Of all people out there, I’m a quite vocal opponent of spamming – that is, unsolicited emails usually advertising some product or other. I know this problem won’t go away anytime soon. Indeed, almost every day I spend 30 minutes to an hour cleaning out literally thousands of spam messages from dozens of inboxes, so obviously I don’t consider this fun.

Recently a small non-profit association I’ve helped out in the past contacted me with an interesting problem – they were unable to send messages to Cogeco users. A bit of research revealed that their SMTP server was on an IP address blocked by SORBS, a DNS blacklist service that a number of ISPs apparently use when determining what messages may or may not be spam.

Further research revealed that this non-profit was using a shared server from a US-based hosting service. The IP address in question supported at least a few dozen different sites owened by different people – standard shared hosting fare. Okay, nothing unusual, so I started looking into getting the IP address removed, since the non-profit was not a spammer and this was hampering their ability to contact members of their association.

Imagine my surprise when I discover this delisting process:

” The effected IPs (the ones used to send the spam) will only be delisted when US$50 is donated to a SORBS nominated charity or good cause. The charities and good causes SORBS approves will not have any connection with any member of the SORBS administrators either past or present. ”

Now, this immediately disturbed me, so I did a google search for the definition of ‘extortion’ and came up with this. “Extortion is a criminal offense, which occurs when a person obtains money, behaviour, or other goods and/or services from another by wrongfully threatening or inflicting harm to his person, reputation, or property. Euphemistically, refraining from doing harm is sometimes called “protection”.”

Now, some people online have argued that it isn’t exactly extortion because SORBS isn’t actually blocking your emails; rather, it’s the particular ISPs that decide to use SORBS as a guideline for mail-blocking.

This, to me, is bullshit. If extortion does include the reputation element, then SORBS is definitely damaging your reputation by implying you are a spammer, and then requiring you to pay money in order to remove the spot on your reputation. The fact that SORBS doesn’t get the money is irrelevant. This is a bit like the mob not trashing your business so long as you support a political party they approve of, or some other thing. What if for whatever reason you disagree with the SORBS-handpicked charities?

In addition, this particular blacklist service is totally unfair to small organizations and individuals who can’t afford dedicated servers of their own. Most teenagers, and probably a lot of adults, run websites totally out of a sense of community, and if they’re unable to use some of the resources of their website such as the SMTP server because of some asshole spammer using shared space, it’s hardly their fault. The same applies to the masses of computer-illiterates who get backdoored and zombified for the purposes of spam – sure, they’re hard on the community at large, but the problem isn’t the computer user, it’s the spammer. $50 may not be a lot of money to a big corporation but for a minimum-wage working person, that’s a quarter of a week’s wages.

To sorta sum up, I think SORBS took a good idea and a motive of protecting the community, and ran WAY too far with it. I’m sure the charities listed by SORBS are quite happy, but I doubt anyone else is. By basically extorting money in exchange for reputation, SORBS is revealing itself to be the selfish bully of the anti-spam battle, hurting anyone who happens to get in the way in its zeal to be seen as a leader in anti-spam technology and DNSBLs. To those fighting the spam battle on the ISP and hosting ends, I say fuck SORBS and use something a little more fair to the small guys caught in the crossfire.

America the Yellow

I was torturing myself earlier today by spending a few minutes listening to the appallingly mindless shit pouring from the mouths of Bush and Kerry in their recent first debate. At the same time, there were a few other thoughts turning in the back of my head, and the debate, as it were, brought things to a bit of a head.

I counted the use of a few terms in the debate. Granted, my count might be off, but a bit of an underlying theme emerges.
– secure: ~7 times
– protect ~15 times
– safe: ~15 times

Why the hell are Americans so obsessed with being safe? Seriously, people. Whatever happened to the America that produced the old West, those kickass pioneers who duked it out with the kickass natives, everybody kicking each others’ asses until nobody could sit down anymore? Now, it seems like both Bush and Kerry are more concerned with finding the softest pillows in the world to place under their fat, stinking butts.

Both Bush and Kerry go on about killing terrorists, protecting America, making America great, blah blah blah. I have a bit of a curiosity. See, if it was up to me, I just want guns. Big guns. If I see a terrorist on my way to work doing something heinous, like giving old ladies wedgies instead of helping them cross the street, I will use my big guns to paint the sidewalk with terrorist brains. So what happened to the rest of Americans? You’d think with us producing stuff like gangsta rap and the Matrix, we must still have a collective national grip on what it means to be badass. Instead, the military can’t keep enough soldiers and mothers hide their childrens’ faces when grainy videos of Osama Bin Laden in his bedsheets pop onto the television screen. Indeed, sales of air freshener have recently gone through the roof due to Americans shitting their pants every time the President decides to play with his little terrorism alert scale.

One of my friends asked me recently, what’s with Americans being so willing to bend over and lube up every time Big Brother says “National Security?” See, it’s the safety thing. What I think happened is this. In 1776, America kicked off the training pants and said “I’m a big boy now.” In 1860, America was doing its teenage rebellion thing. In 1914 and 1942, America was in its prime. Now? America is at the geriatric stage, having to pin hugeass diapers on with fucking safety pins because they can’t control their bowel movements every time someone says “terrorist.”

In his speech, Bush said that September 11 changed the way America must look at the world. I have a different suspicion. I think September 11 revealed that Americans can no longer roll with the punches. Instead, we cower in the corners, create departments of homeland security, make our borders so tight that even our friends can’t get in, and now we’re so fucking scared that we bury our heads in the sand and pray for strong leadership to protect our vulnerable asses from terrorist rapists. What do I think needs to be done?

Easy. I think Americans should get over it. ‘Terrorists’ are mostly pissed at us because we have troops in their countries interfering in their business. As long as we do that, they pretty much have every right to try to hit us where it hurts, and we should stand up and take it instead of trying to reshape the world into some sort of fascist wet dream where everything is perfectly secure for us. I know if it were the other way around, I’d be out there with whatever firearms I could find taking potshots at invading soldiers. So call me a terrorist. No, I think we should try to do more useful things…maybe develop space ships that don’t blow apart, or perhaps try to make sure that a quarter of our children are not growing up in poverty. Is it a pipe dream to think that the first duty of a state is to take care of its people?

Anti-Semitism or Anti-Imperialism?

I was scanning the news yesterday and came across a story describing the Israeli demolition of 35 Palestinian homes in a refugee camp. The IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] of course claimed that the homes were uninhabited and being used as staging grounds for mortar attacks on nearby Israeli settlements.

Nobody’s denying that the said mortar attacks did indeed occur, however, one would think that the Israeli missile fired into the Palestinian camp would have been retribution enough if this were an eye-for-an-eye fight (both incidents are documented in that news story). But, of course, this is your-sister’s-virginity-and-your-life-for-an-eye, so 35 homes are destroyed in addition and dozens more Palestinians rendered homeless. International observers have called this sort of activity “collective punishment” – something illegal by the Geneva and Hague conventions regarding rules of warfare.

But then, this is a brave new world, the so-called “post-9-11” world. 3,000 people died when a couple of buildings collapsed, and suddenly the world is outraged. What about the 35,000+ children who died the same day of malnutrition or lack of proper health care? Oh, but they weren’t important, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things. They were not employees of multinational corporations or involved in international trade, except maybe as the possible begrudgingly-aided recipients of corporate donations designed to demonstrate the “corporate citizen” being a good citizen. I mean no disrespect to those who died or their families, but fuck…whatever happened to putting things into perspective?

With all this in mind, one of my friends threw me a link to a little flash slideshow called Pipeline of Hatred. This little gem declares that the old anti-Semitism was a “world free of Jews” and the new is “A world free of a Jewish state.” Pardon me, but these are two vastly different propositions. A world free of Jews can rightly be called an anti-Semitic proposal, but a world free of a Jewish state? Hardly. This is no more anti-Semitic than me saying that a world free of a Clown-filled state makes me anti-Circus. First of all, the world is too small for every little ethnic group to have a country of their own. Imagine, an American-Italian state. A Roma/Gypsy state. A Kurdish state (ha, the Turks would love that one). Ohh…I know a good one. Each native American tribe getting their own state again!

I know what you’re thinking. Israel is already a state, and those others aren’t. Well, it’s just artifacts of history. States are born and die. Israel was arbitrarily created by the UN, and that rendered the Palestinians stateless. What do you expect? Most estimates say somewhere around 750,000 Palestinians lost their land and homes in the creation of an Israeli state. That’s a lot of people to piss off.

The best part of this little presentation though, is when the claim is made that so-called “radical left-wing movements” are essentially allied with radical Islam. The site states, “Radical Islam and the anti-globalisation movements identify a common enemy – the Jews as a nation and as the driving force behind global capitalism – a threat to both their very different worlds.” Woah! Just a minute.

The site itself admits that the “radical left wing movements” dislike captalism because it causes problems for workers because “cheap labour endangers jobs.” Of course, the unmentioned part of this that is problematic is that the jobs are free to move around and the workers arent, so the jobs go somewhere cheap and the workers lose their jobs because even if they WERE willing to move somewhere to keep their job, they couldn’t. Anyway, somehow this makes left-wing movements sympathetic to radical Islam because radical Islam also hates globalisation (although because it threatens Islamic cultural hegemony?) Okay, my head is spinning now.

I think it breaks down to this. Israeli policies right now toward the Palestinians are frankly brutal. I also don’t belive they’d get away with it if the United States were not so determined a strong ally for them. Israel would not be so much a force without American weapons and money, and might actually have to resort to diplomacy to deal with their neighbours instead of military force.

Oh, did I mention that I think global capitalism threatens jobs for the average Joe? I guess this makes me anti-Semitic. Gee, I never knew that about myself. I’m gonna have to call up my Jewish friends and tell them that I can’t hang out with them anymore.

No, it isn’t anti-Semitism that this presentation is railing against. Ultimately, it’s anti-imperialism. That is, if you’re anti-imperalist and you don’t support American/Israeli imperialism, then you’re by extension anti-Semitic. The discussion of radical Islam is a parlor trick, a little sleight-of-hand to conflate two distinct issues. Who isn’t against radical [insert religion of choice here]? Radical Christianity, radical Islam – it’s all the same to me. Something the world could do without.

Cat Stevens, You Terrorist Swine!

I read with some surprise today that Cat Stevens was taken from a flight and will be deported from the United States. This shocked me at first, and I began to rack my memory looking for some sort of logical explanation for the inescapable implication that Cat Stevens might be a dangerous terrorist. I mean, he has such a reputation for being a peaceful man.

At first, I couldn’t think of anything, so I decided to look up the lyrics to his songs. At first, they appear innocent enough, but after some examination, the darker, terrifying meanings behind some of his lyrics began to pop out.

Moonshadow [I’ve helpfully outlined the terrorist references for you to save you some time.]
Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
Here, Mr. Islam is alerting other members of his cell that he was being followed by three suspicious CIA agents.

Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
Younger readers, avert your eyes. This is Mr. “Stevens”” graphic description of how he murdered the agents and desecrated their corpses.

And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, oh if…. I won’t have to work no more.
These phrases, and the following ones, must be read carefully. The part preceding the ellipsis […] describes how he’s planning to maim civilians, destroy private property, and detonate a dirty bomb to permanently pollute American soil. The part following the ellipsis is an oblique reference to his expectation to be in paradise as a result of his martyrdom in the above plot.

And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, oh if…. I won’t have to cry no more.
This is more of the same terrorist rambling. Shocking, if you ask me.

And if I ever lose my legs, I won’t moan, and I won’t beg,
Yes if I ever lose my legs, oh if…. I won’t have to walk no more.
And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south,
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, oh if…. I won’t have to talk…
In this section, “Cat” graphically describes the torture he wants his colleagues to administer to any American civilians they kidnap. In the section following the ellipsis, he changes his tactics though, to throw anyone off. This time, he’s gloating in the limbless, mouthless tortured bodies of his prey.

Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? and are you gonna stay the night?
This is Mr. “Stevens” doing some foreshadowing, in which he talks to one of his many virgins in Paradise after he successfully carries out his mission.

This is amazing. Mr. Islam was already a bloody, child-butchering terrorist way back in 1971. All I can say is, it’s about fucking time, Mr. Traitor Stevens. I hope you rot in Great Britain. Long Live Our Terrorist-Fighting Komrades!! Heil Bush!

Nousetrap Laced With Butt Paste

The headlines say it all. “Nose-steered mouse couuld save aching arms”!

Apparently, some moron in Canada came up with the idea of a “nouse.” That’s a mouse cursor guided around the screen by the shiny, white tip of your cute little nose. Yes, you, you ugly bastard. Now you can say that your nose, no matter how ugly, actually does more than just provide a trumpet during the flu and allergy seasons.

I don’t know where to begin on how dumb this idea is, so let me just give you a little scenario to illustrate the hellacious stupidity here.

Act 1
It’s the first day on the job, and Mr. Newbie walks into the office. He peers into his coworkers’ cubicles on his way in.
MR. NEWBIE: Hi, what’s your name?
COWORKER: My name is Fred.
MR. NEWBIE: Hi Fred. Gee, why do you keep twitching your head like that?
COWORKER: Oh, someone set up us the bomb. You gotta try it. These new nice kick ass.
MR. NEWBIE: Wow. Hey, by the way–
COWORKER is blinking feverishly and twitching his head about like a cat in a roomful of laser pointers.
MR. NEWBIE: Uh…Fred, is there something in your eye?
COWORKER: Ah, nevermind me. Just trying to clear some spam out of my inbox…

Act 2
A few weeks later, Mr. Newbie is running a couple of minutes late. He walks into the office, trying to avoid smacking into the walls. His motor coordination has been destroyed by too much incessant twitching and blinking. He now closely resembles a drug addict who has fried one brain cell too many.
MR. NEWBIE: Morning everyone! Looks around. Hey, where is everyone? What’s that shadow on the floor in the corner?
Mr. Newbie walks over to the corner and spots the shattered bodies of his former coworkers. He collapses to his knees in despair.
MR. NEWBIE: Oh no! The evil nice have ruined us! All their nasty twitching and blinking and shaking about have set up a resonance in my former friends’ bodies and shaken them to bits! Woe is me! Sobs.
Mr. Newbie looks around. He spies his dead CEO’s golf clubs in the corner. He picks one up, and a holy light surrounds him.
MR. NEWBIE: Fear the holy avenger of the dead workers everywhere. I will exact dear payment for your transgressions, oh evil nice!
Curtain drops on MR. NEWBIE smashing the fuck out of all the nice in the office.

I hope this has taught you a lesson on how foolish it would be to even think about using a nouse. You have been warned.

Before I wrap this up, take a look at this Yahoo! News photo I spotted yesterday. Ow! Bet he’s gonna need some butt paste on that. [For all you Cajuns out there, there’s an extra bit of irony in this. I know you like Boudreaux and Thibodeaux jokes.

You should thank me.]

Why Nader is a Loser

Since I never bothered looking into Ralph Nader, I decided that, what with the upcoming elections and all of the furor over Nader getting on and off of election ballots, I might as well waste a few minutes to find out who he is. Earlier in the elections, I personally was a bigger fan of Dennis Kucinich than any other candidate, but Kucinich dropped out, oh well.

There were two things I wanted to know. 1) Why should anyone even vaguely care about voting for Nader, and 2) is Nader just another corporate whore like everyone else? To answer the first question, a logical place to start was Why Ralph? – his official campaign website

Honestly, I’m still sitting here 10 minutes later trying to figure out why anyone should care about voting for Nader, because his website is so poorly laid out that anyone trying to figure out whether they should vote for him will probably end up voting for Michael Jackson instead. I click on “Why Ralph?” and the ever-so-helpful response is:
# Biography: Peter Miguel Camejo
# Biography: The Independent Citizen for President
# F.A.Q.
# Letters to George W. Bush & John Kerry
# Main Story Archive
# Materials and Writings on the Decision to Run
# Ralph’s Writings
# Testimonials & Letters

This is just fucking stupid. None of this tells me why anyone would care if Ralph won. So he has a biography there, and some Camejo idiot who is going to be his running bitc….er…mate has a bio too. Camejo who? I don’t give a fuck about Camejo; I want to know about Nader. I’m guessing it’s gonna be in the FAQ, but frankly, Nader has already lost my attention. I don’t care whether or not Nader writes letters to his lovers Bush and Kerry, I would rather decapitate myself with a sytrofoam cup than read any stories he wrote, and the last time I heard a testimony was in the Pentecostal church my parents dragged me to as a kid. The last thing that is gonna help me make important political decisions is the rabid, foaming testimony of some Nader fanboy.

But in the interest of fairness, I decide to click on the FAQ, hoping to get some enlightenment about why anybody should vote Nader. Finally, something potentially useful: “To take our democracy back from the corporate interests that dominate both parties. Ralph is running, as all third-party and Independent candidates do, to mobilize citizens behind an issues agenda — a fundamental solution revolution — for the American people that neither major party will discuss or adopt.”

Okay, my bullshit alarm went off, and the pungent fumes are starting to make my eyes water. Let’s translate these sentences into plain English by filling in the blanks. “To take our democracy [otherwise known as a nascent police fascist empire] back from the corporate interests [other than the ones I own stock in – this, by the way, answers point #2] that dominate both parties [because they won’t let me come to their parties, those bastards]. Ralph is running [like Forest Gump], as all third-party and Independent candidates do [see why I said Forest Gump? The evil Republican and Democratic bullies want to knock the poor invalids over, those slutty corporate whores!], to mobilize citizens behind an issues agenda – a fundamental solution revolution [WTF?!] – for the American people [oh no, it isn’t for Nader] that neither major party will discuss or adopt.”

A “fundamental solution revolution” – that just makes my mouth hang open dripping drool over my chest with its rhythmic brilliance! Now I can finally understand why to vote for Nader. If Nader wins, we will live in a land of horrible rhetoric that will cause world peace by killing everyone via the noxious fumes that ooze steaming from his campaign writers’ pens. Just think, everyone dead and nobody left to screw the world up.

So, why is Nader going to lose the election? First of all, he’s so boring that I’d rather vote for the first geriatric patient with a stroke I can find, since that is guaranteed to be more interesting. Secondly, he’s going to lose because nobody can figure out why the hell they should give a fuck about him and his campaign. Third, and finally, he’s going to lose because he’s named after that stupid kid on the Simpsons who is always picking his nose, and nobody in Washington wants to deal with that on government paperwork after four years of having to spray air freshener on everything Bush touched.

ScaredSacred and the Aliens

On Thursday afternoon, I found myself standing in line at the Royal Ontario Museum in downtown Toronto, waiting to be escorted down into a dusty basement theatre to see Velcrow Ripper’s new documentary, ScaredSacred. Another International Film Festival offering, the film seemed to be a bit off the beaten path, and both my girlfriend and I separately chose it when we were looking through potential movies to see.

I went in prepared to see a gory bloodfest, since the whole premise of the movie is that Ripper visits all sorts of “ground zeros” of the world, looking at the devastation and trying to find the “sacred” in it. What I got was something quite different – not quite depressing, not quite uplifting.

The documentary covers a lot of ground. Ripper starts in Bhopal, moves on to Cambodia, Hiroshima, Pakistan’s Afghan refugee camps, concentration camps in Germany, Israel and the occupied territories, Bosnia, and elsewhere. He seems to be doing this as much as a personal pilgrimage as anything, since he starts his journey feeling like the world is becoming a bleaker place by the day.

Oddly enough, I still find it difficult to package a reaction to this film. “Breathe in suffering, breathe out compassion.” I see Ripper being fired at by Israeli soldiers in a walled-in Palestinian village, then I see him eating a hamburger in some burger joint in NYC.

I think what makes the film so difficult for me to digest is that Ripper doesn’t offer any practical solutions to the violence and destruction he documents. Granted, this is something that humankind has found itself fairly unable to do as a whole, but somehow I found it difficult to empathize one man’s catharsis into some sort of positive personal experience. That isn’t to say that the film wasn’t touching – I don’t think anyone could watch a 14-year-old Afghan girl struggling not to cry as she describes her father being killed in front of her without sensing that pain – but rather that it issues such a highly emotionally-charged call to arms without providing a leader, in many ways.

During the question-and-answer session with Ripper following the screening, he made the comment that he found the world to be a bleak place, and that he was not an optimist. Rather, he was hopeful. Being able to find a doctor treating chemical-sickened patients in Bhopal, an old Sikh musician in Kabul who protected his instruments against the worst of the Taliban, the RAWA women’s movement in Pakistan, the couple in Serejevo creating art to maintain sanity under a hail of bullets – these things, he said, provided him with hope.

Maybe it’s too much sociological training on my part, but I find it difficult to be hopeful. Ripper himself acknolwedged that for every experience of the sacred, there were dozens of people he met who were violent, revengeful, angry – and this, I think is the broader state of humanity. Ripper recognizes something I’ve long said, that the problem is the “we and the them.” It’s that tendency of humans to want to separate themselves into friends and enemies, always a dichotomy.

What’s the solution? In all honesty, I think that nothing short of the threatened death of the planet due to, say, asteroid or supernova, or perhaps a nice alien invasion – nothing but these will even begin to make humanity unite and focus on the common good and stop the destruction, vengeance, and exploitation.

I, for one, welcome our new…

Kung Fu Hustle Impressions

Having just returned from the world premiere of the Stephen Chow film Kung Fu Hustle courtesy of Toronto’s International Film Festival, I thought I’d offer a spoiler-free impression of the film.

The film was visually awesome. Lots of great imagery, good special effects, and impressive martial arts throughout. Chow seems to have taken a bit of quite a number of movies and woven them into something quite interesting. The Film Festival take keeps mentioning the Shaw Brothers, but this is way before my time and I can’t really comment. What I can say is that I recognized homages to the Matrix, Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs in particular), Untouchables-esque gangster films, possibly Shaolin Soccer, every classic Western and kung fu movie, and even old-fashioned slapstick cartoons (as well as a Jim Carey Mask-esque flair here and there).

The acting was pretty good. Over the top, but I’ll get back to that in a minute. Despite this being a Chow film and starring Chow, the real star of this film would be Yuen Qiu, in my honest opinion. She and actress Huang Shengyi showed up for the premiere, and Yuen Qiu was introduced as the eldest sister of Jackie Chan, which is interesting. Anyway, she totally rocked as the landlady in this film, and basically stole the picture.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me was a lurking feeling that this whole movie could easily have been a stage production. There are about three main locales within the set, and the over-the-top acting actually works because it creates that musical/stage feeling rather than simply smothering you with cheese. I would almost like to see it done on stage someday, although I suppose the special effects might be difficult to recreate

Anyway, from my tired perspective, I’d give it two thumbs up. This is a film I laughed all the way through, and despite some Tarantino-esque graphic scenes which shocked at first, was entirely comedic. I’ll be adding it to my film library when it’s out on DVD, and wouldn’t mind seeing it again in movie theatres, assuming it’s released in North America.

Let It Be

A couple of months ago, I ran into this NYT article discussing Ralph Nader’s inclusion on the Michigan ballot. It appears that Mr. Nader had only 18% or so of the signatures he needed to make the ballot, but miraculously ended up with an extra 45,000 signatures on the petition, courtesy of the Republican Party. The motive, according to the executive director of Michigan’s Republican Party, was to “ensure that Michigan voters are not disenfranchised.”

Today, I happened upon this new little gem. In a related move, Florida’s Division of Elections director Dawn Roberts declared that Nader could appear on the Florida ballot despite legal questions about whether Nader qualifies under Florida state law. And apparently, “Analysts said most of the nearly 98,000 votes Nader got in Florida would have gone to Gore had Nader not been on the ballot.”

What I find interesting about these cases is twofold. First, it intrigues me that the bar to get on a ballot is so high. Okay, I suppose there are technical reasons why not just anyone can be placed on the ballot; it might be overkill to have 5,381 presidential nominees. But from the perspective of freedom and democracy, it seems to me that if someone could get 50,000 signatures nation-wide, he or she should automatically qualify to be on all state ballots. Part of the problem with current American politics is a lack of choice, and the two parties prefer to maintain that status quo.

More interesting, however, is this notion that somehow by including Nader on a ballot, you are “costing” one or another of the established parties the election. This, of course, is the Republican motive to place Nader on a ballot, and the reason that Democrats are screaming. I really doubt that anyone particularly cares whether or not voters are “disenfranchised” these days. Still, there are problems with this “costing” logic.

The Democrats, in my honest opinion, are being extremely pathetic and anti-democratic with the whole thing. By whining about Americans getting extra choices in the election, what they are effectively saying is that:
1. Americans do not deserve to have multiple choices; Republican or Democrat are all they should be allowed, and
2. the Democratic party is not confident enough in its attraction to voters to believe that it is capable of winning an election should it face extra competition on the ballot.

But the problem isn’t solely with the Democrats. The Republicans, by using unethical tactics, are basically saying something else. Specifically, that:
1. it doesn’t matter if Americans have more choice, because the Republican party will use whatever methods they have to in order to win – ethical or not – and
2. the Republican party is not confident enough in its attraction to voters to believe that it is capable of winning an election without extra competition to dectract votes from its only practical competitor.

Overall, a sad state of affairs. Basically, both parties are participating in insuring that Americans have two effective choices come the elections – and if the Republicans successfully manipulate the election process enough, only one viable candidate. Whatever happened to sportsmanlike democracy, where you take your wins or losses with grace without using slimy tactics to undermine your competitor? Oh, wait – democracy…that has to do with politics, and what are politics if not slimy? Oh well. Maybe one day Americans will get fed up with having limited (or no) choice and actually do something about it – and maybe one day pigs will fly. Neither one is gonna happen any time soon.

Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code

My rant du jour is actually two-part, but given the propensity of J.K. Rowling to title her books “Harry Potter and the…” it seems fitting to title this as I did. Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code. Somehow that just sounds frightening, doesn’t it?

As always, some disclosure to start things off. I’ve read the first three Harry Potter books; I believe Rowling is on what, book six? And I’ve never read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Still, I feel qualified to judge both of these based on a variety of reasons, the most important of which being simply that I feel like it.

So, let’s begin. The Da Vinci Code. Oddly enough, I’ve seen this book in the news so many times in the past few months, but I have never once heard any friend or acquaintance of mine mention it. I suppose that’s not a big deal, but if it was THAT good, you’d think that at least one person I know (and I do know many, many people) would be bragging about it. Not even the most pretentious intellectual snobs I know have reported reading this book, nor have any of my Stephenson-and-Eco-reading hacker [in the original sense of the word, dammit!] buddies mentioned it.

Still, I continually see it in the news. That didn’t bug me, and it would’ve never gotten a word out of me if it weren’t for two things I found today. First, Da Vinci Code readers invade the Louvre. Okay, I get it. Sad. Pathetic. Not noteworthy, since it’s an isolated….wait. Now Da Vinci Code readers harass Milan ‘Last Supper’ guides. Okay, this is becoming noteworthy.

What is it about people these days? I understand that fat, workaholic Americans generally presume that everyone else in the world is like them. That’s why Lidia Sanvito wasn’t shocked at Americans asking her questions about the Last Supper with its obviously feminine character to the right of Christ. I mean, because everyone is like Americans, of course Lidia had read the Da Vinci Code until the covers fell off of her copy. Poor Lidia. And since Dan Brown suggested that the aforementioned figure was actually Mary Magdalene, Lidia says, even Italian Catholics are asking her stupid questions about the painting. Let it go, people. This one has been solved.

To add a nice dash of burning, salty insult to a bleeding injury, Da Vinci Code [DVC] fans are invading the Louvre, harassing the staff and asking dumbass questions like “Is this where the curator died?” What the…? I’m sure that the Louvre’s employees were all there when the curator was most foully murdered, because there is no line between fiction and real life, and the bloody mops are still in a janitorial closet somewhere. Why the hell can’t people get a grip? Oh, that’s because they’re too busy running into St. Sulpice and accusing the priests of running a church built on a pagan temple. I mean, Dan Brown said it, so it must be true. Anyway, just to accomodate these rabid morons, apparently the Louvre is now running special Da Vinci Code tours. Excuse me while I vomit.

Whew, I feel moderately better. Oh, shit. I just read my title and realized I have more to tell. Harry Potter…oh yeah, the boy wizard who magically turned a dull housewife into a billionaire. I don’t begrudge Ms. Rowling her millions; what astonishes me is that people I know actually read this series. Funny enough, not a single person I’ve asked actually thinks that Rowling is a good writer. The conversations go like this:

ME: Why do you think Harry Potter is so popular?
THEM (in chorus): Because he’s the underdog hero who uses magic!
ME: Underdog hero? He’s a stupid little brat who beats up his cousins and disobeys his aunt and uncle.
THEM(chanting): Magic! Magic! Magic! Magic!

The best explanation I can puzzle out is this:
1) Modern kids are so pathetically controlled and disenchanted that Harry Potter offers a way for them to vicariously experience a sense of empowerment. This is incredibly, incredibly sad. They need a fantasy of a school where they matter, where they actually have some power. The whole success is about power, which I think kids lack. They are aware, I think at a younger age than we give them credit for, that they are basically being herded through a system which prepares them not for a future where they have any power and actually matter, but for a life of being herded through one employment after another, none of which matters an iota in the future of human history.

So why do adults read it then?
2) Modern adults are so pathetically controlled and disenchanted that Harry Potter offers a way for them to vicariously experience a sense of empowerment. Having a bad day at work? Did your boss bitch at you? Well, worry no more! Relax and let yourself be enveloped in a world where you can magically banish your troubles. Bully beating you up? Zap ’em. Hungry? Zap some food. Zap this. Zap that. Zap zap zap.

Probably the single most annoying thing about the Harry Potter series is that Rowling’s “world” (if it can be called that) is totally arbitrary. Why does magic work in the Rowling world? Why, when Harry waves that wand of his about, does something magical happen instead of the stupid stick smacking him in the throat and strangling him? No particular reason. There aren’t any spirits or gods or djinns or ANYTHING. And why should we care if Harry fights Voldemort? Everything Rowling says indicates that Harry and Voldemort are somehow the same. *So, now this gets interesting. If Harry and Voldemort are the same, and if Voldemort killed Harry’s parents, then, voila! Harry killed his own parents!

*See, now your boy hero dripping a sad innocence has changed into a snarling little devil who likes to torture babies, is delusional, and is into self-mutilation (“No, VOLDEMORT put that scar there, not me!”). Tell me again. Why should I care about Harry Potter?

No, Rowling’s work is pretty much crap. Entertaining crap, sure. I’ve read worse, and seen worse on TV. However, for Rowling to make $1 billion from something that is crap says something about the world we live in today – and the masses of rabid Dan Brown fans invading art history treasures says the same thing. I’m not sure I like that message.

*My girlfriend is a Harry Potter fan, and has pointed out that I’m taking elements of the story literally when they’re meant to be figurative. As I explained to her, this is intentional. A full treatise on what’s wrong with the story would require days to write and a book’s worth of space, and I simply don’t care that much. Plus, this version is much more fun.:-)