Thursday, January 25, 2007

Woe is Us

Two troubling developments of late:
Ryszard Kapuscinski, who gets my vote as the greatest journalist of the 20th century, passed away yesterday at age 74. Among his books, The Emperor, Imperium, The Soccer War, and Imperium, are to my mind the finest representations of the Third World, life behind the Iron Curtain, and colonial and postcolonial societies. He wrote with detail and compassion, forging a moral conscience through his observations about life and politics in, among other places, Poland, Ethipia, various African countries, and Latin America. A true master is gone.

The other troubling development is a trend of reading observed in New York City and New Jersey: financiers, stock analysts, power brokers, all those for whom capitalism is a fetish and a weapon, reading Confessions of an Economic Hitman. The author describes how he regretfully exploited Third World countries, ripping off some and imposing austerity measures on others for loans. Are these people reading this tome to see the cruelty of capitalism, how globalization makes most of the world suffer at the hands of the West? I cannot imagine this to be the case. I suspect the money folks are getting ideas how to acquire, loan, demand, desire, and deliver cash cows for their privatizing pastures of greed.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Whither the Wither? The Goat in the Machine

As the New Year slouches on its frostbitten feet, worst case scenarios stalk its shadow-- or the shadows of one's thought on the subject. On the literary front, I wonder if we can expect a novel or memoir composed entirely of blogs or e-mail correspondence. Or has this already occurred? I long to see the day when prudish Oxford dictionary makers coin and then impose certain technical terms for computer-related matters and forbid shorthand (the lexical ordinance should be translated into legal justice too; for example, anyone using "lol" would have their forehead branded with that repugnant abbreviation). Oh, yes, speaking of faith and lack thereof, one can now download the entire King James Bible onto a cell phone from a firm in Australia, "translated" into cyber-speak. I hope the Divine concocts another Babelesque scenario for these ugly, errant human beings...Martin Scriblerus

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Common Sense: Mainstream?

Richard Dawkins is an atheist. That may not be remarkable. What's remarkable is that he's written a best seller ("The God Delusion") about atheism. Not just about atheism. About how religion is full of nonsense.

At Amazon UK, Dawkins' book is number one. At Amazon US, number two. And then there's Sam Harris who wrote another best seller, "The End of Faith". Read about it at Alternet:

What's going on here?

Call it backlash. That's what happens when reasonable folks declare they've had enough. Not so much that they've had enough of religion, as that they've had enough of the notion that religion cannot be questioned. Enough of hearing that if you question religion, you're "intolerant".

Questioning religion is not the same as finding oneself aghast at the hipocrisy evident when, say, the anti-gay preacher turns out to be gay. That sort of thing is incidental to the enterprise of religion. The real meat of it seems to be: if you, as a religionist, ask that we accept as truth an obviously irrational fantasy (virgin birth, virgins in heaven for bombers); then why do you also expect to be included in rational discussions about how we run our society? You can't cite irrational fantasies as foundational, and at the same time intercede in rational policy for the rest of us.

If best seller lists indicate anything about public sentiment, it may be time to celebrate an awakening. One where common sense people feel free to let the world know they are not buying the hokum. Where they feel free to examine so-called "faith" in the light of day. Where, for instance, they don't have to be labeled intolerant for questioning intolerance.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Biblio-Dialogue: Courtesy of Martin Scriblerus with a Nod to Borges & Jabes

A: "Were it possible, books would be born in the mind and reproduce their volumes so that a library would take root there and infinite inner space would create for itself a master text from all constituent volumes."

B: "But doesn't that occur all the time?"

A: "How do you mean?"

B: "We write books with one part of our mind constantly; the other part conspires--and succeeds--in ensuring that each composed piece is erased."

A: "So there are books without paper, pages, bindings, and whatnot?"

B: "But of course. Within the Book of Life is the Book of Lives and within the Book of Lives are the Minds in whose Realms the activity of publishing and self-perishing occurs simultaneously."

A: "What are these books about?"

B: "If we only knew. The mystery grows like all of our miseries. There must be a connection. Were we only fortunate to save just one book from any one person's mind."

A: "If only..."
Martin Scriblerus

Saturday, January 06, 2007

why the business traveler reads bukowski

for starters, his poems are just the right size
for a short hop flight. much better than, say,
anna karenina. in a half hour wait (not including delays)
you still feel like you’ve gotten somewhere
moving with him through exotic zip codes
and several soul-crushing jobs.

i guess we’re lured by the romance
of such desultory days, maybe headed to the diner
or to santa anita (where I’ve never been,
and wouldn’t know how to go about even placing a bet
but I picture a parking lot of red dust, palms standing lonely
in the distance like desert prophets,
sun making a yoke of the horizon)
or to the corner store for an impromptu beer,
any of these preferable to waiting for the 7:35 to san jose,
another expensed cab-ride to an oatmeal conference room,
with its inoffensive art, those phones and flipcharts,
all those rehearsed handshakes you’ll face.

others find nobility in his demotic concerns;
making rent, or the six horse in the fourth race,
or the egyptian eyes of the night waitress
at a diner you would never really set foot in.

me, i just like the way all those lower case letters feel
so modest and cool on my eyes, after rummaging in my bag
for the right powerwords for my presentation.

Mark Aiello

Friday, January 05, 2007

Saddam's Grisly End: a Footnote to Disaster?

Saddam Hussein is executed in Iraq, a grisly affair with Shi'a taunts and the ex-President cursing Persians and Americans to the end. Was he brave (some said)? Were they hasty (some say)?

None of it matters. The real news is, the death of Iraq's ex-ruler is a footnote to the everyday horrors now gripping that shattered land. Bush, trailing misinformation and micalculation in his propwash, has turbo-driven us (and Iraqis) into a policy and military disaster the likes of which we've not seen--and are not likely to see the end of any time soon.

Many of us, (including this writer) regret having trusted Bush even briefly when he said they'd find WMDs. What were we thinking (smarting from 9-11)? Now, facing the worst foreign policy blunder in American history, can we find any good in it?

A cynic would say that if you keep the Islamists roiled, and fighting one another, then they have less time to hatch plots to nuke us here. But that cannot be an excuse for the wretched failures on the ground in Iraq.

Another cynic might say it isn't about fighting terrorism at all--or even trying to win on the ground. It's all about war contracts for Halliburton and oil profits for Bush cronies.

Is it too simple to say that? I've noted often that when someone's behavior becomes inexplicable, then selfishness can help explain it. And Bush's behavior has gone way beyond inexplicable.

With Iraq, we measure the depth of Bush's failure by the lack of real news in the capture, trial and execution of the enemy's leader: things are much too dire in Iraq for that to even matter. Observing that peculiar fact, we can hark back to the day in November of 2000 when we watched in sick horror as the Alito court appointed Bush Leader of the Free World. We may have felt then that someone had snatched our country from us in the night and left us with a changeling nation; one where even the pretense of competence and fair play were dismissed with a shrug. And now we find ourselves steeped in the awfulness we suspected Bush would bring.

Only Saddam is gone. The war, and Bush's absolute failure as a President, remain.


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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

But of Course! On the Concourse, the Goncourts!

Picked up PAGES FROM THE GONCOURT JOURNALS (nybr classics) recently and am delving into its dastardly abyss of gilded gossip and winnowing wit. The brothers Goncourt, who often make the barbituate-popping, gynecologist twin brothers in David Cronenberg's film DEAD RINGERS (and their real-life counterparts to twin the twain) seem a mere affinity group, write in both a singular and collective voice. They lampoon and lavish praise on their literary demi-monde, offering astute and often mean-spirited, schizophrenic-seeming critiques of their friends (Flaubert gets the most praise and damnation, almost simultaneously). Edmond and Jules write about dinner parties, venereal disease, boredom, boors, discontent with the writing trade, which become subjects in themselves or trajectories to launch into other subjects. They typically insert aphorisms about middle-class etiquette and their delicate, dark moods so filled with comic despair they come off at times like proto-Cioran tidbits. A skewed and terrifically entertaining glimpse into mid-19th century Parisian literary life, these journal entries go well with absinthe, opium, cheap wine, and syphilis.