Thursday, January 17, 2002

My short story "Daddy Buys a Buick" has been reprinted on Open Sewer. Thanks guys.

If you're like me--a human being--you probably despise pop-up ads. That's why this site rocks. It provides links to help you opt out of certain pop-ups, including the ubiquitous, annoying X-10 ad. Unfortunately, that one has to be renewed. You can even permanently opt out of that $@&%ing comet cursor some apparently LSD-addled folk use on their sites.

Sunday, January 13, 2002

The Number One Propaganda Tract Masquerading as Literature of the Past Century

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

It’ll take a while, maybe another hundred years, but eventually (I hope) this book will fall right out of every top 10, top 100 list of books, as more and more folks understand it as an economic tract instead of a novel. (Consider maxims like “Money is the barometer of a society's virtue.”) Certainly, economic tracts deserve a place in the literary canon, alongside works like Marx's Das Kapital or Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, but I don't believe Atlas Shrugged deserves to nestle with Lolita and Crime and Punishment (which manages to be philosophical without being a tract). Not just because Atlas Shrugged is a work of propaganda, but also because as fiction, it's not a work of creative significance. It's a step above the psychobabble of L. Ron Hubbard to be sure, but those two authors have more in common (in motivation if not in philosophy) with each other than they do with Nabakov or Dostoevsky.

Libertarians love Rand because she consistently represents their worldview. In fact, many folks with varying philosophical backgrounds admire her; surely, however, they haven't considered the full implications of what she’s saying. Rand's most popular maxim was spoken in Atlas Shrugged and detailed in her collection of essay, “The Virtues of Selfishness": “I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another human being, or ask another human being to live for mine.” I guess this mantra approximates "Do unto others as best suits yourself," which essentially means letting folks fend for themselves. I wonder in this post dotbomb era, in this age of Enronism, whether Rand might change her tune about the respective merits of capitalism and selfishness. What I see makes me ill. The rich getting richer off the backs of the poor even as they, the rich, know their enterprise is going down the drain. Unchallenged, capitalism uses people up. Beats the shit out of them, frankly. I'm no commie but I do believe that the idea that capitalism is a neatly and simply a superior operating principle, elegant in it's efficiency--that idea is born of naïveté, and perhaps, greed.

By all accounts even Rand didn’t live by her popular maxim. Even she was more human than that. These sentiments are glib and simplistic; they might appear sensible at first blush, but raise chilling repercussions when you consider their ramifications. It sends a chill down my spine when so many describe it as the book (second only to the Bible, according to a joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club) that most changed their life. Her philosophy of Objectivism may be pro-individual (and I consider myself a strong individualist and even share many sentiments with libertarians) but I believe it’s anti-human. Principles of individualism have to be balanced with principles of community. (Capitalism has to be balanced with elements of socialism, if you like, not to conclude that these systems are always so easily divided.) We need a balance. That sounds simplistic and glib too, doesn’t it?
To a certain extent, End of Year/Top 10 lists are a bloody waste of time: they're often simultaneously amusing and useless. They are useful if you happen to share the taste of the dude writing the list. Here then are a few useless, hopefully amusing lists:

Top 10 Albums of 2001

·Arab Strap The Red Thread – Malcom Middleton's gruff, beautiful slow-core dirges. Ideal late-night listening for melancholics. "Love Detective" excites with it's driving piano and sordid lyrics. Longer songs like "The Long Sea" and "Screaming in the Trees," and "Turbulence," are almost terrifying in their dark, placid beauty. Belle and Sebastian with hair on their chests. Spare stuff. Nothing remotely twee or sentimental here.
·R.E.M.Reveal – Are the boys from Athens turning into the Beach Boys? You decide. Whatever their songs are still lovely, though alarmingly simple.
·AvalanchesSince I Left You – Aussie boys pull a collective DJ Shadow, dazzling millions. The album's still unnoticed here compared to it's popularity in their homeland.
·SpiritualizedLet It Come Down – Moody, symphonic rockin’ gospel. The Stones collide with the Beatles and Jesus in Jason Pierce’s cranium to great effect. I can’t stop listening to the 10-plus minute opus, “Won’t Get to Heaven.” A favorite of my favorites.
·Nitin Sawhney Prophecy – Had I the chance to buy it for a reasonable price in the United States, I suspect this would’ve been another favorite. Until I can find it, I'm enjoying a couple of mp3s. True world music. An artist people feel safe describing as "brilliant" with some regularity.
·TrickyBlowback – not a masterpiece to be sure, but I listened to this a lot. Oddly inspired accompaniment from the Chili Peppers and Cyndi Lauper.
·Air 10,000 Hz Legend – Bizarre, campy fun. Under-appreciated effort, no doubt, because it wasn’t a carbon copy of the French duo’s previous efforts. Still laugh when I hear the “I think you should quit smoking” response to the goofy 10cc-ish, “How does it make you feel?”
·GorillazGorillaz – OK, so I don’t own this one, but I’ve heard a few tracks. It’s made a lot of end-of-year lists, and I’m a fan of those involved. Kooky, original sounds.
·New Order Get Ready – Don’t got this one yet either, but glad to see the boys back and loving what I’ve heard. OK some of the lyrics are weak, but New Order’s always been a little lyrically challenged. They’re masters at forging crystalline-perfect pop sounds, though.
·Shuggie Otis Inspiration Information – Best re-release. First released in 1974 when Otis was 22.

[Coldplay's album Parachutes was also a favorite this year, though technically it was released in 2000 and just didn't get noticed much over here until 2001. That piano entry into "Trouble" grabs me every time. And the video is georgeous.]

Top 10 Movies of 2001

·Mulholland Drive – Disorienting. Thoughtful. Erotic. Also funny and intermittently satirical. Like Memento, this you’ll benefit from repeated viewings.
·In the Mood for Love – I haven’t seen this, but I’m a huge Wong Kar Wai fan and judging by the reviews, I’m going to love it. Great Aussie cinematographer continues his work with Wong, too.
·Amores Perros – Hurtling up from the southern hemisphere, a grittier Magnolia with bloody dog fights. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s unflinching portrayal of the lives that intersect at a car accident (the most viciously realistic car accident I’ve ever scene-the sound alone will cause you to shudder).
·Memento – Overrated? Maybe. But this notoriously twisted movie kept me on the edge of my seat. Of course there are holes, but it’s a lot closer to watertight than some folks who apparently weren’t watching closely could tell. Besides, I’m a sucker for film noir, as this list should reveal.
·Sexy Beast – Tough Brit-noir. Watching Ghandi (Ben Kingsley) curse like a roomful of sailors is one of the most entertaining (not to mention, frightening) things I saw all year. Great soundtrack by U.N.K.L.E., too.
·No Man's Land – Set in Bosnia - three men are caught in a ditch in the middle of No Man's Land, a battle field in the Bosnian war. Two of the men are Bosnians, one, a Serb. One of the Bosnians bickers and fights with the Serb while the other tries to lie still: he's lying on a landmine which while blow them all to kingdom come if he changes his position. The movie manages to satirize this sad war and many of it's attendant features: the role of the United Nations, for example, and the media. Dark, funny and informative.
·Amelie – Dangerously close to saccharine, but with enough restraint to avoid preciousness (most of the time). I admired Amelie for its humanity and its effusive inventiveness. Makes most other films look drab and devoid of creativity.
·The Man Who Wasn’t There – The Cohen brothers transform Billy Bob Thornton into Bogart in this beautiful black and white film noir. Some critics complained of Thornton’s cold, close demeanor. Duh, it’s called the Man Who Wasn’t There.
·The Pledge – Criminally overlooked. Reasonably nuanced performance from Nicholson. Lotsa folks will HATE the ending and I applaud Penn for leaving it that way. Folks who say the ending doesn’t make sense must’ve slept through the movie. Folks who got it, but didn’t like probably prefer Pollyanna endings or more rock ‘n’ roll sledgehammer ones like the one in Seven. Whereas Seven’s ending was for shock value, The Pledge’s is replete with philosophical (existential) meaning.
·The Tailor of Panama – John Boorman's lean, stylish and subtle thriller. Pierce Brosnan plays a bad guy spy way better than a good one. Geoffrey Rush is dignified and touching. The emphasis is definitely on character development over action, which is why I enjoyed it while others may ask, "That was a spy movie?"

[I’d likely have included more foreign and independent movies had they been shown here in Charlotte – if they were, they disappeared long before I had the chance to see them]

Biggest Disappointment of 2001

·Planet of the Apes – No competition. Largely plotless, poor characterization, deus ex machina ending. How the hell did horses get on the planet? Oh, the make-up was superb.

Saturday, January 12, 2002

2001 was the worst year in the history of Generation X. Maybe that ain't saying much, since we're supposed to be The Pampered Generation. (Of course they say that, but my generation actually seems to be teeming with anxiety-ridden type As, always pushing themselves further onward to the next goal [yes, goals as fixes], never satisfied with their current state, never happy with themselves.)

2002 finds me continuing to freelance and living in south Charlotte. I've just started a rather large project with First Union/Wachovia: I'm helping design their intranet. Which means this blog ain't gonna be updated too often--as promised on day one.

May the best of 2001 be your worst of 2002. (And that wouldn't be hard, eh?)

Ya'll be careful out there.