Merry F-ing Christmas

December 25th, 2007 at 5:54 pm

Merry Christmas.

So one more from Kingdom of Fear and then hopefully this nightmare will be over.

In a letter to Jann Wenner, Hunter S. Thompson has this to say about the depravity that is Christmas:

“Christmas hasn’t changed much in twenty-two years…It is still a day that only amateurs can love. It is all well and good for children and acid freaks to believe in Santa Claus – but it is still a profoundly morbid day for us working professionals. It is unsettling to know that one out of every twenty people you meet on Xmas will be dead this time next year…Some people can accept this, and some can’t. That is why God made whiskey, and also why Wild Turkey comes in $300 shaped canisters during most of the Christmas season, and also why criminal shitheads all over New York City will hit you up for $100 tips or they’ll twist your windshield wipers into spaghetti and urinate on your door handles.”

Ho Ho Ho.

Gobble Gobble.

And on this loaded holy day, it’s good to know that there are Others hunkered down in their bunkers exploiting The Man and using whatever meager coping mechanisms they have managed to muster to Get By. The Rest Of Us could only be so lucky to get fired from our crappy jobs for writing a trashy Romance Novel.

Here here, Tanja Shelton. I raise my glass of Wild Turkey to YOU.



Kingdom of Fear

December 21st, 2007 at 5:20 pm

I have been hard at work on The Next Great American Novel, as I’m sure all of you have been too. Good Luck.

I am struggling to plum the deep crags and fissures of My Generation’s twisted soul in order to sculpt the story that appropriately depicts Our Cause, whatever that is.

And even though the above sentence is the most hideous, overwritten sentence I’ve ever bothered not to fix, I’m a step Closer with this:

Airports are cruel catwalks These Days, showcasing too many boys in uniform hobbling through the terminals on crutches with their awkward, fragile families in tow. And these are the lucky ones. I didn’t need this. I’d be better off eating fudge, getting drunk, and watching Home Alone. But instead here I am, my heart breaking, my head throbbing and searching for comprehension. Reasons. Reason. Answers.

It didn’t help that I have been reading Kingdom of Fear by Hunter S. Thompson, that insane soothsayer of culture with an infamous penchant for the paranoid and negative who incessantly lambasted his world with the monikers of fear and loathing, swine, doom, and fear.

On page 165 of the paperback edition that has been so generously lent to me, Thompson dabbles with the perverse experience that is 9/11:

“Generals and military scholars will tell you that 8 or 10 years is actually not such a long time in the span of human history – which is no doubt true – but history also tells us that 10 years of martial law and a wartime economy are going to feel like a Lifetime to people who are in their twenties today. The poor bastards of what will forever be known as Generation Z are doomed to be the first generation of Americans who will grow up with a lower standard of living than their parents enjoyed.

“That is extremely heavy news, and it will take a while for it to sink. The 22 babies born in New York City while the World Trade Center burned will never know what they missed. The last half of the 20th Century will seem like a wild party for rich kids, compared to what’s coming now. The party’s over, folks.”

Ho Ho Ho. There you have it.

Merry Christmas.



Starcracks

December 20th, 2007 at 5:09 pm

Is Starbucks fast becoming the next publishing behemoth? With Oprah currently distracted by politics and perhaps moving on and up for good, the modest castle of only a few respectable turrets that is Books has been left unguarded and ripe for pillaging.

(Remember when Oprah was a fat, mud slinging Jerry Springer? Don’t you agree that if Obama announced his intention to make Oprah his VP and they named their campaign “Opramah – The Promise” that they’d be unstoppable? Right up there with God, Cher, Picasso…)

Thus another book on Starbucks: Taylor Clark’s Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce, and Culture.

No. Not another God book. Or a Bush book. Or even a Dog book (though there is the recently published Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health and there will be more of the others).

No. This time it is another Starbucks book. So add this one to the stack on your nightstand with How Starbucks Saved My Life, The Starbucks Experience, The Gospel According to Starbucks, Finding the Next Starbucks, My Sister’s A Barista, and Grande Expectations.

Now step back. What does that stack look like? Yes, a Whore’s Market.

So that’s why when I cuddle up with a book and a Venti Peppermint Mocha Latte from Starbucks I’ll be reading Philip Roth and Modan and Kingdom of Fear.

But more on that later.



Bookshelves

December 18th, 2007 at 5:23 pm

I really hate to regurgitate like this, but these bookshelves have gotten me so worked up that I’m pretty sure I haven’t been this excited since puberty when I realized it wasn’t just for peeing.


Oh god that feels good.

Reading is Sexy indeed.

And for a true bout of admiration and jealousy, check out the house and lifestyle of Keith Botsford.

Dick.



Music in School NOT Actually Helpful

December 17th, 2007 at 10:36 pm

No, not a headline from The Onion. Just a fact. And a true mindfuck.

So I’m reading The Devil’s Horn which I’ve mentioned elsewhere and was thrown a real curveball halfway through it when author Michael Segell shares the story of how the Conn music company, recognizing the monetary benefits to be exploited thanks to the Saxophone’s popularity, lobbied the government to include music classes in public school’s curriculum partly by suggesting their health benefits to students’ development.

As Segell explains, “Self-serving or not, the Conn Company’s efforts, underwritten by its enormous saxophone profits, helped establish a musical curriculum in American public schools that became a model for the rest of the world.”

As a result of the saxophone’s great popularity in the twenties and thirties, fierce and unscrupulous competition emerged among the manufacturers. “Unrestrained by truth-in-advertising laws or simple common sense, the competitor’s marketing campaigns strove to outdo each other in their outlandish claims. ‘Learning to play the Saxophone is much the same as a youngster learning numbers and letters by moving blocks – and almost as simple,’ declared the Buescher company.

Even though Segell explains that, “National educator’s conferences repeatedly affirmed the value of music education,” what if all the hype about how beneficial and necessary music and art curriculum is to students is all just another example of corporate bullshit being crammed down the throats of innocent citizens by their own government?

What if “math’s importance” is just a big scam by Texas Instruments in order to sell tons of TI-83 graphing calculators?

What if history and geography’s “importance” is just a longstanding nefarious scheme purported by Rand McNally to sell more maps?

Has Garmin been lacing America’s water supply with an additive that renders the male population spatially challenged and overly stubborn when it comes to asking for directions so that they could sell a shitload of GPS guides?

Ok. Enough of the paranoia. You’ve had your fun. Go turn on some Stan Getz. Calm down. And read This Is Your Brain on Music. Or The Rest is Noise. Or Musicophilia.



Book Reviewers Ethics Poll

December 16th, 2007 at 6:07 pm

A recent poll of 364 book reviewers reveals that 76% of surveyed critics feel that if you haven’t read a work cover to cover you shouldn’t be critiquing it in print.

So that leaves about 87 book reviewers to review How to Talk About Books That You Haven’t Read without actually having read it.

Yes!

I think Pierre Baynard’s book is a brilliant idea and I intend to read it promptly, surely realizing that I have been successfully employing all of Baynard’s techniques since middle school. So I’m not sure what to think of the recent book reviewers ethics poll. But I do know that Hunter S. Thompson once said that “Morality is Temporary. Wisdom is Permanent.” Instead of morality, I think the same could be said of ethics.

The ethics poll certainly reflects a necessary PRINT standard in this Time of Technology rife as it is with amateurs and ignorance. Baynard’s book is about TALKING and therefore exempt. We all have the right to pretend and posture and pose at parties in front of friends we like and enemies we are seeking to trump. That is something no ethics poll will ever take away from us.

Indeed.



Locavore

December 10th, 2007 at 5:49 pm

Drum roll please…

…The New Oxford American Dictionary has announced that its Word Of The Year is Locavore.

Tah Dah! A Locavore means someone who eats locally grown food.

I can’t help but think the selection of this word was highly influenced by the general popularity of “organic” food and America’s ever-increasingly burdensome industry of food production. Certainly, we will eventually grow weary of the E. Coli outbreaks, the threats of Avian Flu and mad cow disease and eating locally will become not an idle interest and ideal but a necessity for survival. Once gas prices get high enough we won’t be able to afford food shipped across the country and definitely not across an ocean.

Specifically, I’m sure the choice of Locavore also had a lot to do with the successes of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and, of course, the one that started it all, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation.

Locavore is a good word, a fine word, a relevant and significant word. The above books are only a mere sampling but indicative of the beginning of a sea change about how we as a culture are thinking about our food.

So I’m fine with the selection of Locavore as a Word Of The Year, whatever exactly a word of the year is.

However socially conscious and culturally relevant Locavore happens to be, it just doesn’t have the punch or controversy of the American Dialect Society’s choice in 2006: “plutoed,” to demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to the former planet Pluto.



Lessing’s Nobel Acceptance Speech

December 8th, 2007 at 3:33 am

Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and her acceptance speech is really quite good; especially for me, arriving as it does so close on the heels of reading The Cult of the Amateur. In her speech, Lessing specifically laments the fact that people in Zimbabwe are starved for knowledge and literally begging for books while people in more privileged countries have shunned reading for the inanities of the Internet.

A few of my favorite parts:

“We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some specialty or other, for instance, computers.”

“We are a jaded lot, we in our world – our threatened world. We are good for irony and even cynicism. Some words and ideas we hardly use, so worn out have they become. But we may want to restore some words that have lost their potency.”



The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen

December 7th, 2007 at 6:50 pm

Based on the title, I thought this was going to be another book about the Bush Administration. But instead of being about the incompetence, hubris, cronyism, and greed that’s running our government and ruining our country, The Cult of The Amateur is about the incompetence, vanity, narcissism, and greed that’s running the Internet and killing our culture.

Overall, Keen’s polemic is a very relevant book and one I wish everyone would read. It’s sure to spark a lot of debate at dinner parties between the second and third bottles of wine. So bring a fourth just in case. You won’t agree with a lot of what Keen asserts, and you shouldn’t, because like the Silicon Valley insiders he rallies against throughout the book, he too is out of touch with the majority of American Culture and how we as a whole use the Internet. Keen takes it all a bit too seriously. Everyone I know acknowledges the entertaining silliness of all the crap on YouTube and Craigslist, taking it with a grain of salt for what it is. Keen seems unable to do this. He is very upset about the questionable trappings of Wikipedia’s open forum and inherent problems, but he takes this site far more seriously than anyone I know. There have always been numerous resources in modern man’s world, some more reliable than others. How is this any different?

Very early into the book I found myself asking, is he too paranoid? Or has our technological culture in fact become a duplicitous web of spineless, lying predators? And if so, isn’t that just mirroring real life, which is full of duplicitous, spineless, lying predators?

Keen draws on a few misguided commercials supported by partisan bloggers in the 2004 and 2006 elections as evidence of an overwhelming “partisan minority that uses ‘democratized’ digital media to obfuscate truth and manipulate public opinion” (Swift Boat Veterans For Truth anyone?). Technology has certainly legitimized and given voice to the amateur, but when the rich and powerful continue to do so much more harm in this world, is it the extremist blogger we should be worrying about? The Government, The Church, The News, and Big Business have been taking swings at the Truth for so long, I guess it’s our turn at bat. Thanks, technology!

I categorically disagree with Keen’s assertion that every free classified ad on Craigslist is the loss of a paid classified advertisement to a newspaper. I post things on Craigslist because it’s free. If it wasn’t free I just wouldn’t post it anywhere, newspaper or otherwise. I feel the same way about downloading free music. I used to download songs because they were free. If I couldn’t have downloaded them for free, I wouldn’t have instead bought the CD, I wouldn’t have bought it at all. For the record industry to count every single download as a loss to its industry is just wrong. But it has clearly affected the industry (see the closing of Tower Records and the hundreds of other independent music stores), just nowhere on the scale that the greedy record industry claims. Having worked in promotions for a radio station, I know firsthand that if you show up anywhere in America at an amusement park or a bowling alley or a gas station or a fast food restaurant with t-shirts, keychains, and koozies to give away for free, you will be swarmed and raped until they are all gone. Every last cheap, menial, insignificant one of them. If you set up a table and charge for them, you will not get rid of a single one. That’s America.

Though I will agree with Keen’s opinion about Web 2.0 and its vicious mauling of Talent. He states that, “Talent, as ever, is a limited resource, the needle in today’s digital haystack. You won’t find the talented, trained individual shipwrecked in his pajamas behind a computer, churning out inane blog postings or anonymous movie reviews. Nurturing talent requires work, capital, expertise, investment.” Though this opinion of Keen’s is certainly likely to fall on disagreeing ears in this country as going directly against the American Dream. We are a nation adamant about The Big Hope. He are still hell bent on supporting and fulfilling the promises of Horatio Alger that we will insist on the “democratizing” values of Web 2.0 to be true. We have to believe that the cream rises to the top. For the time being anyway. Even as such a childish dream continues to chop away at the sturdy trees of talent. I agree, we are losing CRAFT. But this is not doomsday. There is a lot of excitement over the potential of technology and people’s vanity are definitely being exploited. I think the wave will roll back to sea eventually.

Keen insists on portraying the people of this Internet Revolution, this Web 2.0 culture as vain, narcissistic, self-fulfilling, and self-congratulatory. And I will not disagree with him. But I feel that it is more important to identify this generation of writers/bloggers, YouTubeing Videographers, and anonymous Amazon reviewers as direct descendents of Gonzo Journalism. We have Hunter S. Thompson to thank and blame for this incestuous parade of “self-congratulatory clusters,” “digital narcissists,” and “vanity presses.” As the great HST did not report on an event unless it included his interaction and presence in the story, so too have we demanded that it is US who is interesting. It is US who is important. It is US who dominates the primary narrative. It is our story, our world and we’ll be damned if any power will continue to dictate and pander to us anymore. The Good Doctor predated and predicted this entire genre and approach of living and interacting with the world around us. We are truly in the Gonzo World now. There is no going back. Are we Doomed? I sincerely do not know. But we better stock up on some Wild Turkey, grapefruits, and ammunition. Just in case.

Very simply, Keen comes across as very elitist. Like lamenting the loss of the horse and buggy upon the invention of the automobile, Keen weeps over the lowered prominence of newspapers and radio. Our hallowed institutions are crumbling. This is a Revolution. That is the point. Sadly, it is our blood too that is running in the street. Many of our own heads will find their way into the stock of a guillotine before the Queen follows suit. And follow suit she will. As Keen himself explains, “Such amateurs treat blogging as a moral calling rather than a profession tempered by accepted standards; proud of their lack of training, standards, and ethical codes, they define themselves as the slayers of the media giants, as irreverent Davids overcoming the news-gathering industry Goliaths.”

Rallying against the “Noble Amateur,” Keen displays a naïve faith in the current system. The Media, The Government, and The Church are also often wrong and have been forever. Keen takes issue with Web 2.0’s embrace of anonymity and its lack of transparency. But herein, Keen fails to acknowledge an inherent contradiction in his argument. He demands transparency while also damning the dangerous qualities of the Internet found in pornography, gambling, and identity theft. Does anonymity not provide safety and security in an environment so filled with such unscrupulous folk?

Today’s controversy surrounding Global Warming provides Keen with probably his best argument and most legitimate reason to attack Web 2.0 and its “values.” Since outlets such as Wikipedia allow for every single writer, no matter their expertise and lack thereof, equal space to share their pronouncements, today’s Internet has allowed for the mass publication of a generous helping of egregiously wrong information. Beyond being the true Gonzo Generation, this is the George W. Bush Era. It is a content, uninformed citizenry Out There, indeed. Is the Internet to blame?

But it is not the Internet or technology that is to blame for this misrepresentation, fraud, and identity theft, is it? I hate to be such an apologist, but isn’t this just human nature? Finally, us pedestrians, us groundlings can easily join the soiled, corrupted ranks of churches, criminals, governments, pirates, dictators, and henchmen.

Keen spends the final quarter of his book taking a moral lashing at the ills of the Internet. However significant, following the complex ethical arguments of the rest of his well-argued and researched book, his attacks on gambling and pornography seem out of place. It’s too easy a position to take. It’s like the politicians who publicly promise that they are, “against crime.” Well, no shit. The Internet is a filthy, disgusting, dangerous place unfit for young eyes. But so is the street I walk down everyday to go to work.

Keen quotes Paul Simon halfway through the book and Simon’s position seems to be the most reasoned, practical opinion to have about the entire issue. Simon says that, “I’m personally against Web 2.0 in the same way as I’m personally against my own death. Maybe a fire is what’s needed for a vigorous new growth, but that’s the long view. In the short term, all that’s apparent is the devastation.”

Andrew Keen is like one of those Southern California homeowners who recently lost their house in the fire and is sick of having some Silicon Valley yuppie tell him that his loss is for the best. So maybe we are flooding our own world, but at least we’re not relying on the powers that be to build inadequate levees and then to fail in providing for its plighted citizenry. We’re building those inadequate levees ourselves!

Finally, Justice.



Starbucks Picks Another Book For Their Club

December 5th, 2007 at 4:51 pm

Starbucks has selected a new book for its book program/club to be sold in Starbucks stores upon its February 26th release. The title is David Sheff’s “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction.”

Beautiful Boy is about Sheff dealing with his son’s meth addiction, which he initially wrote about in The New York Times Magazine. Starbucks Entertainment president Ken Lombard said, “I am gratified that in addition to carrying Beautiful Boy in its stores, Starbucks support will encourage much needed discussion about drug abuse and addiction.”

I will not equate caffeine with methamphetamine, but isn’t it mildly ironic that Starbucks is selling this book to everyone coming in to their stores to get their caffeine fix?