Hawking Up Hairballs

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ain't The Way

I had to chuckle at this, but it's not what we really need. The police will undoubtedly find this character and he'll probably turn out to be a nut case. No, what's needed is mass action. That's what the powers that be really fear. A couple of thousand people demonstrating outside of these bastards' homes would have made the point a whole lot better.

My Novel

I've pretty much finished my novel, Buster Bungle's Big Top. I'm going to let it rest for a few weeks, then go through it one more time before sending it out into the world. I don't really know what I'll do in terms of publication. I have a number of options, none of them good, but I haven't really studied any of them in detail.

It took a long time for me to write this novel, over five years. That was mostly due to my own personal failings. I haven't written consistently at all. Back when I was writing a lot of poetry, some thirty years ago, I really worked at it. I wrote every day, and without really having to make myself sit down to it. Having failed to find the kind of success that I would have liked, it's now difficult to maintain a positive mind set and keep my nose to the grindstone.

However, it wasn't just a failure to work consistently that made it take so long. My way of working also hurt me. Instead of spending a few months thinking about my characters and how they would interact, I dove right in and started writing. That might make sense for some people, but not for me. I tend to be a brooder by nature. I chew things over.

As a result, it took me six complete drafts before I had something with which I was satisfied. Given that I'm a meticulous writer, those six drafts took a long time to complete. I shouldn't have had to go through that many, but in the early drafts I didn't really understand what I was trying to do because I hadn't spent any time with my characters. It's hurt the final product too. Though I'm satisfied with my novel, if not thoroughly pleased, I can't escape the feeling that it would have been better if I'd done more prep work before I started writing.

I've already started in on another novel, though I've yet to write a word of it as such. I'm making notes and writing sketches, most of which will never appear in the actual novel. As a result, a plot has begun to emerge. I now know how I want the story to end, but I'm not yet sure how to get there. I figure it will take me a few more months of preliminary work before I'm ready to begin writing. I hope to bang out a rough draft first. I want to get the story down without worrying about the language. Then I'll do a serious draft, allowing myself to dwell on the prose. In this way, I hope to have something with which I'm pleased after a single, serious draft.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sex and Lucia

Last night I watched the 2001 Spanish movie Sex and Lucia. I won't try to summarize it myself, but here's the synopsis from the AllMovie web site. I've altered it slightly in the interests of clarity.

Lucia is a young Madrid waitress who is devastated to hear of the death of her old flame, the novelist Lorenzo. Hoping to flee her troubles, she seeks out a beautiful island paradise her dead lover often talked about. There she meets and befriends Carlos and Elena who are also refugees of personal tragedies. Unbeknownst to all of them, the three each have a connection to Lorenzo. Years previously, Elena had a spontaneous fling with Lorenzo on the same island on the beach. Nine months later, she bore his daughter, Luna, but unable to raise a child on her own, she enlisted the help of a nurse, Belen. In attempting to reconnect with the child he never knew, Lorenzo had a passionate affair with Belen, one which caused her to neglect Luna, with tragic results. As Lucia slowly learns these details, she recalls the book Lorenzo was writing just before his death, and soon the lines between fact and fiction begin to slip away.

The film was all right, but I wasn't blown away by it. There was a bit too much of the melodramatic romanticism that the Spanish and Italians seem to be fond of, and I'm too old and jaded to do much more than yawn at movies about sexual relationships between the young. That said, Sex and Lucia is an intelligent and complex film.

Watching this movie really brought home to me just how one-dimensional even the best of American films are. Watch them once and you've got all they have to offer. Not so with Sex and Lucia. There's a lot I didn't understand about the movie, and I'd have to watch it several times before I could confidently state that I had a grasp of it. For example, there's some kind of symbolic contrast between Lucia, who is a creature of the sun, and Elena, with whom Lorenzo had sex with one time on a beach under a full moon, resulting in the birth of his daughter Luna. Some kind of dialectic, perhaps a mythic dialectic, is playing out there throughout the movie, but just what it was escaped me.

I liked the shots in Sex and Lucia that alluded to the techniques used in the films of the early Surrealists, though I'm not sure how much of that was intentional. It could well be that those techniques have become part of the accepted repertoire in the world of the Spanish art film. I don't know. I'm ignorant of the tradition.

Sex and Lucia may also be taken as a meditation upon the nature of the narrative. There's an intermingling of events in the novel that Lorenzo is writing with those that take place in the real world. Sometimes it's hard to figure out which is which, and at the end Elena says that in the novel that Lorenzo wrote, in which she is one of the characters, there's a hole at the end through which she can return to the middle of the story. That seems to be what passes for hope for her.

As my remarks make evident, the movie deserves at least one more viewing, but I wasn't enough taken by the basic story to make the effort.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bill Moyers

It looks like PBS's resident liberal commentator Bill Moyers is taking it on the chin. According to the Slate piece to which I'm linking below, while working for LBJ, he was involved in campaigns to ferret out homosexuals in government and in Goldwater's campaign. He was apparently also involved in other unsavory practices of the Johnson administration, including bugging Martin Luther King's private life, surveillance of civil rights groups at the 1964 Democratic convention, and planting shills in press conferences. This kind of thing should come as no surprise. He was a special assistant to LBJ for Christ's sake, and when you wallow with the pigs, you're going to come out covered in mud and shit.

Of course, though Moyers is derided by the right wing as a liberal, he is no such thing. He is, in fact, an old-fashioned conservative. As such, he would have adhered to a chivalrous notion of loyalty. LBJ being his lord and master, Moyers would have done his bidding as any good vassal should.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Pynchon Novel

Hot damn! A new Thomas Pynchon novel is coming out. It's called Inherent Vice. Here's a description of the novel from Penguin's summer catalog.

It's been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say. It's the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that "love" is another of those words going around at the moment, like "trip" or "groovy," except that this one usually leads to trouble. Despite which he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists.

In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren't there ... or ... if you were there, then you ... or, wait, is it ... Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon — private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog.

Pynchon is great with names, and he scores again here. Doc Sportello. It just sounds like the name of a private eye. As far as I'm concerned, Pynchon is a hit or miss kind of writer, but when he hits it's a homerun. His last novel, Against The Day, I found tedious, but Gravity's Rainbow is a classic. It might well be my favorite novel. It's certainly in the top five. "A screaming came across the sky." That has to be one of the great open lines of American literature.

Interestingly enough, "inherent vice" is a business term. It's defined as follows. "Hidden defect (or the very nature) of a good or property which of itself is the cause of (or contributes to) its deterioration, damage, or wastage. Such characteristics or defects make the item an unacceptable risk to a carrier or insurer."

"Inherent Vice" comes out in August of this year. I've already preordered my copy from Amazon.

Monday, February 16, 2009


It's Presidents' Day, so I thought I might make a few remarks about Abraham Lincoln. As is to be expected, over the last few days, there have been a lot of TV shows about the various presidents. I watched one of them last night, something called Looking For Lincoln on PBS. The gist of the show was that a certain mythology has grown up around Lincoln, and that the things that most of us were taught about him in school are false. For example, he is lauded as the great emancipator, but that is something less than the truth. Yes, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and he was personally opposed to slavery, but he believed that blacks were biologically inferior to whites, so that it was only natural that whites hold a superior position to blacks in society. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. It was a commonly held position at the time, even among those who were opposed to the institution of slavery.

Some people get upset when the warts on their historical icons are exposed. I've never understood that. Gods do not walk among us. We're all human beings with our foibles and weaknesses, so why should the historical figures who we admire be any different? If we're trying to hold these people up as examples, doesn't it make more sense to show them, warts and all? When we portray them as god-like, people are more likely to say something like this to themselves, well, I can't measure up to that, so why even bother trying. Portray them as flawed human beings like ourselves, and I hope that people would think, yeah, I may not be perfect but that doesn't mean I can't accomplish great things.

One person who seems to think that there are gods walking among us is Tony Kushner, the playwright who wrote Angels in America. Steven Spielberg is apparently planning to make a movie about Lincoln, and Kushner is writing the screenplay. He appeared briefly in Looking For Lincoln and he talked about how intimidating the task was because there was no way he could get into the mind of Lincoln. As he said, and I paraphrase, Lincoln was a genius and how can you get into the mind of a genius? He went on to mention a few others like Mozart and Einstein, saying that no one could hope to understand the way they thought. I was struck by his remarks. It seemed that he was conflating genius with divinity. To his way of thinking, geniuses are demigods. This is a common belief in America. For example, I remember reading about a poll. This was years ago, I can't recall exactly when. Anyway, people were asked what it takes to be good at mathematics. The majority of people in the USA said that it takes a certain knack or talent. The majority of people in Europe said that it takes hard work. Not exactly what one would expect.

I don't believe that there are geniuses. There are people who are possessed of certain abilities who are capable of works of genius, but that is not indicative of some essential quality of the person. Einstein published some papers early in his career on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, and the special theory of relativity. They were all works of genius. However, he rejected quantum mechanics, saying that God doesn't play at dice, and spent the latter half of his career in a failed attempt to come up with a theory of everything. His fellow physicists were of the opinion that time had passed him by. So, what happened to that essence called "genius"? Had it extinguished itself, or something like that? No, of course not. "Genius" is just a convenient label that we attach to people who have produced works of genius. It doesn't indicate anything that inheres in the person.

I've gotten off my point here. Einstein wasn't a president, nor is Tony Kushner, so I'll get back to Lincoln. One thing that many forget about the man is what a wonderful writer he was. The Gettysburg Address was a masterpiece, and he had a real talent for turning a phrase. "With malice toward none, with charity to all..." is a classic, as is his reference to "the better angels of our nature." Damn, but that's a phrase I wish I had come up with. Lincoln also had a knack for humorous one-liners. Here's one, "Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves." Hmm, tact. That's something no one can accuse me of.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Suicide Collectors

The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard is the strangest novel that I've read in a long time. It's set in the near future at a time when something called the Despair is ravaging the human race. No one knows what causes the Despair, but it is rapidly depopulating the earth. When the novel opens, people have committed suicide by the thousands, and only a small number of them are left. The Collectors of the title are black-robed people who appear to collect the bodies of the suicides. No one knows where they take them, or what they do with them.

The novel begins when a young man by the name of Norman comes home to find that his wife has succumbed and killed herself. That leaves Norman and an old man named Pops as the only two residents of their Florida town. A drifter comes through and tells them that a Seattle scientist by the name of Briggs has discovered a cure for the Despair. Jordan and Pops head for Seattle in search of this Briggs. They have a number of harrowing adventures on the way and, when Norman arrives in Seattle, he's alone. He finds Briggs, but discovers that there is no cure for the Despair. However, Briggs has come up with a plan to destroy the Source, which is the cause of the condition. Norman carries out the plan, at the cost of his own life, thus freeing the human race from the ravages of the Despair.

The Suicide Collectors has been slotted into the science fiction genre. David Oppegaard sees his book as a literary work. I get his point. His story is haunting and macabre. It's surreal and nightmarish, and it's unlike anything that most people would think of as science fiction per se.

Oppegaard's a good writer. His prose is spare and well crafted, and he writes in such a way as to enhance the surreal quality of his story. There are some flaws in the book though. The most obvious one regards the eleven-year-old girl named Zero. She a major secondary character but, in conversation, she talks more like someone who's twenty years older than her age. I found that most annoying. There are also some flaws in the narrative logic but those I was able to overlook, given the surreal nature of the story. I can't outright recommend the book, but if you're looking for something strange and off the wall, pick up The Suicide Collectors.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In Denial

"Up until now, people have been pretty resistant to external data about the housing market and have continued to say their homes are doing quite fine," said Stan Humphries, vice president of data and analytics for Zillow in Seattle. "The events of fall 2008 with bank failures and large companies going out of business marked a turning point in many people's heads about what's actually happening. The fact that the economy is having larger troubles makes them more aware of what's happening to home values."

Still, people remain optimists when it comes to real estate's future prospects. More than two-thirds (70 percent) of homeowners believe their home's value will either rise or stay the same during the next six months. That's far more cheerful than any economic forecast, even that of the perpetually upbeat National Association of Realtors.

The passage above is from the San Francisco Chronicle. Seventy percent of homeowners believe their home's value will rise or stay the same over the next six months. Where are these people living, Lollipop Land? I've read a few pieces by those who wonder why people aren't in the streets demonstrating over the current financial situation and the way the Wall Street bandits are screwing them over. It's because they still believe that things are magically going to turn around. We're the city on the hill. Why wouldn't they?

Have you seen those ads after the Superbowl where the unseen announcer says to the winning quarterback, "You've just won the Superbowl. What are you going to do now?" And the quarterback duly says, "I'm going to Disney World." They ought to make ads like that for people who are being evicted from their homes. The sheriff's just finished putting all their stuff on the curb, and the announcer asks them what they're going to do. They can tell him they too are going to Disney World, because that's where they're living in their minds if they think this is all going to pass without real pain on the parts of lots of people.

An Interesting Take On The Economy

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist, and is a professor at the Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City. He was also an economic advisor to Dennis Kucinich during his presidential campaign. I'm linking to his take on the current financial crisis. I haven't read anything quite like it, but it makes a good deal of sense. It's quite long, but it's worth reading.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bailing Out The Ruling Class

As I've pointed out earlier, Obama is in Wall Street's pocket, so deep in its pocket he can't pull himself up and peek outside. The evidence is apparent and ever more abundant. Here's an example. On Monday, the New York Times ran an article about how Treasury Secretary Geithner prevailed over Obama's other advisors in fashioning a bailout. Those other advisors apparently wanted tighter restrictions on the recipients of aid, but old Tim Boy was having none of that and look what we've got, Bush/Paulson redux. In the words of the Times, "And for all of its boldness, the plan largely repeats the Bush administration’s approach of deferring to many of the same companies and executives who had peddled risky loans and investments at the heart of the crisis and failed to foresee many of the problems plaguing the markets." That's the Gray Lady speaking, folks, not The Nation or The Progressive.

If there's an up side to the current economic crisis, it might be this. It is becoming abundantly clear to all that there is indeed a ruling class in this country, an aristocracy in whose interest the government operates. When they make concessions to the people, as they did in the 1930's with things like Social Security and unemployment insurance, it was only because circumstances forced them to do so. FDR himself was well aware of this ruling class. Here's a remark he made to Colonel Edward House on October 21, 1933. "The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the larger centers has owned the Government ever since the days of Andrew Jackson." When people like me make such assertions we're accused of being conspiracy theorists.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Funny Video From Onion

I just had to post this link. It's so goddamn funny. You have to scroll to the top. This link takes you directly to the comments.


Monday, February 09, 2009

In Bruges

I watched the movie In Bruges last night. A lot of people really like it, but I thought the movie ill-conceived. It's about two British contract killers, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Ferrell). They've just completed a hit for the gangster Harry Waters (Ralph Fienes) and he's sent them to Bruges until the heat's off. That's the story they've been given anyway. As it turns out, while doing the hit, Ray accidentally shot and killed a young boy. This is unacceptable to Waters. You see, he has certain ethical standards, and he wants Ken to eliminate Ray. Without going into detail, Ken can't bring himself to kill Ray, so Waters comes to Bruges to do the job himself. At the end of the movie, Ken is dead, as is Waters. Ray is shot up, but he's going to live. Wracked by guilt over the death of the boy that he shot, Ray has sworn to turn his life around.

There's a lot that doesn't work in this film, and it starts with the two main characters. The middle-aged Ken, as Gleeson plays him, comes off as a kindly father figure. The best way I can think of to describe the way Ferrell plays Ray is to say that he's the boy who was the lovable class clown in school, but has grown up and been turned loose on the world. I just don't buy it. These guys are contract killers. Ray is all torn up by the boy he killed by accident, but he feels no guilt whatsoever about the priest who he hit. To me there's something reprehensible about portraying two such characters as likeable. The message is, yeah, they kill people for a living, but deep down inside, they're great guys. It would be one thing if they were thieves or something like that, but they're cold-blooded murderers.

It doesn't end there either. The climax is thoroughly implausible. Waters is chasing Ray with the intention of killing him. He brings him down with a few bullets, then walks over to finish him off. When he gets there, he sees a boy lying next to Ray, a boy that he has accidentally killed. Quite a coincidence, huh? Well, it gets even more ridiculous. Waters had earlier told Ken that if he ever killed a kid he would immediately commit suicide. So, while looking down at the boy's dead body, Waters says, "Principles, you see." He then puts his pistol in his mouth and blows his head off, thus sparing Ray. Give me a break. I'm all for suspending disbelief, but I'm not buying that, not even for a moment.

I would have liked to have seen more of the French actress, Clemence Poesy, who plays Ray's love interest. She's not a particular beauty, but she's attractive and sexy. I don't know what it is about French actresses. So many of them are sensual in the way that Americans can't seem to pull off. They just seem to be so comfortable in their sexuality. I personally think it's cultural. The French aren't burdened with a puritanical tradition. After all, it's the Americans, not the French, who got all bent out of shape when their when their president got a BJ.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


I recently posted an entry in which I talked about the marketing of prescription drugs to the general public. One of the drugs I discussed was Lyrica. It is being promoted as a treatment for fibromyalgia, though it is not clear whether or not such a condition even exists. Today, the Associated Press released the article below about the marketing of drugs for the treatment of fibromyalgia. It goes into it in much more detail than I did, and gives all sides of the argument.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Pentagon PR

According to the Associated Press, this year the Pentagon will spend $4.7 billion for recruitment, advertising and public relations to sell America at home and abroad. Some 27,000 people will be involved in this effort. By way of comparison, the State Department employs 30,000 people. I guess the generals would say that this is their contribution to the economy. After all, what would those 27,000 people do if they weren't pimping America and its military? Something productive perhaps?

This effort has apparently had little success overseas of late, but it certainly works here in the USA. I'd like to see someone conduct the following poll. Ask this question of a cross section of the US population: Is the United States a militaristic country. I'd be willing to wager that a clear majority would answer "no". A rational assessment suggests the opposite. We have a larger military budget than all the other countries in the world combined. As Chalmers Johnson has pointed out in his book The Sorrows of Empire, the Dept. of Defense lists 725 bases situated outside of the country. There are over 900 within the country. This does not include secret bases. That right there is all the evidence I need.

George W. Obama

When it comes to foreign policy, it is rapidly becoming evident that Obama's differs from Bush's in style, not substance. As reported in the New York Times, yesterday Biden spoke on foreign policy at an international security conference in Munich. In that speech, he took a hard line against Russia and Iran. He said that Russia had no sphere of influence, and indicated that the USA would not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. He also indicated that the USA would continue to seek to expand NATO into countries around the borders of Russia. That is just plain provocative. There's no other word for it.

As for Iran, Biden said the USA was willing to talk, but he went on to add, "Continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives." More of the same old bullshit. It takes a lot of gall to criticize Iran over its nuclear program when Israel is sitting there with some 200 nukes. Don't get me wrong. I'm not in favor of nukes. I think they should be internationally outlawed. However, I can put myself in Iran's shoes. Israel has all those nukes, and it keeps making aggressive noises about attacking Iran. It's only human that the Iranian government should want nukes of its own. When it comes to those remarks on terrorism, Biden is just pressing emotional buttons. If he'd been more specific, it would have become clear that his remarks were yet more bullshit. He was no doubt referring to the allegation that Iran is giving weapons to those Palestinians who are fighting the Israelis, but that's just what the USA is also doing, giving weapons to those who support its foreign policy goals. The same thing applies in Iraq, where Iran has a lot of influence, and also perhaps in Afghanistan.

Regarding Russia, the Obama administration might do well to remember that it is a nation of chess players. NATO is having problems supplying its troops in Afghanistan. This follows on the destruction of the one bridge in the Khyber Pass at the border with Pakistan, and on the closing of the USA airbase at Manas in Kyrgyzstan. There are no readily available alternatives. But wait. Here come the Russians, who engineered the closing of that airbase. Now they're offering to permit the transit of nonlethal aid through their territory. Isn't that clever. Pawn, from King three to King four. Just by making such an offer, Russia comes off looking reasonable and accommodating. If the USA refuses it, they look unreasonable. After all, the troops have to be supplied. However, if they accept, the Russians will have control of their lifeline. Ponder that, Joe Biden.

What seems to be forgotten in all of this Great Game maneuvering is the current financial crisis. Can the USA afford to continue its attempt to become the one hegemon. Perhaps, but only at the expense of its domestic agenda, and do we really want to live in such a beggared nation?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Steve Toltz

I've finished A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz. My opinion remains the same as it was when I was at the halfway point. It's a good novel, but not a great novel. If you like wild, epic romps, you'll probably like it, and I can recommend it, but it doesn't approach the heights of Gravity's Rainbow.

One thing I have to say about Toltz though, he's great with the one-liners. Here's one from the character of Martin Dean. When he thinks this, he's middle-aged and hasn't had sex in many years. "I had begun to perceive my genitals as imaginary beasts in some epic fourteenth-century Scottish poem." Here's another one from Jasper Martin's contemplations, "Career criminals and philiosophers have a surprising amount in common -- they are both at odds with society, they both live uncompromisingly by their own rules, and they both make really lousy parent figures."

Interestingly enough, Toltz is an Aussie, the third one I've read in the last year, and so it remains the same. The most interesting novels in English have been written by those who aren't Americans. We can thank our universities and their MFA programs for that.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Obama In Wall Street's Pocket

Think Obama isn't deep in Wall Street's pocket? As though the proposed bailout with its gifts to the banks at the expense of the taxpayers wasn't enough. Now, how about this?

Harry Markopolos is the financial investigator who blew the whistle on the Madoff Ponzi scheme. In testimony before a House Financial Services subcommittee yesterday, he accused the Financial Regulatory Authority (FINRA) of being corrupt, and he said that he didn't push the Madoff case with FINRA because they had too many ties with Madoff. Why would he care about that? Well, he apparently felt that, if Madoff found out what he was doing, his life would be in danger. Whether or not that was really true isn't particularly relevant. What is relevant is that the head of FINRA at that time was one Mary Schapiro. And who is she, you might ask. Well, she's Obama's newly appointed head of the SEC.

The rest of Schapiro's record is apparently nothing to brag about either, and I quote from the MarketWatch site, a part of the Wall Street Journal's Digital Network. "Schapiro's record at FINRA is one of multiple small-time settlements and fines while huge frauds, including Madoff, went unchecked."

It doesn't stop there. SEC officials also testified before the same subcommittee on Wednesday. One of them, SEC General Counsel Andy Vollmer refused to testify about certain aspects of the SEC's investigation of Madoff. In so doing, he cited executive privilege. I thought that sort of thing went out with Bush but, when asked if he was invoking executive privilege on his own, Vollmer replied, "No, I wouldn't say that."

Okay so Vollmer is a Bush holdover and a McCain enthusiast, but Schapiro could order him to return to the subcommittee to answer their questions. Failing that, Obama could intervene. Is there a chance of either happening? Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Fraction of the Whole

I'm reading the novel A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz. It's a nutty, comedy of epic proportions about the odd Martin Dean, and his equally odd son, Jasper. I'm only about halfway through it but so far I'd say that it's a good, but not great, novel. Anyway, at one point, Jasper is talking about the way his father had educated him, mainly with the works of history's dissident intellectuals. Here's the passage.

In this way I was not self-educated so much as I was force-fed, and in truth I liked them all well enough. The Greeks, for example, had fine ideas about how to run a society that are still valid today, especially if you think slavery is wonderful. As for the rest of them, all unquestionable geniuses, I have to admit that their enthusiasm for and celebration of one kind of human being (themselves) and their fear and revulsion of the other kind (everyone else) grated on my nerves. It's not just that they petitioned for the halting of universal education lest it "ruin thinking", or that they did everything they could to make their art unintelligible to most people, but they always said unfriendly things like "Three cheers for the inventors of poison gas!" (D.H. Lawrence) and "If we desire a certain type of civilization and culture, we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it" (G.B. Shaw) and "Sooner or later we must limit the families of the unintelligent classes" (Yeats) and "The great majority of men have no right to existence, but are a misfortune to higher men" (Nietzsche).

That passage really struck a chord with me. Those of us who are intellectuals do tend to hold those who are not like us in contempt. We shake our heads at the very idea that someone would prefer to watch American Idol instead of reading a good book, and we lament the fact that someone could be intimate with NFL statistics while living in utter and chosen ignorance of the facts about global warming or the crashing economy. This sense of superiority on our part has hurt too. The masses know what we think of them, and the right is quick to exploit it. One of the ways that they attack various progressive and scientific positions, like those on abortion and stem-cell research, is by smearing their proponents as liberal elites. It works too, as eight years of George Bush has shown.

As for A Fraction of the Whole, I find it hard to judge these sprawling works that go running off in all directions. Their architecture seems to be like that of a growing city. You've got a downtown business district springing up here, a Chinatown there, a shanty town slum on the margins, and a Little Italy where you least expect it. There's no coherent structure and, unless the writing is brilliant, as it is in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, such works don't really grab me. I prefer works with an architecture like a well-constructed building. But that's just me. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I got a degree in mathematics. I like a novel where one scene seemingly proceeds from the one that preceded it with the inevitability of a mathematical proof.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

And So It Goes

People I know called me a cynic back during the Presidential campaign when I said that Obama was just another political hack. I don't understand it. If I stood on the roof of a building holding a bowling ball over the edge, would I be a cynic if I said that it was going to fall to the ground when I released it? Of course not. Anyone who insisted that it wouldn't, would be viewed as deluded. Well, it's the same thing with the political campaign. Certain political and historical forces were at work that made it certain that no one with a truly progressive agenda would get elected. The only candidate with anything like such an agenda was Dennis Kucinich, and he couldn't even get a sniff as a serious candidate.

The fact is that the game is rigged, folks. It costs so much just to run for the Presidency that one has to be thoroughly compromised if one is to become a serious candidate. No matter how audacious your hope, you have to make a deal with the Devil to get elected, which Obama is quickly making clear. Take a look at his proposed economic stimulus program as an example. It's not much different from Bush's, socialism for the rich, and the cruelties of the market for the rest of us. It's a pathetic attempt to return to the status quo ante, and it's not going to work. A blogger I sometimes read put it in more colorful terms. He said that the proposed stimulus is like filling the gas tank in a car that is wrecked and wrapped around a tree. Think that's just the opinion of a few curmudgeonly bloggers? Think again. No one's more mainstream than the economist Paul Krugman. He's won the Nobel Prize and he teaches at Princeton. Read his column from the New York Times. (I've linked to it below.) Krugman sounds not just concerned, but scared. I've seen a video clip of an interview with him on MSNBC and got the same impression.

We live in the age of image, and most people find it impossible to get beyond the packaging. Obama is undeniably intelligent. He's proven himself to be a skillful politician. He throws around the optimistic words that people love to hear, words like "hope" and "change", and he's African-American, so people think he must be a progressive in his heart, evidence to the contrary. We've been gamed, folks. It's our own fault too. The record was there, and we should have known better. Obama's just another political hack, Clinton redux perhaps, or Bush in a prettier package. Of course, some will make the lesser evil argument, and I will agree to a certain extent. Obama is undoubtedly preferable to McCain, but that's not what progressives were saying before the election. Those of left-leaning persuasions that I know were positive, if not enthusiastic, about the prospect of an Obama Presidency. They didn't vote for him while holding their noses.

The sad thing about this is that we're probably going to end up with a McCain-like figure as President in four more years. Obama has yet to show an inclination to take on the forces of reaction. Instead, he seeks to compromise with them. There are times when that might be the way to go, but we're in the throes of an economic crisis that is shaping up to rival the Great Depression. Bold and innovative action is required, action that will upset Obama's Wall Street backers. There is nothing to indicate that Obama is up to it. The bowling ball is falling. Harder times are ahead.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Not Ping, But Pong

God, does this ever appeal to the nerd in me. It's a simple robot that plays the old computer game Pong. There's a short video of it playing on the site I'm linking to.


American Cargo Cult

I'm posting a link to some guy's site where he lists the elements of the world view that he calls the American Cargo Cult. There's a lot of truth there. http://klausler.com/cargo.html