Archive for December 17th, 2010

Cubapedia

The Los Angeles Times reports that Cuba has launched its own version of wikipedia, an online encyclopedia called EcuRed.

The site is in Spanish. I don’t know Spanish—I barely know English—so I am here even more constrained from commenting knowledgeably than is generally the case. But I do know something about the ‘Murican wiki, and the lofty condescension of the Times piece is sufficiently irritating so that I feel moved to grouse about it.

The Times notes that EduRed “is to be edited by individual users, but articles would have to be approved by unidentified moderators.”

And this is different from wikipedia how? It is true that pretty much any old drunk can weave onto wikipedia and there spew forth whatever might tumble from the brainpan. But it is equally true that at some point some unidentified moderator will shuffle on by to spoon the spew into one or more of the conventional wiki molds. Or wipe the thing clean.

The Times further states that “cached versions of some pages in a Google search had the communist government’s official biases on display.”

And this is different from wikipedia how? An “official bias” towards the mandarins of the American government is “on display” to anyone who peruses the dream world of wikipedia’s entries on Ronald and Nancy Reagan. I have mentioned here before that I used to eavesdrop a little on the efforts of people to insert material that I produced into the wikipedia entries on Ronald and Nancy Reagan. This material, however, has been consistently rejected by “unidentified moderators.” Even though it’s all true.

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Just Another Night On The Town

For Every Wrong Move

One Thanksgiving I spent in jail. I was young, and therefore brash and rash, and so thought myself immortal, impervious. Didn’t think then, there in stir, about doing serious prison time, which is what I was facing. Just had to wait for the holiday weekend to pass, I figured, then the lawyer could tease the bail down to a Sane level. Which is what happened. The serious grinding over the prison time, that came later.

Thanksgiving was my third or fourth day in the place. I occupied alone a single-cell, which I belatedly learned was supposed to be a sort of punishment. I could smoke in there—can’t do that no more, in the jails here—and I could think and plan and wonder and reflect. There were tolerable volumes from the jail library with which I could pass the time. Nobody bothered me. I could talk to the folks—though yes I couldn’t see them—in the cells on either side of me. But I could choose not to, too.

This was 25 years or so ago, when they still fed you decently in the jails around here. And so on Thanksgiving they shoved through the bars a fair approximation of a traditional American Thanksgiving repast: turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, cranberry sauce, yams, etc. I ate all of it. Yams I hadn’t much eaten before, and I haven’t eaten them since. But I had already discovered, there a monkey confined to a cage, that I’d eat just about anything the keepers slid my way. You do tend to get hungry, in every way, when your life is caged.

After Thanksgiving dinner the screws punched a video into the TV/VCR combo that sat on a low metal table rolled about on casters in the hall outside the cells occupied by we “serious felons.” I absolutely could not believe it: the film was The Black Stallion, one of my favorite movies, a tone poem completely about freedom, but one that I figured these cynical magpies in the “serious felon” row would hoot down and away, dismissing it as a “children’s flick.” How wrong I was. They, as it developed, had been on this row much longer than I; they had seen this film several times before, and they valued it. They got it as only people who don’t have it could get it.

Because it was Thanksgiving, that night we got a double feature. The second film was a ninja thing. As soon as it was punched in, we heard a groan from the guy in the cell to the far right.

“What bullshit,” he groused in his gravelly voice. “This is the one with the guy who takes more bullets and lives than even the guy in Scarface. What bullshit.”

And it was true. The ninja hero at one point was riddled with what looked like 20 or 30 bullets, mostly to the head and chest . . . but still, he kept on coming. As this nonsense approached its zenith, the guy in the cell at the far right kept muttering variations on “bullshit” and “check out this shit” and “no way.”

My unseen jailbird companion to my left at one point whispered to me: “That dude at the end, the reason why he’s pissed at this stupid shit: he’s in here on murder. He knows what it takes to kill a person. And it ain’t much.”

Several years later I spent Thanksgiving at Denny’s. I didn’t have to be there; I could have been other places, with other people. But Denny’s is where that Thanksgiving I chose to be. Even at the time, I knew that my Thanksgiving in Denny’s was worse than the Thanksgiving I’d spent in jail. Because then, in jail, somebody else had locked me up. But in dining at Denny’s, I had entered a jail of my own making.

Usually, these days, I don’t associate Thanksgiving with jail. But this year it came back at me. Because the day before Thanksgiving, here in 2010, a jury out of Texas decided that Tom DeLay, former majority leader of the United States House of Representatives, had committed enough crimes to stash him away in a cage for the rest of his life.

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The Fire Next Time

The neighbor here at the waystation is one of those middle-aged men who likes to make little outdoor fires, burning leaves and boards and such.

He is not a maniac about it. Not like the landlady at the old place, who, though she owned all this wonderful acreage out in nature, didn’t much seem to like it: compelled constantly to contrive reasons to fell, slash, and burn, constructing monstrous bonfires with flames leaping 20 to 30 feet in the air, the coals glowing for days afterward. Each time I despaired she’d set the whole mountain ablaze.

No, this neighbor is a firestarter of a more modest sort. Too, it has become apparent that, in his match-making, he possesses a peculiar gift. He is a rainmaker.

A couple months ago, I noticed that whenever he made one of his little fires, it would rain within the next 24 hours. I assumed he planned his burns according to the weather forecast, relying on incoming rain to assist in ensuring that his fires were “dead out,” as Smokey the Bear used to say. But when I asked him about this, he said no, he just burned when it was Necessary. He then hastened to assure me that he was always very careful, and never left a fire until it posed No Danger. But I already knew this.

After the next three fires, when each time he succeeded in bringing a storm through by the next morning, I informed him that it seemed to me that he was a rainmaker. He laughed that off.

Then, the other day, he fired, in stages, what appeared to be an entire fence—and, sure enough, an entire week’s worth of storms are now rolling in waves through the area. So I told him he needed to take his show on the road. His skill was undeniable: he could arrive in an area grieving for rain, set a few leaves or boards burning, and thereby gift the place with moisture. He would perform a service, and could also rake in a little coin.

He thought about this for a minute, and then dolefully shook his head. “No, I couldn’t do anything like that,” he said. “Because the first time it didn’t work, they’d get you.”

And of course he’s right.


When I Worked

December 2010
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