Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, February 9, 2007 9:52 pm

It ain’t a spectator sport

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 9:52 pm

(Originally published in The Lex Files at, now no longer available.)

One of the issues raised during and after Tuesday night’s public meeting on the Guilford College assault case was reporting a crime: Who should do it, when, how; what the obligations of police are when a crime is reported, and so on.

First, the obligations of the police are pretty clear. And as I noted earlier, the obligations of the victim are just as clear, although the victim’s sense of urgency understandably might be mitigated by a more pressing need to, first, ensure survival.

No, it’s everyone else I want to ruminate on, and ultimately lecture, because I heard at least one thing that left me feeling pretty grumpy that I think I can talk about without giving anyone a case of the journalistic-ethics vapors.

At Guilford, we have a situation in which an unknown but apparently significant number of people witnessed a fight. In this fight, from all accounts, some people were hitting some other people in the head with something hard — brick, rock, construction rebar, I don’t know, but certainly nothing you could wash your face with.

As anyone who has seen such an assault in real life as opposed to just watching cartoon violence on TV knows, these things never end well. And yet, so far as is known, nobody called 911.

I heard some people say that the culture at Gulford College encourages people to try to deal internally with incidents. That’s not unique to Guilford, as I observed. But here’s a fact: We have institutions designed to deal with violent felonies. And here’s another fact: Private, Quaker-affiliated liberal-arts colleges are not among those institutions, no matter how qualified they might be for other missions. And, finally, here’s an opinion, a bit of an elaboration on what I said in the previous thread: If you see someone hit someone else in the head with something hard, you need to contact the type of institution designed to deal with that type of action. That means paramedics with an ambulance, because someone with a head wound can go from woozy but coherent to dead damn quick, and it means a cop with a gun, because someone who already has put a hole in someone’s head might well figure he has nothing left to lose.

In short, you need to call 911.

But I also heard something Tuesday night that requires a response, and that was the claim that some people might have been so traumatized by what they saw that they have not yet been able to report what they saw … to GPD or anyone else.

Mentally, at the time, I rejected that argument both as to its substance and to its implications. After a bit of sleep reflection, I decided that, while that kind of PTSD certainly happens, it still doesn’t justify even temporary silence in the real world.

When you were growing up, you probably wanted to be an adult, and so you observed all the conventions and took all the steps that are part and parcel of trying out for the grownup team. And congratulations! You made the team. You’ve got the jersey. The coach knows your name.

But despite whatever you might have inferred or been told, being on the grownup team isn’t a sentence to 50 years of riding pine, even if that’s all you want.

With the rights of adulthood, you assume certain obligations. Some are spelled out in the law, like jury duty. Others are less tangibly defined, but no less important.

To continue the bad sports metaphor (the prerogative of every middle-aged man) and bring it into a Quaker context, as much as you might just want to ride the bench, sometimes the spirit, or Spirit, isn’t just going to move you, it is going to call your number, pat you on the butt and send you into the game.

If you were there on Jan. 20, you’re in the game, the ball has come your way, and I’m pretty sure the Spirit doesn’t want to hear you whine about it. I know I don’t.

Not to sound like a premature curmudgeon, but right now tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines your age in Iraq don’t care how traumatized you might be by what you might have seen, because they’re seeing worse. For that matter, many people your age are more badly traumatized by things they experience in this country every day than you were — they see homicides, suicides, wrecks, child abuse, spousal abuse, industrial accidents, you name it. Many of them never get over what they see. It’s awful. I get that. In many cases, there is nothing we can do to prevent experiencing such a thing; in no case is there any real way to prevent the horrible effects even witnessing the experience will have.

Having had a few such folks tell me their stories over the years, I ache for all of them. And believe it or not, I ache for you, too — IF you have stepped up and gotten in touch with the police, nagged them if you had to, and made sure they understood exactly what you saw, what you do and do not know about what happened on campus on the early morning of Jan. 20, and how they and prosecutors can get back in touch with you when and if necessary until this whole mess is laid out. It isn’t just whoever the victims of Jan. 20 were who are counting on you. It’s all of us.

Once you have taken that step, then by all means go get counseling or do whatever it is you need to do to mitigate the damage that your experience has done to you. I’m absolutely not being snarky now. Just, please, first go meet that minimum obligation of any grownup, even a newly minted one, who was there that night and saw what happened.

Now, you kids get off my lawn.

Posted by Lex Alexander at 09:52 PM

Monday, February 5, 2007 11:16 pm

Can’t slow down …

Filed under: Housekeeping — Lex @ 11:16 pm

… so I gotta stop, temporarily.

(And, no, this is not a publicity stunt. Or, if so, it’s a damned stupid one. It took me until November to get back to the readership level I enjoyed the last time I took a sabbatical.)

I have a number of projects on my plate that have been hanging fire way too long, so, with the exception of a short upcoming post featuring some of Hooper’s recent artwork (which I’ve scanned but must re-size before posting), I’m going to take a break of indeterminate length. That post will be clocked behind this one, so no one will wonder where I went.

Some of my extracurricular activity will be visible. For one thing, cut-and-paste by cut-and-paste, I’m going to knock down the backlog of unposted archives here. (UPDATE: I might re-format some, but any substantive changes will be clearly labeled as updates, like this one.)

But most of it will be off-grid. For one thing, I want to re-read the whole Harry Potter series before the last book comes out July 21, and if I started right this second, given everything else going on, I still might not finish. Got some other, personal, stuff to deal with too. (Nothing acutely life-threatening, nor even health-related, so neither despair nor rejoice.) But despite 3 1/2 decades of trying to prove otherwise, there really are only 24 hours in a day.

Like the blog says, reality will not ignore you. Time to heed my own warning.

I’ll jack the shotgun to give you some warning before I start shooting again. ‘Til then, peace.

(FINAL UPDATE: While I’m gone, comments are disabled, mainly as an anti-spam measure. You can e-mail me if you feel the need.)

Clash of the morons

Filed under: Geek-related issues — Lex @ 9:43 pm

If there is a way for either Viacom OR Google to screw this up, they’ll both find it. Copyright law, the past 15 years or so, has been where American ingenuity has gone to die.

(Hat tip to Phred for the item)

The dangers of modernizing Biblical text, or, Why I should stop taking Benadryl before church

Filed under: Weird — Lex @ 6:17 am

I don’t have any special problem with modern-English translations of the Bible. I was brought up on the King James, but I realize a lot of people weren’t, or weren’t brought up Christian at all, so whatever provides a workable entry point for them is good with me. And the whole discussion about literal, word-by-word translation vs. sense-of-the-passage translation interests me but is not relevant to this particular post.

No, the point of this particular post is that when you attempt to modernize Scripture, sometimes, for reasons beyond your control, what your listeners hear is not what you intend. For that matter, it’s probably not what they intend, which makes it no easier. Consider this passage from yesterday’s sermon text at my church, Luke 5:1-11, in which Jesus shows off his m4d fishin skillz and, as He is wont to do, follows up with some mad parablin’. We’re looking specifically at Verse 10, and it appears we’re looking at the New Living Translation:

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch people.”

Now, compare this version, or translation, with the essentially identical passages at Matthew 4:19 and Mark 1:17, describing the same incident, in the New International Version. That translation dates, if memory serves, to the late 1960s:

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

“I will make you fishers of men” vs. “From now on you will catch people.”

So, what’s my point? Modern vs. way modern translations? Sexism, actual or potential, v. gender inclusiveness in translations? Jesus being the actor vs. the disciples being the actors?

No, my point, as I said above, is that sometimes listeners bring things to what they hear that the speaker simply can’t anticipate and accommodate.

This was one of those times.

[UPDATE: And it wasn’t the first time, either.]

Saturday, February 3, 2007 4:19 pm

Yes! My evil plan to protect my daughter is working!

Filed under: Fun,Why, yes, I AM a bad parent. Why do you ask? — Lex @ 4:19 pm

Victoria (to friend, while playing Barbie/Ken): Yeah, he started dating a girl. I don’t know why. Nineteen is way too young to be dating.

More T-shirts I hope to sell someday

Filed under: T-shirts I hope to sell someday — Lex @ 3:43 pm

Never underestimate the creative possibilities of dynamite

T-shirts I hope to sell someday

Filed under: T-shirts I hope to sell someday — Lex @ 2:55 pm

Another new category, added because these days my posts need to be quick ‘n’ easy.

If you don’t want me to look at your chest, don’t put writing on your shirt.

(Or pictures, but that would probably have to be a separate version.)

Yet another reason why capital punishment for trolls is just liberal do-goodism.

Filed under: Housekeeping — Lex @ 12:59 pm

I opened up the blog just now to find that the number of comments accumulated during a single day had hit a record by a wide margin — and all but about four were spam.

That doesn’t surprise me. Every now and then the spammers get hold of an IP address or range that hasn’t been used for that purpose before, and it takes the spam filters (and WordPress’s Akismet filter is a very good one) a day or two to catch up.

What’s noteworthy about this is that every single one of the spam posts said, in their texts, how bad spam is. That’s like having someone defecate on your front porch and then nailing a note to your door saying how awful it is when people defecate on your front porch. The difference is, you know they’re both going to try to come back, but with the defecater*, you can at least sit in the bushes with a double-barreled shotgun loaded with rock salt.

*Copyright dibs on this word. Anyone seeking to make a movie with this title owes me a large pepperoni/pesto pizza from My Father’s Pizza in Black Mountain.

Friday, February 2, 2007 6:59 am

Aural virus for Feb. 1*

Filed under: Aural viruses — Lex @ 6:59 am

Another new category: aural viruses, which are songs that get up in your head without so much as a by-your-leave, then sit around eating your brain cells. Sort of like an annoying in-law, only slightly more responsive to yelling. I get these almost every day, often in the shower (which is only one of many reasons why I’ve never bought a shower radio). Whether it’s because of a mental disorder or my misspent youth in the music/radio bidness, I can’t say.

Today’s is actually not a bad one by the standards of the virus genre, and because it’s not so bad and therefore elicits a reaction beyond brief and harsh emesis, I’ll write about it in a bit more detail than you’ll probably be able to expect on upcoming subjects in this category. It’s “Kiss the Girl,” written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken and performed by Samuel E. Wright in the 1988 animated Disney movie “The Little Mermaid” as a kind of calypso piece. It was later covered by, among others, Soul II Soul, whose version I haven’t heard but might like to. More recently, it has been covered as a more straight-ahead pop-rock number by another Disney creation, Ashley Tisdale, and I’ve been exposed to it because it’s in heavy rotation at Radio Disney, which my kids like to have on in the car. Her version isn’t bad either, except for the faux-ethereal ooo-ing and ah-ing in the intro and bridge.

I can think of two versions that haven’t been recorded that I would like to hear. One is by the late, great North Carolina band The Pressure Boys. Their heavily ska-ish sound, flavored with trumpet, trombone and sax, strikes me as a potentially interesting variation on the calypso tune.

The other would be an arrangement and vocal interpretation by Sting. Sounds weird, but think back 25 years to “Every Breath You Take.” What made that song so striking was the contrast between the sunny lyrics and the underlying emotion — it turned an ostensible love paean to a creepy stalker anthem. “Kiss the Girl” is vulnerable to even more extreme interpretation. Consider these lyrics:

Yes, you want her
Look at her, you know you do
It’s possible she wants you too
There’s one way to ask her
It don’t take a word, not a single word
Go on and kiss the girl

Is the narrator just playing Cyrano, suggesting how the guy (or, for that matter, girl) he addresses might spark some romance? Or is he (or, even more creepily, she) trying to solicit a sexual assault by proxy?

Given that that third line could be honest speculation or self-delusion, and betrays a sense of entitlement all too common in rapists and abusers, I guess it’s all in how you sing it.

*Yesterday’s virus, but I didn’t get to write the post until today. Haven’t had a virus today, but haven’t had a shower yet, either. See Paragraph 1.

(UPDATE: Minor edits for clarity; comments now enabled.)

“Tough as a metal boot …”*

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 6:38 am

… but, sadly, not too tough to die.

That’d be political columnist Molly Ivins, who died Wednesday after several bouts with a virulent form of breast cancer only slightly tougher than she was. (Nice obits here and here.)

Over at my friend and colleague Allen Johnson‘s blog, commenter Jim Langer said, “Perhaps history will vindicate Ms. Ivins’ ire and biting sarcasm, as it did Daumier and Goya.”

Puh-leeze. If she hadn’t been a woman and a Southerner, she’d have been able to enjoy that sort of prestige while she still lived. That’s not political correctness, that’s just stone fact. Either one of those characteristics makes a lot of people nervous. The combination sends a lot of people who ought to know better, mainly effete Northeastern liberals, West Coast granola types and some Southern men who have no idea in what contempt some of the women in their lives hold them, off to the fainting couches. It also enrages the sort of privileged types who find the combination threatening (for good reason), whereas those of us who grew up with steel magnolias in iron boots for, you know, mother and aunts and sisters and all just take that sort of thing for granted.

How good a journalist was she? Outstanding by the most reliable of all possible assessments: She was right, often years in advance, about most things she covered. That’s not just being prescient, that’s not foretelling the future, that’s being able not only to gather all the facts (and the right facts), it’s also knowing enough about how the world works and being immune to myths about same to know where those facts inexorably will lead us. She was so right about George W. Bush in particular that her books and columns about him need to be in the National Archives. Her reward for this was to be belittled when she wasn’t ignored. Hell, my own paper dropped her. And her work was derided as as Bush hatred. Let me be polite: That’s garbage. The only things I know of that she hated were breast cancer and bad bourbon.

In fact, people who accuse her of hating Bush just flat befuddle me. In addition to being objectively untrue, the claim also reflects a basic, and huge, gap in the in the educations of those who make it. Let me help them out — and, yes, I’m being patronizing and condescending as hell here, but they deserve it — with a lesson they should have learned in high school because it dates to ancient Athens: Humor flows, and satire races, uphill. Only turds flow downhill. When the downtrodden mock their betters, that’s humor. When the privileged mock the hoi polloi, that’s bullying. That’s not just a perspective or a point of view or an opinion, that is an essential characteristic of human discourse. Molly Ivins knew that, acted upon it, lived it. To the extent there was any hatred in this dynamic, it was from those who hated her for knowing, and speaking, the truth about that dynamic.

She came out of a progressive Southern political tradition that dates to the era of FDR and survives for the best of motives (if not always the best of methods). I’ve often disagreed with some of what that tradition espouses, yet I’ve never bought any attempt at justifying its conversion in the public consciousness, though not in fact, into lunatic lefty socialist commie pinko bitchism.

Ivins told great stories. She told great jokes. Frequently those two were indistinguishable. She made the Texas legislature understandable even to out-of-staters. Many lifelong Texas residents do not understand the Texas legislature. Many of those folks serve in it. One of her classic lines, about a member of that not-so-august body, went to the effect that if he got any dumber, he’d have to be watered twice a week.

She said, loudly and often, that American journalism’s greatest sins (as opposed to most numerous) are those of omission, not commission. It’s true. It always has been true. And when I say that, most of my industry’s critics look at me funny. Their opinion is not relevant. I’m in the belly of the beast. I know. She once reported for The New York Times. If the Times had made her the editor instead of Howell Raines, I am reasonably sure the country wouldn’t be in as much trouble as it’s in today. I can guarandamntee you that paper wouldn’t be.

Molly Ivins deserved much better than being the journalistic Cassandra of the past 15 or 20 years with a big dollop of breast cancer on top. Anyone tempted to think that life is even slightly fair should reflect thereupon.

*Quote from Ivins’ brother, Andy.

UPDATE: More link love from Maru. Y’all make yourselves comfortable. Come for the sincere obituaries, stay for the screeds and alleged humor. And please tip your waitrons. Thank you. I’ll be here all week.

Geek love sadism

Filed under: Geek-related issues — Lex @ 6:06 am

… at XKCD

(This brings back hazy memories of jokes associated with the “rounding errors” in the first Pentium chip (I think it was), but none I can recall verbatim now).

Thursday, February 1, 2007 12:00 pm

And you thought the elevator music you heard today was bad …

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 12:00 pm

Grandfather Trout heard something even worse:

Dear unknown “lite jazz” musician who was playing in the background at the dentist’s this morning:I don’t care who you are. I don’t care that you gave it a vaguely funky percussion line.

You have recorded “Take Five” in 4/4 time. The penalty is death. Please report to the nearest Chamber of Release immediately.

And don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way in there. It’s a new millennium, baby, and we are not coddling criminals.

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