Spinal Tap once again proves that truth is stranger than fiction:

Recently, ABBA’s former drummer died in a bizarre gardening accident.

The late, great Jeff Porcaro‘s widow claims to this day that her husband died from a heart attack brought on by an allergic reaction to the pesticide he was using in his garden, not a drug overdose… that’s right, a bizarre gardening accident. (Decades of drug use must have counted, though.)

Jim Hodder, also a former Steely Dan drummer (he and Jeff both played with the Dan—at the same time—back in the mid ’70s), drowned in his swimming pool. Not quite a bizarre gardening accident but within spitting distance since the backyard is what the Brits call “the garden”….

So what is it with drummers? Or is it musicians? Or is it all “man bites dog” publication bias? Discuss!

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ObFascism Tag: If it were up to those hateful fascist safety regulators—who Hate America and Everything It Stands For!—there would be no more bizarre gardening accidents.

So on this day when Angry (and not-so-Angry) Americans of all sorts gather together to share food, family, and thanks, we Angry Men here wish everyone a Happy, Healthy, and Thankful Thanksgiving!

But, never content to simply wish you well, we also want to ask you: What do you give thanks for this year?

Answer however you wish: be partisan or pluralistic, secular or sectarian, serious or frivolous as you choose. Only share with us your thoughts and thanks this season.

To start things out, I’ll share my thanks this year:

  • For living in the greatest nation on earth, where we can all celebrate Thanksgiving in whatever way feels best to us, even if it’s no way at all!
  • For a 2008 Election season which promises to be fun and bloody, if not terribly edifying about the character of many of our leaders.
  • For our troops, especially those in peril abroad, who give us a loyalty and service we frequently don’t deserve as a culture.
  • For all those, throughout the world, who risk life, health, family, and property to oppose injustice, oppression, ignorance, and poverty: from Iraqis trying to rebuild their country in the face of terror and barbarism to Pakistanis trying to find a middle way between military dictatorship and rule by gangs, and everyone in between. May God bless them and their work.
  • For all of you who read our words, whether you agree with them or not, and especially for you who take the time to leave words of your own. Thanks for caring enough to read what we think and share what you think!

The most complete human being of our age. —Jean-Paul Sartre, about Ernesto “Che” Guevara

“Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué,” —Argentine saying (“I have a Che T-shirt and I don’t know why.”)

Fatherland, socialism or death!El Presidente Hugo Chavez’ rallying cry.

So I was reading Gmail the other day and saw one of those really Twilight Zone-esque ads that Google puts up above your inbox along with the news crawl, such as advertisements for golden-crusted Brussels sprouts, tips on caring for cocker spaniels, top-dollar custom-made guitar picks, or The Circumcision Center, a urology practice in Atlanta specializing in fly-in snip-snip to your willy. Don’t eat gas-inducing Brussels sprouts before your visit or attempt to pay in expensive boutique guitar picks while your manic cocker yips at the good doctor’s heels….

No, those are just ordinarily weird(?) but this ad was for Radical Jack’s T-shirts, which was downright ironic. Radical Jack, it seems, is an aging ’60s radical (ex-SDS, etc.) who has embraced capitalism to bring merch to the progressive masses… merch bearing the smiling likeness of Chairman Mao, Fidel Castro, Subcommandante Marcos, etc., anti-Bush merch, etc. This is the place you can get the acne-pocked face of Leftist dictator du jour Hugo Chavez along with a bunch of guys that are handy with red, blue and yellow face paint printed on a t-shirt of your very own. Note to Jet Set Leftists: Good old Hugo has been showing his true colors in the coming Dec. 2 capstone of his autogolpe, taking plays straight from the playbook of Stalin and Hitler: Shooting student protesters, widely intimidating voters, calling for the execution of former allies, etc. (Bolivár in the end ruled as a dictator, too.)

Well there is a place in Marxist thought to make use of the techniques of the enemy against him and I would be hard-pressed to think of a more crassly capitalist mushroom than a online merch store, well except maybe this. From the “about”:

Welcome to RadicalJack.com – A place for radical T-shirts, books, films and gear. Most progressives and revolutionary activists agree that putting messages on T-shirts is a very effective way of popularizing the movement’s message. At RadicalJack.com we are seeking to offer a broad selection of progressive t-shirts and other cultural items designed to get your message across and stimulate discussion. Please browse our site and let us know what you think! All of our proceeds go to support the progressive movement, so the money generated by your purchases will be used to support the struggles you believe in!

That’s right, folks, if your cause is, oh, mass death of tens of millions by famine induced by collectivization and crazy forced industrialization followed a decade later by a fit of pique which lead to a million and a half additional deaths, do we have a T-shirt for you! A notable asymmetry: While the classics of Lenin, Trotsky, and Chairman Mao (“Mao More Than Ever“), appear all over Radical Jack’s, Comrade Stalin, defender of Marxism from 1928 (or so, depending on how you count it) until he dropped dead in 1953, gets no love, no love At All…. =>:{( (That’s a sad Stalin smiley, in case you were wondering.) I didn’t see a shirt for Zimbabwe’s strongman Robert Mugabe, who’s managed to turn what was arguably an African success story into a hellhole in less than a decade, but I’m sure that’s just an oversight. Like Chavez, Mugabe had his foreign jet-set claque (not so much these days). He also had his Night of the Long Knives/Dirty War mashup in Ndebeleland. No love for Middle Eastern anti-American tyrants either, or either of the Kims, père or fils—I guess Kim Jong Il’s official biography and Elvis ‘do is just too weird even for Radical Jack’s. Challenge to readers: Post your favorite oversights in the comments!

Naturally there is much Che to be had. Che was incredibly photogenic to be sure—he had a Brad Pitt boyish handsomeness about him—but not a nice guy, having been, among other things, commander of La Cabaña Prison in Cuba which made the likes of Abu Ghraib look like summer camp… we’re talking about a place where an unknown number of “enemies of the revolution” went in to receive a bullet to the back of the head. Che’s tenure there makes George W. Bush’s exercise of clemency, or, rather, lack thereof, in his years at Texas governor downright lenient. He also managed to run the relatively thriving Cuban economy into the ground during his brief tenure as Minister of Economy through the ever-popular collectivization (though I bet anyone likely in that position would have done the same). In other words, Che was Castro’s Lavrenti Beria or Heinrich Himmler and wearing a T-shirt of him should be seen to be roughly similar to wearing one of those fine gentlemen on your chest. Suffice it to say that Che—like famed Waffen SS member Otto Skorzeny or ringleader of the 911 hijackers Mohammed Atta—is proof-positive that courage is a tool; it matters to what end you put it. (Oddly enough, Skorzeny was, in fact, banging Eva Peron when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Che was supposed to have been interacting with Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Evita. I should also note that, so far as we know, Skorzeney fired his guns at combatants, not helpless civilians.) Che is, as a recent stories indicate, so protean a figure that I hear tell even German neo-Nazis carry signs with him on it claiming he was “a nationalist,” which is patently ridiculous. (I can’t seem to find a reliable link, sorry.) You used to be able to buy Che stuff at Target and he is, of course, nearly ubiquitous coffee shop decor. And a lock of Che’s hair goes for big bucks these days. He’s even become Saint Ernesto in Bolivia. Sainthood, it seems, is pretty darn protean, too. I’m quite certain Radical Jack makes most of his money (“used to support the struggles you believe in!”) on Che (and anti-Bush stuff). Remember, Che urges you to Chenge the World… in a fetching powder blue scoopneck T. Even Marxists it seems are not immune to the lure of a stupid double ententre… a sure sign they’ve embraced their inner retailer.

Now, if I were getting a T-shirt, I’d want two:

  1. Two dead radicals, thereby giving Stalin his due.
  2. The Hoff in, unarguably, his finest moment:

I have to say, though, this one, this one, this one or this one—all available on Radical Jack’s—would do pretty damn well. (There are others.) Too bad they’re up with a bunch of megalomaniacs and murderous rogues….

…and the interpreter replied—No

Have you ever seen the joke where two businessmen, an American and a Chinese are working out a deal with the assistance of a Chinese interpreter? The American businessman asks a question which gets interpreted through a great and lengthy process involving multiple conversations, a lot of symbolic writing on the palm of the hand, and many looks of consternation. After several minutes the interpreter turns to the businessman and simply says “no” —which is the answer to the question. While humorous, this is in fact a real phenomena as anyone attempting to do business in China can attest.

What we have here is a failure to communicate—not between the American businesman and the Chinese businessman, but between the interpreter and the Chinese businessman.

A little background is in order. China is a large country aggregated from multiple totally indigestible chunks–even for a maw as large as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). There are two major languages, Cantonese and Mandarin, which are essentially incompatible with Cantonese having 9 tonal variants and Mandarin four. Within China it is estimated that there are over 200 dialects of Mandarin alone. Plus there are other essentially separate languages used in the autonomous regions.

A person from the north Chinese province of Xisang has little chance of being understood by someone from Shanghai. What is actually occurring in the parable above is that the two Chinese are attempting to converge concepts so that they may actually communicate.

When each draws on his hand, he’s referring to Chinese characters, each a symbol for a concept and each mnemonically stable over the various dialects. Once the question is properly framed, the answer become possible to elucidate.

As a result, ideas, innovation and commerce tend to be predominately local. However, there are a great many Chinese, even in a local area bounded by dialect. From outside this looks like either a great untapped market or the scariest thing since Japan reinvented the transistor radio. More optimistic (or scared) Westerners look at local markets and say things like

Oh Shandong Province has 90 million people, I can extrapolate this market to the entire Chinese population and get numbers in the potential billions of customers.”

.. or

This group in Shanghai is innovating like crazy. What the hell happens when the rest of the country does the same.”

A more astute observer wonders whether the people of China can become the engineering and dynamic powerhouse of the 21st Century when they cannot even talk to each other. The CCP has taken notice of this and has mandated that Mandarin be taught as the common language. Dialects are still a major problem.

And then there is the written language which resembles the paths of an ink-dipped drunken rooster. On the plus side, (upon further reflection) since it’s derived from pictograms, it’s stable across all these various dialects and languages. On the minus side, building vocab requires learning an ever increasing set of new characters. By some estimates, a minimum of 5000 symbols are required for family level discourse. 20,000 are required for an educated Chinese to read a newspaper on the level of the New York Times. To read the Wall Street Journal from front to back: 50,000-70,000 symbols. A paper in computer science or biotechnology has symbol sets in the 100,000 range per discipline. Cross-discipline or interdisciplinary research is off to a crashing halt—you need to learn the discipline specific set for yours and the additional set of your coworker. So basic research has a chance— integrated applications —eh—not so much.

Stangely enough, the common language (with its attendant symbol set) for engineering and research is de facto becoming English. Mandarin is not particularly suited for engineering and science as it forces both sides of the brain to work. Chinese learn English if they are going to be doing science and engineering because to not learn English is the equivalent of clamping on concrete overshoes at the start of a 100 meter race.

Enter St. George.

This gives the Western world a unique opportunity. In order to promote Democracy is China, we have only to insert some “viral memes”, perhaps as English ‘borrow words’. The French are always complaining about how English is tainting their ever-so-pure language, so let’s do it on purpose with the Chinese. Some of this is already happening—witness the CCP’s attempt to restrict Google search engine output, or restrict what terms are available in Microsoft Office’s built-in lexicon. The Western world should make every attempt to load up the scientific and technical disciplines with dual use connotations for essential engineering concepts. The CCP still views politics as independent of science and technology—a glaring flaw in their world view, as it is the free exchange of ideas that promote advancement in science.

The CCP’s position is essentially self-defeating anyway. What absurdity prompts them to sponsor thousands of students to Western Colleges where they learn the language, absorb and train in the technology; and yet expect them not to be exposed to democracy? The CCP will either have to allow the nasty democratic connotations or disallow English.

If they do the latter, they are hobbled and Chinese hegemony is no longer a threat—it becomes in fact a paper dragon. If they do the former, we also win, as the concepts the CCP wants to suppress are put to use, leading to increased awareness of the benefits of democracy and economic freedom.