Friday, February 26, 2010

Kingdom of Ten Thousand Years

The Apocalypse came and the dead rose from their graves, but there was no Messiah.

So begins the plot of Kingdom of Ten Thousand Years, which Faye recently lent me. What remains after this resurrection-without-redemption is an extremely difficult politics as groups with entirely different understandings try to live in society alongside each other. Germanic tribes struggle to adjust to a world far too crowded for their migratory way of life. Renaissance thinkers leave tight-knit neighborhoods of their century's former inhabitants and wander through the cities, trying to take everything in. Ancient African nobles try to use their influence over former subjects to get nice jeeps and build McMansions.

Initially, twenty-first century governments stay more or less intact, but the issues of how to accommodate the extra billions of people reveal deep-seated differences between different segments of the never-dead population. How many inhabitants should an overcrowded Europe be allowed to send to America? How much religious freedom should be granted to the often shocking faiths of the past? Should divorces be handled according to the customs of the couple in question's time and place, or should society have one standard divorce law? And what about language--is there room in England for schools to teach Old English?

As the newly risen begin to adapt to the new system, vote, and attempt to assert their influence, the conflicts between centuries eclipse many old and bitter conflicts between contemporaries. Old rivals like the Medicis and Strozzis, for example, drop old differences to work together in defense of their worldview. Lancaster and York, Mughals and Marathas, likewise see each other in a new light. Twenty-first century U.S. Republicans and Democrats begin to feel they have more in common with each other than they had ever thought possible before, and that have hard feelings for the nineteenth-century versions of their parties, and some progressively serious differences with many of the Founding Fathers. Trust between these different factions erodes quickly as levels of violence increase...

The story that eventually unfolds is one of increasingly repressive and brutal autocracy by the natives of the present and their allies in the face of a thousand challenges from the past. But it reads as particularly poignant because as a twenty-first century reader, you tend to side with the never-dead in the book. How are they supposed to react when the standard levels of domestic violence in medieval ghettos escalates into a pattern of murders of wives and daughters who try to leave? And how are they supposed to react when virulently anti-Semitic Christian extremists from the early Reformation period assassinate a Jewish scientist as part of what turns out to be a plot to get their hands on a nuclear bomb?

This is one dark and wild ride through the future into a churning mess of the past.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Muffins of Doom

I've been sick since Saturday or so (thanks, probably, to my unusually fatty bones), and got a surprise visit this morning from Gloria, who'd heard I was sick brought some of her famous Muffins of Doom over (I hadn't had any since July, so they were a real treat).

It was less a treat to see how excited Gloria was about my family's ill health. I've had a fever and some ears-and-throat infection I get whenever I don't sleep enough, Kira's got pinkeye and two ear infections, Nicole has been feeling gross. A bad week, for sure, but Gloria seems to think it's a sign of the Apocalypse.

"I look at your family, and it's like I can see a hoofprint from my favorite horseman," she said. "Man, I miss you guys."

Then, of course, she had to rejoice over recent events on Capitol Hill.

"I don't think Barack Obama is the Anti-Christ, but he's definitely an Anti-Christ" she said. "Why do you think he and Congress are trying so hard to do something about health care? They know that pestilence has to come before Jesus comes back, and they don't want Jesus to come. Shame on them!"

Gloria already knows I don't agree with her about health care, so I kept myself busy with one of her banana muffins and just listened.

"At first, I just missed President Bush. He was such a good President, Apocalypse-wise" she said, "but lately, what with the election of Senator Brown and the record snowstorms in Washington--well, I'm as giddy as a little school girl on the first day of school. The End is near and not even a bearded Hilary Clinton could stop it!"

The thing about bananas that makes them so appropriate for muffins of doom, Gloria once told me, is that they have to "ripen in iniquity" first. I may not agree with her about politics or what is and isn't a sign from God, but I appreciate the way she talks. Sometimes, with friends, form trumps content--and it's nice to have good friends.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Perpetually Confused, "The View from James"

I haven't reviewed an album yet, but will make an exception for the latest from Perpetually Confused, because the title is based on another James who is unusually tall. What do things look like from his perspective? Most people would try to answer such a question using stilts, but music turns out to be a worthwhile substitute in this case.

A breakdown of my impressions track by track:

The View from James

1. Harem of One
-This is the song that introduced me to the band. Still love the percussive elements and the strong rhythmic feel of the lyrics. In an age of commercialized romance, it's nice to hear a song that brings real passion and commitment to life, putting the love industry into stark relief.
2. Very Baby Very
-Apparently, "cry" and "very" are one letter different when texted from certain phones. An interesting experiment in texted songwriting. The musical influence borders on theft, but at least this band knows who to steal from.
3. Rocks for Brains
-I think it's safe to say we've all had days like this. At the same time the words describe what it feels like, the music reminds you how it really feels.
4. Sex Before Cereal
-The album's second-best instrumental track.
5. The Hegemony of Time
-Form meets content in this multi-rhythmic song about how we are all trapped in the idea of time. Lyrically, no other song on the album rivals this one...
6. If by Rival You Mean Plagiarize
-except, of course, for this illegal medley of classic tunes: unusual in that the verses are stolen from Bob Dylan and the choruses from Leonard Cohen, but the melody from the Beatles.
7. Ayaz
-You can almost feel the Huma fly by while listening to this song.
8. Crazy Works for Me
-A song about the boss of a girl named Crazy. Not the album's best effort, but sort of hypnotically appealing, in a makes-you-feel-like-the-world's-biggest-dork sort of way.
9. Sex After Cereal
-The album's best instrumental track.
10. Appendix in C
-A meandering seven minute song that explains all the obscure references in the rest of the tracks. (On the vinyl version, "Appendix" takes up its own side of the album.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Economic Sanctions: An Afterthought

I think one reason the United States overuses economic sanctions is that they can be highly effective against countries where the government is controlled by businesses.

Unfortunately, not every country is like ours in that way. Some countries, for example, are controlled by Michael Jackson fans instead. Others were controlled for years by fans of Saparmurat Niyazov.

I will offer the same advice to top U.S. policy-setters as is given to husbands and wives in hundreds of New York Times best-selling pop psychology books: not everyone thinks like you. Deal with it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

And the Cost-Free Stimulus Plan Is...

Drop all politically-motivated economic sanctions.

If the U.S. government lifted all trade restrictions and embargoes at once, from Cuba to the Cote d'Ivoire, from Burma to Belarus, businesses would have real, tangible reasons to get over their skittishness and expand.

We've had an embargo against Cuba for a long time. What good has it done us? And yet, if we opened trade up again, how many jobs might be created importing, exporting, reviving a long-dead branch of the American tourist industry, possibly finding offshore projects for unemployed American construction workers?

We've tried to punish Myanmar's military government for human rights abuses by cutting off trade possibilities for its people. If sanctions were lifted, could U.S. companies and local citizens both benefit? If we stopped insisting on isolating the already-isolated military government, might their methods gradually soften? I don't know for sure, but if what you've been doing has spent decades not working, isn't it time to try something else?

The government has injected money into the economy. Now let's open up new opportunities for companies and entrepreneurs to use it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Coming Soon! A Zero-Cost Stimulus Plan

As many of you know, our government is occupying Iraq, Afghanistan, American Banks, and the Automotive Industry at an incredible cost while pumping money into the economy with the mad hope that someone will offer me a job this fall, thus averting a Goldberg family depression.

And yet businesses have been slow to respond. For some reason, they think that one-time tax breaks aren't a good reason to hire more people. It's almost as if our business leaders stayed awake during their math classes (which comes as quite a surprise to anyone who has ever taught math).

So, while a second Great Depression has apparently been diverted, an Average Depression persists, and the government is down to about -12 trillion dollars for further stimulus measures. This makes Barack Obama sad.

Someone may still be on the verge of a great depression...

How do we get companies to hire again without using taxpayer money?

I have an answer. Not a joke, not a lie, not a pointless video or a sarcastic comment, but a real, implementable, policy answer that, if implemented, would be guaranteed to raise employment significantly and almost immediately. So please--come back tomorrow and bring your Representative or Senator as we reveal the official, honest-to-goodness, zero-cost "My Life and Hard Times" Economic Stimulus Plan.

Monday, February 15, 2010

I Have a Good Idea: Economic Sanctions!

As many of you are aware, leading Iranian government officials have opted to use their four-year break between vote-rigging efforts to attempt to develop nuclear "power plants of peace" which have absolutely nothing to do with a purely hypothetical desire to develop nuclear weapons (after all, why would a country with American troops occupying its eastern and western neighbors want nuclear weapons?). Recently, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has gone so far as to publicly call on Iran's nuclear agency to enrich Iran's uranium to "a high enough grade to piss off the West, but not high enough to break any international laws...yet" by year's end.

This is, of course, concerning to top American politicians, who believe that the time between elections is best spent calling each other "stupidhead." Hilary Clinton, along with her foreign policy assistant Barack Obama, have recently publicly called for stronger economic sanctions against bad guys in Iran and their families.

Apparently, the administration is hoping that just as tough economic sanctions convinced North Korea to leave the "Axis of Evil" and start acting more like the Carebear of the Far East, just as tough economic sanctions on Iraq convinced Saddam Hussein to mend his ways and avoid getting his country invaded, just as tough economic sanctions restored peace and prosperity to Zimbabwe after the worst of the Robert Mugabe years, and just as crippling sanctions forced Fidel Castro to acknowledge the inherent inferiority of communism and relinquish power long ago, sanctions will fix all our problems with Iran.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agrees that tough sanctions are the safest course for Iranian stability. "People are getting tired of me here" he said in a recent open letter to Western diplomats, "I really need the West to take aggressive action so I have someone to blame all our problems on. Can I get some help here?"

Ahmadinejad: "Can't you see I'm hurting for a scapegoat?"

Clinton: "Hang in there, Mahmoud, help is on the way!"

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Good News and Bad News

The good news is that I, James, am back, presumably for good.

The bad news is that Drona is gone and probably will be for a very long time.

Why is that bad news, you ask? Let me tell you a story.

At about the same time anti-Drona protests were rocking this blog, the government of Iran, where Drona has been writing from, was bracing for anti-government protests marking the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Protests have been taken particularly seriously in Iran since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election last summer, and the government has been constantly looking for ways to calm people down before the pepper spray runs out.

Their most recent tactical innovation, announced last week, was banning gmail and encouraging people to sign up for a new state-sponsored email system.

For many people, of course, this will be extremely convenient. Having too much email is a widespread symptom of modern life, and it's comforting to think there are places in the world where even when you don't have time to read your own email, someone in the government just might be reading it for you.

Without access to his gmail account, though, Drona also can't access Blogger. Unless Iran lifts its permanent ban, Drona may have forever disappeared.

Alanis Morissette: please pay belated attention. Unlike many things mentioned in your popular 1996 song, this actually is ironic. A crackdown on protests on the other side of the world has given victory with unexpected swiftness to protests here. We are freed from virtual tyranny, indirectly, by very real tyrants.

So why do I feel so sad?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just kidding! And a coalition offer...

It's funny how simple misunderstandings so quickly get blown out of proportion. Unkind words are said by commenters, posters overreact, pretty soon there's a virtual funeral to attend and flowers to be taken care of. It's not pretty, and more importantly, it very quickly becomes expensive...

But let's get back to our own situation. In a heat of irritation, I may have made some hasty statements and promises which obscured the true facts.

Let's remember that James went into hiding on his own. I wasn't even involved then. I was hesitant to accept an assignment as interim guest poster, but did so out of the goodness of my heart. But the readers didn't hold up their end of the bargain and listen to me. They didn't keep the rules I set for them. It's sad when people are dishonest like that, but that's the way the world is, I suppose.

The point is: James can come back at any time. No one has ever told him otherwise. He hasn't, because he's been afraid that I'm a more interesting writer, but I can assure him that's only true for discerning readers (who are apparently a minority locally).

If James wants to come back, let him come back. We'll take turns blogging. Share power.

And I absolutely promise (swear on dadeckr's grave) that I won't pay anyone to have him killed.


NOT FUNNY! And some death threats...

Recent events (i.e. the last post) on this blog are SO not funny, I can't even handle myself.

I was working on a Manifesto for today, but now I don't even feel like I can post it. You people wouldn't appreciate true wisdom if it walked in, took over some decadent hobo's blog, and slapped you in the face--which, as a matter of fact, it did.

I need the culprits. Now.

My current suspects are:

Kathy Cowley for having a poor aesthetic sense.
Man in Dark Glasses for looking shady.
Dadeckr for wishing he weren't the pansy (with poor grammar) that he is.
Vincent Van Gogh for being insane and a bad listener.

Over the course of the next week, we will send some new winter headgear (if you know what I mean) to one person on the suspects list until the culprit is eliminated. So suspects: if you are not guilty, find out how his and turn him/her in! Better yet: find James and bring him in, so we can end things properly.

As for the rest of you: don't get complacent. If the members of the current suspect list leave this world and disturbances continue, I will be more than happy to expand the scope of our investigations. If you know what's good for you, you will join the search for the culprit and the decadent ex-author, too.

I will leave up the hideous open letter post for the time being in case it or its comment section include clues leading to the culprit or to James.

Again: you have eight days. (Although, if you're on the suspects list, you may only have two...)

An Open Letter to Drona from James's Loyal Readers


We, the loyal readers of this blog, have come out of the comments section into the main part of the blog to counter your revolution.

Drona, we reject you.

We reject Stalin as our leader.

We reject your view on cowards. We may be courageous or cowardly, but we are powerful nonetheless.

We reject submission to your totalitarian unity.

We reject your manifesto on writing. We like lies and jokes. We like complicated and meaningful writing.

We reject your manifesto on reading. We will read smut if we please. Sometimes we are pleased to read Menachem Bloodaxe or The Brothers Brar. We will even read these two works at the same time. They complement each other very nicely, like listening to Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz.

We fully reject "Tender Buttons," even if it is assigned.

We reject listening to you. And shame on you for including a mentally ill painter in your authoritarian commands!

We reject your manifesto on the telling of history. We will continue to search for ancestral stories, interesting and unknown bits of history, journals of people in hiding, and letters hidden in an army rucksack of rags sent from a secret attic.

We reject your "friendly" warning. We refuse to help you locate our supporters. We are willing to die or go to a tea party in exile before we submit to your threats.

We reject the recurring label "decadent hobo" for the blog's true author. He may look like a homeless man since he's been in hiding all of this time, but he is not, well, not really, decadent. Okay. Just stop calling James names.

You do not have our support. We spit upon your requests. We metaphorically shred your posts and manifestos.

You will never have our thumbs, Drona. You are not a teacher; you are a tyrant.

You can see now that the loyal readers of this blog still have power. We will strip the red and the revolution from this blog. We will delete your profile and your picture. We have the power to overcome your tyrannical rule.

All loyal readers who wish to displace Drona and the Communists, add your comments to this post. We will show Drona that we are not afraid and the people truly hold the power.

Long live James!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Friendly Warning

This post is by Drona. I am here to stay.

You may notice that someone has recently been leaking Manifestos from a counter-revolutionary source. We have no reason to suspect that these Manifestos actually come from James, since they appear to be written in comprehensible English, which is not his habit. Whoever the real author and leaker of these Manifestos is, however, should be warned: we are not amused.

We have reason to believe that the person who has leaked the Manifestos has also been commenting recently. That hurts my feelings.

You have one week, readers, to find and turn in the culprit or I will begin to delete large portions of this blog's past. Honestly, that's something I should probably do anyway, but I'd be willing to wait if I can get some cooperation.

Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Manifesto on the Telling of History

This post is by Drona! Stop asking for James!

History can be inconvenient...
...or useful.

1) History should be told for two reasons: to instill pride in the masses, or to instill revolutionary anger among prospective members of Party. Any approach to history other than these two is suspect.

2) When telling history to the masses, the focus should be on a single, easily comprehensible arc. This arc can be either inspiring or boring. If it is inspiring, the masses will feel safe in the trajectory of history and become helpfully complacent. If it is boring, the masses will lose interest in history, spend their time looking for pornography instead, and become both complacent and impotent to effect any real and harmful change. Either will do.

3) When telling history to prospective members of the Party, the focus should be on indignation. Anger fuels the Revolution. Anger justifies necessary excess. If history is disgusting, reprehensible, then rhetorical or physical violence in the name of cleansing history will become more appealing. To fuel the Revolution, history must be told as a power source from which to generate resentment and hate.

4) The purpose of telling history is to separate the listener from history. It is only by severing the people from the past that the future can be born. For the masses, this means encouraging amnesia: it is best if history is something they forget, and not something that informs the way they see the world and live in it. For prospective party members, this means disassociation: they should feel so compelled to condemn history that they have to step outside of it, disavowing national, ethnic, religous, and family ties that bind them to a compromised collective past. Revolutionaries must leave the collective of mankind and become independent individuals before they will be able to turn and subdue the human collective in the name of the Future.

5) The telling of history must change constantly, must remain always new. In one century, the white destruction of Native peoples may be a comforting arc (Manifest Destiny) for the masses; in the next century, this same arc becomes alarming and must be hidden from the masses and used to promote indignation in the Party instead.

6) When using history, don't rely excessively on outright lies and fabricated events--even though such fabrications may seem far more useful than objective realities. People, unfortunately, tend to see through such things in the current era. This is a great disadvantage of our digital age, and an inevitable consequence of too much public access to information.
It is generally equally effective, however, to selectively emphasize real events rather than to narrate false events. For the creative editor, this can be even better than simple fabrication. One of the advantages of this digital age with its overwhelming quantities of information is that everyone relies on editors and summarizers. The glass is, so to speak, half full!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Manifesto on Listening (to me)

That you all should be listening more closely to me is a truth I hold as self-evident.

He only has one ear. What's you excuse?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Manifesto on Reading

1) If you're going to read something, read the whole thing. Don't skip parts. Don't read only what you feel like. If I read the entirety of Gertrude Stein's "Tender Buttons"(which I did) because it was assigned to me (which it was), you can suck it up and finish whatever you're whining about. To do anything less is both dishonest and inefficient.
After all, you wouldn't let someone into your house or office casually and for a few minutes at a time. If you're going to let someone in, you've got to strip-search him first for security reasons, and once you've done that you should listen to all he's got to say before you go strip-search anyone else.

2) Someone who reads two works at once, flipping back and forth from one to the other, will develop two minds and be in constant struggle with his own self. Someone who reads three works at once (out of order, no less) is not to be trusted.
If you want people to trust you, read one thing at a time. If you don't want people to trust you, you won't be able to serve the state very effectively as a spy, now, will you?

3) You can't read an unfinished novel on a five-year plan! Let an author finish, let the censors and/or publishers do their careful selective work, and then begin reading with a firm goal and resolute discipline.
Mark my words: the impatience of the digital age will be the death of our society. And I'm not saying that just because I'm a communist.

4) "Meme" is a four-letter word, and I don't really want to discuss it. Let one simple rule close off the subject forever: those who read should not write, those who write should not read. It would also help if they could avoid listening to anyone.

5) If you encounter a counter-revolutionary writer, counter him. In other words: it's OK to tell someone who writes like a decadent hobo that he also smells like a decadent hobo, and that if he doesn't thoroughly revise, he ought to be shot like a decadent hobo, too.

6) Children should be seen, not heard. Readers shouldn't even be seen. Make yourself invisible and let the text fill you. What is important is what's in a revolutionary book, not what might happen in the space between you and that book. Mixing the book and yourself is a particularly offensive sort of bastardization.

7) We should look less to words than to people. If words make castles in the air, they also make prisons there. Stalin is hope. Words are despair.

Uncle Joe loves children--and readers (not pictured)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Manifesto on Writing

1) All writing should have a beginning and an end. Any work that attempts to exist without end leaves the realm of the human, and enters the fictional realm of the divine. Religion is an enemy of the people. Therefore, writing which reaches toward the Infinite is either delusion or poison.

2) Writing must belong to the author and not the reader, or there will only be chaos. If an author produces a sword, the reader has no right to beat it into a plowshare. To do so would be counter-revolutionary. (Even the English language itself agrees with this point. Consider the relationship between the words "authority" and "author.")

3) One sentence should have only one meaning. Trying to create multiple levels of meaning in a single sentence leads only to ambiguity, which is the literary equivalent of anarchy, or to duplicity, which in writing or life is a crime.
This is why we rightly stone the prophets.

4) Context. Context must be closely controlled. Every piece must be contained in its own time, space, culture, bound cover. If you take yesterday and show it to tomorrow, who knows what hideous mongrel might be born of their encounter? (The same is true of mixing west and east, profane and sacred, Norman and Anglo-Saxon, Native American and Jew, male and female.)

5) Order. Does. Matter. If you use the end of books as the gateway to the beginning, a backward-thinking public will soon emerge.

6) Matter. Does. Order. The writer's central concern should dictate the shape a piece takes. If the sequence is disrupted, you can't deliver ideology right. All you will do is shake up the reader's brain. Never shake a baby!

7) A stupid video involving your desire to be in a Maurice Sendak book is not writing. It's infantile, self-indulgent, and makes the reader feel awkward--unsure if he should be throwing change at you or maintaining a safe distance to avoid infection.

8) Writing is writing, videos are videos, what's serious is serious, and a rose is a rose is a rose.
Since a picture is mathematically convertible to prose on a metric scale, the mixing of words and pictures, however, is acceptable.

Uncle Joe wants YOU to be a better writer.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Guest Post: On Cowards

While James Goldberg is in hiding, the *members of the Commie Awards committee have designated me as the official interim guest blogger. Although the blog form is by default superficial (even when it pretends depth), I've decided to accept the position out of loyalty.

Thank you, comrades, for appointing me to this work.

As for you readers: expect more regular updates than from the infamously unreliable Goldberg. Also expect superior content, which makes more sense and doesn't enjoy lying quite so much. I can assure you, my readers, that when I lie it will be only as strictly necessary and not because I'm a decadent hobo who thinks that getting caught while lying is fun.

I'll also be putting up a picture in every post. (Everyone knows that multimedia posts are the future. As Goldberg's other blogs show, however, he has an unfortunate weakness for the past. Pathetic.)

A good picture should inspire. It is like a breath
of fresh air in a smoggy, smoggy world.

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