Friday, October 26, 2012

Reposted: An Extended Metaphor on Reading and Bowels

(Reposted from

Weird observation: on the one hand, books are the object of solitude par excellance. When you read, you read alone. Chuck Palahniuk has a whole essay about how to escape the lonesome writer's shack and how being a successful author is composed of a cyclical flight from, and then return to, being alone. Jonathan Franzen's essay anthology How to Be Alone is titled after the reader's solitude as a kind of political/spiritual attitude: the question of preserving one's integrity amid mass-culture is the same as the question of how to be alone. Neil Postman writes of the breakdown of individual, critical thinking under the force of mass media. We've all had the experience of trying to read Dickens or Tolstoy or Wallace in the library or a cafe and found ourselves utterly incapacitated by the jabbering gossip spewing from some guy on his cell phone, one table over. Everyone's read the same sentence twelve times without it registering, as we try in vain to tune out lady behind us on the bus as she narrates, to no one in particular and everyone in general, the minutia of her day. We've all flown, like substance-starved refugees, from the toiling, yowling masses into the blessed silence of churches, single-stall toilets, locked cars, and after-hours offices. To read. In peace.

But then over on the left hand is the fact that reading cum books cum writing cum bibliophilia is a fundamentally communal thingy. Let's skirt past how books are basically conversations (okay, monologues; but still, it takes two people) on prostheses. Let's ignore the publishing industry, libraries, book clubs, lit. classes, the canon(s), and the new, infinite psuedo-book, the Internet. Forget all that. I want to concentrate on one particular aspect of how books are social objects.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

'92 debate vs. '12 debate

(This article is reposted from Earthlight Books, at

If you want a flabbergasting blast from the past, check out the town-hall meeting between Perot, Bush 1.0, and W.J. Clinton from 1992 here.

This debate is frankly creepy, because it shows how much things have and haven't changed in the past two decade. The '92 debate contrasts with the more recent Romney/Obama town hall debate in style: Perot, Clinton, and Bush each speak slowly and calmly, with obvious courtesy, whereas Obama and Romney are obliged, via pundits and polls (and blogsters like yours truly), to strut and squawk like fighting cocks to show how 'strong' they are. Obama's 'lackluster' performance from the first '12 debate resembled the '92 candidates' deference and good manners. This is where we're at: civility is a sign of weakness.

Israeli-made Radio Jammer Shaped Like Hand Grenade

“An Israel made, radio jammer in the shape of a hand grenade. Throw it into your neighbour’s balcony to stop him (and anyone, including yourself) from downloading Gagnam style videos over your WiFi.” (viaJamming Grenades, Micro-Missiles: Israel’s Latest War Tech)


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Top Five Books for the Post-Apocalypse

1. Atlas Shrugged
Lugging Ayn Rand's "masterpiece" through the burnt-out carcass of civilization might seem counter-intuitive, since it weighs roughly the same as three gallons of potable water. But that same 35lbs that will cost you calories on the long trek between abandoned super-markets will come in mighty handy when you're attacked by marauding zombies: simply abandon the weakest member of your party to their ravages, climb up a tall structure directly above your ersatz-comrade, and drop Atlas Shrugged on top of the zombie ruck. It's guaranteed to instantly kill whoever it lands directly on, and the aftershock from impact will at least daze everyone in a ten-foot radius.

Plus let's recall the importance of firestarter: each of those 1,168 pages is the beginning of its own campfire, to fry up those bean and gathered corpse-meat sausages.

And, finally, if you're fixing to kill-and-eat a member of your own party but you're having moralistic second thoughts, just read Fransisco D'Anconia's speech about the virtue of selfishness. Rand hated metaphorical cannibalism, but that was only when the poor were doing the eating. As long as you're stronger and more angularly-faced than your prey, well, dig in!

2. Moby Dick
First of all, Melville's magnum opus includes explicit, unabridged instructions for sailing and whale-hunting. If these skills don't come in handy after the demise of gas-powered engines and the rise of radioactive gerbil-mammoths, I don't know what will.

Plus--to return to the theme of How To Kill Your Comrades--the sections on abandoning Pip and slaughtering baby whales will surely steel your spleen. KILL!

3.  How to Make Friends and Influence People
 Dale Carnegie's perennial bestseller is so bent on fucking with people, even its title is a lesson in realpolitik. By "making friends" he means "recruiting allies," and by "influence" he means "manipulate."

How does one Make Friends and Influence them? Flattery, mostly. Do stuff like remember people's name and ask about their baby and pretend to listen to them blather for five minutes about their collection of I Love Lucy memorabilia, and they'll be addicted to your presence. I'm thinking about using his methods when I become a parent: I'll make my love implicitly contingent on my childrens' school-grades and table-manners. Positive reinforcement!

And of course if you listen to Billy-Bob's sob-story of how his entire family was devoured by a pack of rabid toddlers, he's likely to let down his guard. At which point you put down your Carnegie, pick up your Rand, and BASH THAT HEAD IN.

Dinner is served.

4. The Book of Mormon
Look, let's not beat around the bush: in the end times, insular social groups with well-secured buildings in a locale far removed from other major cities are going to survive. I.e. the Mormons will inherit the nuke-scarred earth. They do what they're told, and they've got the land and resources to withstand a first-strike on Washington DC or wherever. So you'll wanna be ready to convince them that you're one of them...

...So that you can lure them, one by one, to an isolated forest path. Then say, "Is that a Muslim over there?" and point to a spot behind them. When they turn to look, you know what to do: ATLAS STRIKE!

5. The Cannibal's Cookbook
Do I even need to explain this one?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Money Talks

Obvious fact: money talks. It yodels angelic to the captains of industry and finance who steer the fine ship of our economy (from local to global), and its silver tongue can smooth over any perceived conflict, can bridge any enmity, can cement any friend. Money is the grease on which the axle of the world spins, and its slippery utility stems from its ubiquitous persuasion. Money talks.

Which means that those with money do all the talking. To take the most obvious example, it's more or less publicly recognized that our current presidential election boils down to a bidding war. There are ideological and concrete differences between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney (though if you caught their first debate, you'll recognize that these differences are rather more nuanced than either candidate wants his own party to believe), and as a faggoty, poor, socially and economically left-leaning young Seattlite I know where my own loyalties lie. Still, nobody seriously disputes the efficacy of effective advertising in this (or any) election, and advertising is a pretty direct function of cash-money. Substantive differences between Romney and Obama are like substantive differences between Starbucks and Seattle's Best: they're real, but only as efficacious as their ad campaign.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Living after the end times

Note: this article was originally published at

A lot of the weirdness of contemporary life can be laid at the cyborgian feet of media technology. We don't just live in a world of the talking, life-like facsimiles of Dan Rather and Bill Clinton and Tom Cruise--a veritable Hades of talking ghosts. No, our lives are set within a history of fake-live personas. That is, we live in a world where television and film aren't just real; they're even dated. For most of human history, the idea of literally listening to dead people, with them visibly standing right there, in front of you, was the stuff of magic: a sacred, or at least ethereal, experience. Now, it's still magic, but our all-consuming drive for technology has multiplied the number of talking ghosts so far that they now outnumber the living. Our ghosts are common and banal.