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Archive: January 2004

The Time of Troubles

If you encountered the Time of Horrible Error Messages Everywhere this weekend, you may rest assured that that dark time is over.

Mailing List: just kidding

It needs a bit more testing…

Creative Commons

I’d meant to talk about this in the last post… We have a Creative Commons license, as I mentioned a couple days ago. This means that you are free to:

  • copy, distribute, display, and perform the work and
  • make derivative works

as long as you:

  • give the original author(s) credit and
  • don’t use this work for commercial purposes and
  • release any alterations, transformations, derivations, etc. of our texts under the same Creative Commons license that we use.

Our CC license is a poltical statement, our own small voices against the sort of copyright fuckery which allows Disney to sue schoolteachers who put pictures of Winnie the Pooh in their classrooms.

If you don’t want to waive any of your copyright but want to free your work from being tied up in copyright until decades after you’re dead, Creative Commons offers legal assistance for other alternatives to standard copyright, including a Founders’ Copyright that grants you copyright as described in the United States’ 1790 copyright law. For the DJs in the audience, there’s a Sampling License (useful not only for DJs, but for any artist who wants to incorporate and play with bits of others’ works).

Updates!

  • We’ve got WordPress 1.01 Release Candidate 1 running here. If you encounter any problems with the site, go ahead and let us know so we can report any bugs to the WordPress developers.
  • Archive pages now have previous/next links—previous and next month for monthly archives, previous and next day for daily archives, previous and next post for individual-post archives, &c. These have been working for several days, actually, but now they’re actually working well. Hopefully this will make archive navigation a little more convenient.
  • Mailing list! Navigate to http://blog.peiratikos.net/list/ and sign up to get email notifications of new posts on the blog.
  • Blogs on the blogroll that have been updated less than 4 hours ago have a →. Yay.
  • We’ve got our little XHTML/HTML and CSS links to the W3C’s validators down in the bottom left corner of the browser window, see?

    “But Steven, why do you use XHTML 1.1 and HTML 4.01, and why do your HTML documents validate only as HTML 4.01?”

    I know you’re all thinking that now, right? Well, I’ll tell you! I already talked about this, actually, but now there’s a new nuance to the problem: the W3C HTML validator doesn’t tell my web server that it recognizes application/xhtml+xml (I assume it actually does), so the validator receives the HTML 4.01 documents I have set up for Internet Explorer. Oh well!

Kids these days!

I got an ad in the mail today offering me a free issue of Teen People and I’m going to have to turn it down because I’m afraid I’d want to subscribe. Now, as a teenager, I didn’t read such things, but now I’m fascinated with youth culture and the messages given to teens. I suppose Teen People might somehow be more sophisticated than other teen magazines and have some sort of pseudonews content, but I’m sure the makeup tips would still be too sophisticated for me to follow.

Also, is Valentine’s Day really a big deal? I mean, people actually do the dinner and flowers bit? See, debate has sprung up over the propriety of scheduling regional quizbowl (team quick recall) competition for the hardcore academic format quizbowl on that date. Clearly it’s a point of pride to be unnerdy enough to get a girlfriend, and I’m sure that’s a worthwhile endeavor for some, but it’s ridiculous to watch people bragging about it on a public forum. And then making jokes about other people’s masculinity to improve their own social standing. Somehow masculinity jokes have never been high on my list of things I find hilarious and biting and I have plenty of thoughts about the roles women get put into in such interactions. So I’m linking, but I can’t say I recommend anyone going to read, unless there’s some comparative analysis of geekdoms being done by any comics fans. At any rate, it’s just useful to see the same sorts of comments in different male-dominated niches. I’ll have to ask my brother if sports works this way. Sometimes it seems like everything else does. What I really wonder about is these girlfriends, whether they want this or are just using tradition as leverage for something else. Or whether the girlfriends even care about Valentine’s Day, I guess. It could be one big ruse. So many options!

In other news, I’m headed out of town for the rest of today and tomorrow. The blog is in good hands with Steven, and I’ll come back exhausted and with little to say, I imagine. And I’m off.

Upgrading the blog

Well, you’ve probably noticed the total lack of style on the site right now. We’re in the middle of a fairly major overhaul of the site which is taking longer than expected… CSS should be functional sometime today. Also watch out for some fun new features.

Number One Scariest Dean Web Site

Crushies for Dean wins!

Our group is open to anyone who wants to join us in swooning over Howard Dean and discussing why (as one of our founding crushies wrote: “is it his confidence? his compassion? his sincerity? his intelligence? his…well, this could go on and on! Let’s just say it’s all of those amazing character traits and…that look in his eyes…”).

Howard Dean

X-Men, Cyclops, love triangles

Big Sunny D responds to our X-Men blogging. What he says about recent developments in Cyclops’s soap-opera love triangle sound very good to me, and I think the connected Scott-Emma-Jean and Scott-Jean-Logan love-triangle plotting has been a central focus for the New X-Men themes I’m interested in. Right now I’m thinking: the Cassandra Nova storyarc plays with the themes in a crazy overwrought fantasy metaphor, New X-Men: Riot at Xavier’s does them as a revisionist critique of the X-Men political metaphor, the Weapon Plus stuff does them as a story about turning control of your self over to a higher power. And the love triangles revolving around Scott’s pathetic motionlessness is of course doing them as good old-fashioned X-Men soap opera. Moreover, I read the soap-opera plotting as metacriticism, about the X-Men property itself losing control of its narrative in decades of directionless subplotting muck.

“It must be getting rather tedious, Scott dear. These reruns of your grief.” That’s a great line, hinting at that metacriticism. Is Scott’s absurd love life a microcosm of the X-Men, endlessly repeating old stories, the Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past, Days of Apocalypse, ad absurdum? Morrison’s New X-Men has been hailed (and derided) as the first truly new thing to happen to the X-Men in a long time, but look what we get: Phoenix. Soap opera. A now-he’s-dead-now-he’s-not plot twist with Magneto. An apocalyptic-future storyline. Ooh hoo, the newness. Is what’s new a sense of playfulness about the way the stories are told? I hasten to note that New X-Men is practically the first X-Men comic I’ve ever read, but I get the impression (from, e.g. J.W. Hastings’s post on the X-Men) that the X-Men have been rather a serious and grim bunch for quite a while. The Stan Lee/Jack Kirby X-Men issues I’ve read are not surprisingly very fun and playful, so the fun and playfulness of New X-Men isn’t so new, but it certainly seems to be a change. Even when bogged down in the awful art and nonsensical mysticism of the Cassandra Nova story, Grant Morrison manages to keep his words both light and serious, joking around (”You’re my favorite super hero, Scott,” one of my favorite lines) and suggesting some pretty heavy thematic stuff below the surface, which kept me going without too much effort even as I gnashed my teeth at hideously drawn characters babbling about evil psychic twins built out of Charles’s spare body cells.

I’m not as confident with thinking and talking about the art as I am the writing, but I have some vague ideas about it. I think one thing Frank Quitely manages to do is capture Morrison’s sense of energy and fun. And there’s something about his tiny stick-figurish Emma and Jean that’s both creepy and endearing, I don’t know what.

I’m getting really interested in the Cassandra Nova stuff in preparation for Cassandra returning in Here Comes Tomorrow. My goal for this weekend is to reread the first couple TPBs and blog my thoughts on them. I also need to think more on the evolution of the X-Men concept over the decades, which is going to require an expedition in search of early-Claremont-era stuff, probably some Essential X-Men and maybe the Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past if I see them.

Self-Indulgent Grousing on Taste and Kitsch

Edited to correct tags

I wanted to join in on the high/low discussions I found through David’s post (Dave? Curse you inconsistent nicknamed folks, and that goes double for you, Steven!) but I found myself unable to look away from Michael Blowhard’s Thread of Death, which is ostensibly about the distinction between movie people and book people, but the comments are only about books and about how everyone who reads the blog is better than book people. Since I was already grouchy from much meanness and nonsense at work, this thread has only worsened my mental state.

The basic argument I see is that movie people (and by this Michael Blowhard initially meant people involved in the movie biz, although I’m not sure this remained a consistent definition) like artsy, incisive stuff as well as the homespun lowbrow fun that packs them in at the local multiplex. They love the worlds of high art and trash, although perhaps they adhere to their own form of the Law of the Excluded Middle. Book people (ditto as appropriate w/r/t professional status) like pretentious stuff that no one reads except to get status points, the ideal being a book that’s obscure but not so obscure that namedropping it would be a waste of effort. Book people laugh at Stephen King and his silly bestsellers, apparently.

Now, there’s probably little doubt that were I to work in the publishing industry I’d be a book person. As it is now, I just get annoyed at the silliness. I mean, come on, people! “I’m so adventuresome and not at all prudish because I’m really proud to read books with explicit sex!” (and the sex theme annoyed me the most) “Trashy books are great!” “I love lots of YA authors whose names I can’t spell!” I don’t like anti-intellectualism ever, and it was even more annoying for me to see all the ad hominem attacks against literature professors. I didn’t take lit classes in the English department, but I hung out with the teachers, and they were all mixing in graphic novels and memoirs and all sorts of non-stuffy works. In the one English class I did take, I had to do a literary analysis of a romance novel, in part so that none of us could ever again say, “I’ve never read a romance novel.” (Mine was The Moon Lord, and I’m happy to expand on the fascinating sexual politics involved. I’m not kidding.)

I guess where I’m having trouble following all these people is the idea of reading things differently. I’m a fast reader, and always have been. I read three books last weekend and will probably finish another tonight, and that’s just during baths. This has never seemed like a big deal to me. And so I’m always less than impressed by people who read it in a single sitting! I realize that other people aren’t like this and I’d already been thinking about it this evening because of a classmate of Steven’s last semester who’d said of some book they were assigned that maybe she should read it “like a textbook” instead of a novel, and that that might make it more acceptable. I generally read textbooks just like novels. They’re still stories, and a good one should be gripping and have the same flashes of poetry. This is certainly true in the fields where I read most — classics, Islamic studies, anthropology, cultural criticism… (And since I mentioned Islamic studies, I deserve some sort of prize for not making any “People of the Book” jokes until now.) I don’t read knitting patterns the same way, or crossword puzzles or shampoo bottles, but I go into most books looking for the same things, ready to be impressed or inspired by the language and what lies behind that. Some comics thing online (The X-Axis? Maybe Gone & Forgotten?) made an “outside of a dog” pun and I swooned. I got just as excited translating (SPOILER!) Dido’s death (Ok, you can look) in The Aeneid and realizing there was a lovely allusion to some Greek lyric poetry.

Maybe I should file this under “Meta,” since I fear all it’s doing is making me look like the thing I hate, someone who thinks I’m better than everyone else. I actually think most people have an advantage over me, becuase my visual/image skills are really not great, although improving at last. The point is that I don’t want to be an arbiter of taste and I really don’t want people who don’t realize what pure cliches they are putting themselves in that position either. I like lots of things that are considered highbrow Big Culture, and also plenty of things all down the spectrum. I’m picky and I’m (probably rightly) considered a snob, but I do sample. I just want to be able to have fun with At Swim, Two Boys, which I bought and enjoyed after reading a New York Times book review that stuck with me for years, and with Joan of Arcadia (more on this later, I fear!) and Akiko and X-Statix. Reading texts of all sorts is fun, or at least fun for me. I’m just completely lost with this whole supposed dichotomy, since no one ever adheres to it. Of course, that’s the point of dichotomies, right?

At any rate, thanks to David and all the other people who are being reasonable about this. And, really, to all the people who commented on the Blowhards thread. There are a lot of fun books recommended there. I’m just being cranky and letting myself get annoyed, but if there’s one thing that really upsets me (outside of a dog, and certain coworkers’ habits) it’s the idea that criticism is bad, that taking anything apart destroys it. The point of texts (used loosely to encompass the domains of movie people and book people and still more other people) is that they live in an unkillable way, that the metaphors of live dissection just don’t hold. I realize there’s a related trope that innocence can’t be regained, but that’s just how things work because we work like texts, to get back to one of my current themes.

As an example the YA lovers can appreciate, I reread Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Changeling and, reading about the hints at one character’s homelife thought, “Whoa, she’s being molested!” I’m not saying this was “the right” interpretation, and maybe it’s because I don’t believe in such ideals that I can take texts apart and see what they look like when I put them together in different ways. But I couldn’t read the book without that question, even though it didn’t cross my mind to elucidate the abuse she suffered when I read it as a nine-year-old. What I don’t see is why anyone would want to go back to have fewer thoughts and less awareness and lack history and knowledge of life and the world. If anything, it made me happy that I had appreciated the book but that maybe it would have had special meaning to another child who understood that particular pain or to readers with interpretations I haven’t yet considered. Polysemy is not a curse. Words have meanings and meanings have meanings.

Somebody stop me before I reply to Peter David’s thoughts on the new Peter Pan or I make people stop reading this blog altogether. I will sleep, and in the morning I will be happier and then at 7 am I’ll be at work. And the story could go anywhere from there.

More X-Men Metaphors: Role Models and Leadership

In talking with Steven about his current fascination with the X-Men, I ended up rereading Eve’s post about why she likes them. One paragraph in particular has stuck with me:

If you read “X-Men” as a book about leadership, you won’t be disappointed–and leadership is something I could think about all day. It’s an endlessly fascinating topic to me, since I was pretty much forced into a leadership role I wasn’t suited for, and had to figure out how to make it mine. I think I did. I’ve seen my debating society hijack a lot of lives, and so I’ll read anything that helps me understand how it exists and how its particular brand of alienated, intense, political personal leadership works. “X-Men” resonated.

In college, before Steven read X-books, the people I talked to about them were all, like me, seriously overloaded with intellectually rigorous activist leadership responsibilities. This was obviously partly a function of the nature of my peer group — although I’m including professors and administrators in it too — that we readers were all women with heavy leadership burdens. I don’t remember ever talking about whether we read as a sort of cheap therapy, but I think we all intuitively connected with a lot of the dynamics and personal setbacks the team endured.

Back then, I was falling too deeply into metaphors, dealing with my life by partitioning it into more manageable fictional pieces. I could cry for Betty Banner because I couldn’t enunciate my own pain. I could understand X-Men problems and didn’t always think about how they weren’t such a stretch from my own seemingly endless inability to get my fellow executive board members in the same room or to make people keep their phones on when on-call for hotline duty. I wonder now if they were doing the same thing, relaxing with the X-Men in the same way we’d decompress with each other, with people who understand and care. It wasn’t escapist fiction, because even the happy “endings” are never satisfying or complete, but it was certainly encouraging to see the successes the team has, though it was easier (at least for me) to identify with the setbacks.

In talking about geek pride and alienated teenagers, maybe I didn’t stress enough the power of hope, that no matter how different from “normal” you may feel, you can, through much effort, be a profitable member of a society you shape. Part of the continuing theme of the X-books, as I read them, has been an effort to get the reader to identify with the X-Men, but not without recognizing the humanity and integrity of the groups with whom they have conflict. As someone who spent a lot of time working toward a little legacy of change on the campus, I’d be encouraged to think this was something incoming freshmen were thinking about, issues of mutual respect and philosophy of leadership and responsibility and modes of social change. If you can get that from X-Men, that’s as good a place as any.