Upskirting The Law

It might be bad; it might be wrong;
An upskirt shot that shows a thong
But perverts told us all along
There is no law against it

Now Massachusetts’ highest court
From justice fell extremely short;
Compassion, in today’s report?
The courts had not dispensed it

Since lawyers live by splitting hairs
The clothing that a woman wears
In subway cars or café chairs
Defines her as “not nude”

So perverts, then, can snap away
The upskirt photo won the day
And, all too late, lawmakers say
The laws will be reviewed.

We have a freedom fetish in our culture. I don’t think even Michael Robertson‘s own lawyer would argue that what he is doing is good, or right, or admirable. But, since a judge has ruled that there is no specific law that is being violated here, Robertson’s loathsome behavior is–not good, not right, not admirable… and not illegal. Because the women he did not ask to take upskirt photos of were actually wearing clothes (thus, it seems to me, signaling to the world that they were not in the subway to serve as someone’s masturbatory models, but were in fact commuting to or from work), they were thus not “nude or partially nude” (in which case, he’d have been violating Massachusetts’ “Peeping Tom” law).

The law always is reactive–it took a while to catch up to video technology, and to the internet… We can’t prescribe particular behaviors, because that infringes on freedom. We have to allow anything and everything that is not specifically prohibited. As such, it is the lot of some people to suffer indignities that are not against the law, until their case inspires new law… too late for these people.

Did I say “people”? Sorry, I meant “women”.

July 21, 1978

Ok, first thing, before I forget: What, in your thinking, is the best thing you have ever seen on television? Ever?

I am no Platonist, so I will not hold you to any choice you make. To my thinking, I could ask you this question a dozen times and get at least a handful of answers that are all true. I could ask you in different contexts, and if you didn’t change your answer with context I’d have to worry about you.

I probably have at least a score of “best moment on TV ever, of all time” nominees, and any choice of just one among this population would be forced, artificial, and false at times, while true at others. Carol Burnett’s entrance in the “Gone With The Wind” skit, her dress made of curtains, “I saw it in the window and I just couldn’t resist it”. Walter Cronkite crying. The first time I heard Kermitt the Frog singing “It’s not easy being green”. I didn’t get to see the Beatles, or the moon landing, so those aren’t in my list.


One show has made that list countless times. I may have only seen it once, and it may be very different from how I remember it. It was the Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, July 21, 1978. The musical guests were Dave Brubeck and sons, which I don’t actually remember, but which actually makes the 90 minute show even better than I do remember. And here’s the meat of my post–I have not been able to locate any video of that show, and I really really *really* want to see it again.

The first guest was Richard Pryor. At this point in his career, he had made the switch to a rather … bluer sort of comedy. He was known (at least, I knew him, as a midwestern white kid) as a raunchy, dirty comic. Johnny Carson must have (and clearly did) know better. As I recall it, Pryor was hilarious, without coming close to overstepping any boundaries. I know now, the man was a genius; then, I was surprised.

The second guest was conservative journalist Dorothy Fuldheim. Well known in Cleveland, somewhat less well known nationally, she was the voice of the establishment. It is only in hindsight that I suspect Johnny Carson (and/or his staff) knew exactly what he (they) was (were) doing.

The expectation (yes, to me, as a high school kid) was that Pryor would either leave before Fuldheim was introduced, or that he would stay silent, or that he would explode. Frankly, the first two options were suckers bets; the assumption was that Pryor would unleash his formidable chops on this poor woman–swearing, cursing, blaspheming–until his fans were ashamed, and hers were vindicated in their views of those liberal black people.

And (as memory goes)… Richard Pryor was as polite as could possibly be. Fuldheim made outrageous claims about the absence of poverty, the absence of racism, the absence of pretty much anything bad in the perfect USA… and Pryor interjected “excuse me, ma’am…”, pointing out inequity, hunger, bias, and more. Fuldheim tried to brush him aside, but his politeness (so unexpected, so perfect) made her look like a monster.

It was… perfect.

I watched it, live. With my dad. I was in high school; he would have been in his late 40’s. I was astonished. So was he. I don’t know that he had heard of Pryor before; it didn’t matter. He knew Fuldheim. He knew Carson. I think this was the first time I saw my dad completely blown away by the same thing that blew me away. It was amazing.

And, near as I can tell, it doesn’t exist. I mean… *everything* has an afterlife on the web. But I have not been able to find this. I have found other people looking for this. But I have not found this.

It is entirely possible (likely, even) that my recollection is at serious odds with the actual video of the show. But damn, if that is the case, I want to know!

So… two things.

1) can we maybe find this tape? Anyone? Anyone know anyone know anyone?

2) What is the best thing you have ever seen on TV? Ever? Cos if it’s better than this, I *really* want to see it!

No verse today–this thing is eating away at my brain enough, I don’t need to feed it rhyme.

Also… no, I won’t tell you what brought on this post.

Ken Ham Clearly Doesn’t Believe (I Hope)

So I was just out walking the cuttledogs, and it occurred to me that the whole notion of a Noah’s Ark Theme Park showed either an incredible lack of belief on the part of the planners, or a psychopathic lack of empathy.

I mean, it’s a theme park. Think Disney. But it’s built around the greatest (by percentage, at least, if not in real numbers) genocide in history (assuming, for the time being, that the planners actually believe the Noah story). Men, women, children, toddlers, babies… dogs, cats, horses, cows… bunnies, slow lorises, baby hedgehogs… all of them, bloated, stinking corpses. Family fun for everyone! (seriously, click the link–this is what the flood ride would be, were it true to the bible)

One simply cannot have a realistic picture of what the flood allegedly entailed, and believe it appropriate for a family theme park. Ham either does not believe, or lacks any shred of empathy whatsoever.

It gets worse. Remember, the ark was the centerpiece of the park, but was by no means the whole thing. There would be rides. Remember, one of the rides (I shit you not) was (again, think Disney, but on acid) a “Ten Plagues Of Egypt” theme ride! Family fun, with blisters and boils, locusts and lice, blood and death! (Again, click the link for one of my favorites–no one who believed the story would ever suggest it as a theme park ride!)

Imagine a much smaller genocide, with a much smaller fraction of the world’s population put to slaughter. Can you imagine a family-friendly Holocaust theme park? Hop on the trains, kiddies? It sickened me to write that last sentence, and yet I wrote the verses at the two links above–what’s the difference?

The difference is, I believe (I was going to write “I know”, but I’ll settle for the weaker “I believe”) that the bible’s account is false. It’s fiction. It didn’t happen. There were no real victims (well… belief in “the curse of Ham” was not victimless), so I can write about bloated bodies and plagues of locusts. It’s simple–I don’t believe. The only ones who could treat such a genocide lightly are those who don’t believe. Those for whom the flood, and the ten plagues, are nothing more than a chance to fleece those who do believe.




I do wonder, though, who would invest, and who would want such a thing built. Is everyone so mercenary? Are there any true believers who think the Ark Park is appropriate? And why?

The Insurance Scam

My insurance covers fractures
(Like most policies I’ve known)
Which is wasteful for the people
Who don’t have a broken bone

And it also covers polio’s
Expensive medications
Just in case it makes a comeback—
It’s been gone for generations

Why, my policy protects me
From the rarest stuff on earth
So I’m working on a cunning plan
To get my money’s worth:

From the corners of the planet
I’m collecting rare diseases—
I’ll have people send me samples
From wherever someone sneezes

Every parasite that troubles,
Each bacterium that lurks
Every virus, every prion,
I’m collecting up the works

And from government collections
From Atlanta to The Hague
I’ll grab cryogenic samples
Of each pestilence and plague

I will sample every toxin
That humanity has faced…
If I don’t, you see, insurance
Is at least a partial waste

And I want the proper value
For each dollar, for each dime…
If I live my whole life healthy
Then insurance is a crime.

Cuttlecap tip to Ed, this morning.

Worth Every Penny…

A confluence of things, today. You may or may not know this, but we here at FtB are testing a new paid-subscription, ad-free version for your reading pleasure. Apparently, the place looks much nicer without ads. Ads never bothered me, though, aside from the few places around where, say, my verses have been copied without my permission and show up on a page with multiple pop-up ads that can’t be easily dismissed. That, yeah, bothers me.

Which leads to the next thing–a New York Times opinion piece with the remarkable notion that writers, artists, photographers and the like ought to be paid for what they do. Even *gasp* on the internet!

Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge. I now contribute to some of the most prestigious online publications in the English-speaking world, for which I am paid the same amount as, if not less than, I was paid by my local alternative weekly when I sold my first piece of writing for print in 1989. More recently, I had the essay equivalent of a hit single — endlessly linked to, forwarded and reposted. A friend of mine joked, wistfully, “If you had a dime for every time someone posted that …” Calculating the theoretical sum of those dimes, it didn’t seem all that funny.

Reading through some of the comments on that piece, I realize I have it better than most. With my readership here, I am making big bucks–approximately one dollar per post. And I hope to have my second big collection of verses out in time for Cephalopodmas shopping, and that should sell, with luck, a few dozen copies. And that honestly puts me ahead of a lot of the commenters’ stories.

I don’t know if it will be approved, but I left the following comment myself (from a few years ago):

I’d shill for a shilling
But no one is willing
To pay for the things that I write.
I’d rant and I’d holler
For minimum dollar
But no one is offering, quite.
A couple of euros
To stuff in my bureau’s
Sufficient for verses like these;
Though some call it whoring,
I’m begging–imploring–
Come, sully my principles, please!
If someone would shell out,
I’d promise to sell out–
My standards, I’ll keep in my purse–
For now, though, I’m sighing
Cos no one is buying…
And all I can write is Free Verse.

Eating The Monkey Brains

No time for anything right now, but I had to share with you a wonderful piece of writing on the shutdown. Charles Pierce, writing for Esquire, pens “The Reign Of Morons Is Here“, and it is beautiful. First, the succinct summary of the situation:

In the year of our Lord 2010, the voters of the United States elected the worst Congress in the history of the Republic. There have been Congresses more dilatory. There have been Congresses more irresponsible, though not many of them. There have been lazier Congresses, more vicious Congresses, and Congresses less capable of seeing forests for trees. But there has never been in a single Congress — or, more precisely, in a single House of the Congress — a more lethal combination of political ambition, political stupidity, and political vainglory than exists in this one, which has arranged to shut down the federal government because it disapproves of a law passed by a previous Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court, a law that does nothing more than extend the possibility of health insurance to the millions of Americans who do not presently have it, a law based on a proposal from a conservative think-tank and taken out on the test track in Massachusetts by a Republican governor who also happens to have been the party’s 2012 nominee for president of the United States. That is why the government of the United States is, in large measure, closed this morning.

Then the analysis (this paragraph closing with the most appropriate metaphor I’ve seen on the topic):

This is what they came to Washington to do — to break the government of the United States. It doesn’t matter any more whether they’re doing it out of pure crackpot ideology, or at the behest of the various sugar daddies that back their campaigns, or at the instigation of their party’s mouthbreathing base. It may be any one of those reasons. It may be all of them. The government of the United States, in the first three words of its founding charter, belongs to all of us, and these people have broken it deliberately. The true hell of it, though, is that you could see this coming down through the years, all the way from Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Address in which government “was” the problem, through Bill Clinton’s ameliorative nonsense about the era of big government being “over,” through the attempts to make a charlatan like Newt Gingrich into a scholar and an ambitious hack like Paul Ryan into a budget genius, and through all the endless attempts to find “common ground” and a “Third Way.” Ultimately, as we all wrapped ourselves in good intentions, a prion disease was eating away at the country’s higher functions. One of the ways you can acquire a prion disease is to eat right out of its skull the brains of an infected monkey. We are now seeing the country reeling and jabbering from the effects of the prion disease, but it was during the time of Reagan that the country ate the monkey brains.

I’ve only highlighted 2 paragraphs–the whole thing is well worth the reading.

And now I have even less time… dammit.

The Unintentionally Worst Thing Heard About Grand Theft Auto V

So I was listening to NPR.

On NHPR’s “Word of Mouth”, a discussion of Grand Theft Auto… let’s see… it was The Bankable Legacy Of Grand Theft Auto; audio is available at the link. There was discussion of the economics, of the controversy, of misrepresentation of an adult game as a bad children’s game… honestly, I was mostly shopping, so I did not hear all of the program. I did hear one comment though, that went unremarked on the program, and I wanted to remark on it. At around the 8-minute mark, Jamin Warren, of Killscreen, a “video-game arts and culture company”, responds to the host’s (the excellent Virginia Prescott, I think) comment that one can, if she remembers correctly get points in this game for beating up prostitutes. His immediate response (my apologies if I transcribed it poorly–I think I got it, though):

(8:04) I think the important thing that is important to remember is that there are many things you can do in Grand Theft Auto; some of them, I think, are distasteful—well, I guess, a lot of them are at some level distasteful—but I don’t necessarily think that the violence in Grand Theft Auto against women–obviously it’s problematic at very, like at a very base level, but I think if you were to look at it in the landscape of broader media, it wouldn’t necessarily be anomalous.

And yes, (as I understand it) you can, but are not required to, beat prostitutes in GTA V. I played an earlier version of the game, and never once treated it as anything but a driving simulator with some really bizarre racetracks. It was well designed without the added violence against women; my personal tastes would have it with playable female lead characters, and none of the violence, but my personal version would sell, like, twelve copies in total.

But that’s not the important thing. I suspect you caught the important thing, though. “It wouldn’t necessarily be anomalous.” The distasteful violence against women… yes, it’s there, but it’s everywhere, so that’s ok.

No, that’s not ok. That’s terribly depressing. When the poster child for symbolic violence against women can simply point to “the landscape of broader media” and say “we’re just following your example”, this is not a point in favor of the game, or of the broader media, or of much of anything.

Let’s beat up some women;
Let’s beat up some whores;
Let’s steal us some autos
And rob us some stores
Let’s tell everybody
It’s only a game…
Cos the rest of the media
Looks just the same.

Resistant Strains

The nasty microscopic bugs
We try to fight with special drugs
Consider penicillin just a problem to be solved
We dose ourselves at every cough
And kill a large percentage off
Forgetting that survivors mean the critters have evolved

And now, the CDC explains,
We’re dealing with resistant strains
And every day that passes brings us “closer to the cliff.”
But people are resistant, too,
To do the things we have to do
When drugs no longer work for us… there’s no more talk of “if”.

Time To Bring Back Public Whippings! (Or, Maybe, Not)

We’re pampering our prisoners
We’re treating them like guests
Instead of just ignoring them
We honor their requests

Free food, a bed, and exercise,
We cater to their needs
When what they’ve earned is punishment
It’s harshness that succeeds

No coddling them with training,
Cos they’ll never get a job
No need for education,
Cos a slob remains a slob

No TV time, no DVDs,
No books upon the shelves
These thugs want entertainment?
Let them work it out themselves

Let’s lock them in a tiny cell
And throw away the key
Unless it hurts, it really isn’t
Punishment, to me

We’ll show them, in the clearest terms,
What vengeance is about…
I wonder how they’ll thank us
When it’s time to let them out

You’ve probably all heard by now, Ariel Castro was found dead, having apparently hanged himself. As the poster child for horrible and criminal behavior, you’ll have to search a ways before you’ll find anyone mourning his death. Well, aside from those wishing he was still alive so that he could be dying more slowly; those voices are easy to hear.

And even at NPR, where accusations of liberal bias (in reporting and in commenting) are commonplace, the commenters are currently bemoaning the conditions of our prisons, arguing that they need to be harsher, more punishing, so that they do the job they were supposed to do and prevent crime rehabilitate offenders punish evildoers.

These commenters are wrong. You want the most successful prisons, in terms of low recidivism rates, low operating cost, and successful integration of inmates into society when their sentences are up? Let’s compare the US and Norway.

But of course, those are horrible measures of prisoner effectiveness if the real goal of a prison is to assign moral responsibility and punish wicked people. (Or to make money.) I have asked audiences which hypothetical they would choose, a simple procedure that would make certain a criminal would never commit a crime again, and would instead be a productive member of society, or a procedure that would punish that criminal harshly, with no effect on future behavior. A strong majority go for the punishment. (BTW, a strong case can be made that this is a holdover from religious thinking during the Reformation–the blossoming of the prescientific notion of freely chosen, morally culpable behavior. We can’t prevent it, cos it’s freely chosen, but we can and should punish the morally responsible actor, regardless of whether that punishment decreases crime.)

And with Ariel Castro as the poster child, there will be no one, or very few, arguing that our prisons are already too harsh for society’s good, that an overhaul of the system would be hugely beneficial (especially for non-privileged groups). Differential arrests, convictions, and sentences by race? No time for that, there’s a monster in Cleveland who deserves harsher punishment! We would rather punish after the fact than make our streets safer before. We would rather pay for prisons than schools and scholarships. We would rather blame a handful of criminals after the fact, than our own failure to improve society beforehand.

It’s so much easier.

National Dog Day

So, yeah, I only found out a bit ago from Mano that it is National Dog Day* here. Knowing that I have written quite a lot about dogs, I thought I’d do the lazy thing and see what sort of dog verse (doggerel?) I could dig up. I’ve written quite a few doggy things, from celebrations of rolling in garbage, to wedding weirdness, to religious metaphors, to sirius serious science… and a verse that is taught in schools in India. (And there is so much more–I keep forgetting how damned much I have written over the years–and a non-trivial percentage of it is actually pretty good.) And then I saw this one. And I cried. And kept crying for quite a bit. So, for National Dog Day, the saddest verse I have ever written.

I hope we did what’s best for you
I know, at least, we tried.
I took you to the doctor
And I stayed there at your side;
I talked with you for one last time
Then held you as you died.
I kissed your head, and said good-bye
And cried
And cried
And cried.

Yeah, well… happy National Dog Day.

* I was supposed to post pictures of my dogs, apparently. Problem is, the cuttledogs are weaponized cuteness, and the internets couldn’t take it.