The Butchering: I Read Changes, Book Something Or Other of the Harry Dresden Files

So there’s this popular fantasy series about a “wizard detective” called Harry Dresden. I’d never read any of the books before; I don’t particularly care for “urban fantasy” — i.e., fantasy set in the more or less modern world. While I might have loved it when I was younger (and some of the fantasy I read in my teens and twenties had elements of what is now a fixed subgenre, namely magical things happening in the “real” world), now it strikes me as a subgenre suited for children and adults who never grew out of the childish desire to have magical things happen while never having to leave the comfort and safety of their bedrooms. You know, like wanting a tame dragon to be your pet, or a handsome rich vampire to marry you and settle down with you in a nicer neighborhood in your home town. But anyway, I was given the chance to read one of the books of this series, called Changes. I’m a couple chapters in, and frankly already I’m bored.

I’m also pissed off. Jim Butcher is an American dude, you can tell by the way the only thing his protagonist seems to care about is the fact that his ex-girlfriend didn’t tell him he had a daughter until said daughter was kidnapped by some of his enemies. Oh yes, the plot: Harry the Wizard gets a phone call (because despite the effects of his wizardly powers on computers, somehow he can get phone calls without the things fritzing — oh yes he talks about “receivers” and “the hook” but those old-fashioned things had electrical parts and computer bits in them since the 70s, and this story is not set in the 70s). Anyway he gets a phone call from his ex, who left him for Tragic Reasons (tl;dr: she was half-vamped by an enemy of his, and she’s okay only as long as she doesn’t drink any more blood, so she ran away south of the border so as not to be tempted to drink her boyfriend’s blood, and also to become a vampire fighter), and she tells him they had a daughter and the daughter’s been kidnapped by his vampire enemies. Anyway, you can tell that Butcher is an American male because he has his hero spend precious thinky time moaning about how awful it is he was never told about this daughter, even though as his ex has to point out (because hurt male ego and reason can’t share space in Harry’s head) they are both involved in dangerous evil-creature fighting which leaves no time to take care of a kid, so she had the kid fostered by a “normal” family. I will point out I can understand his ire but the question of just what can two vampire fighters with dangerous enemies do with a kid is left sort of hanging. I mean even if they retired until the child was grown, they’d always have to be in hiding… I dunno.

This fucking thing is longer than the Silmarillion so I’m just going put the rest under a more tag. You have been warned:

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Cage Match: the Seventies vs. the Eighties

The Seventies were better. There. I said it.

Yes, this is the promised “shocking” post I planned to write, only I’ve been sidelined, mostly by car issues and the Post-Nasal Drip Cough Of Doom. And it’s a gorgeous day and I really need to be out taking pictures, not cooped up indoors typing on this keyboard. But I just have to get this out before it festers.

See, I’ve been thinking. Really thinking, not just reading blog posts that agree with me and nodding my head. I’ve been re-evaluating my position on a lot of things. And one of those things is my attitude towards the decade that I spent my formative years in: the 1970s. Actually, this is time period is more like 1972-1982, because cultural decades don’t neatly start and end with zeroes, and 1970 and 1971 were still part of the Sixties, just as 1980-81 were still part of the Seventies. But anyway, this is the time period I refer to as “the Seventies” in my diatribes. Warning: this post will contain a lot of generalities and sweeping statements. YMMV.

The Seventies are widely decried as “the Me Decade,” a time when Americans at least (I can’t speak for other countries) turned inward and became selfishly concerned only with their selfish selves. Instead of getting out in the streets rioting and protesting, hippies all got married (or at least together with someone else), moved into homes, and cocooned themselves in silly, self-involved feelgood philosophies and pseudo-religions and went around saying things like “follow your bliss” and “if it feels good, do it.” That being said, a lot of people actually tried to engage in the sort of self-reflection and exploration of their psyche that Americans really don’t do enough of. We prefer “practical” solutions to “problems” like taking a pill, passing a law, or having a rally. It sounds like a paradox to say that actions don’t always effect reality, but in the case of personal psychology and cultural problems stemming therefrom that is mostly true. Americans have a tendency to think that they’ve done their bit if they show up to a protest or donate to a charity, but all they’ve done is made themselves feel a little better about themselves. “If it feels good, do it,” indeed.

A lot of what people complain about re the Seventies boils down to fashion. I admit a lot of the fashions were hideous: plaid bellbottoms? Jumpsuits worn by anyone not about to jump out of a plane? Clothing made of Dacron double-knit polyester that made you feel like you were wearing a sealed plastic bag? (No fun in the heat and humidity of South Florida where I grew up.) And of the American popular music of the time, the less said about most of it, the better. Then again… I’m going to say this now: Seventies disco was better than whatever that tuneless electronic garbage is they call “dance music” nowadays. And it was better than Eighties dance dreck. KC and the Sunshine band was fun. 80s dance music was not fun, just bland and flavorless. And I hated disco and always will.

But that’s just the frivolous stuff. There’s more — there were still wars, oil nations were kicking our ass economically, our presidents were embarrassing, we had real pollution to worry about instead of pretend “light bulbs are killing people in Bangladesh” pretend pollution, the Cold War was still pretty cold, cars were huge ugly gas guzzlers, there was no cable, etc.

But: in the Seventies we were more culturally and politically progressive — by which I mean advanced towards a state of better equality — than we are now. In many ways we’ve regressed, and that regression started in the Eighties when the anti-feminist backlash bloomed along with a thousand Laura Ashley flowered dresses. About that feminism: in the Seventies we had “I am woman, hear me roar,” pantsuits were in and dresses were out, “natural” makeup or no makeup at all was okay, “earth shoes” and boots and flats replaced the foot-destroying high-heeled pump. The only person protesting my wearing jeans was my grandmother, who thought “dungarees” were trashy. Women were beginning to get respect — and jobs. TV shows had women who worked, like Mary Tyler Moore (who was also single and didn’t seem too eager to get married despite all her dates). They featured older women in prominent roles, like Maude. The idea that all actors no matter their age or race had to look like skinny twenty-something white people hadn’t hit the tv screens yet: there were popular shows like Cannon, whose star was a fat, middle-aged man. People still looked like people on tv instead of airbrushed dolls.

Movies were better. They had moved away from shoot-’em-up Westerns in the Sixties and started to pay attention to other, better film industries like those in Europe, which made movies that were about people not cardboard cutout ideals. The movie industry actually preceded this whole thing a bit — and they also preceded the suckage that was the Eighties: Star Wars came out in the late Seventies, and while it was loads of fun, it was nothing like the thoughtful, cerebral (or at least attempts to be thoughtful and cerebral) films that had dominated the Seventies. After Star Wars movies gradually became more shallow, more preoccupied with special effects, more cardboard and formulaic as to plot, more and more filled with lookalike, airbrushed, fluffy-haired, smooth-faced, young prettysomething actors.

In the Seventies, you weren’t looked down on if you didn’t have a big house and shiny new car and impressive job. My father was a teacher: we never had a lot of money, and we lived in an old run-down house in Miami that originally was a 2 BD 2 BTH, as the real estate ads put it. Later my father and his buddies fixed up our little-used dining room to be a bedroom for me and added a half-bath that was just a toilet and sink. But I never felt inferior to my friends who lived in nicer houses. Oh, I used to wish we would move to a nicer house, because we had no a/c in ours and in general it was falling down around our ears, but I never felt inferior, like a lesser person who wasn’t quite a “proper” American, because we didn’t have a big shiny new house. And the car: my parents never owned a new one. We had the same Chevy station wagon since I was born until it finally gave up the ghost sometime when I was in junior high, and then there was a succession of used cars. The best one was a black Oldsmobile with an FM radio and working air-conditioning. But just about everyone had an old, beat-up car. Cars were transportation, not status markers. Not in our neighborhood, anyway.

Race relations: they weren’t good, but they were a lot better than they are now in many ways. I grew up hearing things like “Black is Beautiful” and seeing interesting, vibrant, individual black characters on television. (We only had three main network channels and a few extra ones on a band called “UHF” and none of them were on 24 hours a day so we watched all the tv we could get.) Even in Florida, a southern state not known for its stellar race relations any more than any other southern state, we kids were taught that all races were equal and to treat everyone with respect. Only bad people used racial slurs. The weird (to me) phenomenon of racist Hunger Games fans would just not have happened, at least not in my circle of friends. White kids all read books with black main characters and watched tv shows with black main characters and listened to black popular music by people like the Staples Singers, the Chi-Lites, the Temptations, the Supremes, and so on. It wasn’t a perfect non-racist Utopia but racists weren’t made to feel comfortable with their atavistic thinking and given the respect that they are getting now. And yes they are getting it. Racists are getting their ideas — that it’s better to segregate into tribal groups based on skin color, that it’s okay that people feel “more comfortable” with people of their own race (funny, I don’t, I feel a lot more nervous being surrounded by white racists than by normal people of any skin color), that there’s something horrible about white people having less babies and the idea that there will be less and less people of paleness in the future — listened to and agreed with. They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.

There’s a lot more I have to say, so I guess that this is part one. I’ll just leave this now and come back with part 2 later. Gotta go.

I’ve got an even better one: Bill Hicks was a racist douchebag

Admirers of late comedian Bill Hicks never seem to mention his Oprah routine, where he mimes God squatting and shitting her out. I can’t even find the video on Youtube. Yeah, “edgy.” Anyway, Bill Hicks is only treated so respectfully because he died “young” and “tragically” of cancer. If he were still alive he’d be a bitter old drunk having bottles thrown at him in some dive in the Poconos.

You can lead a horse to the internet, but you can’t make him look anything up

I guess it’s much more fun being ignorant. That’s all I can think when I come upon a comment this stupid:

Just how in hell did a white Hispanic get a Hebrew name like Zimmerman?

That sterling piece of insight came from someone called “dmorris” on a comment thread on a post at Mitchieville, which is a Canadian website. The post is commentary on the Trayvon Martin shooting. Trayvon Martin was shot in Florida, which is not in Canada, but lots of Canadians go to Florida so I suppose they, like everyone else in the goddamn world who went to Disney World a couple of times, think they are qualified to talk about the place and its goings on. But leaving that aside…

I left a comment there calling dmorris an ignorant, possibly anti-Semitic moron, because I’ve had it with right wing websites giving houseroom to this kind of drool. So I doubt that comment will ever see the light of day over there, as is the website owner’s right. Fortunately, I have my own blog right here, and I’ll tell you what I found out in a simple Google search using the terms “jews german names.” Because Zimmerman isn’t a “Hebrew” name, it’s German, as anyone with half a brain in their skull, at least in this part of the world, should know. Or so I thought. Anyway, this is what I found out:

A lot of the surnames that sound Jewish to Americans are simply German names such as Klein, Gross or Grossman, Weiss or Weisman, Rosen, Schwartz or Schwartzman, Segal, Siegal or Sagal, and anything that contains berg, stein, man, thal or bluth. German surnames are very common among American Jews, and many people seem to have inferred the converse: if most Jews have German surnames, then most people with German surnames must be Jews. The reasoning is appealing on a gut-level but logically flawed. Consider this absurd but logically identical argument: most Jews have ten fingers, therefore most people with ten fingers must be Jews.

Bolds mine. The next paragraph goes on to explain that the prevalence of German surnames in Jews of European origin stemmed from a decree passed when the Austro-Hungarian Empire controlled much of Europe. Everyone had to have a surname (Jews didn’t — they used patronymics — “David ben Gurion” — i.e., “David son of Gurion”). I found all that out, and I didn’t have to get in my car and drive to the library. Isn’t the age of the internet marvelous?

But blah blah boring history, it’s much more fun to be an ignorant clod fapping on about “white Hispanics” with “Hebrew names.” In other words, yes, Kathy, they are “making you look bad,” but not for the reasons you think. Not that linking to someone else’s post means you approve of what their commenters say, but that’s why I’m careful what I link to, especially these days. I just don’t want to be associated with certain things. Of course I realize that blog owners are not responsible for policing the thoughts of their readers, but they are responsible for what those readers put in their comment threads. As in: they can confront bigoted bile, instead of just letting it sit there festering. They don’t have to delete the garbage if they have some sort of (quite mistaken) idea that doing so is a repression of “free speech.” But not calling these people out when they spew their trash is the same as giving them tacit approval, and that attracts others of their ilk.

That brings me to another issue. Some people troll comment threads to start trouble and make you look bad. This has happened to a website I will not link to and no longer comment on. (See the previous paragraph where I stated that I don’t want to be associated with certain things.) The website owner chose to “ignore” the troll but not delete any of his disgusting racist garbage because apparently that would be playing his game or something. But here’s the thing. On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. No one can read your mind — if you disapprove of a comment, but refuse to either confront the commenter or delete his leavings, other people reading your site simply assume you are okay with what he said. How can they know? You won’t even say anything yea or nay, because in your head you’re above all that. But no one can see you up there on your shining pedestal. It’s one thing to be unconcerned with what people think about you when it comes to your own beliefs and ideas that you have communicated to the world. It’s another to not care what people think about you because you don’t seem to understand that communication comes in many forms, and one of them is silence and inaction on a situation under your control. “That guy over there taking a dump in the corner of my living room? Just ignore him like I am. He means nothing to me.” But other people aren’t you. They might not be able to ignore the stench of shit.

Update: oh dear. Cry moar, emo “satire” site. Oh well, if we can’t laugh at some kid getting shot to death because he has a “funny” name what can we laugh at?

Boys are icky and stupid

When I first came across this review of the Hunger Games movie, I thought, “Finally! A review that doesn’t fawn all over it and use it as some sort of tired metaphor for ‘America, today, our future!'” But in reading I found that the actual topic wasn’t so much how the movie is just rehash of all those Seventies movies of an evil decadent future America where they play deadly games, but how we should just accept that boys won’t read books written by women: author Steve Sailer relates how his young son quit reading the Harry Potter books “in disgust” when he found out J.K. Rowling was a woman as if this action on his kid’s part, of rejecting something he was enjoying because it was written by an icky girl, was no big deal and somehow acceptable.

America, what kind of sons are you bringing up? Is this what you want? To produce young men who will reject anything a woman makes “in disgust”? Do you really think it’s cute when your kid refuses to have anything to do with something because “a girl did it!” Let me tell you something. It’s not cute. A proper father wouldn’t stand for it. If it were my son, and I were a father (hell, if I were a mother — my mother would have raised holy hell if I’d pulled some unreasonable trick like that), and my son came to me and said “I can’t read this, a lady wrote it”… every night after dinner he would have been made to read a single chapter of the rest of the book or books. Out loud. To myself and my spouse. And there would have been no television or other “reward” until he was finished. With the entire book. Yes, that would probably scar his tender soul for life, but you know what? Some scars are deserved.

Damn it all to hell, America, you do not raise your kids like this. You do not just accept whatever lame sexist bullshit they learn from tv or their peers or some dumbass adult. You don’t just chuckle and say “boys will be boys” because those boys will grow up to be lonely, angry young men who don’t understand why they aren’t happy. Why they can’t get a date. Or why their relationships always founder because of mutual contempt. Because women don’t respect guys who think they are lesser beings and treat them like shit. Oh, they might fear them, and the men in their lives might think fear=respect, but it doesn’t. Women are people, not pets or dolls or evil monsters. And they shouldn’t have to hide behind initials because some little boy-man somewhere is raising his son to think girls have cooties. No wonder our country is in such a mess. We’re raising little sexist, racist monsters.