Saturday, June 03, 2006

America's Greatest Living Writer?

Perhaps, perhaps, it’s hard to say, but Charles Bowden is definitely one of them. He is recognized by his peers and gets great reviews in the New York Times Review of Books, but his problem is that he is so hard to classify. Most of his work is filed as environmental writing. His recent work gets put in the crime non-fiction section. None of this is accurate, he is just a great writer, one with incredible command of the language who is able to articulate a perspective that many of us who know the desert well feel but could never put into words. I defy anyone to read the first section of Blues for Cannibals and not come away from it a changed person.

Another great thing about Bowden is that he works with great photographers.

This article in Mother Jones give no clue to Bowden’s writing talents, but the photographs by Penny De Los Santos tell the tale.

Freedom of Expression

How powerful is our need? This young lady is probably risking her freedom, if not her life, to share these thoughts and images.

I have no idea what she’s saying, but find it beautiful nonetheless.

Some Watery Tart

Some Watery Tart has a very nice little blog.

Yes, I am graduating from college next week. And NO, I do not know what I'm "going to do next." But that question, while well-intentioned, is, umm, getting kind of annoying, and a bout of stress-induced rage is nigh. So if "what I do next" is something like

1) overturn city bus, set on fire
2) storm post office, set on fire
3) photocopy excerpts from 1984, distribute about San Diego in haphazard fashion
4) lose cool at Starbucks, throw flavored milk at yuppies,

please don't hate; appreciate. I'm an English major. We have endless passion and ethereal dreams.

And we fucking like it that way.

And people think San Diego is laid back? Anyway, she has a nice mix of homey stuff and Bush bashing and it is consistently well-written, which is surprising for an English major.

Notes on the Nature of Evil

I make fun of Christians and other religious people a lot, and have little respect for them because of their profound ignorance about the historicity of their savior, and the historicity of the bible in general, especially when they are faceless strangers, but I realize they are no better or worse than any other grouping of humans and that there are enough subcultures within the big tent that it's unfair to condemn them all with broad generalities. Most of us have at least one area in our lives in which we are ignorant and irrational. In the best case scenario, our pet irrationality is harmless. All too often though, people’s irrationality leads to violence, or bothering other people who don’t share their beliefs, or at the very least, being overly judgmental.

But sometimes my heart goes out to them. Jen from Boston is a decent sort. Writing about the Da Vinci Code she says:

So, I want to picket the picketers. I want to make my own signs that tell the picketers that it’s all going to be ok, and that God loves all people. God loves people who see the DaVinci Code, God loves homosexuals, God loves women who get abortions and God loves abortion Doctors. I want my signs to be bigger than their signs and I want to stand right in front of them, so that all they see is me, and all the world sees is the back of our two signs.

So she is from the “good” wing of Christianity and I like her as a person. Still, in the bigger picture, she is a proselytizer whose goal is to gain adherents, to make people ignorant.
People don’t need picketers in front of the theatre as people are going in; they need people to meet them on their way out. Not to condemn them, but to help them with their questions, and to invite them to fellowship where their questions can be answered.

People don’t need picketers out in front of abortion clinics. No, but they do need to be there for the broken women who are walking out. Where do these shattered lives go? Can the church be the hospital that it should be? Can it be there to help these people put their lives back together and invite them into fellowship?

Hey picketer! Put the megaphone down, fold up your director’s chair and meet me around in the back. Let’s talk to people, not yell at them. Let’s meet people, not accuse them. Let’s welcome people, not scare them.

I don’t mean to condemn Jen. Her motives are good and her approach can genuinely help some people. Although I think we would be better off without that crap as a society, I know that it does help a lot of individuals deal with the problems in their lives, which can certainly be a good thing.

As for gaining adherents, I’m not sure whose way is better. The picketers of hate or the picketers of love. They are probably mutually exclusive. The haters will attract haters and the lovers will attract more morally decent sorts.

But it would be nice if there were a rational lobby who waited outside of churches and other religious places in order to help people overcome their superstitions. I know, I know, that is not going to happen. We have freedom of religion and give those who try to spread their religious beliefs respect, if not silence. Essentially, the proselytizers are telling people that if they do not believe in X religion, then their beliefs are bunk, and we, as a society, are okay with that. But it doesn’t work in the other direction. Standing outside a church and explain to people coming out why their beliefs are bunk would not go over very well.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Free Trade

Yi Xin, a fascinating young girl from Singapore (I think) writes like a poet.

pls hire me.
okie. i noe my drawings really sucky.
but i really do adore kids. i dun mind unpaid OT. really.
had enuf of all those chemicals.
save me from hell (:

Lots more good stuff there. Check her out.

Possibly the Stupidest Man in the World

Don Fields, gives us some helpful hints on how to tell if music is Moral or Amoral. do we evaluate what musical style is appropriate (biblical, godly, God-honoring)? What criteria do we use? I think I will save my response for another post and ask you to weigh in here. The following are some criteria that I have been given by others. You judge whether it holds up to biblical scrutiny.

        •        All rock music (music emphasizing beats 2 and 4) is sinful.
        •        All music with a loud drum is sinful.
        •        Any music played by people with long hair (hair over the ears or collar) is sinful (only used in reference to men).
        •        Any music that causes me to want to (consciously or unconsciously) move my body (dance) is sinful.
        •        Any music that sounds like the "world" (insert any music you don't personally like here, or any music that appeals to your "flesh") is sinful.
        •        Any music written by unbelievers or spiritually immature believers [exceptions: classical, opera, Broadway musicals (written before the 1970's), big band, marching band, and many others that I have forgotten] is sinful.
I eagerly await your response.

Well, my response is you are the stupidest man on the face of the planet.
And if that’s not enough, in the same article, he provides this insightful logic to buttress his thesis:

As mankind manages and creatively develops the basic elements of God's creation in each of the following components, it will result for God's glory or man's sin. Whatever someone does with the basic elements becomes a moral issue. [The following is a chart that I couldn't format properly. I hope you can follow the point it is making.]
Basic Components - Resulting Discipline - Evidence of Proper Dominion - Evidence of Man's Sin

1. Chemical Elements - Chemistry - Vaccine - Poison
2. Numbers - Mathematics/Geometry - Equations - Statistical Misrepresentation
3. Colors/Light - Art - Nature/Michelangelo - Pornography
4. Spoken Letters - Speech - Greek Rhetoric - Lying
5. Written Letters - Composition/Music Lyrics - John Bunyon/"Messiah" - Moral Filth/Gangsta Rap
6. Sound waves - Individual tones/Music - Refreshing spirit and body - Stimulating lust/Instant gratification

Oh yea, and there’s a lot more at this site. I’ll be back.

Muslim Fundamentalists are human too

Asif Wadud, aka The Urchin, a Muslim Fundamentalist from Bangladesh, provides these funny pictures of Bush with the Chinese leader and his wife.

This is Bush groping the Chinese Leader's wife in Beijing:

This is the Chinese leader keeping Bush from groping his wife on their visit to the U.S.

Then he goes on to teach us something even more important. He is as human as the rest of us:

i am Asif Wadud, a Muslim and a Bangladeshi.
i just want to live a peaceful innocent life.
i said thanks everyone for knowing that I do have a share in the blogosphere.
i want to see someday the Islamic Republic of Bangaldesh - governed on the basis of justice and morality.
i wish those who represent Islam in my country were actually knowledgeable scholars and not some opportunists and/or religious fanatics.
i hate it when I see there's already a lot of people by the name "Asif".
i miss the time I spent during my 2nd Grade to 5th Grade .
i fear Allah may decide not to guide me due to my overweening arrogance.
i hear Allah is merciful and there's still a chance if I become humble and patient.
i wonder when Bangladesh will become something better than a developing country.
i regret often for talking too much.
i am not an extremist but a fundamentalist.
i sing not cos I've never been able to memorize any lyrics or even a part of it.
i cry when I can't solve the exercises from the "The Art of Computer Programming" by Donald Knuth even though I try like a thousand times.
i am sorry I was late to post the meme, but we are currently facing a nation-wide crisis of electricity.
i made little or no contributions to the society I live in(yet).
i write cos I can't speak very well.
i confused SP to be Superposition Principle, wheras, it meant Series-Parallel, and as a result ended up getting a bad grade in one of my courses.
i need to develop some abs and muscles.
i should learn not to take myself seriously.
i start my pc everyday when I get up from bed.
i finish everything abruptly.

Life is over at 18

Here we get a taste of student anxiety over test results and the move from high school into college or the workaday world -- not an uncommon topic on the internets.

hola life.....most of my reuslts are out...i have fared not too bad...but not too gud....(excpt for my board marks)...i have a chance in geting in a good coll but outside chn...and guess wat parents r not willing to send me....puleeeeezzzzzz gimme a break god....after slogging for years and years together i deserve a break....but u did gimme a break ...not the kinda break i wanted...but da break wich has screeched into my life..and caused retardation(in my career graph) and friction(at home)...they want me to get into a local coll here....its not like they are bad...but i feel i deserve sumthing better ,atleast after all the harwork i ve put in....they say its jus the beginning of the struggle and there is light at the end of every tunnel...but the end seems far far away....

This is from India, but could be from just about anywhere.

Ah, the humanity. Drink it up

Yin, from Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia provides further proof that humans are humans and borders irrelevant:

Err... I'm a girl despite what my frens say sometimes, same goes for my 'emenies'(tell me who you are plz.) I think, agreed with many, i'm an open minded gal, with loads for mood swings. I like making frens but you'll have to kick me to satrt talking but kick me again to stop. I'm into those Gothic and funky look. Those mix and match things. err... I Really don't have that much to say 'cuz i have no idea how i am to ppl. 'cept that i'm a loyal and great fren. I'm there for my frens and family. But unfortunaly i'm not those really perfect gals,the pretty and loads of boyfriends. I just regular..., okay i'm ugly,well not that bad looking. i dun break mirror's with my face. LOL. I dun mind meeting anybody to be my friendz. Plz to meet you guys. i know i'm weird but after ignoring that factor, i'm nice... i think. yeah, i'm unsure of myself too.

Well Yin, if you make it here to read this, I think you're beautiful. And, man, how I love that dialect.

What's the matter with Redstateistan?

This guy from Fort Wayne, Indiana gives us a few clues. He’s not a total idiot. He is capable of questioning the right wing dogma he has been fed, but the dogma is deeply ingrained. The example I quote below shows him just getting started. He goes on to question the foundations of the crap that has been shoved into his brain from right wing talk radio or wherever the hell else he gets it, but still, he mindlessly babbles about hippy ass liberal hollywood douchebags. Someone should tell these people that the divorce rates are higher in red state hell holes than the more civilized parts of the country. But nevertheless, read him, see what he has to say, he speaks for multitudes, feel his pain.

So I'm listening to Toby Keith and Puddle of Mudd and it leads me to wonder about the status of marriage in this country today. Every song you hear is about breaking up. Every time you turn on the news some hippy ass liberal hollywood douchebag is leaving his wife for some other flea riddled liberal hollywood whore. The divorce rate in this country hovers around 60%. They are even considering letting people of the same sex get married. Does the "Sacred" vow of marriage really mean anything in todays society? Do we, as a collective people, still understand the brevity and meaning of the terms of marriage. What are we telling our children?? When well over half of our marriages end in divorce we are telling our children that it is perfectly acceptable to make long term commitments and then blow them right out the window the first time a yoga instructor with a six pack and a tan walks by. This isnt meant to condemn one sex or the other, or any individual because I am fully aware that none of us are perfect and I could very easily be one of the 60% (mostly because i'm a raging asshole and anyway that knows me will tell you that it is almost unfathomable that A) I found a women to marry me and B) that after two years shes still here.) I simply mean to point out the current status of marriage and also to bring to light one of histories great lies.

Life as I lived it, more or less

I couldn’t find a single paragraph in Misshelled’s blog that does justice to what she has to say, you have to read the whole thing. She is a fantastic writer and her stories tell a tale that’s all too common in real life but never quite makes it into the big time media, at least not in an honest way. So rather than an overly long series of examples, I’ll just give you a taste:

It should probably be noted that it was during the start of this crazy period of parties that my father cheated on my mother and their marriage subsequently ended in separation, and later divorce. I feel that it is important to acknowledge this because it had a huge impact on my life then and during the seven years that followed and still does to this day.

Somewhere in my exploration of coming to terms with myself, my parents, and my love for all night raves, I was introduced to cocaine. Ironically scared to death by it, I refused to partake in my ex-boyfriend's love affair with the drug; instead, I chose to sit on the side lines and watch in a strange mixture of amazement and horror at how he would rail line after line after line with his Siberian friend...and it never phased them! After enough times of watching them snort huge lines of cocaine with no adverse reaction, my mind tricked me into believing that doing "one line just to see what it was like" was a rational thing to do. Moreover, I was terribly curious and I believe that my curiosity finally had its way with me. After that one line, it was all over. I don't mean "all over" in the sense that my life was screwed up from that moment forward (because it definitely wasn't); I mean "all over" in the sense of the power cocaine had on me, even if it took years for it's mayhem to unleash it’s destructiveness.

No, I was never into Cocaine, but it was just dumb luck, a matter of genetics, nothing more. One of my childhood friends wasn’t so lucky and did the stereotypical downward spiral: lost his job, his wife, his home, all of his possessions. And he even went much farther than that. He cleaned himself up, zoomed through the corporate hierarchy to a mid six figure salary, married a wonderful woman and had a beautiful kid. But then he slipped back, started smoking crack again, and ended up with the proverbial shotgun in the mouth in the three car garage.
And Misshelled story is not that particular friend’s story, although it has a few things in common with it, as it does with my story, and the stories of most of my friends. The big difference is that she writes it so well.
And now we find that she’s married. Well, congrats and best wishes. It worked for me.

Malay Gurl

Lurve-Chapter is a great blog from Malaysia by NirFiZyAntTiE, aka FiZy, PiZik n kEcHiK..13 goin 14..BoRn a mUsLim....RaCed aS JaVaNesSe..Is ShoRt..NoIsy..CuRReNtLy uNaTTaChed..SuMtYmS CaN TuRn EmO Or eViL..

"Haprak!!!....u two tym de two gurls n u tink u wanna tyme me...hello..wake up kol..i aint de innocent nice gurl u wanna cheat on..u mess wit de wrg gurll..i dun lurve u de wae u do to me..n i dun tink ure serious of lurvin me cox if u do.. u wudun be tymin n cheatin gurls.. u jack ass..ur hope is bloody gone la..i dun undrstd freaking guys lyk u..waddo u tink gurls are..TRASH!!!"

Man, how I love that dialect.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Tourist Speaks

Sheryl Zettner, a young lady from San Antonio, visited our little town and was not altogether happy:

Went over to the Museum of Sex. It was good in a pornographic way.

Then headed towards 9th street because there are a lot of restaurants there. I managed to trip and my knee was all bleeding. I was kind of disgusted that no one stopped to ask if I was ok. What an uncivilized culture!!! Someone always stops when someone trips in San Antonio.

I think I will be glad to leave New York. The food is overpriced and inferior to San Antonio's and a lot of people are crabby here. I'm also sick of people demanding money for the poor. I have no way of knowing where the money would go. Have they never heard of taxes? You could actually allocate tax money to deal with homelessness. I know it's taxing on the brain to consider it. God knows they spend tax money on other less humanitarian things in this city.

Sheryl seems like a nice person and I’m sure she means well, but I feel compelled to respond to a few of her comments.

First, I would like to assure her that New Yorkers have, indeed, heard of taxes. Had she purchased anything, she might have noticed the 8+ percent sales tax, but I doubt if she would have had the opportunity to truly feel the state and city taxes, which altogether add up to about a gazillion dollars per annum for a family of four. All of those cops on the street and the god-awful construction noise do not pay for themselves.

And personally, I was actually surprised that there were so few beggars when I moved here from Tucson. Arizona, and the west in general, seems to me to have a much higher per capita beggar population than New York. Off the top of my head, I would have thought the same would be true of Texas, being mostly warm and all, but then I remembered what a terrible lawless, immoral place it is. I guess they just chain the beggars to the back of a pick up truck and drag then across the county line, letting the coyotes clean up the mess. Though I’m sure that’s only for the black and hispanic beggars. The white ones no doubt get a bus ticket to Tucson, if not New York.

But it’s true that people can be indifferent to those who are hurting in the street. On one of my first days here, I held open a door for a woman in Grand Central Terminal and she looked at me with disdain and said, “you’re not from here, are you?”

Still, I find New Yorkers to be at least as polite as people in other parts of the country. It’s just that a megalopolis breeds a different type of politesse. When I passed through Texas on a motorcycle, a long, long time ago, I remember taking a detour to see the hometown of Robert E. Howard, who was one sick, twisted, individual. I remember how everyone I passed on those back roads smiled and waved and how good it made me feel. Yet Howard committed suicide in his thirties. It’s the same where I’m from. People wave when they pass a car on the back roads, but inside they are mean, despicable people, for the most part. And in Texas, I also remember how, on the freeway, the wind caught my sunglasses and how a pickup truck swerved to purposely run over them and how the stupid hillbilly laughed and gave me the finger as he drove on by. That wasn’t so far from San Antone.

Different places have their different ways. In New York, it’s generally considered rude to speak to strangers on the street or subway, though I have more often than not seen people stop and ask if they can help when someone falls or otherwise is in need of help. I’d say that odds are, the people ignoring the poor girl were fellow tourists, not New York residents, most of whom are probably not native New Yorkers anyway. And she’s talking about a trendy part of Manhattan at that.

So I’m sorry Sheryl had a less than wonderful time, but I’d encourage her to come back when she can stay awhile. Is the construction noise and honking taxis really worse than the crickets in Texas? Well, yes, but they can’t beat our Sex Museum, now can they?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Summer 2006: First Draft

Here are the first drafts of the first batch of this summer’s Coney Island photos. They are for the most part just tourist photos, but Coney Island is an interesting place and there are a lot of different ways of looking at it.

Please let me know how the slideshow works. The rate that the slides turn over depends on your connection. So if you don’t like it, click Stop and go through them one-at-a-time with the arrows. Also, I’ve been including little soundtracks lately. Let me know if that works, what you think of it, etc. The photos are pretty dark on a Mac, so I expect that some of them may be too dark on a pc.

If you have dial-up (like me), it will definitely take awhile to load. I suggest putting the window in the background for awhile and coming back to it, or going out for a cup of coffee, anything that takes about twenty minutes.

Shallow Movie Reviews

I'm doing Shallow Book Reviews, so I might as well do Shallow Movie Reveiws since I rarely have anything deep to say about movies either. I took my son to see X-Men 3 yesterday. What surprised me, though in retrospect any fool could have seen it coming, was that there was an Entertainment Tonight-type show before the previews that had news about upcoming features, interviews with actors and directors, and advertisements. By the time the previews finally ended, I was pretty sick of being at the movies and wanted to go home. I know the past always seems so much better, but judging by the previews, movies really are getting alot worse, blockbuster-types at least. Of course normally I wouldn't be there early enough to see all that crap, but it was the big Memorial Day Blockbuster and we were going to the matinee, so we went way early.

Anyway, surprisingly, X-Men 3 was pretty good. X-Men was my favorite comic book when I was a kid, but I didn't like the first two movies and wasn't expecting much of this one. Of course anything with Ian McKellen in it can't be totally worthless. And although I enjoy echoing Rex Reed and muttering "Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto" I did enjoy the movie. It held my attention, had many real surprises, and a strong human element. One of the previews promised "Bow Wow as Twinkie," but somehow that actually sounds more like a threat than a promise.

The other movie I saw this weekend was Not on the Lips, a French movie that was recommended by the aforementioned Rex Reed. Rex Reed is my favorite film critic. I like his style and very much enjoy reading his reviews, but we have nothing whatsoever in common in our tastes in movies. If he likes it, I can pretty much be sure I will not, and vice versa. So Not on the Lips was predictably atocious. The only possible interest it could have for anyone would be to play the sport of analyzing the French. Perhaps I was missing the irony within the irony within the irony, which is always possible, but It struck me as a conservative ode to the good old days. If so, it's funny how the conservative good old days for the French differ from ours. "Fuck the imigrants" crosses all cultural boundaries, but the French conservative's longing for the days when all married people had lovers just doesn't play the same over here.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Shallow Book Reviews

This is a new feature, which I hope to repeat from time to time. I call it Shallow Book Reviews because I rarely have anything to say about a book, or movie for that matter, much deeper than "I liked it" or "It sucked." But really, what more do you need to know?

Several months ago, I found myself in several conversations about literature saying that I didn’t read current American fiction, that I had no interest in it, and that I was pretty sure it all sucked, and as I said more or less the same thing again and again, I started to choke on it a bit, knowing that what I was saying was stupid. So I made a solemn vow, yes a solemn vow, seriously, to read more current American fiction in order to fight back personal stupidity, at least on one front.

I began by reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. I know, Murakami is technically a contemporary Japanese writer, but a guy I know who could, in a nice way, be described as a literary poser had been going on and on about him for months and I had read a couple short stories in Harper’s that were good, and at least he’s a contemporary writer who Americans like, if not American himself. Norwegian Wood, however, is a rather ordinary tale of doomed relationships among college students. Not in any way bad for the genre, but not exceptional either.

But it was good enough that I read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by the same author, which my poser friend considers to be possibly the best novel ever written. It is, I will admit, a real page-turner. After reading Norwegian Wood , I was surprised that there was a lot of magic in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, not magic like it was great, but magic like magical realism magic. Although I turned the pages and enjoyed it overall, it was ultimately unsatisfying. The story kind of got away from him in the end. This is understandable with a young author no doubt trying to meet a deadline, or just move on to the next thing, but unfortunate nonetheless.

Next I sucked it up and dove into the real thing. I picked up Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, which I found very disappointing. I had been led to believe that Roth was some kind of Literary Giant and that this book had great Literary Merit. Well, I don’t know about Roth’s other work, but The Plot Against America had little depth. It was, however, fairly easy to read so it wasn’t horrible. Same thing with E.L. Doctorow’s The March. It was a more than serviceable page-turner, but ultimately not that great.

That took me to Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. It, too, was easy to read, but my jury is still out on its ultimate literary value. The prose is great and the story and its denouement was in no way typical or predictable, but a couple of the main characters could arguably be described as stereotypical plot devices -- the world-weary old sheriff and the invincible hit man with seemingly magical abilities. Those elements make for good drama and big budget movies, but are usually not the stuff of great literature. Still, there was enough about the book to merit deferred judgement. And I'm pretty sure it won't be made into a big budget movie any time soon.

I’m now reading Rabbit Run by John Updike and Me Talk Pretty Someday by David Sedaris. I think I read the Updike book when I was a teenager, or at least skimmed it looking for the sex parts and all that I know about Sedaris is that he is contemporary and American. Anyway, although I am a shallow book reviewer, I am not so shallow that I will review a book before I finish it, so we’ll all just have to wait.