Seriously, Just Say No To #SOPA

Congress’s Piracy Blacklist Plan: A Cure Worse than the Disease? | Techland | TIME.com.

It’s a dumb law that will criminalize just casual piracy, which isn’t even really piracy. Hell, using the “ShareThis” feature on Youtube to post a music video to Facebook would get you fined and your accounts shut down. That’s just stupid.

The fact that Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Google, Tumblr, and other major Internet giants are coming out against this bill should really tell you something.

It’s a dumb law that will utterly destroy American values of free speech in order to go after a crime in a manner that doesn’t even deal with it that well. (What are you going to do about foreign websites, anyways?) It’s a wild overreaching of federal power that should have conservatives–particularly states-rights conservatives–up in arms. Naturally, they aren’t (at least not that much.)

Just say no to SOPA.

UPDATE: Here’s the text of the bill. In addition, read this great summary from the Electronic Frontier Federation.

I also want to point out that I’m not a fan of intellectual piracy. Contrary to many libertarians, I actually do believe in intellectual property–but within reason. Frankly, SOPA is not within reason whatsoever. Not that that has ever stopped our Most Esteemed Leaders of the People’s Commissariat in Washington, but it should be noted.

Too Much Information Damages Your Reputation

TMI Nation – Reason Magazine.

I love Reason. They’re one of the best magazines out there. It’s not just because they’re libertarian, but because they also cover technology, policy, and even occasionally stuff like transhumanism and science. They do a lot of things.

The above link is an article by Greg Beato on how, in our social media age, we share so many things, our reputation’s are bound to take a beating no matter what happens, and we are all at the mercy of information, most of which we can’t control, but don’t even know exists in the first place. Here’s a snippet:

That our permanent records finally live up to their name is unsettling. Over a lifetime, even relatively pure souls generate piles of dirty laundry. In his 2007 book The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, Daniel J. Solove, a law professor at George Washington University, contemplates what may happen when information about our pasts—information, that is, that was “once scattered, forgettable, and localized”—becomes too comprehensive, too cumulative, too retrievable by anyone with a computer. “The more freedom people have to spread information online, the more likely that people’s private secrets will be revealed in ways that can hinder their opportunities in the future,” he writes.

In part, what worries Solove and other observers of the online world is how easily the Internet allows individuals to publish false and defamatory claims about others. “So far,” Reputation.com co-founder Michael Fertik explains in his 2010 book Wild West 2.0, “U.S. courts have held that [Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996] completely exempts websites from liability for the actions of their users—including defamation and other torts against private individuals.”

But what may be most unnerving about the Web is not how it empowers malicious smear merchants but how it standardizes chronic self-disclosure through mechanisms as innocuous as Facebook “likes,” and how it allows content aggregators to amass the tiny truths we disclose about ourselves in ways we can neither predict nor control. Imagine car insurers monitoring your tweetstream to see how often you use Foursquare to check-in at bars at least 30 miles from your apartment. Imagine dating sites assigning you a narcissism quotient based on how often you review hair salons and Pilates instructors on Yelp.com.

[…]

Still, if you’re the kind of person who believes the electric chair is an appropriate penalty for people who cut in line at the bagel shop, 21st-century justice may exceed even your wildest fantasies. Soon you’ll be able to snap a photo of anyone whose public behavior rubs you the wrong way, determine their real identity, and let the Internet crowd-source their punishment. With even minor transgressions triggering public shaming campaigns, parking space theft will plummet and movie theaters will become quiet as cemeteries. But do we really want to inhabit this dystopian Eden of compulsory virtue?

There was a really good short story about a society like this. The story was “The Right’s Tough,” by Robert J. Sawyer, and I found it in an anthology called Visions of Liberty, which is sadly out of print. In it, Earth is an anarcho-capitalist utopia, but everyone carries weblinks that identify their reputation score. For instance, a thief moving through a crowd warns everyone else’s weblinks, and so a bubble emerges around the thief. That’s a good application. However, just before that, one character asks for another to cover him for lunch, but the second character’s weblink pulls up the first’s history, showing that he had overdue debt–and that he was stingy on the tip last year with a third person. I think we can all agree that is just TMI.

Then again, maybe I’m just an old fart.

One good idea I like in the piece is the concept of “reputation bankruptcy,” where you get information on you wiped every so often. Bankruptcy is a vital part of our market, where people who have made mistakes can wipe their slates clean and try again. It’s necessary; if you’re never allowed to recover from failure, how can you succeed down the line? I don’t see why it shouldn’t be extended to reputation and information. Beato’s own solution is to overpower the bad data with good data, which I suppose works, but that seems to be hewing too close to “just be a good guy and the truth will come out.” That doesn’t always work.

As for myself, I have my Facebook and old Livejournal locked down, with the occasional public entries. My Twitter is public, but it’s intended to be. I’m careful about what I say–though I do occasionally swear–and I don’t rush into things (or at least, don’t try to.) I will admit, it is extremely annoying to do so, and I don’t feel it’s fair. We shouldn’t have to do it. Unfortunately, life is not fair, and we have to compromise. Maybe that will change one day. But it will not be this day.

On The Need To Stop Choking

I was doing some job searching, and one area I was looking into was English teaching in Japan. I spent a year in Japan while in college, and I must tell you, it was one of the best times of my life. I spent Halloween night alone on a mountain covered in torii, as part of the mammoth Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shinto shrine. (And since I don’t have enough images on this blog, check out this one below:)

 

A big red tunnel, basically
Yes, it’s THAT place.

It wasn’t just the Shinto shrines that got me, either–the food was amazing (??? for the win), the people were engaging (though maybe that was just because I was a white guy), the weather was unbelievably fantastic, and there vending machines every five steps that would sell you soda, grape juice (that had grapes in it), soup, beer, and hard liquor. (Well, chuhais, so semi-hard liquor.) You could go outside after dark and not worry about getting knifed or robbed. I even loved Japanese furniture; say what you will, but I found that the Japanese futon to be way more comfortable than American beds, and if I could, I would have one. (I think this is because I’m very tall, and frequently my feet hang over the end.) Not to mention, it has wonderful mass transit. Note I said mass transit, and not public transit, for aside from subways, all of the mass transit–trains, buses, and so on–are owned by private companies. Even Japan Rail, which used to be called Japan National Rail, was broken up and privatized in the 80’s. (So yes, the free market does work.) Yes, the language is difficult (I never understood as many kanji as I was expected to, and I could never keep the honorific form of the language straight in my head) but I felt that was a small price to pay for everything else that was so wonderful.

Anyways, I just felt sharing that little bit of my history because the sheer awesomeness of the place drew me back to it during my job hunt. Working in Japan for foreigners is not easy, aside from one area: English teaching. Demand for English teachers is up, or so I’m told, as more Japanese believe English will be a necessary skill for their future job prospects. (Though they should probably be learning Chinese or Hindi as well, just to be on the safe side.)

So I went looking for English teaching jobs. I came across one website, ELT News, and starting reading the blogs. And what do you know, I find something that directly touches upon my experience writing. I’ll excerpt only the relevant part of the post, but if you’re interesting in teaching English in Japan, I encourage you to read the rest of it; the author, Mike Guest, is a pretty darn good writer (bolded emphasis is mine, by the way):

This was a chapter (The Art of Failure, p. 324-344) outlining the difference between choking and panicking using examples from professional tennis, golf, and an airplane crash. Choking, Gladwell argues (with his usual research-based support) is a case in which the agent, under pressure, reverts to a mechanical mode of action or behaviour where he/she becomes overly conscious of every move and thus can’t function with the fluidity of someone who normally has intuitions, skills or an ingrained sense about what to do. Panicking, on the other hand, refers to cases where people stop thinking due to what is called perception narrowing under pressure. Experienced people may choke under pressure, the inexperienced are more likely to panic.

Most readers will be aware of the tendency for many Japanese learners of English to either choke or panic when having to produce or perform under pressure in English. “I went to Canada but I couldn’t say more than a few words. I just forgot what to say,” might be a typical refrain– from somebody who has studied English for eight years and is even proficient on standardized tests. But understanding the difference between the two is crucial.

Some of my students are chokers. They have a reasonably good command of the flow of English, the holistic side. It has worn itself into their cerebral fabric. They ‘know’ the language but, when under pressure, tend to revert to an earlier mechanical stage which causes them to re-think every lexical, grammatical and social nuance of the language, effectively paralyzing them in speech. Choking, Gladwell say [sic], is about thinking too much.

Others, with far fewer ingrained English skills simply lose all perception and panic, grasping wildly at any English expression which might race through their minds. Panicking is about thinking too little. Panicking is often a product of too little experience, such that when any plus-alpha factors appear, the fragile control system easily breaks down.

Addressing panic involves little more than gaining experience, buckling down, applying diligence. It is what Gladwell calls ‘a conventional failure’. But choking is ‘a paradoxical failure’. Gladwell uses a research-based example (one from Claude Steele at Stanford Univ. and one from Julian Garcia at Tufts Univ.) utilizing stereotypes and expected performance to illustrate the difference.

The bolded part is what hit me in the head like a sledgehammer. This is what I’ve been doing for so long with my writing. I’ll write, think, “Oh, this is crap,” then go back and re-edit endlessly, or just walk away. This didn’t happen to me in high school, when I wrote my first novel. (400 pages, too, at the tender age of 15. I think that was a decent start that I failed to capitalize on.) This doesn’t happen to me when I blog. I don’t know why, but somehow, in those two instances–my high school writing and my blogging today–I just don’t think about it that much, I just let it come to me and let it be. But when I write my fiction today, I lock down and struggle to get through.

My problem is I just think too goddamn much.

I blame some of my writing books, for starters. Some of them are very good. Some are okay. Some are terrible. But in any case, I relied too much on them, and so when I started writing, I would think about what I read in them and go, “But my work isn’t matching up to that at all.”

What I have to do now is just say “Screw it” and write it. Forget about what everyone else says; hell, forget what I say, and just do it. I did that with my last story, which I just finished the first draft of a few days ago, and to which I’m rewriting (though substantially; I think if I use different characters, it will be better. We’ll see.) I did that with a story earlier in the year, which didn’t get published, but it was just something I wanted to write, so I did it. I need to keep in that habit and just keep going. I’m bound to hit paydirt some time or another.

Or a wall. One or the other.

Where I Was On 9/11

It seems apropos to this day to write a blog post saying where one was when the towers fell.

I was in 7th grade gym class when I first heard, though I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I think I was playing dodgeball, and I idly remember seeing one of my gym teachers out the corner of my right eye saying something about planes hitting a tower. They did not speak to us at that time, doubtlessly because they had no idea what was going on themselves.

It wasn’t until the last period, which I think was a study hall, when our principal came over the loudspeaker and announced what had happened. I remember our study hall monitor, an old bald guy with thick square glasses, afterwards try to explain to us the magnitude of the situation. I think he drew a picture on the chalkboard of the Twin Towers. Nothing they said actually sank into me.

I mean, terrorists hijacking planes and running them into towers and killing hundreds of people? My young mind–I think I was 11 or 12–just couldn’t comprehend it.

When I went home, Mom had the TV on, and there for all to see were the burning wreckage of the towers. We talked about it, though I could not tell you anything that we actually said. Only an intense feeling of confusion and loss.

I think it was that night, or a few nights later, my father was taking me somewhere in his truck, a beat up, rusting GMC Sonoma from the early nineties, in a fairly subdued hunter green. He had put on the news on the radio, and I listened to a reporter inform us about some sort of CIA raid going on in a city called Cobble. (All I could think of was: Who the heck would name a city “Cobble?” Obviously, that was not the case.) There were reports of hits and stings across Europe, and maybe even Asia. There was a sense that we were fighting back and taking names.

Most likely, these were all exaggerations. They did a lot of that, at the time.

As you can see, I do not have much of a story to tell. I was nowhere near the towers. I was only in New York State, not New York City. I did not lose any friends on 9/11. My story of that day is very undramatic.

For me, the thing that sticks out most starkly is how my life has since been divided into two.

The first half of my life consisted of blissful childhood, where I was basically unaware of anything. But looking back, I can see dramatic differences between then and now. Sure, parents were worried about their children in the nineties, but they were not excessively paranoid. There were no boogeyman coming around the corner ready to snatch up youngsters or blow up your car. Security was fairly light, though present. We didn’t worry about the state; it was still somewhat distant, only coming home every April. Sure, life wasn’t paradise, but we weren’t scared out of our wits all the time.

After 9/11, that was completely and–perhaps irrevocably–changed. Suddenly the terrorists weren’t just in Afghanistan and Iraq, they were hiding in the local Price Chopper, at the graveyard, in the bushes, even in your own toilet! We needed to have police out everywhere, in force, in uniforms, in choppers, with big guns. The government had to watch everything, lest those nasty dirty terrorists sneak in and harm somebody. Children had to be kept at home. Our handbags had to be checked–you know, just to be sure.

That’s what I remember most about 9/11 and its aftermath: the paranoia. It was never the same after that. My mother began to be scared for me, quite a lot, and while she was no happy-go-lucky do-what-thou-will parent before then, she practically became a prison warden afterwards. Personally, I never understood her own descent into that madness; we lived out in the countryside, and while our neighbors weren’t miles away (I could walk to their house if I wanted) we were still surrounded on two sides by woods. We were nowhere near a terrorist target, or anyone else who would harm us, for that matter. (Once, when I was child, several years before 9/11, I remember the cops came by looking for a fugitive. Once. And I think it turned out he was actually on the other side of the state.)

Part of me wishes I was born in the late seventies rather than the late eighties, so I would have properly experienced the nineties. Looking back in history, 1990-2001 seems to almost be a golden age, comparatively. It was a great time to be an American, to explore a new world that was opening up, to live free. It is truly a shame that on September 11, 2001, the door to that new world snapped shut, potentially forever.

Thoughts About The Earthquake

It was an earthquake.

I didn’t realize it at first. I thought they were moving something heavy through, or a fat guy walked past. You get that in the cafeteria sometimes, those little wavy sensations that make you realize that flat plane you call a “floor” doesn’t necessarily have to be perpendicular to your body.

Then I realized, as it intensified, rather than receded, that it had to be an earthquake. But I wasn’t worried. I’ve occasionally experienced minor quakes, little tremors that scamper through and leave you intact, unperturbed. So I just sat there, determined to wait it out.

Then the floor began moving.

It was not overly dramatic, I’m sure. I am confident my memory was exaggerating for effect, that meodramatic thespian it is. But I remember the floor began moving. Buckling. The cubicles shuddered, the desks rattled, and there was a low rumble as if Gaia herself was groaning about a sore shoulder. I could sympathize: I woke up with one this morning.

But I was fairly calm, cool, and collected, those three words always bandied about during an event as if they are an incantation that will automatically instill courage and ward off disaster. I was fine. I knew that, despite the force, the building was fine, that it would just be something to Tweet about, discuss, blog about endlessly.

I was fine.

And then someone screamed “RUN!”

There was something in that scream, intangible yet vicious, that struck me in the chest. It burrowed it’s way in, and abruptly I was no longer fine. My heart became a car with Richard Petty behind the wheel, stomping on the gas; the floodgates opened and through my blood this fear flowed through me. Every muscle it touch oozed into jelly, my skin prickled and burned, “You’re going to die.”

I was so scared right then, from that one scream, that I was rooted to the spot. I had jumped up and was preparing to bolt, but as the shaking continued, I couldn’t. Psychologically, I was in worse than quicksand. Even as the building buckled around me, I was immobile.

Then it stopped, and we all made our way outside. Information started trickling in (mostly through Twitter.) We learned it was even bigger than we thought, somewhere around 5.8-6.0. It was felt in New York City, Ohio, Alabama, and Toronto. Nobody was hurt, but phone networks were overloaded. The fire alarms blared about ten minutes later, evidently looking for the horses that had left the barn.

We came back inside, got back to work. Everything was slowed as we worried, but we worked. And I thought:

I wasn’t scared until someone else was.

It’s infectious, fear. Like laughter, or anger, or even yawning. (Or, depending on your group, flatulence.) When one gets it, it spreads. It’s how herd mentality works, how mobs form. They spread like a disease, infecting all until we are nothing more but mindless zombies overtaken by the emotion. Oddly, we feel fear when we’re alone and isolated (well, most of us, at any rate) but crowds do not help either. We need a happy medium.

For a fierce individualist like me, that’s an uncomfortable thought. That I was so malleable by another’s reaction disturbs me. I should have better sense than that. I should have kept my head. But I didn’t. Why?

Maybe there is no answer. Food for thought, at any rate.

The disgusting truth of Reality TV

The day that should change reality TV – CNN.com.

This has got to be one of the most depressing stories I have ever read. In short: family allows themselves to become subjects of a reality TV show. After a while, they divorce, and then later, the husband, under the pressure of the show, hung himself.

I realize this story is about six days old, but I was just in shock reading stuff like this, that I couldn’t post immediately:

What’s so important about August 15? It was the day that put in full view the life-shattering impact that reality shows can have among couples and families on the brink. For one reality show couple, the news that day was about an ending point for a wild ride that led to separation. For the other couple, the news was about a fatality.

Russell Armstrong apparently ended his own life after years of marital and financial turmoil. The story line of Armstrong and his wife, Taylor, on the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” franchise was one of tension, distance and a sense of distrust. The feelings were obviously deeply rooted long before the cameras starting rolling, and the show probably didn’t help the situation.

But America lapped it up.

On July 15, the couple announced they were divorcing. On August 15, Russell was dead, apparently by his own hands.

Weeks before his suicide, Russell said to People.com: “When you get a TV show involved and all the pressure, it just takes it to a whole new level. We were pushed to extremes.”

Could those be the same extremes that led to the very public, very nasty split between reality show sweethearts Jon and Kate Gosselin, who shot to television and tabloid infamy not because of their fertility, but because of the never-ending back-and-forth bickering that played out on “Jon & Kate Plus 8”?

It reminds me of Running Man and Death Race, in a way: we are now a culture that watches, with glee, misfortune and ugly happenings occurring to rather ordinary people. Our entertainment is based on ratcheting the pressure up on these poor souls and watching them break.

That’s seriously messed up.

It’s the central piece of all good stories, unfortunately: take a character, force him/her up a tree, throw rocks at him/her, get him/her back down. That’s how you write fiction (although sometimes I wonder if I throw enough rocks at my characters. I’m not sure. I probably don’t. Note to self: be a jerk to characters.) There are two very important differences between fiction and “reality” TV, though: first, obviously, in fiction, the characters are not real people. (Not unless you buy into Heinlein’s “Pantheistic Solipsism” or the so-calld “Fox-Broome Theory,” which in the latter case absolves you of all guilt anyways.) Second, in fiction, a very important part is getting the characters out of the tree. In reality TV, there doesn’t seem to be any of that.

I don’t watch reality TV for these reasons. It ruins lives, in many ways. Granted, if you seriously think about putting your family into a situation like that, you’re probably already messed up in some fashion, but the show itself only exacerbates that. Watching such programs only encourages and condones this abhorrent behavior, and I won’t sully myself by doing so. I hope others will feel the same way.

Let’s stop the insanity, and keep the rock-flying where it belongs: in fiction.

Libertarianism at the Smithsonian?

The other day, in my eternal fight against the wickedness of writer’s block, I went to the National Museum of African Art to jog my senses. I figured it might do me some good, and it’s the last bit of the Smithsonian (other than the Aquarium) that I haven’t seen yet.

I did not seriously expect anything cool to happen. Sure, I like African art, it’s one of those areas which I don’t see more of, mainly getting western and Asian art in my face. (Case in point, the Freer Gallery of Art is about 90% Asian, with a touch of Egyptian–wicked cool–and some French artist whose name escapes me.) I just didn’t expect a “Wow!” reaction from some of the things I saw.

Ebony staff with golden top of two dudes (not that)
"Eat your veggies!"

But I did. The mask made out of crushed spider eggs and spider silk to give it good luck, the picture of the massive snake outfit used for dancing, and the libertarianism on the display in the foyer. Wait, what?

No, really. They have a staff on display with two people sitting on top, eating some sort of food (I betcha its not McDonalds.) It’s called a “linguist staff,” and was carried by royal translators to show their position, quite an important one considering the variety of languages found in Africa. What I found to be the most interesting was that the image was a proverb, and the proverb was: “The food is for the one who owns it, not for the one who is hungry.” I mean…wow. That’s a very libertarian thought, from a place that does not have very much libertarianism at all (and don’t bring up Somalia as an example, or I will beat you over the head with a captured oil tanker.) They were using it in the context of the royal throne, but it plays well to just about anything else. Do not take from others, they have spent their resources and time in order to obtain this food, why should have they put it to waste?

Unfortunately, it is not a thought that is prevalent anywhere in the world (except maybe Patri Friedman’s yacht.) Day in and day out we have “activists” and politicians and others saying we need to take more resources away from one group and give it to another, namely the poor. There are people out there chanting that there needs to be a right to food, ignoring that such a right would force others to cater to it, effectively becoming a form of slavery. Why work when your results will be taken from you?

Our world would be a far better place if we respected property rights. We wouldn’t have a need for so many police officers, or locks, or be afraid of walking out our front door in many American cities. People would be far more civil–and more charitable as well, I believe, because without some government agency redirecting money from one pot to the next, they would see poverty as something they had to take care of, and moreover, they’d have more resources to be charitable with. True, if you’re a cop or a locksmith, it might not be so great, but I think in this case, the good of the many outweigh the good of the few. (Not so much needs, as you can get another job.)

But, unfortunately, that’s a massive and indeed fundamental societal change that exists only in fantasy, for now. There’s a long way to go before property rights and individual liberty regain the admiration they deserve.

There’s also a long way to go before art stops being so damn silly.

It’s a caricature–based totally on truth, I think–of artists and art critics being snobs. Well, maybe just critics. But I hear a lot in art about this piece being a manifestation of the will to live, or showcasing the underlying tension between spirit and conformity, or some such garbage. I remember one piece, being three red lines on a white background, supposedly representing humanity. I really don’t understand how such abstract lines and colors can represent something as complicated as humanity. I would think a blood stain on some dollar bills would make more sense.

But I think we may have finally jumped the shark.

Err, it's supposed to be a backbone. I think.
What is this I don't even

Now don’t get me wrong. The art in this exhibit is quite amazing. If you’re in the DC area, I heartily encourage you to check it out. When I’m rich and famous, I might get some of it in my lunar palace. But there’s a distinct difference between amazing artwork and pretentious artwork.

See the picture to the left for an example. Supposedly, this is a spine, laid bare. “Whether this is the result of treatment or trauma, we do not know.” Already, you can feel its nose begin to turn upwards. It does not hit the maximum point, though, until this: that it “explores the unifying structure of the backbone as a metaphor for political, social and mental stability” in another piece, which is really not that great either–it’s a bunch of burnt canvas, which is visually impressive, but how it gets its message is, well, not something I know either.

My question is: how does the above “explore” the backbone? How does it do anything? It’s a bunch of plywood. Interesting to look at, but it does not create a metaphor, nor conduct any metaphysical explorations. Maybe this is my arrogant writer talking, but I don’t think art can actually explore these concepts, unless it has some written component. (Films, which are derived from screenplays, count.) You have to work through these concepts in order to “explore” them, which can be done with characters who act and then react to the world around them. Putting up a static, abstract image does nothing. It may look pretty. It probably looks weird. But being the “metaphor for political, social, and mental stability” is just a leap of illogic.

But maybe that’s just me. Perhaps I’m way off base. Perhaps I’m just not seeing the other dimension to this work. Possible, since here it’s just 2D…What do you think?

Idiot anti-smoking advocates are upset about ‘Rango.’

Idiot anti-smoking advocates are upset about ‘Rango.’.

Far better blog post on what the heck is wrong with all those dopes who got into a hissy fit over Rango. Certainly better than this weaksauce post by the otherwise extremely strong and intelligent Reason magazine, by far one of the best mags out there. Their post only says, more or less, “you have to think of context when the character is smoking.” They could have gone a lot farther. Like Mr. Filmdrunk, up there. (Bet he won’t be winning accolades from anybody in the no-smoking crowd.)

(I’m actually a little surprised at how weak the Reason one is. I really expected them to drop a sledgehammer on these guys. Oh well.)

The best comment about this all, though, comes from a comment on the Filmdrunk site:

Seriously. You wonder why films have become so commercialized – it’s because of groups like these who actually think movies are commercials instead of stories with characters who sometimes do naughty things.

And that pretty much sums up my disgust with these groups from a storyteller’s perspective.

More thoughts on stories and agendas

In my last post, I left out a pretty big thing: the considerations of story. I focused mostly on the social factors, which probably should be be left to someone more with more expertise than I. But story is something that I focus on relentlessly.

Simply put, nothing is superior to a story in a fictional tale. Nothing. The story is paramount. If the plot is sacrificed, if the characters are enslaved, if the setting is warped, if the tone is disrupted, if any of these and more are corrupted, the story dies. It can no longer work. If it still moves, it’s either a misshapen zombie, lumbering around without any heart or soul, or a caricature, something to be laughed at. (Anime is chock full of examples: Sailor Moon had two lesbian characters turned into cousins, with appropriately bemusing results, while old Gundam shows tried to remove handguns and replace them with “Disco Guns,” which just annoyed anybody. Yu-Gi-Oh decided to just drop the guns entirely and have guards point their fingers at interlopers, but since Yu-Gi-Oh is an execrable show anyways, I’m not sure that was its biggest concern.)

We can’t allow people like Cheryl Healton of the American Legacy Foundation to start imposing their own agendas on our stories, to force writers to sacrifice essential elements to please these political demagogues, lest all of our literature and fiction ends up as stale and dead as Soviet literature. (And if that happens, we’re fucked.) If they really want to make sure that films don’t have smoking in them, maybe they should go and write their own bloody stories. And see if anybody watches them.

The people at Legacy aren’t in the business of writing stories, and probably don’t have any idea how, since they aren’t writing them. If they did, maybe they would realize how bad it is to mess with them.

Anti-Smoking Crusaders Add MLB to Hit List – PRNewser

Anti-Smoking Crusaders Add MLB to Hit List – PRNewser.

Seriously?

Clicking through to the Wall Street Journal story, the scene in question is:

where Rango (the chameleon hero of the film)  swallows a cigar being smoked by another character (Bad Bill, a bullying gila monster) and then breathes/burps fire into Bill’s face.

Really? They want to go crazy over this movie for this?

As if tobacco is even a big thing anymore. Sure, some of my colleagues smoke, but not many, and most people are more interested in weed.

Smoking is not a controversial thing anymore, for any age group. Neither is drinking. (The Journal just ran an interesting article on parents allowing their underage kids drink at home, a plan I certainly approve of. Not that my parents let me drink, but when I had some communion wine when I was 10–whoo boy! Didn’t drink for almost ten years! Several of my friends have been drinking since they were 12.) Hell, neither is sex or cussing. How many boys by the time they’re sixteen have either lost their virginity or seen a considerable amount of porn through the interwebs? Let’s face it, a lot.

The organizations moving against this, I feel, are relics of a bygone age, an age that no longer exists. (Indeed, I would doubt if it ever existed.) How very appropriate that one of them is called “Legacy,” but what legacy are they trying to promote? The social conservative legacy? That’s what it sounds like to me, conserving a society that no longer exists.

Hey, Cheryl, here’s a concept–why don’t you stop babying kids and adapt to a new era when they’re already more independent? I think if one grants teenagers more independence along with more responsibility, they will fly to it like girls to a Twilight showing, and we’ll have both teenagers and future adults be better off. But that can’t happen unless people like Cheryl stop screaming and whining every time the image of a cigarette or a beer appear in a movie. That can’t happen unless we accept that these things exist and that ignoring them won’t go away.

Too bad ignoring groups like Legacy won’t make them go away.