Tag: government

Day 933: The Thin Red Line Of Being An Offensive Jerk

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As a writer whose surrounding landscape is the unfiltered cessbucket frontier of the internet, I don’t spend much time worrying about offending my audience. Conversely, as a Canadian awash in synaptic decorum and apologetic genetics (or, apologenetics as we call them here), I feel compelled from the meaty core of my innards to fight the potentially offensive word choices that might trickle untowardly from my fingertips. This is why I don’t refer to my friends as my ‘niggaz’, why I reserve the word ‘Oriental’ to describe an avenue in the game Monopoly and not a collective of people, and why I won’t likely pen a kilograph on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The issue has arisen – both here in this compositional marathon as well as in “real” life – regarding the appropriate label for that group of peoples whose presence in this part of the world predates that of us whiteys. We grew up calling them Indians – a game of Cowboys ‘n Indigenous Peoples doesn’t sound nearly as fun.

It seems as though every few years I am told that the politically appropriate appellation I’ve been using is incorrect. With only 68 remaining opportunities to explore the weird wide world in this project, I think it’s time I put this issue to rest.

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We all know Chris Columbus plopped his feet down on Antilles soil believing he had found the fast-track to India. His bewildered hosts were dubbed ‘Indians’ as a logical consequence, though it didn’t take long for Chris to figure out his mistake. The misnomer stuck, however. The Caribbean islands were dubbed the West Indies, and every explorer who nudged their hull against the east coast called the locals ‘Indians’. It was easier to adopt and embrace the mistake than come up with a new word, I guess. Read more…

Day 927: Justice Joe Pulls A Crater

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At the sputtering end of the era of utmost corruption within the governance of the city of New York, people had to – in the parlance of today’s aspiring gangstas – get got. Arnold Rothstein met his untimely end in 1928 (spoilers to any Boardwalk Empire fans), and in the wake of his demise the final vestiges of the Tammany Hall fist of political smarminess were poised to become rubble. This wasn’t the end of corruption in New York of course, only the final curtain for this particular brand of centralized evil.

On the filthy payroll were cops, city officials and judges – hell, if the Tammany Hall machine were still around they’d probably be using those Times Square Elmos to peddle fenced goods. Unfortunately for the families of those who were caught up in this web of political malfeasance, when someone was rubbed out, there wasn’t always an accompanying explanation.

This brings us to the mysterious vanishing of Associate Justice Joseph Force Carter of the New York Supreme Court. Here was a man poised in the toasty glow of a biopic-worthy legal career: sitting on the second-highest court in New York at age 41 and allegedly a contender for the next open spot on the US Supreme Court. Then one day, he vanished. Did he flee? Was he dispatched from this planet via a snub-nosed messenger? Was he secretly a ghost the entire time? No, probably not that last one.

This guy was corrupt? Really? With that honest face?

This guy was corrupt? Really? With that honest face?

In the summer of 1930, Justice Crater was vacationing with Stella, his wife, at their cozy cabin in Belgrade, Maine. Crater had only been appointed three months earlier, but he felt he deserved a little break. He received a call in late July, and announced to Stella that he needed to return to New York “to straighten those fellows out.” Nothing else was said, and the next day he was back in the couple’s swanky Fifth Avenue apartment.

Whatever pressing business had summoned Justice Crater to New York, it would have to wait until after his wild weekend in Atlantic City with his showgirl mistress, Sally Lou Ritzi. This guy couldn’t have been more of a cliché if he wore a tommy gun over his shoulder. Read more…

Day 921: The Luddites Rage Against The Machines

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You don’t often hear the term ‘Luddite’ in conversation anymore. The word has come to represent one who is resistant to new technologies or despises them altogether. There simply aren’t as many of those people around anymore. While I was spending my youth hunched in front of a luminously green screen, fighting off orcs in Ultima IV or inputting some three-page BASIC program from a magazine, it made sense for my parents’ generation to scoff at such frivolity. Now we’re all getting soaked on the technological flume ride.

Being a Luddite today takes a lot of work. One would have to give up most modern means of communication, sacrifice access to history’s greatest research tool (this website, of course) and deny oneself the most extensive collection of free pornography ever known to humankind. Also, one may need to look up what the hell a Luddite actually is.

Fortunately, due to my commitment to making this site the nexus of all human knowledge (at least on 1000 various topics… well, 999 if you don’t count my final column, in which I’ll be ranting at length about all the people I know who piss me off), I’m here to help. The story of the Luddites combines my two favorite morsels of history: angry, violent people and a grotesque over-reaction by the government.

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The Luddites showed up in England in the early 19th century, right around the time Napoleon was collecting the chunks of Europe that his army hadn’t yet destroyed. But their origin story (which may or may not be a piece of fiction) dates back to 1779 when a weaver from Anstey (near Leicester) named Ned Ludd unleashed his rage on a pair of stocking frames, used for industrial knitting. The story goes that he was either being whipped for idleness – a common motivational technique prior to the advent of posters involving group parachuting formations – or else he was being taunted by local youths. Read more…

Day 915: The Titanic Conspiracy

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We all know the story – the RMS Titanic plows into an iceberg, everyone panics, and Leonardo Dicaprio dies because Kate Winslet isn’t willing to scooch over and give him some room. But that purportedly open-and-shut accident may have a little more squeak in its hinges, depending on how deeply one is willing to invest in conspiracy futures. Theories range from something other than an iceberg thwacking the Titanic upside its hull to the Titanic not even being present when those 1523 souls perished in the Atlantic.

The difference between the Titanic conspiracies and other such shady suspicions is that these would have required no elaborate government cover-up, and its secrets (if there were any at all) would only have needed to be known to a tiny group of insiders, which lends credibility to the possibility that there may be more to the story than that which James Cameron put on film. There’s no vast network of deception at play with any of these theories – this isn’t JFK being assassinated by the Cuban mafia or the mass-hypnosis that allowed Dances With Wolves to beat out Goodfellas for the Best Picture Oscar.

But as with any musings on the shadowy side of commonly-accepted history, it’s always wise to suspend one’s accusatory finger in mid-furl. 102 years have passed, and if there’s any more truth to be known about this tragedy it probably never will be. That said, it’s still fun to dig.

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First off, what if there was no iceberg? Captain L.M. Collins published his theory in 2003, asserting that it was a devious chunk of low-lying pack ice that felled the mighty liner, not a big Goliath of an iceberg. Collins points out that the two Titanic lookouts both reported a haze on the horizon at about 11:30 on the night of the sinking. Also, while various witnesses reported that the alleged berg of ice towered 60 to 100 feet above the water, this is apparently a well-known optical illusion when drifting through ice. Read more…

Day 907: Who Stole The Moon?

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I’d like to open today’s missive with a few kind words about President Richard M. Nixon. In an act of international fraternity and savvy diplomatic P.R., the Nixon administration celebrated the American victory in the Space Race by doling out gifts of free moon rocks to every state, every US territory, and a long list of nations. Ever since humankind first stretched its grumpy morning arms over its evolutionary head we have been fascinated by that giant glowing rock in the sky. Now Dick Nixon was dispersing little bits of it all over the world. It’s kind of sweet, really.

The rocks – four per gift, each about the size of a Nerds candy – were mounted in an acrylic bubble within a commemorative plaque that also featured that nation or state’s flag, which had been part of the Apollo 11 payload. So everyone was getting a print of their own flag which had been to space, as well as a few morsels of lunar gravel. The gift was repeated once more after Apollo 17 with a fresh batch of moon-crumbs.

NASA has always been meticulous about tracking the whereabouts of every lunar sample that has been packed in our cosmic carry-on and brought back home. But once these babies touched down into foreign palms, NASA no longer followed their progress, probably assuming that each would end up in some museum under armed surveillance and the snazziest of security. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

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Out of 270 gifted rock-nugget plaques, roughly 180 have since gone missing. Nixon’s gesture of international goodwill clearly received a meh-level fanfare from the majority of its recipients. In 1998, NASA became sufficiently irked by the growing black market for lunar pebbles that they decided to team up with the US Postal Service for a sting operation. Joseph Gutheinz helmed the scheme for NASA, and along with postal Inspector Bob Cregger they plopped an ad into USA Today looking to buy up some moon rocks. Read more…

Day 899: Chanjing Our Speling So It Makes Mor Sens

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Ask anyone who has had to learn English as something other than their first language if it was difficult to soak in all the illogical rules and quirky exceptions in our spelling and they’ll probably look at you coldly while swearing under their breath in their native tongue. The English language is an uncompromisingly fucked cluster of clusterfucks. Our language is the bastard child of every conquering tribe and proto-nation that ever set its armed and faithful sword-wielders around the English countryside. Every silly rule and wonky spelling choice has a history, they just don’t all make a lot of sense as a whole.

There have been numerous highly-placed attempts at righting the wave-flopped ship of linguistic logic between the covers of our sacred dictionaries, but those brave soldiers of common sense have far too often ended up M.I.A., lost in the murk of traditionalism and phonetic disregard. This means we are probably stuck with all the inconsistencies and incongruities on our typo hit parade. And newcomers to the language will continue to question their decision to wade into this mess in the first place.

Just as headstrong, ambitious souls have offered up entire language replacements for English, based on logic, reason and ease of absorption among the masses, some have simply tried to fix our spelling. And just like those blazers of linguistic trails before and after them, they have mostly failed. We English-speakers are a stubborn bunch.

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Once the Norman leaders were scooted back to the continent after having planted three centuries’ worth of asses at the helm of England, our linguistic foreparents had to sort through a heap of French words that had filtered into the language. When the printing press showed up, things got even messier. A guy named William Tyndale translated the New Testament in 1525, and a few years later Henry VIII decided to defy the pope’s decree that the bible should never be mass-printed. The problem was, the people who did the actual printing of the bible in English didn’t speak a word of the language.

Tyndale outsourced the job. Read more…

Day 878: A Dingo Took Your Baby?

EDITORS NOTE: IMAGE WAS CLEANED AT SOURC

I generally avoid topics that have been made into major motion pictures starring Sam Neill and Meryl Streep, since I figure the story is already out there, and told in a much more thorough and entertaining way than I could tell it here. But some stories are too strange to ignore. And in this case, the 1988 film A Cry In The Dark was something of a box office bust, so I’ll assume there’s a ripe audience for this twisted tale.

The story takes place in Australia, a land where every living creature wants to kill you, and most have the ability to do so with ease. Nevertheless, Aussies are a resilient people, and they are often willing to go camping in the frothing throes of this ludicrously blood-lusty ecosystem. Michael and Lindy Chamberlain were two such Aussies.

They took a trip to Uluru, which was then known as Ayers Rock. Along with them were their two sons, Aidan and Reagan, and their 9-week-old daughter, Azaria. It was on the second night of their trip, August 17, 1980, when things went horribly wrong.

Uluru: The great nipple of the Australian Outback.

Uluru: The great nipple of the Australian Outback.

According to Lindy Chamberlain, her young daughter Azaria was taken from the family tent by a dingo. Though their name might suggest a fun-loving, cuddly cartoon creature, the dingo is actually a vicious predator and a major pain in the collective ass for Australian livestock farmers. They’re like wolves, but without the charm. There had been no reported incidents of a dingo scooping a small child from a tent, but it was possible – in fact, Derek Roff, the chief ranger at Ayers Rock, had been warning the government about the increasingly aggressive dingoes in his neighborhood for two years. Read more…

Day 874: Browsing The Naughty Bits Of Reddit

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I’m going to let you, my loyal readers, in on a secret. My weapon of choice with which I take aim at any number of strange stories, from murderous ice cream vendors to toilet gods, is Reddit. If you’re unfamiliar with the social news site, let me fill you in on how it works.

Reddit is split into roughly a gazillion communities, known as subreddits. When you join (which is free), you subscribe to the ones that interest you. For example, r/funny is where you’ll find everything from church sign typos to pugs dressed like the Blues Brothers. r/foodporn features exquisite shots of steaks and BBQ shrimp skewers and whatever else will make you regret eating Hellman’s mayonnaise with a spoon for supper. There are also subreddits for all types of fandom, from the Beatles to classic films to the TV show Community (not the happiest subreddit right now, trust me).

And naturally there are boobies. While I restrict my redditing to perusing my front page, which I have customized to my own wonky obsessions, and the r/Wikipedia subreddit, which is filled with a bevy of interesting and obscure topics like the ones I cited above, there are communities for all sorts of fetishes and quirks. And like any landscape in which freedom of speech is the guiding tenet, sometimes things go too far.

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I’m offering this photo of an elephant driving a car because searching for images to represent r/jailbait will get me fired from my day job.

Reddit is comprised of a notoriously small staff. Volunteer moderators police a number of the forums, ensuring that posts in r/Modern_Family don’t feature online Ponzi schemes or links to bestiality. Also, the general public can upvote the best or most interesting posts, while downvoting the stuff they don’t like, resulting in a democratic front page of generally high-quality posts. The site’s administrators originally had no intention of hosting pornographic material. They didn’t want the hassle. Read more…

Day 873: The Movie-Money Juggling Game

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A spoiler for today’s article: it may shatter your innocence, lay waste to your humbling yet lavish optimism regarding the spirit of humanity, and rend into tatters your perceptions of Hollywood studio executives as upstanding, honest and forthright folk. If this won’t be a problem for you, read on.

The movie business is all about money, as evidenced by the fact that any film that coughs up some modest box office returns seems to get a sequel, or by the fact that Tyler Perry and Martin Scorcese technically have the same job. But beneath the big sparkly numbers earned by flicks like Avatar and Titanic lies an even more impressive act of CGI than those frolicking blue cats – they call it Hollywood Accounting.

Hollywood Accounting has nothing to do with the studios scamming the government to avoid paying taxes. I’m sure like any massive business they employ accountants to help them with that cause too, but specifically Hollywood Accounting is the insider method by which the movie studios can pilfer money from the very artists who concoct their revenue. It’s an ugly side of show business, but one that every aspiring actor, writer and director should be aware of.

To illustrate, let’s talk about this guy:

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That’s Art Buchwald, whom you might remember from his Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated Washington Post column, or, if you’re under 50 you might not. He was a brilliant wordsmith though, which is why it was strange that Paramount Studios was unable to transform his treatment into a full-blown feature. His concept – entitled “King For A Day” at this point – was about an arrogant and wealthy African potentate’s visit to the United States, ensuing in wacky hijinks and goofy hilarity. It would have been a perfect fit for Eddie Murphy, who was under contract with Paramount at the time. Read more…

Day 863: The Online Chinese Limbo

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You may not have noticed, but while the Chinese economy is poised to plant its conquering flag upon the global marketplace, the country’s government is astoundingly fucked up. Fucked up and frightened, gauging by the unfathomable swath of censorship that it clings to. What other explanation can there be for the most populated nation on the planet blocking out such a hearty heap of online material?

I suppose when you’ve got a population of over 1.35 billion you probably want to do what you can to keep them from getting any fishy ideas that might propel them into revolt. I don’t care how disciplined your army might be, a billion pissed-off citizens is going to be tough to quiet down. We saw that twenty-five years ago when students rolled the dice and staged a massive public protest for democracy in Tiananmen Square. The government shut them down and since then it has spent a quarter-century trying to convince its citizens that the whole thing never happened.

This is the golden age of knowledge, when a strategic click of a mouse can teach us anything, from alternative political structures to who played the night-watchman on that season 4 episode of Simon & Simon (it was Bucklind Beery – there, I saved you the trouble). But knowledge is power, and clearly the Chinese government doesn’t want its citizenry getting all power-happy.

Let’s have a look at what won’t squeak through the Chinese knowledge-net.

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My site, for starters. I’ve been told the blockade on WordPress has been lifted somewhat over the last year or so, but blogs contain ideas, and ideas are even more dangerous than facts because ideas can procreate. They can seduce one another and spurt out little notion-babies. Evidently the current regime isn’t wanting that to happen. You’ll also find Blogspot, FC2 (a Japanese blog site) and wretch.cc, which is based out of Taiwan, on the blocked list. Read more…