Saturday, December 30, 2006

This is a preview of my novel.

Stacking my books up in the corner of my room, largest to smallest on the top in spite of my wish to put a large Asimov or White Teeth in the most visible place possible, I fit two piles up against the step leading to my dilapidated porch, must kee them under or equal to its height of about eleven inches, and I realize that it’s a slight precursor to shame I’m feeling, knowing that I can fit my books to certain dimensions. I should be in school right now, reading reading, I only ever picked up books over the last ten years of my life in order to find that last book I’d ever read. I can’t control that urge to stop my compulsive reading with a book, I can’t stop the flow with Pynchon, even, though it’s large enough to trouble the passage in my mind with very nearly full blockage. I’ll be lost as an old man in piles of books about me with my own face effeminate behind one stack—oh, never sure which—when I do find that last book, a levitational act of one tower, a gap halfway up a four foot monolith of pages, just the size of a quarterly academic journal, where the books above it can’t fall into and the books below can’t rise, a total failure of all the books about it to fill it, and I’ll either turn away from it or maybe even pick it up. The last book I read will have no weight whatsoever, and no one else will ever see it.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Blackmail in Your Stocking

Christmas sucks.
That's right, I'm going to do it.

The virtual blackmail members of a family inflict upon one another by recoursing to well-established social norms so they can extract as much as possible from those from whom they should demand as little as possible in terms of exchangeable tangibles.

That's really what irks me, the exchangeability and the tangibility of the objects demanded, and not so much the demanding.
Here's why:
I will forgive people who are in love with each other the grand pains they can inflict upon one another, but not the small ones. Because however much all pain people do one another must be stopped, one is performed as a desperate mark of uncontrollable love with no thought of the ego (which is presumably already shattered: "Charlie, you bitch, let's work it out!"); the other is performed underhandedly by a sick ego that cuts the other 1) in order to avoid cutting itself, 2) with the hope in mind of not being injured itself in retaliation (it always hides behind a sophist-icated justification).
And the Christmas programme, the structure it provides set rules by which one can determine who got the other the best gift. Even if it isn't the case that each one wants to see the other lose as much money as they have in the purchasing (and this is highly suspect), then the very fact that each weighs the other's gift against their own on these finely calibrated scales which allow for the expression of will in ratio of money spent to income and 'thoughtfulness'--this boils down to two lovers using a well-crafted societal mechanism to attempt to best the other.
Gift giving is not always like this: the ego can be inflated in the giving of a gift without the diminuation of the other so long as it happens outside an exchange-based system.

If people are to give gifts, they should not do so during Christmas, or at least should not do so by exchanging them at Christmas with someone they love. Maintain your ability to love above all else, and give them to the poor, or someone else you don't like or whose face you won't see when they open the present.

There we are.

But seriously. However mediated by society all our relationships may be, we do need to reserve the right to declare the medium a poisonous one.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Synchronicity

Sitting in a bar in Trelew - at 2 in the morning after 18 hours on a bus from Rio Gallegos through the endless repetition of the flat unchanging plains of coastal Patagonia - I ate a large pizza, drank a beer, and thought about the concept of synchronicity. More to the point, I had four thoughts related to this concept, thoughts which stood out from the continuous monkey-like chatter of a mind mostly numbed by a long bus ride, and each of which produced a moment of clarity - a brief refreshing silence in my own inner monologue and an equally refreshing sense of oblivion to the noisy, chaotic, smoky Argentinean bar. I scribbled each of the thoughts in my best cursive on the place-mat - a dirty-white paper square bordered by a simple design of green grass and red, yellow, and blue flowers - in front of me and took great pleasure in the act of writing in cursive and in the way that words, when written in this font (even the worst most messy attempts at cursive), have a habit of flowing together and running with immense ease from each to the next. The first realization was that one could sit and observe a hunched, middle-aged balding Argentinean - slightly overweight and wearing thick glasses - eating a hamburger in a bar with his family in the middle of the night, in the same instant that one could rest in a modest, simple kitchen in southern Chile talking to the owner - a woman named Chila - and a campesino - slightly drunk on wine and with an obsession for John Kennedy and Elvis Presley - whose greatest pride is his calloused, rough hands and whose greatest love is the forest, the land. If you choose to view time as a consecutive series of moments, then these two moments, in being timeless, violate such a series. Such moments, when experienced, feel limitless, as if being simultaneously possible at any given chosen instant. This for me, then, is synchronicity: that two such moments as these could be occurring simultaneously not only with each other but with the rain falling softly on a window of a red farm house in a gray morning in the tiny Fair Isle in the Shetland Islands; and with a couple - holding hands and standing completely still and close - in a moment of silent reverence in front of a painting in the Louvre in Paris; with bread baking in Barcelona and a street market in Tangiers and a child coming into the world in Dakar...

Strictly speaking in terms of the definition of synchronicity (described as the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection), there must be an apparent relation between the events in question. It seems to me that if one can see beauty in all events occurring in the world, or in those that might occur (as I believe is an aspect of eastern religions like Hinduism), then this common quality is enough of an apparent relationship to meet the above definition. If one takes no stock in the ethos of eastern religions, then perhaps the above definition needs to be modified.

The second thought that bubbled up like a small ephemeral sphere of mountain air appearing at the surface of a sulfurous rank tar pit was the following: So inextricable how deeply beautiful and wonderful, and at the same moment sad and terrible, the world can be. Each of these two extremes is capable of feeling deeply blinding to the point of apparent absolutism. Thus for some is suicide the solution to depression, to briefly cite an example. The fact that these extremes are capable of occurring simultaneously, or even of being experienced in the same instant, defies human reason and rationality. Memories of the 'Sorrows of Young Werthe' come now, unbidden, to the mind.

The third thought: In the time that it takes to write these words, someone has been killed or hurt with malicious intent in an atrocious and brutal manner, and in this same brief period of time someone has been loved or has loved with epic selfless passion and purity of heart. Realization of the truth of this synchronicity, it seems to me, leads to a vision of beauty great enough to bring a tear to the eye of even the stoniest and statuesque of solemn stoics.

The final: If I had loved and never been hurt, or been hurt but had never loved, I would say let the universe persist with its infinite and infinitely random and chaotic collection of possibilities and impossibilities indefinitely. But in both worlds have I dreamt and raged and thus I say let it all come to an end - disintegration, collapse, ruin - without reason or warning (as it will); I welcome it with a smile and a sigh.

Because of the unavoidable fact that transferring thoughts to words can only be done in a progression from one letter to the next, and from one word to the next - the simple process of which thus creating the illusion of a beginning, a middle, and an end - it seems that the above four thoughts arose in the order that they are now posed. Upon reflecting, however, I really can't claim that the thoughts didn't all occur in the same instant, a small microcosm of synchronicity, serving as a model, perhaps, for the thoughts of all mankind.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Eight months ago...

Stumbled across this the other day, as I was feeling depressed about the decline of my writing post-college. This didn't necessarily help, but I do feel it is a nice iteration of what I've liked so much about this blogging project. To contextualize briefly: it was written for the Bates Student as a farewell piece for the Arts Section. I reference some of the columns I wrote, but not to a degree where it is necessary to offer further explanation of them. Anyhow, to lengthily quote myself (is this this apex of egomania?):

"As the academic year comes to a close, it seems appropriate for us all to reflect upon my articles over the past months. Brilliant at times, exceptionally so at others, my pieces for this paper cautioned against the baleful currents of traditionalism and na├»ve historical longing that obfuscate the potential of our generation, that stigmatize us as divergent or deviant and as complicit participants in a systemic apostasy of “culture.”

In short, my pieces attempted to satirize this antediluvian way of thinking, imagining popular culture, that much maligned discursive nexus of society, as an object of traditional nostalgia. I intended this representational juxtaposition to reveal the relationship between an engrained elitism and the divisions and judgments by which the value and quality of art and culture are determined.

Despite the frequent verbosity of my sentences and the impossibly ridiculous choice of subjects, I am deeply invested in the intellectual exercises my pieces exemplify. Reading a Cameron Diaz film as a rigorous deconstruction of metaphysical gender politics in American culture, or Kelly Clarkson’s music as a potential locus of post-industrial dialectical radicalism is not merely an attempt at humor but the concerted effort to reveal the narrowness within which contemporary political and academic disciplines seem to operate and the social potential that arises from an increased willingness to engage popular or mainstream culture seriously and powerfully.

Too often corporate or capitalist culture is fallaciously counterposed against the academy or against a properly liberal political culture, a counterpositioning promulgated and justified primarily by members of these institutions, members who use supposedly radical academic jargon and theory to legitimate an ideological stance fundamentally rooted in classism or, at the very least, significant disdain for and distrust of the so-called “masses.”

This includes the relatively arcane, (Marxist professors who vilify an entire cultural epoch by narrowly and tenuously relating something as vague as “postmodernism” to “consumer culture” and the evaporation of idealism), and its reoccurrence as the relatively commonplace, (the disappointing installment of personal attacks and wearisome jokes as the primary forms of political critique emanating from much of the left.)

The articulation of these differences or relationships between academic culture and popular culture is not necessarily problematic, but when difference becomes oppositionality or polarity, conflict ceases, democracy stagnates, and the gap between self-demarcated groups widens threateningly. My emphasis on conflict stems from a specific conception of democracy as fundamentally plural.

The contemporary equation of plurality with provincialism marks a divergence from a more properly Nietzschean conception of pluralism as fundamentally conflictual. It is not enough for a nation to contain differences within itself and maintain these differences as distinct—these differences necessarily undergo constant negotiation and revision. To foster a culture of hermeticism and fragmentation ignores the complexity of institutional and personal relationships within society while ignoring and effacing the dynamic histories out of which contemporary institutions emerged. Furthermore, it fuels the processes of alienation by increasing the disconnect between public systems of representation and private experiences.

Sealing off academia or “high-culture” from popular culture fails and erodes American democracy. It obstructs dialectic processes within society and participates in a tragic ahistoricism, an ahistoricism that denies existence in favor of essence, to employ a famous existential dyad.

This ahistoricism becomes apparent in an anti-corporatism that critiques contemporary capitalism without ever wondering why these mechanisms persist at all, or a liberalism that attacks conservative values without wondering why these values are able to accumulate power and influence, or, in an example from my own writing, a hipster sentiment that maligns popular culture without ever examining or explaining the reason why popular culture is just that.

What I am suggesting is not a laissez-faire way of being in the world in which anything that exists is ok because it exists. Instead I am proposing a movement beyond criticism and a rebirth of truly democratic dialogue in which difference is not taken as fixed and unchanging, but instead as a site of potential, and a place for re-articulating the way in which we present our beliefs to the world.

That is, criticism must begin to be comprehended only in coordination with its positive obverses: invention, creation, writing, construction. Without this “will to power” the political system falters and is replaced by an economic system that attempts to engage popular culture by catering to those tepid, “neutral” commonalities that exist between all citizens.

To end what has been, in the end, a lengthy digression from my frequent rage over the way in which my (our) generation is discussed by those in power, I return to this initial point and propose a powerful reversal of this stigma in which, if any link can be drawn between our generation and its fervent embrace of popular culture, this strong relationship edifies popular culture as a sort of meeting hall of the post-industrial state, a commonality that, if manipulated properly, allows for the insertion of radical new discourses and narratives into these networks of near-universal vested interest and participation.

The cultural convergence presented by mass culture very formally represents a new beginning and the re-emergence of a conflictual and dynamic democracy. In effect, the cultural homogeny bred by capitalist mechanisms prophesies and determines its own end: the very idea of homogeny always teeters precariously on the brink of fragmentation, co-option, and plurality. But to push it over the edge we have to stop hating it at least enough to work through it. Make Kelly Clarkson a symbol of the revolution in a way that people believe, and mass culture becomes yours to imagine and determine."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Nightmare Palace of John Derbyshire

Wandering through Arts and Letters Daily today, an article caught my eye. Called "The Dream Palace of Educational Theorists" and written by a John Derbyshire in the New English Review, the article infuriated me to the point that I found a response necessary. My essay here will make little sense without Derbyshire's as context. It can be found here.

Before I comment on Derbyshire's article, in which he is far angrier than I could ever be, I want to note that his point about college education actually gave me pause. While his comparison between college and Chinese women's foot-binding or German men's duels is overstatement to the extreme, His point that college-educated persons wind up able to "get low-paid outsource-able office jobs, instead of having to descend to high-paid, un-outsource-able work like plumbing, carpentry, or electrical installation" had some merit. As a recently-unemployed college graduate with all the storebought accolades, I have been surprised at the dearth of well-paying positions for which I am qualified, and aside from singing "What Do You Do With a BA in English?" from Avenue Q, I am also dismayed. Does this excuse Derbyshire's blasting of the "college racket" from which, no doubt, he has likely benefitted (admittedly I can find no bio to affirm this), however? Certainly not--if only because his calling this "a racket" while refusing to consider the achievement gap in education anything so cohesive is inconsistent and unnecessarily derisive.

As for the rest of Derbyshire's post: I have to be careful not to take this all too personally. It is tempting to revolt for personal reasons, knowing many of those whom he calls "saints and masochists" personally. However, it is because of my personal knowledge that I can not intellectually excuse him for noting, "I am sure there are some people who enter the teaching profession with the desire to crunch their way daily across the crack-vial-littered streets of crime-wrecked inner-city neighborhoods in order to put in 15-hour working days, but I doubt there are many such." Certainly, his depiction of urban education is accurate in some instances; in fact, it fails to go far enough. He is also correct in assuming how few would be willing and desirous of this challenge (though, I should add, an organization like Teach for America does receive over 19,000 applicants a year). What bothers me, though, is his use of this black-and-white depiction as an excuse for the achievement gap, which might best be described as the difference in achievement between poor students and students of color and their wealthier and/or white peers, in public schools.

This is not all that bothers me. Derbyshire evidences his clear sexism and other biases when he exclaims that in public schools "boys are pressed to act like girls, and dosed with calming drugs if they refuse so to act; girls are encouraged to act like boys by taking up advanced science, math, and strenuous sports, which few of them have any liking or aptitude for; and boys and girls alike are indoctrinated in the dubious dogmas of 'diversity' and political correctness." I will let this statement speak for itself.

What bothers me most about Derbyshire's article is how easily he dismisses every shred of public education as we know it and the attempts to improve it -- without attempting to offer any form of an alternative or even a coherent, unifying critique. Even someone who agrees with Derbyshire that teachers in unions are overpaid and underworked and that asking parents to help with homework is like forcing them to do the teacher's job might leave Derbyshire's article asking: "So now what?" The man has an easy time blasting "leftists" and insinuating that education is a crock run by Democrats (ever heard of No Child Left Behind, the latest crock of them all?), but he falls into the same trap that many claim afflicts Democrats: criticizing to the point of attacking without offering an alternative solution.

It's popular to criticize public education--or better yet, American education in general--and until recently I fell into the same trap of solutionless ranting. I think I might have a solution, and I'm currently drafting a 10-year plan for a non-profit I plan on founding as early as 2007 that will possibly help me to attack some of the problems in American education. It is a stopgap solution, but I'm also a proponent of small victories in lieu of waiting for the perfect solution to come. I can criticize with the best of 'em (a rank I do not ascribe to Derbyshire), but what will happen if we all stop there? Probably more than merely the pollution of the blogosphere.

Blair's Speech.

There has been a significant amount of talk over Tony Blair's recent speech in which he essentially said 'conform to our tolerant society or get out of/stay away from Britain'. It was certainly refreshing to see Blair come out and say something that obviously has been on his mind for a while - at least since the 7 July bombings - not masked by political correctness. The Muslim Council of Britain called the PM's speech 'alarming', but I think that's rubbish. Certainly this isn't just a case of extremist Muslims spontaneously emerging in Britain - they have to be reacting to something (such as the Iraq war) - but I can't help but agree with Blair this time. It's about time that he told extremists who come to Britain and use their right to free speech (which they would be denied in most Muslim countries) to violently denounce their adopted home. (I'm referring to calls to arms and incitement to murder, not simply criticism of the government.) What I find so ridiculous about the Muslim Council of Britain's comment about Blair's speech is that Blair was very specific in describing exactly whom he was addressing. Blair said the threat came from 'a new and virulent form of ideology associated with a minority of our Muslim community'. I think that anyone with a brain understands what he means. I think it is a failure of responsibility on behalf of the Muslim Council to overlook this and pretend to not understand exactly who is being condemned.

What do you all think? Is there/should there be a limit to freedom of speech?

There is a link through this article to a video of the full speech: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6219626.stm

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Scalia V. Breyer

Interesting debate between the two Supreme Court justices with transcript here. Haven't read it through entirely myself, but its proving quite interesting thus far. For an overview, see the Slate article from today.


Also from the legal world, I urge everyone who has an online subscription to the NYT to read Stanley Fish's blog. He posts about every week, and often times the discussions are interesting and attract a peculiarly diverse range of comments, for the NYT anyway. The debate that has held my intellectual attention and still confounds me to a certain extent is one that began with Fish's October 22 blog entry about professors bringing politics into the classroom. In standard Fish fashion, he deviates from the liberal norm, though this time it seems less like self-indulgence and more like an attempt to lay-out something substantial and nuanced. For those without NYT access, e-mail me and I will send you the resulting 225 or so pages worth of criticism, responses, and discussion.

Chewing the Fat

Tuesday, the New York Board of Health unanimously voted to ban trans fat in all of New York restaurants. The ban will not take effect immediately, but the Board expects all of New York’s restaurants to be trans fat free as of July 2008.

Nutritionists across the country have applauded the decree, and have claimed that trans fats are worse than saturated fats as they both increase bad cholesterol and simultaneously decrease good cholesterol. Considering the disastrous effects of obesity as well as our national failure to combat the disease, the ban might just be the start of something both remarkably healthy and necessary: indeed, the city of Chicago has proposed a similar ban. Even multi-million, multi-national fast food chains have either already voluntarily stopped cooking with trans fats (KFC) or have begun researching trans fats alternatives (Wendy’s, I think).

Despite these obvious and admitted benefits, I’m still grappling with the Board of Health’s recent decision. Perhaps some form of libertarianism initiates my discomfort. I think this decree reeks of over-governance, perhaps of the worst kind of hold-your-hand liberalism. I felt the same about the V-chip push years ago, those cute little substitutes that let parents off the hook and keep their children from stumbling across sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. But V-chips never became law.

The Board of Health and other nutritionists have defended the ban, equating trans fats with slow-acting poisons. In some of the reports I have read, defenders will say that arsenic might taste good in food, but it’s the responsibility of the government (municipal, state, federal, what have you) to protect its citizens from a known poison. The same, they reason, goes for trans fats.

But interestingly, as of right now there’s nothing illegal about trans fats at all, at least outside of New York. The Food and Drug Administration has approved trans fats. I imagine that somewhere in the FDA’s tomes there’s a clause or section barring restaurateurs and chefs from lacing their food with arsenic (and if not, there probably should be). But as of right now, Washington says it’s OK to cook with. The National Restaurant Association says that banning trans fats sets us on a slippery slope, and that slope might be slippery because it’s been greased with cooking oils. Precedent could push municipal, state or federal government to ban (beloved) bacon, or as Nick Naylor had it in “Thank You for Smoking”, Vermont’s cheddar cheese. These fatty foods, not necessarily made with trans fats but certainly high in saturated fat, could be reasoned to act as even slower-acting poisons like their recently-banned cousin. Depending on how you look at it, this precedent might lead to fitter Americans or to an unnavoidable infringement on our inalienable rights.

This, of course, might all change. Considering New York’s move, Chicago’s potential move, the federal law mandating the labeling of all trans fats in commercial food and restaurants’ voluntary move away from trans fats, the oil might be, well, cooked. And if so, well, good riddance. Voluntary moves towards a healthier product and a healthier lifestyle are commendable, and if the free market demands a healthier product then that’s saying good about us as consumers (both economically and digestively).

An abrupt change here, but I think an important one that should reconnect with some of the ideas I’ve explored later on: The way, not ways, the bill is being covered is fascinating. More often than not, news agencies will say something to the effect of “Mayor Michael Bloomburg, who banned smoking in New York bars and restaurants during his first term, signed the bill today.” I simply don’t believe in the implied equation between smoking and trans fats. The push behind the smoking bans tends or tended to focus on the deleterious effects of secondhand/involuntary/passive smoking, that exposes ‘innocents’ to carcinogens that can lead to lung cancer. Yes, trans fats have obvious and maybe irreversible effects, and, like secondhand smoke, can increase the chances of cancer. But short of someone cramming a donut in your mouth or you slipping on a greasy French fry, I doubt that the same goes for fatty foods. A family can be effected by a family member’s poor eating, but a family can also effect the family member’s poor eating. And if we want to eat poorly for a meal or two or three or as many as we want, and if we understand the consequences of that meal, then, as adults, we should be entitled to. Right?
Maybe not. Like I said, the coverage of the bill is fascinating, and reveals something ugly about us as humans pre-politically. In order to stretch the article, news agents have gone to New York fast food joints and interviewed the patrons about the bill. More often than not, every patron supported the trans fat ban (I only read one complaint, wherein the patron worried that the price of his lunch would go up because of the costlier cooking oils). The patrons that supported the measure all discussed the obvious health benefits to the ban, were all eager to be eating healthier and realized that the change in the oil would probably improve their lives. Reporters, augmenting the quotes that they received from these patrons, noted that they received their quotes as the patrons fed their children McDonald’s French fries, gnawed on hamburgers, chewed on donuts.

As I said, most of the patrons expressed some understanding that trans fats were bad for them. Then why go and eat the damn food? Why put it in your children’s hands? Why wait for the government to come along, hold your hand, and smack the French fry from your mouth? If these patrons were concerned, truly concerned with what they were eating, were aware of what it could do to their bodies and so readily welcomed the enforced change, then why did they wait for the Board of Health? Like I said, the coverage reveals something ugly, something lazy, about us. In spite of our understanding, more often than not we won’t save ourselves. But we’ll happily wait for and let someone else do it for us.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Famine

I probably read five or six articles on climate change per week. This one in particular, however, really struck me. I'm posting it for all of you to read. First, though, take a look at this map of North America with the projected wheat-growing regions in 2050 compared with now. Jesus.

Map of North America. Image: BBC

Here's the article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6200114.stm

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Review of independent film on Radical Islam

[I have to run and catch a plane to Buenos Aires so I don't have time to post my own reactions to the article and interview, but I'll try to add my comments when I get to Argentina...]


The following are excerpts from an article by Christina Gallagher in the Johannesburg Saturday Star entitled 'Islamic fundamentalism gets REEL - An independent film analyses the hatred of fundamentalist Muslims for the West'. The film in question is 'Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West', and Saturday Star's interview with the maker of the film is also quoted in this blog post. Most interesting, I believe, is Kopping's perceptions of the role that should be taken by the international liberal media in the conflict between radical Islam and the rest of the world (including the non-radical Muslim world).

from the article:

"The most disturbing parts of the movie is the footage of how Muslim children are being indoctrinated by radical Islamic rhetoric to feel hatred. On Abu Dhabi Television, a sweet-faced girl from Bahrain says unemotionally: 'I hope Bush dies in flames, and I want to go to Ariel Sharon and kill him with a gun and stab him with a sword [she tucks her hair behind her ears and adds] because of the poor Palestinians.' Obsession also sets forth compelling evidence about the connection between Islamic fundamentalism and Nazism - specifically ,the use of similar propaganda." [http://www.obsessionthemovie.com/trailer.htm, scroll down until you see the link containing the word Hitler]


from Saturday Star's [SS] interview with Johannesburg-based film-maker Wayne Kopping [WK]:

"SS: How did you find such poignant clips?
WK: There are two organizations that record hundreds of hours of Arab television and scour the newspapers. They watch for incidents of propaganda and also moderation. Any time they find something that is overt or subtle propaganda, they take it and they translate it and those transcripts are available on the internet. It's been out there for years.

SS: Why do you think the mainstream public has not accessed this information?
WK: I just don't think people have been made aware of it. And even many of the news reporters living in the Arab world can't speak the language. They see some guy ranting and raving on TV and they don't know what he is saying. Some immam says 'Kill the Jews' or 'Kill the Americans' on some religions programme and that isn't a news story to them."

....

"SS: In the film you say that after the September 11 attacks, the Americans were asking 'What did we do to them to provoke such action?' For the Islamic extremists, is it simply a hate against everything that is Western or is it more about a hatred of a belief system that is inherent in people?
WK: First of all, it must be said that American and UK foreign policy is not necessarily the greatest. They have caused pain in the Middle East and the Arab world. As far as the hatred of the West, they don't hate our foreign policy. I am talking about the radical Muslims who see the world according to the literal translation of the Qur'an. You have to see it from their point of view. Islam means 'submission'. We [the West] don't submit to Allah. Who the hell are we to turn around to the Almighty God and say 'We reject your laws'? That is an insult of the highest order. It is their religious mandate to correct that. We are the ultimate sinners and insulters of Allah. So when they hate the West it is not because of something we have done but because of who we are. "

...

"SS: What do you think is needed in order of there to be some type of change?
WK: What it will take to tip it is when we realize that majority of the Muslim population does not want to live under or be associated with these regimes. We must find a way for them to determine their own future and help them fight this war. I really believe that Islam as a religion is compatible with democracy as long as they don't interpret it in the way that the radicals do, which is the hardline, literal interpretation. What the liberal media should focus on is broadcasting those moderate voices in the world and help to support them. It is all going to come down to an enormous body of Muslims who are going to choose on way or the other. Do they feel that West is the greates threat to their religion? Or do the believe that the religions leaders are the greatest threat to their religion?"

2 poems

Slightly irresponsible, but if you all want something on Amy Hempel, I do assure you it's coming. So 2 new poems for now, and lucky audience, these got titles:

FIRE IS FUCKIN' DANGEROUS!
It's bad when too many things do it




and so many things can do it!

---------

[illocuted profanity]
the perversity of this is not due to the actions described per se but instead the banality
the unremarkability of the gross violence in the book is what disgusts, that we already know what he is telling us.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Some Things of Interest...

1. The New York Times has released its annual Top 10 list for fiction/non-fiction. Of particular interest are The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel, if only because John M. has so assiduously reccomended them to me. (Assiduous make me sound insouciant, which I'm not.) Diction aside, he seems quite confident of her literary abilities and I certainly plan on obeying his praise, which, no doubt will ripple with equivalent actions throughout this increasingly large community. Also, I've just begun Emperor's Children, which I'm finding quite impressive. It offers a critique of middle-class liberalism nearly as incriminating as Yates's Revolutionary Road or Smith's White Teeth, and yet there seems to be a nearness to the irony and wit that, in my thesis days, I might have called pastiche, or parody without depth. It's such self-indulgent parody of self-indulgence that it's strongest emotive quality is its ability to resonate with my own anxieties over distance, namely my inability to believe the delineations my interior monologue establishes between my imagined self and what I fear becoming (but perhaps know I already am?). Affectionate postmodernism perhaps, or just ambivalence?

2. The $150 Laptop. A number of you may remember my temporary fascination with this early last year. Seems it has made more progress. I still have a guilty interest in owning one myself but remain aware of ethical/theoretical/economic implications of such fetishism. What's interesting in this particular article is the so-called debate the journalist seems to create between the designers and their detractors. Wonder what is thought of the Microsoft argument, "we shouldn't do in the developing world what we do in the rich world"? Reminds me of the life-boat argument and all its self-righteous morbidity, especially when spoken by the voice of he-trying-to-make-a-buck, but perhaps its a discussion that must take place pragmatically.

3. For those who haven't seen it: Ronaldinho's goal vs. Villareal last weekend. A think of astonishing beauty, really. As I've been told, "something even us Yanks should appreciate".

4. The Show with Ze Frank. My most recent internet addiction. He posts a new video every day of the week, and they are all quite entertaining or, at the very least, interesting. He's a surprisingly adept social critic (and I only say surprising because of my preconeptions of the medium), ranging from a Jon Stewart-esque critic of political culture, to a more properly Barthesian critic of cultural systems of meaning, etc... Be sure to check out his "Popular Shows" link, and, for an example of his mental agility at its best, the Jon Benet episode. The various terms he employs can be a bit confusing at first, but no doubt you'll all become fond sportsracers in no time.

5. Evidently people read this. Not an enormous amount. But not a paltry amount either. John M. will comment with specifics.

Anyhow, my best to you all. I've enjoyed reading everything over the past month or so and encourage you to continue telling all you can of our fine internet endeavor.