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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: December 31, 2009--February 1, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010:

Last night I started a portraiture class through the local adult ed program, since I have grown fed up with my inability to draw people. Ideally, I'd like to be able to come close to the way Kate Beaton can coax a limitless range of subtle expressions from just a few lines. Or even Jeph Jacques's command of body language, though with perhaps less attention lavished on my characters' breasts. But in the short term, I just want to see if I can't improve my perspective and proportion skills so my cartoon humans don't look like their arms are six feet long with three elbows.

One of the exercises was to do a blind contour drawing of a classmate. This involved staring disconcertingly at someone and following the lines and contours of her face with your eye while letting your hand follow your eye's path; drawing her without looking down at the paper. The point isn't what the drawing itself looks like--since it is almost certainly going to be weird--but to develop hand-eye coordination and to get used to really looking at the details of things. (From what I gather, and what I remember doing in Miss Petrov's art class in high school, a true blind contour drawing requires that you not lift your pen from the page as you draw, but my portraiture teacher said not to worry about that. So I didn't.)

Anyway, I thought my resulting sketch was amusingly disturbing enough to share. Just for reference, my subject looks sort of like Kathy Griffin, but without the air of abrasive witlessness.

CURRENT MUSIC: The inaccurately titled Ramones compilation All the Stuff (and More)--Vol. 1. (Inaccurate because "Carbona Not Glue" remained scrubbed until the 2001 reissue of Leave Home. Trivia!)
CURRENT MOOD:
Impatient.
CURRENT SUBSTITUTE FOR PAYING ATTENTION TO POLITICS:
The Shiba Inu puppy cam! They put me in a far happier headspace than asscracks like Scott Brown and Evan Bayh. Go figure!
TIME:
1:49 p.m.

Doot?

Friday, January 22, 2010:

Dear Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas,

I was all set to fire off a furious missive to your underlings (at Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, DC 20543) regarding your majority decision in the case Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, in which you declared it unconstitutional for the government to set limits on the amount of money a corporation may spend on elections, effectively overturning several decades of campaign finance legislation. I was ready to decry a twisted constitutional interpretation that equates corporations with individual human beings (thus, I suppose, entitling corporations to a divinely granted "pursuit of happiness" even though some scholars argue that corporations themselves are legal entities that cannot feel emotion) and equates money with free speech (the inescapable conclusion being that the more money you have, the more speech to which you are entitled). However, in the throes of utter, helpless despair that accompany the onset of letters to government officials, it suddenly occurred to me that you have given me the greatest gift a civic-minded young man can receive: The gift of total disillusionment.

By declaring that the government may not set limits on the amount of money a corporation can spend on ensuring candidates friendly to its interests get elected, you have made certain once and for all that American political discourse and debate will operate solely within a framework set by the rich and powerful. After all, if a candidate for office is running on a platform that fails to attract absurdly large donations from, say, Humana and Citigroup, she will be operating at a severe resource deficit when compared with those candidates who have Corporate America's stamp of approval. It's pretty tough to get the electorate to hear and process your message when the other team can outspend you many times over for that all-important airtime... and especially so when your opponent is able to batter you with unceasing attack ads that you then have to spend a substantial chunk of your already-paltry funds countering!

Why, our electoral process will fancifully mutate into that great Mr. Show sketch featuring a mom-and-pop grocery struggling against a soulless, Wal-Mart-style chain!

And here's where it gets good for me personally: You have ensured that an unstoppable glut of misinformation will poison every election cycle, which will result in uncountable scads of votes cast by well-meaning people who have been hoodwinked (or at least confused) by fearmongering attack ads. Thus, my single vote--which admittedly may not be cast based on completely accurate information and which generally buoys the tally of a candidate who will only dash my hopes anyway, but which historically has never been decided on the say-so of a commercial--is guaranteed to be negated thousands of times over based on the agenda of corporations too big for a true populist candidate to fight!

Heck, even if I take great pains to stay as informed on current events and our nation's governance as possible, allowing me to participate in informed discussion with people I know about the issues of the day, and even perhaps prevailing upon them to see things my way and satisfying them that their vote would be best cast for the candidate I championed... there is still no possible way my influence or participation in the electoral process could ever approach even a hundredth of a percent of the influence wielded by a corporation who has a dog in the fight! That disparity is pretty interesting when you consider that I am an individual American and a behemoth corporation is also considered to be an individual American, eh? Guess when we were issued tickets in the genetic lottery, I must've just been given a tattered Burger King Kids' Club card by mistake! It's just my lousy luck that I wasn't born the Altria Group!

I always suspected that my single vote never mattered much. After all, the first presidential election in which I was able to cast a vote occurred in 2000, when the ultimate victor was chosen by your judicial branch in a way that had nothing to do with the actual vote count, so it was hard for me to particularly believe in the efficacy of our electoral process. In each successive election of any sort, I've seen dirty tricks ranging from the grand "Swift Boat" slander of John Kerry to subtler nastiness like the deceptive flyers distributed in African-American neighborhoods of Milwaukee blasting the lie that "IF YOU [OR ANYBODY IN YOUR FAMILY] HAVE EVER BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF ANYTHING, EVEN A TRAFFIC VIOLATION, YOU CAN'T VOTE IN THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION." And even when my candidate won, the result was inevitably bungling, corruption, or inaction that may have paled in comparison to the evils that would've been perpetrated by a Republican electee, but which still left me skeptical of the potential for real change.

Through it all, I've still voted in the naive, almost spiritual belief that it somehow mattered. I've devoted hours upon hours to reading news articles and commentary, volunteering my time with local party outposts, attending peaceful gatherings of like-minded people who believed that we could make our collective voice heard despite scant evidence that our elected officials were open to listening, even contributing the relative pittance I could afford to candidates and groups that I believed would make a positive difference in this country. Despite being a white, middle-class, heterosexual, basically Christian adult male--and thus a member of America's least-discriminated-against demographic in a walk--I've taken very personally each governmental decision over the past decade that has adversely affected my fellow creatures of any stripe, and I have honestly tried my best to contribute productively, in my small but very sincere way, not just to redressing wrongs that have been made but to simply helping us move forward as Americans and as human beings. That's a patriotic duty that I was taught to honor time and again when I was growing up, both in my family and in school, and even though my 12 years of being a proud American voter always left me feeling more stressed and disappointed than satisfied, I also wanted desperately to believe that the worst problems were with the candidates themselves, and that any problems with the process would somehow be fixable or surmountable. They just had to be.

But no. They're not. They perhaps never were, but you've wholly cured my misguided optimism by smashing the American electoral process to flinders; breaking it to a degree that no reasonable glimmer of hope for its salvageability can remain. In boldly underlining the pointlessness of our political system, you have freed me from my obligation to ever vote again! I'm done, and let me tell you, it is a relief!

So it is with great gratitude that I direct my final substantive words about our government to you, the men who have, finally and forever, shattered my childish illusions that I myself have any meaningful part to play in the ever-decomposing parody of democracy that we are encouraged to pretend has anything to do with the day-to-day operation of this nation. Henceforth, the only voting I'll be doing is for the Sprint Survivor Player of the Week. (I can evidently win $10,000!) I may continue reading the news, but only out of dispassionate curiosity; kind of like how I watch Ghost Hunters even though I don't believe in ghosts. I have friends who'll call my choice irresponsible or defeatist, who'll say that by not fighting for what I believe in I am essentially handing this nation over to the Republicans and their corporate overlords. But you and I know better, don't we, my Supremies? You've handed the nation over for me. It's a done deal. I was never part of the equation at all and it was foolish to think I was. At least I can now save myself the heartache of personal investment in this farce.

Goliath squishes David.

Lay back and enjoy.

Smooches,

Chris Willie Williams

CURRENT MUSIC: Transnormal Skiperoo by Jim White.
CURRENT MOOD:
Psyched for apathy!
CURRENT FAILURE:
The coffee filter somehow capsized itself in the coffeemaker this morning, clogging the spout with grounds.
TIME:
10:34 a.m.

Doot?

Thursday, December 31, 2009:

I'm trying to be less monotonous with the cynicism and the self-pity and the inadvisable emotional investment in our nation's irreparable political system and the sophomoric cultural analysis and the railing against the injustice of my numerous traffic citations and the plugs for my series of real estate seminars and the parroting of conspiracy theories as fact and the... well, the nonstop Simpsons references would most likely need to be removed surgically. BY CALLING 1-600-DOCTORB!

The point is, rather than the diminishing-returns grumbling with which I'd ordinarily eulogize the passing annum, I thought I'd close 2009 by being upbeat and sharing a brief, silly exchange that comprised my favorite conversation of the year.

Back in August, I was riding around with my parents after they helped me hastily vacate my Ann Arbor apartment. (I had incorrectly noted the end date of my lease and the property management firm was none too enthusiastic about me drifting across the line separating "tenant" from "squatter.") We drove past a tanker truck bearing a warning that it contained non-potable water, which led to the following discussion:

DAD: "Non-portable water"? What does that mean? It's just for this spot?
MOM: No, it says "non-potable." It means it's not for consumption.
DAD: "Potable"?
ME: "Potable" means you can drink it.
[DAD considers this for a moment.]
DAD: "I'm feeling very portable." [sic]
ME: ... No.

As a bonus, this also reminded me of my favorite exchange from the great, defunct reality show Beauty and the Geek. The nominal beauties had been made to study primers on home repair and tool use in preparation for an upcoming challenge, which was introduced thusly:

BLAND HOST: This is a tool chest, and inside--shocker!--are tools.
BEAUTY ONE: What are "tools"?
BEAUTY TWO: What's "shocker"?

Bev and I quote Beauty and the Geek to each other an awful lot. Also every other reality show.

I hope you all have a perfectly lovely new decade. Unless you're a Common Era ordinal number holdout, Cole, in which case I hope you enjoy the final year of the current decade.

CURRENT MUSIC: The contents of my hard drive on shuffle. (Current song: "Shabby Doll" by Elvis Costello.)
CURRENT MOOD:
Headachey.
BEST SURPRISE I RECENTLY RECEIVED:
Bev got mentioned in The A.V. Club! Or alluded to, anyway. One week's AVQ&A was about suggestions for wedding songs or readings, and Tasha Robinson wrote, "Personally, I'm not married, nor am I the type of gal who sits around fantasizing about her wedding ceremony, so I don't have a playlist worked out for it yet. And if I were to be totally honest, having to make decisions like that is probably one reason I'm not married. But I'll tell you this: One of the best ideas for a wedding song I've heard this decade came from an AVC reader who talked about playing 'How Very Special Are We' from the original animated Charlotte's Web at his wedding, and that strikes me as just about the perfect blend of sentimental, sweet, and non-cloying." I was that reader! But it was Bev's idea, so she gets the credit. (Attentive readers will recall that Tasha was also kind enough to send me an MP3 of that song for us to play at the reception and include on the mix CD we gave out as a wedding favor.)
TIME:
1:07 p.m.

Doot?

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