Monday, January 14, 2008

My name is Glahn

I almost skipped the "Celebrity book club" article in Sunday's Daily News that asked and odd assortment of talent to talk about the book they are currently reading.

You know, anyone could predict that Cassandra Wilson was reading "technical books filled with dense language only Bill Gates could love" or that Shia Labeouf was into "The Definitive Book of Body Language," but I was nicely surprised to learn that Jason Lee was reading Knut Hamsun's "Hunger," one of chuckling's favorite books by one of chuckling's favorite authors.

Lee, who stars in "My Name is Earl" a show I've never seen, had this to say about one of the greatest books of all time:

"It's about how to cross your legs when you're lying. How to scratch your face when you're scared. I want to be a better actor."

Ooops that was Labeouf. What he really said was:
I talk about this book a lot. It makes it seem like the only book I ever read. It's 'Hunger'; I'm on my second pass. I've never been so riveted by something that has nothing going on. It's just absolutely so well-written. Unbelievable. You find yourself going, 'What's going to happen? What's going to happen? What's going to happen?' Oh, my God. And you really feel the pain of the guy. It absolutely makes me look at [homeless] people I see in downtown L.A. in a different light."

Sometimes, karma needs you to show a little humility in order to do its work.

The chuckling character, you may be surprised to learn is loosely based on the narrator of "Hunger" and the main characters in Hamsun's next two books. One of the site's running jokes, the 13 part philosophical treatise on the films of Studio Ghibli, is my little homage to "Hunger."

Wikipedia describes the novel:
It recounts the adventures of a starving young man, whose sense of reality is giving way to a delusionary existence on the darker side of a modern metropolis. While he vainly tries to maintain an outer shell of respectability, his mental and physical decay are recounted in detail. His ordeal, enhanced by his inability or unwillingness to pursue a professional career, which he deems unfit for someone of his abilities, is pictured in a series of encounters, which Hamsun himself has described as 'a series of analyses'.

Yep, that's poor chuckling in a nutshell, though the starving part was a long time ago on the darker side of a modern metropolis far, far away.

But plenty of books by famous authors describe poor chuckling. Hamsun's writing is extraordinary and that's why you should read him. Reading "Hunger," "Mysteries" and "Pan" is an incredible literary experience. "Pan" comes about as close as possible to being a perfect novel.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Changing toons

Frank Rich's column about Hillary Clinton and "change" is particularly inane this morning. I don't know what it is about Clinton that makes the big time journalists start chugging the stupid pills.

It's been a hoot watching all the bigwigs in both politics and media engage in a pissing contest to see who can invoke the word "change" the most. Rich's point, to the extent he has one, seems to be that Clinton is not the candidate of change, and that that's a bad thing. A very bad thing. Change, you see, is good. Clinton, you see, is bad.

But what does he mean by "change?" Probably not the same thing most people mean. To take one example:

This presentation of the liberal catechism reached its apotheosis in a Clinton campaign ad in December. Mrs. Clinton was shown doling out Christmas presents labeled “Universal Health Care” and “Alternative Energy” before delivering the punch line, “Where did I put universal pre-K?”

For Rich, universal health care, alternative energy, and universal pre-K are just the same old, same old. Hillary has been using those terms for years. He's heard it all before. No change there.

Yet for people on the ground, to have a government that ensured decent health care, intelligent energy policy and a better education system, would represent a radical change. And perhaps regular folk have a deeper definition of "change" than "what a person's been saying" as well.
The overall message uniting the small-bore promises, such as it was, remains unchanged today: competence, experience, wonky proficiency.

Hillary's message, you see, is unchanged. She is unchanged. And people want what? People want change!

Rich seems unable to comprehend the fact that competence, experience and wonky proficiency are attributes that represent the greatest possible change from Bush. When he first ran for President, Bush's inexperience and lack of in-depth knowledge about any and all subjects outside of baseball were presented as good things. And although he was presented as competent, he had a long history of failure going in and he's the all-time American champion of miserable failure going out.

So while Rich and the other media nabobs ponder the possibility that "change" means "someone other than Bush," they don't seem to realize that it might have something to do with his staggering incompetence. They seem more inclined to believe that people have grown tired of him because he's been around for eight or nine years and keeps saying the same things.

While it's true, they concede, that Hillary Clinton is not the exact same person as Bush, she is, they insist, part of the Bush/Clinton dynasty. Hillary Clinton, gasp, has been around even longer than Bush! She and Bush have been around forever! They are practically the same person! And they keep saying the same things!

The fact that the things Hillary Clinton keeps saying represent true and significant change doesn't enter into the conversation.

Obama, on the other hand, represents change. He is a uniter, not a divider. Ummmm. No wonky spiels. Ummmm. At least he has a history of competence, not that that counts. Maybe it's because he looks different? That's the kind of "change" we're talking about! Let's give him a few months before he has to change what he says.

The way Rich and the media-politico in crowd keep changing the definition of "change," it's difficult to know what a presidential candidate should do to "change" in a way that suits them. Mitt Romney changes what he says all the time and he doesn't get any love. And as shallow as they are, you'd think that a different hairstyle or wardrobe would represent acceptable change, but a poor politician has to be careful how much he or she pays for that coif. And what to wear? All we know is that you're not allowed to save the earth if you all of a sudden start wearing earth tones.