Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil: Thoughts

When I read George Saunders' novella, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, it was around the time former Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic, was being laid to rest in his home town of Pozarevac, Serbia. Much of my thoughts centered around the relationship between real world atrocities and how writers address such issues in fiction, something any writer who is politically minded in the slightest, must wrestle with. Anyone who's been reading this blog (or knows me personally) knows my high opinion of Saunders, but unfortunately I was profoundly frustrated by this book. See evidence below. Most of what is here was written a few years ago. I have attempted to shorten where I could and improve upon what should be improved. Still, it's a bit long:

George Saunders’ melancholic narrators have often been expendable (easily downsized) in their uniquely American environments. After all, we are a culture that celebrates and expect everyone to be a “go-getter”, otherwise how does one explain the disgust often directed at the poor homeless man on the street. If the go getter go gets and successfully maximizes productivity and profit, what are you if you aren’t a go-getter? A loser? Poor you. And shame on us. Tragedy occurs in a Saunders story when the loser--an "average" citizen existing in a state of constant pathetic realism--is forced to do something against his nature in order to survive (re: keep a job), generally a task that always involves more than just being a good husband/boyfriend/worker—roles the narrators are failing outside of work. The outcomes are often catastrophic and gut wrenching. The choices made by the characters inevitably resulting in the loser losing more than he’s already lost. What then to make of Phil, the loser at the heart of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil? We'll see.

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is the second Saunders novella (the first one, “Bounty”, can be found at the end of Saunders’ first collection, Civil Warland in Bad Decline, and is worth reading). More Fripp than Firpo, Saunders’ novella reads like a children’s novel hijacked and reconfigured for the adult reader. It is a tone that, given the subject matter, doesn’t exactly succeed. Fans of Saunders will probably love the book, as it is full of his trademark skewed humor. Even the book’s presentation seems geared for Saunders devotes: a tiny square paperback (more a booklet—very Mao) with black and white drawings by Benjamin Gibson (a kind of Jim Calafiore on shrooms) and easily lost amid the chaos of your average bookstore.

Once discovered, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is a story about Inner and Outer Horner, two neighboring countries that, after a cataclysmic change of scenery (none of which is explained… and why bother), find themselves in a deadly (but funny!) border dispute. Inner Horner, now so small it only can accommodate one citizen while the remaining six wait in the “short-term residency zone”; citizens against (and sometimes across the border into) Outer Horner, a country that is made up of, well… largely anybody Saunders chooses to create to serve whatever purpose the narrative dictates. During this calamity emerges Phil, an insecure pile of garbage (literally—as all of the characters are made up of things one might find at a junk yard/medical waste facility, randomly assembled and ready to compete in an episode of John Carpenter’s Junkyard Wars: Organ Donor Edition), who is occasionally prone to speak in a stentorum voice when his brain slides off it’s rack. Comparisons to our current administration need not apply. Saunders is attempting a larger parable here (kind of). Phil, using fear and intimidation, as well as the desire to follow rather than lead (it’s so much easier), assumes control over Outer Horner and wages a genocidal campaign against Inner Horner, viciously disassembling Inner Hornerites at the smallest provocation.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil will depend largely on what your opinions are concerning genocide, particularly its historical context (or, in this case, its lack thereof). The best sequences in the novella serve as examples of what Saunders does well:

“This left only Cal’s blue dot, which per Phil, was placed in a glass case a few hundred feet from Inner Horner, as a warning and a reminder to the other Inner Hornerites, who all night long, from the Short-Term Residency Zone, watched the sad blue dot that had formerly been Cal’s torso expand and contract, as if hyper-ventilating, or sobbing.”

If, in the end, there is a problem with the above section (and the novella as a whole), it is largely due to the realization that poor Cal isn’t a person. Of course this is the point of the work; of course the Hornerites aren’t people (they never are in genocide: Jews who were referred to as “parasites”, Tutsies in Rwanda as “cockroaches”); it was never the intent that the Hornerites should be people, what’s important is that they could be people (especially since they speak English, love, are jealous, covet power and prestige, groom themselves, and, of course, drink coffee—but they aren’t “people”). This doesn’t mean that their actions are any less significant or horrible. All of which is true and just. But here is where your feelings regarding genocide enter the picture. If you’re familiar at all with genocide (Samantha Powers’ Pulitzer Prize winning A Problem From Hell is a good place to start), then the image of poor Clyde in pieces can’t help but recall the genocide in Rwanda: in which 800,000 people died in three months of violence, many of the deaths the result of machete and blunt instruments. And perhaps, with this awareness, the images of rivers filled with the bodies and limbs of African men, women, and children, will seem so much more horrifying, especially once the connection is made that those deaths resulted from something infinitely more complex and upsetting than the fact that some random Hutu wanted to score chicks, or had penis envy, or was tired of being a loser (relatively speaking—all of which are motives of Phil). Have we allowed the grainy documentary footage of Hitler whipping that pomaded lock of hair from his forehead to obscure the fact that, as ridiculous as he looked, he was speaking to thousands of Germans who were, at the time, all too eager to digest his doctrine of hate? The "why’s" are always superficial: a sort of rhetorical question implying there was no real why because clearly he looked ridiculous. It's a tired joke that Hitler did what he did because women spurned his advances, and he couldn’t sell a painting? The joke never starts with what he believed, or with what the Germans believed, nor does it end with human skin on lampshades. None of this fits the joke because such things are too depressing to comprehend, because then everybody becomes implicated, thus soiling the humor. And, whether we want to admit it or not, Hitler, for all the terror he perpetuated, has become a joke for many (Sept. 11th, here we come!). But make no mistake, such players (Hitler's) are, and have always been, up to serious business. And this is where The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil becomes so disappointing. Phil is such a buffoon, such an obvious “loser”, that his rise to power has more to do with chance and luck (the sudden unexplained geographical travesty) than anything inherent in the people or their political systems (things we never understand because there is no history in this novella, only whimsy—an almost unforgivable omission since genocide is always rooted in history. We have yet to come across the first “spontaneous” genocide). Phil’s followers, clear on his loserdom from the get-go but cowed by his boldness, abandon him the moment a chink appears in his armor. Herein lies the fallacy inherent in Saunders’ novella: it must be remembered that a significant number of Germans (20 million) followed Hitler into millions of graves; and, despite the end of “conflict” in Kosovo, the United Nations still uses its military presence to provide "safe-havens" for ethnic Albanians. One need look no further than the disappointing turnout for the deceased Slobodan Milosevic, in which more than a thousand people paid their respects, and where Jugoslava Lekic, a 73 year old woman, according to the New York Times, was quoted as saying, regarding the international scorn attributed to the recently deceased general: “He killed no one.” Hardly the quote of a cowed citizen.

In the end, what conclusions can be made from such a book? If you’re looking for a moral, something clearly stated at the end of a good Aesop’s fable in case the point wasn’t made clear enough, then look no further than God, who makes a spectacular appearance at the end of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, casting an uncomfortable shadow over the rest of the novella. Wait, was the lone tree in Inner Horner—the one with the prominently displayed fruit—the tree of knowledge? Was Inner Horner some kind of Garden of Eden? Once Inner Horner finally seizes on an opportunity to defend itself and viciously turn on the Outer Hornerites, it is God who sweeps in and, with his wrist a “vast flower garden” and a “shimmering blue lake” in his palm (an uprooted paradise?), begins to spray the citizens of Inner and Outer Horner with a can (seriously), and later reassembles them according to his will (like play toys). Is this the old (testament) God—the shaper of the earth—or the new (testament) God—who Jesus assured us would love us even when we were bad? Both, actually. Neat. For when He speaks, “Each of you are secretly afraid you are not good enough. But you are, trust me, you are,” it is with profound sadness, disappointment, and optimism, even as he nobly dusts of his hands, ready for another go 'round. What’s most disturbing about this solution is that it introduces God’s role in genocide. His literal appearance can mean no other thing. and one has to wonder if God has ever been invoked for anything other than detrimental and dangerous affect in such things? The implications are staggering. If God can so easily fix the situation and reform Inner and Outer Hornner, then was he the one behind the traumatic geographic event (the novella never says)? And why does He make His presence felt only after Inner Horner rebels and is on the verge of wreaking havoc on their oppressors? Why get involved then? What of Greater Keller (a neighboring(?) country who gets involved briefly and is untouched by the grand redesign), where did they go? Where’s the editor?

The mere conception of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil is a testament to George Saunders inventiveness as a writer. No other current writer so consistently eschews literary conventions and subject matter as often as he does. As important and as powerful a writer as Saunders is (his recent collection—see review below—contains a story so stunning—Brad Carrigan, American—that it should be given freely to people who still hold onto the fact that there is such a thing as an American dream), The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil leaves the reader a bit hollow. This is regrettable since it seems that Saunders had to write about this subject matter. But is this how we are to understand? Is this how we are to deal? Is it necessary for us to simplify, distance, and de-terrorize genocide for the sake of narrative razzle-dazzle and religious allegory? And, in the end, despite the appearance of God, there was always Phil: Do we really truly believe that, in the future, threats against humanity will be so easy to spot? So conveniently displaced?

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Best and Brightest

Two inspiring quotes from over the weekend:

  1. “Williams showed his entire package tonight against the Spurs.”Mark Jackson, ESPN commentator; in reference to the outstanding play of Utah point-guard Deron Williams (and former Illinois stand-out) during Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. To think, in Utah--of all places! This probably goes a long way towards explaining how the Spurs could have lost by 20+. Tony Parker may be French, but he's not that French (so says Eva). Thankfully, it looks like Deron and his package might be sidelined for tonight’s Game 4.
  1. “For all you fans that boo me! Add another boo to that! And that’s what ya’lls breath smells like—boo-boo!!”UFC, newly minted, light-heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Williams; in response to a lay-up question from former Fear Factor host (and now UFC geek) Joe Rogan: I don’t think there’s a mother on the planet who’s lips could make that any better, “Rampage”. Spoken like a true UFC champion.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Shrek 3: Thoughts

I was never a big fan of the first Shrek film and its tired message of acceptance, which too often felt like an extended Mike Myers sketch culled from the cutting floor of So I Married an Axe Murderer (a great movie) and the Austin Powers flicks, with its un-Pixar-like animation, and woefully out-of date Matrix jokes (once Scary Movie went there was it really necessary to continue?); and if there was anything more tired, it was Myer’s tendency rely on the Scottish accent whenever he was desperate for a laugh. Shrek 2 was better, the animation much improved, but it was the introduction of Antonio BanderasPuss in Boots, as well as the enlistment of Shrek’s cronies (Pinocchio and the always dynamic Gingerbread Man) into his quest for (again) acceptance that stole the show, and I couldn’t help thinking that it was a sign of trouble that the films were funnier when the main character was off screen. But, while the first two film’s got their rocks off skewering Katzenberg’s old boss Disney and Michael Eisner, followed by the oh-so-easy (but always enjoyed) send-up of Hollywood, I couldn’t wait to see what Shrek 3 had cooked up. How amazing it was to discover that millions of dollars had given the filmmakers the stones to tackle the most sacred of holy cows … high school. Wait, what? Perhaps it would have been better if Shrek himself had to go to high school, a condition of Princes Fiona’s family maintaining control over the kingdom predicated on some royal loop-hole that required the green ogre, now king to be, to finish his GED: a kind of Billy Madison meets… well, Shrek. They could have hired SNL-alum Adam Sandler to do the shreicking Operaman-type voice of the Principle out to expose Shrek’s unwillingness to commit to academic study. Instead, we get Justin Timberlake (doing his best to bring squeaky back) as Artie, the reluctant loser destined to assume the throne left behind by Fiona’s dead father, The Frog-King—which, by the way, is something Shrek won’t have. Any position that requires him to fit into tight clothes will only chafe his sensitive Ogre disposition, not to mention his struggle to accept (seriously is there no other theme to be had in this universe?) fatherhood and responsibility. Shrek must accomplish all of this while the delightfully smarmy Prince Charming rallies the unfortunate and destitute fairy-tale humps (Captain Hook, Cruel Step-sisters, etc.) into a seething band of Second City travesties, all in an effort to take over the kingdom of Far Far Away and stage the Dinner Theater to end all Dinner Theaters. It was during this dizzying climax that I realized how much the plot was simply a glass slipper to the animation--which in this third installment is spectacular. At this point, I cared little about the fate of Shrek and his Bride, instead leaning over to my girlfriend during this final scene and saying things like: “You can practically seen the fibers in the rope!” and “That actually looks like a painted piece of cardboard, as opposed to a computer animated piece of painted cardboard!” or “Ooh, look at the slits in the stage floor for the waves!” A lot of talk has been made about the Princess Brigade, but I felt the jokes relied too much on the Disney cannon and served to illustrate just how flimsy Shrek’s universe is, and how quickly the jokes start to look tired and mean spirited. Perhaps Dreamworks should rely on their own contributions to fairy tale lore for inspiration and laughs, since it is there where we find true moments to enjoy. Banderas is indispensable as Puss in Boots (much more than Eddie Murphy’s strangely insignificant donkey). And I’m happy to say that, once again, the Gingerbread Man steals the movie with his post traumatic stress disorder induced this-is your-life flashback. Yet, sadly, Shrek 3 continues Spider-Man’s decent into tri-fecta doggery. To think, we only have a few days before Johnny Depp comes to port. Where’s a burnt out ex-New York City cop when you need him? Here’s to hopping 4 is the new 3.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bad Editions

First things first: Ralph Tresvant is one of the most underappreciated front-men in all of R&B. Allow me to explain. When Bobby Brown came out with Don’t Be Cruel (one of the best R&B albums of all time) in 1988 after splitting from New Edition, we felt his pain. How was this crooked-teethed grinding dancing explosion not the lead singer? The answer was simple: harmonics. What many of us didn’t realize at the time was that it was Tresvant’s voice that allowed the songs to smoothly transition between such disparate voices: from Ricky Bell’s lullaby croon, to Brown’s gravely grunts, and once Brown left, to the overpowering gospel of Johnny Gill. When called upon, Tresvant could also rap, often times playing conductor to Brown and Ronnie Devoe and Michael Bivins. Even when New Edition reunited (twice!) for Home Again (with Brown—yay!) and One Love (no Brown—eh…), it was Tresvant who, in workmanlike fashion, anchored the harmony of tracks like “Something About You” and “Newness”. His ability to gracefully manage the harmony can be heard clearly in New Edition’s best song “Can You Stand the Rain”, an uplifting break-up sad-song that somehow carries the listener through grief into a panasonic harmony of dizzying spirituality. It’s sad to say that, outside of “Sensitivity”, Ralph Tresvant’s best solo songs were when he was playing head-boy/man for New Edition (“If It Isn’t Love”, “Candy Girl”, “Cool it Now”).

All of this is prelude to the fact that, even though Tresvant was so essential to the harmonics of New Edition, his was the weakest solo effort, and, unfortunately, it is his worst album that almost (barring some freakish technicality) tops my list of top five worst albums by former members of New Edition. A list like this should be constructed with an acknowledgment of what made these albums (relative to the rest) qualify as “the worst”. Perhaps I should have written about the “best” albums before trying to truly capture the tragedy of these albums, but such a post will take much longer to compose and the matter (believe it or not—for me at least) requires serious scholarly thought and, in all likelihood, several more days to wrestle with. By starting with the worst, I can better cleanse my mind for that intimidating task. Here they are, best (relatively speaking) to worst.

5. BBD, Bell Biv Devoe, 2001: One of many tragedies that year. Luckily many of us were too engaged by more pressing issues, and thus didn’t have time to listen to the death rattle of one of the most influential (I’ll say it because it needs to be said) hip-hop groups of all time. A quiet (if not slightly dignified) death.

4. Chemistry, Johnny Gill, 1985: No that is not Garry Coleman on the album cover, but a pre-NE Johnny Gill. It seems unfair to blast a guy for an album that was made before he joined the group, but time-line association is not a factor, and it should be noted that, out of all of the NE alum, it is Gill who has managed the most competent (if unspectacular) repertoire (including a solid stint in another R&B super-group LSG—now more like SG…sadness). That is assuming you don’t count any of his numerous compilation CD’s against him (seriously, you're not the Stones, one should do it).

3. Forever, Bobby Brown, 1997: Perhaps it's a bit hypocritical to not put an album that made my “worst albums by an established R&B singer” on top this list, but new information has come to light, not to mention the fact that even a weakened 90’s Brown was still, “on his own” (tee-hee), a force. Just a colossal let-down and proof that the NE penchant for long breaks between albums, sadly, lead to their irrelevance. Still, not as bad as…

2. It’s Goin’ Down, Ralph Tresvant, 1993: It’s the embarrassing use of that apostrophe (even in 1993) that’s a clue to how bad this album was. The problem with Tresvant was that he wanted to be as “bad” as Brown, even when his best songs were from the traditional R&B persona of love-struck or sensitive player looking to move on. And I don’t understand his hang-up on rap (of course this was the age of Kid n’ Play), but I remember loving “Rated R” (from his self-titled debut) and digging Tresvant’s spittle filled delivery, but, unfortunately, can now only cringe at his attempts to sound “hard”, especially given the development of rap since 1990. The leather jacket without an undershirt had to have looked bad, even in '93. It seems hypercritical to talk so much about the album cover and title, but, sadly, not one good song. And I love Ralph Tresvant. But this is what happens when you abandon Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (seriously, ask Janet).

1. Bobby Brown & Cape Breton Symphony Fiddlers, Bobby Brown, 1996: I shit you not, I-Tunes assures me this is a Bobby Brown album. Check it out if you don’t believe me. Now I don’t know what, if any, role Brown played in the creation of this album (perhaps it was the plaid fiddle—who knows, he always had an eye for fashion), but if he did, it has to have been one of the most catastrophic acts of fusion this side of Las Almos. If I don’t post for the next few weeks, it’s probably because I’m in my basement, playing this record, and trying to make sense of the world.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

28 Weeks Later: Thoughts

America is a nation prone to oversimplification and overreaction, often to the detriment of the international community who have no other choice but to stomp to the beat of the big bad bully as it imposes its will, and who can, when unappreciated, lash out in frustration. I know all of this because I’ve seen 28 Weeks Later, the uneven sequel to 28 Days Later, a film that followed the beautifully long-faced Cillian Murphy as he navigated a Brittan consumed by a “rage virus” (not zombies!). Director Danny Boyle is gone from the sequel (but hanging out as a producer), and his absence is felt halfway through the film, when his strongly established foundation of “survival horror” (on display in the sequel during a harrowing opening sequence in a country house, were a group of survivors huddle around a table for dinner—in the middle of the day…which is all I’ll say about it) takes a melodramatic turn, as Robert Carlyle, infected by the rage virus (in an amazing scene that would spoil it to discuss), decides to reunite with his family who’ve fled the contaminated “Green Zone” (established twenty-eight weeks after the initial outbreak by the American government in an attempt to repopulate England—before the bodies have even been cleared! Talk about efficiency!). The first film worked both in the literal: a version of the zombie (nay, rage! rage!!) outbreak we moviegoers have expected to break out in England since A Clockwork Orange; and the metaphor: a Brittan, so button-down and isolated, that a virus unlocking its primal rage has particularly catastrophic effects. Would anybody have noticed a rage outbreak during rush-hour on the 101? The literal is still there, but the second film seems to be working towards a metaphor of American nation building that sadly falls apart as director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, in an effort to heavy lift the plot from beginning to end, abandons the aesthetic of the original film, which had the ability to change genre in a second and felt like an anthology of horror, rather than a sustained narrative arch (something even the endings—depending on your preference—solidified), which is something Fresnadillo can’t seem to find, and something the most literal studio-style American filmmakers, outside of Tarantino, have struggled to grasp for decades. But Fresnadillo isn’t a hack, and if there is one thing he does well it is filming tight spaces: scenes that take place in cramped hospital examination rooms (shudder), locked “safe rooms”, or on the steps of pitch-black underground escalators, or that house at the beginning, all hum with tension. But it’s when Fresnadillo goes into the open that the film stalls, scenes in which we are supposed to care about the plight of two children who, in all honestly, ARE DESTROYING THE WORLD. These sequences reek of studio plotting and are completely incongruous with the facts as they’ve unfurled on the screen. In the end, Boyle (clearly the more talented filmmaker) created a great horror film, whereas Fresnadillo, in an effort follow-up Boyle’s amazing effort, created a movie more American in its execution than one expected, or wanted.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wolfowitz gossip!

The governments of Europe must have taken a deep sigh of relief this past weekend upon finally receiving the resignation of Paul Wolfowitz from the World Bank. Apparently Wolfowitz tendered his resignation on the condition that the Bank would “acknowledge” that any mistakes made had been made under “good faith”. It’s clear that the Bank didn’t have to do this, that they could have continued their investigation into his behavior and eventually forcibly removed Wolfowitz, thereby endangering the delicate balance of appointments between that World Bank and the IMF. And it’s abundantly clear that the Bush administration would have been happy to see this happen, since hubris isn’t something they lack. But Europe (being full of Europeans) was able to cut their losses with a shrug, if not a pronounced sneer, and give Wolfowitz what he so childishly wanted. Nobody actually thinks that Wolfowitz acted with “good faith”, whether it was promoting his girlfriend, or unilaterally altering Bank programs that he had no authority (or support) to alter (condoms in India). He was the president and should have been a leader in enforcing and establishing World Bank policy, not creating policy based on a view of the world that isn't even held by a majority of Americans, not too mention the rest of Europe. We shouldn’t be surprised that Wolfowitz behaved in such a manner. John Bolton, a former ambassador to another international organization (the United Nations), said so himself on The Daily Show when he said it was the presidents “duty” act in the interests of the people who put him into office. According to Bolton, as opposed to being president for everybody, Bush is “constitutionally obligated”, to act in the interests of those people. So it all becomes clear: Wolfowitz wasn’t supposed to be president of the World Bank, an organization, supposedly, created to better the developing world, but instead be president for those people who put him in his position: the Bush Administration. It’s all so clear now.

But I’m doing this post for the gossip, not to beat a dead horse. I have it on good authority from a source who has worked within the World Bank for over twenty years that Wolfowitz, in an effort to keep his job, offered to cut lose every single manager/person of significance he himself had hired and replace them with managers recommended by the Board. The fact that Wolfowitz wasn’t loyal to his people (his generals, per say), isn’t much of a stretch, but to think that he lacks so much integrity as to be so quick to abandon the people who put him into power in the first place (Bush Administration) in order to become a straw-man for largely European interests makes him a new kind of slug I can’t even wrap my mind around. It was debatable before how bad of an American Wolfowitz was. Now we all know just how bad.

Tomorrow: Fun with Zombies!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bad Tenet-s

In the May 21st issue of The New Yorker, Jeffery Goldberg examines the fallout of George Tenet’s new memoir, At the Center of the Storm: My Years in the CIA, in which Tenet attempts to set the record straight on a number of things, most notably his role in manipulating intelligence in the lead up to the war in Iraq. It would be nice if Tenet acquitted himself admirably, articulation a sign of intelligence and sure-footedness, something Tenet seems to strive for in his memoir (with the help of Bill Harlow), yet his staccato delivery and obvious nervousness during Goldbrerg’s insightful prodding makes one wonder how this man found himself the head of one of the most secretive and important organizations on the planet. Goldberg also plays operator in the devolving relationship between Tenet and “famed” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who has somehow managed to backpedal without peer in his critique of the Bush Administration (seriously, read Bush at War—a favorite among Republican wonks when it was released, followed up with State of Denial—the “must have” Christmas present for any Democrat in 06, and ask yourself if the same man who, in Goldberg’s piece, speaks of journalistic “courage” could have written both). Goldberg is dead on when he cites Woodward’s new-found freedom in discussing Tenet’s view of the infamous “slam dunk” comment as the culmination of a source that is no longer “useful” or “well-placed”. But Woodward is as much a politician as the men he covers (of a lesser variety—despite his inflated sense of self-worth), and although it isn’t without reason to claim that his role in shaping Bush pre-Iraq dogma may have resulted in the direct death (proportionately due to cause) of a few American soldiers and a few hundred Iraqi civilians, he is only an instrument played by bigger and badder musicians. People, believe it or not, like George Tenet.

It would be nice if we could turn the page on Tenet. Say that he was just another body thrown onto the sword by bullies Cheney and Rove. But he did what he did, and despite the fact that his office may be a bit more cramped and his position a bit less glamorous (at least it seems as much in Goldberg’s piece), he was still, believe it or not, the only man who could have done something. When Tenet was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1997 it was only after previous nominee Anthony Lake had been rejected by a Republican Congress, and it was believed by many Republicans that, although respected within the organization, Tenet was ill-equipped to be the head of the biggest intelligence agency in the world. He was a compromise, a second choice from a frustrated administration, and a weak puppet in the eyes of a contentious Republican congress. If they were lucky, Tenet would probably screw up at some point, inadvertently helping tighten the screws on the assailed Clinton Administration. Luckily for him, Tenet provided no such opportunity. Once George W. was elected, Tenet had to feel as if he were on the chopping block, an outsider in an administration that clearly resented anything associated with Bill Clinton (including reliable intelligence), and, as is the case with many promotions in public service, politics ensures that you can only work your way up the ladder, eventually using that ladder to grasp onto a safer, more stable, building in the academic field or private sector. There is no parachute at the top, and Tenet no doubt knew this. But then Al Qaeda, an organization Tenet was well acquainted with, orchestrated a devastating attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001. Whew!

Here is where the tale of Tenet takes a sour turn. During the subsequent investigation into the September 11th attacks, Tenent, the head of the CIA—an organization that had had numerous dealings with Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan prior to his jihad against the west, who had one of several leading counter-terrorist intellects (Michael Shurer: a none too big a fan of our current Administration), and who worked closely with Richard A. Clarke in dealing with the Al Qaeda threat—should have screamed to the panel, “We knew this would happen! We’ve been harping about it for months! Here…let me show you this memo we helped draft that will tell you all about it!” But he didn’t, instead Tenet decided to play the, “None of us could have foreseen, blah, blah, blah,” and the “there were communication barriers, yadda, yadda, yadda,” card. It was at this point that it became clear Tenet could be counted on to manipulate anything for this administration. Should we even be surprised when he assured Bush it would be a “slam dunk” making the case against Iraq? Why? There are many complicated explanations for this. But we shouldn’t look so deep. In the end Tenet was a man, like any other, who found himself in his dream job, and would do whatever necessary to keep it. It’s really that simple. It wasn’t about integrity as much as status and, in the aftermath, an almost childlike refusal to avoid complexity and responsibility. That’s it. It would be a much sadder story if there weren’t thousands of dead people strewn about the Middle East: their bodies sticky with blood, sand, and oil.

Friday, May 18, 2007

No Country for Old Men: Thoughts

It’s a busy weekend this week, meaning I won't be able to post for the next few days. I’m posting an old review I wrote about Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men that was originally published in the Virginia Quarterly Review (also in that issue: three awesome stories, and an amazing essay on Vincent Desiderio's painting, Sleep--no link, you'll just have to order the issue) It’s a bit old, but my hope is that it will pair nicely with my thoughts on his newest (Pulitzer Prize winner) The Road (at a later date). Next week: comments on the George Tennet fall-out, gossip surrounding Wolfowitz’s desperate efforts to remain employed at the world bank, thoughts on 28 Weeks Later (possibly Shrek 3), and praise for my San Antonio Spurs. Busy, busy, busy:

When Ancient American History is taught in the Classics Departments of the future (a blip in the rear view of bigger and better empires), will Cormac MaCarthy be read at all? Why not? If any writer knew that the end was inevitable it was Cormac. Since Blood Meridian (but before then, too), McCarthy has been the Bard of a nation born into its own hell. Time spent with McCarthy has taken us through our own dark history: the genocide of the indigenous American peoples, the plague of fences and ownership that spread across the west, the development of atomic energy—the division of atoms, particles built so small only God could have made them (but that America was the first to undo). We are a country that has repeatedly failed to live up to its own expectations, while somehow at the same time contributing to newer and bigger horrors. It’s only a matter of time before we do ourselves in. And then who’ll feel sorry for us? Not Cormac.

In his new book, No Country for Old Men, McCarthy follows the bodies through Vietnam and into the 80’s (or early 90’s, it’s never really clear), where drug cartels grow fat on our sin and pick their teeth with our fluid morality. Once again, McCarthy writes about an everyman caught in the riptide of history. This man, Llewelyn Moss, is retired vet who finds a bag of cash amid the ruins of a busted drug deal; while another, holding one of the many guns to be found here, coldly deciphers destinies with a clear eyed understanding of the place where all paths end (despite our best efforts): Anton Chigurh (pronounced like “sugar”, which displays a similarity to…you guessed it) himself a Vietnam vet but of a different stripe. The fact that both men spent time overseas soldiering for the American dream is significant. While they were away, their generation, full of self-importance, perfected decadence. Drugs became “cool”. The devil selling everyone on the idea that drugs made us “free” and “freed our minds” or made love “free”. Not an apple exactly...but close. During this book, McCarthy can sound like a crotchety old man, but he’s dead on in recognizing that this popularization of drugs (escapism) paved the way for a narcotic that is dissolving our nationalist borders and seeping into the veins of our youth. Both men return to a different country. Moss holds to the old beliefs, having processed the experience of Vietnam well—living in a trailer with his wife the way most good people in McCarthy books do, somewhere just above the poverty line but not starving. Chigurh, like Judge Holden of Blood Meridian (only more somber, more composed—maybe even more corporate?) returns and sees evil to be done, and if not evil, then a good bit of corruption. But what is evil if not an outlet for the certainty of good intentions? Here, like in Elliot, evil is more pure than intent. In McCarthy’s world, the Bible’s first story solidified the foundation (balance: what something is and what something isn’t), the notion of knowledge and its power corrupting what is right and wrong (Llewelyn and Chigurh). Between these two is a Sheriff, a man older than both who remembers things before Vietnam and drugs, who finds himself trying to prevent the collision of these two lost boys in the hopes that this will somehow redeem his faith in “this country”. But he is old, and if you thought it would work out, you didn’t read the title. It’s not a plot spoiler to reveal that things don’t go exactly as planed—for any of the men (even Chigurh receives some comeuppance in the end, satisfying for those of us who stood horrified as Judge Holden danced merrily into the night). What is more surprising about McCarthy’s book is his prose and the drastic change in style (Faulkner laid to rest), bone white in its efficiency and bleached by the sun until all that’s left are simple sentences and descriptions (nouns and verbs) and dialogue written as if Raymond Chandler landed in Texas and were made deputy. Surprises are unearthed from what is not on the page, both regarding words (art) and actions (plot—several significant scenes and major deaths happen off page). It is the Sheriff who is left to remind us that life in “this country” is about “...defeat. It was being beaten. More bitter to him than death.” His revelation is, simply to, “You need to get over that.” And there’s the rub. It’s what makes living during this American age of history so hard, where morality has long been nurtured by corruption and greed and destruction. The end result is no more likely to change than Chigruh’s coin landing on heads.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Spider-Man 3: Thoughts

Here’s a drinking game. Slide Spider-Man (the original) into the DVD player and take a drink every time Toby Maguire blinks. Seriously, try it and then get back to me… You should be hammered around…oh, the third viewing or so. A lot has been made about Maguire’s hair in the most recent Spider-Man (3) film, but if anyone wanted to see real acting, they’d focus less on the hair (after all, McGuire is no Tom Hanks), and instead on Maguire’s squint, out in full force for an (unfortunately) long middle period of the biggest blockbuster (weekend!) of all time. And sadly the rest of us can only shift in our seats as almost three hours of super-hero retro-camp unravels before out eyes, which is a shame because they had it so right last time. I guess that’s what having a Pulitzer Prize winning author in the story development process does. Rami, rather than vigorously setting the stage for future super-hero movies, seems to have slipped on a banana peel and ended up in the campy 70’s. I half expected a cameo of the Spider-mobile and Lauren Bacall wielding a eye-brow pencil. Script credits go to Rami and his brother (?!—which one, I can’t seem to keep all the cameos straight. Except for you Bruce—they’ll always be a place in my heart for you—get this guy a sitcom on the CW, for crying out loud), none of which is a good thing since Rami seems intent on rehashing antiquated (charming, sure—but cringe worthy in most aspects) 70’s comics. As for the cast: McGuire is as unblinking as ever, despite the fact that he’s given more “to do” in this film. It was the peepers that made McGuire great in the first two films, large marbles that seemed ready to burst from his skull at any moment (can anyone make themselves cry as well while only looking mildly constipated?). He was small and nerdish, but cute without the glasses—always a revelation to the girl-next-door. But he felt awkward. Our inde darling! The abortion orphan! The last guy who came closest to scoring oral sex with Katie Holmes! And there he was, in a big blockbuster—as Peter Parker? Of course he didn’t fit. But it worked, and he remains to this day a better choice than Jake Gyllenhaal. But once he puts on those black duds in a cabaret scene to end all drag shows (the result of alien possession, never really his choice), he can’t help but embarrass himself. One wonders why he didn’t protest—didn’t he have any script approval?—and I couldn’t help think that on some level in that scene, he was flipping off the audience; us desperate fools who’ve been waiting for a big movie and were fans of the previous films. Kirsten Dunst is of course beautiful if not a little too mousey in voice to be truly sexy, and, frankly, the reports of her augmented cleavage have somewhat deflated my appreciation of her performance. Someone told me Topher Grace was in the movie as a bad guy, but with that new (frosted) hairdo I could have sworn he was a dancer from Disney’s High School Musical. The tragedy of the forced third villain (of the third movie! Get it!), is that Venom is probably the only villain in the Spider-Man mythos not created by Stan Lee that has been able to stick and remain compelling. The black-costume-saga could have been a great movie, but apparently someone told Rami this after he started his film. Thomas Haden Church's Sandman is as layered and solid as shale, and I’ll admit to looking at his swollen chapped lips and thinking that those should be his special power. Scenes of note: The transformation of Marko into the Sandman is great. The plain-clothes fight with Harry Osborn at the beginning, sadly, raises expectations. Other than that it’s a wash. But let’s take a moment to praise James Franco. It’s fun watching someone who knows how to make scene chewing an exercise in good acting. Have you thought of directing, James?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Take that Rolling Stone!!

Rolling Stone Magazine has released the top 15 "worst albums by great bands" list. On it is pretty much the cover catalog of the magazine's last twenty years of favorite white boys. Sure the article title reads "bands", but it pretty much goes without saying that if you aren't white or 50 Cent (has he made a truly good album?), you ain't making the cover. Of course it's not their fault, they're a product like anything else. And, in the music biz, we all know money resides in the wallets of teenage girl's mothers (and yes, that includes gangster rap). To blame them (given the criteria they establish for themselves) for not putting up any singers of color isn't fair since most R&B music is the product of a single singer (or, in the old days, a charismatic band leader--James Brown and the like). But, seeing as how I can't let them go unrepresented, here are my top five worst albums by great recognizable R&B singers (in no particular order). Mind you, I could do an entire top five of the worst albums by former members of New Edition if I wanted to (hmm...):

1. Forever, Bobby Brown.
-Take the best cuts from Don't Be Cruel and Bobby (not to mention "On Our Own" from the Ghostbuster's 2 Soundtrak--one of the best, most literal, movie songs of all time--and you'll have one of the best party/sexy-time CD's ever. Ahh, remember the simulated sex on stage and the arrests... it's as if it were only yesterday--wait... Take a song from this album and Whitney won't be the only one who feels like she's being de-constipated.

2. Happy People/ U Saved Me, R. Kelly
-Dammit, I'll listen to R. Kelly and buy his albums till he goes to jail, but I'll happily take a refund for this lazy album. Worst Idea Ever. Known for killer remixes (like "Ignition" & "Fiesta"), "our boy Kell's" decided to take his song "Step in the Name of Love" and record it ten or more times (I lost count with all the sugar in my ears), and then pair it with another album containing some of the most sanctimonious self-congratulating preaching of his career (better examples of his tendency towards piousness can be found on tracks like "Religious Love" and "I wish"). One wonders if all the talk of "checking for ID's" on earlier remixes, not to mention his "12 Play" plan for player slinging game, made his lawyers nervous, forcing him to cook up an album that would play well in a trial he thought was eminent. You can practically hear him begging for a, "not guilty, ya'll got to feel me."

3. Face 2 Face, Babyface
-Kenneth, Baby. There's nothing wrong with smooth and silky. I've seen your house on MTV cribs. I've seen your wife. Stick with what you know, what made musicians like Madonna, Eric Clapton, TLC, or any other major R&B/pop vocalist a lot of money the last twenty years. Lose the dreds. Don't be so "hard" on everybody else. Remember, "Love is no Crime". You taught us that. "Whip Appeal" is the dream of every hard working man. Just ask Otis. Oh, but props for making Fall Out Boy cool.

4. Invincible, Michael Jackson
-Nothing more embarrassing than improper use of hyperbole. How about biggest flop in music history? At least it's closer to the truth. There should be no amount of scorn spared regarding that awful video that came out with this album. When you can make "Remember the Time" look awesome, you know a certain kind of travesty has taken place.

5. Controversy, Prince
-It's hard for me to say anything bad about Prince after he thoroughly embarrassed the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney at this years Superbowl (could not find a link!), while somehow making a good case for silhouette erections. Still, history shows that he did in fact record this record. I thought about going Graffiti Bridge, but Tevin Campbell and the very awesome "Thieves in the Temple" redeem that sacrilege. But name one good song on this Warner-end-of-days-calamity. Sure we like Prince nasty, but "Jerk U Off"? No, no thank you. Not for all the creative spelling in the world.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In Persuasion Nation: Thoughts

Still recovering from thoughts on Wolf Creek, so I'm posting an old review I wrote about George Saunders' (not really) new collection, In Persuasion Nation. It may be a few days before I can get to Hostel, but I'll get there eventually:

Even though George Saunders’ most recent book of short stories, In Persuasion Nation, is his most uneven collection to date, it is one of the most essential post-September 11th works around. In the story “Adams”, a man is obsessed with an awkward neighbor who may or may not pose a threat to his family. What results should be required reading for reactionary writers trapped in their own solipsism. It is a story where real answers are found and they aren’t pretty. While not his best collection from cover to cover, (that would be Pastoralia), In Persuasion Nation overflows with big ideas and demonstrates a refinement of craft we expect from experts in the short story. Whereas Saunders’ first two works focused on corporate structures and the ghosts (sometimes literally) in the machine, In Persuasion Nation takes on advertisers and our consumer lifestyle and, for the first time, Saunders holds his characters more accountable for their actions than he has in the past. Character choices are now usually tied to an ad or product. God and Godlessness are more prevalent in this collection, and Saunders is interested in how humanity teeters on the brink. The narrator in the story “Jon”, who, abandoned by his birth mother and raised in a product testing community with no understanding of the world outside, is one of the best “Trendsetter & Tastemaker” artificial memories and consumer fame can buy. A particularly soulless existence if not for the fact that his soul has never been removed, only gone untended. Jon is confronted with his emerging emotions and the way they complicate his simple existence, when he attempts to understand the implications of his girlfriend’s pregnancy, and is one of many characters forced to come to terms with diminishing individuality in a world where humanity has been pre-recorded and test-driven for mass consumption.

Within the collection is the entirety of Saunders’ America; from the hyper-shtick on the title story (one of the worst in the collection), to the down to earth realism of “Christmas” (one of the least inspired and most literary), many of the stories are random riffs of varying quality (“My Amendment” being the most poignant). It can be an uneven gap between extremes, but here are some of Saunders’ best stories to date and it’s worth it to read “Brad Carrigan: American”, “The Red Bow”, “Bohemians”, or “Jon”. Even at his least impressive, Saunders retains the ability to break you apart with the observations of characters immersed humanities diminishing returns. Take for instance this line from “My Flamboyant Grandson”, one of the more routine stories in the collection: “He looks like no one else, acts like no one else, his clothes are increasingly like plumage, late at night he choreographs using plastic Army men, he fits no mold and has no friends, but I believe in my heart that something beautiful may come from him.” Amen, George. Consider me persuaded.


In the May 18th issue of Entertainment Weekly (can't find the link), Scott Brown, in his weekly Hit List column, writes:

#3: Kid Rock reportedly gives parenting advice to K-Fed, "Don't feed them after midnight...hold up--that's Gremlins."

Of course it is, K-Rock. Of course it is. Ah, poor rap-rock... Someone should start a fund for those displaced trailer-hoppers... Thank you Mr. Brown. You made my week.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Wolf Creek: Thoughts

Bear in mind, much of what follows is based on a single viewing of a film seen almost two years ago. This isn’t to forgive my own subsequent inaccuracies as much as to stress the profound disturbances elicited by this movie that I still hold dear. Perhaps we’ll just start at the beginning. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I’m almost positive I remember an acknowledgment in the opening credits addressing some Australia Council for the Arts (or something like that), which read like an author’s acknowledgment to one of those writer colonies where writers go to complete their big books. This was no doubt to prepare the viewer for the next thirty minutes of what can only be best described as a Rough Guide documentary to a Foster’s Beer commercial (lots of desolate landscapes, intercut with the obvious drunken co-ed party where a guy—get this—JUMPS OFF THE BALCONY INTO THE POOL!! Crazy!). Give filmmaker Greg McLean credit, sadly he knows what’s naturally beautiful: vistas, desserts, craters, spunky athletic women, dirt. And he seems to be working hard to earn the grant one feels he needed to make his film. But what McLean lacks as a filmmaker is honesty. He would have you believe that Ben (played by Nathan Phillips) is our hero: a young man-teen who seems nice enough. On the trip, Ben never takes advantage of the girl who thinks he’s cute (there is a kiss), or tries to get with the other girl who seems almost willing. Nope, this bland Adonis isn’t the hero at all, and since this is a threesome, that would leave possibly Liz (Cassandra McGrath)or Kristy (Kestie Morassi), right? Nothing original there. We go to slasher flicks half expecting one of the ladies to step up, surprise themselves, and survive to tell the tale. Sadly, no. McLean has instead created the anti-anti-anti-hero and gives us one of the most disturbing misogynistic exercises in a genre full of proud offenders.

Once our crew visits the majestic crater of the (misspelled) title, it’s all down steppe from there. Naturally the car dies, but thanks to the kindness of stranger (a “quacky” bushman named Mick Taylor, played by John Jarratt) our scrumptious victims of sexual tension find themselves (after an effectively long ominous car towing) in one of the sketchiest junk yards this side of Eddie and the Cruisers. It should be noted at this point that John Jarratt (the actor--scroll down for that link and you'll see what I'm getting at) looks a lot like an older Harland Williams (another actor/comedian) ten years after realizing his last big break was Rocketman. For those like myself, weaned on the tit of the unstoppable-force-of-nature-I-must-kill-the-babysitter-slashers, and who spent our summers at Camp Crystal Lake, this is by far the scariest thing in the movie. Get out, you groan, even before the models (nay, actors!) drink the water (come on now, we all know that’s a no-no), At this point it’s only a matter of time before Rocketman starts talking about his seven minute abs!! But heed you they won’t. What can only result from this kind of predicament is that all (save one) will probably die, while the others will meet a gruesome death. You wish. And not in a good this-movie-totally-blew-my-expectations-out-of-the-water kind-of-way.

Nope. Apparently Rocketman—I’m sorry “Bushman Taylor”—likes to cut-up, torture, brutalize, simulate/and actually perform rape on women. And, given the amount of time Mr. McLean spends wallowing in these images, one has to question what issues he himself might be dealing with. It would be one thing to write the film and its maker off as the continuation of a genre and that women in peril is the métier of the slasher flick. You wouldn’t be wrong. Yet be it Janet Leigh, or her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, or any of the hundreds of interchangeable “racks” found in such gems as I Spit on Your Grave, one thing always remained the same: Women can and eventually—after a lot of blood and pain—stop being victims (I Spit on Your Grave is actually really called Day of the Woman--so claims IMDB). Sure, more than one woman may have to die. But eventually there is justice at the end of a confiscated/stolen/found machete. In Wolf Creek, what starts as a wet and grainy romp of some aesthetic appeal, becomes an exercise most vile. McLean (leading the way in what can only be an incredibly disappointing new wave of horror flicks) has created the anti-justice film. The purpose being that, in fact, all of the acts perpetrated on the women in this movie are deserved, and we can all only watch in disgusted awe as a “master” does his work: See how good he can shoot! See how effectively he cuts and slices! McLean has somehow glamorized a type of misogyny that is gaining steam, from the anti-feminist, anti-education/independence of the evangelical movement, to the proliferation of sexualizing the adolescent celebrity and “countdown clocks”—as if the ravenous media and increasingly isolated immature male can freely, and without consequence, be unleashed when the clock hits zero—poor girls, with their good genetics and popularity and wealth! But in the movie, after forty minutes of harrowing brutality, in which one girl ends up with her “head on a stick” (movie’s quote—here read a handful, just look for Mick Taylor, you’ll see what I mean), while the other ends up shot in the street like a wounded kangaroo (one of the least subtle metaphors in the film, of which there aren’t many—metaphors, I mean), an audience has to wonder where the payoff is. What about Ben? Did McLean forget about him? Of course not. The gag is that Ben never mattered. He matters so little to Taylor (at this point the clear “hero”), that he’s left for dog food (literally), and gets off with a minor nailing and a barefoot walk through the desert. Trust me, in comparison to the girls, it’s nothing. Nothing.

It’s a lot to put these kinds of accusations on a filmmaker. But you are what you make in the art world. What McLean, and other isolated and clearly frustrated white-men like him have to realize, is that a film like this is your legacy. Make Jane Austen if you want Mr. McLean, if you think it will clean your conscious. But those of us out there who’ve marked your name in our brain the same way we’ve marked sharecropping produce companies, or former oil company CEO’s who are now vice-presidents, or cars that blow up when rear-ended, will know that, beneath all the pomp and circumstance of art house respectability, you can’t help but think, “How would Emma do on a date with Bushman Taylor? Let’s see her British wit help her now!” Any doubters need only look to the last scene featuring the despicable Rocketman—I’m sorry, Mick Taylor: After dispatching Kristy from a distance with his rifle (trust me, she doesn’t get of easy in the slightest), a sense of melancholy invades his face—surely not from the fact that this was an innocent woman he simulated sex with a large cutting instrument—but that the fun ended earlier than he would have liked (he had so many more toys!). And we’re left to helplessly watch Taylor return to the Outback with a few bumps and scrapes, rifle resting confidently lazy on his shoulder, his dwindling shape a shimmering shadow or trick of the light, vanishing into the blazing sun. It’s almost as if McLean would have us believe he were one of those great old gunslingers, like John Wayne, or the hero Shane. Unfortunately for us, Shane was dead on his feet, and Taylor seems to be doing just fine

Sunday, May 13, 2007


Please allow me this one “dear diary” moment. This whole thing started because I have a hard time sleeping. Mainly because I find it necessary to think through things when I should be writing them down. I've never been one for journals. As a writer this is a bad habit. I can’t count the number of stories/essays I formulated in my mind while my body would be better served in deep REM. It would be nice if I could launch such a high minded enterprise with something substantial. You know, like: Cormac McCarthy on Oprah (here), or Adam Garfinkle’s “Holiday Note” in the Nov/Dec issue ’06 issue of The American Interest on “The Madness of Jewcentricity” (here), or why Baron Davis has long been an unappreciated player in the NBA (no link for that, solely my own unsubstantiated opinion), possibly even why more people should listen to old school R&B or Nick Cave (again, all me). No, unfortunately it was the double “grindhouse” bill of Wolf Creek and Hostel that finally got me off my ass (eventually). Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t those movies come out, like, two years ago? And, hey isn’t there like a sequel to Hostel on the way?” To your first question: Yes. Yes, they did. And I’m still pissed. To your second question: Oh, God… no…please… It was an intense urge to pontificate on the evils of these two movies (and trust me, they operate on two separate evil planes) that I couldn’t shake. Once I learned I could make my opinions known for free, I got right to it (...two years later). The next two posts will deal specifically with those two films, and hopefully give you a sense of the kind of thing you can expect to read here. After that, I’m hoping I will have cleansed myself enough so that I can set about contributing absolutely nothing to society. See you then.

The Mission Statement

My name is Sean McConnell and I am a writer you’ve never heard of. The purpose of 15 Feet is to provide thoughts and ruminations on a variety of topics: movies, music, books, art, news, etc. It is my goal to avoid (as much as is possible) the tendency to make this some kind of personal diary (shudder), although I admit that it will be very difficult to remove myself (i.e. personal experiences) from some of the discussions (probably most). There may be the occasional instance of shameless self-promotion; hopefully such instances will be handled with the appropriate humility if not a strong amount of embarrassment. The news media seems to be constantly telling me about the “blogger culture” and how it is taking over the world/influencing policy and information. I don’t know anything about that. In fact, I don’t know much about blogs. So, if anything I write is too juvenile, or not juvenile enough for the spectacular global community that is the internet, feel free to let me know. In fact, feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts whatsoever. Or, feel free to let me know you even found the page (assuming you don’t know me and I haven’t been shamelessly begging you to sneak a peek). I’m not an expert on anything, but since this is the internet, I assume that makes me an expert on things I don’t know anything about. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.