Thursday, April 28, 2005

"Common sense?"

Last night on The Daily Show the guest was a woman named Christina Hoff Sommers, pimping her book One Nation Under Therapy (dig the reviews), which is apparently about how children are becoming...less self-reliant. Less competitive. Like that. Ya know...even if you're willing to grant the *possibility* that kids are being mollycoddled (you don't get the chance to use that word every day)...well, I'd rather that than the alternative. What can I say; I'm a fucking hippie. I don't buy all this "survival of the fittest" crap, which was essentially what she was selling. To his credit, Stewart was unusually skeptical; as noted below, he's never confrontational, exactly, but it was obvious he wasn't really buying it. She would present some OUTRAGEOUS! anecdote, like how kids at some schools aren't allowed to play tag anymore because it's too competitive, and Stewart would ask something like, okay, but how prevalent IS that, really? And she would sort of hem and haw and then move on to the next OUTRAGEOUS! anecdote to change the subject. You know, okay, so these kind of limitations may be stupid (although they very well may not--it's impossible to judge without context; kids can be vicious, and it's quite possible that the "weaker" ones were really suffering)--but you know what? Give it a fucking break. We have public schools that are virtually post-apocalyptic wastelands (read Savage Inequalities sometime), de facto segregation is the norm--and THIS is what you're kvetching about? Gee. Um. Priorities? Inevitably, one of her things was about how kids can't play dodgeball in gym classes anymore...this always enrages me whenever I hear it. Let me tell you something, lady: I never had to play dodgeball in high school. But I did have to play tennis one term. And...if the dickheads who decided for whatever ineffable reason that I was the designated victim were hitting me with tennis balls (which, let me tell you, HURT when thrown with sufficient velocity)...well, dodgeball would not have been such a brilliant idea. Stewart asked her: but what about all the really motivated, high-powered 18-25-year-olds you see. They were brought up on this stuff, so...? These are the ones who ignored the "don't be competitive stuff in school," she replied, citing no evidence to back up this claim. It seemed pretty obvious to me that she was full of it, cherry-picking isolated incidents of minor excess on the part of school districts and making a federal case out of it. But what really got my hackles up (darned hackles!) was when she intoned that what we need are "common sense" solutions. You know...Thomas Paine is all right with me, but in the current day and age, whenever I hear the phrase "common sense"...well, that's when I reach for my revolver. Or would if I had one. Not saying that there aren't some perfectly decent people who use it to describe their aims. But it's hard to deny that there's a strong whiff of authoritarianism about it. "Common" to whom, exactly? The most oft-heard phrase where I hear it is "common-sense parenting," which seems to mainly entail beating the shit out of kids. And when George W. Bush says it, you know a whole fuckload of people are gonna be dying in the near future.

So no, I don't really recommend this book.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Random annoyance

Would one of my many readers do me the favor of clicking on this link and telling me if the page actually loads for you? I used to visit this site all the time, but now I keep getting a "forbidden" message when I click on any individual song. And there are no other good sites on the internet for Steeleye Span lyrics. I wanted to write something on the subject, but now my divine will is thwarted. Rargh!

Friday, April 22, 2005

God I hate that guy.

Man, I wanted to write something yesterday, but motherfuckin' blogspot was down. Whatever. You know what was fucking awful? Dennis Fucking Miller on The Daily Show on Wednesday. Oh, it was bad. Really, REALLY bad. The man had nothing interesting to say; he was obviously just running through a prescripted routine...which would have been okay if it was, like, funny. But such was not the case. The least offensive part was the non-political parts...they were annoying and dumb, and he was apparently under the impression that his little clever-clever pop culture references were funny in and of themselves...actually, it kinda made you want to hit him. But what was really bad was when he went on this idiotic fucking know-nothing rant about why climate change is not a problem and how he's against the use of renewable energy sources..."I don't know dick about science, but I apparently think that my moronic scientific opinions are valid nonetheless." Of course, he used to be less smarmily right-wing...why he now feels the need to carry water for this crap is anyone's guess. I mean, seriously, what's he think he's accomplishing? Everyone fucking hates him now; he wasn't joking when he commented at the beginning of the interview that he wished he had Stewart's audience. Am I suppose to assume that this is REAL CONVICTION here? Could he genuinely be that fucking stupid? The mind boggles. Still, that wasn't the worst part: the worst part was his cute little war-justification thing. Since I can't find a transcript, I'll paraphrase as best I can remember: "After 911, it would have been great if there was a country called Alqaedia we could invade. But there wasn't--so Saddam and his sons won the golden ticket to Willy Wonka's death tour." Yes, he did taint Roald Dahl with his vile spewage. This wasn't just unfunny--this was fucking OBSCENE, and I think most people are so used to bullshit like this that they don't quite realize how much so it is. There's little enough danger of Miller himself coming into harm's way through the Iraq war to render the possibility statistically insignificant. But he has no problem sitting back, casually talking about how "we" had to do this, death, destruction, untold suffering, whatever, "we" had to do SOMETHING, and anyway, isn't it funny, haha, look, cutesy pop culture reference. Miller has no capacity for empathy; who needs basic human decency when you can sit on your ass all day and make dumb jokes about all the people "we" are killing...obviously, Miller is far from alone here, but it really struck me, seeing him. At least politicians have to make token lip service to not being complete monsters. But here, their mentality was revealed in all its ugly glory.

And, I hate to say it, but Stewart himself was pretty disappointing throughout this outrage. He's not a confrontational interviewer on the best of days, but MAN...he did that hysterical laugh thing he does at EVERY GODDAMN ONE of Miller's lame jokes. Including the "Willy Wonka" thing. I have to assume this was nothing but politeness, but come on, least make SOME effort to temper the stupidest parts. You're way better-liked and more popular than he is, dude. There's no need to be a suck-up.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


It's very easy (and fun) for me to criticize the Catholic Church: oh boy, I might say. Another regresive white guy as Pope! One might've hoped they could at least have chosen a regressive African or Latino--okay, sure, it probably wouldn't really have substantially changed anything, but it would've been symbolic. It would have suggested, in some minor way, that the church was at least vaguely aware that it is no longer 1582. But they didn't. Whaddaya want. I mean, okay: the church is anti-war and anti-capital punishment. Good on them. But. Given their totally appalling stances on other things, it's hard to accept that these laudable positions are the result of anything other than random chance--a stopped clock that's right twice a day (especially considering their support for Republicans--apparently, their stance against abortion is SO IMPORTANT that it's just fine and dandy for bush to send fuckloads of people to their deaths for no goddamn reason, as long as he's ALSO against letting women control their own bodies). One cringes to imagine just how much worse have they made Africa's horrific AIDS epidemic with their insane anti-prophylactics ("condoms don't prevent aids") position. How many hundreds of thousands--if not millions--of deaths have they been responsible for because of this? This ain't just fucking nutty--it's downright evil, with all the religious connotations that word brings with it. And of course, their position vis-à-vis homosexuality, identical to and every bit as enlightened as the views of a drunken, testosterone-addled fratboy, do them no credit. And let's not even TALK about their wink-and-nod attitude towards child molestation by their own. That's just too awful, and besides, you get the picture. If it's really as incapable of dragging its ass into the twenty-first century as it seems, it's hard to formulate a convincing argument as to why it shouldn't just be disbanded.


This isn't a sensical ARGUMENT or anything, but nonetheless, seeing the new pope's unveiling, I have to admit to having felt something very like awe. An unbroken string of two hundred sixty-five popes (a few less if we dismiss a few of the early ones as apocryphal), enduring for almost two thousand years, fraught with all kinds of violent political upheaval. It's...impressive. The combined weight of all this history is immense. Probably, this is in great part why the church has lasted as long as it has: I know I'm not the only one who's easily-impressed; in fact, I'm probably less so than most. And you need that kind of reverence to create a lasting religious institution. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the new pope is going by "Benedict" (so do they have some kind of computerized papal name generator, or what?)--there's a name redolent of all kinds of Medieval history.

So, yes, in a very limited, purely aesthetic sense, I appreciate the Catholic Church. Doesn't mean I don't think, all things being equal, it wouldn't be better if it were disbanded (DEATH TO SAINT AJORA). Still, it could be worse. It could've been founded by L. Ron Hubbard, for instance. What a trip that would be.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Mon Voisin Totoro--le meilleur film du monde!

On a whim, I rewatched My Neighbor Totoro this evening. What a perfectly sweet movie. But not in a fakey Disney way. It just floats along, serenely indifferent to any notion of cynicism or forced 'hipness.' Really: can you imagine Disney or Dreamworks or Pixar whoever making a nominal children's film with no villains and very little discernable plot like this? Not that I'm saying those things are automatically bad, but, as this film makes clear, you don't need them (the same could be said about Kiki's Delivery Service, but, with no slight towards that film intended, Totoro is far superior). It's the polar opposite of anything Hollywood. Look at the scene at the bus stop in the rain, for instance: that goes on for a pretty long time, with minimal action. But it works. Perfectly. Because Miyazaki is not afraid to just let things go; to let the atmosphere take over. We feel the soporific atmosphere; the girls' repressed anxiety...and then--whoa! Totoro! Beautiful. And, honestly, the only appropriate reaction to the catbus is to laugh in giddy delight. Should you react otherwise, I would have to question your humanity. Don't you just want to live in a universe like this, where there are no bad people and happiness is the default setting for everyone?

What I did not expect--and this could just be that I was in a more fragile emotional state than I was when last I saw it--was that I actually teared up during the emotional climax--where Mei gets obstinate about wanting to see her mother NOW and Satsuki gets more and more annoyed until she bursts out with "So it's all right if mother dies, then?" and storms off, leaving Mei in tears. And then when Satsuki herself breaks I think it's a testament to the way the film is made that such an--objectively-speaking--low-key climax can still be so powerful.

I've seen all of Miyazaki's films except the new one, Howl's Moving Castle, and I hope to remedy that soon. All of them are good-to-great...although, interestingly enough, Mononoke Hime, which was the first one I ever saw and which blew me away at the time, I actually now find to be one of his weaker efforts. But in any case, Totoro is my favorite, and I would be surprised if that ever changed. You just can't help but be happy after watching it. It's just mandatory. What a perfect film.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Literature Korner!

Anyway. The new (newish, at any rate) Murakami novel, Kafka on the Shore. Have I mentioned this? Well, in any case, I am now. It's actually...well, kinda bad. It's written from two different perspectives, one of which is in the third-person--a first for a Murakami novel. Unfortunately, this kinda ruins my hypothesis, developed after reading his short story collection After the Quake, that Big M is at his best on those rare occasions when he breaks out of his usual comfortable first-person mode. I actually haven't finished the book; for the most part, the previous M novels that I've read were so addictive (not necessarily great works of art, but [or possibly 'therefore'] compulsively readable) that I would get through them almost instantaneously. And that includes South of the Border, West of the Sun, which, on reflection, I thought was pretty awful. But this one...sheesh. It's easy enough reading when I can be bothered, but I can happily go any length of time without. I suppose it's entirely possible that I'm just so familiar with the man's style that I'm burned out on him, but really. If a writer's novels are all largely indistinguishable...that's a pretty major criticism in itself. But I don't think that's it: I think this one is genuinely worse than most of what's come before. He makes an effort to shake things up a bit by having his narrator be--shock!--a fifteen-year-old kid, rather than the usual late-twenties/early-thirties everyman. This is less successful than one would hope. In general, he still sounds pretty much like the usual narrator, only Murakami feels obliged to give him occasional thoughts/turns of phrase meant to remind us that he is in fact a teenager, all of which are cringe-inducing. "Got to have my music," he declares near the beginning as he's deciding what to bring along on his trip, sounding like a guy in an ipod commercial.

You know the cringe-inducing part in that one Sopranoes episode (somehow I feel a sense of déjà vu here--stop me if you think you've heard this one before) where Dr. Melfi casually slips in a Proust reference so Tony can go, what? and then she can explain it to the viewers at home? Right. Well, this book has it's share of moments like that. Here's some dialogue:
"Kind of an ominous prophesy."
"Like Cassandra."
"Cassandra?" I ask.
"The Greek tragedy. Cassandra was blah blah blah blah et cetera. Cursed."
"What kind of curse was it?"
"The curse on Cassandra?"
I nod.
"The curse blah blah blah prophesies true no one believes her. Koros."
"Koros? What's that?"
"Chorus in Greek tragedy, blah blah blah..."

And like that. Could anything possibly be more ham-handed? And beyond that, given what we know about the character, it's totally implausible. He is presented as being a voracious reader, massively erudite for his age. Okay, sure, I can believe he hasn't read Aeschylus. But that he's totally unfamiliar with the story to the point of not even dimly recognizing the name "Cassandra?" Not so much.

And then there are the sex scenes. To my dismay. Attention, Haruki Murakami: STOP WRITING SEX SCENES. Thank you.

This book also has the honor of containing the worst thing Murakami has ever fucking written. It's this scene in the library where the protagonist, having run away from home, is hiding out. With Suave Enigmatic Librarian Man, who has taken him under his wing. And then--I really can't believe I'm writing this--these two grotesque caricatures of uptight, humorless feminists come in and start making ludicrous condemnations of the library on the grounds that it's insufficiently equipped for women's needs, including the following choice bit, which I am absolutely not making up (page 164 in the Knopf hardcover):

"The tall woman looks at the short one, who looks back up at her and opens her mouth for the first time. 'You've been evading the point, mouthing empty arguments about taking responsibility,' she says in a really high-pitched voice. 'In reality, to use the term for the sake of convenience, what you're doing is an easygoing attempt at self-justification. You are a totally pathetic, historical example of the phallocentric, to put it mildly."

Christ. Anyway, SELM makes a mockery out of their arguments, and they leave thoroughly flustered. Ha! He sure showed those ball-busting, feminazi bitches! Seriously, dude, I had to check to make sure I hadn't been mistakenly reading a copy of National Review. Allegedly, this whole scene is to make a larger point about "intolerance," but really, who's fooling whom here? You don't just pick an illustrative example like this by random chance.

Oh yeah, the third-person bits. Well, they're less annoying than the first-person ones, that's for sure. In fact, at first they were actually really, really gripping, as our protagonist--sixty-something, simple-minded, can talk to cats--searches for a lost cat, in the process of which he encounters some sort of spirit thing that's killing cats and harvesting their souls. But...then it sort of goes downhill. The protagonist seems quite appealing at first, but before too long you realize that he's really nothing more than a very broadly-drawn holy fool, and the whole thing just collapses into self-parody. Shame.

I don't know; I've probably made this book sound a lot worse than it actually is. It's not incompetently written (with the above-noted exceptions); it's just...not very exciting. Murakami, who had been spinning his wheels for quite some time, has made a major misfire here. I used to think it was only a matter of time before he really got his shit together and published a really kickass novel that would validate the claims of genius that his fans frequently attribute to I'm not so sure. Anyway, and for the record, here is how I would rank his books, from best to worst (have I done this before, or did only contemplate doing it before?).

After the Quake--Third-Person. Really, really good.

Norwegian Wood--I remember having serious problems with this as I read it, but I mostly forget what they were now. Admittedly, pretty haunting.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland--Unrealized sci-fi premise, but the "End of the World" sections are really atmospheric, and it has the strongest ending by far of any M novel.

Dance Dance Dance--Sort of the standard Murakami novel. The actor guy is a well-drawn character. Since it's stated nowhere on the book, I should note that it's the sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase, although there's literally only one sentence that you won't get if you haven't read the previous entry.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle--First one I read. I found it enthralling, but that may not mean much. Self-indulgent at parts, but overall, I thought, interesting, and the "Zoo Massacre" stories are great.

A Wild Sheep Chase--Maybe I was a little burned-out, but I had to force myself to finish this.

The Elephant Vanishes--Stories, a few good, most kind of annoying.

Sputnik Sweetheart--Potential to be a good character-based story mostly unrealized. Pretty bland.

Hear the Wind Sing--Not totally worthless, but probably out-of-print for a reason.

Pinball 1973--Ditto. This used to be available in totus online, but not, apparently, anymore. Certainly not worth the thousand+ dollars you'd drop on it on ebay.

Kafka on the Shore--See above.

South of the Border--ARGH. The main character is a psychopath. I believe I covered this in my amazon review.

Whoa. That's all. I'se tired.


Maybe I should update this thing sometimes. It's just crazy enough to work! But, believe me, not updating is something I would have been doing a lot of, whether here or on my old site. Because I have...well, quite a lot of things to worry about, academically. I mean, damn, man, grad school can be annoying. Is one way to put it. Also, bizarrely enough I seem to have developed some semblance of a social life, which drains yet further valuable time that could be spent writing nonsense! Argh! Also reading: it's fucking scandalous how little I've been doing lately. Pretty embarrassing, really.

Actually, what I really want to do is find someplace where I can display some of my design projects and fiction. Because, you know, some of it, in my humble estimation, isn't half bad. But that will take time, and...well, yes. Ahem.

Monday, April 04, 2005

"Marmot" that what the kids are calling it these days?

Oh man, this is priceless. Here is today's Get Fuzzy as it appears on the strip's website:

Uh huh. Now, that same strip as poorly scanned by me out of today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

This has gotta rank as the dirtiest thing I've ever seen in the comics page. Eat it, censors! Go Darby!