Thursday, November 20, 2008

I am Rejestered to Vote!!!

I just got my voter registration card in the mail yesterday, several months after I registered and two-and-a-half weeks after the election. Well, I guess I could still be outraged or whatever but I still got to vote and the election turned out in my party’s favor so I am not, for once. However, Rock the Vote is now on the “Dead to Me” list that I have resurrected from like junior high after watching “The Colbert Report” back when I had cable.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This week picks for the NFL: Week 12

I have mentioned before that I used to gamble a lot and I ended up getting pretty good at the NFL picks game that I used to play at a bar run by my old man’s bookie. I liked this because the entry fee was only like $10 and the payout, depending on the week, was about $800 for first and a few hundred for second and third. I got first once and second a couple of other times so I would say that I was remarkable good at it, especially since I didn’t even get in every week and was still floating around the top of the leader board. So I figure my investment was something like $100 and I got back around $1000, maybe more, which isn’t all that bad in the seedy world of underground illegal gambling. The way we did it was we picked all 14-16 games and attributed a total number of points to that team based on how sure we were that that team would win, so if we thought Pittsburg was a lock to win over Cinci, we would give them 16 points, but if we just couldn’t really decide or if we were iffy we would give them a score of 1 point, and so on and so forth down thru 16 to 1. So these are my picks for this week.

16. Pittsburg over Cincinnati- A shoe in. Pittsburg almost always finds a way to win, especially against division rivals, and even more so against the Bengals, who aren’t very good.

15. Denver over Oakland- Denver has an impressive offence and their D looks good at times. Oakland, however, is a joke and never really looks all that great. This is a lock.

14. Tampa Bay over Detroit- Garcia is another one of those guys who I think doesn’t really get a fair shake, he is a winner and he is as tough as they come. I can’t say the same for Culpepper or anyone for Detroit for that matter.

13. Dallas over San Fran- Romo is back and so is Dallas, the bastards, and there is something about Singletary I don’t like as a coach, maybe it was throwing an assistant under bus or calling out individual players (that I have less of a problem with) but something, whatever it is, doesn’t sit right and I think the SF locker-room gets the same vibe.

12. Chicago over St. Louis- Jeeze, talk about a toilet bowl. Chicago got killed last week but I still they bounce back against the awful Rams.

11. Baltimore over Philadelphia- Philly is unpredictable but I think the Ravens defense is just too damn good for the Eagles to move the ball and I like that rookie quarterback they have behind center.

10. Washington over Seattle- If Portis doesn’t play, I would drop this to 4 but still take Washington

9. Buffalo over Kansas City- I don’t really know too much about these two teams, but what little I have seen would suggest that KC is horrible and going to be rebuilding next year. I like Herman Edwards but for some reason he doesn’t seem to be able to win games. I think it is time for a change.

8. Indianapolis over San Diego- A rematch from last year’s AFC semi-finals, I think the Colts, who are having a disappointing year, get their payback as Manning and his crew really saw things coming together last week, though they did play Houston.

7. Minnesota over Jacksonville- Internal problems for the Jags and their season I think is over. Plus the Vikings have found some success in ancient gun slinger Gus Ferrot who doesn’t always look so bad. And then the Vikings do have a guy named Adrian Peterson. That guy is pretty good.

6. New Orleans over Green Bay- Green Bay is playing super well right now but I think Brees is going to torch them since all those defensive touchdowns means they are doing a lot of gambling and that can cost them and Brees is the type of player to make them pay for let it all ride.

5. Cleveland over Houston- Another toilet bowl, but I think Cleveland has underachieved this year with all their offensive weapons. So playing the perennially crap defense of the Titans I think they will get some huge numbers and another win.

4. Miami over New England- Miami is a much improved team from last year and I like Pennington who I have always thought was a much better QB than he is given credit for. Plus I like the one two punch of Brown and Williams. But they are playing the Pats and they are a team of winners but I don’t really think that is necessarily true of the guy they have behind center who has until recently seen hardly any action for nearly a decade.

3. Jets over Titans- The Titans are undefeated, I thought they would go maybe 500 this year, and they have done it with the suprising play of veteran quarterback Carrey Collins. They are having an unreal season but there is no way they can run the tables. I think this is the week they go down considering the Jets have their own veteran in Favre whose play is improving as of late. But I am keeping this one low because the Titans are very good and beating teams with relative ease.

2. Atlanta over Carolina- Two teams that have somehow found ways to win, this one is a tough one to call but my gut says that Delhoume will blow it in the end.

1. Arizona over the Giants- This is a super tough call, hence the 1, but I am going to take the Cardinals against the reigning Super Bowl Champs because I like Kurt Warner who is finally back to his St. Louis greatness, St. Louis I am sure is thrilled that they went with Bulger instead of their former MVP.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Date Night With the Female Companion: Movie Night

My female companion and I went and saw two movies the other day, sneaking in Chipotle burritos, Izzies, and chewing tobacco (no booze this time) and they were both quirky and funny. The first of the two was the movie Role Models which despite its apparent plot holes was pretty funny. The cynical viewer will note the poor judgment in our judicial system for sending two young assholes to work with children instead of spending 30-days in prison. Sign my kid up! Wait I don’t think any but the most negligent of parents would send their kids to such a program. Why not sign up sex offenders for community service with the boy scouts or something. I don’t think so. But if you can get past that, this is a hilarious movie staring Seann William Scott, who should just go ahead and legally change his name to Stifler since that is basically the role he thrives in, and the always grumpy and humorous Paul Rudd who co-wrote the movie.

This is not a movie for children, so I am told, although my parents wouldn’t have objected, since it has children dropping the F-bomb about 50 or 60 times and has a fairly decent, no pun intended, amount of tit, breast, or “booby” shown throughout the film—not that I am complaining—unless my wonderful companion is reading this in which case I am outraged.

Anyway, the plot revolves around two breakers of the law who are forced to complete 150 hours of community service at a Big Brothers/Big Sisters type of outreach program or spend 30-days in jail. It is a tough call but after watching an appropriate amount of HBO’s Oz, they go for the community service, hilarity and problems ensue, and in the end they get their “get out of jail free cards” and all end up learning valuable lessons. But who learns from whom is the real question, which just about makes me and Paul Rudd, see last night’s Conan, want to throw up. But it is funny and worth your $8 or whatever.

The second of our grindhouse double feature was the digital animation Madagascar 2 which we ended up at after the original movie we snuck in to see, The Nightmare Before Christmas, turned out to be 3-D and we didn’t have the glasses and couldn’t find any in the trash, so it turned out to be a nice little surprise in that it didn’t suck and I thought it was better than the original. The less I say the better considering this was in fact a G-Rated, Pixar film.

Maybe I am getting soft or something, I haven’t went and seen movies like these since I was in high school, when I dated a girl who made me go see mostly G-rated films and rarely indulged my need for violence and simulated death on the big screen. Female companion, though she is much more likely to do so than her predecessor, isn’t exactly all that thrilled by the fact that the first two movies I had her watch (The Rules of Attraction and A Clockwork Orange) opened with rape scenes and my attempted third (Blue Velvet) to which she finally put her foot down, was so violent and its rape so graphic that she was questioning whether I was autistic or sick in the head or what (even though I still and will always claim that it is a great movie). But it goes without saying that those films may not have been the greatest of movies during the getting to know you stage of the relationship.

So any who, I think that a year ago, I probably would have been less likely to pay money to see these, or one of these and then sneak into the other, but had I watched them I probably would have found them somewhat entertaining, as I do now, but I think I would have been more critical of them then. For example, about thirteen months ago, one month before FC, I did the double feature thing and I went and saw 3:10 to Yuma, which kicked ass, and the Halloween Rob Zombie remake, eh, which one was a western, a genre damn near universally hated by women, and a slasher flick which we know is usually unkind to young women (and this one we pretty much all know is unkind to young women). Now I went and saw two movies that are “cute” which on some level makes me want to throw up while on another I am sort of happy that I am going and seeing movies like this. Like I said, it has been pretty much since high school since I have gone to see movies like these, the last double feature I can remember with the high school gf was a Monsters/Harry Potter outing.

We do go see my violent picks sometimes, we went to a Journey to the Center of the Earth, which sucked, and Batman showing this past summer, but it is nice to go see the nice and quiet comedy where no one dies and is quote unquote romantic in nature. When you are a guy and you are going to see these kinds of movies and are enjoying them, something must being going pretty well with you and your squeeze. It gives me hope at least.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Throw an Old Dog a Bone: Paul Auster’s Timbuktu

Timbuktu, Paul Auster’s heartbreaking novel, tells us more about the we live in and the way we treat “the least of these” than any other book I have read in recent memory and has moved me into action on more than one occasion. Paul Auster, with his literary genius, which has touched more so than any other author (excluding DFW of course), achieves these great feats through the eyes of the kindest, gentlest, most innocent of soul ever to grace the pages of a novel. No human being could ever make you melt with a metaphorical kiss on the hand like Auster’s protagonist, Mr. Bones, in this brilliant work of fiction. And no human being does. That is because Mr. Bones is a dog.

The relationship between Willy G. Christmas and Mr. Bones is as touching as any relationship can be. They share a bond as well as what they have—they deeply and unconditionally care for one another. In their symbiotic relationship, the two of them are innocent, caring, intimate, connected, etc. and in the end this is what we are to walk away from the novel having learned—to live a life that is all of those things, which is so foreign to the way many of us out there live, going through the motions throughout one’s life and never really and truly caring for anyone else. It is a moral fable in this way with the three “masters” he has representing three different ways of life with only, I shall argue, Willy and him coming to the ideal relationship that leads to happiness.

Opening the novel in media res, the reader finds Mr. Bones traveling along side his only friend, a man without any other friends himself, Willy, whose vagabond days are numbered, dying a slow and painful death on the streets of Baltimore. His master’s death is imminent, sadly, and Mr. Bones knows it; but good old Bonesy sticks to Willy’s side so he doesn’t have to spend his final days’ void of friendship. It goes without saying that is an extraordinarily sad thing for a dog to lose its master just as it is for a person to lose their dog but here it doesn’t end up being as bad as it could have been because the two were able to say goodbye in a way that cushions the horrible blow through a dream Mr. Bones has just before Willy goes forth into the great beyond.

In this dream, Mr. Bones runs to the end of the corner while his master, a poet, is taken from the doorstep of the tragic 19th century author Edgar Allen Poe’s Baltimore home. Mr. Bones then dissociates from his canine self and becomes a fly who witnesses the final day and pleasant death of Willy who originally traveled to this city to find a former teacher so his manuscripts may live on after he parishes. The manuscripts, tucked away in a bus station storage locker, are eventually recovered with the help of that former teacher whom the hospital was lucky enough to track down. It was a beautiful, peaceful, and dignified death in the dream and it would serve as the duo’s sweet good bye.

Once the dream has ended, the real thing begins to take place. At first Mr. Bones isn’t sure what to make of the “vision” he just had. In a scene reminiscent of King Lear, when Lear checks his daughter’s breath over and over again, convincing himself in his incredible state of grief, Mr. Bones looks upon his master’s breath hoping for signs of life. This scene, found on page 64, coupled with the hope that Willy will recover and someone will find his manuscripts that have long gone unread, is a sincerely ingenious literary strategy that puts the reader on the same plane as the dog, we are also holding on to hope just like Mr. Bones. But the entire time, we know this will not end well, Willy is going to die and his writing will be lost. It is tragic but it is also intensely good fiction.

After a nice little diatribe to remember Willy by, the awful part of the dream sequence begins to take place in real life, but Mr. Bones doesn’t stop at the corner to watch this time because he already knows what is going to happen and that ending is good enough for him. As explained in the book, marked as a “tragic figure,” disqualified from “the rat race of vain hopes and sentimental illusions,” Willy was one bestowed with “an aura of legitimate suffering” who “indelibly cast himself in his chosen role: as malcontent, as rebel, as outlaw poet prowling the gutters of a ruined world,” (15). But the thing that makes him truly odd, in that special way that only the wisest of holy men are odd in that their ascetic ways have led them closer “to the truth, to the gritty nub of existence,” is the militantly, anti-capitalist philosophy that takes as its most devastating critique on the whole consumeristic world the Christmas holiday.

According to Willy, “Christmas was a fraud, a season for quick bucks and ringing cash registers, and as the symbol of that season, as the very essence of the whole consumerist shebang, Santa was the biggest fake of them all,” (21). I tend to agree with Willy on this one, in my own anti-capitalist ways (I live off something like a couple of thousand dollars a year), but extreme asceticism isn’t the way to go either, (this I know from experience). Go that route and you more than likely end up like Willy, on the other extreme—finding meaning through earning money to buy things—and you end up unable to truly care for anyone but yourself, as can be seen by the end of the novel in the home that Mr. Bones eventually comes to live. There, a man named Dick reluctantly takes Mr. Bones in off the street after his wife and children had already seen the infinitely pure soul of the tough little guy. Dick financially provides a good home for his young family; however, he withholds his affection from everyone failing to see that in doing so, he makes all of those around him unhappy in imposing his misplaced values upon them. Thus even though he has purchased a home for his wife (Polly) that she loves, she never really loves her husband because to him it is enough to provide without any real connection (159). We learn that those things that make life comfortable really aren’t so bad, but putting absolute worth in them is exactly what Willy was trying to warn us not to do.

Dick is not nearly caring enough to recognize the greatness in a dog like Willy and thus treats him as a second class citizen. For example, Dick says of Mr. Bones to his daughter, “don’t feel sorry for him, Alice. He’s not a person, he’s a dog,” (144). Again, Dick shows that he is incapable of caring for others since this mindset also caries over into other relationships that he has and one doesn’t find it that much of a stretch to think that Dick would probably say something along the lines of “she’s not an adult, she’s a child,” in regards to Alice and “she’s not a provider, she’s a wife” in regards to Polly. Thus Mr. Bones “pitied him for not knowoing how to enjoy life,” (149) since his priorities are so out of whack. The first master he comes to after living with Willy also lacks the ability to truly connect and care for Bones in a significant way that elevates the relationship to that of the one he had just come from.

Immediately after Willy’s death, before he lives with Dick, Polly, and their kids, Mr. Bones comes to a most unlikely master in a young Chinese kid named Henry. Unlikely in two ways that oppose some of his former master’s most terrifying advice, (1) stay clear of children because they can be cruel and don’t make the call as to whether a dog stays or goes and (2) avoid Chinese restaurants like the plague because they will cook you up and eat you. But after being kicked and mistreated by some other boys, Bones finds himself and Henry developing a connection. Having lost much of his will and with the situation growing dire, Bones ends up following the kid home right into the “gates of hell.” On the one hand, “Henry proved that love was not a quantifiable substance,” (103) to Bones, but on the other, Henry’s lack of control disqualifies the two from being a real pair.

A deeply sad and lonely boy for which Mr. Bones, whom Henry renames Cal, can only do so much, and though all that he can do for Henry he does, the boy’s sadness goes beyond what any other being can help with. Not only this, but he also brings Bones down with him in his despair, as we see “dogs feel with their masters… [and] he had taken on the boy’s sadness as his own. Such is the way with dogs,” (113). Thus in taking on those feelings, the one’s unhappiness becomes a burden on both of them. You cannot totally rely on someone else for your own happiness just as you cannot rely on material goods either. Ultimately, the change must come from within him if Henry ever wishes to share a connection like the one enjoyed between Willy and his dog. But even with this understanding, it is no less heartbreaking when Henry’s controlling, anti-dog father discovers Bones and tears the pair apart while Henry pleads “Cal, don’t leave me! Don’t leave me Cal!” (115).

The final master of Bones is, as stated previously, a woman named Polly along with her kids and the already discussed Dick. While a very good master, one that is infinitely better than Dick in affection and able to provide in a mutual way that greatly exceeds Henry, she still makes the mistake of using Bones as a means of defiance over her husband, meaning their bond is ultimately not nearly as strong as the one shared with Willy. This leaves the only non-debased, truly whole relationship Bones has with Willy, who he clearly has the most love for of all his masters.

But what makes Mr. Bones so loveable and wise is his dogginess: “Mr. Bones was a dog, and the truth was that Willy took pleasure in that dogness, found no end of delight in watching the spectacle of his confrere’s canine habits,” (36-7). He is like a miniature Buddha, a dog with Buddha nature who has a rather Zen way of experiencing the world, “he was no more than a lame-brained pup, a nincompoop with floppy paws who ran after his own tail and chomped on his own shit, and if this was the only life he’d ever tasted, who was he to judge whether it was rich or poor in the stuff that makes life worth living?” (29) As a dog, he has simple desires that lead him to ask some of the ultimate questions about life and death and existence. For example, Auster writes that “Willy had judged him to be wholly and incorruptibly good. It wasn’t just that he knew that Mr. Bones had a soul. He knew that soul to be better than other souls, and the more he saw of it, the more refinement and nobility of spirit he found there,” (35). Mr. Bones in the end, not to give too much away, is a kind of John Donne of dogs.

Willy, convinced that Mr. Bones has a soul, asks “did it not stand to reason that a dog of such spiritual inclinations would aspire to loftier things – things not necessarily related to the needs and urgencies of his body, but spiritual things, artistic things, the immaterial hungers of the soul… Did that make him the first man in recorded history to believe that such a thing was possible?” (40). Of course not, I have, I think of my dog, Cap n’ Crunch, who I have definitively come to answer the age old question of whether a dog can have Buddha Nature, my personal favorite koan. Actually there are a lot of similarities between Mr. Bones and my Cap n’ but I won’t try and prove that to you here, suffice it to say there are just some dogs who absolutely love being dogs and doing the things that dogs do and God bless them for it.

And once the book begins to come to a close, we hope that Mr. Bones will end up with Willy in Timbuktu, where they will be “at one with the universe, a speck of anti-matter lodged in the brain of God,” (49). We realize, that the same “dreads and agonies” and “unthinkable horror” (50) that grips us when we think about our own finiteness too much also effect Mr. Bones.

I find it repellant and bullshitty that many mainstream Christian sects don’t think animals have souls or what have you. One the hardest pills to swallow about dogma (no pun intended, I assure you) when you think about it logically, I might add, in its ego centricity. All things, I contest, have that same special breath of life that make all things resemble God.[*] That is because “life wasn’t for sale, and once you found yourself at death’s door, all the noodles in China weren’t going to stop that door from opening,” (31). When we are all pieces on the board and once we are taken off, man or four-legged friend, we are all worth the same—zilch. As Willy so elliquently puts it, “in the vile game of Ego” one is participating in “the one game that everyone loses, that no one can ever win,” (67). This novel is an example of giving a voice to those who are voiceless, much like the Coetzee does with Friday in his book Foe. As we read, we realize that dogs aren’t just marginal characters but have the potential for being the main story. That is what Auster does and he does it well.

[*] I am such a firm believer in this that one of the most traumatic experiences of my life came when I was a kid and some Sunday school teacher tried to tell me I was practically worshipping Satan for believing this. This was not a church I went to regularly as a child. I went there exactly once. I do not remember where it was but if I did I probably would have burned it to the ground a long time ago. The night before I spent the night with some kid and his family went to this church every Sunday. Being seven, maybe eight, I didn’t really know that different churches believed in different things so pretty much everything I heard I assumed was Gospel. This woman, I am sure she meant well, but I vowed to never attend Sunday school after her “lesson.” She told this room full of kids that animals do not have souls. They are put on this earth for our enjoyment (This always seemed to me like saying the stars are there because God wanted to light up the sky for us to navigate our ships which is just absurd and infuriating and stupid. It is that total ignoring science that gives some fundamentalists that “crazy” label. After all, Einstein said that “religion without science is blind but science without religion is dull.” I don’t think science ever really attacked religion the way religion attacked science. Saying that evolution is “just a theory” is totally ignoring all scientific data and misunderstanding what a capital T “Theory” really is) alone. I was not feeling this at all. I started to panic almost. My hand shot up and I told her, not these exact words of course, that my parents said God could be found in all things and that everything had a soul. She then replied that that was “New Aged crap.” (A comment made in that special confidence that is pretentious and also wrong.) And, let’s just say, my reaction more or less got me banned from that kid’s house like for life. But I stood firm and defended my actions. To think that we, as human beings, are the only life in the universe that God cares for and loves was just cruel and horrible.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Two Readings of Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, while not the most significant book that lead me to pursue literature as a career—comint at different stages of my life, as though preordained, those would be The Stranger (12th grade), The Divine Comedy (junior year of undergrad), and Infinite Jest (my 1st [and part of my 2nd] year out of college)[*]—this is the book that started process. “She was the first person I can remember who looked straight at me as if I counted,” (72). That is, Bradbury’s novel was the first thing I ever read that I considered a serious work of fiction that taught me the incredible importance of books and also that there is something not right underneath the surface of our existence that is sucking the lifeblood right out of our veins.

The first truly great book I ever read, almost a decade ago, there have been something like 500 books since that time. Of that 500 I would consider 150, give or take 50 or so, to be very good to great. Starting the school year after my 451 experience, I immediately found myself reading my next installment of literature’s heavy weights. That Year I had my first taste of Beowulf and Chaucer and Coleridge and Mary Shelley. My senior year was defined by works of modernism—Hemmingway, Camus, Joyce, Fitzgerald, H.G. Wells, etc—and then in college, the deluge. As of that time, I have averaged a book or so a week. Of say any given 50, I would find around 20 to be quote unquote “Great.” Many of those great ones are written in the same vein as 451. Of course there are the political philosophy works that are all amazing and I developed a quick attachment to them after the move from public to private school the summer after 451 had rocked my worldview. Lord of the Flies, Braver New World, 1984, these were a few of the books from the philosophy class I took in high school. My final paper for that class was something about the role of media in dictating policy/political discourse where I incorporated other assigned readings like Hegel and Martin Luther King, the former I remember intense frustration in trying to decode a message I could understand and seemingly write about as though I had understood it. I don’t recall what I got grade wise on the paper (I would assume an A since Dr. Jansen was a notoriously easy grader) but I do remember going into great detail in regards to the similarities between Brave New World’s social critique of media culture to that of 451 and how they both were eerily similar to our 2000 situation and where our nation could be heading if their warnings went unheard.[†]

451 was a love story for me, a heated affair between books and a society that no longer needed them. As such, the statements it makes remain solid. However, after reading it again a couple of months ago, I realized its audience is, for the most part, not the Montag who suspected something was wrong and went against all he had been conditioned to feel, or not feel, but for the Millies who knew something was wrong yet did nothing, in complete servitude to the ever alienating and soul-sucking status quo. And how does it happen? In the words of the novel’s antagonist, Beatty, it was our own doing:

When did it all start, you ask, this job of ours, how did it come about, where, when? Well, I'd say it really got started around about a thing called the Civil War. Even though our rule book claims it was founded earlier. The fact is we didn't get along well until photography came into its own. Then - motion pictures in the early Twentieth Century. Radio. Television. Things began to have mass… And because they had mass, they became simpler," said Beatty. "Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population. Films and radios, magazines, books leveled down to a sort of paste pudding norm… Picture it. Nineteenth century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the Twentieth Century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending. (54)

However, now, in the year 2008, while the world we live in is nowhere near as desperate, in the time between my 1st and 2nd readings of the book, our world does look a lot more like the one Montag lives in. The internet, admittingly, was very much a part of American lives in the late 1990s, but at that stage we were yet to be dependant on it.[‡] Then too we were still slave to time with regards to our entertainment but with shows being “On Demand” via high speed/cable connection, we have the ability to watch whatever we want when we want, 24/7/365.[§] Virtually every book has been summarized and the information out there is truly incredible. People read Sparknotes or Wikipedia for a general sense instead of actually reading a given text. And all this technology, which I have often found myself critiquing, unaware that I was using Mantag’s words when I said “Good God, nothing’s connected up,” (46). And though we do not resemble “The Family,” our families’ are not really connecting all that much, so saturated with media and all. We have also suffered from a devastating terrorist attack in this time between readings, as does the society in 451 which was not an awakening as it is implied to be in the book but the opposite resulting in more loss of freedom and more government control, not to mention a dubious war that is ever present (apparent in our world, literal in their’s) and few of us really understand, it is so heavily mediated.

With these facts in mind, I am greatly appreciative that the National Endowment of the Arts provided me this book, free of charge, as part of their Big Read program. Even if it is not as well written or profound or in any other way as good as I remember it being way back when, it is still one of the most meaningful books I have ever read and has become even more culturally relevant now a decade later. For it is Bradbury’s genius that he is both Orwell with his oppressive regime, placing pressure for the government to change its tune, and Huxley, with his citizens being drugged up, mass media saturated indifferents, which is his genius. He takes the two conceptualists and combines them in a way that is realistic and frightening.

[*]King Lear and Hamlet also had a profound impact on me but reading them at about the same time as The Stranger, the plays took on a less significant role in shaping my way of seeing the world. Then when I reread them in college—3xs each in Freshman Lit, Inro to Shakespeare, and a Shakespeare Major Tragedies seminar, they were too close to either Camus (fr. year) or Dante (jr. year) and sophomore year I had yet to experience real tragedy and loss that would call for a more positive outlook on life than existentialism. Also, some of William Blake and P.B. Shelley’s works have greatly influenced me, especially in regards to my religious beliefs, but more or less just gave voice to stuff I was already feeling and thus was not a total 180 like these other books represented when I first read them.
[†] This was just after the 2000 Indecision when shit first started to hit the fan or roll downhill or whatever. In that election, having voted for Nader, as an 18-year old who knew next to nothing, I had no clue how closely we would actually come to resemble the world depicted in these two books. Even now it is hard to believe.
[‡] For instance, no one would have dreamed of paying bills online then while today hardly anyone I know has a checkbook. Also, email is now the preferred way for any and all to communicate, just to throw a few examples out there of the little ways the internet dominates modern existence with a role every bit as important as TV ever was if not more.
[§] I consider this a pretty good thing for the most part, at least in my case. If the mood strikes me to watch a show, I go online and find a specific thing that I want to to watch. I don’t end up watching crap that I don’t really care about just because it is on at the time when the mood strikes. So I actually end up watching less of my entertainment in that I watch only what I want instead of watching and waiting for a particular program. But still the potential for constant and instantaneous viewing is still there.

My Second Favorite Writer (Jonathan Franzen) on My Favorite Writer’s (David Foster Wallace’s) Suicide

In the middle of September, when my literary hero, David Foster Wallace, committed suicide, I was a wreck. I was a wreck before and I have been a wreck since. But I didn’t know the man. Previously, I knew that Franzen and Wallace were friends, but I didn’t know they were best buds. Since learning that, I was anxious to hear what Franzen would say about his amigo’s death by hanging and the life that he lived. Furthermore, I always thought of Franzen as being a much angrier and sadder writer and guy than DFW; in other words, I thought of Franzen as being more like myself. But then DFW died and I felt like I had been deceived briefly and then I felt like I had lost a friend (when in truth I really hadn’t). So this is what Franzen had to say about the suicide before giving a “not-so-dark” account of what it was to DFW’s friend which he says was a “great happiness and privilege and endlessly interesting challenge.” Here it is, curtsey of Adam Begley of The New York Observer:

“And so now this handsome, brilliant, funny, kind Midwestern man with an amazing spouse and a great local support network and a great career and a great job at a great school with great students has taken his own life, and the rest of us are left behind to ask (to quote Infinite Jest), ‘So yo then, man, what’s your story?’

“One good, simple, modern story would go like this: ‘A lovely, talented personality fell victim to a severe chemical imbalance in his brain. There was the person of Dave, and then there was the disease, and the disease killed the man as surely as cancer might have.’ This story is at once sort of true and totally inadequate. If you’re satisfied with this story, you don’t need the stories that Dave wrote—particularly not those many, many stories in which the duality, the separateness, of person and disease is problematized or outright mocked. One obvious paradox, of course, is that Dave himself, at the end, did become, in a sense, satisfied with this simple story and stopped connecting with any of those more interesting stories he’d written in the past and might have written in the future. His suicidality got the upper hand and made everything in the world of the living irrelevant.

“But this doesn’t mean there are no more meaningful stories for us to tell. I could tell you 10 different versions of how he arrived at the evening of Sept. 12, some of them very dark, some of them very angering to me, and most of them taking into account Dave’s many adjustments, as an adult, in response to his near-death of suicide as a late adolescent.”

An Obama Nation

These are notes that I put together in the days leading up to the election and some thoughts from the day of. I am adding to this and trying to get it published. As always, comminents are much appreciated.
T-minus six days until our great and beautiful nation has a peaceful and wonderful regime change, or to be technical begins one, since the change of power doesn’t become official until the twenty something of the next year. We take it for granted, but this doesn’t happen everywhere in the world. Either way, McCain or Obama, I believe it is going to wind up an improvement, but honestly one would prove slightly better while the other will be a huge milestone and a huge improvement.

With that said, this paragraph is something of personal voter history so feel free to skip ahead, but be warned, there are some pertinent voter controversy tidbits that you may want to read. Ever since I have been of voting age, I have witnessed voting controversy, some of these controversies, I have been directly involved in while others I was forced to watch from a distance. Growing up, I was raised to vote as a liberal, and today I am as far left as you can get, the product of a working class, Irish-American background with an old man who said things like “a working class man voting republican is like a chicken voting for the colonel” and a mother who has spent most of her adult life cleaning the homes of wealthy people (including the home of an ex-girlfriend), I have considered myself too poor to vote for the Republican Party. So in 2000, eighteen-years of age, I voted third party (Green) and watched as the party I second (perhaps third considering I am a registered socialist) most identified with celebrate prematurely and have the election stolen away from them. In all my years as an American citizen, 26-years running, I have only been sicker with the democratic system one other time, which came in November 2004, when I had to wait in line for ten and a half hours just to express my constitutionally guaranteed right of voting. The so called “ground zero” of long waits, this “longest line in America” was the most attention paid to my little college until David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech to my graduating class blew up with popularity after the writer’s suicide. On that day, once I was finished up with the frustrating but inspiring experience of casting our votes after thinking that the election was really going to come down to us, suffering through the rain and ridiculous wait, I vowed to never vote again. Immediately after voting, when Fox News was already calling the election a “Bush victory” while other networks were showing some restraint after the 2000 fiasco, I thought I was going to throw up. The next day, in a Shakespeare seminar I was so depressed that I almost skipped, when asked to interpret a portion of a “Macbeth” soliloquy, I responded with basically, “who fucking cares,” and it went over pretty well considering my professor was only a few spots behind me in line and it was no secrete who she was going to vote for, God bless her. But 2006 rolled around, I registered at the last minute, still not really expecting to vote. Plus my congresswoman at the time, up for reelection, a democrat who was bat-shit insane, the now deceased Julia Carson, wasn’t worth the trouble of casting a vote.[*] The night before the election though, a friend of mine who was then in Iraq, fighting for this country that I still naively believe in, told me not to forget to vote. Coming from a combat veteran who was fighting in a war that he doesn’t support, I found my own petty gripes about the democratic system to be insufficient in justifying my staying home and denouncing the system that had previously let me down. So this year, having registered on “Rock the Vote,” I am involved in yet another voter controversy, this time having to do with whether or not I can vote rather than whether or not I choose to. I am afraid that I am one of the many whose voter registration cards has not yet come because my application has gone unprocessed like many other thousands of people who went through that agency. Every four years and some bullshit happens and I am outraged at my American government. Goddamn it, why is it so fucking hard to vote? This is not a good thing and it shouldn’t be stood for, but this too seems to be the rights ploy, making it as difficult as possible for a young, poor voter’s voice to be heard.

* * *

T-minus three. Once I came to terms with the fact that my voter registration card would presumably never come, I got up a little earlier than usual today and took some initiative by going down to the Forsyth County Government Building to register and vote early. With only three hours separating the time I got in line to vote from the time I had to be at work, I was gambling on the efficiency of governmental officials. After the 2004 debacle, I didn’t think this wise, but what was I to do if I wanted to vote? Not too bad this time around, only a two hour wait to cast my ballot. Still infuriating, plus this time I wasn’t surrounded by my nearest and dearest as I was four years ago, though I wasn’t completely alone in the line either, a girl I went to school with was about 15 spaces ahead of me so I did get to talk to her when the winding line snaked just right and we could chat for a couple of minutes until we got too far away from each other and then a few minutes later again converse face-to-face when our spots in line met up. But two hours of wait isn’t nearly as taxing as ten and half. If I would have been in Gambier, I wouldn’t have voted. But I did get to vote and that was that. Now I am done with it and can chill at home watching election coverage on TV while many go out and wait. And wait.

Recently, I heard someone say that “Obama looks presidential while McCain looks like the guy who doesn’t want Barrack Obama to be President.” This turns out to be apt but that seems to be the republican way and it has worked for them in the past. Actually, going back over the past damn near 40-years, it has worked very well with five of the last seven presidents sporting elephants instead of donkeys. Tonight on SNL, McCain made an appearance on “Weekend Update” where he was sort of funny, I guess, in telling of his last minute strategies going into Tuesday, one of which was called the “Old Grandpa” where he basically says “come on people, Barrack Obama has plenty of chances to be President, let me have my turn.” I fail to see how this is all that different from his actual strategy.

* * *

T-minus two. The following is somewhat of a response to a New York Times article from two months ago entitled “The Final Days” written by Peter Baker. According to Baker, the Shrub’s, George W. Bush, legacy depends on McCain winning this election. Though neither likes the other all that much, they found themselves once again connected on the campaign trail. The question that McCain is now asking himself in the Shrub’s 11th hour is whether or not Bush will beat him twice. Win or lose, he is running against a legacy as much as he is a democrat.

McCain knows this. And so does Bush. And so does Obama and most everyone else. Hence the ads that claim McC is a Bush clone and we “can’t afford four more years” and Will Ferrell on SNL doing his W saying “a vote for McCain is a vote for George W. Bush.” For McC’s part, he has been distancing himself as far as humanly possible from the sinking ship that goes way past anything Gore mustered in 2000 with his relationship with Clinton. Unlike Gore though, McC can afford to and he must. Far enough away from the President’s circle of trust and with a well documented history of piss and vinegar candor, McC can criticize W while not seeming like someone who stood back while he screwed up the country or got a blow job from a government intern and then was wishy-washy about it or whatever. Bush, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be all that pissed off about comments like “we’re worse off than we were four years ago,” which is quite the statement since it refers to the ineptitude of a leader from his own party. He lets McC be an asshole and trounce on his Presidency because that's the guy who can validate it. Obama though no doubt went negative (both candidates went negative, of course), at first setting his sites on the past 8-years, and then on the Bush clone himself. Going after the Republican nominee though may give people just the excuse they need to lose interest and stay at home and do bong rips on Election Day instead of taking the trip to the polling station.

Getting people disinterested is therefore going to benefit the GOP just as it did for Bush in 2000 when he nearly lost to the anti-candidate (McCain). But when the anti-candidate has a realistic shot, the candidate begins to do all those things he or she denounced and did not do before that made him or her popular and standout in the first place. We not only get bored of this stuff, we find it uninteresting and toxic to our ideals.[†] Being popular, in other words, barely matters. What is important is maintaining power. This is what Bush has done, to be sure, after all, many admired the man for “sticking with his gut” and not heeding to things like information and deliberation and history that in the days pre-9/11 get in the way of swift, decisive actions. And thus, we have had the Joker for a President from 2001-2008—“I don’t plan, I just do.”[‡] So, of course he found his presidency a “joyous experience,” he was obeying what he thought was a call from God after all. So sure he is with his rightness in his “principles” and his “values” that he doesn’t even toy with the notion that it could theoretically be mistaken. Maybe it’s not God talking to you there good buddy, its Dick Cheney (who may very well be Satan).

* * *

T-minus one. Got around to reading the Rolling Stone piece on Obama from the October 30 issue and it is amazing, actually the second most amazing thing that I have read about the candidate. He is, no doubt, a historic candidate and this is a historic turning point in American history. He has always been popular. He has become even more popular as of recent days because of this whole economic crisis. Iraq has become second fiddle to this whole “Second Great Depression” and McCain handled it poorly. This shift has put Obama over the top with the “meltdown” on Wall Street as well as McCain’s “equally impressive meltdown” by erratically/recklessly handling of the crisis not to mention his smear campaign that resembles Bush’s tactics he was so pissed about back in 2000. But much of the credit needs to go to Obama himself for “displaying precisely the kind of character and judgement we need in a president: renouncing the politics of fear, speaking frankly on the most pressing issues facing the country and sticking to his principles.” He has had a big couple of weeks, of course, with the wear and tear of a presidential campaign, a wedding anniversary, the death of his grandmother, and win or lose, the coming days are going to prove extremely difficult and even bigger than the days leading up to Election Day.

Part of his appeal has to be his sense of outrage as most Americans have been outraged for quite some time. In Philly two weeks ago, he called the financial crisis “a direct result of the greed and irresponsibility that has dominated Washington and Wall Street for years” and this has been the GOP economic philosophy supported by McCain that insists “the market is king” and believes in the value of Trickle Down Economics that says the super wealthy are the most deserving of massive tax breaks. So when McCain tries to change his tune, America is wise to his tactics.

Things are not good right now, the Bush administration has damaged our country in so many ways. Who would want the job of leading this bruised and battered nation? Obama does. And he is rising to the occasion. Pray for it. Pray for us. God help us.

* * *

Underworld. Woke up and went with my female companion while she went and voted, I having already done so. She gets ready. Dresses like a first lady. I wear track pants, a sleeve on my head, and a hooded sweatshirt.

Once I get back home, I pop in the documentary “Out Foxed” to get me syked for the day’s festivities. There in, Jeff Cohen, former Fox News Contributor, says, “Media is the central nervous system of democracy” and when that it doesn’t run properly, neither does the democracy. So the point is, when right wing propaganda is played around the clock, they distort the news and make it next to impossible to make an informed decision. They misrepresent and then when they are contradicted they speak over the ones contradicting them and claim that they are speaking “the truth” and “facts” when they are being deliberately misleading.

The best part of the video is a segment about Jeremy Glick, a young man that lost his dad in the 9/11 attacks who was on the O’Reily Factor and said that Papa Bear used the 9/11 attacks to project his narrow right wing viewpoint. O’Reily, of course “spins” it after he kicks the kid off his program, calling him “out of control” and claiming the he said that Bush had planned the terrorist attacks. When he tried to sue Bill for defamation, he couldn’t because the guy lies so pathologically that it was almost impossible to prove that he knew he was lying.

I watched the election at a friends house, a partisan house, most of the kids there have parents that voted for McCain. Some are obnoxious, others are cool, all are drunk. When states get called, someone colors them in red or blue on poster-boards of the country. Once the election gets called, we toast to champagne.

I called my parents, we talked for hours, it was a great time and great day the country. I couldn’t enjoy most of it though, the female companion and I were fighting.

One of the first commercials after Obama’s speech I notice is for Vagisil. This is history. History books are being written right now. No time in my life has been more exciting. I am drunk. So is Tom Brokaw. What a country. What a fucking country. I end the night looking at white guys with bad tupes while my beautiful redhead sleeps upstairs while Indiana, the state I was born, goes blue.

[*] A few days before, a friend of my dad’s, an Irish-Catholic guy much like my father, who is very racially conscious, and is married to a black woman, went to a JC political rally and was appalled by the congresswoman who he witnessed attempt to leave a limousine to only fall back in which caused her to lose her hairpiece. In this reported bit of damn near slapstick comedy, JC ended up leaving the wig in the car and some guy ran up to her just as she was about to go on stage for some political rally and threw on her crooked hair which she barely noticed and she had some clueless look on her face throughout the entire speech she read off a piece of paper and the whole thing looked terrible but she still got reelected. She died not long after. That is the system working for us.

[†] For a more eloquent and informed explanation, see David Foster Wallace’s Rolling Stone essay “The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys, and the Shrub” on John McCain’s 2000 run for the Republican Presidential Nomination and political apathy among the young.

[‡] But where does he get the balls big enough? Well, as it turns out, his religious convictions have the same stink of absolutes that drive his foreign policy. There is a deep need to protect the capacity to will such certainty in the face of daunting complexity and opposition that tere is no way he is doing anything other than what he truly believes is right. Like a Norman Rockwell painting, he is going to stand up there as everybody listening looks pissed and do what he damn well wants. But when you think about his supporters in the Evangelical Right he looks more like a Manchurian Candidate who is a puppet for some group of constituents who want things a certain way and are unwilling to budge. Facts don’t need to stand in the way of bold decisions of unshakable faith when there is need for “righteous actions” in the form of a “crusade” where “evil” is attacked and “God’s gift” of democracy is spread to all.

Former Bush speech writer and religious nut job Michael Gerson (the one who coined “The War on Terror”) calls the Shrub’s non-negotiation “unrewarded heroism/courage” in “doing the right thing under pressure.” As Mike Conway says, “he believes he’s got a role and he’s doing what God wants him to do.” To go again God is certainly something I not going to advocate but to put all you’re faith into something that just isn’t going to work is to turn a democracy into what W wants to eliminate in the Middle East—an oppressive, sectarian government where church and state are one.