All things weird and wonderful, 42

28 07 2014

Well, this is a no-brainer:

h/t Cute Overload





Gotta keep bars on all our windows

27 07 2014

Israel is us or, shall I say, US, as told by Jon Snow:

I feel guilty in leaving, and for the first time in my reporting life, scarred, deeply scarred by what I have seen, some of it too terrible to put on the screen.

It is accentuated by suddenly being within sumptuously appointed Israel. Accentuated by the absolute absence of anything that indicates that this bloody war rages a few miles away. A war that the UN stated yesterday has reduced 55 per cent of  Gaza’s diminutive land to a no-go area.

Go tell that to the children playing in the dusty streets or the families forced out of  shelters like the UN school compound, to forage for food beneath shells and missiles.

In and out of an Israeli transit hotel for a few hours in Ashkelon, an hour from the steel crossing-point from Gaza, there were three half-hearted air raid warnings. Some people run, but most just get on with what they are doing.

They are relatively safe today because  Israel is the most heavily fortified country on earth. The brilliant Israeli-invented, American-financed shield is all but fool-proof; the border fortifications, the intelligence, beyond anything else anywhere.

This brilliant people is devoting itself to a permanent and ever-intensifying expenditure to secure a circumstance in which there will never be a deal with the Palestinians. That’s what it looks like, that is what you see. It may not be true.

The pressure not to go on this way is both internationally and domestically a minority pursuit.

He notes the security demands and commands from behind windows and walls, disembodied voices demonstrating control over voiceless bodies:

“Feet apart!” they said. “Turn! No, not that way – the other!” Then, in the next of five steel security rooms I passed through – each with a red or green light to tell me to stop or go – a male security guard up in the same complex above me shouted “Take your shirt off – right off. Now throw it on the floor… Pick it up, now ring it like it was wet” (it was wet, soaked in sweat).

From entering the steel complex until I reach the final steel clearing room where I held the baby, I was never spoken to face to face, nor did I see another human beyond those who barked the commands through the bullet-proof windows high above me.

Is this not how we in the US approach the rest of the world? We send drones over deserts and bombs into buildings and we sit in our sumptuously appointed country pointedly ignoring what we do and how we are.





Summersongs: XTC

23 07 2014

Moar music!

Yes, I’ll continue with my Listen to the music series, but I’m feeling a bit. . . limited by the one-way trek through my cd collection. So why loosen things up a bit, and gambol thru some songs of the season.

XTC’s Skylarking is, to me, a summer album. The first single was released in 1986, smack dab in the middle of my college years, and tho’ the album didn’t come out until the fall, my (mis?) memories are of listening to this in the green months of Madison.

The most well-known song may be “Dear God”, because in 1986 in the United States it was controversial to put out a single mildly criticizing/questioning the Big Kahuna. It wasn’t until I brought home my own copy of Skylarking that I realized that I got an alternate version: “Dear God” wasn’t included.

On the one hand, I was pissed, because even though the song wasn’t that great, I liked it well enough, and I didn’t like that it had been removed. On the other hand, I probably laid out 8 bucks for the new vinyl and wasn’t about to shell out even more money just for one song.

Singles? No.

Anyway, the songs that tie me most closely to that time are “Summer’s Cauldron/Grass” and “That’s Really Super, Supergirl”. I could never figure out Andy Partridge’s attitude toward the Supergirl—was he being nasty or pouty?—but I thought, get over it. In fact, I might have liked the song just for the attitude it inspired in me.

Listen to the lovely:

And enjoy the smirk:

Bonus fun fact: I recall Andy Partridge saying in an interview that all Englishmen had two of the following three characteristics: had bad teeth, were bald, were gay. He noted that he was bald and had bad teeth.

Don’t know why I remember that, but I do.





Everybody knows the dice are loaded, 2

22 07 2014

Ariella Cohen, on “poor doors”:

Extell, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side asked the city to approve a plan for a 33-story luxury condo with a separate entry for the tenants residing in the publicly subsidized rent-stabilized units, which will be segregated from the rest of the building into a section facing the street while the luxury units will face the Hudson River.

This address isn’t the only one with citizen-subsidized egress segregation, but the overall numbers remain low, if only because, as Cohen notes, it’s hard to retrofit old buildings with separate-because-unequal entrances.

Still, one gets the sense that if it were possible, it would be more popular among the penthouse set. David Von Spreckelsen, a poor-door developer, defends the tender sensibilities of the wealthy living in tax-subsidized mixed-income housing:

I think it’s unfair to expect very high-income homeowners who paid a fortune to live in their building to have to be in the same boat as low-income renters, who are very fortunate to live in a new building in a great neighborhood.

Take it away, Jean-Jacques:

[I]f one sees a handful of powerful and rich men at the height of greatness and fortune while the mob grovels in obscurity and misery, it is because the former prize the things they enjoy only to the extent that the others are deprived of them, and because, without changing their position, they would cease to be happy, if the people ceased to be miserable.

~~~

It’s tempting to end on Rousseau, but Cohen makes an important point in her ending: such segregation is not inevitable. It was enabled by policy, and can be undone by policy.





Little earthquakes

22 07 2014

Ann Patchett writes lovely characters.

Well, huh, that could be misleading, implying that all of her characters are lovely. They are not.

Let me try again: Ann Patchett is a lovely writer of characters.

Yes, better.

Even when the characters are only briefly sketched, or when she chooses to hide aspects of the character from the reader, she gives you enough that you want to learn more about these people.

Dr. Swenson in State of Wonder is, shall we say, an obdurate personality, bound up in her own understanding of the world and impatient-to-dismissive of alternative views. I found her to be admirable, as well as the kind of person who terrifies me. How does someone get to be that way? What is it like to live utterly without neuroses?

You could put a label on it, I guess, call her some variant of -pathology, but that would take away her humanness, reduce her to that pathological label.

In any case, Patchett doesn’t give us much to go on—here’s Annika Swenson, now deal with it—but she gives us (or me, at any rate) enough to make her a real human being, to make me wonder about her.

Patchett is generally able to make all of her characters, supporting and main, human. I was a bit frustrated with the main character in Patron Saint of Liars—or maybe I was frustrated with Patchett’s withholding of information about her—but I never doubted she existed. (In fact, she’s one of the inspirations for the main character in my second novel, who, like Rose , leaves an apparently decent life to live her own life.)

I do have to admit, however, that the opera singer in Bel Canto, Roxane Cross, never did become real to me. It’s not that she was a cardboard character or that I disbelieved that someone like her could exist, but she never came into view.

A lot of people loved that book, but I did not. It shared, with Run, Patchett’s greatest weakness as a writer: plot.

Now, I didn’t have a problem with the set-up of Bel Canto—a gala is taken over by militants—nor with the  suspension of time in which the hostages and militants alike subsequently live: Patchett excels at setting the stage and the letting her characters loose.

No, the problem was with the resolution. Patchett is fine at setting things in motion, but not so fine at bringing them to a close, and the bigger the push at the beginning, the rockier the ending. Had I been more drawn to Cross, (as I was with the characters in State of Wonder, which suffers from a similar dynamic) I might have been able to walk over those rocks with her, but I wasn’t, and thus was left stranded.

The lack of realness in many of the characters in Run meant that the reader was left mainly to the plot, which was. . . not good. Patchett is generally willing to let things ride for long periods, but in Run, she kept jamming up her characters with unnecessary plotting, with the overdrawn happenings crowding out the characters.

Which is why I think her best novel is The Magician’s Assistant. She sets events in motion, and then just lets them go; what plot developments there are arise from the characters themselves, so instead of these events pulling us, er, me, out of the story of their lives, they drew me further in.

Maybe because, like Taft (a much better novel than its name implies) and Patron Saint, the events are smaller, arising out of her characters lives rather than intruding upon them.

I know: the line between “arising out of” and “intruding upon” can be arbitrary, depending on whether you think a couple of runaways showing up at a bar or long-estranged family arriving to visit the grave of a recently-dead son & brother is organic rather than artificial.

Or maybe Patchett is just better at revealing the beauty in the ordinary than the extraordinary.

In any case, I prefer the ordinary set-ups, largely because Patchett doesn’t have to strain to move her characters into place for the denouement: they move there of their own accord and, in that end, we are left with the people themselves.





Everybody knows the dice are loaded, 1

20 07 2014

Yeah, a new series! On the rationale and ravages of capitalism! Whoo-hoo!

Okay, most of the time it will just be quick hits, highlighting (mostly) where the pointy head of the stick pokes through the socio-economic skin and (sometimes) efforts to break that stick. And every one in a while I’ll try to stitch these bits together in an attempt to make my own sense of where we are and where we’re going.

Yep, there are others out there manifestly more qualified than I am, who’ve made long and deep study of political economy (and who I’ll crib from—with credit!—when I remember to look as needed), but I want to try to puzzle my way through this by thinking politically, not economically.

That’s some artificial line-drawin’ I’m doing there, I know, but I’m drawing in pencil, so it’s okay.

So: onward!

~~~

These two are pretty self-explanatory:

*Paul Carr: New San Francisco billboard warns workers they’ll be replaced by iPads if they demand a living wage

(h/t karoli, Crooks & Liars)

*David Ludwig, Obama Unveils New Initiative to Encourage Private Funding of Public Infrastructure

(h/t Paul Constant, The Stranger)

~~~

A bit of comment:

*Joe Pinsker, The ‘Facebook Cop’ and the Implications of Privatized Policing

Pinsker is apparently an optimist, because he concludes In all likelihood, the cop Facebook is funding will likely exert a positive force on the area, checking in on wayward kids and improving emergency evacuation procedures.

Which is an odd conclusion, given that immediately following this he notes private entities whose objectives diverge from the public’s can apply the law as they see fit. Who does Facebook’s security team pay attention to? Who do they ignore?

And I would add: What of our rights against their actions?

*Brendan Kiley, In Addition to Those 14,000 Layoffs, Microsoft is Tightening the Screws on Its Vendors and A Note from the Trenches of Microsoft Vendors and Permatemps

Temporary nation! Whoo-hoo! As a worker-mercenary myself, I can only confirm the delights of livin’ the free labor life—tho’ I must admit that I’m not completely free, union-bound as I am.

*Megan Rose Dickey, How Much Uber Drivers Really Make

Surprise: not as much as promised.

The real reason, tho’, that I picked this one out, is that the phrase “sharing economy” makes my teeth itch.

When Uber and Lyft and Airbnb and TaskRabbit are all grouped into some kind of happy-clappy “sharing economy”—sharing! it’s good! didn’t your mother teach you to share?—what is oh-so-gracefully elided is that these are really examples of the fee-for-service brokerage economy.

Uber, et. al., are brokers: they broker the relationship between provider and client/customer and take a fee for that service.

One the one, capitalist, hand, this isn’t bad: people are getting paid; on the other, socialist, one, these kinds of services demonstrate how far capitalist relations have penetrated and commodified human relations.

~~~

Deserving much comment, which I may or may not eventually get around to providing:

Kathleen Geier, Sarah Jaffe and Sheila Bapat, What Do the Recent Supreme Court Decisions Mean for Women’s Economic Security?

Esther Kaplan, Losing Sparta

~~~

How to fight back: Together! Solidarity!

Ansel Herz, Anti-Foreclosure Protesters Block Sheriff’s Eviction of Disabled Veteran in West Seattle

He will probably end up losing his home, because the law favors the house.

Still, it’s good to fight back, if only to remind ourselves we can fight back.





O the dragons are gonna fly tonight

17 07 2014

I.

I understand the difference between unintentionally and intentionally killing someone, I do.

I understand that Hamas fires off rockets with the intention of killing Israelis, military & civilian alike, and I understand that the Israeli Defense Force fires missiles into Gaza with the intention of killing Hamas fighters, and in so doing, unintentionally kills civilians.

I get it: the purposes are not the same.

But.

When you are aware that your intentional actions will lead to large numbers of unintentional deaths, well, then it’s hard to see how much that lack of intention matters to the unintentionally dead, or to the families of the unintentionally dead.

Or to those of us witnessing the bodies of the unintentionally dead.

II.

If the Malaysian airliner was shot down unintentionally, accidentally, does that make it okay?

III.

I understand, really I do, the thinking behind the statement that Hamas are responsible for the civilian dead in Gaza: were they not to insist upon firing rockets into Israel, it would not be necessary for Israel to fire missiles into Gaza.

But the fact remains: Israel fires missiles into Gaza.

The fact remains: Israelis missiles killed those boys on the beach.

IV.

You may argue, if you wish, both that Israel is morally responsible in its attempts to limit civilian casualties and that Hamas is completely responsible for civilian casualties.

You may argue that, if you wish.

But if Israel is not responsible, then how is it responsible?

V.

I don’t know what I would do, how I would think, if I lived in Tel Aviv, Gaza, Hebron, or Jerusalem, if it were me, transplanted from my junior one-bedroom in Brooklyn to an apartment in Israel or the Occupied Territories.

If it were me, would I call those territories occupied, which they are, or would I call them Palestine, which is what some want them to become?

(Judea & Samaria? No: it is still me.)

How would I understand Israelis, Palestinians? the soldiers, the militants, the terrorists? the politicians? the underpaid academics, the cafe-goers and olive farmers and scientists and tour guides and those for whom the land is their home, their everything?

The kids, the families, anyone at a beach in July: that I understand.

VI.

From where I sit, in my junior one-bedroom in Brooklyn, it is clear: this must stop!

But of course. How obvious is that observation. How useless it is.

How many people disagree, by agreeing to its extremes; who seek for it to continue, without end, until it all can be finally ended.

Who don’t care what it takes to get to that final end, how much and how many will be destroyed.








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