Monthly Archives: September 2009

Libraries make me happy

I have a job.  At this job I can walk upstairs and go into the library.  This makes me happy.

Even better, I now have access to a state-wide network of libraries and, better still, the entire University of Wyoming collection.  Currently a couple obscure and expensive biographies are winging their way to me: Nabokov: The Russian Years ($43 on Amazon) and Kafu the Scribbler ($66). Been wanting to read both for several years each. They’ll be here in 3 to 5 days, for free.  In my biblio-centric universe, that’s poetry in motion, man.

Some people look up at the starry cosmos and feel paradoxically puny and connected to something larger than themselves.  Me, I go into a library.

FailBlog fails

I used to really dig FailBlog. I mean, what could be unfunny about watching people fail, over and over, and over? A few months’ subscription, that’s what.

The Failer-in-Chief

The Failer-in-Chief

FailBlog is the brainchild of Ben Huh, of LolCats and Engrish Funny fame. Grasping that inane, user-contributed content could really, really pay off, Huh has built a business empire around inane, user-contributed content. (Yes, the link is my contribution.) It’s all about a meme going viral.

But, like actual viruses, memes have a short life out it the open. Granted, a couple years is an internet eternity. But FailBlog has run its course for this reader, like Hot Chicks With Douchebags before it, and This Is Why You’re Fat before that. Even the venerable Onion gets yawny after a while. You can only gasp at the one trick of a one-trick pony so long. “Meme” is well on its way to being the “Psych!” of the 00’s.

The future of Failblog in the internet archives

The future of Failblog in the internet archives

But don’t tell Huh or his Faildork minions: there’s still time to pre-order the FailBlog book (surely buying a book about Failing represents a Failure on the part of the buyer), or catch Huh giving a talk in DC at the behest of the Great Google.  Fail, indeed.

Sunday Morning Soundtrack 1: The Connells

Starting a new feature around here: Sunday Morning Soundtrack.  Sunday morning being among the best times of the week to for music worth listening to, I’ll endeavor to provide some.

Since I’ve been back in the US I’ve been idly listening to old CDs from the 90s.  Some of it has aged remarkably well – New Miserable Experience by the Gin Blossoms is toe-tapping great.  PearlJam’s Ten and RHCP’s Blood Sugar Sex Magick are pretty good listening.  Sugar’s Copper Blue still rocks, but somehow not as hard.  (Maybe it’s because I’ve since discovered Husker Du.)  Biggest surprise so far: the Smashing Pumpkins’ wannabe-epic Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness does not entirely sound like the pseudo-angsty schlock it ought to.  Wouldn’t have put money on that one.

A lot of it is execrable, of course: anything by Live, for instance, represents one of those times when my 33-year old self gets to kick my 21-year old self’s ass.

But let’s focus on the positive.  By far the best of the old stuff I’ve laid ears upon is Ring, by The Connells.  God, I used to love The Connells.  I probably listened to Ring about 777 times a month, on average, for two solid years.

Well, there were worse ways I could have spent my time. (Candlebox?  Jesus H. Christ. )

Here’s “Hey You”:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.3480230&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

more about “The Connells – Hey You“, powered by  vodpod

Another great Connells track, “Fun and Games,” off the album of the same name:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.3480146&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]

more about “The Connells Fun & Games“, powered by vodpod

And a pretty good cover of same by a girl with half a face:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.3480157&w=425&h=350&fv=%26rel%3D0%26border%3D0%26]
more about “Cover of Fun and Games by the Connells“, powered by vodpod

More next week.

Book Review, shaken from my stupor edition: Possessed By Shadows

I recently went through a print reading slump.  For some reason when I got back to the States about 6 months ago, I just lost all motivation to read anything much more challenging than a newspaper supplement.  I mean, I was still getting countless tens of thousands of words off the internet, but while that is reading, in that eyes were moving over words, it’s not reading, like eyes moving over, say, During the Rains.

Reading.

Reading.

Not that I didn’t try.  Oh, I tried.  Picked up Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust from the local library, a book utterly unavailable in my former Third World abode, which I’d been looking forward to reading for a long time.  Couldn’t get into it.  Tried Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I was forced to read in high school and wanted to come back to as an adult.  It didn’t take.  Went for Richard Ford’s A Piece of My Heart, which read like Cormac McCarthy For Kids.  Nope.

The obvious culprit: wireless internet and a lightweight, non-thigh-scorching laptop spewing out the ceaseless offerings of the google-deity.  And a comfy couch.  I’d never lived in a place with all three before.  I surrendered.  Wallowed in mudpits of sweet, sweet information.  (Though I never took to tweet-bleating.)

Probably a deeper malaise was at work.  Crossing the pond will do that to you, I guess.  More on that later, possibly, if ever I get on a confessional jag in these blog parts.  Better, it’ll get turned into some stories worth reading.

I use this long prologue by way of introducing Donigan Merritt‘s Possessed by Shadows.  This was the book that, a few weeks back, shook me from my stupor.  For an excellent full review, I direct you (once again) to Brad Green.  He gives the kind of write-up that does this fine book justice.

Also reading.

Also reading.

For my part, I’ll just say that I’ve thought a lot about Possessed by Shadows, and why it grabbed hold of my literary attention span where half a dozen other candidates – and not a ringer in the bunch – failed.  I still don’t have a good answer, but I didn’t want to put off writing this post any longer.  For one thing, I promised Donigan Merritt, who I now have the excellent good fortune to be in contact with and who is a regular EE commenter, that I would.  For another, a day that goes by when you aren’t reaching for Possessed by Shadows is a day you’re squandering.  I can’t pin down just what it is Possessed by Shadows has.  But it has it in spades.

Merritt pulls off the very tricky trick of writing about a foreign locale without being either smugly knowlegeable or all guidebooky.  Is Bratislava, Slovakia a place you’re dying to know about?  Me neither.  But Merritt makes Iron Curtain-era Czechoslovakia a grayly fascinating place, while sparing us the Wiki-isms a lot of writers insert like they’re being graded on it. He also writes compellingly about rock climbing, another topic in which I am marginally interested at best.  Same rules apply: no needless trivia, no constant assertion of authorial authority.

All this is to say nothing of the finely fluid writing and the carefully etched characters.  The opening scene on a California rockface will set your heart to going, so that you won’t even mind that one of the main characters gets cancer.

Possessed by Shadows is not without its flaws.  The plotline is a touch hackneyed.  (Come on: cancer?)  But that just shows how extraordinary this book is: I was utterly absorbed anyway.  Read the whole thing in two, two and a half sittings.  This is what books are supposed to do to you.  Grab you by the spinal cord.  Now, thanks to Mr. Merritt, I’m neck-deep in half a dozen books and willingly, gladly, regularly, setting aside the laptop.  I’m not able to offer up much better praise than that.

Click on the book cover to support Donigan Merritt’s literary efforts.  And do check out his blog for updates on what’s coming down his literary pike.

Snake in a storm

Frothing outrage continues at the latest profit-raking on Wall Street.  Yes, the ubercapitalists went on the dole, got a few hundred billion free bucks, and proceeded to manufacture more money.  Indignation ensues.  I fail to understand.  Did you expect the greedy snakes to donate their takings to the Ladies Quilting Circle down at the Senior Center?

Puts me in mind of a hoary morality tale.  An old woman is painfully making her way through the forest in a spring blizzard, shawl and coat pulled tight against the bitter cold.  She comes upon a snake nearly frozen in a snowdrift.  Taking pity on the creature, she puts it inside her blouse, warming it against her skin.  She makes her way back to her cottage and lights a fire and continues to warm the reptile against her own skin until gradually it revives.  The snake slithers onto her lap where it coils up and proceeds to bites her in the neck.

As the woman lays dying, she says, “But I saved your life.”

The snake flicks its tongue and says, “Bitch, you knew I was a snake!”

Taking the long view

The following is, admittedly, sorta hippy-dippy, but I think the point about taking the long view is well-taken.  In the long run, the Dalai Lama, and Tibet, probably win.  In Afghanistan, everyone has already lost.

From Guernica:

Guernica: Couldn’t it be argued then that the Dalai Lama by engaging in nonviolent practices in a sense is breeding violence within Tibet? There are so many people there who are still being tortured, imprisoned…

Robert Thurman: It could be argued and it is argued, but I don’t think that argument will win. For example, look at the case of Tibet and look at the case of Afghanistan. Tibet has been invaded for sixty years by China and they’re doing a genocide slowly: killing and imprisoning and working to death in labor camps hundreds of thousands of people. And killing another half a million or so with famine by disrupting the environment, making them plant the wrong crops and generally really screwing up. I mean, it’s really bad what they’re doing. But the Tibetans will weather this. They showed in the eighties, after several generations from 1950 to 1980, that they still had their Buddhist culture in their hearts and they began rebuilding their own monasteries. Many became monks and nuns. They kind of got back into their way of life for about four or five years and then there was another fifteen or twenty years of crackdown.

Compare that with Afghanistan where the entire country is destroyed. When they had a brief period without the Russians, they killed each other. Then they got the insane Taliban backed by the religious fanatics in Pakistan. Their violence has simply accelerated. The point is, if someone successfully defends something with violence, then they’ll start being violent with each other and they will end up having a violent regime. That’s what we see: it’s like the Communist Revolution. Mao said that Chiang Kai-shek and the old feudal landlords were too violent. Lenin said the Tsar and the old Russian aristocrats were too violent. Then they [Mao and Lenin] killed people much more hugely because they got their power through violence and they didn’t know how to stop.

So coming back to the Dalai Lama, his thing is terribly slow. The poor guy is going to have to live to a hundred practically, the way it’s going, but the yet the place is not a total wreck. There’s still some fabric. There are still six million Tibetans there. He’s kept the culture alive in exile, and he’s gaining more and more friends amongst the Chinese people, the intellectuals, the ordinary people, the Buddhists. He’s extremely popular in Taiwan and all overseas Chinese communities as a Buddhist leader. And the PRC—clearly shown by the behavior of their oligarchy that runs the Communist Party—no longer holds the Communist ideology; they’re actually capitalists. Their people are mad with them; they don’t dare have a real election. They have huge police suppression, eighty or ninety thousand demonstrations per year that they have to suppress with police power.

The Dalai Lama is there for the long-term success and according to a way.

Seditious, or shrug-worthy?

This sign was right off the highway on my daily commute:

P8280068

The reference is of course to Thomas Jefferson:

“The tree of Liberty needs to be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Let me preface further remarks by saying that the sign has since changed to “Don’t take yourself 2 seriously no 1 else does.”  The following comments should perhaps be taken in that light.

Anti-BHO sentiment runs high here in God’s country, that socialistic communistic Constitution-destroyin’ America-hater.  As as a First Amendment fundamentalist, I absolutely champion anyone’s right to denigrate any elected official to their heart’s content.  Lord knows they probably deserve it.  However, I do wonder if calling for the blood of said officials isn’t a bridge too far.  I mean, Dick Cheney should probably rot in a prison cell next to Henry Kissinger for war crimes and perjury and general assholery till the end of his natural life, but you don’t hear me calling for his blood.  The mark of civilization, after all, is quorum and committee, not mobs and vigilantes.  Unless it’s the British coming to tax our tea.  Then it’s revolution time.

No, what I think this sign really reflects is frustration at being out of power.  After the Dubya years, the pendulum has swung the other way and now the signowner is on the outside looking in.  (Well, he was always on the outside looking in – the fake Texan was no more a friend of the little guy than he was of the Constitution – but these days there’s no denying it.) The patriots that rallied to Dubya’s mangling of the Bill of Rights now think BHO is shredding that same document in bailing out Wall Street fatcats by the billion-dollar bucketful and trying to give kids health insurance.  Sucky feeling, ain’t it, boys?

Now, I’m not going to shill for BHO here. He may be an improvement over Dubya, but that’s hardly a headliner for the resume.  I wanted a world-historical figure who was going to seize the reins of history and lead us to a new day.  Be a leader worthy of extended metaphors.  Nope.  Not gonna happen.  Chris Hedges wrote, “those attracted to power tend to be venal mediocrities.” I have no idea who Chris Hedges is, but I think he’s probably right. BHO is no prophet that’s going to lead us to the promised land, hopeful imaginings notwithstanding.  This is America, you see.  We were never in the wilderness to begin with.

The beauty of the Constitution and the whole American system is that it is stronger than any president or mob of malcontents, however loud they scream. Hell, in this country you can publically advertise for the President’s blood, and not even get a shrug of indifference out of a highwayful of commuters.  Business goes on as usual.  Beautiful.  Nope, there’s no sedition to see here.