Sunday, July 31, 2005

No Country for Old Men

I started reading Cormac McCarthy's latest book while at work yesterday. I'm only about fifty pages in, so this assessment is very premature. But, I gotta say, it's pretty good. There is certainly a different vibe here, and the philosophical musings don't smack you over the head as was the case in most of his Westerns. But, I dunno, there's something really appealing so far. Will report again after I get a chance to finish it.

If anybody else is reading it -- Jeff, Pat, JD, etc. -- let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Okay, turns out I was wrong. It's about as lame as I'd feared. In fact, it somehow managed to be even MORE lame than expected.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Commodifying Nostalgia

A pretty interesting article by Bernardine Dohrn, formerly of the Weather Underground, over on the online version of The Monthly Review. Her message is simple enough, and reminiscent of a conversation I had with a friend earlier this week: Beware Sixties Nostalgia.

It is clear that the Sixties, which was never really The Sixties, is being wielded as a bludgeon against today's young risktakers; a barrier, a legendary era which can never be equaled today. In fact, the Sixties was annually declared "dead" by the pundits of Time magazine and Newsweek beginning in 1963 and throughout the mid-seventies. During the subsequent three and a half decades, there has been a relentless campaign to promote four myths about those radical social upheavals. These legends about the so-called Sixties must be on the table to be scrutinized by today's young activists.

First, the '60s is enshrined as a heroic time of huge demonstrations, militancy and organizing. It was never all that.

Sixties activism was almost always small, isolated, surrounded by hostile, angry crowds. The groundbreaking actions of the students who joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the women who stood for an end to patriarchy, and the veterans, draft resisters and deserters who defied the military machine are legendary now because they were right about history and morality. Overwhelmingly, their courage was the quiet kind, the inventive sort, often unrecognized, not showy.

[. . .]

Second, and paradoxically in counterpoint to romanticization, there has been a relentless thirty-year campaign to demonize and criminalize the Sixties. Militant resistance is portrayed as criminal, mass rebellion transformed into mob action, courageous choices derided as self-serving, moderately outrageous comments in the heat of the moment seized upon and repeated ad naseum as if they were the whole story or true.

[. . .]

Third, the struggle has been commodified, sold back to us as clothing, music, drugs, and film. It is trivialized, sucked of content, leaving only the husks of oldies, tattoos and faded murals.

[. . .]

Fourth is the lethal, deceptive telling of Sixties' history as if it were predictable and known, smoothing out the turmoil, the turbulence, the anarchy, and the ethical choices. The pat illusions that "we" all opposed the Vietnam War, "we" all were relieved that civil rights were granted to African Americans, and the "media" helped end the Vietnam war.

All four are really good points, but I'm of the mind that the third one really holds them all together -- and is, in a perhaps anachronistic way, the reason for the remaining three. Dorhn complains there that the Sixties have been commodified, and that this is problematic. And I would agree. However, the real problem isn't that the Sixties are now but a t-shirt and a CD. As she points out, that took a while to happen; the problem is that the processes of commodification have become that much more advanced, and far more capable of incorporating dissent. To the point, for example, that Starbucks can sell bottled water and use a portion of the proceeds for famine relief, and Macy's can sell Rwandan baskets -- and thus effectively squash any real debate about how the free market in which these companies clearly participate is very possibly culpable in both famine and the collapse of native markets. In this way, resistance to -- or at least a self-conscious analysis of -- the fundamental structures of western civilization, which clearly go beyond protesting a single presidential administration, or even the rights of one race of people (as recognized by Martin Luther King, Jr., just prior to his assassination) is almost immediately incorporated & copyrighted as a capitalistic endeavor, and thus drained of its life and vitality.

This is why, I suppose, so much 'revolutionary' political philosophy has turned to religious imagery: i.e., because the more prophetic elements of religion are highly resistant to commodification. The prophetic can be watered down or ignored; but it also always returns if it is truly representative of the True & the Just. I don't know that this is necesarily a good way to approach one's political resistance -- and I know that readers of this blog, as well as that of another, are bound to disagree with me and with one another -- but it is certainly worth thinking about & discussing.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Too Good Not to Quote

This article in today's Times about how the manufacturers of those eco-friendly hybrids we all say we wish we could drive, if only they were as big & bad-ass as the Hummer, have begun replacing any nominal environmental consideration for the more hairy-testicle concern of, sigh, acceleration, is just too good to pass up. It is, I am not afraid to admit sanctimoniously, because that is my right as an American with a blog, truly symptomatic of just about everything I loathe about the modern human condition. Read it all ... and then weep at its close:

Consumer Reports, in an article published in May, found that in actual on-the-road conditions the Accord hybrid averaged 25 m.p.g., versus 24 m.p.g. for the 4-cylinder model and 23 m.p.g. for the nonhybrid V-6. The E.P.A. figures show a larger benefit for the hybrid, but the agency's fuel economy figures are considered by many to be inaccurate because they do not reflect the way cars are actually driven.

The two-miles-per-gallon increase over the V-6, about 8 percent, is still significant, and federal tax rules, which are based on cost and not mileage benefit achieved, still give an Accord hybrid buyer a substantial subsidy. But 8 percent is not in the range that would make a substantial dent in American oil consumption. If every car in the country were converted to a hybrid with that improved mileage, the gain would be swallowed up in three to four years by growth in driving demand.

Mr. [Mark] Buford said he got just what he wanted from the Accord, a hybrid with no sacrifices. "I wasn't prepared to give up anything to 'go green' - not performance, amenities, or space," he said.

The HILARIOUS kicker, of course, is that Mr. Buford is still able (a) to listen to NPR, perhaps even contribute, and consider himself a liberal eco-friendly warrior; and (b) cash in on his $600 tax credit. If everything holds to form, I'm sure he'll take his savings, buy into TerraPass , and enjoy the wonder of the emissions trading market.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Well, what can I say, I had a couple of weeks there as an at least halfway decent blogger. Little did I know that, in all my excitement at being 'halfway decent', I neglected to blog again for another couple of weeks. Two steps forward ... two steps back. What can I say? (I did, however, manage a somewhat thoughtful post over here.)

I can't promise really consistent posting the next couple of weeks. Not that this will surprise you. Sure enough, consistency would be the real shocker. Nevertheless, the fact is I have a late-September deadline to submit my thesis. The writing is basically finished, but because I'm scatterbrained and completely unable to think in anything resembling coherency, I'm having to piece together my mad rambles one sentence at a time. It's like looking hay in a stack of needles, I tell you. A very painful process of (a) seeing the ridiculous stuff I will at times write, and (b) enduring my stubborn tendencies that believe it's good stuff anyway.

Anyway. In the comments of the previous post, I see a request for another book request. A part of me thinks this might be Aggie sarcasm, considering the silence, but I'll play along anyway. Sadly, I've not had the chance to read anything too interesting. I've started a few books, but few have grabbed me and not let go. Few books do this immediately for me, though. Sometimes it takes a day or two of reading here and there, and only then, without realizing it, I'm hooked. I suspect Paul Auster's Moon Palace may very soon turn out to be such a book. (Thanks to Brannon for the recommendation.)

Friday, July 01, 2005


A word to the wise, for those who are not already aware, the short fiction of George Saunders will rock you like a hurricane. I've spent the last couple of weeks, when not doing all the smarty-art shit I'm required to do for the sake of a degree, reading his two collections, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia. I cannot recommend them enough.

Some of the reviewers on Amazon, because they are idiots, characterize Saunders as 'dark' (I would say that they are more 'demented'). Some even go so far as to say that you should only read one story at a time, and then leave the book aside for a while. He's that disturbing, they claim. While I'm not opposed to one reading a short story collection deliberately, I'm not sure this is a very good reason -- and certainly not in the case of Saunders. What I find very curious about Saunders is the seeming ease he has in fusing 'disturbing' with 'hopeful' ... and more specifically, 'human'.

Most of his satirical stories, and boy they can often be pretty damn funny in parts, center around (mostly) men who have very little going for them, and who are living lies of various degrees and kind. Most are at some point faced with a choice -- a choice to act in defiance to their respective lies. There is, for Saunders, freedom at the heart of the blind necessities that make contemporary culture such a bitch. What some people may object to, of course, is that such freedom is not always of the 'happy' kind. Freedom is, for the most part, bittersweet to its core. There is a truth to this, and it is one that Saunders very consistently realizes in his fiction.