) can dig in, the mouse thwomps the gull in the eye with the knotted rope that’s finally loosened from her neck. She crawls up the beach a bit and then passes out. “Her last thought before sleep enveloped her brain was that she was a fighter. She could beat off a large sea gull with a rope’s end, even lying stranded and half-dead from exhaustion, and she had survived the sea. She was alive!” Okay: officially badass.

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I Give Up

On trying to update regularly, at least until summer comes. In the meantime, this, via Feministing, about members of the Peace Corps who have been sexually assaulted and treated badly by the organization, made me roll my eyes:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/us/11corps.html?_r=2&hp=&pagewanted=all

The women say Mr. Williams’s efforts, while promising, are not enough. They want Congress to pass legislation requiring, among other things, that the Peace Corps develop “sexual assault response teams” to collect forensic evidence and provide emergency health care and advocacy for victims after attacks. Mr. Williams said he was open to such legislation but has not committed to supporting it.

But whether such a bill would pass Congress is unclear. Representative Niki Tsongas, Democrat of Massachusetts, is co-sponsoring Mr. Poe’s bill, but other Democrats are skittish about it. They worry that the legislation, and Wednesday’s hearing, might be used to undermine the Peace Corps — the legacy of a Democratic president — and cut its funding.

Oh, grow up. Rape is bad, organizations responding with victim-blaming to people who have been sexually assaulted is also bad, and insofar as an organization does such things it needs to be reformed. Is this so deeply difficult to understand? Whether or not the Republicans will use this as an excuse to gut one of St. Kennedy’s programs is really not the issue here. For God’s sake.

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Mariel of Redwall, Chapter Two

We start off our next chapter with Dandin being awkward by pounding the log alarm way too hard. Awkwardness and over-earnestness: two unmistakable signs of a fantasy hero. Wait and see, my friends. Also, Dandin is hanging out in an unfinished bell tower. That will be a plot point later.

We also get introduced to Mother Mellus, “the Redwall badger,” yelling at Dandin to come down. “Dandin blew rainwater from his whiskers, smiling roguishly he called back, ‘Right this instant, marm, just like you say.'”

See? He’s a rogue! What more proof do you need, people? He is Our Fantasy Hero. Then he throws himself off the tower, like a dumbass. Maybe he and Gabool can start a Dumbasses-Who-Like-to-Do-Dangerous-Things-on-Tall-Structures-During-Storms club. Mother Mellus grabs him angrily and the two share some stock bickering between the daring hero and the smothering but good-hearted mother figure as Mellus drags Dandin into the Great Hall. Bernard and Simeon are there, as well as Foremole, “the mole leader,” (see? Moles never get to be abbot. They’re only trusted to be in charge of their own species); Gabe Quill, the hedgehog who tends to the beverages of Redwall; Sister Serena, the head nurse; and “Dibbuns,” the orphans that the brothers and sisters who live in the Abbey take in from the surrounding woodlands. And if you hate infant hijinks, well, you’re not going to like these books very much.

Then we spend about four pages establishing that Abbey food is really, really good, no I don’t think you understand guys, it’s really good, let me list off every possible cordial and scone and so on that could half-plausibly be made by rodents. Although it’s all English food, so take Jacques’s descriptions with a grain of salt. We also learn that Redwall is full of good-natured banter as well as adorable children and delicious food, and is all-around a nice place to live. Lastly, Simeon compliments Dandin for his brave log-beating, to the great pride of the latter, and goes on to exposit that Martin the Warrior founded Redwall, and his spirit still haunts the Abbey, revealing himself to select creatures when the Abbey is in need of his help. Oh, Martin the Warrior! How your spirit has saved so many self-important young heroes from needless deaths. I liked you. You actually had a bittersweet ending, which is rare in these books that almost invariably have perfect conclusions.

That sounds like I’m complaining about these books, but I’m not. There’s time and ink enough for fantasy books with depth and poignancy and complexity. Simple fairy tales have their place. Part of the comfort of reading books like the Redwall series is being surrounded by the familiar fantasy tropes and feeling a connection to that sort of cultural unconscious.

Pompous interlude over! The chapter ends with Dandin saying that “‘anybeast out in this must be well drowned by now!’” But see what I mean? Of course the chapter ends with a heavy-handed allusion to another plot. Sometimes cliché is comforting.

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Mariel of Redwall, Chapter One

Well, my attempts at political blogging have pretty much failed, so I have decided to pontificate about children’s literature instead. I’m on a Redwall kick at the moment and wanted to share my nostalgia with the masses. I’m rereading the books out of order (and then, I never read them all in the first place), but Brian Jacques didn’t write them in any coherent order anyway, so I don’t think it really matters.

For those of you who don’t know, the Redwall series is a fantasy series aimed at kids from around nine to twelve, about a land populated with anthropomorphic woodland creatures (mice, rats, squirrels, etc.) and their adventures. Redwall Abbey is the center of the books; it is a pleasant place, acting as the bulwark against the evil hordes of vermin, such as rats, who bring violence to Mossflower Woods.

So, full speed ahead on what was one of my favorite books in the series as a kid, Mariel of Redwall. The first section is called “The Maid from the Sea.”

The first chapter begins with two mice, Abbot Bernard and Simeon, the blind herbalist, standing on the walls of Redwall Abbey. (Oddly enough, these walls are red. Also, if I remember correctly the mice and squirrels have a suspicious monopoly over the office of Abbot.) We find out that Simeon has the Magical Sensing Powers of so many blind characters in fiction, as he can tell there is a storm coming, while Abbot Bernard cannot. (Foreshadowing! A storm coming? Get it? Get it?)
As Simeon and the Abbot return back to the Abbey proper, Simeon can smell “‘hot apple pie and raspberry cream pudding, and scones, fresh from the oven too, with damson preserve spread on them.’” This is one of many, many passages dealing with the food of Redwall, so prepare yourself.

We also hear mention of Sister Sage, who evidently serves food, and Dandin, the young mouse whose job it is to “’beat a hollow leg with two clubs,’” as Simeon puts it in some awkward exposition, because apparently ten-year-olds can’t be trusted to work out what “‘beat[ing] the log alarm”’ might mean for themselves. Dandin is “‘a bit overenthusiastic.’” Hmmm, could this excess of energy be one of the unmistakable signs of Our Hero?

Father Abbot tries to use his sense of smell to figure out what kind of drinks are being poured inside the Abbey, but gets owned by Simeon. Nice try, though!

We get some purple prose about a stormy sea far away from Redwall Abbey, which branches into an even more purple passage about Gabool the Wild, who is the king of all the searats (essentially pirates; also, rats are invariably evil). He rules Terramort Island. Evidently, his fangs were ripped out of his mouth in battle and so now he has golden ones, which shows more skill in dentistry than I would have expected pirate rates to have. He also somehow has a beard? I’m not sure how rats have beards, but it’s got ribbons in it. Also, he has huge gold hoop earrings, and “rings, bracelets, medals, and buckles.” His eyes are “weird.” Yes, that’s the word Jacques uses to describe them. And a scarlet cloak that is whipping around wildly in the breeze, which I admit sounds pretty cool.
Anyway, Gabool is standing around on a high cliff near the sea, like a dumbass, and yelling “Gaaaaaboool!”, into the wind, like a . . . damn, I already said “dumbass.” Really, if you survived all these huge battles for this long, why are you risking your life in a storm for no particular reason?

We now transfer our perspective to the sea itself, where a “pitifully tiny figure of a mousemaid” is being tossed about by the waves. She’s barely staying afloat by clinging to some driftwood, and she has a rope around her neck. Unfortunately, she ends up getting wrenched away from the piece of wood while trying to untangle the spar from the noose, gets knocked unconscious by the same damn piece of driftwood, and gets tossed around in the sea some more, presumably doomed to die. But of course she’s not going to, because the title has the name Mariel in it and she’s the only female character who’s important enough to get introduced in the first chapter.

Stay tuned for some more horrifying abuse of animals by other animals tomorrow!

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Lives of the Saints

I just found out that Joan of Arc is the patron saint (among other things) of opposition to Church authorities. I was very surprised there was such a thing, but evidently there is! She shares this distinction with Teresa of Avila, who often struggled with local Church authorities when establishing new convents, and Mary MacKillop, who was actually excommunicated (which was later revoked) for helping to turn in a priest accused of sexually abusing children.

All the patron saints of opposition to Church authorities are women (that I know of), which surprised me, although it is strangely appropriate. On that front, Teresa of Avila is one of only three female Doctors of the Church: she shares this honor with Therese of Lisieux and Catherine of Siena.

This quote of St. Therese of Lisieux about honoring the saints I found on Wikipedia, which I found wise, and especially apropos considering the hagiography surrounding her: “We should not say improbable things, or things we do not know. We must see their real, and not their imagined lives.”

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Louisiana Oppresses Sex Workers

So, in 2003, in the case Lawrence vs. Texas, the US Supreme Court struck down all sodomy laws still existing (in 2003! What is wrong with people?). The basis of the majority opinion was that the 14th amendment provides the right for adults to engage in consensual, private sexual conduct. However, while the state of Lousiana had to give up parts of its Crimes Against Nature law, it continues to enforce harsher penalties against sex workers convicted of engaging in oral or anal sex for money than those convicted of engaging in vaginal sex. Repeat offenders of SCAN (Solicitation of Crimes Against Nature), among other things, must register as sex offenders. As Jordan Flaherty at Colorlines reports,

People convicted under the Louisiana law must carry a state ID with the words “sex offender” printed below their name. If they have to evacuate because of a hurricane, they must stay in a special shelter for sex offenders that has no separate facilities for men and women. They have to pay a $60 annual registration fee, in addition to $250 to $750 to print and mail postcards to their neighbors every time they move. The post cards must show their names and addresses, and often they are required to include a photo. Failing to register and pay the fees, a separate crime, can carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison

(emphasis mine)

As the article goes on to explain, this law, like so many others, disproportionately hurts people of color and LGBTQ people. It’s a perfect storm of slut-shaming, anti-trans, anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-poor, anti-black ridiculousness. First of all, there’s no good reason the police should be going after sex workers (or people who patronize sex workers either), in the first place, and there’s really no good reason that giving someone a blowjob for money should be punished more harshly than having vaginal intercourse. And putting people on the sex offender list, making everyone assume they’re pedophiles or rapists or people who actually hurt the innocent, making it very difficult for them to keep a job or just to live in peace, is disgusting. Plus, as Cara at The Curvature points out, many people convicted under SCAN have been raped themselves because they are part of marginalized populations or get raped in the prison the state put them in for engaging in sex work, thus defeating the entire goddamn point of sex offender registries, which is to prevent people from being sexually abused:

Because of the way that sex workers are generally made vulnerable to violence, as well as the ways that prisoners face frequent sexual assault, the most callous part of this practice may be the fact that such large numbers of those forced to register as sex offenders for non-violent offenses are victims of sexual violence themselves. Most of the women and men profiled in these articles talk about having been raped, whether as adults or children, whether by clients or family members, by prison guards or fellow prisoners. They must register as sex offenders, be unable to find employment or residences, face harassment and assault, and bear scarlet letters on their identification while at the same time, probably all of their actual rapists do not have to do the same. They have not only been raped, but been given their rapists’ punishments. They have not only been raped, but told that they are like, or perhaps worse than, their actual rapists.

Anyway, a federal civil rights suit is being filed by Women With a Vision and the Center for Constitutional Rights; let’s hope it succeeds, and kudos to those two organizations for working so hard to get these sex workers justice and bringing attention to an ignored issue. A commenter on The Curvature says the Department of Justice is favorable to overturning the law, which is good news too.

Via The Curvature, who found the story at Colorlines, the Third Wave foundation (linked to above), and INCITE blog.

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Bradley Manning

Adam Serwer (who is awesome, by the way) has a good (and depressing!) post up about the new developments with the detention of Bradley Manning, as does Glenn Greenwald. I am disappointed to see Obama’s descent into condoning maltreatment of prisoners and then firing civil servants who complain about the policy, although it’s one of those shocked-but-not-surprised things. Serwer is worried that the left might start defending Obama and “embrace the moral legitimacy of torture,” thus making inevitable “this country’s voyage to Dick Cheney’s Dar Side,” which I find wrongheaded in three ways: 1) I doubt it matters whether or not leftish pundits condemn Obama as far as public opinion goes, and, more importantly, as far as the national security apparatus’s actions go; 2) as far as I can tell, liberals who haven’t spoken out are either choosing not see what’s going on or trying to get Obama off the hook, which is willful apathy and blindness but at least acknowledges that torture is a bad thing (let me be clear, this is a damn low standard); and 3) the US has always abandoned some forms of civil liberties during (actual and perceived) national crises, from the Alien and Sedition Acts through the Espionage Act all the way through to today. The country isn’t descending anywhere; the potential for abuse of civil liberties has been and always will be there. And that’s why, looking back, this whole episode seems inevitable; but of course it wasn’t, it was a result of deliberate choices of the ruling class, Obama included. And how we’re going to climb out of this hole, I have to admit I have no idea.

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Speaking of Immigrant Groups Participating in Violence

While I disagree with Keith Humphreys about the merits of the Supreme Court case that vindicated the Westboro “Baptist” Church”‘s right to make asses of themselves outside people’s funerals (I think the other eight justices were right in holding that the WBC’s protests were legitimate political speech that shouldn’t be prohibited), I found this story interesting:

A most respectable friend told me recently of his discovering, in mid-life, that his kind, loving, hard-working Italian-American father was on friendly terms with the Mafia. Although there had been hints throughout his childhood of such an association, it did not become clear until his father’s funeral. At the very end of the service, a single black limo drove up and a single capo came out of the back seat, walked up to him and said quietly “I want you to know how much we respected your father, and that we share your grief”. The capo then turned around and just as quietly left. As my friend put it “Sure, they kill people and they engage in extortion, graft and loansharking, but even La Cosa Nostra knows not to make a spectacle at someone’s funeral.” Indeed.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about the Mafia and Italian immigrants. People in the US talk all the time about how we’re a nation of immigrants when they’re exhorting people like King to be more tolerant, and that’s true, but what I think’s underrated is just how much everyone’s ancestors were also the wrong kind of immigrants: Papists slavishly obedient to the Vatican and bent on destroying every freedom good Protestant Americans hold dear; mafiosi bringing corruption, prostitution, drugs, theft, and murder to our shores; ignorant masses corrupting the democratic process with their thuggish unions and their Tamany Hall and so on and so forth, und so weiter, on and on it goes.

Ta-Nehisi Coates recently brought up the parallel between Muslim and Catholic immigrants on this excellent blog, which got me thinking along these lines.

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