Death Troopers

Death Troopersby Joe Schreiber

Star Wars zombies.  Yep, you read it right.  Death Troopers follows the adventures of several inmates and workers on an Imperial prison barge that finds itself adrift in space right next to a ghost ship Star Destroyer with the lights on but nobody home… or so it seems! A few thoughts:

  • I haven’t read any Star Wars novels before, but this one fit other fictionalizations of the SW universe that I’ve encountered (comics, video games, the RPG).  It assumes the reader knows the universe well, but doesn’t demand that the reader know too much background information, at least that I can see.  It’s possible that some of the characters are from other novels and I just didn’t know that (Wookiepedia doesn’t indicate any). I like the chronological layout of all the SW novels in the timeline at the beginning of the novel.  There’s something nerdily satisfying about complete and consistent canons.
  • The writing was distinctly action fiction, with solid descriptions of action and decent, if quick, characterizations.  The focus on the narrative moving forward with a briefly developed explanation of the zombie virus.  Not provocative or evocative syntax, but I suspect the SW brand limits the scope of a writer’s vocabulary in order to keep the book at an accessible level to hit the YA market.
  • When I think about the writing here, I wonder whether it was really any worse than some of the other action-oriented genre fiction I’ve read, like William Shatner’s Tekwar or William Deitz’s Legion of the Damned.  My instinct is that it was more limited, but not only because the novels need to hit a specific market.  I think writing within an established universe limits your ability to be creative about world-building, and one of the thing the cheesiest action sf has that this misses is new worlds to explore.  Ironically, the familiar setting removes a crucial element of novelty.
  • Minor spoiler: It turns out I don’t like reading novels with Han Solo in them.  Han feels like an enigma to me, a brash adventurer with a good side (Sam Spade/ Rick Blaine in space?), and so to know his inner thoughts, as we do several times in the novel, undermines that mystery.  That said, I was pretty surprised to find anyone from the main stories here.  Who knew Han and Chewy had a run-in with space zombies less than five years before they met Luke in Tatooine?

Death Troopers is fine for what it is, an adventure novel within an established universe.  But it also underwhelms for character development  and syntax. Schreiber’s concept left open the possibility for a sequel, but he also wrote in a safety net so that the novel could be a standalone without the reader wondering what happened to the zombies.

  • Spoiler: The zombies in the novel are created by a dark substance, some sort of black goo, which is manufactured by the infected bodies.  The virus infiltrates but stays dormant until it has spread through the body enough to  control it completely.  Then it develops an organ that produces more of the goo.  The zombies themselves have a shared sentience that lets them use blasters and fly ships, but on a rudimentary level akin to the flocking zombies from Steven King’s CELL.

The Amazing Devil-Crashes-Weddings-Wearing Prada-Man

Wedding Crashers The Amazing Spider-Man The Devil Wears Prada

The Amazing Spider-Man
The Devil Wears Prada / Wedding Crashers

Normally, I do double-reviews of films, but while traveling recently, I saw parts of both The Devil Wears Prada and Wedding Crashers.  Instead of reviewing these films separately, I’ll review them all in one big hot mess of commentary and silliness.  Watch out.

The Amazing Spider-Man reboots the web-slinging franchise in solid fashion, upping the angst quotient and shifting Peter Parker from dweeby do-gooder to slacker do-gooder.  He also builds his own web slingers now.  The Devil Wears Prada follows the adventures of a wannabe journalist working as the assistant for the malicious and manipulative editor of Vogue Runway.  Wedding Crashers is about two dudes who pick up chicks at weddings they weren’t invited to.  Only this time, the ladies crash their hearts.

Man, I should write copy for posters.

A few thoughts about these movies:

  • Spidey and the Wedding Crashers both have to deal with intimidating fathers.  I can’t decide who would be more scary to sit across from at the dinner table: Dennis Leary or Christopher Walken.  Walken, for his part, sports a Gary-Oldman elderly-vampire pompador in Wedding Crashers.
  • Spidey and Andy (Anne Hathaway’s protagonist from Devil) both deal with angry talkings-to from stern authority figures, though Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben oscillates between understanding and grumpy much more easily than does Meryl Streep.
  • Oddly, the narratives in the three films follow the narrative arc that the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man franchise followed.  To whit: 1) In Spider-Man, he discovers that with great power comes great responsibility. The Amazing Spider-Man follows a very similar arc of discovery. 2) In Spider-Man 2, he gets overwhelmed with the burden of being Spider-Man and abandons the role, at least for a time.  Wedding Crashers focuses (at one point) on the torment the pickup-artist lifestyle brings to Owen Wilson, so he abandons it. 3) In Spider-Man 3 Spidey gets high on his power and becomes a different person, taking up cruel swing dancing for some reason.  Sigh.  The Devil Wears Prada takes this change in personality as the central lesson to be learned — power and Jimmy Chu shoes corrupt.
  • Only The Amazing Spider-Man has Rhys Ifans as a key supporting character.  While Stanley Tucci and Will Farrel are fine additions to the casts of their films, they’re no Rhys Ifans.  That said, Meryl Streep’s statuesque hair and vicious temper do rival Ifans when he’s in reptile mode.  Zing!
  • The female supporting casts in all three films are great — be it your Rachel McAdams, your Emily Blunt, or your Emma Stone.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man and Devil Wears Prada both underestimate the damage caused by getting hit by a car.  Just saying.

2012-07-29 Tweets

  • Does it drive anyone else crazy that "Gotye" is go-tee-yay instead of "got ya"? #
  • Re: the @mythbusters episode where they find that you can't walk in a straight line if blindfolded — I wonder if blind people can. #
  • Can't stop laughing at this line from FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS: "The day after my birthday isn't my birthday, Mum." #TooFunny #
  • Some gorram bot has started signing spams with my email address. My inbox is filling up with DELIVERY FAILED messages. DAMMIT. #
  • 878 words of fiction tonight. Back on target. #
  • Note to self: get towels from the dryer next time before you shower.. Child's pirate blanket is inadequate yardage to dry adult body. #
  • Integrating the fall 2012 "save the dates" for faculty meetings and whatnot into my calendar. So it begins. #
  • Cat racism: Our orange cat has ditched our gray tabby to hang out with two visiting orange cats. Gray cat sits alone on the back porch. #
  • Listening to My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, just caught a DAY OF THE DEAD sample at the start of a song. Nice. #
  • Did I mention that "Empty Cans" by The Streets is an absolutely amazing song? I love the chord progressions that raise your soul up. #
  • 806 words tonight. Finished RD of Chapter 7 (out of 24) #750words #

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Beneath the Dark Ice

Beneath the Dark Ice
Beneath the Dark Ice

by Grieg Beck; narrated by Sean Mangan

When superhuman special forces soldier Captain Alex Hunter leads the second recovery team to investigate a new cave found under the Antarctic ice, he has no idea what he’s getting himself into.   The elite military squad he commands, along with several scientists and other civilians, thinks they’re investigating a potential new petroleum resource.  Little do they know that something altogether different awaits them in the deep caves … Beneath the Dark Ice.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) A few thoughts:

  • Beck brings the best of the cryptozoological military thriller tradition to this book, blending thrilling action and cool creepy crawlies.  He ratchets up the tension by introducing multiple pressures on our heroes (both psychological and physical), and brings the book to a satisfying conclusion.
  • I’m fond of books that suggest ways evolution may have found a pocket outside the main biosphere we know and love, as in Steve Alten’s MEG or Dave Freeman’s Natural Selection.  Whether there’s any scientific validity to these stories, I have no idea.
  • Beck’s hero, Alex Hunter, is entertaining the way Bruce Willis’ John McLaine is: he’s fun to think about as long as you don’t take him too seriously.  Hunter has more depth than famed action novel hero Mack Bolan, but only just.
  • The other characters are a little better rounded, with the other protagonist, Dr. Aimee Weir getting an equal amount of attention.  The other characters slot nicely into needed archetypes, though the cowardly villain, Dr. Silex (sp?) is a bit extreme.  But really, you don’t read a book like this for complex characters with subtle nuance.
  • Beck does a great job giving life to the main monster in the book (which I won’t detail in too much depth here), giving it an unfamiliar psychology with a believable (sort of) physiology.  Or at least, it’s got a hint of Lovecraftian creepiness about it.

A solid, very enjoyable cryptozoological spelunking military adventure thriller for fans of the genre.  Not a lot beyond that, so not recommended as a serious or weighty tome, but great for what it is.

Quick bullets from my trip to Minnesota

Between Thursday 19 July and Wednesday 25 July, we took a trip to Minnesota for a couple events and to see my family.  A few observations:

  • I thought I had the blog all set up to run on autopilot, but I let you down with no new content on Monday.  My apologies, Dear Reader.
  • I spent a little time in a pool during three of the four days I hung out with my kids.   The two-plus hours in the pool at my aunt and uncle’s house was the best — Finn is getting to be quite the swimmer.
  • Got to watch Jenny kick ass in a 2.5km open water swim on Lake Harriet.  Pretty cool, it was.  I took lots of pics but haven’t sorted them yet.
  • Attended a wedding of my good friend Mike and his bride, Deb.  Good to catch up with old friends. Well done, you too.
  • Went to a birthday dinner for my aunt — Happy birthday, Jeanne!
  • Two nights at a B&B while the kids hung out with grandma.  Great to get away for a couple days and remember what it’s like not to have to urge your table-mates to eat their food and/or use their inside voices.
  • While in Red Wing, I learned a fascinating story about the Sea Wing disaster, in which a steamboat capsized, which resulted in 98 deaths, mostly of women and children who had been put inside the cabin to keep them dry and safe.
  • Also, saw The Dark Knight RisesLoved it.
  • Came back via a night drive from 6:00pm to 12:45am Thursday morning.  Couldn’t get to sleep, and then got to nurse Avery through three middle-of-the-night throw ups, probably from too many Skittles and/or the sugary “Bug Juice” she drank during our only stop on the drive.

Overall, a lovely trip home.  Back to the grindstone.

Zombie me

A while ago I was goofing around with Photoshop and zombified myself.  Here are a couple versions of the pic:
Dead Strong
Dead Strong in ruined building
Zombie me goes to Japan
It turns out these are pretty popular — since I cc-licensed them, they’ve been turning up in all sorts of places. Here are a couple links:

And the most interesting, apparently I’m part of the promotional material for the game Scare Me on xbox.

The Big Net

The Big Year The Net

The Big Year and The Net

I usually don’t put movies I’m re-watching in these double reviews, but I last saw The Net in the theater, in 1995, so it’s almost like seeing a new movie.  The Sandra Bullock thriller follows the terrible adventures of Angela Bennett, who becomes the target of a malevolent criminal hacker conspiracy aimed at gaining control of something or other.  It doesn’t really matter what they want to do, just that they’re able to change all the records of her life so that she becomes someone else as far as the law is concerned. Then she’s on the run, etc etc. You get it.  The Big Year, by contrast, follows the adventures of three birders trying to see as many bird species as possible in a single calendar year.  It’s a charming character study with lovely settings, and well worth the price of admission (it’s running in circulation on HBO right now, so that price is relatively low if you are a subscriber).

A few thoughts about these movies:

  • Obviously, both films explore how new technology changes our world.  The birders in The Big Year take full advantage of the possibilities afforded by the networked world, using cell phones to coordinate and find the latest news.  Up-to-the-minute forecasting shapes their decisions, and they use digital recordings to practice their bird calls.  The Net is limited in this way, being set sixteen years earlier and thus at the birth of the Internet age.  That said, Angela Bennett orders pizza online and teleworks from home.  For being an “amazing” hacker, though, she doesn’t seem to have much in the way of counter-measures against the villains.  Enemy of the State played this same plot much better, to my mind.
  • At the same time, the importance of human interaction stands out as a key plot point in both films.  The Net turns on Bennett’s anti-social personality, her tendency to do everything she can remotely–did I mention that she orders pizza online?!?!?!! Because she’s cultivated almost zero face-to-face relationships, Angela has no one to turn to when the villains change her identity after stealing her passport and other documents.  (Jenny and I discussed this scenario and realized that for most people, it just wouldn’t work — we know too many people in the world around us.)  The Big Year explores the challenges of an all-absorbing habit like birding on the relationships of the people around the birders.  In each of the three storylines, the man has to make a decision about whether to sacrifice pieces of his personal life on the quest for a record-breaking “big year.”
  • The supporting cast in each film features an actor you know well providing emotional support and a solid romantic lead for one of the characters to pursue.  In The Big Year, Rashida Jones plays the tentative love interest for Jack Black’s character.  The Net features Dennis Miller as one of the few people Angela knows face to face.  I’m not going to give anything away, but to tantalize you, I will say that one of these characters faces extreme peril at the hands of a secret cabal of Internet activists, and the other does some impressive bird calls.  Not telling which is which, though.
  • Minor spoiler: Both films feature intense moments of betrayal.  In The Net,  Bennett’s romance with the mysterious stranger (Jeremy Northam) goes sour when it turns out he’s a hitman/hacker hired to retrieve a disc from her.  After they’ve slept together on a boat at sea, he turns on her, reveling in the pain he’s causing as he prepares to murder her.  It’s a brutal scene, one that holds up very well.  Bullock plays the hurt just right.  The Big Year‘s betrayal arc is pretty short, taking up roughly 20 minutes of the film, but it works really well.  Because there’s a competitive aspect to doing a “Big Year,” the birders in the film hide this fact from one another, generally.  When the betrayal over this secret keeping happens, it’s a normal human-scale conflict, and it’s solved in the way real adults solve problems, by talking about them.
  • Other connections: Both films make hay of missed transportation (a crucial missed plane vs a crucial delay in crossing a drawbridge), enjoy exotic locales (tropical beaches vs. frozen North Pacific islands), and employ sneaky people to dig through other people’s things (The Net‘s hackers dig through Angela’s life, while a snooping blog reporter digs through one of the birder’s bags and outs him as doing a big year).

Both films are enjoyable, though The Net has aged poorly.  I think Enemy of the State holds up much better and has an almost identical plot, though they use the trope of giving the running person some expert help, which makes the film flow a lot more smoothly.  

The Big Year, by contrast, is a nice character study, a meditation on life goals, relationships, and passionate hobbies.  Worth a watch, if you appreciate such things. (Reminds me a bit of Pirate Radio and a bit of Station Agent.  Somewhere between these two.)

Bulk buying bait for the zombie apocalypse

Two fellas looking at a bag full of something
“I said get BEANS, not BRAINS. Now what are we going to do with a bag full of brains?”

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nestby Steig Larsson

I’ve finally, now, read the conclusion of the Milennium trilogy, Steig Larsson’s best-selling books that have become movies and so on.  The end is just as great as the other two books, I’d say.  A few thoughts, without much for spoilers:

  • The pieces are in place for the novel’s action within the first seventy-five pages or so, which makes it impressive that Larsson keeps the narrative going as long as he does.  I’ve heard some complaints that the book could be tighter, but I’m not sure how much more I would have trimmed it — the side plots and extra characters fit the story well, and bring it all to a nice head.
  • In many ways, this book feels, to me, like watching a spinning-plate act at a circus.  He has so many things to keep track of, so many rabbit trails down which the plot must go, that he does an excellent job checking in with each one to let us know what’s going on.
  • Minor spoiler: That said, unlike the previous books where I felt real danger for the characters, the likely foregone conclusion that Mikael and Lisbeth will come through mostly unscathed left me with less suspense than I felt in previous books–like a long-running television show, I couldn’t conceive that these two would do anything other than win.  I thought the tension in the narrative was great, but it didn’t carry the heart-aching suspense I felt in the first novel.  At the same time, death haunts this book and takes when he feels like it.
  • I’d heard this book was all about the trial of Lisbeth Salander, and from one perspective it is, but it’s also NOT.  The trial takes up a very short piece of the novel, but it’s a satisfying piece.
  • In the last book, I lamented that it seemed like there were an awful lot of people who secretly hated women.  A cynic might complain that this book has an awful lot of people who are a bit smarter than the average bear, and want to do the right thing.  From that perspective, the villains in the piece really exist as a great source of suspense, but never a serious threat. (See bullet 3, above.)  From that perspective, this book helps show how the trilogy functions in the same way the original Star Wars trilogy did.  The down ending of The Girl Who Played with Fire makes the up ending of Return of the Jedi that much sweeter.

A very satisfying end to the series.  Not quite as good as the first two, but still a very good book.

See Also: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire

2012-07-22 Tweets

  • Don't know what's happening on the television, but just heard Avery say "Now THAT'S what I call some BAD DRIVING." #
  • Avery won card game "Zeus on the Loose" from the @forestparkreads library reading program. Played it tonight. SO FUN! #LoveMyLibrary #
  • Worst. Night's. Sleep. Ever. Gonna be a long day. #
  • @MasonJohnson14 I know I'm not #AltLit because I don't know whether 'babby' is a typo or hipster slang. http://t.co/stgbJAGr #
  • (via @Loweringthebar) Permission denied for a flyby denied, Maverick. http://t.co/UKZhO29G #
  • @venkat275 "I will get you 2000 Unique twitter followers…" That's all well and good, but how about 2000 Mo'Nique followers? @moworldwide in reply to venkat275 #
  • 1084 fiction words tonight. #750words #
  • Avery the budding skeptic: "I don't think it's true that St Patrick sent the snakes out of Ireland because snakes don't listen to people." #
  • Upon investigating what she thought was "cat poop on the basement floor," Avery grabs a paper towel and informs me "It's just barf, Dad." #
  • Me: "Swimming 200s sounds tiring to me." Avery: "They're easy. Actually, if you haven't swum all day, a 200 is refreshing." #
  • 979 words of fiction tonight. #750words #
  • Hey fingers! Stop typing my name as 'Berdan' or 'Brednan' or 'Brenadn.' Who knows how often I don't notice the typos. Sincerely, my brain. #
  • Lunch at Red Robin, watching Finn "play" a video game by spinning the steering wheel during demo screen. Had forgotten kids fall for that. #
  • Me: "Do you think you'll be friends when you grow up?" Avery: "We're brother and sister. We can't be FRIENDS." #
  • Me, seeing Avery chewing on half a citrus fruit: "Why are you eating a lemon?" Avery: "Grandma said I could." #KidsAreWeird #
  • Discussing an amusement-park game she's been playing, Avery said: "I'm out of money, so I can't build anything in Roller Coaster Toucan." #
  • At mpls Lake Harriet to watch Jenny swim 2.5km. Go! Go! Go! Also, she won an award: Farthest traveled to swim the event. #
  • Jenny takes first in her age group! 2.5km of kickass! #

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On Voices 6

An update of the audio book narrators I’ve read since the last On Voices post.

*Books narrated by their authors

This list includes only the readers I’ve encountered more than once.  The singletons are below the fold.

Continue reading On Voices 6

The Poisoner’s Handbook

The Poisoner's Handbook

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York
by Deborah Blum; narrated by Coleen Marlo

I could hardly do better than Andrew in his review of The Poisoner’s Handbook, but I’ll add my two cents.  Blum’s non-fiction narrative follows the careers of Charles Norris and Andrew Gettler, two pioneering scientists working as New York’s head Medical Examiner and Toxicologist, respectively.  Blum uses Norris and Gettler to guide us through a discussion of the way pathology and science became part of the legal system, focusing especially on the chemistry and discovery of different poisons, the way they function, and how they came to be detectible.

A few thoughts:

  • Norris  earned a reputation not just as a good medical examiner, but as a defender of peoples’ rights and an advocate for quality care through three practices that had nothing to do with his expertise as a scientist.  First, he cleared the old autopsy system of all its corruption by establishing solid rules for what procedures should be followed.  Second, he advocated strongly for public policies about chemicals and poisons that would save lives, even when the policies he was arguing for were unpopular.  Third, he spent a lot of his own money on equipment for the office so his examiners could do their jobs.
  • I hadn’t heard much about the case of the watch dial girls, but it was really interesting to learn how the first victims of radiation poisoning and industry wrestled over who was at fault.  The most egregious part, to my mind, was that when the young women whose bones were literally crumbling because they’d inhaled so much radium sued, the company delayed for three years, then argued that the statute of limitations had run out on the poisoning.  The judge didn’t agree.
  • As Andrew mentions, I can’t see why people would choose poison as a way to kill themselves — almost all the poisons are awful ways to go — arsenic and cyanide particularly.  The least painful seems to be carbon monoxide, if you can call suffocating “least painful.”
  • When Blum tells the stories of poisoners, their motives often seem pretty shabby (though I guess money is the primary reason people kill).  I found the long history of the “arms race” between toxicologists and poisoners particularly interesting.  In the past, it was extremely difficult to catch poisoners, so much so that the French named White Arsenic “The Inheritance Powder.”
  • The discussion of prohibition was particularly interesting.  Apparently, because alcohol was still needed for industrial purposes, it was still manufactured throughout the country.  This industrial alcohol was poisoned by the government with the idea that people wouldn’t drink it if they thought it could kill them.  Instead, they died in record numbers. Mostly, though, it was the poor drinkers would couldn’t afford safer (and legal) ethyl alcohol (the chemical in spirits today); instead they drank methyl alcohol (made from wood instead of grain) mixed with various flavorings.  This drink, sometimes called ‘smoke,’ killed an awful lot of people.

Coleen Marlo does a nice job narrating the text, though I couldn’t help but smile at the heavy New York accent she gives Gettler when quoting him (NOTE: there’s no reason to think her accent isn’t absolutely correct, I just thought it was a funny disconnect from the language of the others).  The Poisoner’s Handbook is an excellent book, full of intriguing detail and interesting facts, but also knee deep in science and history.  Well worth the read.

On genre fiction, self-publishing, and the Internets

So I’ve mentioned on Twitter (and elsewhere) that Jenny and I are working on a fiction project.  The novel is an historical mystery with a slight paranormal element, aimed at the market who enjoy Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight series.  Right now, we’re not so interested in trying to find a traditional publishing venue, but are trying to think about ways we can get the book out there for people to enjoy once it’s done (we’ve only drafted about 15%, so I may be putting the cart before the finished manuscript).

I’ve considered doing a blog with thrice-weekly posts (or even daily posts?) of 500 or 1000 words, with a pdf of the released content available for free or a pdf of the whole book available for a nominal fee.  I’m interested in the ebook market (like for the kindle) but I’m NOT keen on the Amazon DRM model, so I wouldn’t do that if we were forced to make the book exclusive to that platform.  I’m also interested to set up a Lulu (or similar) POD solution if people want a hard copy.

In my more aggressive ideas, I thought about Timothy Fenriss’ method for choosing the title of his bestseller THE FOUR HOUR WORK WEEK, which was to buy google adspace ads with different titles and track how well each one drives readers to his page.

We’ll also need a few folks to take a look at the mostly done manuscript to identify flaws and gaps.  Of course, we have some folks already, but we’re particularly keen to get it in front of readers who fit the book’s demographic.

What other methods do you think might be a good way to get eyeballs on our writing?

Wait, I need paints on this palette?

Man painting two women
Wait, you DIDN’T want me to add a goatee to your portrait?

Things I thought when I first saw this picture:

  1. The figure behind the painter was a poorly rendered man standing in the background.
  2. It looked like Edward Cullen
  3. or a head hovering in a doorway

Then I realized it’s an unfinished painting of the ladies standing in front.  With a goatee, perhaps.

Commentary on “Link Sausage”

Fair warning: Thorough research for this post may take you a few minutes, as you have some link-reading to do.

Background: Brandywine books is the blog of novelist Lars Walker and a couple of his friends (or just one?, hi Phil!).  Walker reviews books at a prodigious pace (faster than me) and writes about a variety of issues Norwegian, Viking, Minnesota, and Conservative and Evangelical Christian.  On all but the last two, I find the posts generally enjoyable.  On these, it’s one of the few places I’ve found where people with whom I vehemently disagree are willing to engage in civil dialogue about the issues, which has kept me reading and occasionally commenting.

Usually I just post over there, but today I had comments on all three of Walker’s links, so I thought I’d post here and give you, dear reader, the benefit of my bloviation. (Bonus! I just had to teach my spell check the word bloviation.  I love teaching the spell check new words.)

1. Lets get to it.  First, Walker comments on the fact that the Boy Scouts of America recently re-upped its policy barring homosexuals from membership.  Walker comments (sarcastically):

When will this benighted organization understand that a boy’s life is forever blighted if he misses the opportunity to spend a night in a tent with a homosexual?

I am an Eagle Scout, but my son will not be.  As someone who places great value in what the Boy Scouts do, it made me very sad (when this kerfuffle started) that the BSA took the position it did, for two reasons.  First, I believe they’re wrong, morally and ethically.  But I know I’m not going to convince Walker on that point today.  Second, and more to the point regarding the BSA itself, they’re violating their own tenets.  To whit, the Boy Scout law (typing from memory here) tells boys to be: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.  Of these values, only the last can be even remotely related to the issue of homosexuality, as some religions disallow it.  But not all do — in fact, many do not.  So instead of embracing the fact that people of different creeds gather to share a love of the outdoors and good-spirited camaraderie, the BSA leadership has declared that one particular religious perspective takes precedent over others.

I also find really irritating the smug notion that:

The vast majority of the parents of youth we serve value their right to address issues of same-sex orientation within their family, with spiritual advisers and at the appropriate time and in the right setting,” Mazzuca said. “We fully understand that no single policy will accommodate the many diverse views among our membership or society.” (link)

That’s because anyone with strong views on the issue has left the organization.  It’s like saying “We don’t welcome anyone with brown hair” for ten years, and then justifying the policy by saying “Most of our parents agree with the no-brown-hair policy.”  That’s because you’ve built yourself an echo chamber.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s a private organization that can do what it likes and I would not advocate any kind of government intervention. (Though it does irk me that this openly discriminating group still gets strong concessions from governmental organizations like cheap rental of military land for jamborees.)  But to my mind, this policy not only fails to teach boys that different people have different beliefs (a core part of the Reverent tenet), but the policy also distinctly fails to teach boys aspects of being Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, and Kind.

2.Next, Walker affirms the points made by Dennis Prager’s “A Letter to Young Voters,” which argues that 1) generally people recognize that as we grow older, we gain wisdom, 2) people get more conservative as they get older, so 3) why do young people think being idealistic is so great?  Walker puts the point to liberals, writing:

This seems an excellent point to me. How do you answer it if you’re a liberal? Either it’s false that people get more conservative as they get older (which utterly defies all experience) or it’s false that people get wiser as they get older (and try telling that to the Boomers, even the liberal ones).

My first thought was to look up whether people really do get more conservative as they get older.  My instinct was that it’s complicated — that people become more conservative in some ways and liberal in others.  An article on Discovery news (the top hit on my search) suggests that demographic studies complicate this old chestnut.

So, going with the caviat that I don’t accept, as a blanket statement, that people become conservative as they get older, I will go with it for now because I too have that instinct.  I’ll admit that I had many of the responses Prager dismisses in his piece.  First, I agree that people get fiscally conservative because they become more concerned with their personal welfare.  He tries to rebut this by saying that older people are more generous with time and money than young people.  Again, I’d like to see verification of this.  I also look at the things that make it difficult for me, right now, to engage in that generosity, and I see children.  My inclination is that my generosity will change significantly as my kids grow and engage with the world as adults in their own right.  But I also dispute Prager’s basic concept, that the this conservatism comes from being burned by “big government”.  He asserts as universal ideas that appeal to him.  I know my mother, a peer of his, would argue with every point he makes.  And she’s certainly wise.

At the same time, Prager doesn’t at all address the question of social conservatism.  Thomas Kuhn’s arguments about paradigm shift in science apply to moral advances in society as well, to my mind.  Kuhn argued that the significant changes in science that allowed for widescale shifts in perspective (like the heliocentric theory replacing the heavenly spheres theory) occurred only as the older scientists who grew up under the old paradigm began to die off.  In that regard, I feel that the moral advances this country has seen (as in, say, the issue of racial discrimination) is tied strongly to the aging population.  I feel like there’s a similar trend in the issue of gay marriage.

So to sum up, I think the idea that “people get more conservative as they get older” is a hollow one that doesn’t help illuminate what it means to say people gain wisdom, and may not be as true as we think.  But I do acknowledge that a naivete and idealism inherent in youth gets worn away by experience.  The lessons learned by the past must indeed be remembered by the next generation, or we all sit and spin.  But we need to remember that young people will likely introduce the new ideas that allow us to advance, and we must be careful not to mistake nostalgia for wisdom.

3. Walker echoes writer Mitch Berg in complaining about an initiative to close a street to car traffic.  The internal politics of the piece are complicated, as the traffic has been diverted by a light rail project, etc, etc.  My response is twofold: First, it’s long been established that traffic patterns defy “common sense.” (C.F. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities).  So trying to use common sense rather than scientific study to predict or explore them will always fail.  One side effect of these studies has been that more roads create more traffic.  (Having said that, the common sense demonstration of this is Atlanta, where they build more and more roads, and the traffic grows to meet it.)

Second, why do cars get precedence over bicycles?  Don’t the bicyclists have just as much right to go to work?  It’s indisputable that cars take up more room and cause more pollution than do bicycles.  While it’s not the city’s place to demand that people stop driving into the city, it’s also not incumbent on them to bend all life and space of the city to automobile traffic.  If anything, public transport and bicycles should be encouraged because they use fewer of the common resources (space being the premium in the city).  Sure, you can drive, but it should be a hassle because you’re taking up more room.  Berg’s lament seems to forget that convenience for one person almost always means inconvenience for someone else in the context of a limited resource.