"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen

"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont

"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister

"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Saturday, March 27, 2004

I'm still in shock from the Lorrie Moore reading that finished an hour ago. Moore is a bit of a recluse and hasn't made an appearance in Chicago that I know of since I became aware of her in '98, even though she teaches creative writing a short distance away at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her collection of short stories, Birds of America, was published that year and ever since I've had a literary infatuation with her. (As have many others. A friend told me Moore had a stalker problem, which might help explain her reclusiveness. The woman who introduced her tonight mentioned that Dave Eggers said Moore was his first "literary infatuation." "First" suggests he's moved on, whereas Moore is a thousand times the writer Eggers will ever be.) Moore hasn't put out a book since, a long time given Birds of America's critical success, but she has done some reviews for the New York Review of Books.

Moore read from a novel she's working on and ... it was indescribably mind-blowing. The only description or analogy that even approaches conveying how powerfully good it was is that it was a face-melter. In the film School of Rock, Jack Black's character uses the term to describe an exceptional guitar solo a la Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix, etc. He's referencing, of course, the scene in the Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Nazis open the Pandora's Box-like Ark, thereby unleashing furious bursts of spiritual energy which wreak havoc on the troops and which melt the faces of the officers standing nearby. Yeah, it was that good.

Moore appeared with novelist Jane Hamilton who had the unenviable job of going second.

You could tell she knew what a shitty spot she was in; it was a capacity crowd in a giant ballroom of a fancy downtown hotel. Everyone in the place had to be thinking the same thing: "How do you follow that?"

However, her situation was one that a character in a story by either of them could easily find themselves. They both subject their characters to humorously awful situations and, more in the case of Moore I think, their characters deal with adversity with gallows humor. This probably worked to Hamilton's advantage and she appeared to be chuckling in disbelief as she approached the podium.

She began by gushing a little over Moore's reading and called it "dazzling." Not a bad start. She then went into an anecdote about how she had read what she was reading tonight at a previous event as if she was reassuring the audience - and herself? - that, you know, it's just like riding a bicycle. She's done it a million times before. And she did hold her own, fortunately. She read a bit from Disobedience and then a hilarious short nonfiction piece about a piano recital she gave as a kid. Young Hamilton dreaded giving the recital, imagined different schemes for getting out of it, and finally ended up turning what should have been a seven-minute long performance into a forty-seven minute long butchering.

I wish I could remember what Moore read but it was so fucking funny, so fucking powerful, so fucking original that I can't other than it had to do with a naive, young woman who was taking a creative writing class at a Midwestern college.
Social progress occurs as often as not because an unappealing crank decides to take action about something that is pissing her off.

Just this past week, amateur lawyer Dr. Michael A. Newdow applied a verbal smackdown to Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist.

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST: Do we know -- do we know what the vote was in Congress apropos of divisiveness to adopt the under God phrase?

MR. NEWDOW: In 1954?


MR. NEWDOW: It was apparently unanimous. There was no objection. There's no count of the vote.

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST: Well, that doesn't sound divisive.


MR. NEWDOW: That's only because no atheist can get elected to public office.


CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST: The courtroom will be cleared if there's any more clapping. Proceed, Mr. Newdow.
The wonderful Bookslut weblog won a "Bloggie" award for Best Topical Blog (Weblogs with a definite topic other than general/personal, music, politics, computers and technology, or weblogs).

Jessa is one of those rare people who makes you feel completely at ease when hanging out and makes you feel like you've known each other for a long time. As the Bloggie voters must have appreciated, she has an omnivorous curiosity and wicked sense of humor which just adds to the charm. Here's to ya, Ms. Crispin!

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Hey ma! I can see your house from up here.
Practicing Catholic Garry Wills gives a highly critical review of Mel Gibson's lucrative Passion of Christ - the highest grossing R-rated film of all time - in the new issue of The New York Review of Books.
That mood [of persecution] is reflected in the large numbers of people who have praised the movie by attacking its critics. This may be at the root of the "religious" experience so many receive from the film. These people feel persecuted, like Gibson, victimized by a secular world or by unfaithful fellow Christians. The chosen groups Gibson showed the movie to at the outset included members of the Legion of Christ, an ultraconservative group that feels its fellow Catholics have deserted the true faith —the Legion is even included in the movie's closing credits.
Wills goes on to explore Catholicism's Wahabis and the "black hole at the center of the institutional [key word for Wills] Catholic Church."

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Urge Overkill
Yes, before the Israelis assassinated him, Sheik Ahmed Yassin was the founder and spiritual leader of a powerful organization which has the destruction of the state of Israel as one of its main goals. As such, Sheik Yassin was a leading "enabler" of the murder of civilians by suicide bombing, most of which emanate from Hamas.

Still, the guy was a quadriplegic. It's as if a rival scientist used a helicopter to launch missiles at Steven Hawking as he slowly motored out of church.

Not surprisingly, all of the region's Arab leaders pointed out Sheik Yassin was a cripple confined to a wheelchair.
Even Iraq weighed in, with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most important Shiite cleric, and Foreign Minister Hoshar Zubairy separately condemning the killing.

Ayatollah Sistani, who enjoys vast respect among Iraq's majority Shiites, on Monday chastised Israel in a statement and called for Arab and Islamic unity and "liberation of the usurped land."
Israeli officials say it was to help cover their withdrawal from Gaza, which Hamas will take control of. Bush administration officials say it will make cooperation with Egypt and Jordan more difficult.

Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, "Israel's army chief suggested Tuesday that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah would eventually be assassinated by Israel."
The International
A redeeming feature of the New York Times is the weekly column On Language penned by William Safire. This past Sunday he wrote about the nonargument over "outsourcing":
Forget international. This soporific modifier has been rejected by naming committees not on ideological grounds but because it is too long a word to fit in a one-column headline. It remains in old and revered institutions, like the International Monetary Fund and the International House of Pancakes, but is not being used in the newest nomenclature.
The International Socialist Organization comes to mind. They've been compared to Star Trek's Borg, the cybernetic species whose MO is to "assimilate" other species into the "collective."

The Swedish sextet The (International) Noise Conspiracy rocks pretty hard.
Casting Is the Key
The always informative, always interesting Cup of Chicha reports that David Cronenberg will direct the adaptation of Martin Amis's novel London Fields.

Much will depend on who is cast as super-yob* Keith Talent and maneating, femme fatale Nicola Six. James Diedrick writes in his fair and comprehensive book Understanding Martin Amis:
Exhaustion is, in fact, the unifying theme of the novel's allegory. "Over the gardens and the mansion-block rooftops, over the windowboxes and TV aerials, over Nicola's skylight and Keith's dark tower (looming like a calipered leg dropping from heaven), the air gave an exhausted and chastened sigh" (229). The sun itself is no longer able to mount the sky ("quite uncanny, the sun's new trajectory, and getting lower all the time" (309) . Under its weakening light, moral energies are flagging. Sympathy, tenderness, belief, meaning, and, of course, love are all collapsing. This exhaustion extends right down to the low comedy of Keith's petty criminality. Consider this description of what he and his cohorts discover when they enter a house they intend to rob: "it was all burgled out. Indeed, burgling, when viewed in Darwinian terms, was clearly approaching a crisis. Burglars were finding that almost everywhere had been burgled" (248). When Nicola, noting that she has been a male fantasy figure for fifteen years, says "it really takes it out of a girl," she is contributing her voice to this theme as well.
* yob - British slang for a loutish male (an inversion of the word "boy")

Monday, March 22, 2004

Going Nuclear

The Sharon government jumped the shark by assassinating Sheik Ahmed Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of Hamas. He was also a leading symbol of Palestinian resistance to the occupation.

I'm guessing here, but two recent developments might have provoked the Israelis into "going nuclear." One, Arab countries are being forced to move down the road towards being democratic societies. Sooner or later, the Israelis will have to make concessions and they are beginning to see the writing on the wailing wall.

Two - and remember this is speculation - Israeli policy makers finally watched Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic Passion of Christ, saw how incredibly well it's doing in the U.S. and heard President "Jesus Freak" Bush say he's looking forward to seeing it and concluded, well looks like we're going to be on our own again. Or maybe the film prompted memories of how anti-Semitic the West can be.

If the ensuing back and forth between the two sides leads to the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank, it won't be false to suggest that Hitler and the Nazis somehow managed to infect Jews with the fascist virus. If this nightmare scenario does occur, the American ruling class will be among those most implicated and most complicit.

Anyhoo, I wonder who Donald Trump will fire next. I hope it's that totally fake, kiss-ass, business school prick what's-his-name.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Mystery Solved?
Many people including myself don't understand what L.A.-based, Salon TV/cultural critic Heather Havrilesky sees in The O.C.

Maybe it has something to do with 27-year-old Josh Schwartz being the youngest producer in network history to create and produce his own hour-long series. "The show is the season's highest-ranked new drama in the coveted 12-17 and 18-34 age brackets."
Jedi Mind Trick
The most murderous organization in the U.S. today is a prison gang called the Aryan Brotherhood (or the Brand). The New Yorker's David Grann wrote about them in a recent issue. It's not on the website, but they do supply a Q&A with Grann:
Part of the reason for the gang’s success is that its members are simply incredibly cunning. The gang selects only the most violent and capable individuals to become "made" members—individuals who are, as one former gang member put it, "master manipulators."
later in the Q&A:
Q: Some prisoners are able to charm women on the outside into helping them. What motivates these women?

A: It is hard to say, precisely. One woman who had no criminal record—and who later stood by as a gang member murdered a deputy sheriff in her presence—claimed that she had Stockholm syndrome. I think that in some cases the women are drug users who are able to get a free supply on the outside from the gang’s contacts. More often, though, I think these are lonely individuals who seem to be seduced by the leaders, just as inmates who come into prison are seduced into killing and stabbing for the gang.
Grann reports an Assistant U.S. Attorney has indicted forty members of the Brand and is seeking the death penalty for twenty-three of them in an effort to cripple the organization.
The Culture Wars
Hardcore Puritans will never best Mammon, despite the campaign-season noises they make. Although they probably are oblivious of the development, their worst fears are being realized: extremists on the other side of the spectrum are getting organized and political. Is that a sexy Satan I spy milling about in the crowd?
Guilty as Charged
I often read the New York Times because it's convenient to pick one up at one of the many nearby Starbuckses. (Sometimes, I'll buy one at the cornershop "Bucktown Market" and chat with the friendly, nerdy Indian proprietor. He's getting married in May, mocking my early-thirties, single status). One of the numerous drawbacks to the self-styled newspaper of record is the "All the News That's Fit to Print" box they arrogantly place at the top of the front page. A daily insult to the readership.

Right-wing Punk
"Punks will tell me, 'Punk and capitalism don't go together,' " Mr. Rizzuto said. "I don't understand where they're coming from. The biggest punk scenes are in capitalist countries like the U.S., Canada and Japan. I haven't heard of any new North Korean punk bands coming out. There's no scene in Iran.
Rizzuto is in a way wrong regarding Iran. Is he aware of Marjane Satrapi? If Rizzuto was curious about North Korean punk bands, a good place to inquire would be North Korea Zone.

Taking it to another level, Rizzuto is rebelling against Punk's leftist tilt. The Sex Pistols were nihilists. The Clash were leftist. The Ramones had "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg."

In politics, you have the Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra. Currently, as the Times reports, "Around 200 liberal and left-oriented punk bands have come together under the banner of Punkvoter, a coalition founded by Mike Burkett - a k a Fat Mike - of the band NOFX, with the stated goal of organizing punk fans to vote against President Bush in November. Mr. Burkett started Punkvoter with $100,000 of his own money and has recruited crossover bands like Green Day and the Foo Fighters to his cause."

Exceptions include Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone, a proud Republican before he died in 2001, and right-wing skinheads who are more prevalent in Europe I would guess. Racists here are drawn to Country.

Maybe Rizutto is rebelling against punk's anti-American, anti-conservative bias. He's anti-Punk Conventional Wisdom.
Ian MacKaye, a founding member of the influential punk bands Minor Threat and Fugazi, suggested that such fears might be overstated. As an outspoken "straight edge" punk - one who does not drink or do drugs - Mr. MacKaye was sometimes mistaken for a conservative (he's not) and saw his message of sobriety seized on in the early 1990's by conservative Christian punk bands. Mr. MacKaye likened the punk aesthetic to furniture. "Once it's built you can put it into any house," he said. "You can be a lefty and go to Ikea or you can be a right-winger and go to Ikea." Punk, he said, "is a free space where anything can go - a series of actions and reactions, and people rebelling and then rebelling against rebelling.
Dave Grohl, frontman for the Foo Fighters, has a sublime sense of humor. The Times allowed him to write about what he's listening to. And he reports another reason to get out of bed in the morning, another reason not to take a shotgun and blow your head off: the Pixies are back.