Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Truth About Immigration

Stop talking about immigration. Yes you - the screwhead reading this blog! Because you don't know the first damned thing about it. You're more ignorant of the American naturalization process than you are of market economics. And that's pretty fucking ignorant.

Let me explain. Immigration in the United States is assumed to be something easy, maybe even like those Ellis Island arrivals the movies told you about. Some family named Kaputnik waits in a line until the customs guy can assign them an appropriately American surname - like Carl Jr.'s - and then they're sped merrily on their way to take low-paying factory jobs and lose a limb for Freedom.

That's what you think it's like, isn't it? Well you are R-O-N-G wrong! First of all, you have to fill out an application. And attach your original birth certificate, proof of existing citizenship, and a police record even if you don't have one. And fork over a couple hundred USD in processing fees. "Give me your tired, your hungry, but fuck 'em if they can't pay!"

Wait three to six months for processing and congratulations, you're a cit - Ahahahaha! Sucker! You thought it would be that easy!?

Next up, the medical exam. Which can only be performed by an American doctor at the embassy in your home country and sucks for you if that means an extra plane ticket. Oh, and to help you adjust to the American healthcare system this doctor expects cash or he'll tell America you have leprosy or something.

So, you applied and got probed and spent a lot of dollars you probably didn't have in the first place being a desperate immigrant and all. Now you're all ready to be an Americ - Nope! Now you get to do interviews. Mostly overworked State Department drones checking to see if you're a terrorist. Or a sex-trafficker. Or a communist.

But suffer through that last indignity and you are finally an American! Sort of! You're in on an immigrant visa - after a year and several thousand dollars of effort - and maybe you'll get to do that little citizenship test and take the pledge with all the other Indian programmers. What, you thought I was explaining that process? Just getting into this overblown gated community is hard enough!

So the next time you feel like sounding off on "Why can't these durn Mexicans come here legally?" - don't. You moron.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Defence of The Filibuster

Senate Democrats have finally found their balls but regrettably are still without brains, which just makes them Republican-Lite. Case in point - they're going after the filibuster.

That'll warm the hearts of all the muddling yuppies who make up their base, since those mean Republicans have been abusing the filibuster to block Obama's agenda. Not like the man could use the most powerful office in the world as a bully pulpit, ramming through the changes this country desperately needs. Not like Democrats could call the GOP's bluff, bring in cots and agree to hold the session until everyone has had their stupid say and a vote can be taken. Not like they could actually find their balls, rather than this big show that they did.

Strom Thurmond filibustering the Civil Rights Act by reciting the names of all his black mistresses.

But what really rankles is the hypocrisy of this whole circus. I know we're not supposed to remember anything from more than two years ago in this country, but I distinctly recall Republicans getting worked up over Democrats pulling the filibuster over and over in 2005. Not that it really stopped the madness, since all legislative action in the Bush years was conducted in back rooms at 2 in the morning. Still, the GOP was threatening not just the "changes" to the filibuster rules the Democrats are suggesting, but scrapping them completely!

It didn't happen of course. So now the Republicans get a turn playing spoiler. A case could be made to do away with the filibuster because none of these creeps want to share. Like taking a two away from children who just won't stop crying whenever someone else gets a turn.

But that would deprive us of the filibuster's true value - punishing U the voter! You elected these cretins, you took all the moaning about "socialism" seriously, you get to have a deadlocked legislature while crooked banks shake you down. Democracy is an organic process requiring constant, thoughtful engagement on the part of the citizen so it is only just that when said citizen has his thumb up his ass, democracy devolves into a sideshow.

The filibuster is an archaic and easily abused piece of parliamentary procedure that stalls the wheels of government and you deserve every second of it. Because you're an asshole.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Finally! Genre Fiction That Doesn't Suck!

I heard about Dan Simmons about seven years ago. Through Wikipedia of all places. It had nice things to say about Hyperion and I thought, "I should read that sometime."

Sometime never came but I did finally read another, and likely better, work by simmons - Ilium. A re-imagining of Homer's Iliad on the planes of Mars, presided over by posthuman "gods" residing atop Olympos Mons and narrated by a resurrected twentieth century Homeric scholar with a healthy repertoire of snide comments regarding the epic goings on.

And it works. Not completely but enough that the few falterings don't matter. Despite clocking in at the standard sci-fi/fantasy page count - somehwere in the region of paperweight - it never once feels slow or like it's just padding itself with needless noodlings in its own setting. Y'know, like some other work out there...

The scholar - Hockenberry - is the primary character and so gets to narrate his own segment of the story. There's also a bunch of pampered transhumans back on Earth embarking on a journey out of innocence and sentient robots around Jupiter's moons who launch an expedition to Mars because of all the wonky quantum physics the Olympians keep stirring up.

Why the Olympians are doing this is one of the big questions here, and it synchs up with those Earth manchildren trying to find their own answers. And something to do with Shakespeare's The Tempest being re-enacted in a low orbit city with Caliban himself. It's really a big mash-up of the most recognizable classics in literature and it's amazing not that Simmons could write it - any dolt on the internet can - but that he writes it so well!

And it all comes down to character. Hockenberry is the star of this show with his wit and drive for self-preservation - an alien quality to the ancient Greeks and Trojans. But he's nearly overshadowed by, of all things, a giant robot crab from Io named Orphu who spends most of the novel disabled and only able to chatter on the radio with his Europan aquanaut buddy as they sail a makeshift raft down the Valles Marinaris. This is the part that actually explains what the hell is going on and it never feels like an infodump but rather an organic progression of the narrative.

All of which allows Simmons to accomplishes the one thing genre fiction still does better than "serious" fiction - getting U the reader to cheer for fictional people you only know in text form. When holes in space-time open up, exposing the home of the Olympians now so hated by Greek and Trojan alike, Hector and Achilles charge through the abomination of physics together, looking to kill themselves some gods. It's one of those moments that makes you jump up and go, "Yeah!" to the confusion of everyone else on the Metro.

I could explain why those two famous blood enemies have joined forces against their own pantheon - with some sneaky help from Hockenberry - or you can just read the damned book yourself. You won't be disappointed, which is a stunning rarity in today's literary market.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inside the Wall

It's gone for Obama twice now but if you think that means the Commonwealth is turning blue, you got another thing coming...

Just last week, a couple Virginia Republicans lead the defence of the infamous State Rape law. Why yes, they were all men! But they got a token chick to testify on their behalf, spinning some malarkey about how "abortionists" hide the ultrasounds from pregnant women, else they have second thoughts and cut into all the abortion profits.

"Your vacu-sucked fetus is paying for my new yacht!"

If you live in a sane part of the country - a growing rarity - you might be wondering how the hell anyone can hold on to a view like that. See, this was never about saving babies but about identity. The same sentiment that drives everything in this rotten country from gun politics to veganism. Pro-Life identity in this country runs hand-in-hand with a whole mess of reactionary paranoia, from black UN helicopters to communists controlling the media to Obama having actually done anything about guns before the last month or so.

Reality isn't a factor in any of this, so don't expect to win 'em over with conflicting evidence. Especially when it comes to American conservatism, where there's nothing but conflicting evidence. But it provides a stable and  - most important of all! - self-congratulatory framework for dealing with an ever changing and downright scary world.

They're bombarded every day with news of wars, revolutions, gays getting married, and a black guy in the White House. This upsets them but it would be even more upsetting to admit to themselves "I don't know where Mali is!" or "I'm a racist fucktard!" The right-wing identity provides a context for all this that not only makes it orderly, but makes them heroic - "Wars are caused by terrorists because they hate your freedom! Obama is a super-secret Islamo-Commie from Mars who stole the election and is personally invested in making sure you don't get that promotion!"

"Socialists made you eat all those cheeseburgers!"

And honestly, what would you rather believe? That the universe is as random and indiferent as all our observations indicate? That you're stuck in a nothing job, in a nowhere town because of economic problems beyond your control and possibly your understanding? That you hold to some pretty vile social views which history is now decisively turning against?

Or that everyone is out to get you because you're special?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

You Fail Economics Forever

There is no fiscal cliff.

No really. It's a myth, a concoction of party flacks and lazy journalists looking for a good scare story. The "debt ceiling" that everyone loses their shit over every couple months is technically real but it's an arbitrary bit of bureaucratic fluff. Something with no real affect on the economy - or even the federal budget - beyond the noise it creates.

For the country to go over this imaginary fiscal cliff, one of two things would need to happen. Either we suddenly call for all I.O.U.s issued to ourselves by ourselves paid in full to ourselves... Let that sink in... Or currency suddenly acquires some particular and intrinsic value that prevents new currency from being printed and moved into circulation. Also, electronic transactions would cease to exist.

Bitcoins would still exist. Because they're worthless.

People are still scared of this happening though because the political discourse does not recognize a simple fact of all economics ever - that money is a social construction of subjective value. Yes, even if it's gold.

And also - perhaps more important than that fundamental principle - no one realizes the budget of a government with currency sovereignty is completely different from the budget of some middle-class suburban family. That's always how the issue is framed and it's always wrong.

Getting back to how we've been issuing credit to ourselves form ourselves and ourselves ourselves ourselves... The very nature of currency sovereignty allows two non-hysterical approaches to all this debt malarkey. The simplest is to print more money, like that trillion dollar coin Obama refused to mint last week. The dumbass. You may want to shout "Inflation!" over printing money and you'd be correct, but it's a matter of degrees. We wouldn't see anything on the scale of the Weimar Republic, for example, unless we were stupid enough to bring back the gold standard.

Which leads into the second method of debt reduction - Keynes. Libertarians and other screwheads hate Keynes because he was just plain right - pick up spending during recessions, deficits be damned, and cut spending once the private sector pulls its head out of its ass. It's what beat the Great Depression, whether through the New Deal or World War II or both.

Pictured: Socialism!

Greece can't do it, neither can any Eurozone country except maybe Germany because they're dirty cheaters, but America can deficit spend like a boss! That's what currency sovereignty means, kids. We issue it, we control it, we pay our debts to ourselves with it.

But that's not on the table because Obama is every bit as much of a neoliberal dildo as Mitch and Boner. These guys all want austerity - for you of course, not for themselves - because they've absorbed every stupidly wrong monetary and fiscal idea of the past century. And they're gonna get away with it because none of you fools understand how your own economy functions.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

AwesomeGang is Awesome

Because they're promoting Fiend. Which you should buy.

Spend a dollar to feed a writer's cat!

If you need more convincing, read the excerpts -

Life and Undeath

Barbary Nights

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Slow Burn

So the big news this week has been that Alex Jones is cracked. I also hear there's this "sky" thing over us...

And speaking of, while the sky isn't exactly falling it may as well be. 2012 is officially the hottest year on record, just like the year before that and the year before that. If you can spot the pattern then you get a gold star for the day.

'Cause it sure seems like no one else can spot it. At least no one who matters. Global temperatures are rising, which is having real and nasty effects on every living thing. In the case of the 2011 heatwave, it stopped quite a few people from living.

What's that? Heat death don't do it for ya? Well we get more tornadoes too. And floods, making a rare foray into the Midwest. That's just going to get even worse at the current rate the ice sheets are melting.

New Yorkers being the optimistic sort respond with, "Ay! Suck it, Venice!"

And nobody cares. Because climate change isn't something that fits into the comfortable Red vs. Blue either/or false dichotomy we call politics. And  like a Todd Solondz film, it doesn't have a happy ending. So Americans pretend it just doesn't exist.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I guess I have to talk about gun control now, don't I? I sure don't want to. Gun control is, even in the wake of Newton and Aurora, a non-issue for Americans. It's already been decided and we lost. "We" being everyone sane.

Whether it's from years of collective degeneracy or just some tireless gun-evangelist whackadoos, the gun debate was long ago won by the guns. Just look at Obama's initial position - or lack thereof, since until 2012 and its rage massacre renaissance he just didn't have one.

Didn't stop the crazies, though. Ammo sales went through the roof in 2009, necessitating price-hikes that the gun crowd immediately assumed to be a shady Big Gub'mint effort to curtail their rights. This is the same crowd that always gets economics wrong too, especially then when the Tea Party was also being midwifed by a cartel of minarchist billionaires. The nation hadn't been so collectively stupid since spring of 2003.

Not that it mattered. Because guns were already sacrosanct then too.

And not for any logical reason. Let's make that perfectly clear - in an open and honest debate, the gun crowd would be laughed off the stage because their arguments are completely ignorant of political theory. Like the whole liberty thing, as helpfully explained by the internet -

There's some other noise too, like that stuff about a well-regulated militia and hunting. No one with access to a grocery store or Viagra really cares about the latter and there's this thing called the Department of Defense taking care of the latter.

The only decent argument they have is the only argument they shouldn't have - security. This is indeed a dangerous country to live in, owing to the economic turmoil and easy access to firearms brought about by the same liberty-loving crowd. If not for the abject failure of the United States government to fulfill its most basic obligation - maintaining a safe and secure environment in which U the citizen may enjoy the rights afforded you by the US Constitution - you wouldn't have to worry about owning a gun so as to protect yourself from other gun owners.

Not that they'll phrase it that way. That would take some introspection and general fucking human decency. Not to mention divorcing themselves from the paranoid fantasies that are really at the heart of gun-love in this country...

* * *

And now, a very special From the Vault:

So the DC handgun ban is lifted. My cousin Chino will appreciate that.

I don’t know how many of you reading this are familiar with The District, so I’ll just explain something up front: outside Georgetown and the national mall, it’s just Detroit. It has about the same demographics and the same level of violent crime as Detroit, and white-bread Jesus help you if you’re a honkey in Southeast. So with that out of the way, I’ll just skip any nuance and get straight to the point of this “victory” for the Second Amendment fucks: shooting black people. That’s it. There’s no Constitutional issue here. Poor blacks used to hold a monopoly on firearms, now the rich white people can shoot back. I know I’m oversimplifying things and I don’t care. And if you think hunting is even an issue here you’ve been shooting too much smack into your eyeballs.

But this just raises the larger issue of American gun culture – and yes, it is a culture. You get a certain crowd at the Dulles gun show just like you get a certain crowd at Anthrocon. And this certain crowd has one hell of an inferiority complex. Your basic nine-millimeter doesn’t look too fancy and is just fine for home defense or blasting empty beer bottles, and your basic nine-millimeter is the last thing on the shopping list of these impotent crackers. You can always tell who has the tiniest dick because he’s always carting around the Desert Eagle, a gas operated hand cannon that no one in the actual business of killing other human beings would be caught dead with.

Actually they would, because it’s loud, clumsy, and short on ammo so you’d die pretty fast in a real firefight.

But aside from the impotency issue (I mean that literally, check out the correlation between the decrease in sport hunting and the increase in viagra use) the biggest thing you never hear discussed is just how damn scared these people are. They’re terrified of wogs breaking into their gated community or trailer park and gay-raping them. They’re terrified of crackheads (but strangely never tweakers) doing crackheaded things like ODing in their garden. And they’re especially terrified of their own wives, because the ungrateful whores will get the court to take away their precious guns just for regularly beating them. Really, if you want to have some fun just turn an educated looking woman loose at one of these shows and you can hear these clowns pissing their Dockers. “Shee-it! Did my wife send a investigator here? I only hit her every other day! Aw damn, they gonna take away mah Uzi!”

I heard someone argue that owning a gun makes someone technically a member of the “well-regulated militia” named in the actual Second Amendment, just like America is technically a secular democracy. That is a huge steaming pile of bullshit. Assuming there is anything on earth capable of invading and occupying the continental United States, the mushy members of the NRA wouldn’t be able to protect us against hamsters. Hell, they wouldn’t even try! They’d load up the Escalade and burn rubber for Mexico, Canada, or the new viceroy’s office to get in good with the new bosses. Conservatives are hard-wired to obey, and if they own guns that only makes them a fifth column for silencing internal dissent.

Originally posted June 28, 2008.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Kill Whitey

Django Unchained has a simple and admirable thesis - fuck the South.

Sho' 'nuff!

It's long overdue, owing mostly to rigorous Confederate apologists and a general squeamishness in regards to the whole owning-other-human-beings thing. It takes someone as fearless and well-established as Tarantino to present an honest picture of Antebellum culture with all its entrenched racism and other warts - which he does surprisingly well even while consciously making the whole thing a gruesome Spaghetti Western with liberal cribbing from Sam Peckinpah's double-bloodpack phase.

The film starts with a clutch of black men, in chains, and marched barefoot through the credits. Christolph Waltz soon shows up as a whacky gunslinging dentist to collect the title character and commence the mayhem, but the film never once shys away from it's depiction of slavery. Mostly that it was hideous.

Every black person onscreen - with the exception of Samuel L. Jackson's brilliantly vile Uncle Ruckus - sports at least a back-full of whipping scars and Django himself has a lowercase "r" branded on his cheek for "runaway." See, trying to escape bondage and forced labor was considered a bad thing in those days. Also, there are plenty of these things -

Seriously - what the fuck, South!?

But the horrors of slavery aren't just in such common mortifications of the flesh. No siree - whenever an overseer or plantation owner appears onscreen, we get to see just what happens when you have a designated subhuman class. If their brutality shocks you, you haven't been paying attention to the world for the past ten years.

And there is a sort of class division going on here. The overseers are beholden to the plantation owners and get to work out their frustrations on he slaves, leaving the owners to preen around in loudly white suits pretending to be civilized. They're not of course and no one character better demolishes the myth of the Genteel South than Calvin Candie as played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Candie doesn't just own slaves but deals in "Mandingo Fights." Slaves forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of rich white men. It's brutal and disgusting and such a stark contrast to Candie's pretensions of upper class culture - he notably adores all things French without speaking a word of the language - that it's hard not to assume the whole film is thumbing its nose at the notion there was ever anything civilized about the Antebellum South.

"Ah am delightfully eevul!"

And most important of all, Django Unchained kicks ass! Because of all that context Tarantino builds. So when Django starts fanning his revolver at hordes of southern boys and the Rza kicks in on the soundtrack, you understand why the crackers deserve to bleed. It has a cheering effect, especially if you go see it in a predominantly black DC theater. I just about high-fived the lady sitting next to me.

We're gonna need that sense of solidarity. Already, Django Unchained is sparking a conservative freakout to rival the one generated by Machete two years ago. Noel Sheppard cluelessly wrote, “Imagine the uproar if a white actor joked about killing all the black people in a new film he was starring in.” We had that aleady, it was called Death Wish.

So there's still loads of people still in denial about the Calvin Candies who made an abattoir of American history and if said history has taught us anything it's that ya can't really reason with 'em...

Not pictured - reasoning.

But in the meantime, go see Django Unchained. It's the best action movie of 2012, the best western since Unforgiven, and the only history lesson that'll also give you that righteous violence fix like Punisher: War Zone.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Harry Potter Sucks: A Dissertation

I've hinted before that if you read stories intended for children once you've grown up that there's something fundamentally wrong with you. Well, after reading your holy texts I can say I was absolutely right. Nay, I was too kind. You people are truly wretched freaks, furiously denying the bigger, scarier world by burying yourselves in terrible escapist fantasies. You have no taste to speak of but consider yourselves cultured because you can read a thousand pages of turgid prose intended for ten-year-olds.

You are despicable. And this is for you to choke on.

Book the First: Everybody Must Get Stoned!

Even for a book intended for children, this is horrible. The characters are all flat and one-note and the story takes way too long to get started. The first third of the book is just Harry getting his ass to the magical academy of whimsy - and anything like a plot doesn't kick in until page 250! Everything leading up to that is exposition, wasted potential, and cringe-inducing cribbing from Roald Dahl.

Take Harry's foster family, the Dursleys. In the first few pages, Rowling shows a talent for skewering the self-satisfied mediocrity of the Anglo suburbs with the Dursleys as everything mean and stupid about middle class life. It's actually pretty good so it can't last, giving way too soon to magical folks blabbering on about the entire backstory so that there's absolutely no sense of mystery later. From there on, whatever satire potential the Dursleys had is thrown out in favor of being as rotten as possible to Our Hero.

And they do rotten well. But Rowling keeps them around, lets them go on being rotten until Harry finally leaves for his fantastical boarding school - and they'll be waiting to do it all again when he gets back. Roald Dahl gave his characters awful jerks as surrogate parents too, but he had the good sense to kill them off in elaborate and hilarious ways once the adventure started.

Not that the story actually starts once Harry leaves the regular world for the Potter world. No, we've got another dozen chapters of exposition or "world building" if you're an insufferable genre nerd. And because Rowling writes at the same level as her intended audience, this consists of lists of goofy names and someone occasionally catching on fire. Those latter moments are the rare successes, like the comically destructive twins or a mouthy chess set - "Don't send me over there, send him! We can afford to lose him!"

But like the satirical potential of the Dursleys, it never fully takes off. Further, there is no character development. None. The characterization isn't even coherent - Harry's been getting stomped down by a family of Vogons for ten years yet routinely displays the sort of confidence one only finds in the good looking kids with the non-screwy parents who raise them responsibly. Harry should be a stuttering, shrinking dweeb but because he's The Hero - as Rowling incessantly reminds us - he has balls.

Really, Rowling's "He is too the hero!" approach isn't just lazy writing, it makes for some really dumb plot contrivances. Like Quidditch, a game she made up just so Harry could win at something. The rules literally are "Fly around and wait for Harry to win." This is probably to make Harry a stand-in for the poor little bastards reading this but even wish-fulfillment needs to have some sense of struggle and uncertainty.

Of course, in Rowling's world, success and failure are predestined qualities dependent on blood purity but that's for later...

So after 250 pages of this crap we finally get a story. The Dark Lord of Darkness wants to come back to life and needs a magic rock to do it. It's hidden somewhere and Our Hero and company go to secure it from the one evil professor. This conveniently involves tests showing off each of their talents - Ron knows chess, Hermy is a nerd, and Harry knows how to mount a broom. See kids, everyone is special!

The evil professor isn't the one they were expecting, which might have been a curveball fifteen years ago but after seeing Alan Rickman in eight movies I kinda expected it wouldn't be him. Still, making the villain of the story turn out to be the stuttering jackass in a turban who's been sniveling around in the background for 300 pages is adventurous by Rowling's pedestrian standards.

And then Harry melts his face off with the power of love. Really.

Book the Second: Mysterious Mystery of the Chamberpot

For her sequel, our author decides to just rehash everything from the last book, sticking in a few more whimsical things like a flying Studebaker to pad out the anemic plot. Even Rowling's own characters get sick of the padding. "What was the point of sending us in there?" demands Ron after twenty pages of going to meet a giant spider who mostly says "This is not the plot you're looking for."

At least Rowling graduated to real storytelling technique between this and the previous book. Not her own technique, just the general basics so the pages upon pages of exposition aren't quite as ponderous. She even uses a scene of some eager sycophant pestering Harry to seamlessly explain Quidditch, though she could've just summed it up like the guys on RiffTrax -

"Can we have a rules refresher for Quidditch?"

"Yes, the object is to wait for Harry's team to win."

But expecting genuine wit in these books is just setting yourself up for disappointment as Rowling has a sense of humor that would make Buzz Killington groan...

She also makes some sloppy, amateur mistakes in her handling - or rather bungling - of the whole blood purity thing. Her official mouthpiece, Professor Dingleberry, states at the end that breeding is all bunk but that contradicts every nuance of the preceding three hundred pages. Rowling knows she's supposed to be instilling progressive, egalitarian values in the unformed minds of her readers but she just can't think outside the old English social order, making for a book that tells the reader one thing while showing something completely different.

It's like re-reading C.S. Lewis and only seeing all the stodgy Anglican prejudices he couldn't outgrow. And like another English author reviewed here, Rowling can't decide on her message: racism is bad and stuff but the metaphysics underpinning her world really are that blood purity - not genetics, straight up 19th Century people breeding! - really are a factor in whether or not you'll make it in magic. Magical parents having non-magical children is even stated to be a rarity and the one example of such we find is the rotten, kid-hating janitor.

And she doesn't even make the racism all that horrible. The snooty albinos like to throw around "mudblood" which carries all the spite of "riffraff." To be fair, she already blew her best slur, "muggle," on all of non-magical humanity. The scene where Father Weezy runs up to Hermaphrodite's parents going all, "Blimey! Muggles!" reminded me of that movie where Brandon Frazier pops out of a time capsule and is like, "Oh my goodness! A negro!"

Book the Third: The Internee of Saskatchewan

We start with Harry doing what he should have done in the first book - running away from the obnoxious Dursleys. Well, technically we start with a whole goddamn chapter reminding us we're reading a Harry Potter book, as if anyone picked this up without slogging through the first two. But once out on the street, Rowling writes something so stupid I lost respect for anyone who has ever liked these books -

"Whichever way he looked at it, [Harry] had never been in a worse fix. He was stranded, quite alone, in the dark muggle world, with absolutely nowhere to go."

How cloistered by the suburbs do you have to be to take such a claim seriously? How come no single editor at Scholastic called shenanigans on Rowling for writing such a thing after she'd sent a giant snake after the protagonist in her last book!? A giant fucking snake is plenty worse than spending the night on a park bench!

Which is even more grating when you remember that, as Book the First informed us, Harry Potter is stinking rich. He's got a goblin vault full of gold but still lives with the horrible Dursleys because that's Rowling's format. That and dicking around in the Wizarding World looking at common everyday items whimsy-fied into something with a ridiculous, alliterative name.

Like Harry does for the next chapter and a half, living in a pub off his mountain of gold like he could have been doing for the last two fucking books...

What little Rowling did right in the last book, she adapts back into bad. Her dialogue is still smooth but that doesn't distract much from how it's padding out every scene with crap that'll be repeated several chapters later.

Prison Azz is a hundred pages longer than the previous books too, padded out by a whole bunch of quilditch nonsense that adds nothing to the fucking plot. In fact it actively distracts from the plot, always popping in with it's Stanley Cup to give Harry something to fuss over that isn't nearly as pressing as an escaped maniac and living embodiments of spookyness. Rowling has to spend the last hundred pages with the characters explaining and occasionally shouting what was supposed to be going on the whole time just to maintain the charade that this is a story.

"I can't believe we got away with this bullshit!"

The only high point is Professor Trolley, the psychic loon. Her offhand predictions of doom liven up what is really page after page of the characters reminding us how scary the dementors are. And the worst of that is the occasional appearances of the dementors actually is scary. They're snatches of well-written horror but you wouldn't know that from Rowling copy-pasting her description of them into everyone's dialogue when they're not in the scene.

Rowling has a bad habit of relying on red herring villains to further pad out her novels. In Book the First it was the evil teacher Schnape, in Book the Second it was that fussy albino Dildo Malloy. This time it's the titular Prisoner, Gary Oldman. He skulks around on the fringes, acting all menacing and interesting, until the end when he turns out to be just a swell guy. All virtuous and boring like the main character. The real villain this time around? Ron's pet rat. A fucking pet rat! This is about where I began to suspect Rowling had always intended a seven book series the same way George Lucas always planned on a pair of trilogies.

'Cause there sure ain't any narrative progression going on. Not for three whole books now! Hermavore has been using time travel magic to go to extra classes all year because "Haha! Nerdy teacher's pet!" And the fact that this setting includes practical means of time travel is never ever brought up again. Snape is as much of a two-dimensional creep as ever. Which is perplexing, as it seemed a big point of the first book was that he wasn't that bad. Except he is because bad is bad just like good is good and gargle woggle whimsyshire.

Incidentally, Harry's spherical aunt makes that exact point at the start - the point Rowling insisted she wasn't making in the last book - "blood will out." And this won't be the last time because for all her pretensions to instilling egalitarian values in da yout', JK can't get over the received wisdom of the English class system.

Book the Fourth: Flamin' Moe 

Rowling mixes things up by beginning with an actual story! And an interesting one, as it doesn't deal directly with Harry and all his little git friends. Not at first anyway. Rowling's true calling of satirizing English middle-class life comes to a screeching halt so Dark Lord Spookypants can exposition and murder.

Though to her credit, Rowling condenses the exposition in the beginning. She resorts to the execrable "Everybody knew X" method but that's a minor sin for her as it gets the setting established in record time!

Then she spends the next hundred pages dicking around with her made up flying rugby game...

A story keeps trying to start though. Wizard terrorists pop in early on to try and remind everyone that there's some conflict going on but Harry and the gang valiantly get over it so they can get back to wizardly hijinks like inflicting magical brain damage on the normals. But mostly they just get all emo at each other for page after page after page. Much like the meat of the last book was all about inconsequential quidilcrap, this is padded out with burgeoning teen romances Rowling cribbed from all those creepy fans clogging up the internet with their own rambling fuck fantasies. At least Ayn Rand's turgid bodice rippers had actual pontification padding things out. Rowling writes the literary equivalent of styrofoam peanuts.

She again and again ignores one of Vonnegut's rules of fiction - "Every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character or advance the action." Her characters are just as shallow and two dimensional now as in the first book and the action is largely all outside the focus of the narrative. All she does - all she ever does - is setting. It's like the flavor text in a D&D book. The only time she tries to write anything of substance it comes out rushed or, in the case of all her attempts at little moral lessons, so badly handled I can't tell if it's a parody or not.

See? This is horrible but clearly a parody.

For example - if Rowling's handling of the racism theme in Chamberpot was schizophrenic, her approach to labor rights through the house elf metaphor in Firey Gobs is downright deplorable. Hermes is the only one to point out how fucked up an institution of de facto slavery is - Our Hero himself has no comment on the subject - and everyone else, including the author, think she's just being silly because "They're so happy with their chains!" It's no wonder Rowling's first "adult" project is a Fifty Shades of Grey rip-off...

And once the initial shock of slavery being alive and well in the wizardly world passes, things just get fucking disgusting. The low and grasping Dobby of Chamberpot was her working archetype for all elves - religiously servile creatures with no dignity who readily mortify their own flesh to affirm their loyalty. Hermione's attempt at abolitionism - called S.P.E.W. because that crazy mudblood and her 19th century ideals - is greeted with disdain and horror by the elves because wages and pensions just isn't done. And it's all played for laughs.

The argument could be made that Rowling is trying to add some warts to Hogwarts. It would certainly fit the myth that she "matured" the books along with the readers, but that assumes Rowling has any grasp of the ambiguous nuance required for portraying a bit of cultural relativism. Even Gary Oldman, one of the few good adults in the Potterverse, refers to them casually as "inferiors." He was making a point about how to judge the worth of one of the worthless Magic Ministers and it's the closest the book ever comes to what a charitable person might assume to be Rowling's attempt. But she just can't hack it because she can't get beyond her own shallow either/or morality - Good is Good, Bad is Bad, Slavery is Funny.

But if you think that's just all in good fun, like those old Geico commercials making fun of minorities for being upset over racism, Rowling's gone international with her cloistered English ignorance in this one! A whole two foreign wizardly schools show up to illustrate how little she knows about anything past the Channel. There's a bunch of scowly Eastern Europeans who are supposed to be Bulgarian but go to a German school and all talk like coniving Cold War Russkies. Their principal even used to work for Hitl - I mean Voldemort, continuing the great Rowling tradition of building up a character as the villain for the entire damn novel before pulling the real one out of her ass in the last hundred pages.

The rest are a bunch of fussy French snobs with exaggerated accents. They're stuck-up because they're French, rude because they're French, and suck at everything because they're French. Rowling includes them because the English can never get over how they're just not as cool as France.

And it seems every adult in the Harry Potter world receives a mandatory lobotomy when they come of age, shattering any willing suspension of disbelief I still had for this dross. Ministry officials spend way too long not figuring out who magically spray painted a skull logo in the sky, when not genuflecting in front of a mystical cup that so clearly set up a trap for the one kid everyone agrees is Wizard Jesus. The flying broomsticks and booger-flavored jellybeans I can deal with but it's these dipshits running the secret Wizarding World that I just can't buy.

Things try to pick up by the end with Rowling killing Edward Cullen and resurrecting Lord Spooktacular. But after slogging through pissy teenagers making googly eyes at each other for as many pages as Death on the Installment Plan, it felt like a token. Like the point of this monstrosity wasn't, y'know, a story.

Book the Fifth: The Big Blue One

Very first impression - "Oh come on! He walked out on his two-dimensionally horrible foster family two books ago!" And now, at fifteen and with a fully loaded wand, you expect the poor little bastard to go postal on the Dursleys in some whimsically grotesque way.

Or you would if you weren't a middle-brow dolt like Rowling...

She hints at it though. Teases us with the possibility of not having to put up with this bullshit framing device anymore but quickly recycles the dementors before Harry can do the natural thing and transmogrify his idiot cousin's wiener into a kazoo. Instead, he rescues the miserable little shit with a plot device from Prison Azz.

This latest act of heroism earns him a hearing at the Ministry of Magic - which follows no known process of jurisprudence - and is mostly just an excuse for Rowling to wallow in her own setting. Hackneyed side gags about fire-breathing chickens and Arty Weasel not understanding what plumbers are because wizards don't poop.

When the hearing does happen, it's brief and a farce too transparent even for the Volksgerichtshof to indulge in. Lots of obvious railroading and trying to string up Prince Harry of Wizard England based on nothing but emotionally charged rhetoric. And for Rowling, emotionally charged just means people yelling at each other more frequently - like every other line of dialogue APPEARING IN ALL CAPS SO THE READER UNDERSTANDS INTERCHANGEABLE WIZARD GIT #47 IS VERY CROSS. And this goes on for the whole fucking novel whenever two or more people happen to be talking. This is what a first draft looks like if you're nineteen and haven't figured out any other way for a character to convey passion.

Harry comes through the winner - like he always does - but he's all pissy about it because someone pointed out to JK that her main character should probably follow some kind of arc - and what better time to pull an arc out of your character's ass then when he hits puberty!

And starts shopping at Hot Topic.

Rowling's idea of writing Harry as an adolescent is to make him a sullen and sulky bitch. And while that's accurate, it makes for lousy reading. Teenagers write themselves as such all the time, so really she's just graduated from amateur to adolescent writing. Serious shit's going down but Harry and his friends are going through the typical "No one understands me! Bawww!" phase. Verisimilitude may be desirable, but not if it makes the audience want to slap some sense into the nominal heroes. That's what made Lost so fucking terrible.

I guess it's an improvement from a shallow everyman... But Rowling needs to maintain that everyman quality, so the new hardships Harry faces aren't from any inherent failing as just the rest of this solipsistic universe failing to bend to him. He gets booted from quidditch, That-Which-Won't-Go-Away, but only because the Ministry installed their own Grand High Inquisitor in the school - because other obviously evil titles like Nazi Kitten Molester were taken - whose sole responsibility is playing the crusty old dean to Harry and pals.

And his persecution by the Ministry isn't for any logical reason like the potential dangers of a troubled kid with destructive superpowers, but because the Ministry is run by a bunch of idiot defeatists who just don't want to give that cool kid Harry the satisfaction of taking his report on Lord Spooktacular and Cedric Deadalready seriously in one of the dumbest and ugliest World War II allegories I've ever seen.

Minister Fudgecicle is a clear stand-in for Neville Chamberlain and Rowling just done goofed with that. Regular readers - I have those, right? - are well aware that World War II is something of an obsession of mine so I'm familiar with the portrayal of Chamberlain as a cowardly appeaser. And just how despicably wrong that image is - Chamberlain, like everyone in Europe except Hitler himself, was sick to death of war but more importantly knew Britain lacked the men and material necessary to beat back the Wermacht during the early conquests.

Chamberlain's "appeasement" was a stalling tactic, sacrificing smaller allies to the German advance out of grim necessity. And it worked, in a terrible sort of way, by convincing Hitler he was unstoppable and encouraging him to try and invade Russia just in time for the Moscow winter.

Besides, Churchill was just as much of a fascist. Concerning the Kurds and chemical warfare, he famously said, "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes." And he only opposed the Third Reich because he didn't want Britain to have any competition in the world domination game. In a way, Rowling's perpetuation of the Chamberlain the Appeaser myth is fitting. It's a shallow understanding of history, only maintained by an utter lack of curiosity.

But this is all still overshadowed by the now mandatory fluff. Whoopsy-ding-dong fluff about standardized tests and muddling teen romance, occasionally broken up by Harry having nasty dreams about Voldemort's great big python...

Though it's paired up with something of a story this time around with the aforementioned one-woman gestapo, Professor Umber-Hulk, foisted on Whimsydoodle Academy. Rowling is going for the Trunchbull but only gets as far as S&M Laura Bush. While it's another of the rare instances of good writing - Rowling can write horrible people with layers of satire, knowing the middle-class suburbanite poshlost in her goddamn blood - it all follows the same ponderous narrative pacing as every other book. By the time Underwear usurps beloved old Professor Dusseldorf, the narrative has been sitting there playing with itself for a hundred pages and you start to wonder why the kids - hell, the other professors! - don't ever bother to hex the miserable old slag into a fine powder.

It comes close to that a few times and Godfather Oldman is certainly in favor of it. But being the lone voice of reason and practicality in this book gets him shunted to the sidelines until he can get killed off at the end for extra bathos. The Big Blue One is nothing more than a holding pattern, something to fill the space in the seven book contract.

Book the Sixth: Blood-Purity and Other Discredited Theories

Snape kills Dumbledore. That's it. That's all of substance that happens in this book.

And good riddance. Rowling committed the cardinal sin of characterization with the old poof - perfection. He's always in the right, always knows what's going on, and everyone loves him except the doomed and irredeemable assholes.

This Almighty Dumbleydore approach can't even be chalked up to JK being a hack as usual. All the obnoxious little things of this world that didn't make any sense, like Harry living with the Dursleys or nobody ever just vaporizing the obviously evil characters on the spot or how they don't ditch the stupid School of Whimsy now that Wizard Hitler is back and waging war? All the work of Dildobreath for perfectly good reasons you're not allowed to disagree with.

And now he's dead. Good.

But who cares! These books aren't about any of this good versus evil crap! It's all about magical goofballs and hating the French and teenage snogging. That last one is the British word for making out and as such is beloved by American nerd girls who watch too many Joss Whedon shows.

Most of which goes on between Harry's supporting cast, Ginger and Muddy. Eventually. They go through one of the most protracted slap-slap-kiss routines ever, and that's just counting their interactions in Blood-Purity. At least Harry stops being a surly little shit in this book, switching his focus to mooning over his best friend's sister to sublimate his lusting after Ron's Weasly. British romance is weird...

Donnie Draco gets some attention in all this. Not development, just attention. He's still a nasty little snob but now he gets to do things relevant to the plot - or say he did during the obligatory villain speech in the climax. It kinda peters out though, as Darco just doesn't have it in him to kill and even the worst sorts can still Do The Right Thing unless they're the official Bad Guy like Dark Lord Voltron.

Rowling tries to show us Vortigaunt's backstory but that takes too much time away from the wizarding prom or something. So after every magical flashback - and there aren't that many - Dumdumsnore just tells Harry what happened and anything that could've been interesting about coming from a long line of degenerate racists is safely wrapped up so we can get back to the booger flavored jellybeans. I'd say someone needs to explain to Rowling that characters are supposed to stand on their own without a mouthpiece psychoanalyzing them for us, but she probably wouldn't be able to hear any of that over the sound of all her money. You assholes.

They finally do get to the meat of it after Harry takes a swig of the mandatory-per-book deus ex machina. Professor Slugs showed Voldy how to split his soul - a bad thing which he keeps describing as bad but never actually stops describing. "And don't you go committing the cool crime of stealing too!"

So now after spending a whole fucking novel explaining how the villain kept turning up in the previous books - in between the underage snogging - Our Heroes try to do something about it. They accomplish jack all and Dumbledore dies. This is the only happy moment I experienced in the whole series.

Book the Seventh: The Doomy Bathos

And now for something completely different - an actual story!

Wait, not yet. First we have to get through a wedding. I know life goes on and all that but it's been going on for the past two books. Can we get to Wizard Stalingrad already?

No. No we may not. Because whimsy.

And not even new whimsy. Just lots of rehashing the previous books while everyone continues to moon over Bumblebore's corpse. Even though they've got much fresher corpses, what with Rowling vigorously fragging tertiary characters so she can be all, "This one is gonna be dark! Boogity-boogity-boo!"

It might have been dark if there were any sense of urgency. Seven books in - seven! - and Rowling continues to just putter along. At least the teen drama is finally relegated to the B-Plot where it belongs. But the problem with that is Rowling can't write anything else very interesting, falling back on fetch quests to delay the inevitable finale. That would work in a video game, where the whole point is to kill monsters and nick their stuff, but as a narrative device it's pretty anemic. Especially when parts of it are so heavily cribbed from Lord of the Rings, like how hanging out with the Horrorpux makes everyone grumpy food critics.

Meanwhile, Dark Lord Moldeyshorts is subjugating the wizarding world because they're a bunch of fucking morons. Those who don't join him outright calmly go about their usual Ministry business despite official policy now repeating verbatim the same magical racism all the Obviously Evil characters have championed for the last six books. Everyone nods along like Good Germans even as outright Pogroms are instituted as Rowling continues with her ham-fisted Dubya Dubya Two allegory, right down to Radio Free Wizard.

Really, the obviousness of the imagery is what ruins it. Again, World War II was complicated even just in Germany. There's not much ambiguity in a guy dubbing himself Dark Lord and all his sycophants Death Eaters. There are two types of people who call themselves "Dark" anything - angsty teens and metalheads. And they're both equally inconsequential.

And Voldy kills people. All kinds of people, from mundanes to his own fan club because Evil. At least Hitler and his inner circle were still friends. It's not just a matter of characterization, but of that realistic ambiguity Rowling's had pretensions of ever since throwing elf slavery in for a quick laugh. And if nothing else, it raises the question of why anyone is signing on with this clown in the first place.

Oh, well in that case...

In fairness, the story moves at a good clip when the killing starts. Which isn't often, considering this is the War Book. And all the good deaths are fast and cheap, with the real details reserved for that snivelling Dobby and Harry's owl.

Rowling takes a perverse glee in tormenting animals. Petrifying a cat, drowning puppies, lynching rabbits, and killing an owl. That last one's supposed to sting because it's been one of the good animals, Harry's faithful pet and letter carrier. While all the rest of the deaths feel like Rowling rolled dice on a big spreadsheet of all her interchangeable characters, you get the impression she specifically chose the owl because it was an animal and in this book she could get away with it.

By the time Harry gets whacked so he can complete the standard Hero's Journey to the Underworld, all the weird and interesting characters are gone and we're left with just Dumbledead. There was already a chapter of him explaining to Schnapps how all the events of the series were part of his master plan to punk Vogon by getting him to do what he wanted to in the first place. Now we get to do that again, only explaining the events of this book as part of some master plan and aw Christ!

So Harry rises from the dead after everyone else has initiated the decisive counter-attack and Longbutt has killed Chief Evil Guy's snake in an admittedly cool scene. Then Harry talks the villain to death rather than setting his wand to vaporize because Heroes Don't Kill but rely on plot contrivance. Then it skips ahead nineteen years and everyone has babies. The end.

And the worst of it is strangely enough the one highlight of this doorstopper - "The Tale of The Three Brothers." It's a well-crafted little morality play with more depth than Rowling's even aware of and it's success is like a middle finger to the reader. "I can write well, but you suckers just want booger-beans and snogging!"

*   *   *

This was an ordeal to read from beginning to end. What little good there is here is too often buried under the petty squabbles between children, reflected in the adults, and repeated ad nauseam to constantly reinforce the backdrop until it all but swallows up the skeleton of a narrative.

Rowling isn't even trying to tell a story, she's just writing escapist fluff. If that's your thing, I recommend picking up anything from White Wolf Publishing. You'll get much better written fluff and with a few friends you'll be able to re-enact your favorite scenes from Interview with the Vampire. With chainsaw-wielding ninjas.

Just imagine if Wodehouse got a hold of this premise. He would've given all the blood-purity snobs enough rope to hang themselves with before transforming Quidditch into a slapstick masterpiece! But Wodehouse - and his audience - were actively engaged with the world, a different context from the fantasy fandom in which the world is to be avoided at all costs.

The formula's the thing. It's what keeps the faithful coming back and repelling anyone with a grasp on real literature. Rowling could've told her whole story in a single volume, especially with her episodic approach to chapters. But that would mean much less time detailing the setting as separate, which would make it familiar and accessible. Blasphemy!

Each book is thus stretched out to represent a whole school year. And reading them all in quick succession like I did really does feel like cramming seven school years into your noggin with a comically oversized hammer. But in around four thousand pages, I never came a cross more story than would fit into the average fantasy paperback. Rowling's intention is to get her reader lost in the minutiae of her imaginary world, which makes it all a joyful pool of pudding for children who still don't know any better and the typical reality-averse genre yob... and eye-bleeding doldrums for anyone else.

The entire Harry Potter "epic" is just the same old Campbellian hero's journey as imagined by a muddling English prig, padded out with goofy words and alliteration which people defend by saying it's meant for children. Well yes and no - yes it is meant for children but Rowling has claimed she "matured" the series as it went along to keep pace with her aging fans. And actually it's yes and no and no because for every kid willing to schlep through this opus you'll find a dozen adults saying it's actually a well done work of literature comparable to something by Balzac or Dostoevsky.

This review has been for that last group. Because they must suffer.