Tuesday, July 17, 2012


    What makes a slogan great? (Alex Adrian, Diary of an Atomic Man; you know the drill.) What is it that, simply put, causes a slogan to "stick" in our brains, causing us to remember it? And what causes one to become embedded in popular culture--essentially, mooring it in the cultural consciousness for all eternity? And are they all improved by the addition of the word "bitch"? Answers (sort of, and possibly with the exclusion of the "bitch" thing) to come in this week's exciting[1] installment of...The Diary of an Atomic Man!

    I must confess to some slight deception in the above paragraph, for while this is partly a look at the topics mentioned above, but mostly a sort of free-form, jazz-like--perhaps even improvisational...reflection, I guess you could call it...about them. Anyway, on with the show...

    Due to a minor case of writers' block, and because it has the most examples--that stick in my mind, at any rate--I'll start with Coca-Cola, the largest and most successful soft drink in the world. And it didn't get that way cos of any marketing gimmicks, no siree![2] No, indeed it did not--it's the slogans that stick, along with the distinctive bottle shape and logo design, which are out of this post's purview. Think about it: "The pause that refreshes"--one of the longest-sticking-around slogans, dating to 1929; "It's the real thing"--somewhat younger, but even stickier; "Enjoy Coca-Cola" or "Drink Coca-Cola"--a simple command, but everyone remembers it: the latter dates from the drink's creation, 1886; "How about a Coke?" dates from the Second World War and is simplicity itself.[3] 

    Or how about car companies...? While examples of single auto-makers and marques having multiple shifting slogans and said slogans sticking are thin on the ground--companies in this field are more likely to either pick one iconic slogan and stick with it or shift through slogans but only have one remembered; unlike soft drinks, a car is a Commitment, something you want to have around in ten or fifteen years, not something purchased for sixty-five cents and then casually tossed out--but the Ford Motor Company is a major exception, having not one, not two, but three--count 'em, three--major slogans in rotation at any one time. Lessee...there's "Built FORD Tough", a classic, though I'm not entirely sure as to whether or not it's for the line of trucks alone or not; in any case, it's what I always remember it as being for. Then, there's "Have you driven a Ford lately?"--a question, simple, clean, and elegant. Perhaps the simplest yet--and a canny restaging of the preceding, in my opinion--is this command:"Ford. Drive one." It's brief, blunt, and to the point: there's no circumlocution, no "You see, this car is superior cos...", no bull, just "Drive our cars."
    Other car-makers, however, lack the plethorae of slogans that Ford offers us--but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in lastingness. "Love. It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru"--a good one, as it associates something everyone is theoretically in favor of--love--with the superior quality of Subaru's cars. "It's not oil. It's liquid engineering"--the sort of thing that absolutely demands to be said in a thick Germanic accent: "Leek-veed ehnchenheerink". Chrysler is another special case; while it's famous under the slogan "another fine Chrysler product", it recently shifted to "Imported from Detroit", which is factually questionable, as most of the parts aren't even made in America, let alone Detroit; however, in that it appeals to American patriotism, it's rather good–look at what we used to be, it seems to be saying, and look what we can be. Or, to put it a bit more bluntly, and on a slightly sillier note:"'MURRICKA!"
     Saturn (GM's hip, with-it, youth-orientated marque–and if you're wondering why a car company would need such a thing, you're not a GM marketing executive) is, from this point, something of an outlier as it had during its twenty-odd years of existence a multitude of slogans, including "Rethink."(yes, that's the actual spelling and punctuation; it started out as "Rethink American.", which not only sounds rather odd and disturbing to me–Why should GM, a car company, tell me how to define my national self-identity? I mean, I'm familiar with the expression, "What's good for General Motors is good for America", but even so–but is also a nice example of the car companies=AMERICA! trope I've noticed); most before this final one, though, focussed on the oh-we're-so-innovative-and-completely-different from-other-car-companies angle, with, in chronological order:"What kind of car is that? It's a Saturn[Oh, I thought it was a Ford]!" being used for the first year of its existence; from 1989-1994 "A different kind of car company." (US–and how is this company different from other car companies? In what ways do the cars differ? Do they run on unicorn-power and have rainbow exhaust fumes that don't pollute? Cite your sources! Show your work on a separate piece of paper!) and "We've reinvented the automobile" (Canada–And if anything, this is even more idiotic than the American slogan. You've reinvented the auto, eh? What aboot it? It looks like any other auto to me; it still has an internal-combustion engine, four wheels, and an interior. Plastic body-panels do not a reinvention of the automobile make! Anyway…); from 1994-2007 they abandoned the idea of separate American and Canadian slogans altogether, using "A different kind of company,a different kind of car" for both markets, a trend that would continue until 2007 with the use of "It's different in a Saturn(HOW!?2002-'04)", "People First(I have nothing to say to that; '04-'06)", "Like always. Like never before(How's that humanly possible? '06-'07 US; '06-?? Canada)", and the above-mentioned "Reinvent." This last would prove to be Saturn's final slogan, as the marque was shuttered, along with Pontiac and Hummer, in the Great General Motors Reorganization of 2010.

    I recognize that automobiles are not essential for continued human existence, Twenty-First Century American culture and urban design notwithstanding. Food, however, is, and not everyone can hunt or grow their own. On account of this fact an industry devoted to the sale, manufacture, and marketing of food has arisen. Okay, statement of the perfectly, blitheringly obvious over. Now, the slogans. Weirdly popular is "Good things come to those who wait", which has been used by both Heinz and Guinness at various times and in many other contexts by many people. Fast food restaurants are famed for having memorable slogans: "Have it your way", "I'm lovin' it", "Where's the beef?", to name just a few. Arby's, having long been an underdog of sorts in the Fast-Food Wars[4], have recently upped the game; whilst they retain their traditional roast-beef and comfort food menu, they've rolled out the slogan (sung, of all things):"It's Good Mood Food". What does that even mean? Is it an equation of Arby's food with good feelings? Does Arby's contain special endorphins guaranteed to cheer you up? If I feel sad or depressed whilst eating Arby's, can I sue the company for false advertising? All in all, it's a pretty stupid slogan. Wendy's "Where's the beef?" has had considerably more cultural impact–indeed, it could be called a meme–owing to, among other things, its use during the 1984 presidential campaign–in context, questioning Gary Hart's qualifications–though it didn't help Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, who ended up losing to Ronald Reagan by the largest margin since Franklin Roosevelt beat Alf Landon in 1936; Wendy's resurrected the slogan–sort of–in 2011, answering its own question with "Here's the beef". In the intervening years the slogan has become a catchphrase in the United States and Canada, carrying with it a connotation of "There's something fishy, here; what gives, Mac?"
     On the subject of beef, I suppose I ought to mention a certain very famous beef slogan, the American Beef Council's "Beef. It's what's for dinner."(You don't know that–I could very well be having chicken, or fish, or a green salad.) Taco Bell's "Think outside the bun" is…odd; Mexican food is one of the most popular varieties of restaurant food in America today (for which I've no doubt Taco Bell would take the lion's share of the credit), and tortillas, tortilla chips, taco shells, salsa, refried beans, and other Mexican staples are stocked on supermarket shelves alongside ground beef, chutney, and cream of tomato soup. This has happened for a number of reasons; firstly, because of the many Mexican and Central American immigrants who have came to the United States in search of economic opportunities and a better life for themselves and their children and grandchildren[5];secondly, because it is delicious, filling, and easy to prepare;and thirdly–though this last be going out on a limb–because of the increasingly broad and sophisticated taste of the American consumer. I can see, though, why Taco Bell would go out on a limb to advertise its menu; though I cannot claim to understand or speak for the average American consumer–indeed am probably not "the average American consumer", as marketing companies and pollsters and Gallup have defined him–I can see why a fellow, wanting cheap sustenance, but unsure of whether to go with Burger King, McDonalds, KFC, or Taco Bell, would hesitate over the latter choice. After all, that's Mexican food; Uncle Gary was once laid up for three weeks after eating some chili de la Dios in Guadalajara[6]! I guess (he thinks) I could give it try; once never hurt anyone, and Grandma always said it never hurt to try something new…

    Now, to broadcasting. Since the turn of the last century, broadcast media has metamorphosed from a tiny group of crackpots with crystal radios into the largest industry, hands-down, in the United States. To this author at this time, however, the circumstances under which this rise to dominance occurred are immaterial; only one thing, here and now, matters, and that's the slogans that networks have employed over the years. "This–is CNN, Cable News Network", while it can't possibly be the only reason for the cable network's success, must surely have factored in it to some degree, owing to (a) its simplicity–CNN's not trying to be cutesy, coy, or humorous about its existence; it's just telling you who and what it is; and (b) the fact that the announcer is James Earl Jones. This last may be as or more important than the first, as, well–it's James Earl bloody Jones. You know, Darth Vader? Mustafa? The owner of, without a doubt, the richest, most melodious voice in America–nay, the world–today? If Jones's baritone proclamation that This. Is. CNN! isn't reason number one for its success, it's certainly in the top ten.  
 Other networks, of course, have slogans, memorable ones, though the "this is___" format is among the commonest; what this is caused by–uncreativity, laziness, a desire to reiterate what the viewer is reading in the lower left-hand corner of the screen–is beyond me. Take, for instance, the USA Network's "Characters welcome". USA has been one of the pioneers in the cable TV revolution of the last decade, along with AMC and HBO; the slogan has (I think, and I've not checked with anyone at USA for confirmation of this) a double meaning, referring to both the character-driven dramas with which the network made its name, and "character" in the sense of someone eccentric, unusual, or memorable. Again, that's only a theory, and a half-baked one at that, but I'd not be surprised if it's true. A&E, the Arts and Entertainment People Yelling at One Another for teh Dramaz with Occasional Biography Specials Network, reflects its priorities with "Real Life. Drama." Yes, A&E; we get that you're all about the drama, now give us something other than reality TV7! Speaking of reality-TV cable schlockmeisters, who says "I want my MTV" anymore, except for lunatics who suddenly start spouting TV catchphrases during breakdowns and time-travellers from the 1980s (two groups which, admittedly, have very little else in common)? For most of the past decade, it's not shown any music videos whatsoever, relying, instead, on so-called "reality" shows of varying but oftentimes low quality, Jersey Shore the show that must under no circumstances be named starring annoying orange people and that defames the good names ( let's not joke) of both Italian-Americans and residents of New Jersey. (The Garden State itself, of course, has done little to improve its reputation as the armpit of the nation, as the primary things the state was known for before The Unspeakable premiered were: (a) being the state near New York that wasn't New York; (b) Mafia; (c) industrial parks; and (d) interstate highways. Maybe, maybe, you knew that Frank Sinatra was from Hoboken; maybe not. Oh, and Princeton. Anyway…)

…And All the Rest!

    The following paragraphs are my flailing, desperate attempts to cover everything I didn't get to above. First, for no discernable reason, one company–Ivory Soap. The story of how Ivory obtained its trademark buoyancy–of how a worker one day overmixed the soap/air ratio, causing the resultant product to float, and how this was an unexpected, rip-roaring success–are well-known enough that I feel no need to repeat them, here; it is, of course, that same property which inspired the slogan "99 and 44/100 Pure–it Floats", in a canny example of changing an apparent flaw into a product's main selling point.
    If one thing has completely and utterly altered life, art, commerce–anything you can think of, really–over the past twenty-some years, it would have to be the Internet. From a bunch of geeks in universities to the biggest thing ever, it now permeates every facet of our life. Now, the slogans. Apple Computer, though it's never had a majority market-share–its representation in the movies and on TV notwithstanding–has nonetheless made one of the most memorable commercial campaigns in the Twentieth Century, with "Think Different"–O dangling, ungrammatical, lopped-off adverb!–accompanied by a picture of Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and cetera. Wikipedia has called itself "the free encyclopedia" for years–its entire existence, in fact.
    Insurance companies have been at war with each other over which one of them is best at keeping the cars, loved ones, and assets of Johnny and Jane Yank from fire, theft, and other disasters. In this war, they have deployed various slogans–long-lasting ones, memorable ones–to advance their products. "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there", has managed to last for decades, though when it was introduced, I've no clue. Of course, there's no need to mention GEICO and "fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or less on car insurance"; while the claim that switching to GEICO is "so easy a caveman could do it" (cue image of an urbane, well-dressed caveman enjoying the life of a hip bachelor) has been and gone–however, it became a mercifully short-lived national craze, inspiring a mercifully short-lived ABC sitcom–it's been replaced by two concurrently running campaigns alongside the longer-running Gecko adverts: Firstly, a stack of dollar bills with googly eyes (representing, apparently, "the money you saved by switching to GEICO), and secondly, a smooth-voiced chap who asks, "could switching to GEICO really save you 15% or more on car insurance?" then presenting a rather odd rhetorical question–along the lines of  "Is the Pope Catholic?" but much weirder. Allstate, meanwhile, has eschewed the silliness that is GEICO's stock-in-trade, presenting a baritone-voiced black man talking about, amongst other things, why it's a bad idea to allow teenagers to drive unsupervised (teens' brains aren't fully developed, and won't be until they turn twenty-four); the spots invariably end with "That's Allstate's stand. Are you in good hands?" Farmers Insurance has the inexplicable "We are Farmers–Bumbumpabumpabum"; what does that mean? Are they trying to say that they're farmers, that their employees spend their time that's not spent selling insurance tilling the soil? Alternatively, are they trying to state that their identity comprises solidarity with the workingman, the farmer, and the farmhand?  The mind boggles as to the possibilities.


    I could go on. However, this post is beginning to get a bit long, and I will clearly need to revisit this subject. I have begun to realize that a product does not get sold on slogan alone, that it takes a combination of a clever ad concept, memorable campaign7, and also a slogan, as a part of the other two, to sell a product. Whether you're selling soap, jeans, soda, or cars, the rules–in broad strokes, at least–are the same.

I dreamt  I wrote this post in my Maidenform bra (not really ;)}
--Alex Adrian, twilight hours of 7/16/'12 and 7/17/'12
1. Yeah, right.
2. Indeed, whenever Coke introduced marketing gimmicks, the results have oft been abject failures. Besides the New Coke fiasco–next post, I'll get to that–as Bill Bryson relates in his fantastic Made in America, the company apparently once rolled out Coke flavored cigars.
3. I have absolutely no idea what this footnote is for. I'm serious.
4. You joke about this, but it really happened. Mayor McCheese's heroic last stand before the Burgerian Royal Army, Ronald McDonald and the Burger King in single combat, Wendy tussling with the Hamburglar–Death to McDonald! Find McNinja–he'll help us! We must never forget.
5. I find it ironic that many of the talking heads, politicians, and pundits now expressing anti-immigrant sentiment are the descendents of immigrants–from Europe, yes, but still immigrants–and they presumably came to the States for much the same reasons undocumented immigrants now head north. In conclusion, this is why you should support the DREAM Act of 2010.
6. The story of Gary Smith, who, after eating the Chili de los Dios in Guadalajara, developed severe diarrhea and was rushed to a hospital, whereupon he spent over three weeks confined to bed rest and an additional five weeks with a severe burning sensation in his mouth, is, while an interesting one, a story for another day.
7. However, this can be an two-edged sword; if a campaign is sufficiently memorable, the product that it was selling can be forgotten altogether, with no increase in sales.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Some Thoughts on Homophobia and the Boy Scouts; or, Dear God, Let This Woman Lead Her Son's Boy Scout Troop!

Hey, everybody; I'm Alex Adrian and this is the Diary of an Atomic Man. (Sorry 'bout the lateness, by th' by. Life sort in the way; you know how it goes. Anyhow, the main post, "the biggun", the one I've worked on with skunkworks secrecy these past months, should be up next weekend; this is supposed to be a simple rant-post to tide us over.) Now, Jennifer Tyrell would seem on the surface to be a normal mom: A devoted partner, a Cub Scout troop leader, and a damned good 'un at that--but for one fact: she's gay. While this really shouldn't be a problem--not in this day and age, not with the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, equal-opportunity employment legislation, and the general loosening of attitudes towards homo/bisexuality--but according to the Boy Scouts of America, it makes her unfit, completely unfit, to be a Cub Scout troop leader. Homophobia has been called the last acceptable form of bigotry--you can't be racist, you can't be sexist, gods know you can't be anti-Semitic, or discriminate against any religion whatsoever, but should you happen to love the same sex or both, you're screwed,and people are free to discriminate against you;Lawrence v. Texas may've struck down sodomy laws, but all the Southron states have laws banning gay marriage, if not Constitutional amendments, on the books. Stereotypes of gay men and lesbians still abound:effeminate gays and mannish, unattractive bull-dykes, both nearly the opposite sex but for a minor difference of plumbing, hypermasculine leathermen looking like escapees from a Village People video or a Tom of Finland drawing, mincing, misogynistic fashion designers, sadistic paedophiles on the evening news, conspiring recruiters pushing their insidious agenda on America's innocent youth...and bisexuals? Forget it; unless it's two hot girls getting it on--more proof, as if any were needed, that the porno industry is run entirely by and for straight guys--we[1] apparently don't exist. This rather curious phenomenon is known as bisexual erasure, or to Tropers as No Bisexuals, and when bisexuals do appear they're--we're--all too often depicted as either uninhibited sluts out to screw anything that moves or else depraved perverts who couldn't care less if their part--er, victims are male, female, canine, or equine.[2] Then, too, there's the idea that bisexuals are confused or "on the fence" about their sexuality--we're not--and that bisexuality is merely a media fad, something that's simply a passing fancy of today's youngfolk...Ahem. Anyway, the Jennifer Tyrell controversy; more specifically, gay parenting, the Boy Scouts' previous history of doing this kind of thing, and the "gay agenda" crap the right's been spreading. Firstly, gay parenting. I've nothing against it; the kids of gay parents I've known--and the gay people, what's more--seemed well adjusted and normal, studies have shown no appreciable difference between kids raised by gay and straight couples, and why should we care whether a child's raised by a man and a woman, or two men, or two women, or five adults of varying genders, so long as the household's open and loving and the kid's not getting beaten senseless on a regular basis or treated like an undesirable, a stranger in his own home? Jennifer's son is also okay that he has two moms; he made a sign saying, "I love my two gay moms". Moreover, the Boy Scouts gave a rather...idiotic...reason for letting her go. To wit (from the statement they released to CNN): "Our mission does not include teaching young people about sex or sexual orientation, and we do not believe it is Scouting's role to introduce this topic in our youth development program." I...wha...huh...? So...a gay parent would be more likely to introduce kids to sex and sexuality than a straight parent, simply 'cos they're gay? Preposterous! Absurd! you say--some, your 'umble typist included, might even go so far as to call it madness. Besides which, it's probably--hopefully--nothing that the kid won't learn about in health class, or, God help us, his elder brother's sock-drawer.[3] Of course, the Boy Scouts have a history of this kind of thing: you may remember the brouhaha a few years back--though this has quite literally been going on for twenty years--when they refused to let gay Scoutmasters lead scout troops. The Scouts have also a history with the Unitarian Universalist Association; the Scouts refuse to recognize the UUA's religious emblem program, and while there exists a religious emblem program for Unitarian scouts, the UUA refuses to recognize it! The UUA is a liberal denomination, with positions on atheists, agnostics, and homosexuals almost diametrically opposed to those of the Boy Scouts; Unitarian beliefs require not that a worshipper believe in God--only acknowledge a higher power of some sort--and UU's have always been accepting of minorities; indeed, the LGBT outreach and acceptance program occupies pride of place on the UUA website. Given this history, is it any surprise, then, that the Boy Scouts don't recognize Unitarian religious emblem programs? No. Is it, along with their refusal to let LGBT people serve in leadership programs, antiquated, backwards, bigoted, wrong-headed, reactionary, just plain dumb, and a damn crying shame? You better believe it. It's this kind of intolerance, from one of the most-respected youth organizations in America, that leads--in least in part--to homophobia and homophobic violence. And it's not like there's anything intrinsic to Scouting that means the organization must discriminate against gay people! After all, Great Britain--the Boy Scout organization that started it all, I needn't tell you--Canada, and most Continental European scouting programs allow gay people to join. So, what's with the BSA's obstinate refusal to let gay people join? It may be related to the prevalence of certain elements in American society, conservative ones, the Bible-thumping evangelicals; a preacher-man garners respect in American society, moreso than a politician, cop, or lawyer, and many a conservative minister has used this respect to advance his social agenda: In getting stem-cell research banned, for instance; or pushing abstinence-only sex-ed; or setting the cause of gay rights back about twenty-five years with their crap about "homosexual recruitment" and the "gay agenda".

The Gay Agenda 

One of the more enduring myths of the right--fundies especially--is that gays are some sort of all-powerful force of evil in America, whose tentacles are all-penetrating, spread throughout American society but especially in the liberal media and the radical socialist atheist communist Democrat party. It's immoral and unbiblical, they say, citing Leviticus and Romans as "proof" that it's wrong for "a man to lay with a man, as he lays with a woman". It's unnatural, they say, here trotting out the hackneyed old one-liner that God made "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve". It's a choice, they say, and they bring an "ex-gay" up to show even the most depraved Godless sinner can become a God-loving heterosexual. It's obscene, they say, gays are flaunting their sexuality, they say (though when straight guys sexually harass women or engage in joshing masculine behavior, or when straight women act bitchy, catty, and shopping-obsessed--such stereotype-conforming jackasses are dangerous--they're never accused of flaunting their sexuality). And, they say--and this is perhaps the most damning accusation--gays are everywhere...and they're recruiting. The Pink Menace is, they say, an active force for evil in the world, wanting to turn every God-fearing heterosexual Christian into depraved atheistic Communistic homosexuals...and what they want to do with America's good Christian boys and girls--I-I shudder to think of it! Why, there oughtta' be a law! And, Oh, the children! Won't someone please think of the children? Standard conservative doctrine has it that all of this tripe is true, though there's precious little evidence to support it.[4] The lesson of the oft-cited passage in Leviticus is more "Don't rape angels" than "Don't have sex with guys" and Paul had...issues (he was the one who told women to submit to their husbands, thus making him one of the first advocates of maledom);[5] let's not forget, besides condoning genocide--something not many people are in favor of, these days--the Bible also contains instructions on how to treat your slaves (Cor. 4:1). The gay-agenda crap is really far too big for this one post; I'll get to it some other time.

Conclusion--And a Call to Arms

While I started this post in the wake of the Jennifer Tyrell controversy, much more has happened since then in the field of gay rights, specifically on the gay-marriage front. The first thing was the passage in North Carolina, banning gay marriage in that state now and forever; this makes it the thirty-first state to have such a measure on the books. The second--the storm, really--was the combined announcements of Vice-President Biden, Education Secretary Duncan, and Himself, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, all announcing their support for gay marriage, and Mitt Romney, consequentially announcing his opposition to 'em. Duncan, as a Cabinet official, has very little to lose--if Romney or Ron Paul (who's still in this race, let's not forget) win in November, he'll not be reappointed--and Biden sticking his foot in his mouth? Happens every day; what's on TV? However, he and the President are indeed running for re-election, and while some on the left may criticize him, the President, for not saying enough, it must be admitted that this took courage and temerity of a kind rarely seen in DC. A sitting President endorsing marriage equality? How often has this happened before? Oh, that's right--never. What more d'you want--an executive order saying consenting adults can marry whomever they want, regardless of race, gender, or number? Not in this Congress, not with this President; not here, not now. Still, there oughtta' be a law; we have to repeal the lamebrained, misnamed, misguided, bigoted Defense of Marriage Act and pass a law–Hell, a Constitutional amendment, though that's arguably as cuckoo as the attempts by Tories to pass a law banning it--guaranteeing the right for men to marry men, women women, and both sexes each other. And we can't throw this to the states like table scraps to a pack of starving dogs, as we've been doing; else the Southron states will never allow it--they might even go so far as to secede, though how sane reviving the Confederacy is when the US armed forces are that much more powerful, better-armed, and more technologically advanced than 150 years ago is open to debate. No, this must be a federal law; we must state, in writing, that same-sex marriage and heterosexual marriage are equal in the eyes of the United States federal government--if not those of God--which is good enough for me. I feel this to be at least partially a matter of national pride; Canada has a federal marital equality law, and if the Goddamned Canucks can do it, why can't we? Hell, forget Congress--we need to take this to the highest court in the land.[6] Yep, we may have to make a federal case out of it–literally:The tenor of the next Congress may be even more rightward (yes, I know) and–somehow–even more obstructionistic and antagonistic towards the President–though perhaps not!–and so marriage equality is may be out of the question just yet; if Obama gets re-elected in November, though, and the Dems take the House and (more of the) Senate…well, we might just get somewhere. Just remember Loving v. Virginia. The repeal of the anti-miscegenation laws clearly didn't cause the death of civilization as we know it, so why should allowing same-sex couples to marry? Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway (why is Europe so much more progressive than the U.S. socially?), Great Britain, as I mentioned above, Canada–All allow same-sex marriage. So what's with the opposition in the States? No idea, though it may be the religio-political complex I mentioned earlier, and probably is. But wait, you say:what about the Southron states, and polyamory, and the Midwest, and civil unions, and the religious right, and this and that and the other thing…? Patience, Grasshopper, patience! I'm no prophet or oracle, able to see the whole future spread out before like a vast tapestry. All I can say is this:We need a federal marriage equality law–and not just this wishy-washy civil-union crap: Full. Marriage. Equality. The fight will not be easy; it will be hard, and it may be long, but it must be won, and it shall. We'll have to work and fight like Hell to get it passed; but it's not impossible or even extremely hard–this is, after all, America, a nation conceived in the name of freedom from the tyrant's jackboot, under the premise that "All men[and women!] are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain rights, among these being the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness[I paraphrase]"–And what's more intrinsic to that last than the freedom to love who you please, to commit them, and to marry–or not marry, as you wish–them?[7] That's all very nice, Alex, you say as you get up for a second glass of Iron Fire, but what can I, one single person, less than a mite in the grand scheme of things, do? That's the thing; you may be just the one person–but a million, or even a hundred thousand, "just the one" people, working in concert, can work as much change as an army of legislators, lawyers, and lobbyists. Here's what you can do:
1. Vote! It may seem like such a quaint, old-fashioned thing to do in an age of NASCAR, Facebook, and YouTube, but Amendment 1 in North Carolina? Passed with eight percent of the vote–out of fourteen percent of all North Carolinian registered voters. Eight out of fourteen–that's fifty-one percent, more or less. That's the tyranny of the minority taking form in a pretty damn tyrannous way. What I'm getting at is, your vote matters. If you're not registered, it should be at the top of your to-do list. If you are registered to vote, but you've not voted in awhile because all politicians are scumbags, why the Hell haven't you!? Don't you know that the right to vote is what distinguishes us from dictatorships like North Korea or Nazi Germany?[8] The right to the franchise is a fundamental American right, just like trial by jury, or a free press, so exercise it! Vote Democratic, vote Socialist, vote Green, Hell, vote Republican if you believe that their platform's right for America–just vote, and let your voice be heard.
2. Agitate. It's a little-known fact that I'm a democratic socialist; I think government control is a good thing–I consider myself halfway between a DemSoc and a progressive ideologically speaking–and that in order for real change to be effected agitprop must be spread. Write your Congressman or -woman telling them how you feel about this Issue–for it has become an Issue, if it wasn't before, now that President Obama has thrown his weight behind it–besiege the Congressional phone-lines–besiege them, I say!–and protest; if nothing else, we must protest against this madness and for equality. But, you say, I'm not the protesty type. You're really starting to piss me off, you know that...? Protesters aren't just grey-haired relics from the Sixties or hot-blooded, earnest college students, you know; there's enough young couples, professional types, and trade-union activists to present a respectable front. On a local and personal level, the  Boy Scouts aren't all homophobic–My brother's friend's Scoutmaster is gay, and the troop's fine with that, and of course Jennifer Tyrell's troop all rallied behind her when this happened–and many Republicans are decent, moral, trustworthy folk, the kind who are often described as "pillars of the community" or "fine, upstanding citizens".[9] In both cases the problem lies at the top (though as oft happens in politics any Tory is no friend of mine): As we've seen, the Boy Scouts have issues with LGBT people, and the flock of rascals, jackasses, and bigots serving as the GOP's elected representatives in the House and Senate sicken me; they truly do. Quoting the late, beloved Douglas Adams, they're "a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes". I know, of course, that the election will not be decided on this Issue alone, or even primarily; it'll swing on, above all else, the economy, with all the rest, from abortion to foreign policy to this, subordinate to it. But we have the American people, or at least some of them, behind us, for in a Gallup poll this year 51% of all surveyed agreed with the statement "Gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry their partners [again, I paraphrase]", an arguable vote of confidence from a statistical majority that, though bare, is bound to only get larger as time goes on.
The right, the religious right especially, will scream and rave and rant about how this will mean the death of traditional American values, how it's contributing to the further erosion of America's moral fibre, how allowing gays to marry will destroy the institution of traditional (read: Monogamous, heterosexual) marriage, how it's all a conspiracy by Them (who are rarely identified, but when they are, they nigh unto invariably include Communists, "secular humanists", pagans, gays and lesbians, feminists, "uppity Negroes", and immigrants) to erode the bedrock of traditional American values and on and on and on. If we allow gays to marry, their argument goes, Western Civilization, and life as we know it, will end: there'll be men marrying men, women marrying women, plagues of locusts, widespread sex with farm animals, unwed couples living in sin, people rejecting Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, cats and dogs living together–mass hysteria! This line of argument, of course, is madness in its highest form; when Tories lament that we're abandoning the values that our country was founded one, I want to ask: Which ones? Slavery? The mass extermination of Native Americans? Whaling? Forbidding all but white males over the age of twenty-one to vote? Anti-immigrant sentiment (one that's, sadly, still not been abandoned)? Isolationism? Imperialism and colonialism? Institutionalized sexism? The right of any man to eat as much as he pleases, then pay what he likes, plus a $5 charge for seating and plates, at Big Bubba's Buffet & BBQ? (I know, of course, that when Tories speak of the "values that our country was founded on", they refer to God and country, to the myth that America was founded as a Christian nation, despite the fact that the Founders feared monarchy and theocracy so much that they not only forbade governmental establishment of religion, but also forbade any religious test for government office; many of them were also Deists, and Thomas Jefferson was one of the first Unitarians. Perhaps ironically from the view of a Twenty-First Century observer, the Southrons were the pro-religious-freedom camp at the Constitutional Convention, with New England and the Mid-Atlantic states standing for the established Church; most delegates from those states were religious conservatives, John Adams and Ben Franklin–along with Green Mountain Boys leader Ethan Allen, a Vermonter through and through, who held the rather heretical view that, insamuch as organized religion was nothing but the tool that tyrants and kings used to prop themselves up and give themselves a shade of respectability, all organized religion was inherently evil–being a few notable exceptions. The switch only became apparent in the 1830s and '40s when the issue of slavery started a-looming. After that conflict began to boil, many Southron freethinkers fled north–if they weren't run out of town on a rail–their abolitionist tendencies making them pariahs in an increasingly traditionalistic, pro-slavery South. In the North the Unitarians and Quakers, both liberal, both opposed to slavery, welcomed the fleeing Southron dissidents into their congregations. Further down the line came civil war and deep cultural divides that arguably still shake our country to this day: in the South, a racial caste system, laws, customs, and attitudes meant to ensure that the black man was the eternal inferior of the white, the Supreme Court-imposed doctrine of "separate, but equal" honored in its first half but entirely ignored in the second; on top a white aristocracy, their standing determined solely by skin color, not by birth or means or any other factor, gathering in darkened barrooms to sip mint juleps and mutter about the damnyankee carpetbaggers, who did they think they were marrying our good Southern girls, the parasites, and what should be done about them uppity Nigras–If you ask me, the feller at the end of the bar says, we never shoulda' let Lincoln win; never shoulda' abolished slavery!–'till all hours of the night, the ruins of Neoclassical antebellum mansions, set afire by either Union soldiers or newly-freed slaves realizing that they didn't have to bow and scrape and do whatever Ol' Massa said, that they were free men and women, now, mouldering away in the swamps; beneath, a black underclass, their status as much related to their skin-color as that of whites. In the North, a general feeling of helplessness, a "what can we do?" attitude, prevailed–after all, those stupid Southrons tried to secede once, they failed, so why should we help? And we gave the Negroes their freedom–What else do they want? So it went–and so it goes:"The South shall rise again", goes the battle cry–"and we'll just knock you down again", comes the Northern reply. Anyway...) If, if they refer to those values, then yes, yes it is. If, however, they refer to freedom and equality, to the belief that all are equal under the law, then no this is not a rejection of those values; it is a confirmation of them.
This is the great civil-rights struggle of the early twenty-first century, the abolitionist movement, the women's-rights and civil-rights movements, the civil-liberties movement, the labor movement, and the ongoing struggle against totalitarianism. If we win–when we win, for it is only a matter of time until this is passed–we can build on it, as the 14th Amendment was, as Brown v. Board of Education, Loving v. Virginia, United States v. One Packet of Japanese Pessaries, and a hundred other laws and Supreme Court decisions were–for polyamory, say, or whatever fights technological advancement will bring as the Twenty-First Century wears on. It can be done, it must be done, and so help me God, it will be done. This is the coming storm, the one fight that must be won right now–and if not right now then soonish–and those who try to stop it will be blown out and remembered poorly, as the racists and segregationists who ran the South when the Civil Rights movement arose were. A stand for this issue is a stand for freedom, justice, liberty, and equality; a stand against, a stand for bigotry and reactionism (Is that a word? It is now).  The question is, where will you stand?

--Alex Adrian, twilight hours of 6/6/12 and 6/7/12

1. Holy Hell, did I just come out to the fifty-some people who read this blog? 'Pears so.
2. That's the first man-on-dog/man-on-horse–Hell, the first bestiality–reference 'round here…
3.…And the first official dirty joke.
4. Fun fact: studies have shown that the best parents for kids are lesbians. Interesting, no?
5. My dad has a pet theory about Paul: He was secretly gay–and he can cite Scripture to prove it:"...For I felt a growth within me, like a thorn…this happened to me not once, not twice, but three times…[a third time I paraphrase; Dad, if you can come up with the actual citation, please post it in the Comments section.] Plus, he never married and spent all his time hanging out with a bunch of dudes–highly suspicious behavior, y'know. Additionally, yes, yes, I did indeed make an utterly tasteless joke about one of the arguable founders of Western Civilization that perhaps ten percent of my comically small audience will get. I am DRUNK WITH POWER, DRUNK, I TELL YOU! MUAHAHAHA!
6. The People's Court!
7. The Hell of the situation is, for both sides this is a question of freedom–What it boils down to is, do you want the freedom that's really not freedom, the freedom of the states to do what they please or the freedom of people to marry who they want and have the same rights as any married couple? I stand for the latter; the jackasses and homophobic bigots in the National Organization for Marriage and the Republican Party wish for the former.
8. Interesting fact, here: The Nazis were democratically elected to power by a major industrial nation and campaigned on a platform of "getting Germany back on its feet", "taking Germany back"(from, admittedly, different forces than those that the present-day GOP wishes to–Primarily international inspectors and occupation forces, not immigrants or "international bankers"…weellll, maybe that second one), and family values; y'know, criminalizing homosexuality (or rather enforcing the existing laws against it, for while said laws had been on the books since 1870, they weren't enforced under the Weimar Republic) and stressing the woman's role as mother and homemaker, subservient to her husband in every respect; abortion was criminalized and "Aryan mothers" were awarded medals for bearing vast litters of children. Herr Hitler would fit right in to today's GOP…
9. Incidentally, wouldn't it suck to be a "pillar of the community"? I mean, a community's gotta' weigh two, three hundred tons easy–and prolly a lot more–what with all the bricks and mortar and other building materials on your head; I'd hate to be one.
10. Incidentally, this marks the tenth Diary of an Atomic Man post, at least according to the Blogger interface. And now, the coda…


Today, an e-mail from arrived in my inbox, one that shifted my entire post and reminded me of what an ungodly slow worker I am: What it said, among other things, was, owing to the Jennifer Tyrell case–which, you'll remember, was what started this post in the first place–the Boy Scouts are now allowing gay Scoutmasters to serve openly. Thus, the overall framework for this post is now out-of-date; however, the overall idea–that gays and lesbians face discrimination in America that can only be compared to that seen in parts of Africa–remains, I think, especially pointed, with Referendum 74 in Washington, which would keep legal same-sex marriage in the state I have been proud to call home these past eight years, on the ballot. Homophobia is still rampant in our great nation; LGBT students face discrimination in schools from fellow students–our future leaders, the men and women who will run this country or do other, equally noteworthy things in future–and the religious right has this debate by th' short-'n-curlies, equating same-sex marriage with polygamy, incest, and bestiality. (I wonder how many of these ministers were born of unions between first cousins–or their mothers and animals. God knows they act the goat…Poor taste, I know. Anyway…) This item is but one victory in a long fight, but it's an important one, and a precursor–I hope–to other, larger victories. If you live in Washington, vote to approve Referendum 74; this is a stand we can make here and now. What must be done must be done, even something as small as this. Excelsior!
--Alex Adrian, 6/10/12

Friday, February 17, 2012

Valentine's Day; or, Glagh!

'Lo, everyone. Alex Adrian; Diary of an Atomic Man. This week:holiday we celebrated Tuesday. The 14th...? Valentine's Day...? (I swear to whatever gods exist--if any do--that I'll stop with the sentence fragments, now. Anyway...) Valentine's Day leaves, you see it's...I just...GRALRAGHHHH!!!! The Hell with Valentine's Day and all its overcommercialized, heteronormative, mononormative, anti-single, marriage-tracked...Ahem. Anyway...I bet you want to know what my specific grievances against it are, right?(I mean, besides the ones I listed.) Right. Let's get this started.

Valentine's Day. How do  I loathe thee? Let me count the ways:

1. Thou happenst in the month of February, a month during which I findeth mineself disgusted more often than usual;
2.Thou art inherently heteronormative--at least as thou art practiced in the United States--leading to exclusion of those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persuasions.(Th'art also discriminatory 'gainst the polyamorous, but see ye below.);
3. Thou art discriminatory 'gainst those who practice the form of relations known as "polyamory". (Those readers who may be interested in the ethics, practice, and forms of poly are directed to The Ethical Slut, by Janet Hardy and Dossie Flores. Anyway, plug over.)
4. Thou assumeth that all are in a relationship, or wish to be in one, even if that be untrue;
5. On a related note to the above point, thou hold as one of thine highest assumptions that all in a commited relationship wish to engage in that which is called the highest sacrament by many, the act of marriage, even if, Heaven forbid, they should enjoy their current relational status;
6. And, perhaps most dammingly, thou art nought but a vast corporate conspiracy, a sham based on half-truths, hearsay, Victorian-Medieval romanticism, and the wish of certain corporations (namely FTD Florists, DeBeers, Hallmark, and American Greetings, but let's keep things civil, shall we?) to raise their bottom lines, a commercialization and commodification of one of the most beautiful emotions ever conceived into a crass commodity like cattle, oil, or pork products.
Okay...let's dig into my specific grievances. (And, before we move forward, I'd like to state that I have nothing, absolutely nothing, against the institution of marriage, monogamous long-term pair bonding, heterosexuality, romantic love, or any of the other things my remarks above could be construed as slagging. Anyway, on with the show...)

Compared to the rest of the grievances I mentioned above, the February thing seems almost negligible. It just happens to be that this February is the month I first noticed Vanity Fair's Lick the Arse of All the Actors, Directors, and Producers in Town issue--forgive me; "Hollywood Issue"--and it also happens to be an election year, so more disgust than normal is being produced, perhaps?

Answer me this, and answer me well and truly: in what universe (that doesn't count in base-nine) is an 18th anniversary worthy of a "collector's edition"? Well? Huh?

The other charges against the holiday are far more damning.  The heteronormativity is particularly subtle, as is the mononormativity. The anti-singleism and the marriage-tracking...rather less so. Much of the first two is contained in the phrase "that special someone", which is to Valentine's Day as "the Spirit of '76" is to Independence Day, "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue" to Columbus Day, and "merry Christmas and a happy New Year" is to the entire grey bleak month of December: a phrase so specific to that time and place that any invocation of it outside of that time and place gets one looked at funny. It is in "that special someone" that all that is problematic with Valentine's Day (beyond the commercialism--more on that later--and the fact that the only suitable abbreviation is shared with venereal disease--not an association one desires with a holiday designed to celebrate romantic love. Anyway...) is contained. First, although this is a general thing, the usual assumption is that the significant other is of the opposite sex, something which admittedly pervades American culture as a whole.

Secondly, there's the assumption that you have a significant other of either sex, which may not be entirely accurate; I  know it's not in my case. Moving the stress to the next word, there's the assumption that you have a significant other, which is doubly bizarre given all the recent coverage of polyamory after--among other things--Newt Gingrich's proclamation that he "discussed" having an open marriage between his second wife and third and current wife. And then the marriage thing--my mom pointed this out to me a few days back, when I started working on this post, but should we honestly be encouraging teenagers--the most hormone-addled human beings on the planet--to consider getting married? Given the sheer relational drama--it's like a soap opera, high school, what with everybody crushing on everybody else, constant talk about sex, homophobia, etc.--sanity suggests no; and marriage is becoming only one of a number of options, for we seem to be getting to the stage of no-one caring about who one sleeps with, so long as all involved are consenting adults.  (At least, I don't care. Anyway...) I, for one, try and ignore it altogether. And yet...

And yet all the dark forces mentioned in my final grievance still conspire to push this holiday on us, to sap the spirits of love, honesty, openness, and acceptance in search of profit. And yet, despite all this, V. D. is still on of the top holidays in the U.S., a "big" one like Christmas, Easter, Hallowe'en, and Presidents' Day, which is this weekend. Disgust, disgust, disgust... (I personally blame the Victorians. Although it was celebrated throughout the Middle Ages, being a feast-day and therefore kind of mandatory, this whole Valentine Day thing didn't really catch on until the early Nineteenth century, which is close enough, as they say, for government work; besides which, the Victorians were all about the sentimentality, which they're best remembered for today--adorable moppets with ringlets and Fauntelroy suits, sappy poetry commemorating the home and the wife's place atop it, severe prudishness and repression, and of course, casual misogyny and assumptions that society's gender roles were enthroned by God. Also, racism. Anyway...) So. Score one for corporate greed? Or does this round go to cynicism and pissiness with an idealistic core? I'm rooting for C&P, if only cos they're the underdogs and I'd like to see a victory for those values I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. This will be a long battle, but I can't help but see a light. For America gets better and more open about these kinds of things by the day; my home state of Washington just passed a law legalizing gay marriage, and the courts have struck down California's Prop 8. If we act now--let the people know there are alternatives, that you don't have to feel left out because of who you love or how many or if you love someone at all, that love can be platonic, that friendships can last a lifetime, that even the monogamous hetero-lifemating that this abomination of a holiday honors doesn't have to look like a Hallmark card--we may be able to reform it, to return it to what it's "supposed" to be: a celebration of love. Just some thoughts.

--Alex Adrian, 2/17/12

Thursday, February 9, 2012

On the Various Failures and Illogicalities of the English Language;Or, Logic Applied at last to the Mother-Tongue!

 Irrationalities exposed.--Root words Examined.--The Differences between Albion and Columbia.--The New Small-talk.

English can be annoying. Lack of words when you need them, an overabundance of words when you don't, random spelling and grammatical quirks, differences of spelling, pronunciation, and terminology between the American and British dialects...the list goes on. (On, and just in case you missed the sign coming in: Alex Adrian. Diary of an Atomic Man.) So, this week--and incidentally, in the first Wednesday post in awhile--we'll take a look at the improbabilities and illogicalities of English, differences between American and British English, and spell-check.

First, some history of the language. English in the modern form is one of the younger and possibly the most heavily-borrowing of the major languages. This may have something to do with the origins of the tongue; as the joke goes, it was the result of, quote "Norman armsmen fucking Anglo-Saxon barmaids", close quote. In all seriousness, though, English is a hybrid, motley tongue, comprised at base of Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, French(mostly loanwords), Latin (ditto), Dutch (you're starting to see my point about loanwords, right...?), Welsh (according to John McWhorter's terrific Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, and mostly grammatical), and various others. As you probably noticed from the parenthetical notes, one thing English does ridiculously well is pick up loanwords; the languages cited above are but a fraction, a mere fraction, of the languages English has begged, borrowed, or stole words from. (perennial exception: Finnish, which is a pity because it looks and sounds awesome.) This is all well and good, but a in-depth examination will have to come later. One thing that's been annoying me recently is word origins. Take, for example, the word "pretty". By way of analog with witty and gritty, and wit and grit there must have  been--perhaps in Englisc, or Old English--a noun form "pret"; would those Anglo-Saxons have referred to a now-extinct quality we Men of later days call prettiness? And, moreover, will the same fate happen to the other two words? We speak of being overwhelmed and underwhelmed; presumably there's some way of being "whelmed",  the exact right amount of emotional impact. The English "Hell" seems obviously derived from the Norse "Hel", the Viking death-goddess--but where in the Nine Worlds is "heck" derived from? I learned fairly recently that "darn" is an extreme modification of "eternal damnation", and is thus related to damn etymologically, but still: enough to keep a guy up at night thinking. Now, so far in this post, Jarte's spell-check hasn't recognized, in order, armsmen, fucking, McWhorter's, Englisc, pret, underwhelmed,(though 'whelmed' itself raised no flags, which gives me hope) Hel, and "Jarte's" itself. I've added all of these in due time, but it draws this to my next point: the eventual conquest and replacement of all life on Earth by our benevolent robot overl--er, I mean spell-check.
Spell-check is useful but annoying, like a grandmother who considers you her pride and joy but insists on babying you even though you're twenty-one and moved out of your parents' house, semi-gainfully employed, and generally no longer three and making a mess in your diapers. While it may prove useful if, for instance, you're one prone to misspelling words, and I've actually had some moments--a few on this very post--wherein it saved my bacon, but all in all it just sticks in my craw: I can spell well enough and generally catch my mistakes, it gives homophones a free pass--not a problem for me, but common enough that my English teachers go over it repeatedly at the beginning of the term--and as for new words...hooo-boy. One of the unsung joys of being a science-fiction/fantasy writer is making up new words to describe concepts that you invented by the time-honored method of ramming two or three words together to creating a new one, or making up words for your new alien species' language; generally, SF/F writers get to play with the language a bit--or a lot--more than "literary", thriller, or romance authors, one of the pleasures of the genres. Spell-check pointedly refuses to acknowledge 'em, natch, even though some, like "Terran" have been in use for decades. By the way, natch apparently isn't a word, although I use it a lot. Similarly certain words of relatively recent vintage, such as "webcomic/webcomics" and "polyamory" and its conjugations--"polyamorous" ,"polyamorist"--are obviously not real words and must be treated accordingly. (While the MS Word spell-check is relatively limited insofar as polyamory is concerned, offering up only "polyandry"--which I guess might be considered a form of polyamory, though most poly advocates seek to distance themselves from Mormon polygamists...different post, Alex; different post--and "polymer"--which is something rather different-- the Jarte checker is more...diversified, bringing Polymorph--yes, as in the D&D spell--into the equation.) It also considers "non-standard" contractions, which I use a lot of, most names, their various plurals and possessives, and British spellings of words to be anathema, which  I find annoying. On that note, let's press on to our next--and, I swear to God, Zeus, Odin, Thor, Shiva, and Queztalcoatl, last--topic tonight.

American versus British (and Canadian!)

...English, that is. (Which reminds me of this idea for a T-shirt I've got: You know those t-shirts that say, "This is America, now speak English or get out of the country"? The ones that make sure to tell people that you're a douche and/or redneck? Like that, only instead of "English", it's "Esperanto". Two versions of that one:one in English, and another in Esperanto. And I've other ideas along that line: Lojban, Ido, Sindarin[okay, probably--no, definitely--"Middle-Earth" for that one], Klingon, German, French Canadian... and a whole lot of others. Anyway...) The sheer number of differences between BrE and AmE, as those froods hoopy enough to study these kinds of things say and write, boggles the mind; it truly does. Let's start with terminology, since that's the most obvious one. While both an American and a Brit enjoy a game of football, what they're referring to in either case can differ quite shockingly, for what is called "football" in the UK is what an American would call "soccer".(For the record, soccer is a corruption of a contraction: originally the full term was--and still is, technically--association football, a reference to the early governing body; being played primarily by upper-class Britons originally lead to it being called "socca", and I like to think that the present-day American name comes from some overzealous, hypercorrecting American journalist exactly phonetically transcribing the popular name. Anyway...) What would be a "truck" to an American is a "lorry" to  an Englishman, and while in the States you fill that truck's tank up with gasoline or gas, the same thing across the Atlantic is accomplished with petrol. If you're tabling something, God help if you've just switched continents: in Britain to table (or "boulder" should no tables be available due to your sleeper ship, containing all the middle managers, hairdressers, and telephone sanitizers of the planet Gogalfrincham, has just crashed on prehistoric Earth, in which case you've more problems then just the lack of tables.) is to open a subject to discussion; the American meaning is to close the topic:i.e."So I guess we'll table this for now/we'll put this thing to bed/WHEN I BASH YOUR HEAD OPEN" in the Jonathon Coulton song "re:Your Brains". Something's wrong under the bonnet of your Ford Prefect, versus problems under the hood of your new Taurus. When parking cars, is one doing it in a car park or a parking lot? Is something to be spun anti- or counter-clockwise so as to loosen it? I could go on, but there's just so much. There is, of course, the slang meaning of rubber--a condom in America, an eraser in England. And spelling...! Spelling is where the three dialects diverge into severe linguistic shift-things. Okay...keep your head about you, cos this gets really messy really fast. Firstly, -or/-our. Is it honor or honour? Color or colour? Favor or favour? And on and on. How to spell certain words that end with the er sound? Theater/theatre, somber/sombre (I prefer the latter), specter/spectre (ditto), etc. If it's emphasize versus emphasise (for instance)...well, the US is unique here too: Canada is solidly Commonwealth on the question. (or is that query? Ah, never mind.) The periodic table can get confusing: is element number 137 (Cs) cesium or caesium? My family inadvertently convinced me to start spelling aluminum aluminium several months ago; I kept with it on a "fun-to-say" basis. Gray/grey is another matter entirely; the lines between the two usages are much blurrier there and Grey is an entirely acceptable surname Stateside. How do I swing, you ask? Answer: it varies. As noted above, I go with the British spellings on words that, in AmE, are spelt -er, and use aluminium rather than aluminum. Grammatically, I prefer to excise got in sentences where they make just as much sense without it: "I've a lovely bunch of coconuts", f'rex, or "I've the blasted documents. Where d'you want me to put them?"; I also move the contraction point in negative sentences further up than most Americans:i.e."We've not yet breached the damned perimeter!" or "He's not yet fought the hardest battle." I also spell grey with an e, as gray is an American perversion that has no place in proper spelling. And--on a topic I missed in this post--I err the side of two L's; regardless of dialect, one L alone looks lonely and cold to me, desperately in need of a hug, some kind of hot drink--coffee or tea, perhaps, or hot coca--and a friend. I use "arse" over "ass" when discussing the buttocks, although I use "ass" in the context of donkeys, someone making an ass out of themselves, and as in badass.
Those of you interested in further exploring this topic I refer to the relevant Wikipedia pages. It's really a fascinating topic, and I want to explore it further.

This post written partially whilst in the nude
--Alex Adrian, twilight hours of 2/8/12 and 2/9/12

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Future ... Now !

It struck me again recently. The occurrence was my chancing across a reference in The Atlantic to a laser welder. And the thought--this is a true fact, and one that keeps cropping up to me as time wears on--is that we are living in the future. (Oh. And I'm Alex Adrian--as always--and this is the Diary of an Atomic Man, again as always.)

Now, don't hold your breath waiting for it, folks--'cause it's already here. One'd be hard-pressed to ignore the facts; yes indeedy, one would. (Wouldn't one? Anyway...) Technology is charging forward at a rapid pace and has built itself into the fabric of modern society. Everyone and their grandma is online (and on Facebook!); phones the size--well, height and width, not thickness-- of a cigarette packet (playing card may be a better analogy, given the relative thickness; incidentally, I want to go down in history as the first man to compare an iPhone to a supermodel: both are beautifully designed, thinner than air, everywhere, and seem created only to flaunt their beauty and slimness to the world. I'd like to see a supermodel play Angry Birds though, or an iPhone model Versace's latest collection...or a supermodel incorporate 4G wireless connectivity. At the piano, we have Hugh Farman. Anyway...), e-readers that can--hypothetically--store all of written history on something the size of a slim paperback, laptops--forgive me, "netbooks"--that can fit under a doorjamb and outperform a supercomputer, MMOCGs (anyone know what to call Minecraft? I'm having trouble coming up with a term) that allow the player to do anything, social networks of thousands, perhaps millions of people, talking, sharing, linking, playing, doing...the list goes on.
And that's just consumer electronics! (Okay, video games aren't really "consumer electronics", especially not browser-based or downloadable ones, but bear with me here.) The military is developing weapons that seemed science-fictional mere decades ago: the idea of the Future Force Warrior is to create the ultimate giving 'em a suit of powered armor. That's right, powered armor. Meanwhile, the Navy has turned to the crazy awesome side of the Force : besides the plan to develop a carrier-based UAV (more succinctly, a carrier plane that, rather than being controlled by a human being from afar or in the cockpit, the idea behind the X-47B is that it'd work virtually completely autonomously--or at least that's how Popular Mechanics describes it. [Joe Pappalardo,"X-Plane Rising", Popular Mechanics, December 2011, pp. 66-74.]), the new Zumwalt-class destroyers would be 3000--three thousand--tonnes heavier than the Ticonderoga-class cruisers, and indeed the heaviest destroyer ever built, outweighing even World War II heavy cruisers.  According to the Wikipedia article, the Zumwalts may eventually mount free-electron lasers and railguns, the latter of which the Navy's been researching for several years, now. The project's been cancelled, it seems, but still...

The motto, for those of you who don't speak Latin: "Speed destroys".

This is why Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space! (Or to sail the seven seas...)

Actually, you know what'd be awesome? Pirate Newton. Anyway...
Even the traditional marker of tech-that-ain't-never-gonna-happen, the jetpack,  is slowly, slowly, coming to fruition. If you've about two hundred grand, you can buy a (pretty cool-looking) "wing pack".

Dah dahdahdah dahdah dahdah...dah dah dah d-dahdah dahdah dahdahDUN!

The Diary of an Atomic Man would like to salute Yves Rossy, for advancing human achievement some fifty years with his invention. Meanwhile, space...

"Space? SPACE?! SPAAAACE!!!!"
Well, space exploration is progressing rather well, in fact! The Obama administration may've been the one to scrap the Space Shuttle, but the thing had it in the cards for a few years, now, and according to Wikipedia the current plan's to send humans to the asteroids in 2025, followed by a 2030 Mars-shot. There will be an increased reliance on private contractors--SpaceX, Scaled Composites, and the like--for getting people and cargo to NEO and LEO, while Uncle Sam, Ivan, Raj, and Liu look outwards. Within a few years, private spaceflight will be available for (relatively) cheap. And as for the old idea of a space elevator? Who knows! Maybe...just maybe...I'll keep an eye out, just in case. I can't think of any better way to end this, so I'll send you out with these words from Randall Munroe, the creator of xkcd:
"People aren't going to get better or worse. Technology will be pretty cool. All in all, the future's going to be awesome! Except climate; we fucked that one up."
Damned right

--Alex Adrian, 1/21/12

Monday, January 16, 2012

Viva Las Vegas... ?

Hey, everybody. I'm Alex Adrian and this is the Diary of an Atomic Man. And this week...Las Vegas. Not just anything about Vegas (Baby) but specifically the sheer absurdity of it. I've always regarded Las Vegas as a strange experiment: less the logical, natural output of people wanting or needing to live somewhere than a massive experiment--the first in human history--in terraforming. In that prior statement lies the thrust of (this part of) tonight's post. Who in blue thunder thought that putting a city in Middle of Nowhere, Nevada, was a good idea? There's no mining, or a river, or an ocean/lake/large water feature, or a forest, or...ANYTHING THAT COULD BE CONSTRUED AS USEFUL IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER! Most cities spring up around something useful, such as the aforementioned features: Denver, Colorado, for instance, has mining. Copenhagen, capital of Denmark, is located on a bay. (Nice place.) London--River Thames right through th' middle. New York, of course, is more or less a freakin' island, or at least spread across two or three; I'm not counting in the Bronx for argument's sake.  Tokyo was once a fishing village (and called Edo), before becoming the Japanese capital. BUT...nothing at all like that can be found in Vegas (Baby). (I suppose that you could count the A-bomb tests that ranged throughout the Mountain West in the Fifties, but...) Same goes for Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix has it worse, as (so my sources tell me) it is a trap for smog from Los Angeles due to the mountains and dippy geographical thingy. In both cases they're "service-industry meccas" distinguished and built around one thing: in the case of Vegas (Baby) gambling, in the case of Phoenix having the climate of a Middle Eastern city. On that note, let's move on to the next topic of tonight's post: those little towns whose economies revolve around one single tourist activity. Leavenworth, Washington, where my family spent a weekend around last Christmas, is a good example. In that specific case,  the town was intentionally...retrofitted...into a Bavarian Christmas village so as to promote tourism to that part of Central Washington. Another example--examples, plural--would be the various towns that spring up near mountain ski resorts, existing solely to serve them. Or, for that matter, Atlantic City, New Jersey, until a few years ago. Or Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, birthplace of Dolly Parton and location of her theme park, Dollywood.

Yes, Dollywood. According to the official website :"The Great Smokey Mountains' family fun vacation adventure with great shows, thrilling roller coasters [my italics], festivals [what in...], and kiddie rides.[Kiddie rides. KIIIDDIE RIDES!!!!]"

Or (I could do this all night) Branson, Missouri. This' probably a better example than Atlantic City or Pigeon Forge, as various musicians and performers have set up shop along the "Strip", Highway 76. (Oh, and according to Wikipedia, Dolly Parton also has a theme park there, Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. What in hell...?)  In all these cases (Well, maybe not A.C's...or that of the ski villages) their success isn't so much the result of some logical, natural, phenomenon, but rather a calculated attempt on the part of someone (probably the Chamber of Commerce or a related entity) to boost tourism to the town/area. All of this is nice; however, it's nothing like our next topic: college towns! (Cuz there's not a law against having three topics...or sexual partners, for that matter. Anyway...) Okay...slight generalization time, here. College towns are typically small to medium-sized, population wise. They contain colleges (duh), and most of the adult population are in some way connected with the college, as professors or other capacities. The schools are good--after all, parents who work as professors want only the best for their kids--the politics liberal, everyone--just about, so long as you ignore the bulk of the science (hard and soft) and liberal-arts students and faculty--is devoted to the sports teams, and the culture and overall vibe...well, let's just say that reality and college towns can be of out of sync at times. This is pronounced in major, multi-discipline universities (when you bring physicists, engineers, biologists, sociologists, and liberal-arts majors together in one place, weird things are bound to happen )and for some reason small liberal-arts colleges. As noted above, size matters; although Seattle, Washington, and New York have several universities and colleges, they're not college towns, since they're fairly large cities. In general--I say in general--they're more liberal and relaxed in attitudes towards "alternative lifestyles" compared to their neighbors, especially in more "red-state-y" regions of the country. Not sure why this is. I'll look into it in a future post, perhaps.

Hey, first post of the year!

--Alex Adrian, 1/16/12