Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hard Cell

Not so long ago, maybe watching the World Series, it occurred to me that advertising for cell phones and wireless networks has now reached a saturation point on TV, radio, billboards, magazines, and newspapers unmatched since the bad old cigarette days, which--for the record--I recall very well (and LSMFT is why.)

What this means, of course, is that the health risks, such as jaw and brain cancers, of said instruments will be ignored by the paid-for corporate media, then minimized until further studies are undertaken, then debated and obscured as long as possible. I bring this up today because we may be starting to enter Phase Two.

The truth of this was sent home for me during a recent visit to my sister's. There I was able to watch part of a Today Show plugging an article ostensibly about the health risks of cell use. The idiot author announced that, whew, moderate call use probably isn't harmful, leaving off what is considered "moderate", and how likely it is that a huge section of the population probably exceeds that level without trying hard. (And I think we can all agree that 16 hours non-stop is probably a fatal dose right there.)

For the record, I live without a cell phone, and TV, and car, and microwave, and DVD player, which certainly qualifies me as a freak and a crank; I know, I know.

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Sunday Review

The Castle in the Forest
Norman Mailer

I would have liked to awarded three stars to this title, if only for my deep and abiding admiration of Mailer as an author, and a man; indeed, Mailer describes some individual characters and scenes with great skill here. However, The Castle in the Forest rates but two. It begins with an interesting narrative voice, and the promise of a sort of splendid nonsense--a devil describing the childhood of Adolf Hitler. But the splendor quickly wears off. The narration is slack and meandering, and the epistemology--a cosmos in which supernatural beings have their powers limited (somehow) in space and time--is inconsistent and provisional to the shifting dramatic needs of the author.

Humans, devils and angels are at first posited to stand on something of an equal footing, but Mailer is content to show nothing of the broad conflict between Good and Evil in which the story is set, and the humans are all fodder for his devil narrator's ends. Of them all, only Alois Hitler, the tyrant's father, comes to vivid life. Long-time Mailer readers will not be surprised that Alois, a compulsive philanderer who fathers many children with several wives, allows Mailer ample opportunity to make wry, and tired-feeling, observations about women, sex, marriage, and life.

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

I've thought for a while now that one of the stranger features of our political culture is the need to re-fight the Civil War every fifty years. Another possibly related thought is how autocracies, when faced with change to their familiar way of life, are perfectly willing, maybe even happy, to watch their social order, and often the country around it, die. Ancient Rome is a fine example, as is Habsburg Austria, Nazi Germany; Argentina and the Shah's Iran also spring to mind.

What is it about the white-guy south--which I shall extend to Red States in general--that is so in love with stupid ideas of social order, and the lost causes of defending the same? You have to wonder how otherwise rabidly self-interested fatheads (and I'm referring now to congressional Republicans) could show such disdain for their own fortunes, personal and political, and the welfare of their constituents, not to mention the health of our disordered republic.

The lockstep defense of the Ryan budget and the inane gamesmanship over the debt ceiling hike we've seen in the last few days are not signs of strength, just as R.E. Lee's daring thrust into Pennsylvania in July, 1863 was not a sign of strength, rather a desperate gamble with waning resources to force a favorable outcome against the logic of numbers and the times.

Clearly, someone important decided a couple years ago that the only way the old style GOP could survive was to become a boutique brand with the clout of an exclusive club; both aspirational and exclusive at the same time. They had money and organization; and maybe too much of both. What was missing was any kind of ideological flexibility, diverse voices, and, fatally, smart people advancing cogent plans.

Nope. They cleft to nativism, coded racism, no taxes, no healthcare, torture, and war. While almost all have been popular causes from time to time, NONE of have EVER been a demonstrated long-term persuasive force in our politics. Furthermore a healthy political party manages to produce every so often a figure who might single-handedly redefine a party's policies, if not its so-called principles. The Democrats had--for example--FDR, and Clinton; the Republicans, Teddy Roosevelt and Ike. Now these men I mention are, of course, very rare in history, but we might pick out many other lesser lights who advanced in their respective parties by challenging the ways and means of the existing, sclerotic orders.

Ladies and gentlemen, is there one such figure in the modern GOP? Look at who thinks they can be president over there then tell me.

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Sunday Review

The Town and the City
Jack Kerouac

Dated, and written with a generally overwrought lyricism, Kerouac's mainly overlooked 1950 first novel offers surprising riches as it charts the disappointments and disintegration of an American working class family in the years before and through the Second World War.

Right from the start, Kerouac identified a nearly inexplicable sense of loss and loneliness in American young people, a climate of the Great Depression; hollow feelings which they push aside, explain with self-involved philosophizing, cover with alcohol or drugs, or try to mediate with a rootless searching which might never end.

Kerouac's innate conservatism--an attachment to religion, tradition, and family--is very clear throughout and ever at odds with his sympathy for, and curiosity about, those who manage to live outside the moral bounds of middle class or lawful society. Homosexuality, for example, is overtly derided, but intense male relationships, only slightly disguised, characterize the second half of the book. (One might observe that this sexual ambivalence eventually killed the author, who came to reject his beat, outsider friends for a kind of non-corporate, reclusive Catholic patriotism, and managed to drink himself to death in 1968 at age 46.)

Though clearly inspired by Thomas Wolfe, Kerouac has an affection for his characters and hometown which the completely overrated Wolfe could never muster. Though The Town and the City is overlong, and often overwritten in a sturdy, Whitmanesque voice, it has frequent passages of great beauty and compassionate observation--a sort of warm regard of a cold world--which will carry most readers along to its beautifully realized finish.

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Gallows Humidor

In one of my arch-er moments a couple weeks ago, I wondered aloud to my facebook friends if I should start a blog called Climate Disasters in Red States. The very next day an enormous tornado killed around 300 people in Alabama.

Drought in Texas, floods along the Mississippi, a brutally gray and chilly spring across the upper Midwest, these are facts on the ground, or rather in the air, that I think are beginning to (as Dr. Johnson said of the gallows) focus minds wonderfully.

The corporate press is very good at showing healthy skepticism about everything--unless it's the inevitable housing revival, and the return to championship form of Tiger Woods--and it's been impressive to see all those stories about the weird weather without mention of how well it was modeled, oh, gee, fifteen years ago by climate scientists. Over a century ago Twain wondered about how the southern churches of his childhood could lie so much about slavery. The answer, which I'm sure Mark knew, was in the abject eagerness of an unremarkable and lazy people to believe them.

Now I'd like too think that the ongoing and impending climate disasters will change some dim U.S. minds fast, and that the climate-change denial party will pay for their pattern of lies at the polls. No question, that tide is changing. But I also think that some new lies will appear, and that whole populations of unremarkable people will believe them until such groups get washed away.

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pulp Friction

It has been a longstanding whimwham here that the Republican Party is a dying thing, a victim of changing demographics, new broad-based communication technologies, and a culture of stupidity and greed left over from the days when our empire was feeling its oats and white guys called ALL the shots.

An associated point is that, given the above, we don't know what such an implosion would look like. (And, relatedly, that most of the pressures outlined above would have a strong effect on the Democrats as well, though their organization would be in a much better condition to absorb the shocks and move on.)

Now there were a few factors I didn't consider, the main one being how deeply invested the corporate media--along with a certain portion of the loyal opposition--is in propping up the sick half of our two party system. I should have been more sensitive to the bonds of education and class which unites all who are vested in the white-collar dream, especially now that it's under direct assault from economic and social realities far outside anyone's control.

On a whole different level, I also didn't consider just how frightened, angry, and spiteful a significant part of the electorate would be once our African-American president took office; impulses which a reactive media were pleased to objectify and, in the worst cases, stoke (see above.)

And while I am willing to shape my long-standing long-term forecast, I will not change it. I do believe that recent events touching the GOP brand: their extremist, and pointless, House bills, the nitwits hogging all the attention "running" (or not) for president, the power grab in Wisconsin, the torture apologists, not to mention the racists camping in their living room, to me indicates a distinct sense of hysteria in the face of dire emergency. When facing the end, people will often do desperate things.

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Room with a Review

Inherent Vice
Thomas Pynchon

The third of what might be considered Thomas Pynchon's California entertainments, Inherent Vice (2009) is a genre detective novel set in El-Lay in the spring of 1970. Doc Sportello (door in Italian) is a 30-ish hippie PI given a couple missing-person cases to look into. Things get complicated, which does not stop Doc from nearly chain smoking joints from page one on.

I am an abiding and devoted fan of Mr. P's, and his many, many strengths as a narrator are all on display, not the least of which is a golden ear for dialogue. He also fills in with a lot of minor characters dotting the L.A. landscape of cheap beach apartments, seedy office buildings, creepy mansions and the offices of Law Enforcement downtown. By the middle of the book the many bit players are hard to keep track of, as is (just sayin') the plot.

But the plot of any American detective novel anyway is just a excuse to hang dark observations of society, and Pynchon serves up the goods. In fact, just when I was wondering if maybe this one had been tossed-off just a tad too carelessly, the looping plot resolved into a very tight-lensed look at a hierarchy of corrupt power that seems to lurk behind everything in California.

While I.V. is missing the radiant, bare-bones paranoia of The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon's first short California novel, and the sincere sense of human loss, nostalgia (and paranoia) of Vineland, his second, the latest work shares their tender regard for a time and place where a brief visit of a certain type of freedom was followed hard upon by an army of losers and cutthroats, come to make sure nothing like it ever happens again.

The novel also has what strikes this loyal reader as the finest confrontation yet between a typical Pynchon good guy and representatives of Them (you Pynchon fans will know what I mean.) Far from the nearly invisible actors of Lot 49, and the nearly faceless law enforcement agents of Vineland, Doc Sportello spends some quality time with several of the sociopaths in question as the story glides towards its beautifully written final page.

As a genre piece, Inherent Vice fits that space between Carl Hiaasen's wacko intrigues and William Gibson's rather more sinister dealings. As a vehicle for a slumming Great Writer's ideas and craft, we'd have to go back to Mailer's terrific Tough Guys Don't Dance, another ga-ga pulp exercise set on the edge of an ocean. Inherent Vice might be a bit overpopulated and scattered, but that sort of goes with the territory.

See also: The author does a VO promo for the book, interestingly, in a first-person narration not used in the novel.

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blameless Plug

You several regular readers might be pleased to hear that Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is now available as a Kindle download, if, that is, the technology appeals to you. (Me? I'm kinda a book guy.) Any satisfied customers are encouraged to leave glowing comments in the appropriate place there.

What else? Though posts here have dwindled to a trickle, that doesn't mean I don't regularly think about this place. Tired to death of our bitter, attenuated, and increasingly nihilistic politics, and our very modern reluctance to face facts, I've been thinking of posting short book reviews here to--oh, I don't know--promote some kind of clarity of vision, adherence to ideals, if only my own. I'm also thinking of putting together another Guide to an American classic.

And, oh yeah, it looks like the big book I finished writing three years ago will be published in 2012 by a major university press. I'll certainly let you know about that when the time comes.

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Hit Parade

Most commentators are expressing caution over how the bin Laden takedown effects the president's re-election chances, but you know me: It seals the deal.

Where to start? With the efficiency and dispatch of the event itself? Of the calm decision behind it? The promise Obama made during the campaign to do exactly what was done? That it wipes clear away about half of the GOP talking points, the ones about his timid, anti-American, leadership? That they can't say Osama is still at large?

That this underlines one more time what a incompetent jerk that squalid little man (meaning, for new readers, our former president), and how stupid his gang of fixers was? (And here let me refer you to the early 2002 news conference in which the SLM natters on about how he doesn't give OBL much thought anymore, along with the inescapable impression he gives of being drunk at the time.) How petty and laughable most Republicans now look trying to absorb some of the credit?

While I would have preferred a live bin Laden on trial in New York, that would have been possible only in a nation which had not been driven mad with fear by seven years of relentless rightist howling, and a profoundly deranged corporate media. We are a far less free and confident nation than we were on 9/10/01, and a lot of people are to blame. Don't get me wrong, Osama got exactly what he deserved, and dropping the corpse in the ocean was an especially pleasing piece of symbolic action. Governments rarely act out disdain so simply, so poetically.

I'm not sure how we can regain that sense of national fortitude, and I submit that the Sunday evening hit job is not the place to start. But it did clear a big field of a lot of brainless opponents; and I am speaking domestically. Clarity is hard to find in our time, and I doubt any single act will provide much for the middle east. But Americans now have a much better sense of how our chief executive rolls, and how no one, Republican or Democrat, even begins to measure up.