Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Books And An Anniversary

I'm linking to this article in the New York Times about the publishing industry in Germany. Times article. Discounting of books is forbidden by law there. As a result, there is are plenty of independent booksellers and publishers. Without the sort of discounting that we see in the United States, it becomes much more difficult for the "supermarket" book chains to run the little guys out of business. The law was originally passed in 1929, which just goes to show you that something good survived the Hitler years. The motivation for the law is the notion that books are a public, cultural resource. Amen to that. In the United States though, books are all too often seen as negative resources that just serve to give people ideas. But, what else can you expect from a nation where 60% of the people claim to believe the Biblical account of creation? (Caveat emptor: This poll was conducted by the Barna Group which isn't exactly disinterested. Barna Group)

In any case, Happy Bishop Ussher day, though I'm a day late with the congratulations. For those of you who don't know, Ussher was the Anglican archbishop of Armagh during the 17th century. He calculated that the precise date of the creation was Oct. 23,4004 BC. Go tell it to the Egyptians.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

No Damned Celsius!

There's a strong streak of the yahoo spirit in the United States, and I'm not referring to the Yahoo! website, though I suppose one could argue that Yahoo! content targets yahoos. No, I'm referring to "yahoo" as Swift understood it when he coined the term. To him they were cretinous human-like creatures with vile and filthy habits. Remind you of anyone you know?

What got me going on this was an item I ran across online. The chief weatherman at Houston's channel 13, the ABC affiliate, has a blog. ABC 13 blog. On the blog, he announced that the station's weather forecasts would start including the temperature in Celsius. He opened the entry for comments and so far he has fifty. Eleven of them are from nut cases that oppose the change. (There are a few who oppose it for rational reasons.) Here are some of their comments. "This is just another example of giving in to people who come here from other countries and are too lazy to learn our ways (English, non-metric temps, etc.)." "This is the United States of America. We speak English and use Fahrenheit." "Just another concession to political correctness and liberalism."

You may be asking yourself how these people can be so stupid. It isn't so hard to understand though. In the minds of these people, and their evangelical Christian brothers and cousins, education is a corrupting influence. Study too much philosophy and you might start questioning the very existence of God. Study too much science and you'll start denying the Biblical theory of creation. And who are the chief proponents of the metric system? Why scientists, of course. If we let the weather man display temperatures with Celsius, the next thing you know, he'll be saying that the earth wasn't created in six days. Yeah, and them ain't monkeys swinging in the trees, their our great grandparents.

Say It Isn't So

Don't be a good neighbor anymore to her. I'll have to send you a love letter! Straight from my heart, fucker! You know what a love letter is? It's a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker! You receive a love letter from me, and you're fucked forever! You understand, fuck? I'll send you straight to hell, fucker!... In dreams... I walk with you. In dreams... I talk to you. In dreams, you're mine... all the time. Forever.
Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet

Dennis Hopper has always seemed to embody the spirit of the Sixties. It started with his his role as Billy in Easy Rider, and it was cemented when he played the mad and bizarre Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. Frank was the drugged-out Sixties come to an end in over-the-edge insanities. Hopper apparently worked at cultivating this image, as evidenced by appearances like his gigs as the guest host on Saturday Night Live. The truth is somewhat different. Hopper has been in dozens and dozens of films, mostly in thoroughly conventional roles. Hell, he's even done voiceovers in animated children's films. Still, he's Dennis, wild and crazy Dennis.

So there I was, sitting down to watch a little mindless TV, nodding off at the banality of it all when the commercials came on. All of sudden, there's Hopper shilling for Ameriprise Financial, a division of American Express. Jesus Christ, what is this Hopper, the onset of Alzheimer's? What would Billy say? And Frank Booth? Hell, he'd send you one of those love letters straight from the heart. I know that they've coopted every possible aspect of the Sixties in the effort to sell crap to the Baby Boomers, but this was Dennis Hopper. This was Frank Booth. I picked up the remote, turned off the TV and stared at the empty screen. Oh, well, Bob Dylan did a commercial for Victoria Secret a while back, but at least he had the excuse of tits and ass.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Love Shack, Baby

At the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, there is a room known as "the love shack". Detainees are taken there after their captors have decided they are not enemy combatants and will soon be released. Inside the love shack, prisoners are allowed to watch Hollywood movies and are plied with American junk food. Asif Iqbal, one of three British detainees known as the "Tipton Three," was permitted several visits there before he and his two friends were finally sent home. "We would get to watch DVDs, eat McDonald's, eat Pizza Hut and basically chill out. We were not shackled in this area ... We had no idea why they were being like that to us. The rest of the week we were back in the cages as usual ... On one occasion Lesley [an FBI official] brought Pringles, ice cream and chocolates; this was the final Sunday before we came back to England." His friend Rhuhel Ahmed speculated that the special treatment "was because they knew they had messed us about and tortured us for two and half years and they hoped we would forget it".

The above is a passage from Naomi Klein's book, "The Shock Doctrine". What strikes me about it is the profound lack of understanding of history that it demonstrates. This is so characteristic of American culture. That is, by no means, an original insight on my part. Many have pointed it out, but sometimes these insights just jump up and slap you in the face. Every day's a clean slate. That seems to be our American point of view. There's a certain advantage to that approach to life. There are cultures that are dragged down by history, cultures that are unable to move beyond the past. We've all read the stories of traditional cultures where families are still feuding because they can't forget an insult that's several generations old. However, that doesn't mean we can afford myopia when it comes to history. Kick your neighbor in the ass, and you can be damned sure he'll remember it in the morning when he's walking with a limp. That's pretty much the case with these released "detainees", and with the people of the Middle East. They remember, and their memories are long. Hell, in some places like Afghanistan, they still remember what Alexander the Great did to them!