Friday, May 07, 2010
Charles Krauthammer, ladies and gents. You have to admire the guy's tenacity in the face of countervailing reality. He reminds me of my crazy great-aunt Mary, who was famous for buying twenty lotto tickets at a time to increase her chances of winning . . . all with the same numbers!
The Skynet funding bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn, at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. eastern time, August 29. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.Haha. Money is fake.
-The Governor of Gulleevohrnya
Some investment managers said the crush of mid-day selling was reminiscent of Oct. 19, 1987, when computer programs designed to protect investors from losses provoked a crush of sell orders that sent the Dow down 508 points, or a record 23 percent.
"It feels a lot like '87, when the machines took over," said Charlie Smith, chief investment officer for Fort Pitt Capital in Green Tree.
I have previously expressed sympathy for crackpot atavists like Ron Paul who hope to return to a gold standard currency. Of course, a better plan yet would be to make a means of exchange that is backed by productive labor. Rather than saying, oh, an hour of your time is worth $7.99 and you are forbidden to eat the leftover bagels at the end of your shift, let's say, oh, $1 is the equivalent of an hour of manual labor and go from there. How's that for a radical reordering of values. The amount of currency backed by the amount of actual work.
Anyway, I guess I have some money in the market, somehow, but fortunately do not give a fuck. Oh no, my Roth IRA! The lesson of yesterdays robotripping sell-off is there is no such thing as money, and we are waaaaayyyyy down the rabbit hole.
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Sez the Times, in a locution as well-worn as the glans of a virginal adolescent boy:
Mr. Shahzad, now 30, appeared to be tracing a familiar arc of frustration, increasing religiosity and, finally, violence.The familiarity of this "arc" is the tell. Lives are not actually lived in arcs, and where they are, you can be certain that there is either a wannabe novelist or a political agenda lurking in the mental shallows. Or both. If you take a few painful moments to peruse the Times' own archives, you will see ample evidence of all manner of misshapen pegs being pounded into this perfectly round hole with the monstrous dedication of a monstrously strong mutant toddler. Because it is taboo to suggest that a person would become radicalized through politics, which is to say, because it is taboo to suggest that a person might become so disturbed and offended by the carnage of war that he would respond to violence with violence, it is therefore necessary to haul out the hoariest sub-Freudian psychoanalyses of distraught spirits at ill odds with the ordinary world.
These prefabricated biographical sketches of our various and sundry domestic terrorists read as remarkably similar whether they are talking about a supposed "Islmaist" or a self-styled patriot like McVeigh, and I am reminded of an excellent bit of literary-criticism criticism Edmond Caldwell (via my friend Richard Crary) in which Caldwell puts that big bore, James Woods in the juicer to extract his syrupy essence. A few relevant excerpts:
In several earlier posts I have been developing the argument that James Wood’s reviewing often works by domesticating novels that are not examples of domestic fiction to begin with, and that is certainly the case in his review of Savage Detectives. It is almost as if Wood needs to respond, not to Bolaño’s work, but rather to his reputation, his growing popularity.The desire for domestication that Caldwell identifies in our sniffy Anglo critic may be the most fundamental failure of the mainstream American intellect, the Timeses and Postseses, the newsweeklies and much of cable and network news. Despite living in a world totally awash in political violence, it remains inconceivable that political violence could exist.
This is where professional domesticators such as James Wood come in. If there’s no way to stem the burgeoning Bolaño tide, then the effort must be made to direct it into the proper – safer – channels.
We’ve seen how Wood, in his review of Death with Interruptions, turned the long-time communist Saramago into an advocate of Original Sin and ‘fallen’ human nature. It’s in a similar spirit that Wood transforms The Savage Detectives into a story about growing into an adult ‘maturity’ after being disabused of adolescent enthusiasms such as aesthetic and political radicalism. Bolaño in the 1970s was “an avant-garde poet bristling with mad agendas,” and so are the characters who make up the narrative’s “gang of literary guerillas,” says Wood in his summary of the novel. Yet Savage Detectives, he goes on to affirm, “is both melancholy and fortifying; and it is both narrowly about poetry and broadly about the difficulty of sustaining the hopes of youth.” In other words, zany antics involving things like avant-garde agendas and guerilla gangs are fine as long as they are seen (or can be portrayed) as properly childish preoccupations; a book is “good” and merits a positive review to the extent that its pretty sentences are “about” the putting away of childish things. Wood, you see, likes a book with a healthy “message” – it needs to be “about” something that will keep children and servants in line with middle-class morality. And if the book is not really “about” that at all, then like any good media pundit he will spin it, cherry-picking the two or three examples that might best support his thesis.
Wood’s ideological biases will not allow him to read the novel that is actually in front of him. Instead, ever the Restorationist, he must turn Savage Detectives into one more accommodation with existing “reality,” a specific social arrangement that he wishes his readers to take for a metaphysical absolute. Think of it as another sortie of James Wood’s arrière-garde literary movement, Gutless Realism.
Earlier in the review, in a brief biographical sketch of Bolaño, Wood writes, “Returning to Chile in 1973 to help with the socialist revolution as he saw it, he was caught in the Pinochet coup and briefly arrested.” “As he saw it”– in a single, sniffy phrase, Wood dispenses with Bolaño’s leftism as if it were a dirty old sock found among his freshly laundered and triple-starched tighty-whities (he’ll have to have a word with Consuela, the housekeeper, about that sock!). But his refuse is our rose, so we’ll tarry for another whiff: “The socialist revolution as he saw it.” This means, of course, that Wood himself doesn’t see “it” – the whole social process unfolding around the embattled leftist government of Salvador Allende – “that” way. Somehow I doubt that Wood is criticizing the Allende government from the left, for its reformist timidity and half-measures. No, that phrase – “as he saw it” – is Wood’s way of distancing himself from any of that leftist taint, that socialist stink. “Yes,” he’s telling his readers (and employers), “I’m about to give this seedy punk’s book a good review, but don’t think for a minute that it means I’m no longer clubbable” (likewise he would never put “U.S.-backed” in front of “the Pinochet coup”).
I would like to give some credit to America's yowling Rightist commentariat here. Although their own cultural phobias and America-first jingoism blind them to the actual political motives behind much anti-American militarism, they are nonetheless capable of understanding, albeit in an elementary and misguided way, that those who commit, or attempt to commit, acts of so-called terrorism are motivated by deep personal, religious, political, and ideological convictions. They misidentify these convictions, and their insistence on American purity and non-complicity in the political makeup of the world as we know it is obviously a crippling blindspot. Nonetheless, you will not find our nation's Michael Savages laboring under the impression that Faisal Shahzad traced a neat, psychological, MFA-workshopped narrative path from bourgeois family man through financial setback through descent into depression and thus onward to Act of Desperation.
As America's military is killing hundreds of innocent people every week--at least!--in the ordinary course of business, it stands to reason that at some point, somewhere, someone is going to try to kill some Americans in return. The only real surprise is that it happens so rarely. Shahzad was, among other things, wholly incompetent. Any good ol' boy from Fayette County, PA could do better with a trip to the Tractor Supply Company and one jaunt over the Ohio border to Phantom Fireworks. Regardless, the fact remains. A person doesn't build a bomb because he's mopey. He builds it because he's mad.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
You know, first of all, there are, technically speaking, no such thing as Miranda rights. There are Miranda warnings. This is a distinction with a difference. The Miranda ruling established that suspects in custody must be informed of their basic legal rights prior to interrogation. Those rights weren't established by the Miranda rule. They were established by the Constitution.
Anyway, Joe Feebleman and the usual gang of Senatorial cockatoos are apparently concerned that our global gulag garrison state is insufficiently unconcerned with its own putative legal and moral standards when it comes to The Terror, and have thus proposed that we strip citizens of their citizenship in order that we may dispose of them without any due legal process. I think this is a valuable argument, as it shows just how blinkered and naive are any notions of inherent human rights. Instead, what you have are arbitrary privileges granted to those in temporary possession of a revokable designation: citizen. Oh, but did you just jaywalk? You are endowed by your creator with shit, Jacko. Now spread em!
Meanwhile, let's not forget, let's not forget, that this latest round of self-soiling hysteria is the result of some faggot parking a van-ful of firecrackers and lawnmower fuel in a handicapped zone. I've set off bigger bombs in the shitter.
This "analysis" is worse than a Frank Rich column. It is less than thoughtless; it contains negative thought. Every other phrase is a shopworn infotainment cliché. Its nearest approach to an empirical point is counting the number of times someone says the word "terrorism," which proves that the Attorney General is serious about security in the same way that counting the number of times Emeril Lagasse says BAM! demonstrates his dedication to the culinary arts.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
It's not clear whether Pullman himself actually believes in Dust or if it's just an effective plot device, but there's no doubt that His Dark Materials has the same effect on certain susceptible readers (say, me) as Avatar does on some moviegoers. You finish the Pullman trilogy electrified and desolate, heartbroken that the world can't be as he depicts it. Though Pullman is most often compared to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, the author he may resemble most is Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. This is not a literary comparison—Hubbard was a pulp hack, while Pullman has written the most thrilling and imaginative novels in a generation—but we may wake up one day and find that Pullmanism has become a religion, that Dust has been made flesh.This is extremely bizarre. Now, I am not a fan of Pullman. Indeed, I think that the comparison to L. Ron Hubbard is apt not because Pullman is an evangelist for a new, crackpot theosophy, but because Pullman is a hack. His books are lousy. His prose heavy-handed. His adolescents intolerable. His "world-building" clumsy. I read those Dark Materials books at the urging of a friend. By the time I was at the rollerderby elephants (I am not making that up) on page umpteenhundred, I was ready for a quaaludes and Old Granddad cocktail.
But, I mean, it is clear that Pullman does not, literally, Joe Biden, believe in Dust anymore than C.S. Lewis believes in talking lions, Tolkein believes in orcs, Herbert believes in giant sandworms, or Asimov believes that Robin Williams was the right casting choice for the cinematic adaptation of Bicentennial Man. The fact that Pullman's books are insufferably didactic does not mean that he believes their fantastical elements to be metaphysically true. Pace my midichlorian count, it would be more accurate to say that George Lucas believes in the Force than to say that Pullman believes in Dust.
David Plotz himself wrote a rather insufferable little tome that I had the displeasure to read, The Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible, which is a sort of idiot's guide to the so-called Old Testament, in which our author stumbles googley-moogley-eyed through the savage histories of the ancient Hebrews, exclaiming at every opportunity that he never learned about all-ah-dem rapes-n-murders in Hebrew school, nosiree. Affecting the unsubtle guise of a complete moron and cryptoilliterate in order to éclater la bourgoisie is hardly a dignified position from which to subsequently sneer at atheists for their "emphatic and complicated religious beliefs."
Monday, May 03, 2010
The Times has a general hard-on for panels of experts and goes out of its way to praise the apolitical, the bipartisan, and the unbiased, as it perceives them, whenever and wherever they may be found. This week: the nominating committee for the Tony Awards. Regarding the relative merits of the panel, the panelists, and their selections in any given year, others may opine. My complaint is made from another altitude altogether. The Tonies are terrible because Broadway, especially The Broadway Musical, is the greatest failure of art and entertainment in the entire world, ever. If forced to choose between spending the rest of my life in a dark auditorium somewhere in the Forties listening to some overamplified and undersupported singer belting gaudy tunes with all the musical complexity of a Duncan Sheik number or spending it chained to a chair with an image of Vin Diesel slumping in his space-throne at the end of The Chronicles of Riddick laser-tattooed onto my retinas while Trout Mask Replica plays unceasingly at 457 dB, then I am taking the latter. And by the way that first example is a real thing that happened. There has never been a good musical. Revisit the classics, the old Rogers&Hammersteins, the WestSideStorieses, and what you find are uniformly tacky songs driving plots so clunky they make The Magic Flute look like it was scripted by Chekhov while performers who are neither capable actors nor skilled dancers nor trained singers but some sort of Island-of-Doctor-Moreau genetic portmanteau of all three hoof clumsily across the deck yowling like ghouls. Last year the Tony for Best Musical went to Billy Elliot the Musical, which would seem like an embarrassingly debased commercial choice for a genre that considers itself a quintessential American art form were it not that its competitors, nominated by the Times-praised committee o' experts, were Rock of Ages, which is no-joke an 80s hair-band review, Shrek the Musical, which is a 30-minute merchandise kiosk with a 120 intermission feature attached, and a show called Next to Normal, which was the Serious choice, as it is about The Consequences of Living with Depression. Clearly the critics' choice, it lost because everyone knows the tour is going to fold after the requisite year-and-a-half, having made the producers a little money and otherwise undersold every market from Newark to Nebraska by 30% against budget projections.
Non-musical drama hardly fares better. Last year's winner was another entry in the Yasmina Reza franchise, in each of which a minor disagreement between well-heeled people escalates into An Important Insight Into The Nature of Human Nature. The year prior an even more embarrassing excretion took the prize, in that case a drama by Tracy Letts called August: Osage County, in which cliché tropes of disaffected academia, family dysfunction, and drinking are hauled out of the hamper one after another and beaten to death with a life-sized, inflatable Edward Albee sex doll over a total running time approaching the aggregate duration of the complete and unexpurgated works of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. Other than the occasional revival of Shakespeare or Chekhov or what have you, which always originated elsewhere anyway, there hasn't been a decent straight play on Broadway since Copenhagen, which was nonetheless a trifle, and nothing truly noteworthy since Angels in America, which is seriously beginning to show its age--a play once hailed as timeless that now creaks helplessly under the crushing weight of its own insistent timeliness.
If you want to appreciate Broadway's hilariously, titanically disproportionate self-regard as an art form, I urge you to listen to Terry Gross interview Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim is supposed to be the thinking-man's musical-theatrician, about whom opera lovers are forever saying, "Well, I don't really like musical theater, except for Sondheim." I've got news for you, you queens. Sondheim is a hack. Marvel as Terry suggests that he's been influenced by jazz and he harrumphs that he wasn't influenced by jazz, he was influenced by the Gershwins. Oh, yeah? Well, I don't care for Italian food; I much prefer spaghetti. The whole thing plays like Forest Gump interviewing Benito Mussolini for a hostess job at the nearest Applebee's. These people take themselves very, very seriously. Nice work if you can get it, assholes.
Man, we are really inundated these days with the notion that we've got to liberate ourselves from "foreign oil" or the slightly less objectionably ridiculous "foreign sources of energy," as if fungible, combustible commodities carry passports and political aspirations. Like, oh, if only we could stop importing oil and close the Arizona border we could live in some sort of splendid, sequestered isolation . . . Bhutan with big-screen TVs and Grand Slam breakfasts.
Israel has a stockpile of somewhere between 75 and several hundred nuclear warheads and possesses advanced means of delivery, and it is not a party to the NPT. Now read this article. If the IDF really wants to hide its capabilities from the world, it may want to investigate some real estate in Pinch Sulzberger's lower GI tract, because all evidence suggests they could put an ICBM literally up the man's ass without him or any of his employees noticing.