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I tripped over this on YouTube last week and I've been enjoying it ever since.

The above is both hilarious (Happy ending for all them white girls.) and a good analysis. Some of the others are as good if not better. Enjoy!
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I just came from an AFI Docs screening of this movie. It talks about the life and activism of Aaron Swartz, and I cannot praise it highly enough. The film goes on wide release next Friday, including a paid video on demand option, and, for those of you in Boston, they are arranging a showing with a discussion panel at MIT which should be interesting as no one from MIT was willing to comment on screen about Swartz's prosecution.

I've come away with a very emotional impression of the whole thing. The movie certainly has a point of view and presents Swartz as a mensch who followed through on his ideas for a more just internet -- and by extension a more just society. It certainly makes me question the definition of public domain and makes me want to support Project Gutenberg more directly.
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The online magazine Slate has become even more click-bait focused, and today's eye-roller is about adults reading YA books. I've read the article and I disagree with the author, especially since her entire argument seems to boil down to "things should stay in their own boxes."

So, I'd like to tell a story based on my own experience about why we shouldn't give a damn about adults reading YA.

I was on the T late one night. I'd waved goodbye to my friends at Porter Square and settled in to reread Emma while the red line chauffered me home to Quincy. It was fairly deserted and around Park Street, a guy probably a decade older than I was got on. He seemed a little drunk, but wasn't belligerent, so I kept reading. Two stops later, he asked me if I liked reading. I gave a tight nod and kept reading. He asked me another question, which I ignored, and then he asked, "Have you tried those Harry Potter books?"

I had. I had indeed. I think the book of Goblet of Fire had just come out. He said that he hadn't read a book since he got out of high school. He was divorced. He only saw his son on weekends and it had completely flummoxed him when his son brought a book with him to read, not because it had been assigned, but because he enjoyed it. When his son started on the second book, he asked to borrow the first. He was hooked. He rearranged his custody weekend to take the kid to the midnight sale for Goblet and proudly bought two copies so they could read it together.

It started him back on the path to reading. He'd found Ken Follet's books and didn't like Dan Brown much and wanted to know if I thought he'd like Emma. (I said I wasn't certain and gave him a synopsis. He thought no. But he asked if I had any action adventure recommendations, and I suggested The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, one of the early LeCarre books, and the Sherlock Holmes stories.)

My first thought on reading the Slate article was that she would rather this man, whose name I never learned, continue to be excluded from the world of books. His "in" for reading was Harry Potter. And really, are the mystery stories my mother reads any more sophisticated than a YA novel? They're set in the adult realm, but they're formulaic (as is some of my favorite science fiction).

I don't know why this got under my skin, but it really, really did.

On another note, does anyone want to help me set up my World War I blog?

Whoo, boy.

Mar. 1st, 2014 02:56 pm
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There's an article at Salon about a woman whose citizenship application has been rejected because she's a conscientious objector and the belief is not based in religion.

I grew up in the military. When I was 17, it looked like the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) would pass and, at that point, there was a good chance everyone between the ages of 18 and 26, not just men, would have to register for selective service. These days registration requires your Social Security Number, full legal name, and birth date. At the time, it was still being done on cards, and you could write in a preference for service or state you were a conscientious objector. Were the draft to be reinstated, those with a preference would, probably, get that preference unless there were special circumstances, and conscientious objectors would be examined about their beliefs.

My father, a full Colonel, sat down with my sister and less than half an hour later, she said that Dad had suggested she state a preference for Air Force or Naval Air. I think she still regrets never learning to fly a plane.

My conversation with my father took much, much longer. One part of the conversation still sticks out in my mind. Dad, obviously somewhat frustrated with me, said, "Don't you believe there's anything worth dying for?" And I stared at him and said, "Yes, I can think of lots of things I would die for. I can't think of anything worth killing for."

It was years before I realized how much I must have hurt him. I never thought of it as a judgment for his choice of career; I knew that he believed a strong standing army was the best defense a nation could have and his morality dictated that he serve as part of his nation's defense. It wasn't until I was in my late forties that I found out his parents had discussed disowning him because, as good Baptists, they were pacifist. (My mother still hasn't forgiven me; Dad never thought there was anything to forgive, bless him.)

After making my pronouncement, Dad sat back and said, "Then you're a conscientious objector. That's honorable." He went on to explain that not everyone would see it as honorable. During a popular war, I could be executed for refusing to bear arms, if conscientious objector status were denied -- though he stressed that had never happened in the US. I could be imprisoned, which has happened. I could be sent to work on the front lines without any means of defending myself. (Message runners during World War I were often pacifists who were conscripted and chose to serve rather than go to prison. Their death rate was appallingly high.)

Sometime in the early oughts, my sister got a phone call from a man who said, "I knew who everyone else with this last name was, but I didn't know you." He turned out to be a distant cousin and a fascinating man. He was enough older than my father that he was drafted in World War II. He applied for conscientious objector status and ended up imprisoned for several months before serving as an orderly in military hospitals. Before his death, he and my Dad spoke at a couple of colleges about the morality of the military and conscientious objection within an American context. While both of them are men of deep faith, neither of them presumed that only people of faith could claim conscientious objector status.

I still feel that war is wrong. All war. It is as ingrained as my objection to the death penalty (Not something to debate with my mother, by the way. Dad just told me to get my facts together so I could make logical rather than emotional arguments.)

And I am an atheist.
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Living in Germany and Belgium in the 1980s was weird. In Germany, I had access to Stars and Stripes because I worked on a military base, but in Belgium there was no convenient newsagent with The International Herald-Tribune for daily news. Instead, I relied on a weekly trip to the Hauptbahnhof in Mannheim (about three miles by the route I walked) for The Observer and a local newsagent near the Parc du Woluwe in Brussels for the same august publication.

I read it cover to cover and found the British perspective on the US to be a bracing contrast to the right-skewing Stars and Stripes. I especially enjoyed the column written by their chief American correspondent, Simon Hoggart. I was heart-broken when he was posted back to Britain, but still read him faithfully.

He has died at only 67 of pancreatic cancer. I miss his incisive wit already. In many ways, his column was the sounding board that helped shape my opinions, sometimes in opposition, true, but the best tribute I can give him is that he always made me think.

ETA: The Guardian's front page had the years of his life. He was younger by a year than my first boyfriend, and that's something I find a little frightening, too.
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In August of this year, we will reach the centenary of the beginning of World War I.

Americans won't have the same level of involvement in the Remembrances because we didn't join in until April of 1917, but it's salutary to remember this war. It was begun in idealism. It shattered the class system. Without World War I, there might still be a British Queen ruling India. Hitler would never have risen to power. Americans might not have indulged in such severe isolationism. Women might still be fighting for the right to vote.

There are stories. The Angel of Mons was fiction that people came to believe happened. The Christmas Truce with its football games between the opposing sides in no-man's land really happened. The world became much smaller in people's minds. Aerial bombings happened. The guns in France could be heard in London. Edith Cavell treated people on both sides from her hospital in Brussels and was shot by the Germans as an enemy for helping French, English, and other soldiers to escape from Belgium.

I want someone to put out a Kindle edition of Nelson's History of the War. I have a complete copy in storage, but I want to read it again. It's British propaganda, written before anyone knew which side would "win" (remember, it ended in an Armistice, not a surrender); it's stories are documented within about six months of their occurrence. It runs over twenty volumes. And it's invaluable as a tool to see the old order's death being explained to the "common folk" who will benefit, but are afraid of losing the certainty of "knowing one's place."

Read Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth for more about the upper middle class and the women who chose to work in the hospitals. Read any of Lyn MacDonald's books about the war. Read the poetry and the autobiographies and All Quiet on the Western Front to remember that the experiences of the soldier were not that different on the other side of no-man's land.

Belgium formed me in many ways. In February of 1979, while I was in history class, we heard an explosion at school. A farmer in a field near us had been harrowing a field and connected with live WWI ordnance. He didn't survive. Every commun had its own memorial, often with the same surname recurring. In Place Sainte-Catherine, there's a memorial to the carrier pigeons who gave their lives serving.

The idealism was real. The hope that this bloody, in both senses of the word, conflict might be the world's last was genuine.

So. Watch Human Nature and Family of Blood from Martha's season of Doctor Who. Watch Lawrence of Arabia and really grasp that this is a very small part of a world turning upside down. Watch Blackadder Goes Forth.


This post is brought to you by Michael Gove who wants British school children to be taught about World War I in "the right way" while ignoring that the idealists who survived the war, including Rudyard Kipling, were no longer idealists when it ended.
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The head of our IT department just asked what an internet cookie was.
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A teacher is on suspension in South Carolina for reading Ender's Game to her class. The Guardian has an article.


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