Saturday, January 31, 2009

"The Revolver"

         I will be haunted to remember him by southern winds,
ardent acrobat with brazen sepia eyes, he lilted gently –
a taciturn man with a pocket for clothespins.

After th’ ripe pitch into orbit, the silence dropped like a balm.
You, I loved. You had a child beneath the autumn tree.
My ears may fatten on bells rung by outback winds

across the current’s ceaseless periphery.
You tucked in, you rolled back from sand dunes at Perth to waters more free,
a cadenced man made fortunate by his clothespins.

And light, lacquer those shattered lungs in his past ‘lectric blood.
Weigh down, immaculate collapse, to cold bare floor at last. If I call, refuse me;
I might yet smell my musk on stillblown southern winds

for there are some rivers that never find their oceans.
And shameless, clutching mother in the iris of noisy camera cacophony,
she waltzes: constant, your daughter – your bundle of clothespins.

Your beautiful feet once flew above the ground. Now still, they rest beneath it.
You frequented the places I sleep. Now they are only a little comfort to me.
I will be haunted, I will remember by south winds
a taciturn man with a thing for clothespins.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Slumdog Porn

Things aren't looking to well for Slumdog Millionaire, the acclaimed film that took the Globe for Best Picture and has been nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture.

Most critics loved it, but movie lover (and renowned author of The Satanic Verses, one of my favorite novels) Salman Rushdie told the New York Times that he was part of an initially silent minority - including Mick LaSalle of the San Fransico Chronicle - who had reservations about the film. I wrote my own criticial review in the UVU Review (I swear I didn't come up with the title).

Now this week, it seems that according to The Telegraph in the U.K., the parents of the two eight-year-old child actors in Slumdog Millionaire have risen accusations against the producers, claiming that their children have been exploited. The children have reportedly been paid less than an average Indian servant's sum - in fact, when comparisons were made between their salary and the payment to the Afghan child actors in last year's The Kite Runner, it's substantially less.

Yesterday, the AP reported that the parents of seven-year-old Rubina Qureshi are happy about being a part of the film and claim that the filmmakers and Foxlight has promised to put Rubina through school and has paid her a substantial sum - more than three times the annual adult's salary for the thirty days of shooting.

I don't know if the parents are telling the truth and are getting shushed by the big exec's or if they're lying to get more money out the studio. What's almost more interesting, though, is India's own reaction to Slumdog Millionaire, which is - almost predictably - not completely favorable, according to the Los Angeles Times. (It made me raise my eyebrow to find out that it opened earlier this month in the States but didn't open until just this week in Mumbai, the film's setting.) A few believe that it helps to show a side of India's current problems. Others, however, believe that it's a misleading and all-too-popular portrayal of India's problems that offers glamorized and unrealistic solutions to those problems.

"It's a white man's imagined India," says Shyamal Sengupta, a film professor in Mumbai. "It's not quite snake charmers, but it's close. It's a poverty tour."

Reuters reports that protests have begun in India over the film and Alice Miles, The Times writer, officially cemented a connection between Slumdog Millionaire and the phrase "poverty porn."

What may be of some irony is that the country's own Taare Zameen Par got the shaft for the Academy's foreign film nomination. Taare Zameen Par, arguably a Bollywood film in its own right, tells the story of a young school boy with dyslexia who sees the world in artistic manifestations (through animations and songs). When considering what has been suggested that makes Slumdog Millionaire so fascinating to Western viewers, it's pretty predictable that Slumdog Millionaire is now India's stake in the Oscar race.

(I haven't seen all of Taare Zameen Par, but what I've seen of it is pretty good. The acting is heartfelt, and there's great cinematography.)

Perhaps, like some, you get postcolonialist readings out of the film; this wouldn't be Boyle's first time playing with "(a) the slum exotic; (b) the neoliberal exotic, in which global capital miraculously transforms one's life; and, (c) the criminal exotic". Or maybe, like Rushdie or me, you just think the storytelling is spaghetti (slippery) and the delivery is the strainer (full of holes). Or maybe you really do love the film. Either way, I think Miles' concluding sentiments are pensive enough to co-opt here: "Boyle's most subversive achievement may lie not in revealing the dark underbelly of India - but in revealing ours."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Was Obama's Benediction Racist?

I loved Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction for its use of language, but the rhetoric have been something else; like Obama, I found myself nodding and smiling as Lowery described a day "when black will not be asked to give back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man"...but I found my smile fading when he concluded "...and when white will embrace what is right."

Something rubs me the wrong way about that last line. Why should only the whites embrace "what is right"?

It apparently also rubbed at Debra Dickerson and her friend John Schwade in a recent MoJo blog entry.

I do remain reserved about the article. Schwade makes, in my opinion, a fallacious equivocation when he states, "By the way, if it is racist to have an NFL team in the nation's capitol with the name 'Redskins,' it's racist to refer to native Americans as 'the red man,' even if it rhymes with 'ahead, man.'" I'm not sure what Schwade is trying to emphasize with that comment; is he pointing out the danger of using the phrase "red man," or is he sugesting it's only racist to say that because such racism is qualified by a similar instance of it? It sounds like a neat analogy, but it confuses me when I try to unpack it.

Likewise, I think there are some moments when Schwade is flirting with "qualifying statements," which is bland rhetoric and becoming one of my pet peeves (most recent example: before dinner tonight at Chili's with Jill's parents, I was reading a November '08 New York Times article about the Mormon hand in passing Prop 8. I think it's an informative article but I call foul when Frank Schubert, chief stragegist for Prop 8, "said he is [not] anti-gay - his sister is a lesbian..." I'd like to know how the hell that's relevant; like I told Sylvia, it's like me saying, "Oh, I'm not anti-Twilight - my sister is a fan." By the way, using gay and lesbian friends to qualify acceptance of homosexuality - and, likely, mask homophobia/intolerance - is something my sister herself has done around me a few times). Schwade does this when he implies that because he works at a prison, where apparently there's a significant population of blacks, he is entitled to sympathize with them as human beings. Right.

At any rate - like Schwade and Dickerson, I cringe a little because the idea ought to be that one acts on "what is right" regardless of race, gender, class, sexuality and religious (or non-religious) persuasion. "What is right" is ultimatley a dangerously vague phrase, and I realize that. I also realize that some may be quick to call the Rev. Lowery's benediction reverse racism when, like one of my professors, John Goshert, I think that's false and deluding epistemology - there's no such thing as reverse racism.

Still, I would hope that along with entertaining the nation with wordplay, the reverend was attempting to reconcile notions of "right" with pragmatism and not further divide the nation into "morally ethnic" demographics.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Movie Quotes Quiz

Yeah, I decided I was bored enough to do it. Guess what films follow - if you can!

1. “The heart is a sleeping beauty and love the only kiss it can't resist. Even if its eyes lay open wide, there is a heart that sleeps inside. And it's to there you must be hastening. For all hearts dream. They dream only of awakening.”

2. “You wanna hear something really nutty? I heard of a couple guys who wanna build something called an ‘airplane’ - you know, you get people to go in and fly around like birds. It's ridiculous, right? And what about breaking the sound barrier, or rockets to the moon, or atomic energy, or a mission to Mars? Science fiction, right?”

3. “It isn’t simply a question of creating a robot who can love; isn’t the real conundrum - can you get a human to love them back?”

4. “Screws fall out all the time. The world is an imperfect place.”

5. “You know what that song reminds me of? It reminds me of Mrs. Rachel Troubowitz and what she said to me the day I left…She's easily like a 44 double E. These things are massive…And she sees me and she can tell I got a hard on the size of the Statue of Liberty, all right? And she says to me, ‘Richard, calm down.’ And she says, ‘Now when you're over there, if you see anything that upsets you, if you're ever scared, I want you to close your eyes and think of these. You understand?’ So I said, ‘Yes, ma'am.’”

6. “And one more thing. From now on, we're going to have alternate dinner music because frankly – and I don't think I'm alone here – I'm tired of this Lawrence Welk shit.”

7. “Hey, don't knock masturbation! It's sex with someone I love.”

8. “If someone loved you very much, so that your happiness was the only thing that she wanted in the world, but she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive her?”

9. “And then your Mommy said ‘Just do it already!’ which was very confusing to Daddy, so I took the most literal translation. (whispering) But between you and me, it was the smartest thing I ever did, 'cause now you're here.”

10. “I've always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember. That's just my style. But I'd really feel blue if I didn't think you were going to forgive me.”

“I don’t think you’re an asshole…I just think you’re kind of a son of a bitch.”

“Well, I really appreciate that.”

11. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain – wasting years – for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes, or it seems to but doesn't really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole. To make you feel loved.”

12. “I’m still stoned. Those eye drops you gave me didn’t do shit.”

13. “Dylan. I'll call my baby Dylan. It's a girl's name, too.”

14. “I really do have love to give. I just don't know where to put it.”

15. “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.”

16. “I know it hurts. That's life. If nothing else, It's life. It’s real, and sometimes it fuckin’ hurts, but it's sort of all we have.”

17. “Sometimes it's not enough to know the meaning of things; sometimes, we have to know what things don't mean as well. Like, what does it mean to not know what the person you love is capable of? Things fall apart, especially all the neat order of rules and laws…I stopped trying to figure everything out a long time ago.”

18. “You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time. But you were wrong.”

19. “Let me get this straight. You know her. She knows you. But she wants to eat him. And…everybody's okay with this?”

20. “Every shadow, no matter how deep, is threatened by morning light.”

**Bonus** I didn't realize until after most of the quotes were compiled that there's actually a theme that connects them all. Name what the/a theme is.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Twilight Sparkledammerung!

This is. Pretty much. The funniest thing about the Twilight series. I've ever read.

Pretty much.

So, let me get this straight. Women all over the country are obsessed over (according to "SMeyers") a "new feminist heroine" who is (in the second book, quite literally) nothing without her Man. Said Man stalks her, can't read her mind, and eats her baby out of her stomach. Meanwhile, the Native Americans get stereotyped and shafted and the Catholics (I mean, the Italians) are the only real vampires, but they are the bad ones. Not the righteous and pure ones. Blank pages and nauseating romance that would make an Avon novelist gag.

And this is the amazingness called Twilight. LDS dogma that parades around in "neo-feminism" that, for Smeyers, is gory, incoherent and melodramatic white male masculinity, racism and vegetarianism.

...What. The. Hell.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Of Sowing & Harvests"

Subcomandante Marcos, the famous leader of the Zapatista resistance, speaks on the Gaza attacks.

From My Word Is My Weapon, Kristen Bricker reporting/translating:

Two days ago, the same day we discussed violence, the ineffable Condoleezza Rice, a U.S. official, declared that what was happening in Gaza was the Palestinians' fault, due to their violent nature.

The underground rivers that crisscross the world can change their geography, but they sing the same song.

And the one we hear now is one of war and pain.

Not far from here, in a place called Gaza, in Palestine, in the Middle East, right here next to us, the Israeli government's heavily trained and armed military continues its march of death and destruction.

The steps it has taken are those of a classic military war of conquest: first an intense mass bombing in order to destroy "strategic" military points (that's how the military manuals put it) and to "soften" the resistance's reinforcements; next a fierce control over information: everything that is heard and seen "in the outside world," that is, outside the theater of operations, must be selected with military criteria; now intense artillery fire against the enemy infantry to protect the advance of troop to new positions; then there will be a siege to weaken the enemy garrison; then the assault that conquers the position and annihilates the enemy, then the "cleaning out" of the probable "nests of resistance."

The military manual of modern war, with a few variations and additions, is being followed step-by-step by the invading military forces.

We don't know a lot about this, and there are surely specialists in the so-called "conflict in the Middle East," but from this corner we have something to say:

According to the news photos, the "strategic" points destroyed by the Israeli government's air force are houses, shacks, civilian buildings. We haven't seen a single bunker, nor a barracks, nor a military airport, nor cannons, amongst the rubble. So--and please excuse our ignorance--we think that either the planes' guns have bad aim, or in Gaza such "strategic" military points don't exist.

We have never had the honor of visiting Palestine, but we suppose that people, men, women, children, and the elderly--not soldiers--lived in those houses, shacks, and buildings.

We also haven't seen the resistance's reinforcements, just rubble.

We have seen, however, the futile efforts of the information siege, and the world governments trying to decide between ignoring or applauding the invasion, and the UN, which has been useless for quite some time, sending out tepid press releases.

But wait. It just occurred to us that perhaps to the Israeli government those men, women, children, and elderly people are enemy soldiers, and as such, the shacks, houses, and buildings that they inhabited are barracks that need to be destroyed.

So surely the hail of bullets that fell on Gaza this morning were in order to protect the Israeli infantry's advance from those men, women, children, and elderly people.

And the enemy garrison that they want to weaken with the siege that is spread out all over Gaza is the Palestinian population that lives there. And the assault will seek to annihilate that population. And whichever man, woman, child, or elderly person that manages to escape or hide from the predictably bloody assault will later be "hunted" so that the cleansing is complete and the commanders in charge of the operation can report to their superiors: "We've completed the mission."

Again, pardon our ignorance, maybe what we're saying is beside the point. And instead of condemning the ongoing crime, being the indigenous and warriors that we are, we should be discussing and taking a position in the discussion about if it's "zionism" or "antisemitism," or if Hamas' bombs started it.

Maybe our thinking is very simple, and we're lacking the nuances and annotations that are always so necessary in analyses, but to the Zapatistas it looks like there's a professional army murdering a defenseless population.

Who from below and to the left can remain silent?

Is it useful to say something? Do our cries stop even one bomb? Does our word save the life of even one Palestinian?

We think that yes, it is useful. Maybe we don't stop a bomb and our word won't turn into an armored shield so that that 5.56 mm or 9 mm caliber bullet with the letters "IMI" or "Israeli Military Industry" etched into the base of the cartridge won't hit the chest of a girl or boy, but perhaps our word can manage to join forces with others in Mexico and the world and perhaps first it's heard as a murmur, then out loud, and then a scream that they hear in Gaza.

We don't know about you, but we Zapatistas from the EZLN, we know how important it is, in the middle of destruction and death, to hear some words of encouragement.

I don't know how to explain it, but it turns out that yes, words from afar might not stop a bomb, but it's as if a crack were opened in the black room of death and a tiny ray of light slips in.

As for everything else, what will happen will happen. The Israeli government will declare that it dealt a severe blow to terrorism, it will hide the magnitude of the massacre from its people, the large weapons manufacturers will have obtained economic support to face the crisis, and "the global public opinion," that malleable entity that is always in fashion, will turn away.

But that's not all. The Palestinian people will also resist and survive and continue struggling and will continue to have sympathy from below for their cause.

And perhaps a boy or girl from Gaza will survive, too. Perhaps they'll grow, and with them, their nerve, indignation, and rage. Perhaps they'll become soldiers or militiamen for one of the groups that struggle in Palestine. Perhaps they'll find themselves in combat with Israel. Perhaps they'll do it firing a gun. Perhaps sacrificing themselves with a belt of dynamite around their waists.

And then, from up there above, they will write about the Palestinians' violent nature and they'll make declarations condemning that violence and they'll get back to discussing if it's zionism or anti-semitism.

And no one will ask who planted that which is being harvested.

For the men, women, children, and elderly of the Zapatista National Liberation Army,

Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos
Mexico, January 4, 2009.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Voices From Gaza

Photos courtesy of Sameh A. Habeeb.*

Palestinians continue to suffer as Israelis slaughter hundreds of civilians and keep the press in the dark. Meanwhile, Bush continues to appear ambivilant while Obama finally raises his voice.


"I was at home when I heard that Israel had begun bombing the Gaza Strip. I was afraid that something had happened to my brother, Osama, so I tried to call his mobile but he didn't answer. I later found him dead in [a] hospital. My brother was married with 10 children. He didn't belong to Hamas; he was just trying to look after his family. My brother is a victim of this crazy bombing in Gaza. Civilians are always victims and they pay the price of wars. What will we say to his sons when they grow up?"
--Saber Abu Reesh, 40, from the Maghazi neighborhood of Gaza

"I threw some clothes into a bag and hurried with my girls to Nusserat, where my father lives, but we still don't feel safe. Before we left, we spent the whole night in the basement with our neighbors. The shelling continued all night and my children cry constantly."
--Etemad Abu Tahoon, 35, fled from Gaza City with her three daughters

"In my work as a hospital nurse, I come into daily contact with Arabs, both patients and staff, and I have excellent relations with them. Of course a peace agreement is possible, I've always thought so. These people are my friends and my colleagues. Despite the fact that Irit is dead, I still say that there is a real possibility to reach a solution. But these are not the people who killed my niece. It's the extremists who killed my niece, and they will stop at nothing right now. There are extremists on both sides and, as terrible as it sounds, maybe it should be the extremists that we talk to. Otherwise, where is the end to this bloodshed?"
--Tziona Peleg, Israeli, 47, aunt of Irit Shitrit, who was killed by a missile on Ashdod last week

"A friend of mine was badly injured in a rocket attack three weeks ago and, for me, this was a wake-up call. I was shocked that it touched my personal life so directly. I served in the Israeli Army on the border with Gaza and I knew the Palestinians in Gaza had the capability of sending rockets deep into Israel, but never thought they would use it. I'm the kind of person who thought a solution was reachable, one way or another. I've lived in Ashdod all my life, and I've heard talk of peace come and go, but nothing has ever been finalized. I don't know if an agreement can be reached while Hamas is in control of Gaza."

--Ortal Suissa, 21, works in a clothes store in downtown Ashdod (Israel)


Israel's assault on Gaza has exacted the bloodiest toll of civilian lives yet, when the bombing of UN schools being used as refugee centres and of housing killed more than 50 people, including an entire family of seven young children.

The UN protested at a "complete absence of accountability" for the escalating number of civilian deaths in Gaza, saying "the rule of the gun" had taken over. Doctors in Gaza said more than 40 people died, including children, in what appears to be the biggest single loss of life of the campaign when Israeli bombs hit al-Fakhora school, in Jabaliya refugee camp, while it was packed with hundreds of people who had fled the fighting.

Most of those killed were in the school playground and in the street, and the dead and injured lay in pools of blood...

Hours before, three young men who were cousins died when the Israelis bombed Asma elementary school in Gaza City. They were among 400 people who had sought shelter there after fleeing their homes in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza.

Abed Sultan, 20, a student, and his cousins, Rawhi and Hussein Sultan, labourers aged 22, died. Abed Sultan's father, Samir, said the bodies were so mangled that he could not tell his son from the cousins. 'We came to the school when the Israelis warned us to leave,' he said. 'We hoped it would be safe. We were 20 in one room. We had no electricity, no blankets, no food.

'Suddenly we heard a bomb that shook the school. Windows smashed. Children started to scream. A relative came and told me one of my sons was killed. I found my son's body with his two cousins. They were cut into pieces by the shell.'

...The rising casualty toll, more than 640 Palestinians killed since the assault began 12 days ago, gave fresh impetus to diplomatic efforts. The White House offered its first hint of concern at Israel's actions by calling on it to avoid civilian deaths. The president-elect, Barack Obama, broke his silence by saying he was 'deeply concerned' about civilian casualties on both sides. He said he would have 'plenty to say' about the crisis after his swearing in."


"I don't know about you but I did not find the Israeli government's Twitter press conference particularly winning.

There is something downright creepy about the juxtaposition of mass civilian casualties in Gaza and Israeli officials' demonstrated fluency in cutesy text message jargon.

To the short but crucial question from 'peoplesworld': '40 years of military confrontation hasn’t brought security to Israel, why is this different?' The Israeli consulate replied: 'We hav 2 prtct R ctzens 2, only way fwd through neogtiations, & left Gaza in 05. y Hamas launch missiles not peace?'

Hype about the 'first ever' Twitter press conference gave Israel a boost in the mainstream media, as Megan Garber observes in CJR.

But the use of Twitter for propaganda purposes didn't sit as well with Twitter bloggers. Small wonder. The messages were short, but the content of the press conference was practically nonexistent.

...A nation at war that sounds like a high school girl texting trite tidbits on her cell phone is not much of an improvement over men in suits who stand behind lecterns and say nothing at great length.

Propaganda is all about narrowing discussion to a few simple points. Twitter, it turns out, is a great tool for that purpose."


"What matters most, General Amidror [Israelis] said, are three changes: coordination between the infantry and the air force; having commanders on the ground with a clear mission and flexibility to achieve it; and methods to keep Hamas in the fog of war, which includes disinformation and impediments to real-time press coverage on the ground. [emphasis added]

'The less Hamas understands, the better,' he said.

The army and government have also made it clear that Palestinian civilians will die in this war, because of the way Hamas has chosen to fight it from within the densely populated urban centers of Gaza. But events like the deaths of schoolchildren are harder to swallow."


"Hamas is an enemy that refuses to recognize my national right, as a Jew, to live in my country. No one would be happier than I would to see it gone from the seat of power...However...Hamas is an immanent part of the democratic system in Palestine, and the only way to remove it from power is the same way it got there - through the ballot box. Not with bullets...

Israel must decide, once and for all, which path it will take: reach a courageous resolution to the conflict, or prolong it indefinitely. If it chooses the former, it will find the Arab peace initiative of March 2002, which garnered enthusiastic support from Yasir Arafat and vehement denunciation by Hamas. It is unlikely that Israel will get a better deal than what that initiative offers: full recognition and normalized normalized relations with all of the Arab states in return for near total withdrawal from the territories, including East Jerusalem, with reciprocal land exchanges if Israel wishes to retain any areas in the West Bank or Jerusalem, as well as a just and agreed-upon resolution to the refugee problem. One may assume that in such an eventuality, the international community, with the new American president at its helm, would provide the parties with a broad security and economic shelter.

If Israel refuses to pay that price--which has not changed for the past two decades and probably will not for the next two--and if it is willing to risk losing its Jewish and democratic character, instead of fighting Hamas it can easily find common ground with the organization: Hamas also rejects the idea of two states based on the June 4, 1967, borders. Its leaders are begging for a long-term truce and have proved that they can enforce one. They know that they do not have the power to defeat Israel's mighty army. But they also know that as long as Israel refuses to demarcate a permanent border with Gaza and the West Bank, the demographic clock--which will soon bring about a Palestinian majority in Israel and the territories--makes the dream of "greater Palestine" look more and more real."

*Sameh has been receiving death threats to take down his blog. "I have got three calls from anonymous persons stop blogging or I would be killed," he says.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

"I Am But One Small Instrument."

As the year begins with two of the world's largest religions clashing in the latest acrimonious bloodspill between Israelis and Palestinians (six kids were killed today after prayer as Israelis bombed and marched into Gaza, according to The Guardian), I finished one of the most unique and profoundly affecting spiritual experiences I've had in years. It came in two parts; first, it came in the HBO mini-serial Angels In America, which is a discussion for another time. The second part came in the form of a fictional character named Owen Meany.

A Prayer For Owen Meany is a 1989 novel by John Irving (The World According to Garp and both the novel and screenplay The Cider House Rules). I picked it up because I got into the Jimmy Eat World album Clarity last summer; the concluding sixteen-minute track is a delicate dirge titled "Goodbye Sky Harbor" that draws its lyrics and atmosphere from the final scene in Irving's novel. The novel is part the confessional, part coming-of-age story of the narrator, John Wheelwright and his handicapped best friend - a dwarfish boy with a unique set of vocal pipes and the firm belief that he is God's instrument - and their hilarious (mis)adventures in Gravesend, New Hampshire from the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties. The novel begins with one of the most compelling and memorable opening sentences I've ever read: "I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice - not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."

If the plot sounds familiar, it might be because a film called Simon Birch came out in 1998 with a similar storyline. But Irving wanted nothing to do with the film - and for good reason. The movie is a wholly different creation from the book, keeping nothing but the eponymous character, a similar cast, and the pivotal, incipient scene in the first chapter when John's mother dies. From there, all similarities are left behind; Irving paints a Gravesend and a cast of characters across nearly 600 pages with as much vividness and verisimilitude as the town you grew up in, the church you attended, and the high school you went to.

The characters must wrestle in this intrinsic world with determinism/predestination, faith, loneliness, guilt, forgiveness, historical memory, assimilation, displacement, fear and death. Most of all, the novel is about infidelity with others and with oneself; compromise, hypocrisy and honesty...and storytelling itself. These struggles are set against the independent backdrop of religion, war and the caustic aftertaste of the illusory, postmodern American dream. To put it another way: Irving satisfyingly accomplishes what Yann Martel merely attempts with his more arrogant, overbearing Life of Pi by raising responses to inquiries about the relationship between morality and faithfulness instead of merely raising questions (albiet nonsensically). It's a discussion that is expansive, tedious and ambitious in scope. But most of the time, it works.

There are certainly things to dislike. The narrator's tone is cynical, despondent, and dour, but is intended to be playfully rueful. The narrator's language is verbose enough, at times, to border on the obscure. At first, I thought that was very self-appreciating of Irving. But I began to see a thematic pattern in the vocabulary that was witty, comedic and clever (a few times, the text seems metafictional). Also, it's possible you'll never misuse a semi-colon once you finish this book since it's used so often - but I think it's sometimes used to excess. Irving comes across as rather unctuous, and sometimes even self-righteous. A couple of scenes felt either rushed or contrived, even anti-climactic. But, I decided, to dwell on these things is to simultaneously identify and miss Irving's point.

Publically, there's a love-hate relationship with the novel. Most criticisms seem to either completely missing an interpretive point of Irving's novel or they had certain expectations that were not met upon finishing (although it seems like most people love it). For one reviewer, it's contrived and implausible, and for another reviewer it insults Christianity. But Christianity is hardly (what I think is) the point...while contrived and implausible are exactly what the characters fight so hard for - and against - in this fantastic novel.

I haven't read a book that kept me (willingly) up until dawn since I was eighteen when I read The Kite Runner. And I haven't felt my heart break so much for a character, as well as disappointment at finishing a novel, since I was fourteen when I read Les Miserables for the first time. I started reading slower as the book was ending, just so I could "save myself" the pending heartbreak. When I finally finished, I lay in bed in anguish and hope with myself and God.

If you decide to read it, I recommend that you read it slowly and with a similar supension of belief you'd use to approach a fairytale. Plan to read it over a few weeks, if not a month or two. I also recommend a soundtrack; sometimes I read with music, especially when songs are referenced in the text. I'd recommend Nancy Wilson's acoustic guitar soundtrack from the Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown and the following: "Too Romantic," "All This and Heaven, Too" and "Fools Rush In" by Frank Sinatra; "Green Onions" by Booker T. and the MG's; "Move Over, Darling" by Doris Day; "Runaway" by Del Shannon; "Palisades Park" by Freddy Cannon; "Easier Said Than Done" by The Essex; "Duke of Earl" by Gene Chandler; "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by The Tokens; "We Can Work It Out" and "Paperback Writer" by The Beatles; "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" by Bob Dylan; "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" by Marylin Monroe; "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon and Garfunkel, and "Four Strong Winds" (preferably) by Neil Young. And, of course, the aforementioned Jimmy Eat World song "Goodbye Sky Harbor" to listen to after you turn the last page.

I believe the novel sets out to ask: "At what moral point does responsibility meet fidelity, and can belief reconcile delusion with doubt?" It asks, "Why do you, or do you not, believe in God? How do you live your life with, or without, God?" It also asks, "How does faith make mortality significant or insignificant?" If these questions interest you, A Prayer For Owen Meany might interest you as well. Perhaps, like myself and others, you'll even find an irrevocable, tender attachment to the characters halfway through. And you may also find your heart torn apart with heartbreak for the last pages and with disappointment for having come to the end, wanting to stay and finding that - like the narrator - you'll be forever "doomed to remember" that final scene at Sky Harbor with Owen Meany...and the prayer.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Bang

"This is the way the world ends..."

While a thousand people are ringing in the new year in a high-class nightclub in Bangkok, a fire breaks out. Fifty-nine people die and about two hundred others get injured. "Most of the victims died from smoke inhalation or were trampled in a rush to get out of the club," according to CNN. "Thirty bodies have been identified: 29 Thai nationals and one Singaporean..."

In Colombia, five people die at a New Year's Party from a suspicious accidental grenade explosion.

Eighty African migrants attempt to escape into Spain's North African enclave of Melilla. Moroccan police fire warning shots, then kill one man.

Athens continues to reel from aftermath of the chaotic and violent December riots that lit the entire city on fire for two and a half weeks, and the rest of the Western world deals with a so-called fresh wave of anarchism and a new advent of networked protesting.

In the San Francisco Bay area, a lesbian is getting out of her car when she is struck on the head, then taunted by four men (only one of them is older than twenty-one). She is raped as she is verbally abused about her sexual orientation, say detectives, until one hears someone approaching. Then, according to the AP, "They forced the victim back into her car and took her to a burned-out apartment building. She was raped again inside and outside the vehicle and left naked outside the building while the alleged assailants took her wallet and drove off in her car, police said." This afternoon, the men are arrested and authorities classify the case as a hate crime.

A 72-year-old man in Aspen, Colorado named James Chester Blanning uses cell phone parts and gasoline to make four bombs, two of which he sends to banks along with notes warnings of mass murder and blood, demands for $60,000, and criticisms about President Bush. Police believe that he then abandons his plan halfway through and leaves the other two bombs on a sled in an alleyway. New Years celebrations in downtown Aspen are halted as mass evacuations of sixteen blocks ensue. Later this afternoon, Blanning's body was found in his Jeep, along with a rifle and a will entitling the police to three of his properties.

Meanwhile, in the latest update on the Christmas weekend Gaza attacks, a Hamas leader is killed along with his family when his house is bombed by an Israeli airstrike. Recap: Hamas is the biggest Palestineine militant organization that operates in Gaza, on the West Bank, and within Israel. Mixing Palestinian nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism, the group was elected in 2006, and their goals include the extermination of Israel because they don't believe that the two nations can peacefully co-exist. The also spend an estimated $70 million to fund schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues, none of which are services the Palestinian Authority provides to the people.

On December 27, the terrorist opposition group of Hamas fired rockets into Israel, resulting in an Israeli airstrike that some say violate Geneva Conventions by way of collective punishment; the airstrikes have been aimed at civilian-heavy areas, they have destroyed Gaza police and security offices as wells as killing and injuring civilians (one strike hit students going home from university), and humanitarian aid has been cut off by Israeli blockades, sealing off crucial food, fuel and medicine supplies.

Israel has violently and grotestquely overstepped its bounds by attacking millions of people to punish a smaller group. Some Israeli groups protest the strikes against Gaza while Bush and Obama remain nearly completely silent (Obama stating, according to a spokesperson, that there is only one president at a time).

Back in the States, U of U scientists continue to study something else that happened on the 27th: a swarm of the most intense earthquakes in many years hit Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park. While scientists aren't issuing a volcano advisory any time soon, the swarms either indicate a short-lived phase of seismic activity that might continue for a few weeks, or a larger earthquake may be on its way.

"...This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper."
-- T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

"And everything can change on a New Year's day..."
--Rage Against the Machine, "War Within A Breath"