Daily Archives: April 5, 2012

What I Did With My Afternoon

Got the #GOPWarOnCaterpillars hashtag to trend worldwide on Twitter.

Context: While discussing whether the GOP was carrying on a general War on Women with recent abortion access legislation in various states, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus pooh-poohed the idea, saying:

If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars. It’s a fiction.

Which led to me writing this:

Which led to this:

Which led to this:

And the answer was: Apparently lots, because it got up to #3 trending worldwide. That’s wacky.

There are now hundreds of tweets out there with the hashtag, even when you filter out the spambots (who leaped on to it amazingly quickly). Here’s the tag search, if you’re interested. However, for myself, here’s my complete #GOPWarOnCaterpillars Tweet output, all in ALL CAPS for extra emphasis.

FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE CATERPILLARS AND I SAID NOTHING, BECAUSE THEY WERE EATING MY MULBERRY LEAVES

YOU SHALL HAVE MY CHRYSALIS WHEN YOU PRY MY COLD DEAD FINGERS FROM IT.

BUTTERFLIES AND RAINBOWS: NOT A COINCIDENTAL PAIRING

CATERPILLARS THREATEN AMERICAN FARMERS

CATERPILLARS GET ONLY 78 CENTS FOR EVERY DOLLAR A MOSQUITO LARVA MAKES

ULTRASOUND THE COCOON

ONLY A PARENT BUTTERFLY IS ALLOWED TO DRIVE A CATERPILLAR ACROSS STATE LINES

CATERPILLARS AREN’T REAL CATS. OR PILLARS. WHY TRUST THEIR LIES

CATERPILLARS WILL FORCE YOUR CHILDREN TO READ ABOUT THEIR LIFE CYCLE IN SCHOOL

IF CATERPILLARS ARE SO COMFORTABLE WITH THEMSELVES WHY DO THEY KEEP TRYING TO CHANGE

CATERPILLARS ARE LEPIDOPTERRIBLE

THAT CATERPILLAR SHOULDN’T HAVE WORN THAT CHRYSALIS

BREAKING: SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO ROUNDING UP MONARCH BUTTERFLY CATERPILLARS; CALLS THEM “ANCHOR BABIES”

ALL CATERPILLARS DO IS EAT. WHY CAN’T THEY JUST GET JOBS.

YOU GET SILK BY BOILING CATERPILLARS. THAT’S A HINT

NO ONE CRIED WHEN WE DECLARED WAR ON MAGGOTS

HOW ARE THOSE CATERPILLARS WORKING OUT FOR YOU NOW?

WE ONLY CARE ABOUT THEM WHEN THEY ARE EGGS. WHEN THEY’RE CATERPILLARS, THEY ARE ON THEIR OWN

MAKE NO MISTAKE, TIMMY. CATERPILLARS WILL KILL YOU AND EVERYONE YOU KNOW: http://bit.ly/HyycFO

I HAVE DONE WHAT I HAVE BEEN ASKED TO DO WITH #GOPWarOnCaterpillars. IT IS UP TO YOU NOW, CITIZENS.

And there you have it.

All of this would be delightfully amusing, except for the fact that, you know, lots of GOP legislators are doing their damnedest to restrict women’s access to abortion. And that’s not especially funny.

Also, as a coda: The Atlantic on the GOP’s actual war on caterpillars. Mr. Priebus may yet regret the comparison.

Scalzi Shakes His Cane At The Kids’ Music Today

The song in question: “Ass Back Home” by Gym Class Heroes:

It’s a song in the genre of “Musician pines for his woman back home while he’s out on the road, totally not partaking in groupies,” the most famous of which for my generation is Journey’s lighter-launcher “Faithfully.” The song itself is actually not bad, although it’s another example of Gym Class Heroes relying on a guest vocalist to lay down a tasty chorus to prop up GCH’s bland rap verses (previous example: “Stereo Hearts“). But what does bother me are the lyrics of the chorus, in which the unfortunately-named Neon Hitch sings:

I don’t know where you’re going/Or when you’re coming home/I left the the keys under the mat to our front door

The song and the video both establish that the two vocalists of the song are in some sort of long-term, co-habitating relationship; good for them. It also establishes that he’s on the road for a tour while she’s back at home. Fine.

But if all that’s the case, really? She’s doesn’t know where he’s going, or when he’s coming home? Did he not provide her with a tour schedule? Because, you know, when I go out on tour, I make sure my longtime companion, the lovely and effervescent Mrs. Scalzi, has the itinerary in her possession. But even if I or the Gym Class Heroes dude didn’t drop that knowledge on the respective loves of our lives, the fact is most entertainers who tour make that information public. If she didn’t know where he was going or when he was coming home, she could just go to the band web site and click into the tour area. Where’s he going? Athens, Georgia, on April 10! When’s he coming home? Probably May 4th or 5th, by the looks of things. Then he goes out again! Look, it’s all there.

(Not to mention, as the video shows them on the phone to each other, she could just ask, hey, what’s the next stop after this one? Admittedly, the lyrics note that sometimes he doesn’t know where is, or what day it is, but most modern phones have GPS and a calendar app, so that’s easily solved. There are a lot of options here for access to accurate information.)

Likewise: She leaves a key under the mat to their front door? Why? Doesn’t he have a key of his own? Does he not live there when he’s not on tour? The possessive plural nature of the pronoun in this sentence rather strongly suggests so. Can he not be trusted with his own key? Is he always losing them in hotel rooms? Do the key gnomes have a vendetta of long standing against this poor man? These seem doubtful. He’s driving home a motorcycle at the end of the video; clearly he didn’t lose the keys to that. I’m guessing the house key’s on the same ring.

Yes, I know. I’ve drastically overthought this. But come on. These are not lyrics filled with metaphor or allusion; they’re pretty straightforward declarative statements that individually parse perfectly well but which in context don’t make a damn bit of sense. Drives me nuts. I’m glad these two people in the song are in love, but clearly they need to a) work on their communication skills, b) learn to use the Internet to find things, c) go down to the end of the street and have a couple of spare keys made. None of this is hard.

I’m just saying.

(shakes cane)

Done.

Warning: Objects May Be Dorkier Than They Appear in Photo

Folks over at Google announced Google Glass yesterday, their plan to put video screens into your glasses, and showed off their prototype by wrapping them around the heads of some very attractive people (See Lyndon and Emily, above) as a way to show how having a monitor being strapped to your head could be handsome and stylish. And they’re correct, precisely to the extent that almost any article of clothing looks better on a size zero/hunkily-scupted early-20s model painstakingly posed in good lighting by a professional photographer than it will look on an average human who actually has to wear the thing on public transportation and then to work.

Which is to say that in the pictures above, the models are not wearing the Google Glass Protoype; the Google Glass Prototype is wearing the models. Please keep it in mind when you’re itchin’ to strap these LaForge Lites onto your noggin.

The Big Idea: David J. Silbey

The famous maxim says that history is written by the winners. But happens when the other side not only doesn’t write a history, but can’t? This was the challenge that Cornell historian David J. Silbey faced when writing The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China — The Boxers, mostly Chinese peasants, were ill-equipped to tell and pass along their side of this important historical event. So what is a conscientious historian to do? Here’s Silbey’s solution.

DAVID J. SILBEY:

Historians are responsible to the past.  We have a duty to that past, and a duty to all the people of the present whose history we explore.  The glory of that responsibility is the telling of the real stories, the real events, and the real people.  The glory is the telling of the stories that created our world.  The demand of that responsibility is to get the past right, or get it as right as we can.  There is no freedom to fictionalize or to invent things.  Instead, there is the iron straitjacket of what has already happened.

So what should I do when the past left nothing behind?  What should I do when large numbers of mostly illiterate Chinese peasants, as part of a mystical martial secret society, the “Righteous Fists of Harmony” (soon, thankfully, shortened to “Boxers” by observers) rose up in revolt in 1900, swept across northern China, and then mostly disappeared before the summer had ended?

The Boxers left behind little if anything in the way of records.  This was before email, the web, Facebook, and Twitter, before the era of over-sharing.  When those ordinary Chinese appeared in writing, it was usually by those who disliked them:  the western soldiers who fought them, the Chinese bureaucrats who tried to control them, or the missionaries who proselytized without really understanding them.  How could I uphold my historian’s responsibility if the past I had to get right did not even seem to exist?

I decided that if I could not know them, individually, I could know their world. The Boxer movement started in Shandong Province, south of Beijing.  It was a famously pugnacious province, home to the legendary bandits of Mt. Liang, China’s version of Robin Hood, and a place where the Chinese army recruited heavily.  It was home to hardworking peasant farmers who weren’t averse to a spot of banditry in the winter seasons.  It was a poor province, with a limited land owner class, and a population just scraping by even in the best years.  It was the birthplace of Confucius.  It was a province that, like it or not, was playing a leading role in the Great Game of imperialism, with a particularly aggressive set of German and American missionaries and a German naval base.  It was a province with life structured much as it was elsewhere in China: grinding labor relieved sometimes only by the theatricals put on during market days, seats in the audience carefully reserved for the local gods.  It was a province through which the Grand Canal, the marvel of engineering that connected northern and southern China flowed.  Or had flowed: a shifting of the Yellow River in 1855 had blocked the waterway.  It was a province that had suffered numerous floods during the 19th century, but in 1900 was in the second year of a punishing drought.

This was the world in which my peasant Boxers lived.  Understanding that, I think I was able to glimpse them, at least partially.  Poor already, they had been pushed to the edge of starvation by the drought and the intrusion of modern industry.  The drought, a slow motion natural catastrophe, gave them time to think about their plight.  The representatives of western imperialism gave them a rich collection of foreigners as a target.  They were not the kind of people to take their situation easily or without response.  Being a Boxer and rising in revolt, I thought, offered a way to control (at least a little bit) the world around them and a chance to punish those they thought responsible for their plight.  In its spiritual mysticism and invocation of physical discipline, the movement, it came to seem to me, offered them a return to traditional China, and a retreat from the modern world.

I don’t know the Boxers as individuals.  I will never know them through their own words. I came to believe, however, that I understood them enough.  The past unveiled itself, not easily or completely, but sufficiently, and so I wrote a book.  Did I do my duty as a historian?  I think so. I hope my readers will agree. The Boxers are long dead and cannot speak, but I dream that they will rest easier, story told.

—-

The Boxer Rebellion and the Great Game in China: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an interview of Silbey on the Boxer Rebellion from Military History magazine.

This Year’s Dewey Donation System Charity Drive Is ON

My friend Pamela Ribon, in addition to being one of the funniest human beings in the history of the known world, also has a philanthropic side, which comes out every year with the Dewey Donation System, her drive to connect books with needy libraries in the United States and abroad. As someone who is big on libraries, and big on literacy, you can believe that I am very much for this drive.

This year, Pamie’s focused her donation efforts on two libraries: One in Thailand, connected to a local charity that reaches out to poor and sexually exploited children in that country, and one in Washington, DC, where DDS is teaming up with a local roller derby team to provide books for a literacy initiative aimed at that city’s underprivileged children. Both are worthy causes, and both are worth your donation consideration.

So check out this year’s edition of the Dewey Donation System, and if you feel like, chip in a little to provide books to one or both initiatives. It’s a great way to do a little good, and get books were they really need to go. Thanks.