In Which I Admit To Having Read Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I’m usually disappointed by literary best-of lists, because the compiler is either out to prove his erudition by naming obscure and pointless titles and leaving off well known but still notable ones, or because they make me feel inferior for having not read most of the supposed great titles on the list, especially the obscure ones no one has ever heard of. However, the Telegraph has a list of their 50 best cult novels is pretty good, and not just because I’ve read most of them. It’s a pretty decent list as these things go, if a bit incomplete–it leaves off Naked Lunch, which is pretty much the dictionary definition of cult novel. Also, no Brautigan or Lovecraft. Anyway, their descriptions make up for the incompleteness. My vote for snarkist short summary:

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)
Bewilderingly popular and extremely silly Nietzschean melodrama, in which Ayn Rand gives her mad arch-capitalist philosophy a run round the block in the person of Howard Roark, a flouncy architect. Loved by the kind of person who tells you selfishness is an evolutionary advantage, before stealing your house/lover/job.

Nicely done.

I wold add The Hearing Trumpet, by Leonora Carrington, which might be a little too obscure for cult status, but it definitely has a place in my heart and on my bookshelf. Any other titles not on the list?

Long Live Triphop

After ten years, Portishead has a new album. This is undoubtedly a good thing, though you wouldn’t know it from this Salon article by James Hannaham, who seems to think that because the band’s new album doesn’t sound like their las tone (from a decade ago) that Trip Hop Is Dead! And Portishead killed it! Wah!

April 17, 2008 | Trip hop died on April 29, 2008, in Portishead, North Somerset, England, after a long illness. The coroner listed the musical genre’s cause of death as acute gloom as well as a severe deficiency of sexiness and Afro-Caribbean influence. Its funeral was conducted by Geoff Barrow, a beat maestro with a penchant for spy soundtracks, and Beth Gibbons, a chanteuse with a quivery vibrato, two members of the group Portishead, named after the town where Barrow grew up. The funeral service has been released in the form of a CD by the band, titled “Third.”

Trip hop’s parents always hated it — especially the deep, bumping rhythm section that made it popular background music in restaurants, lounges and hipster bedrooms. Its main practitioners felt that audiences would take trip hop more seriously if they removed these elements. Gradually they deprived the genre of black grooves and strangled it with white goth. Not until “Third,” however, did the genre make a decisive move into middle Europe, taking on German and Eastern European elements.

First, Triphop wasn’t exactly a movement with any sort of claim to immortality or cohesive manifesto, or even being a real movement. It was basically a few musicians who lived in Bristol and were friends and had similar influences.

But more importantly, claiming that Portishead has tragically gone Goth and expecting this to come off as a bad thing? Run that by me again, James:

Portishead’s “Third” finally severs all ties from anything remotely black or cosmopolitan, aside from a couple of breakbeats. Its extravagance, repetitiveness and gloom make the album Euro and Romantic enough to sound, at times, like high camp. When they prepare to take this set of dirges on tour, Gibbons and Barrow will need a truckload of lace and black lipstick.

A monotonous breakbeat throbs. Barrow adds synths that bring to mind theremins and Farfisa organs — the stuff of 1950s horror movies — even the theme from “The Munsters.” Gibbons begins to groan, her voice ghostly and nearly operatic. “Tormented inside,” she sings. “Wounded and afraid inside my head.” This describes only the first song, “Silence.” Similar tracks recall a variety of mopey and/or industrial groups from the ’80s — Joy Division, Dead Can Dance, sometimes even Eastern European provocateurs Laibach.

Tapping the shallows of their despair, the group weaves in bummed-out folk tunes like “Hunter,” “The Rip” and “Deep Water,” which set Gibbons’ dreary delivery against Spanish guitars or mandolins with the reverb cranked to give the impression that she is singing inside an empty church or a lonely culvert. Gibbons urges herself to conquer her fear of drowning. Listeners who have not decided to drown themselves by the end of that track should grit their teeth for “Machine Gun,” whose beat sounds a lot like — guess what? More accurately, the weapon in question seems to have been re-created on an 808 drum machine by the noise-punk band Einst¨rtzende Neubauten — those guys who used to play shopping carts onstage.

Oh stop! You mean they’ve adapted new sounds and grown over the last decade and are now influenced by Bauhaus, Laibach, Einst¨rtzende Neubauten… and this is bad, how?

This damning evidence of the band’s growth away from a brief trend that was kinda sorta popular among Insuferable Music Snobs during the mid 90’s is truly tragic. Something tells me this guy was upset when Bowie gave up being a folkie in favor of glam, too. I guess the rest of us will just have to make do with a band’s sonic growth into something beyond the narrow confines of their previous pigeonhole. How sad for us.

The Grand Symbol of Our Mighty Republic

Slate:

THE SKY, Dec. 20—We’re hovering 1,500 feet above Baltimore in a 200-foot blimp with Ron Paul’s name on it, and I’ve lost feeling in my hands. Elijah Lynn, vice president of the Ron Paul Blimp, passes around heat packets, the kind made for skiers. “Shake it,” he says. Over the past week, temperatures in the blimp have dropped to as low as 28 degrees. As the crew has learned, it’s hard out here for a blimp.

The Ron Paul Blimp launched last week in Elizabeth City, N.C,. and has since moved through Columbia, S.C., Richmond, Va., and now Baltimore, taking days off for bad weather. (You can track the blimp’s path via GPS here.) Anyone craning their neck blimpward sees one of two messages: “Who Is Ron Paul?” (an homage to Ayn Rand’s ” Who is John Galt?”) or “Ron Paul Revolution,” with the “evol” highlighted as a backwards “love.”

[…] There’s something perfectly Paulian about the blimp. It’s a stunt, in the best sense of the term—big, memorable, and utterly silly—a lot like Ron Paul’s candidacy itself, at least in the eyes of outsiders.

I have to quibble over this last assertion. Thanks to Ron Paul, scientists now have enough data to quantify nonsense, making the Ron Paul blimp objectively silly. No one in their right mind says,” Hay yeah, lets advertise our man for president with a blimp!” and then, not only puts forth enough effort to raise the money from like-minded idiots to put the damn thing in the air but then plasters it with allusions to Ayn Rand. The surviving members of Monty Python were preparing for a reunion, took one look at the Ron Paul Blimp and then Michael Palin turned to John Cleese and said, “Why bother?” Will Farrel, when contacted to play the part of Paul in an upcoming biopic said, “I’m sorry, I simply have too much dignity to act that ridiculous.” This is industrial strength silly, hardened in the hard heart of the most nonsensical blast furnace and constructed by mimes huffing ether.

It’s the perfect symbol for America in the 21st Century: a giant bag of hot air, drifting lazily overhead, threatening to fall on anyone and everyone for no good reason other than that it simply can. All that would make it better is if it were a nuclear powered blimp covered in depleted uranium spikes, built to substandard specs by a blimp design firm who outsourced the job to Bangalore and then had it constructed in China by eight year old sweatshop laborers, painted with toxic lead paint and imported by Wal-Mart.

Ben Franklin famously suggested that our national emblem should be, not the Bald Eagle, but the Wild Turkey. It only took 223 years but he finally got his wish.

Link via Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake.

Osama The Gun

Norman Spinrad, author of the classic proto-cyberpunk novel, Bug Jack Barron has a new book but you can only read the first third of it online. Apparently, no publisher wants to get behind Osama The Gun. The author explains that he fears it’s for political reasons and having read the first twenty pages or so, I can definitely see how that conclusion could be reached. it’s a great read though. Have a looksee. If enough people read part of it, maybe we can use these tired Internets for good and get this book the publication it deserves.

Via Warren Ellis.

Aparently, It’s Banned Book Week

I’m 0 for 2 on being up on milestones. However, I’m still more bummed about forgetting about Sputnik’s 50th than banned book week and a comentor over at Heavy Metal Librarian sums up why:

Banned books are passe. Have the list ever been updated. It always reads like a 1950s blacklist or dry county red state goodly Christian moral paranoia.

Banned information isn’t exactly the problem these days. It’s false mythologies, misinformation, and a presidential personality cult like Kim Jong-il’s minus the fashion sense.

He’s right. As wonderful a novel as Lolita is, there’s nothing even remotely erotic about it, other than Vlad Nabokov’s luscious turn of phrase. The idea that forms the core of the story isn’t even all that shocking anymore, what with real life US Senators trolling for underage Page flesh in the frickin’ Capitol, a story about a middle aged pedophile who convinces himself that the object of his lust is in love with him is almost quaint.

Now sure, pedophilia is a problem. But its not the harry monster under the bed that some folks in the media would have us believe and nowhere near as insidious as the finely structured layer of lies, damn lies, bullshit and purple smoke that makes up our pubic discourse. Plus, if you can’t get Lolita or any other banned book at your library, you can order it from Amazon or find the text online. Just ignore the barely-legal porn pop ups and the adverts in your email for Viagra and hot mother on daughter incest action.* And honestly, if you don’t ever get around to reading Lolita, or Tropic of Cancer or Are you There God, It’s Me, Margaret, it’s not the end of the world. Of course, neither will the world end if you never hear what vile and fiendish plot our politicians are hatching. That’s just your freedom you’ll be missing. But hay, so long as we know what happens to Britney’s kids, who cares, right?

Never fear! Science Fiction Will Save You!

Has it ever seemed to you like the folks over at Homeland Security think they live in a science fiction universe, where water can be made to explode and a nut with a home made shoe bomb is a credible threat? This is the reason why:

Looking to prevent the next terrorist attack, the Homeland Security Department is tapping into the wild imaginations of a group of self-described “deviant” thinkers: science-fiction writers.

“We spend our entire careers living in the future,” says author Arlan Andrews, one of a handful of writers the government brought to Washington this month to attend a Homeland Security conference on science and technology.

Those responsible for keeping the nation safe from devastating attacks realize that in addition to border agents, police and airport screeners, they “need people to think of crazy ideas,” Andrews says.

The writers make up a group called Sigma, which Andrews put together 15 years ago to advise government officials. The last time the group gathered was in the late 1990s, when members met with government scientists to discuss what a post-nuclear age might look like, says group member Greg Bear. He has written 30 sci-fi books, including the best seller Darwin’s Radio.

Now, the Homeland Security Department is calling on the group to help with the government’s latest top mission of combating terrorism.

I’m as much a fan of Science Fiction as the next geek, but these guys write futuristic war porn. Plug any one of their names into Amazon and you’ll find a bibliography of wingnuttery. These are the guys who think worldwide wars with tactical nukes are a good idea. And now the TSA and OHS want them coming up with fantasy scenarios that they think terrorists will use against us. Because we don’t have enough of those.

Terrorists will not be stealing a super secret experimental rail gun that fires sub light speed pellets of Einsteinium. They will not be hijacking the MIT Centrifuge in order to try and create a rogue black hole. Any would-be terrorist is going to use the easiest, dirtiest and most effective way to cause a Black Swan Event. That means hijacking airplanes to use as missiles (which, now that it’s been done is predictable and therefore, a worthless tactic). They’ll build homemade explosives, stuff them in a backpack and then blow themselves up on the New York Subway. Maybe. More than likely though, as we recently discovered, they’ll be so scared by an undercover FBI agent trying to get them to preform an ill-advised raid on Fort Dix, that they’ll call the police on themselves.

It’s this sort of sci-fi nonsensical thinking that has got US citizens afraid, and willing to turn over their rights, in the hopes that Jack Bauer will save them from terrorists with fantasy super weapons. Perhaps we’ve seen too many James Bond films but so long as we’re distracting ourselves looking for Dr. Evil and his sharks with laser beams, we’ll overlook the real threat, which of course is the point of all this terror theater: keep people distracted with elaborate scenarios and maybe they won’t notice that there’s nothing practical we can do to predict who the next disgruntled guy with a grudge and an IED or a cache of weapons will be.

Link via Boing Boing.

Fetch the Smelling Salts!

Apparently, we uncouth bloggers are giving some folks the vapors:

Readers should be warned when they are reading blogs that may contain “crude language”, a draft blogging code of conduct has suggested.

The code was drawn up by web pioneer Tim O’Reilly following published threats and perceived harassment to US developer Kathy Sierra on blogs.

The code begins: “We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation.”

And then goes on to tell us all to shut the fuck up, because we’re just prolls who should accept our place and thank the media outlets, all six of them, for allowing us the pantomime of free press they sell us.

But here’s the thing: if you’re reading this right now, you’ve already decided for yourself if you’re going to be offended by my loose language and run to the swooning couch and have Mammy fetch the smelling salts, or read through to the end to see if I make a valid point or not. And that’s all the bloging ethics we’ll ever need. Read my words or don’t. Agree, or don’t. You can agree and leave a comment to that effect or disagree and call me names. And maybe I’ll respond and maybe I’ll delete your trollish rants. But it’s up to me to decide because it’s my fucking website. I pay for the bandwidth, I own the domain. You don’t like my perspective? Go start your own blog and call me names on it. Maybe I’ll read it, maybe I won’t. But if you don’t like what I write, you’re under no obligation to read it. That goes as much for me as it does for Atrios or any of the big dogs in blogland. And the thing is, we all figured this out pretty quickly, on our own, years ago when we started this blog stuff in the first place and we didn’t need a manual or some policy board to tell us how to run our sites. We just made up the rules as we went along. seems to be working good so far, so what’s the problem?

The problem is that the Internet is a free medium and that scares the shit out of some people. It means unpopular opinions that might have some validity have an opportunity to get heard and to spread and become popular opinions, all without gatekeepers or some authority figure giving the thumbs up. It allows for culture to be spread and evolve organically, in the hands of anyone with a desire to contribute, not just the monied elite who, for most of human history, were the arbiters of taste and expression. Now that it is no longer so, there is fear that we, the unwashed, foul mouthed masses will have a say. And that, my friends, means the end of the way things used to be.

Sweet Chocolate Jesus!

Jesus made of food is bad but Jesus as food is… holy? No wonder I don’t get religion:

NEW YORK (AP) — A planned Holy Week exhibition of a nude, anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ was canceled Friday amid complaints from Catholics, including Cardinal Edward Egan.

The “My Sweet Lord” display was shut down by the hotel that houses the Lab Gallery in Manhattan, said Matt Semler, the gallery’s creative director. Semler said he resigned after officials at the Roger Smith Hotel shut down the show.

The artwork was created from more than 200 pounds of milk chocolate and features Christ with his arms outstretched as if on an invisible cross. Unlike the typical religious portrayal of Christ, the artwork does not include a loincloth.

The 6-foot sculpture was the victim of “a strong-arming from people who haven’t seen the show, seen what we’re doing,” Semler said. “They jumped to conclusions completely contrary to our intentions.”

But word of the confectionary Christ infuriated Catholics, including Egan, who described it as “a sickening display.” Bill Donohue, head of the watchdog Catholic League, said it was “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever.”

I’d think that something like the President’s response to Hurricane Katrina or Abu Ghraib would be a worse assault on Christian sensibilities, not a fucking sculpture made of chocolate. But then, I’m not a giant pick like Bill Donohue.*

Via Boing Boing.

________

*Who now will call me anti-Catholic for calling him a prick.

A Guide For the Perplexed

Or people in Boston, which may just be the same thing. Since some people in your town can’t tell the difference between a bomb and a cartoon character, here’s a little guide to help you through the chaos:

Not a Bomb

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Bomb!

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Bomb! Wait! Fooled ya. He just looks like a bomb. Not an explosive device!

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Bomb!

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NOT A BOMB!

In real life, bombs do not look like bombs. They look like plain packages or unobtrusive things. Trash. Boxes. Sometimes shoes (but only once and never since). Or nothing at all because they are hidden inside other things that are innocuous, like cars or plastic bags or chijuajuas. They do not tick. They do not blink.

Bombs are not used as part of a multi-million dollar marketing plan for a movie, even one directed by Michael Bay. They are dropped on people, usually civilians, form a great height, or strapped to the chest of fourteen year olds who still believe in fairy tales. They are stuffed inside soda cans and thrown through windows or mailed to celebrities by a recluse living in a shack in Montana.

Bombs do not ever look like cartoon characters that give you the finger, which you deserve for being so fucking daft that you shut down a whole frickin’ city because the government has you so shit scared that some religious fanatic living in a cave in some lawless zone in Pakistan, using his hand as toilet paper, is going to somehow deliver a state of the art improvised explosive device to the underside of a bridge in the greater Boston metropolitan area.

And even if they could, it wouldn’t light up!

But hay, at least it distracted us all from that war with Iran that Bush is starting.