Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On again, off again: A Hiatus in the Machine

This summer, I've been on again/off again with keeping the blog up and going. It's been worse than Ross and Rachel. (I love my blog, I hate my blog, I love my blog, I hate my blog, I...)

Presently, I'm getting ready for a move out to Newark, New Jersey, where I'll be starting in the MFA in Creative Writing at Rutgers. It'll be a good time. But that likewise means that I'm busy-busy-busy, with a number of final Pennsylvania trips and then the tedious task of packing up all the books and Uhauling everything out to the densely populated cities of New Jersey.

There may be updates--expect one on Friday, to be sure--but this is your fair warning: updates will most likely be spotty during the next two weeks. I'll make a sincere effort to get a few posted, though.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Girl Who Predicted the Twenty-First Century

Over the weekend, I started the third and final installment of the late Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third and final installment of his acclaimed Millennium trilogy.

Okay, the books are thrillers, and unnecessary descriptions of characters' clothing and Ikea shopping trips abound. But they're at least fun. And simultaneously terrifying.

Keep in mind that Larsson wrote these books in 2004 before delivering them to his Swedish publisher. And we should keep that in mind because the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, followed investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander as they toppled a corrupt financial empire. Lisbeth, an unlikely heroine at just shy of five feet tall and with piercings and tattoos, uncovers that this empire has been built on shady speculations, mortgages, and other unsound investments--all of it on the eve of the financial crisis that sent shockwaves through the global economy.

The second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, is more of a manhunt novel, filled with false accusations and a slightly overabundant population of murders. The best part of that novel: several pages going through a shopping trip Salander takes to Ikea.

But the third novel again strikes me as strangely prescient. Salander and Blomkvist find themselves mired in an attempt to unravel a government conspiracy formulated by an inner circle of Sapo, the Swedish Security Police. The plot has gone out of control, illustrating the underhanded nature of even a democratic government. But also, these plots negatively effect citizens and decimate their personal liberties and reputations. Technically, this secret "Section" of Sapo doesn't exist and isn't documented, but its history over a few decades has had unwieldy consequences.

Then, I checked The Washington Post and found that post-9/11 America could have learned a thing or three from Larsson's novel: our secret bureaucracies have become too unwieldy, too expensive, too clumsy. Nobody really knows what's going on, and the impact could be devastating.

So, as campy and cliche as Larsson's novels can be, I think he possessed freakishly good foresight and insight, the attributes that his novels claim all thinkers--writers, journalists, investigators, hackers, even editors--need to possess in order to fix things up and protect citizens.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday Poetry: "An Apprehension," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

"An Apprehension," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

IF all the gentlest-hearted friends I know
Concentred in one heart their gentleness,
That still grew gentler till its pulse was less
For life than pity,--I should yet be slow
To bring my own heart nakedly below
The palm of such a friend, that he should press
Motive, condition, means, appliances,

My false ideal joy and fickle woe,
Out full to light and knowledge; I should fear
Some plait between the brows, some rougher chime
In the free voice. O angels, let your flood
Of bitter scorn dash on me ! do ye hear
What I say who hear calmly all the time
This everlasting face to face with GOD ?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Move Over, Moose and Squirrel

Because Boris and Natasha aren't done yet. And neither is the spy swap saga. It might just be getting longer--and more unnecessarily dramatic--than the Twilight saga.

It seems, now, that everybody is getting into the spy swap that recently occurred between the United States and Russia after ten folks were arrested in the US for spying for the Motherland. As any casual viewer of Cold War-era politics can tell you, the US and Russia don't have the most trusting of relationships, and frankly, these sleeper agents shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. During the late days of the Bush Administration, when the US worked to stiffarm compliance with its proposed missile shield, feelings ran hot, and US plans sparked tension--and dissent--from Sarah Palin's across-the-Bering-Strait neighbors.

But now, the spy swap is starting to obtain a sort of cult, "OMG Britney Spears shaved her head!" status. Recently, two of the Russians expelled from Moscow in the swap--Igor Sutyagin and Anna Chapman--have been sighted in a London hotel. Not just sighted, mind you; technically, they've been reported as "being undercover" in a hotel. And now there are questions of where they're going to go...can they get visas? Will Chapman, who has a British passport through a previous marriage, be permitted entry into the country?

This is, by now, a usual pH/Penguin in the Machine complaint...but (1) why are people surprised that there are still spies and undercover agents, (2) why are these the headline-grabbing current events instead of things that might be of more import to daily existence, and (3) while I feel this would make an interesting human interest story or essay...why don't we focus on the policies and the public personas of the governments these spies were representing? Why don't we ask why they were spying, for what they were searching? It's a question that requires introspection, as opposed to a sort of oohing and aahing that apparently comes much easier.

We have more important concerns. Like snapping photographs of spies in hotels. Just you wait, in the future photographs of a spy at a fountain will be like postage stamps: everywhere, yellowed, thumbed over, and seen by everyone.

A recent Least I Could Do strip provides, I think, the best possible response to this conundrum: Get the experts after all of these spies. I imagine they'd do just as well, and it wouldn't have the predictable inanities of a soap opera plot.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Lady Gaga, Queen of Stalkerbook

So the BBC--and many other news outlets--recently reported that Lady Gaga has garnered more Facebook fans than any other living person. At present, you can view her Stalkerbook fan page and see that she's racked up more than eleven million fans. Yowza.

This isn't a complaint about Lady Gaga as a social phenomenon or anything else. But it makes me wonder about the world's perspective on things. So I decided to scour the Stalkerbook fan pages for, you know, a universal ideal or two. Something every one, regardless of race or creed or musical tastes, could get behind.

So I looked up love: There does indeed exist a Facebook page for love (I'm now a fan), and it has just shy of two hundred eighty thousand fans. So...Lady Gaga has nine hundred thousand fans more than love.

It's a strange, small thing, but it's enough to make me question individual priorities. Lady Gaga's music may be catchy, or exciting, or enjoyable (or, even to a few, perhaps annoying and obnoxious), but it's a little dubious that an entertainer can tally more fans than a core human emotion. Aren't we all fans of love?

Really. Become a fan of love. Also of the Bucknell University Press, but also of love. Because love, no matter with whom or for whom, is a good thing. Always

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wednesday Poetry: "The Plaster," by W.S. Merwin

"The Plaster," from The Lice, by W.S. Merwin

How unlike you
To have left the best of your writings here
Behind the plaster where they were never to be found
These stanzas of long lines into which the Welsh words
Had been flung like planks from a rough sea
How will I

Ever know now how much was not like you
And what else was committed to paper here
On the dark burst sofa where you would later die
Its back has left a white mark on the white wall and above that
Five and a half indistinct squares of daylight
Like pages in water
Slide across the blind plaster

Into which you slipped the creased writings as into a mail slot
In a shroud

This is now the house of the rain that falls from death
The sky is moving its things in from under the trees
In silence
As it must have started to do even then
There is still a pile of dirty toys and rags
In the corner where they found the children
Rolled in sleep

Other writings
Must be dissolving in the roof
Twitching black edges in cracks of the wet fireplaces
Stuck to shelves in the filthy pantry
Never to be found
What is like you now

Who were haunted all your life by the best of you
Hiding in your death

Monday, July 5, 2010

For the Fans, the Fanfare around Wonder Woman's No-Longer-Unnecessarily-Patriotic Costume

You didn't hear it here first: But Wonder Woman, the iconic female superhero in D.C. comics' triumvirate (she's there along with Superman and the Dark Knight Detective), has traded in the star-spangled swimsuit for something...well, something that might be considered clothing.

While Reuters has referred to the outfit as a "21st Century Makeover," fans are doing their usual bit: Complaining because a scantily clad female character is suddenly wearing clothes. So my diatribe may sound like something to that effect. But my problem with Wonder Woman isn't that she's finally clothed (I mean, I'm sure any woman could back us up on this, but...crimefighting in a one-piece? That cannot be comfortable). My problem is that Wonder Woman has gone super 1990s in all the wrong ways.

Let's take a look at Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, aka not Lynda Carter from the '60s. First of all, leggings as pants? No, thank you. Then there's the corset, and the jacket that more or less advertises early '90s biker dive bars. And let's not get started on the choker necklace. Aside from the Wonder Woman logo at the top of the corset, there's not much here that looks like Wonder Woman.

It's the new, "hipper," edgier Wonder Woman...but it seems to fall flat, such as when D.C. remodeled Superman in the 1990s by making him all electric and shoving him in a blue-and-white jumpsuit. What strikes me as odd here is that Wonder Woman isn't really defining the new millennium (though she might've stolen those leggings from a sorority girl, though, btw, leggings are not pants); the design is a rehashing of nearly twenty years ago.

So I'm not sure what to make of this new Wonder Woman, though if her superhero power is making you wonder why she's decided on these duds, then it's certainly working....