Saturday, August 13, 2005

Lessons on how to do a Bill O'Reilly Impression:

Lesson 1: Always concede a minor point, and then proceed onto a declarative statement that sticks closely to the conservative line. This gives the impression of being reasonable, and thus always right. Added authenticy is given when the ultimate point of the declarative statement is "I'm right and you're wrong."

Examples: "Yes, I think gay people should be afforded the same rights given to all Americans, but marriage has traditionally been defined as being between a man and a woman...." "Yes, the Bush Administration has made many mistakes in the warplanning for Iraq, but Saddam Hussein was a menace and needed to be taken out."

And what happened to Bernie Goldberg? I used to like seeing him on CBS. Now he's a right-wing media critic drawing up a hit list of, no joke, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. Michael Moore's on the list. So's Al Franken, Frank Rich, Paul Krugman. As far as I can tell, we know he's got at least two comedians and two writers. I'm assuming that's the fluff and he's saving the meat for when you actually buy the book. I wonder how many indicted CEOs, lobbyists, and (maybe) political advisers are in it too.

Besides, how come it's always the comedians and writers who get the heat anyway? Isn't that a little...McCarthyesque?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Woah. I impressed Siva at Sivacracy with my rhetorical skill so much he gave me a shout-out on his blog. I don't know all the details, but Siva can occasionally be read at Altercation. I've enjoyed his writing immensely, enough that it stands out in a sea of blogsnot. It helps that Siva Vaidhyanathan (which isn't that hard to pronounce)is a memorable name. But it's better to have a PHD, a few books under your belt, a guest spot on an A-list blog, and a unique perspective, all of which Siva has.

This is the part of his latest piece that caught my eye (incidentally, it was a brief epilogue on a longer piece about a completely different subject):

On other matters, I noticed that on Tuesday you questioned the presidential electability of our fine Senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton. I don't get this. She is one of the most popular politicians in the country. She is beloved by real Americans of all persuasions -- especially women. There is cadre of misogynistic right-wingers who despise everything about her and imagine the most horrid stories to tell about her. But she has faced it all, fought back, and prevailed. All the lies have already been told and exposed. They have nothing new on her. That's why they fear her so much. In addition, Sen. Clinton has always been a moderate -- raised a moderate midwestern Republican and married into a moderate Southern Democratic family. She has always been a cerebral yet brave. She is basically an Arkansas Democrat, old school style. That's where she learned her skills. And she had a brilliant tutor. For every weakness her husband revealed, she showed a strength. If I have a complaint about her, it's that she is not liberal enough. But that's the same complaint I had about our last president, who ended up being a deep disappointment to anyone who believes in the core missions of liberalism. Still, I sure miss the guy and the days in which sex scandals counted as serious threats to the nation. I am rather bullish on the prospect of Sen. Clinton's pending nomination. I think she is pretty close to unbeatable.

Here's my response, which Siva posted on his blog.

An Altercation/Sivacracy reader named James Pearce has this to say about the prospect of Sen. Clinton running for president:

Just read your post at Altercation and I was somewhat surprised about the support for Hillary Clinton. I have nothing personal against Hillary. She makes a great senator and I think she's an important person to have in the Democratic Party. But I do NOT support her run for president. Here's why:
America is supposedly one of the world's great powers, economically,
politically, militarily, etc. Surely....SURELY.....we as a nation can offer worthy candidates that are NOT part of the Bush or Clinton clans. We are a diverse society, and yet our political process for the last 25 years has been taken over by a Montague/Capulet style dynasty.

It's bad enough that a Bush family representative has been in the White House since 1980! That's right. Between 1980-2005, someone named George Bush has either been VP or President for all but 8 short years. In 25 years, our nation hasn't been able to produce anyone as qualified if not more? I refuse to believe that.

Instead, I believe the ascendancy of the Bush clan (and the Clintons, to a lesser extent) has little to do with politics, and everything to do with brand management. Brand Bush has been foisted on us for a generation. And now Brand Clinton is being foisted on us. Is it any wonder that many people regard American development today as stagnant? We need new blood. We need to utilize our resources and come up with better alternatives than either a Bush or a Clinton.

Here's hoping it a million eyes see it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Proof that God is mean.

Christopher Reeve's widow, who stuck by him for nine years of hell, gets lung cancer. Bad things do happen to good people.


This weekend I went to the library and picked up Chuck Palahniuk's new book Haunted on audiotape. I spent a lot of time listening to it, absorbing the sick fantasties of a possibly disturbed mind. This is the conceit. 23 people (I think, there may be less. I don't have a text to consult and it's never quite clear.) go to a "Writer's Retreat" where they will stay away from society for three months and come back with the Great American Novel. It's clear from early on that this is just a ruse, a device, and perhaps it shouldn't be taken all that seriously. The characters, none of them seemingly writers, go by euphemistic aliases, like Sister Vigilante or Chef Assassin, and as they slowly discover that their stay at the decaying theater/"Writer's Retreat" isn't what they quite expected, they get the opportunity to tell their stories in 23 short stories preceeded by a freeverse formulaic poem.

To me, that's an interesting concept to explore, even to its literary abstraction, which I believe is what Palahniuk intended. The characters in the "novel" part, from their arrival at the theater to their eventual end, aren't to be considered people, but perhaps ideas or concepts, personifications fighting for attention on the book's pages. That part of the book is somewhat unneccesary, considering that it could have easier stood on its own as a short story collection, but in a way it is neccesary, because it adds so much more depth and thought to the short stories. The characters are the personification of their stories. The theater is the decaying theater of the collective audience. The cannibalism and sadistic acts are not meant to describe actual acts, but instead represent the kind of abstract cannibalism of ideas that occurs during the process of writing. The mutilation could be seen as the paring down of a rewrite. The infanticide could represent a flimsy story idea conceived and then discarded. Taken that way, the "glue" holding the stories together makes sense, and in a way achieves a kind of literary genius.

The stories, though, border on the sick. Some of the more memorable ones were shockingly disturbing and yet pleasingly vivid. Palahniuk has read the opener "Guts" to audiences at signings, causing many participants to actually faint. It truly is a disturbing piece of writing describing an unfortunate incident with a swimming pool and a prolapsed large intestine. Another memorable story involves anatomically correct training dummies. Yet another features an all girl rape scene.

To call Haunted disturbing is like calling Ted Kaczynski crazy. It's too obvious to point out. And yet, I find myself vaguely intrigued by this Palahniuk character. I'm not ready to join the cult of Palahniuk, but he's an interesting post-modern writer, one of the few that I truly find interesting. (Easton Ellis is the other one.) You can tell these books by the dry repetive nature, the pop culture references, the extensive use of first person present tense, sometimes even second person present tense. (That's a tough one.) And yet, they are taking literature in places it hasn't been before, playing with the form, making things that shouldn't work--like the convuluted set-up of Haunted, for instance---somehow work.