ishmael

A few people have recommended Ishmael by Daniel Quinn to me. Luckily, I don’t know these people very well, and it doesn’t matter whether I respect their intelligence or not.

If you’ve already read this book and you liked it, you may want to stop reading now because I’m probably about to insult you. If you haven’t read the book, continue on, and perhaps I can save you a few hours of pseudo-intellectual frippery.

On the book’s cover is a quote from the Los Angeles Times book review:

“Wonderfully earnest and engaging. Think of Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or B.F. Skinner in Walden Two.

Indeed. As you read Ishmael you will definitely be thinking of Pirsig and how annoyed he must be to have his work compared to a piece of utter dreck.

The central character of Ishmael has the existential blues and finds a teacher who promises to help him find a ballast throughout the unbearable lightness of being. This teacher happens to be a gorilla named Ishmael, and proceeds to teach our protagonist via the Socratic method the reason why our world is the way it is and “how things came to be this way”.

Interesting premise, but I found the discussion throughout the book to be lacking in substance, although I could see how appealing they might seem for the intellectually weak. You know the type — the archetypal self-righteous hippie persona, who is convinced that veganism and candlelight vigils will save the world. This archtype has probably read books such as The Tao of Pooh or The Celestine Prophecy or indeed Ishmael and is convinced that therein lieth Truth and Beauty and if only the rest of the world could be convinced then we’d all live happily ever after singing kum ba ya or something. (aside: I actually own all 3 of those books and even somewhat enjoyed them to a degree. It’s the taking them seriously part that separates me from the morons.)

I suppose I should actually make a valid argument for not liking this book rather than some vigorous hand-waving and clever insults. The problem is, while easy to rip the entire book apart, it would also be tedious and wordy. Every single point that Quinn tries to make is just plain weak, and I can’t motivate myself to apply critical thought to his jumbled mush. So let me just say that he lost me very early on, and from that point, I was a very hostile reader.

Quinn spends the first 50 or so pages introducing the protagonist and giving Ishmael some backstory. Along the way, we learn that the human race is destroying the world, which is a problem recognized by our protagonist, except he doesn’t know why we’re doing it. It’s this question that Ishmael purports to answer, and he starts off in his Socratic method by asking the protagonist to describe the “modern creation myth”.

Obviously, the protagonist (and the reader) scoff at the possibility that We, the most enlightened creatures ever to walk the earth, could possibly have a creation myth. As the protagonist says, that sort of bunk is for the savages, who believe they were all descended from a giant turtle or something. No, not us. Even practicing Christians understand that the book of Genesis is merely an allegory. Most everyone believes that there was a big bang of some sort, everything cooled down, and out of the primordial soup came a few bacteria, and then lo and behold a few billion years later, we have man.

Quinn then practices his most irritating technique, which is to put words in the mouth of the reader. In other words, he prefers to assume that the reader isn’t applying critical thought, and when Quinn says, “this is what you believe”, the reader will respond, “yes, yes of course this is what I believe!”. Witness the following exchange:

“And so your account of creation ends, ‘And finally man appeared’.”

“Yes.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning that there was no more to come. Meaning that creation had come to an end.”

“This is what it was all leading up to.”

“Yes.”

“Of course. Everyone in your culture knows this. The pinnacle was reached in man. Man is the climax of the whole cosmic drama of creation.”

“Yes.”

“When man finally appeared, creation came to an end, because its objective had been reached. There was nothing left to create.”

“That seems to be the unspoken assumption.”

“It’s certainly not always unspoken. The religions of your culture aren’t reticent about it. Man is the end product of creation. Man is the creature for whom all the rest was made: this world, this solar system, this galaxy, the universe itself.”

“True.”

“Everyone in your culture knows that the world wasn’t created for jellyfish or salmon or iguanas or gorillas. It was created for man.”

“That’s right.”

Ishmael fixed me with a sardonic eye. “And this is not mythology?”

“Well. . . the facts are facts.”

Now that he has established his “premise” that *all* humans believe that the world was created just for them, he spends the rest of the book explaining why this culturally selfish worldview is exactly what’s wrong with everything today. In case you were thinking to yourself that basing the rest of the book on this intellectual dissembling isn’t quite right, but you didn’t know how to describe what Quinn is doing, let me help you. It’s called the strawman argument, and any intro to logic and reasoning text will have a good explanation for it.

In any case, the entire rest of the book natters on and on like that, with the seemingly retarded protagonist being led to realization after realization by the all wise Ishmael. It was all I could do to refrain from puking, but I felt that I had to finish the book just so I could honestly say that I read it (but once) and never plan on purposely attempting to make myself dumber in that manner ever again.

Long post, but the takeaway message is this: in the future, the amount of intellectual vacuousness for any given person you meet is directly proportional to the level of credence he or she has lent to Ishmael.

xavier rudd

So one of the reasons I didn’t sleep at all this weekend was because I went and saw Xavier Rudd play at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on Friday evening. I didn’t get to sleep until 3:15 AM on Saturday, and had to get up at 5:15 to catch my flight.

It was completely worth it.

Xavier Rudd is a one man act from Australia and simply put, he kicks your ass. With his feet, he lays out a 4/4 beat by stomping on a wooden box that basically acts like a bass drum. In his hands, he’s either playing guitar, dobro, slit drum, or djembe, and on top of that, he’s either singing, playing harmonica, or rocking on one of three different didgeridoos.

He plays all of his instruments in an extremely percussive style and layers complex polyrhythmic tunes on top of his basic beat. The amount of energy this man exudes is amazing. If you ever get a chance to see him, do so.

For now, you can purchase his album “Solace” on the iTunes music store. Be warned though that it doesn’t really capture anywhere near the amount of energy of his live show, which you can download from archive.org. To save you some time, here are some direct links:

spiderman 2

David over at Mind Poison thought that Spiderman 2 sucked. I’m sorry David, you’re absolutely correct. It did suck. A lot. And that’s after my boss paid for all of our tickets.

David actually put some thought into his review which is more than you can say for what I’m about to write. But then again, if you want intelligent thought, go read his blog. You’re here reading mine, so that must say something about you too, buddy.

First thought — ok, ok, I get it. Peter Parker’s real life is getting him down and he only has a good time when he’s Spiderman. Why do we spend the first 45 minutes of the movie exploring every single reason why his life sucks? This is supposed to be a summer blockbuster. Let’s get into the action already instead of piling the shit on top of more shit. Were this character development limited to one or two scenes, it would be bearable, but I really thought it was overdone.

Second, why did Dr. Octopus have to make his robot arms contain artificial intelligence? This is out of a comic book, so I’m willing to accept the fact that he must have 4 arms connected directly to his neural system so that he can multitask appropriately. If he just had the sort of setup where he is behind a shield and controlling two robotic arms via a joystick setup or something as goes the common nuclear power plant image (think Simpsons here), that protects him from the fusion (more on that later) but it’s still only two arms. Not enough multitasking. Fine, he needs 4 arms, and the only way to control them is to hook them into his spine. But why oh why does he need to imbue the arms with their own evil agenda? Why couldn’t he have just made them neutral extensions of his own nervous system? Then, there would be no controller chip thingy to get fried and the arms wouldn’t have tried to take over Doc Ock and make him evil. They simply would have gone unconscious, just as the good Doctor did. Dumb.

Lastly, I’m again willing to suspend my disbelief since this is a movie based on a comic book. Great, you invented fusion. That’s pretty swell, except when it gets out of control. Then, you either have to pull the plug on the reaction (feasible) or drown it by putting it under water (stupid). I’m no physicist, but the last time I checked, you can’t even put out a grease fire with water, let alone a fucking fusion reaction. No class C fire extinguishers lying around? WTF? Oh wait — I have a brilliant idea! Let’s put out our scary mini-sun by sticking it in water! What’s that you say? The chemical composition of water you ask? H2O, right? Oh shit! Look at ALL THAT FUCKING HYDROGEN WE JUST INTRODUCED TO OUR FUSION REACTION!

Yeah.

ya-ya

Do I dare admit to the entire internet that I read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood? A question that answers itself, I guess.

But yeah, wildly hilarious at times and only slightly sappy at others, overall it was a good book. The story revolves around flashback vignettes of the picaresque Ya-Yas , and the rich gumbo tapestry Wells weaves is a savory marinade for you to sit back and soak up.

My favorite passage from the story comes when Sidda finally resolves her conflicted inner feelings about both her mother and Connor:

The point is not knowing another person, or learning to love another person. The point is simply this: how tender can we bear to be? What good manners can we show as we welcome ourselves and others into our hearts?

Yeah, it’s cheesy, and perhaps I’m revealing the uncomfortable fact that I actually do have emotions, but hey — I’m cool with it, and if you’re bothered, you can go fuck yourself.

killing me suckily

Killing Me Softly — what a truly awful movie. I was intrigued at first because there was some mountaineering and good sex scenes where you get to see Heather Graham’s boobies, but the initial excitement soon turned into “what the fuck is going on” at first, and “this is bollocks” later.

Here’s the plot with spoilers so you can save an hour and 29 minutes* of your life: Hot chick meets quiet intense mountain climber guy and ditches previous boyfriend. After three days of crazy animal sex that occasionally involves bondage, they get married, whereupon hot chick starts getting mysterious letters about hubbie’s past implying that he may be a murderer or rapist. Hot dumb overacting chick starts investigating and the movie ends when it turns out that hubbie’s SISTER is jealous of hot chick stealing hubbie/brother away. Yes — entire plotline is driven by INCEST. Whee. Big fight scene ensues where sister is about to kill hubbie/brother for “leaving her” and hot chick kills crazy incestual sister by shooting a flare gun into her chest. Apparently this is too much for hot chick to handle, so they break up and the movie is over. The end.

*The unrated version of the movie is actually listed at one hour and 40 minutes, but I figure it took you about 1 minute to read that above quickie review. You will want to spend the other 10 minutes watching the sex scenes, which are pretty good.

The UK Critic has a good review with a classic line regarding the 20,000 ft. analogy Fiennes makes during the film.

monkey wrench gang

What a beautiful book. I had read Desert Solitaire a while back and really enjoyed it, but it doesn’t do justice to Edward Abbey’s real personality. The Monkey Wrench Gang lets you peek into Abbey’s true self, which is that of a mischievous sarcastic bastard with a hell of an intellect. This is yet another book to add to your reading list for kindred spirits living west of the Mississippi.

cadillac desert

If you live west of the Mississippi and you haven’t read Cadillac Desert, do so NOW. It’s simultaneously enlightening and entertaining and depressing and overwhelming. In a nutshell, the book describes how the American West got all its water and how it supports a population much larger than it ought.

The bottom line is that we’re living on borrowed time, robbing Peter to pay Paul. There is not enough water in the west to sustain our current lifestyles for much longer — perhaps another generation or two. Not only that, the water we are using is actually making all of our irrigated farmland worse because of its high salt content. Once the soil becomes saturated with salt, it is ruined for a long long time. When you realize that this is the world’s breadbasket you’re fucking with, well, the implications are frightening.

Unfortunately, if there was a good solution in the book, I didn’t see it. Basically, I’m just glad I’m living now, and not 100 years from now. Sorry children and grandchildren — we were greedy and screwed the planet up for y’all. Oops!

On the whole, I’m conflicted. Without the crazy growth that irrigation and damming allowed, America wouldn’t be where it is today. I enjoy my life and no small part of my lifestyle is due to the fact that the people portrayed as so evil in the book felt the need to dam every river they saw. Would I give up what I have now for a “better” western USA? Hard to tell, honestly, because I can’t even imagine the alternate universe.

It’s all food for thought, and my ability to see both sides of the argument leaves me depressed.

virtual excellence

Mac OS X is the only unix with a decent UI. One of the few things it lacks is support for virtual desktops. There are a few commercial programs out there, but tonight, I found a GPL’ed program that does an excellent job: Desktop Manager for Mac OS X is highly recommended in my favorite category: free software that doesn’t suck.

boys don’t cry

I’ve been trying to watch this movie forever, but I just haven’t had the chance. I mean, at this point, the movie’s been out for a while, and you kinda get the idea that it’s heavy business. You know it’s not the type of flick you rent on a Friday night and watch while hanging out with a bunch of friends. Nor is it the relaxing film you pop in right before bed and catch a few minutes of before nodding off. In fact, there really just isn’t an appropriate time to watch a film like this.

So tonight, I just bit the bullet and watched it. And I’m kinda glad I did, in the same sort of sense you get that you’re glad that you got a colonic because those things are good for you, but you feel a lot better afterwards than you did during.

Oftentimes, with movies like this, I find myself yelling at the characters on the screen, similar to the ironic self-referential scene in the original Scream, where they are watching the horror flick on TV and watching the protagonists do stupid things like splitting up to find the monsters, and the nerdy guy starts telling everyone else how stupid the TV characters are and says what they should have done instead.

This movie, you just watch Brandon lurch from one fuck-up to another and you wonder if his life and your stomach are ever going to settle down. There really isn’t anything he could have done different in small town Nebraska and still have come out ok in the end, except for moving to New York or San Francisco where being gay won’t get you killed. So you just watch and cringe as he keeps doing one small stupid thing after another and all of a sudden, they all add up and some serious bad juju comes crashing down.

So yeah — gut-wrenching all the way, and you come away realizing that we haven’t really made all that much progress as a species.