The End

Maybe I am a sentimental dope, because it actually does hurt me to type this, but...I'm going to delete this blog.

It is actually a painful thing to do, partially because it's this thing that's been a part of my life since I was a sophomore in college a little over ten years ago (and I really did shudder as I typed that), but mostly because I really have met some great people through Dukakis Hugging Moon Maiden. Unfortunately, more than a few of them I have lost touch with and sight of, but others I still know and do consider as much friends as some of the people I often see in person (and, if I can be frank, there's been a few of you I wish to God I could have had as lovers; you know who you are!). And honestly I really still maintain that Livejournal had - and still does, more or less - the best concept for a blogging system out there, combining blogging with social networking in a way even more successful sites have not imitated well. However, Livejournal, or at least its English language side, is dying and has been for some time, and, as you could probably tell from the "frequency" of my posts and how I desperately tried to salvage a purpose for this blog through my love for "Doctor Who" and "The Simpsons", it was getting harder to just feel interested in Dukakis Hugging Moon Maiden anymore.

Because so many people have ditched the site and because the general sense of community, which was so vivid way back in the ancient times of Brad (Good Christ I really have been on this site a long time), has been long gone, Livejournal has completely lost the social network appeal. Admittedly it was getting difficult even just last year to feel like posting when I knew the comments would very likely not number more than four and when the odds of meeting new people through the blog were getting slimmer and slimmer. Then there's the fact that I share a lot of people's frustrations with how Livejournal had been managed the past few years, and how the spammers have gotten out of control. But these aren't the only explanations for why I made this decision. One of the reasons I had this blog (and why I have a Twitter account even though like so many I irrationally hate Twitter right down to its name) was to try to inch my writing career forward, but as far as that goes it is no longer fulfilling that purpose - if it ever did. Also, just in general, I feel like I have to move on. I'd rather fully and sincerely invest myself in developing my Internet presence elsewhere than leave this blog to eventually rot and become yet another depressing shell, covered with crawling and squealing spammers, some nameless and faceless person has left in the vast wastes of cyberspace.

It still needs some tweaking because I put it up just before I started writing this, but I already set up a new blog, Trash Culture. It's probably not going to be a personal blog, not in the same way Dukakis Hugging Moon Maiden was through most of its existence. I will post some personal things, I'm sure, but the focus will be on my crackpot musings and anything career-related. Also I've already made myself promise that I won't write about anything explicitly political, which will probably be the biggest change. Of course, even though I really have neglected it terribly, I still run The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly too, so, hey, it's not like cyber-me is vanishing from existence, far from it.

I really and sincerely welcome you all to keep in touch. If you're on Facebook, let me know in comments, because I've done everything possible to "family-proof" my Facebook profile. I'm easier to find on Twitter, as reluctantlychad. Also comment with links to your blogs, Livejournal or otherwise, and I'll gladly add them to the blog roll on Trash Culture. I won't go through with the deletion of this blog for another few weeks, so that should hopefully give everyone - however many of you are left reading this (funny how quickly this turned into a post-apocalyptic performance, but such is Livejournal in 2011) - who wants to still put up with me time to leave a line. And I hope that you do.

Well, what better way to close the curtain than by sharing the scene from "The Simpsons" that inspired the name of this blog in the first place:

Well, maybe I can do better than that:


(no subject)

I can't believe this is an actual research questions I have, but...

Any francophones out there know if "fouille-merde" carries or would carry basically the same meaning as "fudgepacker"? (I'm almost certain it would, but I'm not quite confident enough in my French-reading skills to be sure I'm not missing something or jumping to a wrong conclusion.)

Idle thought

So it's pretty much a given that today's conservatives only give a damn about people when they're still in the womb (or of course if they're rich, but that's another matter entirely). Once you're out of the womb, then it's a life of expensive health care, no social safety net, colleges only accessible by signing on to predatory loans, and an economic environment where jobs are scarce. But what if we steal a page from their book and try to tie abortion into everything, even something completely unrelated? What if we put up a petition for unemployed or underemployed people where they can vow to write a sternly worded letter to Planned Parenthood about the evils of abortion if they get a job? Would it get the Tea Party and the Republicans thinking seriously about working- and middle-class Americans for five minutes? Probably not, but maybe it's worth a try!

(Well, I'm only half-serious about this, but if someone far more web-savvy and with more time on their hands than I have is willing to volunteer, maybe...).

Women and "The Sandman"

But why stories like these? All the ones we've's all boys' own stories, isn't it?...I mean, sure, they pass the time. They entertain. But how do they help you make sense of anything? The world isn't like that.

-Charlene, Worlds' End, Cerements

A woman shouldn't have to sleep her life away. Women aren't about dreaming. We're about the real world.

-Nursing home resident, Kindly Ones, Part Six

So to try to resurrect my own dead and buried interest in writing fiction, I re-read Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman" for maybe the sixtieth time. It's too soon to tell if it worked or not, but it was a worthwhile experiment. Way back when I was still a naive lad, "The Sandman" not only showed me that comics could convey stories about something other than the never-ending wars of superheroes or morbidly obese cats, but it expanded my idea of what fiction itself could be as well. Fantasy stories didn't have to be rehashes of J.R.R. Tolkien, no matter what the selections at my underfunded local library suggested, while profound and relateable themes didn't have to be regulated to what high school tried to program me to believe was "serious" literature.

Like all wildly successful and influential works, "The Sandman" has been a victim of its own success, in what TV Tropes brilliantly calls Seinfeld is Unfunny. I've seen detractors bitch about how the series is just about mythology and literary references, as if that really is all there is to the series and, more to the point, as if that kind of thing was common in comics before "The Sandman" more or less birthed its own subgenre of dark fantasy (which probably hurt more than it helped Vertigo Comics, but that's another story). But I think fans like me have been victims of this process as well. We've re-read the whole series so many times and have read what so many other people thought when they read the series that the hints about the series' morals on responsibility and on freedom, especially how the most important freedom is the freedom to leave, seem obvious and overplayed. With that in mind, I tried to read with eyes as fresh as possible, and I noticed that there are other themes that surface again and again, namely the idea that, as much as men may steal the show and grab the wheel, it's women who take on the ultimate responsibility and have to deal with what matters. Of course, I'm absolutely positive at least twenty people have written about gender in "The Sandman" before, and probably did a better job than I'm about to, and I'd be surprised if no scholarly articles came out of the topic, but that's why I fought down the temptation to consult the oracle of Google to see what's out there. I don't want my own ideas to be corrupted, dammit.

Anyway, I do wonder if it's deliberate on Gaiman's part that women completely drive the plot of the entire series. The big exception is that it's a man, Roderick Burgess, who brings about the catalyst that begins the series and ultimately (spoiler!) but indirectly causes Morpheus' suicide. However, it's Ethel Dee and John Constantine's girlfriend Rachel who, even though we barely meet them, instigate most of the events in "Preludes and Nocturnes." For the rest of the series, Morpheus acts as a fairly traditional male protagonist (and antagonist), rescuing women from violent and sexual threats (Calliope, Rose Walker) while at the same time harming women as a result of "traditionally" male, heterosexual motives (Nada...oh sweet Christ, poor Nada). It's women who constantly have to meddle with Morpheus' moral compass and steer him in directions it would never occur to him to go. In "Doll's House," Unity Kinkaid saves the day, where Morpheus would (almost literally) have taken a sledgehammer to the problem. Death, who had earlier stepped in to resolve Morpheus' malaise at the end of "Preludes and Nocturnes," is the only reason Morpheus even grasps, however slightly and fleetingly, the full horror of what he's done to Nada (and even then he only sees it as him failing his own personal code of honor, rather than as him inflicting suffering on another being). Likewise, Delirium is the prime mover of Morpheus' actions in "Brief Lives" and "The Kindly Ones" is, at its core, largely about the very different journeys of two women, Rose Walker and Lyta Hall. Beyond the plot, it's heavily implied, to the point that it's not really "implied," that Death is more than Death, but may indeed be what we think of as God. After all, she is an all-knowing, all-empathetic being who has a personal relationship with every being in the universe and both bestows and takes life. Meanwhile, Delirium is suggested to be the holder of secret knowledge, which comes to the fore when she manages to perplex and tell off the otherwise omniscient Destiny. For the most part one can argue that women in "The Sandman" are, as Charlene in "Worlds' End" describes it, "just pretty figures in the background to be loved or lost or avoided or obeyed or...whatever", but at the same time they, not the tragic protagonist Morpheus, are the ones who almost always move the story forward.

On a more meta level, Gaiman remarks that there is a core difference between the stories of women and the stories of men, with "The Sandman" itself being a men's story. When the tragic love story of Nada and Morpheus is told, we learn that there are two different versions of the story, one told only to women and one told only to men, but the reader only gets to "hear" the men's version. Then there's the Cuckoo in "A Game of You," who observes, "Little boys have fantasies in which they're faster, or smarter, or able to fly. Where they hide their secret identities, and listen to the people who despise them admiring their remarkable deeds...Now little girls, on the other hand, have different fantasies. Much less convoluted. Their parents are not their parents. Their lives are not their lives." In a way, the Cuckoo is foretelling Charlene's fate in "Worlds' End." After being exposed to the "boys' adventure stories" that prevail at the Worlds' End Inn, she tells her own story, a sad but all too familiar autobiographical tale about the hollowness of life and love in late twentieth-century America. In the end, she does embrace what the Cuckoo would call a typical little girls' fantasy by agreeing to work in the Inn, which literally causes her life to stop being her life.

There are only three stories in all of "The Sandman" that might be described as women's stories, and all three have a pragmatically moral edge that is lacking in, say, most of the stories in "Fables and Reflections." The first is the "short story" "A Dream of a Thousand Cats," which is in its own way an adventure story, although it's much more about faith in an idea as a way of coping with loss and helplessness. In short, it is indeed about "making sense" of things. Next, from the same "short story" collection "Dream Country," is "Facade," which is a basic story about isolation and suicide thinly disguised under several fantasy and superhero genre trappings. The most obvious example, though, is the entire "A Game of You" arc, where all the major characters are women or at least identify strongly as female, apart from Morpheus, who comes in late as a fairly literal deus ex machina. Now "A Game of You" might seem like a contradiction of Charlene's later observation, as it is on the surface a more or less straightforward fantasy adventure narrative. However, like Alice and Dorothy, Barbie chooses to let her own personal fantasy world remain dead and return to the "real world" (as she says, "Okay. I take the Dorothy option"). Even more importantly, it's implied throughout the arc that it's Barbie's reliance on her dream world, which should have been passed on to another little girl, that causes the crisis that drives the story. (It's worth noting too that "A Game of You", while it's the one arc in "The Sandman" that most adopts classic fantasy tropes, is also undoubtedly the bleakest and most violent story arc in the entire series).

So is there something fundamentally different about women and men in the universe of "The Sandman"? Well, the Endless themselves, with the obvious exception of Desire, have fixed gender identities, and much to the pre-op transsexual Wanda's consternation, in "A Game of You" a fundamental force of the universe does not recognize her as female. Yet, in the end, her firm assertions that she is a woman are absolutely vindicated. More subtly, the artwork in "Season of Mists" reveals that Nada is reincarnated as a boy. So, no, I don't think Gaiman is even accidentally agreeing with the Church of Latter Day Saints that gender is something immutable and eternal.

Instead I think the significance of these differences in women's and men's stories lies in the roles that are often forced on women. For instance, Nuala is, like so many women throughout history, being used as a political pawn at best or a sexual bribe at worst. Lyta Hall in "Doll's House" is the ultimate trophy wife, perpetually pregnant and left to do no activities more complex than combing her hair. Nada goes to Hell just because she hurt her boyfriend's pride. There are other possible examples, but the point is that, while Morpheus is unable to cope with the challenges to his morality and sense of duty, women in "The Sandman" don't need the same education. Because of the roles forced on them and the way men use them, they already have no choice but to be pragmatic. After all, as the nursing home residents in "The Kindly Ones" philosophize: "As mothers we wake them from nothingness to existence. As maidens we wake them to the joys and miseries of adulthood, wake them to the worlds of lust and responsibility. And when their time's up, it's always us has to wash them for the last time, and we lay them out for the wake."

when eating with utensils is a mortal sin

Oh my God, it's been a long time since I posted, hasn't it? I really need to start posing regularly here again, especially since, even though I think most people agree that Livejournal has passed its heyday long ago (unless you're Russian), I still both could use the casual writing practice and I'm too lazy to move the whole operation to WordPress or whatever.

In the meantime, I have to share this quote from one of the books I'm reading for my comps:

In the eleventh century a Venetian doge married a Greek princess. In her Byzantine circle the fork was clearly in use. At any rate, we hear that she lifted food to her mouth 'by means of little golden forks with two prongs.' This gave rise in Venice to a dreadful scandal: 'This novelty was regarded as so excessive a sign of refinement that the dogaressa was severely rebuked by the ecclesiastics who called down divine wrath upon her. Shortly afterward she was afflicted by a repulsive illness and St. Bonaventure did not hesitate to declare that this was a punishment from God."

-Elias Nobert, The Civilizing Process, p. 59.

Trying to admire the unadmirable

Since I was raised to try to say something nice about everybody, I'll try to say something good about theorist Mark Halperin, author of "Is There A History of Sexuality?", "One Hundred Years of Homosexuality," and "How To Do The History of Homosexuality."


Well, I admire the fact that he managed to pull entire books out of his ass. Looks painful!

President Wall Street

I see Obama named as chief of staff a man that was instrumental in putting in place NAFTA, a big part of the reason our economy is collapsing.

You know, I'm glad I got to be born in the waning years of the Cold War, or else I wouldn't be prepared to recognize what a government blinded by ideology to basic and obvious economic realities looks like.

When theocracy meets plutocracy

I'm reading Chris Hedges' America's Fascists, which does often read like Stephen King for politically conscious progressives, but which I prefer to think of as a genuine cry of anguish from the perspective of an American and a Christian seeing the values of both identities being perverted. Here's probably the "money shot" of the book:

This is the apotheosis of capitalism, the divine sanction of the free market, of unhindered profit and the most rapacious cruelties of globalization. Corporations, rapidly turning America into an oligarchy, have little interest in Christian ethics, or anybody's ethics. They know what they have to do, as the titans of the industry remind us, for their stockholders. They are content to increase profit at the expense of those who demand fair wages, health benefits, safe working conditions and pensions. This new oligarchic class is creating a global marketplace where all workers, to compete, will have to become like workers in dictatorships such as China: denied rights, their wages dictated to them by the state, and forbidden from organizing or striking. America once attempted to pull workers abroad up to American levels, to foster the building of foreign labor unions, to challenge the abuse of workers in factories that flood the American market with cheap goods. but this new class seeks to reduce the American working class to the levels of this global serfdom. After all, anything that drains corporate coffers is a loss of freedom - the God-given American freedom to exploit other human beings to make money. The marriage of the gospel of prosperity with raw, global capitalism, and the flaunting of the wealth and privilege it brings, are supposedly blessed and championed by Jesus Christ. Compassion is relegated to private, individual acts of charity or left to churches. The callousness of the ideology, the notion that it in any way reflects the message of the gospels, which were preoccupied with the poor and the outcasts, illustrates how the new class has twisted Christian scripture to serve America's god of capitalism and discredited the Enlightenment values we once prized.

Read Along With Me! (And go insane)

So the PhD program's own "trial by fire" isn't the dissertation, but the comps. After reading about three hundred books or so, I have to write an essay a day for three or four days and then go before my entire committee to answer any questions they ask. Allegedly the professors of the History department have a tradition of setting out to make any student get to the point where they have to admit, "I don't know."

Since I have a lot of academic-minded and history-loving friends and readers, I thought I'd share the list of comps readings I and my committee came up with. They're divided into four sections reflecting my interests and my dissertation research:

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