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Girl Can Write. (enhanced)

Thursday, September 06, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Kek, a young Sudanese refugee, resettled alone, to Minneapolis:

All afternoon my belly aches.
Maybe I should have eaten more, I tell myself.

But I know the hurt of hunger well.
Hunger is a wild dog,

gnawing on a dry bone,

mad with impatience

but hoping still.

It isn't hunger I feel today.

This pain is worse,
one without pity
like an icy night.

This pain is a question,

the one my heart will not stop asking:

Why am I here,

when so many others are not?

Why should I have a desk

and a pair of fine jeans

and a soft place for my head to rest?

Why should I have the freedom to hope

while my brother and father

sleep in bloodied earth?

I should not take these gifts

I do not deserve.
And yet I know I will take them,

warm food
and soft bed

and fresh hope,

holding on tight

as that wild dog
to his bone.

An excerpt from Home of the Brave by my honey, Katherine Appl*gate.

Here's another:
The Story I Tell Hannah On The Way Home:

In our tent in the camp
a baby was dying.
Flies teased her eyes

and her arms hung

like broken sticks.

Her mother was

not much older than I am.

All day long she
whispered to the baby

drink, drink, drink.

All day, all night.

We couldn't sleep

for the sound of it.

But the baby had been hungry

for too long
and the bottle

went untouched
and after a while

the mother stopped rocking

and went silent.

When the baby died,

she covered her child

with a feed sack

and she said to no one,

I told her to eat.

Why wouldn't she eat?

When I'm done with the story,

I stare out of the window
at the sunless world.

Hannah stares at me.

This time, she's the one

who cannot find words.

And finally, about a cow who Kek names Gol, who reminds him of his father's herd:

By the time I'm over the fence,
Gol has spotted me.

She trudges over,

slow but determined,

like an old woman
longing for her grandchild's embrace.

When we reach each other,

I put my head on her neck.

You should be in the barn, I say.

I peer over her to see if Lou is outside.

The sky is rich with stars,

like fresh black dirt

sprinkled with tiny seeds.
The moon hangs low,

a cupped hand of silver water.

Enhanced with reviews and links:

Publishers Weekly:
. . .effectively uses free verse to capture a Sudanese refugee's impressions of America and his slow adjustment. After witnessing the murders of his father and brother, then getting separated from his mother in an African camp, Kek alone believes that his mother has somehow survived. The boy has traveled by “flying boat” to Minnesota in winter to live with relatives who fled earlier. An onslaught of new sensations greets Kek (“This cold is like claws on my skin,” he laments), and ordinary sights unexpectedly fill him with longing (a lone cow in a field reminds him of his father's herd; when he looks in his aunt's face, “I see my mother's eyes/ looking back at me”). Prefaced by an African proverb, each section of the book marks a stage in the narrator's assimilation, eloquently conveying how his initial confusion fades as survival skills improve and friendships take root. Kek endures a mixture of failures (he uses the clothes washer to clean dishes) and victories (he lands his first paying job), but one thing remains constant: his ardent desire to learn his mother's fate. Precise, highly accessible language evokes a wide range of emotions and simultaneously tells an initiation story. A memorable inside view of an outsider.

And check out these two great lit blogs:

Literary Safari and Phoenix Book Company Blog.

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Electoral Q and A.

by Michael Reynolds

Question: If Fred Thompson had Dennis Kucinich's voice and height, would he be taken seriously?
Answer: No. Fred is all about the gravitas. Gravitas, a latin word meaning, "Bullshit."

Question: If Ron Paul had Fred Thompson's voice and height, would he still be dismissed as a crank?
Answer: He'd be polling five points higher, but he'd still be third tier. Americans are not libertarians. They think they are, but they're not.

Question: If Senator Hillary Clinton was named Senator Hillary Jones, would she still be the frontrunner?
Answer: Maybe not, but she'd still be top tier. Set aside her past, in her present she's a capable, smart, thoughtful Senator from a major state. And she runs a great campaign.

Question: If we all closed our eyes, and plugged our ears, and picked a president according to experience, thoughtfulness, intelligence and demonstrated competence in the most important issues, who would be the Democratic frontrunner?
Answer: Joe Biden.

Question: If we all closed our eyes, and plugged our ears, and picked a president according to experience, thoughtfulness, intelligence and demonstrated competence in the most important issues, who would be the Republican frontrunner?
Answer: John McCain. Giuliani second.

Question: Which first-tier candidates make creep the flesh of honest men?
Answer: Romney, Clinton, Giuliani, Edwards and Obama. But especially Mitt (shudder) Romney.

Question: Which candidates may actually be real human beings containing no more than 20% manufactured parts?
Answer: Huckabee, Richardson, Paul, Biden.

Question: Who's my candidate as of today, taking all into consideration, including a decent respect for the likelihood of victory?
Answer: Hillary.

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Gay Marriage Flashback.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

I've been arguing gay marriage over at Annie's. As usual it's the followers of Christ demanding cruelty. (There are times it's gotta be tough being the Son 'o God: the stuff his fans lay off on Him.) I came across this from my old blog. First "published" in 2005. I fixed some typos, cleaned up some language, but otherwise left it alone because it's still what I believe:

When medieval European nobles decided they wanted to take a road trip - preferably one that would provide them with an opportunity to draw upon their core skills as rapists, plunderers and dashers-of-baby-brains-against-rocks -- they turned to the Bible for moral guidance. And, under the patient tutelage of priests and popes they discovered that God would be enthusiastically supportive of princes, barons and assorted thugs setting off to reach the big Holy Land Souvenir and Gift Shop where they hoped to pick up pieces of the True Cross.

When the Spaniards reached the New World and discovered that it was populated by people known to Christendom as "future slaves" they found in the Bible all the support they needed to carry on their holy work of slaughtering children, raping women and incinerating Aztec priests. (Granted, the Aztec priests had it coming.)

Whenever Christians have found it necessary to deal with heretics, there was the Bible, their moral guide, ready to support them in their desire to stretch an Albigensian out to twice his normal length.

And when, on occasion (about five centuries, give or take,) Catholics felt it advisable to massacre Protestants, or Protestants thought it might be helpful to slaughter Catholics, both sides reached into their ever-present Bibles and came up with all the theological support they needed.

Here in the United States the Bible was in one hand and the whip in the other as slave masters drew upon holy writ to justify selling children away from their parents, working their fathers to death, raping their mothers and then, with something approaching perfect efficiency, enslaving the resulting progeny.

Run, Injuns, run, the Lord says right here in this chapter, in this very verse, that I have the right, even the moral obligation, hallelujah, to burn you out, starve you out, and hound you through forest and across plain till you're exterminated, praise be.

Put a sheet on your head, string up a black man, castrate him and set him on fire? Absolutely, and let's sing Onward Christian Soldiers as we do it.

Every foul, malicious, cruel act that pops into the mind of a believer can somehow be rationalized in biblical terms. When it comes to justifying atrocities by the faithful the Bible is everybody's bitch. And what is so lovely is that this Bible is solemnly asserted to be the eternal and unchanging word of God.

Within living memory -- in fact, within my own personal memory -- the Bible has been used to justify official racism. God apparently was very concerned that whites and blacks not share drinking fountains. And certainly they should not be marrrying and, here is the crucial point, in order to see that God's will be done, in order to make sure that the US of A stayed right with God, we needed to write and enforce laws that made it a crime for whites and blacks to commingle. Again, this was not a million years ago and far, far away. This was in my life, in this country, right here where I'm sitting in North Carolina. Thus spake the Lord in 1959: ni**ers keep out.

And now, fresh as we are from discovering that the unchangeable Word of God actually doesn't kind of support slavery, and maybe wasn't all that favorable on the topic of torturing heretics after all, and just possibly did not really endorse genocide (oops, sorry guys, wanna build a casino?), and gosh, who knew, didn't even call for keeping black people as a permanent underclass, Bible scholars have dipped into the big book's endless ambiguity and come up with yet another divine decree: fa**ots should not be marrying other fa**ots. Thus spake the Lord, as we clearly see in this chapter and that verse and really, there is no possibility, none, none whatever, that this time we might be wrong like we were in every other case where the Lord seemed to call for us to treat our fellow man like shit.

I'm an atheist. Unlike many of my ilk (and we are an ilk) I've actually read the Bible cover to cover. Okay, I skipped some of the begats, and I probably lingered over portions of Solomon longer than strictly necessary, but I've read the Book. And here's what I know: I can find biblical justification for shooting you as you walk out of a McDonald's carrying a cheeseburger. Literally. The Bible is quite clear on the subject of mixing meat with any other product of the same animal. Like beef and cheese. In fact, if you weighed all the biblical references to food, against all the biblical references to homosexuality, you could fairly conclude that God cares a lot more about the kitchen than he does the bedroom. And yet I've never heard off a Christian demanding that we close McDonald's. (Can we at least torture the clown?)

When I read the New Testament, or what fundamentalists refer to as "Revelations and some other stuff," what I see is Jesus beating this message: show some compassion, show some mercy, show some generosity, show some humility, and don't presume to judge your fellow man because I am God, asshole, and you are not. (I paraphrase.)

We are not a theoccracy. This is not Iran or Afghanistan. Sorry, various TV preachers, Jesus is not in the Constitution. The Bible is a religious document intended for the moral guidance of believers -- a fact which must humiliate God no end, given the results. It cannot be relied on as a guide to cheeseburgers (illegal) or adultery (death penalty called for) or money lending (goodbye Citibank) or slavery (sure, why not?) or gay marriage.

There is no rational basis for denying marriage to gays. None. Zero. And twenty or thirty years from now the Christians and Jews who are today condemning it with Bible references will develop the same amnesia as their parent's developed on the subject of miscegenation and segregation.

This is not a Right vs. Left, Republican vs. Democrat issue. The Dems have been as contemptibly gutless as the Republicans have been nasty. The issue here is whether we have in this country two different and unequal classes of citizenship: Americans with full benefits, and Americans with something less. I consider it a moderate position to maintain that every American, whether they are Mayflower descendents or Dad just waded the Rio Grande, whether they are rich or poor, black or white or any other color, Christian, Jew, Muslim or none-of-the-above, straight or gay, is equally an American citizen.

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Excuses, Excuses.

by Michael Reynolds

My kids get handwriting lessons in school. There's quite a lot of emphasis on it, it seems.

When I was a kid there was perhaps even more emphasis. During the three years I spent attending French schools (Ecole Emile Zola, Rochefort, France -- I believe the team was named the Angry Accusers. Hmmm.) there was near obsession with the skill. We wrote with fountain pens. I'm talking inkwells. Really. We formed teeny, tiny, ornate letters on four-lined cahiers. There were curlicues.

In those days I had pretty good handwriting. I now have the handwriting of a stroke victim. I have the handwriting of a man holding the pen in his right hand and a stripped power line in his left. (Yep, it's the three part comic tautology rule, so we need one more . . ..) I have the handwriting of a person in need of an exorcism.

I was just writing some notes to thank various people at the HarperDome (It's a cool place, the roof opens up and Rupert comes and goes by helicopter, tres supervillain,) and noticed that I can no longer write. I mix block letters with some weird melange (note the francais influence) of small letters and miss about a third of the letters and have to go back and squeeze them in, all the while alternating size from, let's say 8 point to about 24 point.

The result is almost illegible. I burned through ten cards in an attempt to produce four that could, arguably, be translated by a team of archeologist's specializing in hieroglyphics. If I got these cards in the mail I would think the author was unbalanced.

And we all know that's not the case. Right? Right? Shut up.

But I have an excuse: who writes with their actual hands anymore? Seriously, who handwrites?

I had an early warning of this trend when my son's pediatrician asked about the then-four-year-old Jake: "How are his skills at holding a pen?" And I answered, "Not that great, but he's amazing with a mouse." My daughter has the same issues. And yet the schools keep hammering away on handwriting. Isn't it, at this point, a bit like insisting on riding skills long after the advent of the Model-T?

I've been on computers since about the time we were doing our sixth or seventh Sweet Valley Twin. Since then, maybe 20,000 pages on computer, versus maybe 15 pages total by hand. Maybe 15 handwritten pages in as many years. It's no wonder my handwriting has suffered: it's an obsolete skill. Ten years from now will kids still be learning how to form letters? Or will we just accept that the keyboard, and later no doubt the hands-free brain-chip interface, is the way we write?

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WWTD: What Would Tony Do?

by Michael Reynolds

Let's say it's New Jersey.

Three gangs, the Soprano mob, the Leotardo mob and the Lupertazzi mob all have an interest. The Lupertazzi mob is by far the biggest and most powerful and, all other things being equal, will eventually gobble up the other two.

But the Sopranos are fighting the Leotardos as much as the Lupertazzis, because right now, today, their turf is in more danger from the Leotardos, whatever the future may hold. The Sopranos know that the real war is with the Lupertazzis, but they also know that such a war could leave the Leotardos standing and in control of Sopranos territory. If anyone is going to contest Lupertazzi dominance the Sopranos want it to be them.

The FBI, wanting above all to disable the vicious Leotardos, (who have earned a very bad reputation,) makes a deal with the Sopranos.

"We, the FBI, will help you Sopranos to kill off the Leotardos. We realize you've murdered our agents in the past, and we realize you're almost certainly going to murder our agents in the future, but in order to prevail against the Leotardos we'll give you guns, we'll give you intel, and we'll send our agents out on missions with you."

At which point the President of the United States announces that progress is being made in the war on crime.

Change Sopranos to Sunni sheiks, Leotardos to Al Qaeda and Lupertazzi to Shiites. Tell me that's not what's happening in Iraq today.

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Fucking Sprint. (Updated)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Fuck Sprint.
Fuck Sprint.
Fuck Sprint.
Sprint? Fuck 'em.
If you want a phone? Try someone else because . . . Sprint? They're cocksuckers.
Verizon? They're cool.
ATT? they suck, but I love my iPhone.
But Sprint? Morons.
Sprint sucks.
Sprint sucks shit through a straw.
Sprint sucks shit through a straw and savors it.
Sprint gargles it.
Hey, Google? Look here: Sprint is the cellphone company beloved by Stalinists.
In fact, I think Sprint was responsible for the gulag.
Fucking Sprint.
Worthless sons of bitches.
I hate Sprint.
Sprint loves Osama and hates America.
Sprint hates our troops.
Sprint: no.
No to Sprint.

Thank you.

UPDATE: Sprint fantasizes about strangling puppies.

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Monday, September 03, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Foom the indispensable Eteraz. The kind of stuff you only learn from blogs:

The ads abound. “Indian parents of young woman seeking Indian, preferably Punjabi man…no other need apply”; “Syrian-Born stallion seeking beautiful girl from the homeland…No Lebanese Scum!”; “Morrocan Spanish speaker seeks Morrocan Mami…Evaluating Strictly.” This is the state of marriage among Muslims.

On the other hand, everywhere I look Muslims are brandishing the slogans of Universal Brotherhood, of Ummah, of a Unified Islamic State, of a Modern All Expansive Caliphate.

How can it be that as far as marriage and multiplication is concerned, Muslims have no interest in looking outside of their narrow cultural spheres, but when it comes to power they suddenly become eager beavers who throw aside all their differences for the sake of an Imagined Unity?

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Who's On the Door?

by Michael Reynolds

We're on the highway to hell.

The Brits are leaving Basra.

Let's say -- just for the sake of argument -- that you wanted to start pulling American troops out of Iraq. It's not just the GI's, of course, it's the Humvees and tanks and maintenance equipment and munitions. The GI's can fly. The rest of the gear has to go by boat.

Now, see that map? See the closest -- only -- port? See how the road from Baghdad travels through Basra on its way to the sea? Basra, which is nominally in the hands of the Iraqi Army but, within a few weeks will be openly controlled by Shiite militias?

Now think of just how easy it is to disrupt a convoy.

Basra is the exit door. Iran and Muqtada al Sadr are the doormen.

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When To Attack Iran.

by Michael Reynolds

Let's say you wanted to launch a massive air assault on Iran. (I don't.) When would you want to do it?

You can't do much about the element of macro surprise, what with half the US Navy parked in or near the Persian Gulf. The Iranians will have intuited that we are considering a time and place to let the Air Force and Navy get in on the fun.

So the best you can do as a war-planner is a pick a time when the Iranians would be least likely to expect the blow. You go for the micro surprise.

I would do it right now. With Mr. Bush in Iraq. Wrap up his meet n' greets, pack him onto Air Force One, and launch the attack before he clears Iraqi air space.

The surge is at its apogee, Congress is away, we're coming out of peak summer gasoline demand and haven't yet approached the heating oil season, the presidential race is still in low gear, and we have the anniversary of 9/11 coming up.

Yep. If it was me I'd push the button in the next couple of days.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Most people talk about their schools. High school, college, grad school. On MySpace you list your schools. On Facebook one of the key affiliations is by school. I live in Chapel Hill, NC, where grown men still drive through town on game days flying UNC flags from their car windows.

"I'm a Tarheel! I'll always be a Tarheel!" men and women my age (grown-ups!) will shout, unprovoked. To which I can only respond, "Really? Is there no cure?"

It's a kind of identity that is meaningless to me. Then again, I suppose a single year at San Francisco State majoring in pipe manufacture (ahem) didn't afford me much opportunity to become fully indoctrinated into the cult of school.

My identity was never about school. It was always about work. I'm not the product of this University or that college. My alma maters are Toys R Us, Garfinckel's, Denny's, Middleton's,
the White Marlin, the Wild Goose Chase and White Glove.

There are very few people lucky enough to make their living from putting words on paper, who came up through low-status, dead-end jobs. The whole freezing garret thing has gone out of fashion. Mostly it's MFA's and J-school grads who never broke a sweat, never popped a fistful of Advil to get through a double shift, never took three pre-dawn buses to reach the workplace, never hung out smoking weed with Mexican dishwashers behind the Dumpster, never saw the inside of the little used tampax bin or scraped a stranger's shit off a toilet or ate food off a customer's plate before scraping it into the garbage disposal.

Do I sound perversely proud of all that? You bet your ass. And I'm not the only one:

In my younger days I freelanced as a writer for some time, and supported myself between publishers' checks by taking very menial temporary jobs. If you want to imagine "the kind of jobs Americans won't do," these are what comes to mind: Laundry room of a hospital. You hear the thump of another load drop down the chute and you steel yourself before opening the hatch in case it's blood-stained. You thrust your hands deep into a bin full of unsorted dirty linen, hoping there's not a used needle hiding in it.

And, sure enough, on almost all the jobs I worked, I was one of the only white faces. A lot of blacks, a lot of immigrants. I never worked jobs where friendships formed more easily. You showed up at 7:30 a.m., and by lunchtime you were swapping stories and jokes. People had nothing in common and everything in common just because they were there.

On one assignment I was sent out with about 30 other people to a high hangar-sized warehouse full of new clothes on racks. All the clothes had dry-cleaner-style cellophane wrappers over them. Our job was to strip off the wrappers. So we worked all one summer day in the hot, stuffy room, going down the long rows. The bags were perforated at the shoulders, and pretty soon you got to know a slow downward sweep was the easiest way to strip the garments. Like I said, almost all minorities. I stood up at one point to ease my back and watched my co-workers in their rows and got a quick flashback to what a cotton plantation must have looked like at harvest time. At lunch break I sat out on a bench with a guy named Mike who thought Michelob was an import. We drank Old English 800 and discussed the relative merits of banging fat girls and thin girls.

Been there. Been that guy. Had that conversation.

I've had some success late in life. In earlier years I was a dishwasher, a temp, a house painter, a resident manager for low-end beach rentals, a night clerk at a seedy boardwalk hotel, a burger flipper, a short order cook, a janitor and above all, a waiter.

In terms of work, I'm proud of the fact that I'm a fast, competent, imaginative writer. I'm just as proud of the fact that during off-season "half price" at a seafood joint in Ocean City, Maryland, I used to carry an eight table station. Upstairs. Upstairs and across the restaurant. Eight tables.

My back is still fucked up from it. A minor, but honorable wound.

Do I look down my nose at people who've never sweat through their clothes for less money than it would take to clean the shirt? Who never cashed a single digit paycheck? Who never had to learn to curse in Spanish? Who never worked through a shift with blood seeping out of a fresh cut? Who've never debated whether cleaning dust bunnies off the false teeth they found under a bed was part of their job? Who have never been berated for failing to squeegee a mildewy shower? Who never quit a job out of pride, even when it meant they'd spend that night sleeping under an overpass? No, of course not. Of course I don't look down my nose at . . . Okay, yes. Yes, I do.

Fuck your alma mater: I can carry eight tables, beeyatch. And did I mention they were upstairs?

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