Friday, June 28, 2013

#593. The Cephalopod Coffeehouse June 2013

Okay, before we dig into Armchair Squid's Cephalopod Coffeehouse book talk, let's list the books I read during June 2013:
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • Doctor Who - Shada by Douglas Adams by way of Gareth Roberts
  • Blockade Billy by Stephen King
  • Lunatics by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel
  • Cobra: Son of the Snake by Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso
  • The World of Flashpoint Featuring Superman by various
  • Insane City by Dave Barry
  • The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
  • Cave of the Dark Wind by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • Batman and Robin Vol. 2 - Pearl by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
  • War of the Green Lanterns  by Geoff Johns and various
  • The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi
  • Starman Omnibus Vol. 6 by James Robinson and Peter Snejbjerg
and currently:
  • Fanon by John Edgar Wideman
Okay, again, before you start to feel like all I do is read, just know that this extensive list is not as impressive as it seems.  Obviously, if the title has superheroes in it you can be assured that it's a graphic novel collection, which doesn't take so much time to read.  There are also several really short books in there, Blockade Billy and Cave of the Dark Wind especially, while I read Good Man Jesus in a single sitting (for whatever reason, which does happen to me but not too often).

But again, a lot of this was easy to read quickly because a lot of it was just very good, and very easy reading.  Crying of Lot 49 was a short read but it took a while, as your better literature (not books in general, but what would typically be called literary fiction) is apt to do.  The writing becomes more involved.  You need to concentrate a little more, with far less nonsense going on that flows from sentence to sentence, page to page, words connecting in such a way that leaves you thinking as you read rather than just knowing that you're being taken for a wild ride.

And that was the way it was with Black Album, and Fanon, as well.  These are reads that even if they take days or a week still feel as if they're taking a month if not longer, not in a bad way, but as if you're living with it and not just watching it pass by.  The books I don't like to read, they're the ones that are a part of the landscape that I'm not particularly interested in.  I'm someone who likes to look at the world around him, but there's always a necessary filter, otherwise you'd go mad noticing everything.

So the month was a combination of the stuff I really love to read, mind-expanding and also simply enjoyable reading.  I even got to read another Douglas Adams!  Sort of!  Adams wrote a little bit of Doctor Who, and a little bit of it got lost along the way, remembered it was falling or something, and recently the kind Mr. Roberts decided to complete it for us.  Since I'm someone who settled the Homer controversy for himself by deciding that it ultimately didn't matter who Homer was or how responsible he was for what we read today of the Trojan War and the journey home for Odysseus, just so long as we acknowledge that he was incredibly important in preserving a long tradition, I don't mind seeing a favorite author become a legacy carried on by someone else.  This isn't to say that I think the creator of anything isn't important, or that we can blithely slap anyone's name on anything (the way some people feel about Shakespeare, although I argue the man was the man, and anyone who says differently has no idea how art really comes about), but that in preserving a name and its legacy, we preserve a part of the culture that's every bit as important as what that person may or may not have contributed.

Confused yet?  You just haven't read enough of me.  By the way, all of these books have lovely, full-sized write-ups at my Good Reads feed.

So if I were to choose only one of these books to write about (again), which would they be?  I'll cheat again and choose the one I'm currently reading, which would be Fanon, naturally.

Fanon is kind of based on the life, or perhaps simply the legacy, of Frantz Fanon, who might be considered the pioneer of the revolutionary '60s.  Author John Wideman has written very much a stream-of-consciousness novel out of the impact Fanon continues to have on his life.  Sometimes it's straight-up metafiction, with Wideman interposing his perspective on the story he's writing, the character he's created and intends to follow.  Sometimes it's really just whatever Wideman feels like writing about.  It's very much the kind of book you will read if you've got patience as a reader, don't just want a straight story but rather are willing to enjoy the journey the author sets you on, no matter the shape it takes.  It's one that begs for some concentration.  That's what I find fascinating about not only reading but writing.

(And for the record, part of what's bothered me about blogging is that I stumbled into a whole community that doesn't seem to understand any of that.  That is another topic, but let me just emphasize: I will never champion something or someone just because I want to champion that someone, but because I believe in the work, in the words themselves.  It's not the story, but rather the way it's told.  Anyone could tell a version of any story, and think they're clever simply for having written something, but writing is more than the art of telling a story, just as reading is more than the art of following a story.  If you don't have an honest-to-god reaction to the story, then the result is a failure.  It's not a matter of support.  It's a matter of preserving a tradition.  No one ever listened to someone tell a story badly.)

So while I ride the wild beast of Wideman's Fanon, I anticipate more books on my Reading List, and even the odd diversions elsewhere.  In July I'll be reading another Good Reads listing I received in the mail, Michael Stutz's Circuits of the Wind trilogy, and then hopefully reach the string of Star Trek books I'll be permitting myself to read after having long since sworn off Star Trek books.  I used to love them.  Practically read nothing but them.  But after a certain point, I stopped trusting them.  I read too many bad ones.  I became so selective that I talked myself out of them entirely.  But a few years ago, I started seeing that there might be some good ones still in that line.  And so I'll be seeing if I was right.  And maybe that'll be the topic for next time.

Friday, June 21, 2013

#592. Monk in Exile

Well, if you haven't realized by now that I've virtually quit blogging, I don't know what to do with you.

There's a lot of reason why this happened, but truthfully, the most honest one was that my laptop's battery finally crapped out on me.  The battery has been an issue for a while.  It stopped holding a good charge a few years ago.  Recently it wouldn't even reliably hold a charge while actually plugged in.  People less technologically pathetic than me probably would have been able to cope with these developments better.  Me, when the battery started becoming an issue, I actually went to the store where I originally bought the computer.  Maybe it's just that their associates suck (which is always possible), but they more or less told me to go away, and so I did, and came to no conclusion.

Like computers users of my kind in general, I've had constant issues with these devices.  I've owned a desktop since 2000, bought right before I started my sophomore year at the University of Maine in Orono (which was actually my first year there; I was a freshman at Mercyhurst in Erie, PA).  I got the laptop in the late fall of 2007, when I originally moved to Colorado Springs, mostly because the desktop (along with everything else I owned) took weeks to catch up with me.  (Seriously, moving companies?  You suck.  Even my brother is facing a lag time with his stuff as he prepares to relocate from Massachusetts to Louisiana.  Then again, maybe it's just moving companies based in Massachusetts.)

The desktop has had its issues, and we've managed to survive them.  My laptop and me have survived numerous crises as well, and it's my hope that we can overcome this one, too.

In the meantime not so much with the blogging.  I started blogging in 2002, coincidentally while attending UMaine.  College for most people is a time for expanding horizons.  I did plenty of that, and part of that was establishing an online presence.  I did a lot of that at a more-or-less-presently-defunct Star Trek message board that was much-beloved in its heyday.  We were a tight community.  I developed most of what has become my writing craft there, both in fiction and otherwise.

I've been here at Monk with very little readership for most of this time.  The most I ever independently provoked actual comments was with the brilliant but short-lived Ted Danson sitcom Help Me Help You.  I spent a lot of time in the years that followed my blogging debut not actually blogging.

And then in 2010, I started expanding.  You can still see all the expansion efforts.  I started blogging a lot.  And I stumbled into a community.

Now, I've never been one to be social.  I'm like the Green Lantern planet, Mogo.  And it always backfires on me.  Persistence equals success?  In your dreams, Dorothy.

The timing with the latest crisis and my decision to consciously back away was something that just sort of worked out for me.  I'd been stressed about blogging since the end of the A-to-Z Challenge.  I was still having fun, but it was becoming a chore, and as I said, persistence doesn't equal success.  I developed a small and loyal following, which I still appreciate, but ego comes to all of us.  We can't deny it.  I'm no Buddhist.  If you think you can live without it, then chances are you're not too keen on living itself.  And that's no way to live.

But this is to say that I haven't totally given up.  On the right is an updated linky for the book club the Armchair Squid started up.  Next Friday is our second meeting.

Join me.  Or not.

Friday, June 07, 2013

#591. JFK blown way what else do I have to say?

Now, just assume for a moment that it's a given that JFK's assassination was a matter of conspiracy, that Lee Harvey Oswald was not after all a lone gunman.

As Brad Meltzer writes in Identity Crisis, who benefits?  This will not be an in-depth discussion, because I don't have the patience for something like that.  Like most of what I write, it'll be a meditation.

I have a peculiar sympathy for men like Oswald, even Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibal serial killer caught when I was in middle school.  He had such a placid look on his face.  Clearly a fucked up individual.  I don't have sympathy because I want to be them, but because I can identify with them as someone who hasn't had the best luck integrating myself into the rest of society.  Aside from what Dahmer did, what else can you say about him?  I've never subscribed to the belief that monsters are anything else than the casual everyday variety who affect lives more blatantly and subtly than Dahmer or Oswald ever could.  Think whatever you want to about Dahmer, or Oswald.  Oswald had a terrible upbringing, and it stunted his emotional development.  Yeah he probably had a lot to do with the assassination.  But who benefits?

In the 1990s it became increasingly likely that the media would report and feed on the emerging cult of personality, the fifteen minutes of fame at any cost that Andy Warhol told us about, Warhol another eccentric who could just as easily as Chuck Barris have been moonlighting as a CIA assassin.  I mean, if you believe they put a man on the moon, right?  We question everything these days.  I was reading conspiracy theories about the Boston bombings within days of the marathon.

With Kennedy taken out the picture, who benefits?  The whole goddam world, if you'll pardon my language, but mostly two countries full of cold warriors.  Is it really so much of a stretch that two governments exchanged ideas about how to proceed after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis?  So much of what the Soviet Union did was a giant bluff, but in those days, when they were beating Americans in the Space Race, who the hell was going to believe that the nuclear clock wasn't ticking?  Alan Moore wrote a whole comic book at the very end of the cold war, Watchmen, that dealt with the nuclear clock as if it still mattered.  Probably because of all those nuclear reactors that were having all those problems at the time.  But that was it, really, wasn't it?  In Star Trek, the Soviet parallels in the Klingon Empire were revealed to be at the end of their rope, too, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  In the end, one half of the whole conflict simply couldn't be sustained.

And so that leaves the guy who was willing to go punch for punch, bravado for bravado, who just so happened to be taken out just before Vietnam, a war that went nowhere and was the only fighting that ever really broke out.  If this were 1812, the English would have been fighting the Americans as well as the French.  But after WWII, that was never going to happen again.  After Hiroshima, never again.  

But the governments wanted to make sure.  It's not so hard to imagine.  We take our hothead off the table, you take yours.  Khrushchev was removed from power not so long after 11/22/63.  I'm not following any specific conspiracy theories, here.  Who benefits?  The whole goddam world.  That's what someone decided, and then agreements would have been met.  Kennedy was one of the best pure politicians anyone ever saw.  His father made sure of it.  He became one because he couldn't help it, like a regular Manchurian candidate.  Clinton repeated this mold, out of sheer force of will, decades later.  Read all about it in Primary Colors.  Everything else he copied from Kennedy, he didn't have the actual ability.  He certainly didn't have Bobby.  Hillary, I know Bobby Kennedy, and you're no Bobby Kennedy.

Kennedy's legacy eventually boiled down to two elements: the assassination and Camelot, which was eventually exposed, and continues to be exposed, by all the affairs he carried on while he was in office.  And yet this is all a smokescreen.  He was the best damn president this country could have ever hoped for.  He pushed for the space program not out of personal conviction, but out of canny necessity.  That's what you need to remember.  He faced down two of the biggest crises of the twentieth century without military incident.  How many other presidents do you know who did that?

And yet everyone feared that he would do the unthinkable and unleash the bomb, just because he might be forced into it, back up his words.

In my experience, it's not the good guys who do that sort of thing.  In my experience, it's the bad guys trying to prevent the good guys from doing it.  It wasn't Roosevelt who dropped the bombs, it was Truman, who considered it a tactical necessity.  Truman was a soldier.  So was Kennedy.  But what do people remember about Kennedy's service?  Oh yeah, going out of his way to save lives, not take them.  What did he do as president?  Go out of his way to save lives.  He was a Berliner, remember?  He talked better than anyone else, but he wasn't just talk, and he wasn't someone who would talk himself into a corner.  He'd talk himself out of it.  Hell would freeze over before John F. Kennedy failed his country, or the world.

Yet there were plenty of people who convinced themselves otherwise.  He simply wasn't as popular as you might sometimes be led to believe.  He was elected against Nixon, and it's said television made the difference.  Not his big ideas or idealism, but his good looks.  Well, bully on that.  Nixon came back a decade later and became president after all, and then won a landslide reelection.  It was Vietnam that was the legacy of the years that followed Kennedy's assassination, and what dogged even Nixon.  No one was safe.  Johnson carried out all of Kennedy's programs, and we reached the moon.

And we stopped talking about the Soviets.  Really, go and look.  In fact, after Vietnam we all started worrying about the Middle East.  I mean, immediately after!  And it was another quagmire, not right away.  Even Vietnam wasn't a quagmire initially.  That was something the French and Eisenhower worried about well before Kennedy.  And yet the quagmire of Vietnam didn't start until after the assassination.

I'm saying the whole world benefited because we were all allowed to forget about the nuclear clock.  We didn't even notice when it stopped being relevant.  In Moore's Watchmen, Nixon is still president.  Nixon became a pariah.  In fact, everything became a pariah after Kennedy's assassination.  If you believe the record, Kennedy himself became a pariah.  Just as he was all along, for some people.

I'm not saying any of this is true, that a conspiracy in fact did exist, two countries deciding to take their troublesome chiefs off the table in whatever form such a move ended up taking (there's just some much monkeying around in the Kennedy affair, that if Oswald didn't have help before his death he certainly did after it, if only to apparently obscure and possibly cover up what perhaps only didn't happen but was considered...see how complicated all of this is?).  What I'm saying is...Kennedy's assassination had one lasting effect, and it was that from that point onward, we started seeing shadows everywhere, and not just saw but created them.  Woodward and Bernstein are still considered heroes for helping take down Nixon, that dastardly plotter (and Watergate was all about...stealing campaign secrets).  Vietnam was a terrible awful thing, but it was also not nearly as bad as the reaction it provoked at home.  Iraq and Afghanistan, the same but thankfully not as bad.  We're still working on the level of our collective idiocy.  (By the way, we put Saddam there.  And then we took him out.  The real problem is and always has been Muslim insecurity.)  Clinton is hailed as a hero despite being a perfectly miserable typical politician.  Gore is hailed as a martyr even though it's plain to see he never wanted to be president in the first place.  (Figure it out.)  And Bush is, well, a pariah.  We use the smokescreen of oil to justify our hatred of him.  And of course everyone who makes that complaint still drives their vehicles each and every day.  Never mind the hypocrisy behind the curtain, Dorothy.

Oswald considered Cuba to be the model of utopia.  He really did.  He thought Castro was a great man.  Me, I'll always side with another fallen hero, Che.  And why not?  Oswald defected to the Soviet Union, and then came back when he realized Marxism and communism were not the same thing.  Today we talk about capitalism and socialists, but it's the same thing, always the same thing.  I tell you, Billy Joel had it right.  We didn't start the fire.  Jefferson was elected president on the grounds that he wasn't John Adams.  And Jackson was elected on the grounds that he wasn't Quincy.  I tell you, these things don't always work out the way we think they will.  Without Jackson, I'm convinced civil war might have been ultimately averted.  Maybe even without Jefferson.  I wonder how much the Louisiana Purchase affected the course toward 1812.  Who's to say how these things work?  Menelaus lost Helen, and Agamemnon declared war on Ilium.  Then again, he might have been preparing to do that anyway.

All I'm really asking is that maybe we let cooler heads prevail every now and again.  Stop discussing events with histrionics.  That's the kind of thought that would actually convince someone that Kennedy was a bad president.  He wasn't.  He was the last of the greats.  And we've all been trying to argue ever since that one party or another has been his successor.  Funny thing is, Lincoln was a Republican.  Kennedy was a Democrat.  And yet they were after the same goals.  The entire Union was scared shitless during the whole Civil War.  If it hadn't won, we'd consider Lincoln a regular Kennedy today.  And yet that's my point.  Kennedy was a regular Lincoln, and Lincoln was a regular Kennedy.  You need to look beyond the rhetoric.  That's what damned Kennedy.  And that's what's been damning us ever since.


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