Sunday, November 28, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Reviews

I've set up a stand along page indexing and ranking the reviews at this link: Roger Zelazny Commentary Index. I'll update it as more reviews are added.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Day

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone. This one marked ten years to the day that my grandfather passed away after lengthy deterioration. The way he went informed my understanding of death. He checked into the hospital like he had a couple months prior, he had his last good day, which like certain other things, you can never recognize until it has already passed, then he got worse and worse until he died. While any gathering with my family has its ups and downs, this one was especially bittersweet.

Lily was playing more or less nicely with her cousin Joey, though Lily took the play in some strange directions.

Lily: Let's pretend the dolly is dead.
Joey: (plaintively) Mine's still alive.

Those two kept each other occupied, but Joey's sister Sam is about two years younger and couldn't play the games the older girls wanted to play, so I played with her.

She held up a little plastic bee and I asked what her name was and got the reply "Samantha Bee", and I was like, "Hey, I loved you on the Daily Show!"

Contrary to what her bloodlust with the dolls might lead you to expect, Lily actually had a vegetarian Thanksgiving. She had remarked previously to her mother that she didn't want to eat any of the turkey because "Thanksgiving isn't very thankful for the turkey" and she stuck to it. She joined my father in giving the prayer. Jen attends a UU congregation and I'm a firm atheist, but Lily has been exposed to people other than us and we want her to make her own decisions when she gets old enough. She does like talking about what she is thankful for before each meal and she'll add religious elements depending on who she's been hanging out with lately. My father's prayer was more Christian than hers would be, but she followed along, repeating after him and talking about what she was thankful for. She is a sweet kid. She did the olives on her fingers trick that all kids eventually spontaneously discover. The spread was really good this year too.

It had snowed earlier in the day, enough to accumulate. I suggested making a snow turkey, but Lily said, "No, let's make a snow...what are those guys called who have buckles on their hats and buckles on their shoes?" "Pilgrims?" "Yeah, we should make a snow pilgrim!!" Little did I know that it would be one of many references to Pilgrims during the day.

My father had secured his router since I had last visited. It's not like it's hard, but I didn't think he knew enough about computers to think to do it. Since he lives out in the boonies where my smartphone gets no reception, I tended to piggyback on his network and thereby browse the internet.  I was forced to interact with my family more than I usually do. (Though I did notice my brother's girlfriend updated her status while she was there, so there must be some spot in the house with good reception. I anticipate heated competition to sit in that spot when I figure out where it is.)

Something good came out of the interaction, because my younger brother commented that he had seen Scott Pilgrim and declared it was the best movie ever. (Jen remarked that is the first time in fifteen years of knowing us that she's actually convinced we're brothers.) I remarked that like any cool person, I just happened to have a copy of Scott Pilgrim on a flash drive on my keychain. And we grabbed my father's laptop and started watching it.

People passed in and out of the room and commented how much they had liked him in The Social Network and Zombieland. Each time I explained that it was actually a different actor, Jesse Eisenberg. "But that's okay. A lot of people confuse them. It's just the Eisenberg uncertainty principle at work!" Silence, followed by me sighing and mumbling, "I suppose that's only funny if you know what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is."

As with any gathering that has my Grammy present, conversation turned to Dancing With the Stars. Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol had stayed on the show week after week because her poor rankings from the judges were offset by a large number of call in votes. There has been some discussion that this was due to her mother's influence, which seems reasonable because, though I haven't seen the show, my Grammy will tell anyone she can corner that Bristol Palin "moves like she has a stick up her butt."

My father's wife seemed to agree that the elder Palin's influence had something to do with it when she remarked "Thank goodness for the Tea Party." Grammy responded that Bristol only made it to the finals because her mother was in the front row every time and told her people to vote for Bristol. My stepmother responded with what I thought was a reasonably reply, that if she were on the show, she would hope that her mother would be in the front row too. So, I don't think the fault lies with as much Palin herself so much as the structure of the show. But really, I can't be bothered to give too much of a shit about Dancing with the Stars. Actually, I suppose the season is over with Jennifer Grey's victory, and that, my friends is something for which I'm really thankful.

Two become one

Over the weekend, I was able to combine two broken computers Voltron-like into one that worked. I really didn't think this would work, one PC was five years old and the other more than eight, and the plan itself was such a Rube Goldberg thing that required everything break my way. I had to buy a couple components from a local store, but when I pushed the button, the power came on, and after I reset everything to factory defaults and restored/downloaded the stuff I needed, the gestalt PC worked better than either of the old ones had. This may be old hat to genuine computer geeks out there, but I'm only a wannabe computer geek, so I'm more impressed with myself than I probably should be. I thought it was neat, though.

And in the other news of two-becoming-one, I asked Lily if I could marry a ketchup bottle. No particular reason for this, just talking silly with my four-year old, but she seemed genuinely outraged by the suggestion. "No, you're already married to mommy and KETCHUP CAN'T DANCE!" And I was (obviously) just kidding about this, but I couldn't help imagine Rick Santorum or some politician of similar stripe making some kind of ridiculous slippery slope argument warning against this. "If we permit a man to marry another man," he'll rave, "soon, we'll have men marrying dogs, or men marrying bottles of ketchup!"

Happy Thanksgiving to the family and strangers who read this. May you all find something for which you are thankful in your lives.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Bridge of Ashes

Hey, more Roger Zelazny stuff! Today I'm going to cover another favorite, Bridge of Ashes, which is a characteristically poetic Zelazny name for a title. The gist of the story is that aliens have been directing human evolution since before we were truly sentient. They require an environment very different from our own, so they have shaped human society so that we'll have so polluted the world that it will be unsuitable for us by the time it becomes ready for them. We'll self-destruct, essentially.  Down through the centuries, they have been opposed by the Dark Man, who has performed manipulations of his own. When the book begins he is trying to ensure passage of a particular resolution at the United Nations, and has arranged for an assassination to occur in order to manufacture a martyr and thereby bring it to pass. At the last moment, however, he reconsiders his method, and decides to give target the same exposition I just gave you and a choice of whether to proceed.

The story then turns to Dennis Guise, the child of two telepaths and we don't see the Dark Man again for a long time. (Well, long being relative, as the paperback copy only has 154 pages, sharing with many Zelazny books a tight economy of style) The children of telepaths tend to be telepaths themselves, and more powerful than their parents. As they lack the discipline of adults, and are subject to uncontrolled reception of other people's thoughts, they have to be raised in isolation. I think I read Dune before I read Bridge of Ashes, so I already was familiar with the idea of an obliterated identity with Frank Herbert's concept of an Abomination,  a child in the womb exposed to full awareness and overwhelmed by thousand of alien voices.

That is how Dennis comes to be in American Southwest. (Well, I think the real reason is because it gave Roger Zelazny an excuse to write "arroyo" on the first page of the second section of the book. Seriously, he loved that word. When I make my blog post about the Roger Zelazny drinking game, that's totally going to be an entry, right above the one about the disproportionate number of characters with green eyes.)

Dennis had been essentially catatonic prior to the beginning of the books, but he makes contact with several other minds, and assumes their identities, including a Children of Earth terrorist.  Eventually he is relocated him to a treatment facility on the moon because his range literally encompasses the entire planet at this point. Since he is unable to reach any mind in physical proximity, he begins reaching backwards through time to contact strong personalities in the past.

To be entirely honest, I did have some trouble with this aspect of the story. I can accept telepathy; it's been a trope of the genre for practically as long as their has been a genre. And one of the therapists mentions that they have no idea of the mechanism by which telepathy functions, but that's as close as they come to addressing it. I would have appreciated a more robust attempt at an explanation, because right now it just smacks of straight-up magic.

However, that's a rather jejune complaint, (though not so much as much constant bitching about arroyos) particularly in that it sets up my favorite set piece of the book. First he is Archimedes, then Jean Jacques Rousseau, and then he is Leonardo da Vinci, and the joy Dennis as da Vinci displays is infectious, and the way Zelazny conveys his brilliance and imagination moves me every time. It also leads to this, probably my favorite line in the book:

"Look, he answers to Dennis Guise now and he acts the way that he believes Dennis Guise should act.He is suddenly showing high intelligence and the beginnings of remarkable skills. If, in his heart of hearts, he chooses to believe that he is Leonardo Da Vinci pulling a fast one on a world of twenty-first-century clods, what difference does it make as long as he behaves in an acceptable fashion in all other ways? We all have our pet daydreams and fun delusions. There are certain areas where therapy ceases to be therapeutic and simply becomes meddling. Leave him with his daydream. Teach the outer man to behave in an acceptable way in society."

I'm as liberal as they come and back when I worked as a social worker, a coworker had a sign above her desk that read, "As long as you're capable of making rational choices, you maintain the right to make dumb ones." Meaning, that we advised our clients of the consequences of their actions, but we were to never substitute our judgment for theirs. They had to be free to make their own mistakes, to steal a line from the Offspring. The whole thing reminds me of of quote from C.S. Lewis "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." 

To return to the issue at hand, it was just nice to see a sentiment like that expressed in a story I was already enjoying.

And I really liked da Vinci's departure as I did his arrival.  Dennis as da Vinci asks: "You think that I am some sort of overlay and the real Dennis Guise is buried beneath me?" and his doctor demurs, saying that it is possible, but he does not know. "Guesses are made and discarded countless times during therapy."

"...I am not tremendously fond of the notion that I am keeping the rightful inhabitant of this body, this brain, from his rightful existence."

"Even if he may never be so fit as yourself to do so?"

"Even so."

Da Vinci departs shortly afterwards, after completing the Mona Lisa in acylics, a gesture that allows Dennis to synthesize all those he has known. I mentioned in this part of my Lord of Light commentary that Zelazny's characters tend to be ruthless men in a hard world. Da Vinci finds himself in a world beyond his wildest imagings. He could live an eternity here, and never exhaust the wonders. And yet, he sacrifices himself for a single boy who may not even exist, simply because it is the right thing to do.

I liked the rest of the book, but it feels like something of an epilogue after the wonderful da Vinci segment. Dennis is reunited with his therapist, with Quick Smith and eventually meets the Dark Man and confronts the aliens, bringing the exemplars of humanity across the bridge of ashes to stand at his side.

It's pretty apolitical, much like just about all of Zelazny's work. Characters on both sides make compelling arguments and having just finished the audio book and the paperback, I couldn't tell you which point of view Zelazny himself felt more convincing.  I like that across a career that spanned thirty years, Zelazny never set up a straw man. Look at this exchange below. Young people are often strident and Dennis' series of questions suggests to me that he doesn't believe that there are legitimate reasons for the actions of the Children of the Earth.

[The COE's Quick to Dennis] "...Now what?"

"Now? Now I was going to ask you as the only COE member handy, whether you really believe that our rural past possessed all the virtues, whether all the cliches about the cities might not make that past seem like something it never was, whether exploitation of the land and the people - like child labor - might not have been far worse in the old days, as it still is in agrarian countries today, might the cities really offer more than they have taken when contrasted with that past."

"That is not what I meant when I said 'Now what?' and that is a string of loaded questions," he said, "but I will give you an answer, anyway, before I go back to it." I am hardly a spokesman for the COE. I am just a dirtywork specialist. It is true that a lot of us might romanticize the simpler life, turn it into a pastoral. I am not one of them. I grew up on a farm. I was child labor myself...I always loved the land. I can't romanticize it. I was too close to it...I am pro-land, not anti-city. You set up a false dichotomy when you reeled off those questions.  Being for the land does not being against the city. We cannot junk them all turn back the clock. Not now. When we blow up a dam or screw up a source of pollution, we are not telling them to turn off all the technology in the world. We are telling them to be more judicious in its disposition..."

I would guess that it had its genesis with the concepts in Robert Heilbroner's The Future as History. (Zelazny even gives a shout out to it, mentioning it by name about halfway through)

I like a lot. I love the da Vinci scenes. Also, more so than any of his other works, it feels evocative of a particular era. It was published in 1976 and it reminds of the idealism of an earlier time, when Americans still felt that advancing technology would progress at such a rate as to solve any problems it produced. The Green Revolution was less than than ten years old, Earth Day only six. I think it's one of the last Roger Zelazny stories I've read, and it has elements not present in any of his other stories, an element of urgency that suggested, to me at least, that he didn't know which side was right, but this was a conversation that we should be having.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: The Keys to December

Latest in the series of Roger Zelazny reviews.

I find the The Keys to December to be among the most un-Zelazny-like of all of Roger Zelanzy's stories. We usually have a legend stepping out of myth, but here that pattern is turned on its head, with Coldworld Catform Jarry Dark achieving his own kind of apotheosis by the end of the story. It's also rare in that it's straight SF, with none of the mythical elements that typically characterize his work. Also, The Keys to December is a wonderful name for a story.

It opens with this passage, which I like quite a bit:

BORN  OF  MAN  and woman, in accordance with Catform Y7 requirements, Coldworld Class (modified per Alyonal), 3.2-E, G.M.I. option, Jarry Dark was not suited for existence anywhere in the universe which had guaranteed him a niche. This was either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you looked at it.

The gist is that Jarry and others like him were modified before birth to a form suitable for habitation on the planet Aloynal, which had higher gravity and much colder temperatures than earth. Jarry is described as bearing "some resemblance to a large gray ocelot without a tail". But Alyonal's sun goes nova and Jarry and 28,000 other catforms are suddenly without a home.

The mood of the piece reminds me of the Furies. (Absent contradictory information, I think I'll pretend that they take place in the same universe.) Like the characters in that story, Jarry has a talent and his talent is making money. The Catforms pool their resources and Jarry invests them shrewdly enough that they have enough money to buy a planet and some terraforming equipment to change it to a place where they can exist. They don't have quite as many of the Worldchange units as they would like, so the terraforming will take place slowly over three thousand years. Jarry and the other catforms will sleep most of the change in a state of suspended animation, awakening only for periodic tours to monitor the change.

As Jarry and his partner wake up for their monitor duties, we get a time lapse picture of the changes being done to December and the changes undergone by its species in an attempt to adapt.

During their last month of duty, Sanza asked him, "Will everything  die here but us? The green birds and the big eaters of flesh? The funny little trees and the hairy caterpillar?"

"I  hope  not,"  said Jarry. "I've been reading back through the biologists' notes. I think life might adapt. Once it gets a start anywhere, it'll do anything it can to keep going.  It's probably better  for  the creatures  of this planet we could afford only twenty Worldchangers That way they have three millennia to grow more hair and learn to breathe our air and drink our water. With a hundred units we might have wiped them out  and  had to import coldworld creatures or breed them. This way, the ones who live here might be able to make it."

"It's funny," she said, "but the thought just occurred to me that we're doing here what was done to us. They made us for Alyonal, and a nova took it away. These creatures came to life in this place, and we're taking it  away. We're  turning all  of  life on this planet into what we were on our former worlds--misfits."

The indigenous bipeds (Redforms) continue to adapt to the situation, not only by becoming hardier, but by using tools, eventually acquiring true intelligence.  Sanza dies while the pair of them are protecting some redforms from a predator, and Jarry sinks into despair. Eventually he takes to destroying the installations around the world, and when called upon to explain himself, he answers.

"I am their god. My form is to be found in their every camp. I am the Slayer of Bears from the Desert of the Dead. They have  told my  story  for two and a half centuries, and I have been changed by it. I am powerful and wise and good, so far as they are concerned. In this  capacity, I owe  them some consideration. If I do not give them their lives, who will there be to honor me in snow and chant my story around the fires and cut for me the best portions of the woolly caterpillar? None, Turl. And these things are all that my life is worth now. Awaken the others. You have no choice."

I like it. It's a melancholy myth. The ending brings us full circle.

Now every day when the sun goes down out of the purple sky, Jarry Dark watches it in its passing, for he shall sleep no more the sleep of ice and of stone, wherein there is no dreaming. He has elected to live out the  span of his  days in a tiny instant of the Wait, never to look upon the New Alyonal of his people. Every morning, at the new Deadland  Installation, he is  awakened  by  sounds like the cracking of ice, the trembling of tin, the snapping of steel strands, before they come to  him with their offerings, singing  and making marks upon the snow. They praise him and he smiles upon them. Sometimes he coughs.

Born of man and woman, in  accordance  with  Catform  Y7  requirements, Coldworld  Class,  Jarry  Dark was not suited for existence anywhere in the universe which had guaranteed him a niche. This was either a blessing  or a curse,  depending  on how you looked at it. So look at it however you would, that was the story. Thus does life repay those who would serve her fully.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pilgrim Party

I was talking with Lily and I asked her if she wanted to come up with a nickname for herself. She thought a moment, and said "Miss Flowers, because I like girls and I like flowers." I'm going to assume that this is a Scott Pilgrim shout out on her part. I'll even help her cut out the little star for her handbag.

After our trip to the cemetery, we grabbed some food at Trader Joe's and headed over to Karen's Scott Pilgrim party. I was going to grab some gelato from Trader Joe's, in order to make a joke about a single throwaway line in the movie. ("Gelato's not vegan?" "It's milk and eggs, bitch.") but I'd been making this joke for the better part of a week and no one has even so much as acknowledged it. (Though my jokes are not always obvious. I remember at Jen's baby shower, after I told what I thought was a kind of funny joke, Tom commented, "The only reason I even know that was supposed to be a joke is that your voice rose at the end.") On one hand, there's not a lot of point in making jokes that nobody gets, but on the other hand, if I stop making jokes that nobody laughs at, then they win! I decided to be the bigger man and not buy the gelato.

Also, the store didn't have any.

My friend Jen, henceforth known as Other Jen (Scott Pilgrim shout out!), was there, but her husband Tom, a globe-trotting ninja assassin, was off toppling some third world dictator and couldn't make it. But everybody bought a bunch of delicious food.

We watched the movie, and I enjoyed it. I had picked up the books last week and this was my first time seeing the whole movie since absorbing them. It was really pretty nice. Scott Pilgrim is just about the perfect movie. (Here's the link to my review.) It's about an oblivious, indolent, douchebag. (My best friend Tim also used "indolent" to describe Scott Pilgrim. I suppose that's why we're best friends.)I didn't catch it the first time I watched it, but I love it when Scott asks Knives, "Can I get your coat?" and he takes it off of her and drops it on the floor.

(Speaking of coats, I've learned that I have a signature coat. It's that green one I always wear. I've had it since high school and it's starting to get extremely raggedy, but someone at the party suggested that dry cleaners will often do the simple repairs that it requires.)

I think the movie is a more cohesive work than the book, but I feel that's because Edgar Wright saw what worked in the comics and ruthlessly strip-mined them for all the good parts. Unfortunately, we lost one of my favorite lines. During the Bass Battle, Todd has a quip that I found nicely understated.


Hmmm...I was watching the deleted scenes and I saw that they filmed that line, but didn't include it. That's legitimately disappointing.  And I really liked the panel below from Issue 4.

Who among us has not needed to make this apology?

Tvtropes has the concept of Adaptation Distillation and it feels that's what went on here. (Then again, I'm biased, since the movie was my first exposure to the property and that of course influences how I perceive it.)

Not everything was changed for the better. My buddy Tim observed of the twins: "In the movie they're just a couple of non-speaking DJs pressing a note or two on keyboards. In the comic they are B-Ko to Pilgrim's A-Ko, crafting a series of ever more destructive robots to fight against him."

I think the bit with the twins was changed for reasons of pacing. You can't have a movie of nothing but fights. (Unless it's Final Fantasy Advent Children.)

There were certain things that worked better in the comics.  I did think that confrontation with Gideon in Romona's mind was stronger than the mind control chip in the movie, for instance.

Romona didn't have a lot to do other than stand around looking like a pretty Drew Barrymore, insofar as such a thing is possible. Her portrayal  in the comics is much more vivid.

But the movie has so many perfect moments. The one thing I think of is Young Neil singing along with the band right before Matthew Patel bursts in and getting the lyrics wrong and shaking his head when he does. I didn't notice it until my most recent viewing, but there are very subtle impact lines when Scott blocks Matthew's attacks. (Or maybe they're not subtle. It's possible that I'm just alarmingly obtuse.)

Everyone was well cast but Ellen Wong was born to play Knives. "Really?!" Mark Weber didn't have a huge part as Stephen Stills, but he owned it. Alison Pill rocked as Kim Pine, and Kieran Culkin was perfect as Wallace.

After we watched Scott Pilgrim, we played some Rock Band 3. Well, first we determined that the drumsticks were missing, and we spent a half hour trying to find a substitute and/or trying to find a store that might sell us some drumsticks.

"How was your party, Karen?"

"Well, I watched a movie I didn't like and then spent the rest of the night looking for drumsticks."

We eventually played it without the drums. As I have no sense of rhythm and can't sing, I was on the sidelines for most of the night, except for pitching in for the howls when Jen sang Werewolves of London. Karen's brother's girlfriend is a fan of Warren Zevon, which makes her automatically awesome. I mentioned that I had seen him live back when he was still touring (and alive) and that Amy Rigby had opened for him. She said that she didn't know who Amy Rigby was, and that's not exactly surprising, as she's a relatively obscure artist currently living in France.  (Oh, though I see she's touring in the US right now. Crap! I just missed some shows that were fairly local just this past weekend!)

She has a wonderful website where she keeps a blog, and I maintain that Amy Rigby is the platonic ideal of the perfect name.

Amy Rigby's awesome website

Other Jen:What do you actually do at your job?
Me: Mostly email Karen and work on my blog.

Ugh. Seriously. I have to get out of this place. I forget exactly what I was talking about specifically, but it was something about work,and Karen was like "Look at his face!" I think I looked like I was ready to kill somebody.

I gave Other Jen the Merlin books and we talked about Star Wars while everybody else took turns on Rock Band. Karen throws a kickass party.

West Laurel Hill Cemetery

We had a pretty nice weekend. Out nephew, Lily's cousin Chris slept over on Friday and she absolutely adores him. 

Sometimes we'll play a game where I stretch my arm with some food in my hand while I look away, and Lily will grab whatever I'm holding and eat it and then profess innocence. So she likes to play at outsmarting me. On Saturday morning she actually did it. We still keep a baby gate in her door, because it's at the top of the stairs and we don't want her sleepily wandering out and falling down. Jen woke up first and noticed that Chris was starting to wake up and commented to Lily to this effect. Jen went downstairs and Lily said "I want to play with Chris." I opened the gate for her and told her that Chris was still waking up and that we should give him a little more time and then we could play. Lily said "I want to talk to mommy." I told her that I'd go get mommy and started walking downstairs. Before I had even gotten all the way down, I hear the baby gate spring open and Lily shout "Hi, Chris!"So, while I'm kind of impressed that she's capable of thinking things through to this degree, I'm not entirely pleased that she is calculating enough to deceive someone with such premeditation.

Jen ran out in the morning to gas up the car and I let the kids play with each other. Chris is a pretty easy going kid, so he mostly took Lily's lead in what they were doing. Unfortunately, what they were doing involved poisoning her toys.

Actual quotes from Saturday morning:
  • "They put poison in the water to kill the princess." (A couple moments later) "I'm okay because I never drink water."
  • "When you die, you go to a very bad place, the top of the hill." (I'm assuming that she heard the word "Hell" at some point and misinterpreted it.)
  • "The Princess is dead over here!"

We dropped off Lily and Chris and went to West Laurel Hill Cemetery. I've always liked cemeteries, but only recently have I started seeking them out.  My friend Jen says that cemetery tours should be a regular feature on my blog. We shall see. West Laurel Hill was nice. It was full of these...ack, I'm blanking on the word.

...oh, right.
My friend Frederick, knowing of my interest in cemeteries, pointed out that Swan Point Cemetery, where H.P. Lovecraft is buried, has actual street signs.West Laurel hill does too.
Street signs, awesome.

A horse drawn hearse

I don't think you see it at this size, but if you click on the image to expand it, you can see that this guy has DDS after his name. I mean, it's kind of cool being a dentist (I'm just kidding, it's really not) , but not so cool that I'd want it inscribed on my mausoleum for all eternity.

Tomb with a view!
It was pretty nice. It was larger than Laurel Hill, but not as diverse with the styles of monuments.

"Sure, Lex, I'll hold this green rock for you."

I mentioned a while ago that some of the mausolea in Laurel Hill were bigger than my first apartment. Some of them here in West Laurel Hill are bigger than my current house.

Also big!
The most interesting tombstone of the day was the one below. It had a sculpture of a dog and a cat, and though you can't see them in the picture below, someone had placed little trinkets of cats and dogs on the grave. There was no date, so what Jen and I concluded was that the man loved his pets very much and they predeceased him. We tried to look up his name, but the only returns for Lee Holloway were Maggie Gyllenhaal's character in Secretary.

After that, it was off to Karen's Scott Pilgrim party, which I'll be covering in a later post. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wacky Wednesday: Monsters, Inc.

We had a rather nice Wacky Wednesday this week. Lily was very well-behaved. She had been talking about Monsters & Aliens for the past couple days to Jen, who was unable to get the name of the movie out of her, but only mentioned it in front of me yesterday morning, which wasn't enough time to get the movie from Netflix. Lily described the Netflix process in detail, calling the company by name. We talk about it in front of her, but I was just surprised (and not entirely pleased) by her level of brand awareness.

We wound up streaming Monsters, Inc. We had watched it previously, but quite a while ago. It's a great movie. I love Pixar. I'm glad our movie didn't have any aliens in it, because Lily has been strangely anxious about them.

Lily: Was Oma's mommy kidnapped by aliens?
Jen: Uh, no.
Lily: Then how did she die? Did she die because she got really old?
Jen: Uh, yes.

She assured Jen in that very earnest way little kids have, "Don't worry mommy. I'd *never* let aliens take you away."

On Thursday we had pizza with my Grammy where she spent the whole meal bitching that my younger brother didn't call her about some chair. Afterward, I read Cinderella to Lily. Jen had picked up a copy of the Brothers Grimm version by accident from the library and I was censoring it as I went.

We got to the part where the wicked stepmother tells the one stepsister to cut off her own toe so her foot will fit in the slipper. I didn't know that Jen had neglected to edit this part when she had read it the previous night so I was just like, "The sister tried on the slipper but her foot didn't fit."

Lily: You didn't read the part where she cuts off her toe!
Me: I think reading that would make me sad.
Lily: But that's my favorite part!
Me: (Expression of horrified disbelief)

I assume that she's just being a typical four-year-old here with a desire that a book should read as written and it's just a manifestation of a little kid's desire for familiarity and not some kind of hidden bloodlust. At least, that's what I'm hoping.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Influential Authors Meme

Okay this is a list circling around on Facebook. I thought I would post it here because my blog feeds into Facebook anyway.

Fifteen authors (poets included) who have influenced you and that will always stick with you.  List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. 

  1. Roger Zelazny
  2. Nigel Findley
  3. Fritz Leiber
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien
  5. Carl Sagan
  6. Gary Gygax
  7. Chris Claremont
  8. Kurt Vonnegut
  9. Stephen King
  10. David Sedaris
  11. Sarah Vowell
  12. Neil Gaiman
  13. Erick Wujcik
  14. William Shakespeare
  15. Ed McBain
A little commentary.

Zelazny, obviously, was hugely influential on me, both in how I write and in how I view the world. Since I write about that with some regularity, I won't rehash that here. 

Shakespeare and is the only author on the list whose work is indisputably considered literature (though I could make a strong argument for Tolkien, and Vonnegut). Tolkien needs no introduction, and Vonnegut produced what I consider the most powerful anti-war book ever made with Slaughterhouse Five.

There are several authors of role-playing books on this list (Gygax, Findley and Wujcik) and I like each of them for a different reason. Gygax has an arcane, idiosyncratic style to both his diction and meter and I started role-playing when I was about ten, so he was very influential on my thinking and my writing. Findley was possibly the most literate and prolific author ever to work in the field and Wujcik was the man who convinced me to bring critical thinking to my games, and to a lesser extent, to other arenas.

And while we're on the subject of pulp, I read the hell out of Stephen King's books. When I was a kid, there was a summer when I think I read literally nothing else. Fritz Leiber wrote what I consider the best sword and sorcery story ever written with Ill Met in Lankhmar

I guess I have a soft spot for public radio commentators with funny voices, because I sometimes even take a break from blogging about Zelanzy and Lily to say how much I like Sarah Vowell. I have to tried to emulate their brand of sardonic observation, with somewhat mixed success. Carl Sagan was the unflagging ambassador for science. More than anyone before or since, he could make science seem like a grand and noble pursuit. Ed McBain narrowly hedged out Raymond Chandler. Click here for an earlier post about why I love his writing.

I read a lot of comic books and Claremont and Gaiman represent two poles about what I love in the field. Claremont brought soap opera drama and Gaiman brought art. (He also wrote American Gods, just about the best book EVAR!!!)

Those were my influences. How about you?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Devil Car/Last of the Wild Ones

I wrote once about the uncanny verisimilitude in Roger Zelazny's story, how the consequences of his character's actions seem natural, but that the actions leading up to those consequences never seem forced.

I can't decide if The Murdock/Jenny cycle defies this trend or not. His introduction implies that he wrote the first story without a sequel in mind, but the second story does grow so well from elements planted in the first that the sequel does seem inevitable when the pair is read back to back.

It's a fun story, a rather silly concept played mostly straight.  A computer virus has run amuck among the computerized cars of the future, causing some of them to turn against the humans. ("Ten years ago the Devil Car, their leader, killed my brother in a raid on his Gas Fortress...")  Like The Stainless Steel Leech, it reminds me more than a bit of "The Honking", the Werecar episode of Futurama.  which may be why I interpret it as a lighter work than it really is. Nonetheless, I think Zelazny must have have his tongue at least partially in his cheek when he wrote it. His comment about "herds of wild mustangs" always makes me smile.

I don't have my book with the intro in front of me, but I think I recall that Zelazny's preferred title was "Morning of the Scarlet Swinger", which is so much more evocative than "Devil Car". (Also, "...and Call me Conrad" is a much better title than "This Immortal", and while we're on the subject, "The Ides of Octember" is leaps and bounds better than either "The Dream Master" or "He Who Shapes" (And I am very much looking forward to NESFA's Pictorial Bibliography of that name coming at the end of this year.)

She was made to look like a carefree Swinger sedan: bright red, gaudy, fast.  But there were rockets under the bulges of her hood, and two fifty-caliber muzzles lurked just out of sight in the recesses beneath her headlamps; she wore a belt of five- and ten-second timed grenades across her belly; and in her trunk was a spray-tank containing a highly volatile naphthalic.

       ....for his Jenny was a specially designed deathcar, built for him by the Archengineer of the Geeyem Dynasty, far to the East, and all the cunning of that great artificer had gone into her construction.

Early in the story she describes machine profanity to Murdock:

He chuckled.  "Cars actually swear at each other?"

"Occasionally," she said.  "I imagine the lower sort indulge in it more frequently, especially on freeways and turnpikes when they become congested."

"Let me hear a swear-word."

"I will not.  What kind of car do you think I am, anyway?"

They find the Black Cadillac that killed Murdock's brother, but Jenny chokes when it comes time to put him down.

"Why did you miss it?" he asked softly.  "Why did you miss it, Jenny?"

She did not answer immediately.  He waited.

Finally, "Because he is not an `it' to me," she said.  "He has done much damage to cars and people, and that is terrible.  But there is something about him, something noble.  The way he has fought the whole world for his freedom.  Sam, keeping that pack of vicious machines in line, stopping at nothing to maintain himself that way without a master for as long as he can remain unsmashed, unbeaten Sam, for a moment back there I wanted to join his pack, to run with him across the Gas Road Plains, to use my rockets against the gates of the Gas Forts for him...But I could not mono you, Sam.  I was built for you. I am too domesticated.  I am too weak.  I could not shoot him though, and I misfired the rockets on purpose.  But I could never mono you, Sam, really."

At the end of the story, Jenny has become the kind of car that would engage in machine profanity.

Before she did though, he heard a strange mechanical sound, falling into the rhythms of profanity or prayer.

Then he shook his head and lowered it, softly patting the seat beside him with his still unsteady hand.

That's the end of Devil Car. Last of the Wild Ones picks up fifteen years after the destruction of the Black Caddy.

Murdock lay upon his belly atop the ridge, regarding the advancing herd through powerful field glasses. In the arroyo to his rear, the Angel of Death - all cream and chrome and bulletproof glass, sporting a laser cannon and two bands of armor-piercing rockets - stood like an exiled mirage glistening in the sun, vibrating, tugging against reality.

Also, I can't be the only one who thinks "Take a drink!" when reading "arroyo" in a Zelazny story. (Zelazny and arroyo returns 111,000 hits on google.) I kid because I love. But seriously, he really liked that word. Also, that is some poetic prose right there.

They have almost defeated the scourge of the wild cars, but there is one left. Murdock pursues her in his Angel of Death, which speaks with a "soft, well-modulated, masculine voice."

"How about this? You were the best car I ever had. Surrender. Fire off your ammo. Drop the grenades. Come back with me. I don't want to blast you."

"Just a quick lobotomy, eh?"

Another explosion occurred, this one behind him. He continued to gain on her.

"It's that virus program," he said. "Jenny, you're the last - the last wild one. You've nothing to gain."

"Or to lose," she responded quietly.

I like it. The relationship between Murdock and Jenny parallels that between Red and Flowers in Roadmarks or Maxine and whatever that dude was called in "My Lady of the Diodes".

I introduced my friend Jen (not to be confused with my wife Jen. This Jen is married to my legendary friend Tom) to the Amber books and we discussed how the women are portrayed:

Jen: I don't think all that much of the women in the book, though.  Okay, Fiona was something, but I felt most of the other female characters were marginal.  Maybe not marginal, but they were nothing compared to the men.  A few of those sisters might as well not have been there.  Dara was a tool (in the being used sense, not a tool like Merlin),

Heh heh heh. Seriously, fuck Merlin.

Jen: was Flora for that matter, and Lorraine was forgettable.  But, that can be said of many to most science fiction/fantasy books.  Where are the women in Lord of the Rings, after all?  This is a personal pet peeve, so it's not like it detracted from these books for me.  It's just an annoyance to never see oneself represented among the heroes of books that you like to read.

I think she's right, and while I don't think that Zelazny is any worse than genre writers of his generation. (Also 24 Views kicks all kinds of ass and goes a long way towards fixing my opinion of this), post Buffy-genre works tend to have women in stronger roles, and the absence of such is notable to an audience in 2010.

I occasionally found Robert Heinlein (to name an particularly egregious example) actively offensive in his portrayal of women, but I never had that problem with Zelazny. The worst I'll say about women in his writing is that they never had too much to do. His stories are tight and economical and they just don't deal with women, just as they tend not to deal with politics or race or religion.

Whoops, I didn't mean for this post to segue into commentary on gender relations. I'm inclined to think making the Angel masculine was an intentional decision on Murdock's part to make the car as unlike Jenny as possible in order to to avoid previous pitfalls than it was anything else. I like the pair of stories a great deal. I would have loved to see more Sandow or Snuff or Red, and it's a shame that Zelazny returned to his classic worlds as rarely as he did, so when he does, it makes me extra happy.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Even in Arcadia I exist

Et in Arcadia ego
Netflix has the original Addams family for streaming, and we watched an episode last night. It's a good show. I really like John Astin as Gomez. He's fun to watch. I feel something of a kinship with him, but not for the reasons you probably think.

Yes, I was born on Halloween, under the Full Moon, in a night of the Lonesome October. Yes, for a nice relaxing family trip on my birthday, my family went to one of the largest cemeteries in the country. I really like spiders (I love the way they move) No, I don't consider myself especially mordant.

I mean, I like Kim Possible, too. Does that make me an eight year old girl?

(Actually the verdict still out on that. My wife would answer that I occasionally act like one.)

But back to the issue of Gomez. Yes, he's creepy and he's kooky,  yes, he's mysterious and spooky. I would go so far as to say that he's all together ooky. However, the reason I like Gomez is that he's crazy about his wife.

I still have a crush on Jen after all this time. I suspect I always will. I was infatuated with her almost from the moment I met her, and though it's grown into much more than that, that feeling is still there.

We were having game night a couple weeks ago, and I had put together a playlist of stuff I liked. A song by U2 came on and Jen commented "This one is rather mainstream for you," but I don't like things because they're weird. I like them because they're things that appeal to me. That a lot of them are unusual is incidental.

I mentioned in an earlier posts that I think that cemeteries are peaceful and picturesque. Where else in America can you walk around outside and see beautifully carved statues and open air sculpture? It's quiet too. We were right next to Fairmount Park, but I don't think we saw another soul

I was listening to college radio on my way into work last week and I recognized the song after a few notes. The DJ was playing "This is Halloween" from the Nightmare before Christmas. Then the vocals started, and I realized it was a Nightmare before Christmas cover, which made it even more awesome!

So where were we? Born on Halloween, enjoys walks in cemeteries and is listening to the Nightmare Before Christmas on November 5th.

But I like Jack. I saw the movie in theater back when it first came out, and I think that it may be the only movie other than Scott Pilgrim to surpass my expectations in every way. As with Gomez, I can see something of myself in discovering something and falling in love with it. (Ask my wife sometime how many times I've said, "Listen to this. It's my new favorite song.")  If I love something, I LOVE it and if I hate something, I hate it.

Lily has something of this trait too, and I think the best thing I can give her is the certainty to know who she is and what she is and the strength to pursue it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Roger Zelazny Book Review: To Die in Italbar

When I think of To Die in Italbar, I immediately think of Eye of Cat.

I know that Zelazny considered Eye of Cat among his top five books. He was always reluctant to number his least favorites, but eventually did so with Italbar, calling it his worst novel.

I'm just baffled by the inclusion of each of these books on their respective lists. They're both fine. I personally consider each somewhat below his best work, but neither one is a bad book. In fact, I like Italbar a bit more than Cat. The worst I'll say about it is that it seems like it was taken out of the oven before it was fully cooked. Perhaps his resentment stems from this. I can see areas where it could have been tightened up, and I think it's unique among his works in that it's not the best book it could be. It's the only time he seemed to have declared something "good enough" to be published. It's pointless to speculate. I don't know why he didn't like it. I do.

My current edition is the double feature with a Dark Traveling as the second book. (I also like DT, though it's got some structural problems.)

To Die in Italbar certainly has a great cast of characters, Heidel von Hymack, Malacar Miles, the empathesiac telekineticist John Morwin, and Doctor Pels, the dead doctor, "an exile from the worlds of life." 

Heidel von Hymack, aka H,  the green-eyed saint from the stars, is the man who drives the plot. (And I can't be the the only person to note that Zelazny features a lot of green-eyed characters.) He is host to a Pei'an diety, Arym-o-Myra, goddess of healing and disease. Because of this he is capable of bringing the diseases within his body into balance, allowing him to cure any disease. Unfortunately, the side effect is that when he isn't in balance, he infects those around him with the diseases he carries.

"This 'balance' you speak of," said Helman. "There is no such thing. You speak as if the pathogens formed ranks, warring against one another, and then sign a truce for a time where none of them misbehaves. This is nonsense. The body does not work that way."

Sure they do. Doctors call it the Three Stooges syndrome.

Doctor's Representation

"I know," said Heidel, as they entered the lift. "It's just an analogy. As I said, I'm not a doctor of medicine. I've coined my own simple, pragmatic terms for referring to what occurs to me. Translate them as you would. I'm still the expert on the effects."
I really like that exchange. Very Zelazny.

Malacar Miles (I always want to reverse it to Miles Malacar) reminds me extremely strongly of Victor Corgo, Captain of the Happy Wallaby from the Furies. I don't know how far in the future of Isle this book is set, but it seems that Earth goes rather abruptly from being the center of civilization with a thriving bureaucracy to a devastated wasteland.  Part of this seems to be that the book was not originally intended as a sequel to Isle, but had become so when Zelazny needed to "jazz up" the book. A little more effort in describing how it had gotten to the state would have gone a long way.

I always try to go blind into something I think I'll really enjoy and I didn't know that Francis Sandow was in the book until he showed up. I found it a rather nice surprise, as I had recently read Isle of the Dead. And as much as I like Sandow and as much as he contributes to the end of the book, I have to admit that he was shoehorned into the affair rather awkwardly.

The plot. H is a wandering do gooder, who uses his powers to treat otherwise incurable illnesses. However, things go awry in the city of Italbar, where he inadvertently unleashes a plague. A mob turns against him. I like the moment when H breaks. In Jack of Shadows, Zelazny describes Jack as "a wrongfully punished man whose character was twisted by the act." and I think that's a powerful theme that he writes well.

Then came the fury. It was not right that they use him so, he felt. He had come to their town for a humanitarian purpose. He had undergone hardship to reach Italbar. Now he was bleeding on its streets and being cursed. Who were they to judge him as they had done, to call him names and abuse him? This thing rose up within him, and he knew that, had he the power, he would have reached out and crushed them all.

Hatred, that thing nearly unknown to him, suddenly filled his body with cold fire. He wished that he had not undergone catharsis. He would be the plague-bearer, infecting them all.
Pels wants to study him as means to a cure for his own condition, Malacar wants to use him as a weapon and Sandow just want him to knock it off.

It's got a lot of those nifty Zelazny touches, like Deiban fever, a disease where cellular fluids go extracellular and the victims get  thirsty but no amount of liquids will help.
Malacar running into Jackara seemed just a little too fortunate. How come I never run into hero-worshiping prostitutes when I travel? That said, they do have a nice chemistry. I like this scene. She has a big picture of him over her bed.

He rounded the bed to study the picture more closely.

"That's a good likeness. Where's it from?"

She brightened, followed to stand beside him.

"It was a plate, from your biography by that man Gillian. I had it enlarged and tridized. It is the best picture I have of you."

"I never read the book," he said. "I am trying to remember where the picture was taken, but I can't."

"That was right before the Parameter Eight Maneuver," she said, "when you were preparing the Fourth Fleet to rendezvous with Conlil. It was taken about an hour prior to your departure, according to the book."

He turned and looked down at her, smiling.

"I believe you're correct," he said, and she smiled at this.

I could imagine that really happening. And a little bit later...

"Excuse me," she said, "I never-- I never expected anything like this to happen to me. Malacar to walk into my room and offer to take me away. It is something I have dreamed of . . ."

Heh. "Dear Penthouse, I never thought it would happen to me..."

Ultimately, it's a pretty good book, but it  too often lacks the Zelazny flavor, the clever flourishes in dialogue and description. The pacing is somewhat uneven. We're told of the climax by Shind, Malacar's telepathic lemur. I hate to say it, but parts of it feel like a first draft that should have been revised.

The exception to this is the voice of Arym-o-Myra. She's fun to read.

 Soon you will be able to emanate spores that will slay across hundreds of kilometers. And there will come a day when you will need but set foot upon a world to kill everything which dwells there."     

_It was because you were personally present. You are becoming a focal point. Soon you will be the still center of a cyclone. One day in the near future, there will be nothing able to stand against you. You will need but point your finger and will it and they will die_.

Neat bits abound. Malacar wonders "How many of those bastards in the CL High Command have I outlived? They did not pass out S-S the way we did." Is this a reference to the The Sprung-Samser life extension treatments in This Immortal? It's very unlikely that they take place in the same universe, but I suppose it's possible. Let the fanwankery commence!

Overall? It's good, and with a little more effort, it could have been great. Zelazny disavowed it, but I still think it's a decent read.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Both Sides Do It

I know someone we'll call Ick. He's a pretty horrible human being. We got into an argument about politics on Facebook, on the status update of a mutual friend. He said that that conservatives take responsibilities for their actions while liberals don't. The core of his argument was the claim that Mark Sanford stepped down from his position as a gesture of sincere regret. I asked him that if Sanford had stepped down, who was running South Carolina?

Sanford was forced out of his chairman in Republican Governors Association, but that was a ceremonial position with little authority. But Ick held tight. Of course that was what he meant!  Because forced out of a sinecure and voluntarily resigning the governorship are pretty much the same thing, and either is a sincere expressions of penance.

We went back and forth for a while. I brought up specific examples of right wing malfeasance, and Ick said that this was "just spouting the party line" and couldn't deign to answer these questions. The most he would concede was that "Both sides do it," which is also, a lie.

That's my big complaint about Jon Stewert's rally at the mall. He concluded it by saying that both sides go too far, and that we should all just calm down.

I disagree. Thomas Paine said: "Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is always a vice." I think Dan Savage's Fuck Your Feelings piece was right on.

Because both sides don't do it.

Democrats do not hold down a young woman and curb stomp her for carrying a sign they find offensive.

Democrats don't have a private security force of active duty military personnel to arrest reporters who ask questions they don't like.

Democrats don't physically attack people for carrying signs for their opponent.

After the argument with Ick, I was talking to the friend on whose Facebook page this argument had occurred, and he said that he doesn't really follow politics and that we both seemed right. And that's the problem.

Both sides don't do, but people like Ick like to perpetuate that myth. Perhaps Ick could find examples of the isolated liberal acting like the people in the above links. But the people who did those things were not random individuals. Tim Profitt was the county coordinator for Rand Paul, Joe Miller is probably going to be Alaska's next senator and Bruce O'Donoghue is actually a former congressman.

So, no, both sides don't do it. I think the Democrats at the National Level have been ineffectual and hideously cowardly, but they're not actually actively malevolent.

Nor are both sides corrupt, and that's what drives me nuts about organizations like VOID.  VOID stands for Vote Out Incumbents Democracy. Change, by itself, is neither good nor bad. If you think your elected representative isn't serving your interests, then yes, vote him or her out. But don't do it just for the sake of doing it. It’s a secret ballot, and not really the appropriate place for performance art.

It makes me think of a phenomenon called regression towards the mean. Athletes talk about the Sports Illustrated curse, where they believe it's bad luck to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But how do you get there? By doing something truly exceptional. Odds are, your next performances are going to be closer to the average, and when compared against the previous epic performance, they will seem to be much less impressive.

Regression to the mean explains why people believe that punishment is more effective than rewards in influencing behavior. A psychologist performed an experiment where a a computer would randomly make a student on time or late for school. Participants could chose to reward or punish the fictional child, not knowing their actions had no effect on the outcome. But odds are, if the child were late one day, he would not be late the next, and the punishment would seem to have worked. And vise versa, if a child were late after being rewarded for being on time, the rewards would seem to have been ineffective.

Wikipedia has a similar tale:

The psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel prize in economics, pointed out that regression to the mean might explain why rebukes can seem to improve performance, while praise seems to backfire.
I had the most satisfying Eureka experience of my career while attempting to teach flight instructors that praise is more effective than punishment for promoting skill-learning. When I had finished my enthusiastic speech, one of the most seasoned instructors in the audience raised his hand and made his own short speech, which began by conceding that positive reinforcement might be good for the birds, but went on to deny that it was optimal for flight cadets. He said, “On many occasions I have praised flight cadets for clean execution of some aerobatic maneuver, and in general when they try it again, they do worse. On the other hand, I have often screamed at cadets for bad execution, and in general they do better the next time. So please don’t tell us that reinforcement works and punishment does not, because the opposite is the case.” This was a joyous moment, in which I understood an important truth about the world: because we tend to reward others when they do well and punish them when they do badly, and because there is regression to the mean, it is part of the human condition that we are statistically punished for rewarding others and rewarded for punishing them. I immediately arranged a demonstration in which each participant tossed two coins at a target behind his back, without any feedback. We measured the distances from the target and could see that those who had done best the first time had mostly deteriorated on their second try, and vice versa. But I knew that this demonstration would not undo the effects of lifelong exposure to a perverse contingency.

And it seems like the whole rationale for VOID is predicated on this fallacy. It's even worse. They're buying into the punishment/reward paradigm of my first example, but they're doing so knowing it's false. They want an endless series of churn for our elected officials, based on arbitrary capricious criteria.

I leave you with these four questions.

Four questions for Republicans...and four answers for undecided voters

  1. What was the average monthly private sector job growth in 2008, the final year of the Bush presidency, and what has it been so far in 2010?
  1. What was the Federal deficit for the last fiscal year of the Bush presidency, and what was it for the first full fiscal year of the Obama presidency?
  1. What was the stock market at on the last day of the Bush presidency? What is it at today?
  1. Which party's candidate for speaker will campaign this weekend with a Nazi reenactor who dressed up in a SS uniform?
  1. In 2008, we lost an average of 317,250 private sector jobs per month. In 2010, we have gained an average of 95,888 private sector jobs per month. (Source) That's a difference of nearly five million jobs between Bush's last year in office and President Obama's second year.
  1. In FY2009, which began on September 1, 2008 and represents the Bush Administration's final budget, the budget deficit was $1.416 trillion. In FY2010, the first budget of the Obama Administration, the budget deficit was $1.291 trillion, a decline of $125 billion. (Source) Yes, that means President Obama has cut the deficit -- there's a long way to go, but we're in better shape now than we were under Bush and the GOP.
  1. On Bush's final day in office, the Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 closed at 7,949, 1,440, and 805, respectively. Today, as of 10:15AM Pacific, they are at 11,108, 2,512, and 1,183. That means since President Obama took office, the Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 have increased 40%, 74%, and 47%, respectively.
  1. The Republican Party, whose candidate for speaker, John Boehner, will campaign with Nazi re-enactor Rich Iott this weekend. If you need an explanation why this is offensive, you are a lost cause.
Remember, get out there and vote.