Archive for August, 2010



Have any of you made the mistake of buying one of these TVs? We own two. The one “we” use (meaning the resident adults in the household) takes its own sweet time coming on. There are all kinds of pretty screens, blues and pinks and stripes and kind of chalky cloudy tones, which morph and fade in and out and sometimes become a blinding white light that I trust does not mean I’m about to meet my maker. We actually wondered tonight if we should play a game: we’ll watch another episode of West Wing if we’re still awake when the TV actually comes on.

The one downstairs, for the “children,” seems to be working fine. We’ve considered trading them, when nobody’s home. Then we can watch TV when we want to, and when they come up and complain about theirs we can berate them: “What? You broke the TV? Well, you’ll have to pay for it.”

Probably couldn’t do it with a straight face, though, which means we’d never get away with it.

Guess we’ll probably have to buy a new one, although the joy we feel when it does come on is hard to replicate in day-to-day living. Plus I don’t want to spend money on a TV; I want to buy clothes on sale at Garnet Hill and those slouchy black suede boots at Macy’s.



Politics, Religion and the Truth

Apparently the willful ignorance of MFA continues to spread. We could spend a lot of time talking about the failures of our educational systems — the results being a citizenry who for the most part lack both a sense of responsibility about being informed and an ability to differentiate between a reputable news source (New York Times, Washington Post) and a disreputable one (Fox News, [irony alert] random blogs on the internet, Rush Limbaugh). We are also surrounded by people who harbor a general philosophy which prioritizes emotion and faith belief over fact. Another discussion could ensue as to whether the demise of so many reputable news sources is a cause of this or an effect; I would venture to propose the latter.

Unfortunately for all of us, politicians have decided that they are better served exploiting these shortcomings than dealing with all of us honestly and informatively. The short attention spans encouraged by network news programs, papers like USA Today, and the proliferation of sound bytes over substance only make things worse.

Meanwhile, 46% of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim and that he is responsible for both the failings of the financial system and the TARP program designed to bail it out.

To the first belief, I ask, who cares? and to the second, how hard are “you” working to remain in the dark about the actual happenings of the country in which you live?

The fact that he must repeatedly emphasize that he is a Christian is disturbing in a country that was founded on the belief that religion and governance should have nothing to do with each other.

In a related story, many continue to protest the proposed building of a mosque in the phantom shadow of the World Trade Center. Again, was this country not founded on the very principle of free practice of any, or no, religion? The same people that make the argument that “guns don’t kill people, people do” can’t seem to translate that into the possibility that all of Islam might not be the villain here. We should blame all of Islam for 9/11 like we blame Christians for the Crusades or all Germans for the Holocaust?

Those freedoms that are villified among practicers of radical Islam are those which we as a country should value and treasure and protect most vehemently: to live where and how we choose within the confines of universal principles of right and wrong; to worship (or not) the God of our choosing; to elect our own leaders; for women to work and drive and vote and marry who they desire and live without fearing death by stoning or clitoral circumcision or being sold into slavery or forced into marriage at the age of 11; in addition to that we need to recognize a moral obligation to treat all citizens of the world with the dignity and fairness and respect which we accord each other.

We fail at this, miserably, over and over again. We should all be ashamed.


Acquired ADD

Even if our children are not born with it, chances are that all of the available distractions provided for them through technology will create it.

My son was watching Romeo and Juliet the other night while texting with his friends. He stays up until 4 a.m. — when I noticed this the other night I went downstairs to see why his light was still on — on the way past I noticed that the computer in the kitchen was open to facebook, downstairs the TV had a video game paused, and he was sitting on his bed playing his guitar and texting a friend. No matter what they say about teenagers and their unusual biorhythms, this can’t be helping. When we were teenagers we stayed up late, but not that late — there wasn’t anything to do. What happens to the body’s need for sleep, to digest and order and process the information taken in during the day?

Meanwhile, even for the rest of us living and sleeping in a more conventional pattern, what used to be called “down” time is now time you’re expected to use keeping up with every email and phone call and text that comes in. What happens to opportunities to think? process? imagine?

This can’t be a good thing.


Thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from

Except now it’s 99, and there’s still nothing to watch.

How are they selling any advertising? Do people actually watch this stuff? There’s NOTHING on.

Guess it’s time to give in and buy the series collections of DVDs for West Wing and Seinfeld.



A Flag for all to Stand Under

According to Wikipedia, a national flag is a flag that symbolizes a country. The flag is flown by the government, but usually can be flown by citizens of that country as well.  There are three distinct types of national flag for use on land, and three for use at sea, although many countries use identical designs for several (and sometimes all) of these types of flag.

Flags originated as military standards, used as field signs. The practice of flying flags indicating the country of origin outside of the context of warfare emerges with the maritime flag, introduced during the age of sail, in the early 17th century. It was only with the emergence of nationalist sentiment from the late 18th century that national flags began to be displayed in civilian contexts.

This is all very interesting, and I understand the reasoning behind the creation of flags. We mark our place on the battlefield, identify ourselves on a ship in international waters or at a meeting of NATO, show which team we’re supporting in the upcoming NCAA tournament, etc. I have mixed feelings, however, when people fly the national flag from their cars on a daily basis. What are they trying to express? To identify themselves as members of the country in which they are living, driving, the state of their residence clearly stated on their license plate? There’s not really anything wrong with any of this, I guess, but it always seems to me to hint at something more exclusionary. God bless America, my country is better than yours.

Do we really believe that God blesses America more than he blesses other countries? What kind of God is this?

It also reminds me a bit of when there’s some kind of tragedy — plane crash, train derailment, explosion in a marketplace in Israel — and the requisite reporting of how many Americans were killed in the tragedy. As if our amount of sympathy should be parceled out proportionately.

How about a flag of humanity? I’d fly that one, any day.


little help?

The world thinks it’s dealing with morons.

On a can of cookies: “Enjoy as a snack with coffee, tea, ice cream, after dinner drinks, family and friends.” We’ll ignore the awkward sentence structure and absence of a hyphen between after and dinner and just say: Phew! I knew they were cookies, but I just didn’t know what to do with them! It does cause some concern though — does that mean I can’t eat them after lunch, with a glass of milk (as if!), for breakfast?

Also, I was cleaning out my little silverware tray today (kitchen remodel, I’m not some kind of freak or something) and noticed that they had little pictures on the bottom of each division so I would know which type of silverware to put into which compartment. What a relief to have such considerate help from the manufacturer! But then I laughed evilly, and put the knives where the large spoons are supposed to go. And people say I don’t live on the edge.


The Cradle, by Patrick Somerville

Why is it that certain authors seem to believe that to convey the idea that a character is simple, down-to-earth, unpretentious, it is necessary to incorporate poor grammar? (And I’m not talking about in the dialogue itself; that would actually make sense.) I assume that this is a deliberate choice; either that, or I wonder where the editors were or what they were thinking.

Also, is it really necessary to tell us what we are supposed to realize and/or be thinking in response to a certain event in the plot? Or even always to tell us what the character was thinking? Yes, maybe we’ll miss the point, or if not all of them, some of them. But how much more powerful is the metaphor if we are allowed to recognize it and apply it for ourselves?

I would like to “get my hands on” this book; it could be a lovely short story. As it stands I feel like it’s the novel, Cliffs Notes, and lecture outline all wrapped up in one frustrating, awkwardly written package.

Maybe reading David Mitchell has ruined me for everyone else.


Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

Apparently this book came out in 2004, and I overlooked it somehow. Just read it; it’s fantastic. Interestingly, today I read an issue of the New Yorker from a few weeks ago in which they’re reviewing David Mitchell’s newest novel, a review which includes a fair bit of discussion of Cloud Atlas itself.

“If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw; if we believe diverse races & creeds can share can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.”

While this may seem to read more like sermon than novel, and drive many away from reading the book, please don’t let it. It’s from the ending of a series of 6 stories, told in arch form: each of the first 5 stories told approximately half way, leading in various inter-connected ways from one to the other. That is: the main character of the 2nd story encounters the diary which constitutes the first; the character of the 3rd story finds the letters which constitute the 2nd; in the 4th story the 3rd story is revealed to be a work of fiction, etc. After the 6th story is told in “completion” (nothing in these stories is really complete), the arch is completed in reverse.

Even more interestingly each story leads existentially to the next. A common theme seems to be the result of man’s inability to recognize their responsibility towards each other and their planet; the result of, well, the fact that many members of the human species fail to act all that humanely (although I did find the Timothy Cavendish chapters to be the weakest, both novelistically and thematically, and could have done without them altogether);. One of the chapters is believed to have influenced Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go — another novel I highly recommend.

Mitchell’s writing is virtuosic without being self-conscious. He adopts myriad voices like a master ventriloquist — 18th-century notary, 20th-century dissolute composer, late 20th-century female journalist, sometime-in-the-future Asian “fabricant” clone/savior, sometime-far-in-the-future Pacific-island teenager.

I’m reading Black Swan Green next.

Reader Appreciation Award

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