Saturday, January 14, 2006

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The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“Beware, o wanderer, the road is walking, too.”

Rainer Marie Rilke

Whose fooling who? Posted by Picasa
Is This The Way The Republic Ends?

It was supposed to be where the issue, not to mention the outrage, of the cheerful assertion of dictatorship was going to be focused. The Alito hearings, whatever they would mean for the eventual acceptance of the nominee to the Supreme Court, would serve notice that Democrats and even some Republicans weren't going to stand for Constitutional democracy being dismantled before their eyes by a government headed by an embarrassing self-parody in the Oval Office.

Well, it was an awfully good idea. Too bad the Senators on the committee were so lame, and so easily flummoxed by a nominee who failed to dramatically screw up, mostly by sitting utterly still and saying as little as possible with as many words as possible.

And of course the media utterly fell for the only not entirely boring photo op, which was the nominee's wife in tears, after a question by Republican Senator Lindsay Graham. Graham, sitting in judgment on the judge, was also the guy who helped prepare him for testimony, and was he ever prepared. Most Little Leagues don't let coaches umpire, but Congress is apparently different.

Maybe that should be their motto: Congress: always a lower standard.

Could it be that the tears were also coached? The woman could have been an actor playing Alito's wife and our ace investigative newshounds would never know it. They're too busy, getting the money shot, doing inserts for teasers and interviews for other shows on their network, and bantering with pundits and drive-time djs, then rushing back to the office to read the blogs so they can find out what's going on.

The anti-dictatorship crowd hasn't run out of opportunities yet--it's said that Al Gore will shout about constitutional crisis in a speech on Monday, though the drama is a bit diluted by this being known several days in advance, so the speech itself may be old news before it happens.

And some anti-dictatorship folks are trying their own pr campaign, like the series of town meetings which are laudable in themselves, but to puff them up as "impeachment talk is growing" and "350 people are packed into the hall" is pushing it. Yes, maybe they were packed, but they were still just 350 people.

I've been thinking about a short email I got at Christmastime by an old friend from the 70s, which referred to these as "the worst of times." She and I lived through Civil Rights and Vietnam, assassinations, Nixon and Watergate, Reagan and Iran-Contra, and Bush War I. She may even remember aspects of the Blacklist---after all, her father was I.F. Stone, one of the few wholly admirable men of our time, whose courage is partially measured in his lack of company as a voice of informed dissent. Yet she called these the worst of times, and she may well be right.

But they may not be the worst of times to come, if this pale slide into dictatorship isn't halted. It's not the wiretaps themselves, not even Alito, that make it so terrible. But the confidence that Bushcorpse has in asserting their evil ways, in destroying this nation's economy, its natural environment and the world's, sending poor young men and women to their deaths, justifying torture and continuing cruel and unusual punishment without even charges, leading a system in which medical care is denied to the non-wealthy, and public health is falling apart, and in Bush's obscenely and absurdly cheerful blather about the ruins of New Orleans...what word is there for this but decay?

Is this how the Republic will end, not with a bang but a simper? Or a smirk?

Julia Ormond and Anthony Hopkins in the film version of Harrison's
"Legends of the Fall" (he liked it.) Posted by Picasa
Legends of the Fall (Also Spring, Winter and the Summer)
Jim Harrison part 2

Jim Harrison’s Off to the Side is not your typical memoir of the current publishing Zeitgeist. There’s no straight through-line of bad boy goes through hell---a constant Survivor show from childhood on---to revelation, reform and what psychologist and author Dan McAdams calls the most characteristic American theme: redemption. Or even the celebrity memoir variation of the rise, the fall and the resurrection. So you’re unlikely to see him on Oprah, at least until she wisely chooses one of his books of fiction for her book club.

That’s not to say there aren’t all those elements in there, although far more modestly than any best-selling memoir would dare. His concern is the texture and the truth of experience, not fulfilling a simplistic pattern, or even enacting an archetypal tale. The book is full of the same keen observations, wit and peculiarly artful sentences as his fiction, and even his interviews. Some of the subjects are familiar from those other sources, but he does cover some areas of his life unreported elsewhere, with consideration and candor.

But like his characters, he tends to mix memories and times with general observations, staying true to his character’s experiences, and in this case his own writing the memoir. In this connection he chose a very apt epigraph for the book, from Rilke: “Beware, o wanderer, the road is walking, too.”

His childhood in Michigan during World War II was immersed in farm life and the natural world, and then by hunting, fishing and the wildlife near his family’s cabin on a lake. There is a quality of his attention then, and therefore later as a writer, that probably owes a lot to the fact that this was a pre-television childhood. It was one of the last ones, too. I was among the first generation of children to grow up with TV in the home, beginning when I was 4 or 5. There were advantages to having such wonders as enacted stories in your living room, but also disadvantages. My outdoor longings and experiences lacked informed attention, coherence, confidence or patience. But they were important nevertheless.

Then again, though I lived with patches of woods and open fields nearby, I didn’t live on a farm, and my father knew little and cared less about the natural world. Harrison writes of fishing with his father when he (young Jim) was in the grip of a melancholy time: “He had an uncanny ability to identify weeds, flowers, bushes by smell, and he suddenly said that curiosity will get you through hard times when nothing else will.”

Still, my small town childhood made some moments Harrison recounts familiar and emotionally resonant, as his “tearful pleasure” on a trip to New York, hearing live classical music for the first time in Washington Square, and when again in New York at the age of nineteen, he saw his first actual painting by a great artist (Modigliani), “my eyes brimmed.”

He was a 4-H boy, and had an adolescent period of extreme Christianity, which involved memorizing large chunks of the King James Bible for contests, a possible key to his prose style.

But the major event of his childhood was an accident that left him blind in one eye. A sensory disability tends to make the sensitive even more inward, but I believe there are some other little understood effects. I’ve only recently begun to realize how important my own one-ear deafness has been in my relationship to the world. For instance, the natural assumption is that a disability in one of the senses shifts emphasis to the others, as in the cliché of the blind person with extraordinary hearing. But I’ve come to believe a more accurate way to put it is that one focuses all the other senses on the work of the less able one. In my own case, I realize that I don’t “see better” because I’m half-deaf; it’s more that I hear partly with my eyes. And I don’t mean lip-reading, but a more generalized function of pouring visual information into making sense of the world in sound.

Also the quality of attention in the sense in question can become more acute, partly because there’s a subconscious process of filling in the gaps to make sense of the sense data. In my own case I can illustrate the concept with this example: I play a game of identifying the voices of actors in situations where they aren’t seen, mostly in “voice-overs” for TV commercials and documentaries. I am very good at this, even with relatively obscure actors, provided I have seen them as well as heard them in some earlier movies or TV shows. And when I remember who they are, it’s because in my mind I see their faces, and only then recall their names (if I can remember their names at all---a flaw in my ability to prove this.)

So to me, that Harrison excels at visual description is not paradoxical. I’m sure his hearing and other senses (perhaps he too can identify weeds by smell) contribute to what he sees. It may also be why he has such visually rich dreams and “visions,” as some amazing ones he describes in this book. Not only is his brain assembling visual information from all his senses, but it works hard in doing so. That might also contribute to a feedback of visual imagery in dreams and visions.

An event that haunted his life occurred when he was 25: his father and beloved sister waited around for him to decide whether he would go with them. He stayed home. A drunken driver hit their car, and killed them both. In this book he touches upon some of the ways this continued to affect him, and it likely adds a certain seriousness, skepticism, melancholy and sense of tragedy to his work. In any case, it is one of those companions that is always there, and often noticed.

But by then he was happily married, and wondrously it was a marriage that lasted, even through periods of his obliquely described bad behavior. It grounded him in many ways. So his life as a writer, while it included Hollywood and wild times in Key West, also included home and children, usually in modest circumstances.

My response to this life, as to his success as a novelist, which was one of my most persistent unrealized dream for my life, is the same mixture I feel when I see such a story in a movie, or even on something as vulgar as an awards show: a certain envy, but also a gratitude that at least it happened to somebody, and I can share in it for a moment vicariously. And as I stubbornly if possibly erroneously maintain, a vicarious joy is better than no joy at all.

Harrison’s life took him to several cities and to academe. In particular he spent some time in Cambridge, Mass., where I had lived, and even though we knew some of the same places, it was at different times. I think I just missed the clubby poetry scene at Grolier’s bookstore, though maybe it was my own diffidence and impatience. Harrison knew the poet Denise Levertov, and had the same high opinion of her as a person that I did, having met her when she spent several days at my college. Later I discovered that when she was living in the Boston area she was good friends with a young poet, who had been among the last group of tenants of my apartment in unfashionable East Cambridge. She had been there often, as she confirmed in a postcard, our last communication as it turned out.

Our respective experiences with other people we knew in common tells more about our respective writing careers. My only memory of the justifiably revered publisher Sam Lawrence (who published Kurt Vonnegut, among others) was a very brief meeting. I don’t even remember sitting down—just the sight of this tall, impressive, kind man, standing and smiling, a roaring fire in his fireplace behind him. Sam Lawrence (then at Delacorte) published Harrison’s first collection of novellas, that other publishers wouldn’t touch because nobody would buy it. It was titled Legends of the Fall, and contained that novella, which soon made Harrison famous and rich.

The agent who did that deal was Bob Datilla. I met Bob once as well, a somewhat longer meeting. I had a list of ideas for magazine stories, and he suggested magazines to try with each of them, except one, which he said would not sell. I think we talked about book possibilities, but in any event he essentially agreed to represent me. Some time later he called me, and said he’d changed his mind. The idea he said wouldn’t work was about the malling of America, which became an article that took up nearly an entire issue of a magazine, and then my first (and so far only) book.

Years later, I sent him a letter and a book proposal. He never answered the letter, and sent the proposal back with a huge NO in black defacing it. Needless to say, Bob Datilla is not my favorite agent, even though that’s currently a null set in any case. But he has been Harrison’s agent and a close friend for his entire career.

The part of this book that’s newest in terms of what Harrison has written in earlier nonfiction and talked about in interviews is his recounting of his experiences in Hollywood. As elsewhere, there’s funny stuff here, and the image of Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Sean Connery with Harrison’s barbeque sauce dripping on their white suits is wondrous and hilarious cinema of the mind.

Harrison worked in Hollywood (without being a resident) writing screenplays. He no longer does that, so even when he describes the venality of the movie business, he does so from a distance, taking into consideration his own self-dramatization and ego. Hollywood is just the template for what happens in publishing and related fields these days. So for those who aren’t acquainted with the extreme changes of fortune of an ego-ridden and whim-based industry, some of what happened to Harrison will seem exceptional. Of course, it’s extreme when it happens to you, and for those of us who’ve had similar experiences, there is a certain awe at the magnitude, but a feeling of recognition and solidarity.

Because at one point, Harrison’s “Legends of the Fall” was slated to be directed by one of the cinema’s all time legendary directors, David Lean, and his novella “Revenge” was scheduled to be directed by another such legend, John Huston. Both movies were to be made by Warners, until the head of the studio retired, and the new regime stupidly but characteristically axed both projects. Not only Harrison but the rest of us lost potentially great movies.

Though he made a lot of money there, few of Harrison’s projects became movies. Still, he got to visit many Indian reservations to research a script on photographer Edward Curtis for director Taylor Hackford, and a sense-boggling trip to Rio for a Lou Adler project.

Even a script that he came up with that did get made was a less than happy experience, and a less than good movie: “Wolf” with Jack Nicholson. He basically liked the movie version of “Legends of the Fall," though he despised the TV movie made from his novel, Dalva. He wonders why a movie should be so awful, since “It often seems quite inscrutable because it takes essentially the same energy to make a bad film as a good one,” paraphrasing, perhaps unconsciously or unknowingly , director Francois Truffaut.

Harrison’s involvement with Hollywood figures began before he’d written his first screenplay. His only long-time novelist friend, Tom McGuane, was first to get tapped by Hollywood, and it was by visiting McGuane on a shoot that Harrison met Jack Nicholson, who then read some of his work, and eventually financed a year of Harrison’s writing when he was in dire financial straits, for a small consideration on any film that might ensue. The project was, of course, “Legends of the Fall,” not only Harrison’s most famous work, but his most talismanic.

I felt reassured in my own judgments from a distance (or from brief encounters as an interviewer or observer) by Harrison’s generous assessment of some big name Hollywood actors and directors. He got beyond the idol worship and the cynicism to the intelligence and humanity of complex and talented people.

These personal asides are meant to indicate the kind of interaction between my experience and what I was reading that is part of the experience of every reader. Others would notice and pick out different parts of this book: to contrast and compare his experiences in the book-selling business or academia, his attitudes towards his schooling, the specific places and landscapes where he lived and visited and roamed.

As for direct comment on his work, Harrison is conflicted and sparse. He does say that his novel Warlock is “the only book I’ve ever written that I loathe,” though he doesn’t say why. He refers to moments (when he finished The Road Home) and circumstances, but there is little about how he came to choose a subject or his approach, or methods, etc.

He did say that "Legends of the Fall" arose from reading journals of the real William Ludlow (the father, played in the movie by Anthony Hopkins), who was his wife’s grandmother’s father. Though he insists that his story owes little to the specific content of the journals.

But there is other information in this memoir that links aspects of his life and thought to his fiction, in content and style. Readers may find it adds interest and texture to reading the fiction, perhaps occasionally illuminating something they find otherwise puzzling.

Next time, the fiction I read recently with reference to the memoir and other nonfiction, beginning with Dalva.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Iceberg in Greenland Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Thank God, our time is now, when wrong comes up to meet us everywhere, never to leave us till we take the longest stride of soul men ever took."

Christopher Fry
Something Only A Friend Can Tell You

Even if the friend is not immediately grateful

From the Toronto Globe & Mail:

A senior British military officer has lashed out at the U.S. Army's performance in Iraq, accusing it of cultural insensitivity that "amounted to institutional racism" and a predisposition to offensive operations that proved counterproductive when it was faced with a growing insurgency.

Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who served alongside the Americans in Iraq in 2004, made the scathing assessment in an article in the latest issue of Military Review, published by the U.S. Army itself.

The article has prompted an angry reaction from some U.S. military officials, including the colonel in charge of the army's School of Advanced Military Studies, who lashed out at Brig. Aylwin-Foster as "an insufferable British snob."

Captain Future's Log

Best News So Far

The best news so far this year comes from an Australian scientist who estimates that the world has maybe twenty years to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions or the Earth=Venus (or Earth=Mars, if that's more graphic for you) doomsday scenario becomes inevitable.

Reuters report on the actual conference at which he said action must be taken is disappointing at best: Six of the world's major polluters launched a multi-million dollar fund on Thursday to develop clean-energy, but stressed they will be reliant for generations on polluting fossil-fuels that underpin their economies. Green groups, which have labelled the talks a sham, said the two-day meeting failed to make serious commitments in fighting global warming.

Washington Post report on the just-ended conference noted: The six members, comprising nearly half of humanity, are responsible for about half the greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere, a figure likely to increase rapidly as the economies of China and India draw in vast amounts of coal, oil and gas.

[Australian Prime Minister]Howard said an economic and energy outlook, to be released by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE), showed clean development technology could cut greenhouse gas emissions from the six nations by 20 percent by 2050.

But the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in 1990 that stabilizing carbon dioxide concentrations needed eventual emission reductions of 60-80 percent. A British report in 2000 said a developed nation such as Britain needed to cut carbon emissions by 60 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

So not so good. Pretty much the maddening business-as-usual of politicians and corporations who care more about making money than the future, although it's probably true that their greed blinds many to the point that they actually believe there is no climate crisis.

So why do I say the Australian scientist's prediction is hopeful news? Because he said the world has up to twenty years to make these changes. Whereas the climate science news as 2005 ended was tending towards the conclusion that the jig is up already. Or, as the International Climate Change Taskforce found late last year, the world has perhaps 10 years before it reaches the crisis level, and perhaps the point of no return.

The truth is nobody really knows the timeframe, and nobody knows the ultimate outcome. What reputable scientists do know is that current global heating is the result of human activity during the industrial age (thanks to several important findings last year, this is now as irrefutable as scientific knowledge gets.) They know that the climate crisis has already begun, and it will continue for the forseeable future. It has already begun having consequences on health, ecosystems and their animals and plants, and on people who live in clearly affected areas, such as the Arctic and in parts of Africa.

But as damaging as these effects are, they might be manageable if we begun paying attention to them and to the other problems the climate crisis is likely to cause in the near future---like this year, next, and so on. Dealing with this phase means dealing with the effects, while understanding that their causes in the past (emissions of past decades), if continued in the present, will destroy the future.

And what scientists also know is that at some point, global heating is likely to set off huge changes, affecting many parts of the world, that could very well result in many, many human deaths as well as completely changed ecosystems, or much worse--the end of human civilization and life on earth as we know it. We may be talking about a much hotter planet, or parts of it plunged suddenly into a deep ice age. It may take a hundred years of inexorable change, or a single decade of sudden catastrophic change. Whatever happens, no human effort will stop it or protect against it, and if past major climate changes are any guide, the planet will not return to a more moderate climate (or habitable for our kind of life) for thousands of years, perhaps more than a hundred thousand years. This is what I call the Earth=Mars scenario, although some science types prefer the closer physical analogy of Earth=Venus.

In terms of hope I'm clutching at straws, no kidding, but a ten year opportunity is not enough, whereas a twenty year opportunity to change might be. Why? Because in those first ten years, the climate crisis may very well become so obvious that no one will be able to ignore it. Assuming that nations fighting over resources of water and energy, or fighting because of radically shifting agricultural zones, doesn't lead to major nuclear war, or that too many governments unresponsive to suffering don't fall to violence and the chaos spreads---in other words, that functioning civilization in the technological age doesn't fall to pieces by 2016--humanity might wake up in time to save itself.

Humanity and human civilization might therefore have a future. And believe me, this is something I was seriously doubting as the year ended.

This may be wishful thinking in a personal sense---not because I expect to live long enough to know for sure (assuming the 20 year scenario is correct; if it's ten it's still possible I'll see it, though I'm not counting on it) but because it means that my intermittent and tenuous work of the past decade on focusing what the future needs to succeed, body and soul, is worth trying to get right and complete.

When you're working with no resources, no support, little comprehension out there of what you're saying or what you're trying to do, while just trying to stay alive, relatively sane and stable, every little bit of motivation helps.

Soon to be new dad Brad appeared in the film version of "Legends
of the Fall," from a novella by Jim Harrison Posted by Picasa
The Jim Harrison Experience
Part I

After some weeks of reading for story and book review assignments, and otherwise reading for a specific purpose, I redressed the balance to emphasize reading for pleasure in a literary vein. So I’ve been spending much of the last couple of weeks in the literary company of Jim Harrison.

A brief map of that reading goes like this: I started with his 2002 memoir, Off to the Side. That led me to commit to a reading project I’d long wanted to accomplish—to re-read his 1988 novel, Dalva, and his 1998 novel, The Road Home, which both concern the same characters. And perhaps in between, the excerpts of “The Dalva Notebooks” in his prose collection, Just After Dark, which show that he intended to write this epic story in two parts.

Reading Harrison is always a pleasure, and reading his novels closely offer additional delights. In both fiction and non, and even in his interviews, I've admired the flow and music of his sentences. His vocabulary and style are oddly formal for this day and age, though also highly epigrammatic and often very funny. His paragraphs are a rush--sentences tumble from one subject to another, changing geographical location and sometimes centuries, linked by rhythms and their own particular logic--and as I found in closer reading, by subtle formal symmetries.

About that vocabulary. It's not especially abstract or ornate, but there are several words he habitually uses that few other writers ever do---and some of them drive me crazy because I have to look them up every time. I finally have assimiliated "captious"--I now not only know what it means, but I associate the meaning with the look of the word, always a key for me. But there's still "otiose." I'm sure I had to memorize it for some vocabulary test, but I still don't remember its meaning, and the contextual clues are generally unhelpful. For a writer this is humiliating, and tends to make me captious.

But there’s further pleasure as well as insights to be absorbed in reading back and forth in both the novels and the nonfiction that bears on the novels, though mostly in a general sense of how he thinks and relates to the world.

Literature involves relationship of the work to the world, through the author and his or her writing. And that’s just the beginning. The reader is involved in how the world the writer portrays relates to the world as the reader experiences it. That might mean how the writer and the reader experienced a certain street in Chicago or the ambience of Lincoln, Nebraska, or a certain year in their lives. Or it might mean how the writer’s art creates the experience of a valley the reader has never seen, or an event the reader has not lived through.

Active reading keeps making comparisons and connections—reader to writer, this book to another book of that author’s or another’s; it’s a series of illuminations that show where our experiences were similar or very different; where our reactions to similar experiences were opposite or pretty much the same; where something we share with the author or the character (a physical ability or disability, a common background or ambition or talent) is applied to a situation or a place or in a time very different from our lives, and what happens. And so on.

We can’t help this. It’s a large part of why we read, whether we are aware of it or not. We look for new experiences and perspectives, confirmations of our own experience; guides, warnings and reassurances. We come to literature with the same unspoken questions: How should I live? Am I the only one who felt this way when that happened? Or behaved that way? How does acting like that affect other people, or a life in the long run? We read ourselves into a family, a place, a time, a civilization, partly to lose ourselves, and partly to gain a perspective to see ourselves, and our family, place, time and civilization.

We also want the various emotions that story provides us, through character, incident, plot and language. But when we read real literature we are almost helplessly caught in the complexities of how we experience the world, and what we think about it, how we judge it and how we act. And how we observe others doing all that. Along the way we can develop perspectives--in fact the very idea of perspectives, and seeing things from different ones--as well as emotional and conceptual empathy, through identification, emotional response and understanding, points of likeness and difference, and admiration.

Readers often like to read about the lives of authors, to get some sense where all this "came from;" to compare events and emotions and perspectives in the books with those that authors experienced. Memoirs or autobiographies offer perhaps a less “objective” description of outward events (though biographers are not always to be trusted there either) but they also include the author’s thoughts and impressions that give events a perhaps more relevant meaning.

So my next installment is about reading the memoir. I'll end this one with a little more background on my own relationship to Harrison’s work.

I first read some of his poetry in the 1970s, and began reading his fiction and nonfiction prose in magazines in the 1980s, specifically a novella or two in Esquire ("Julip" is the one I specifically remember because I clipped and kept it), and his column in a short-lived magazine I liked a lot, called Smart. (One of his columns there introduced me to the Native author Gerald Vizenor.)

It wasn’t until the early 90s that I started reading him in book form, and I soon had read everything I could find (including what his memoir suggests is a rare book—the original hardback edition of Farmer, though mine is a library castoff.) In 1998, I reviewed his novel, The Road Home, for Orion magazine. I also read much of his collected poetry in the volume that came out at about that time, called The Shape of the Journey.

After that, I read his novel of 2000, The Beast God Forgot to Invent. I have yet to read two subsequent books, the novel True North (2004) and the book of novellas entitled The Summer He Didn’t Die (2005.) And I hadn’t yet read his memoir, until now.

In terms of that back-and-forth action of reading, there was an additional level in his memoir for me. There is much about our lives that is very different—our childhoods, the places where we grew up, our writing careers; even though Jim Harrison is only about 9 years older than me, those turn out to be crucial years in some ways in how we experienced our childhoods. But we do share some things, including a few places and a few people we each encountered. The differences in those experiences add certain resonances, some comical, some not so much.

More next time on the memoir, Jack Nicholson, and Legends of the Fall.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

silence in the snowy field Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

News That Stays News

I attended what's called a liberal arts college, not one of the more fashionable ones on the East or West coasts but in the heartland of the midwest, where there is still a small group of them.

Partly because I've written on a lot of different subjects for different publications and clients throughout the years, I've continued my liberal education throughout my life.

But a liberal education is more than non-specialized. It is about interpenetrations, knowledge and conceptual tools from one area providing perspective and added depth to another area. It's about developing frameworks, making relationships. In gross contemporary parlance, it's about connecting the dots.

I'm prompted to explain this by a recent thread on a community blog, where I have posted and where I've found the most thoughtful and informed commentaries of any such Internet site I've seen over a bit of time. The thread was about "art or literature that changed your life." Most of the responses named science fiction novels, or other genre fiction.

Obviously Captain Future is a sci-fi fan, and I see many science fiction stories in whatever form as useful in understanding the present and past, and envisioning various futures. But though some innovative writing in science fiction has energized the contemporary literature of its time, as literature it is usually a subsidiary form, dependent on other forms of storytelling. And little science fiction writing rises above middling quality.

The resonance of popular forms like sci-fi depends in part on knowing the classic literature that it in-forms it. It becomes a richer source of insight and even pleasure when the reader knows something of its relationships to other storytelling forms.

When I read that thread I was surprised that people who dealt intelligently with political, economic, ecological issues had such tenuous connection to literature. I simply assumed that they too would think of James Joyce or Virginia Woolf or James Baldwin or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or even J.D. Salinger or John Irving or Barbara Kingsolver, let alone Keats or Conrad or Rilke.

But that's an incorrect assumption, I realized. I was perhaps more sensitive to it because of the comments I quoted in my recent rant on the Charlie Rose interviews about tech trends, which showed such a fundamental lack of understanding of what literature is all about.

Literature is essential to the future, as much as psychology or physics or medicine. So it is a piece of the puzzle that I've decided to emphasize a bit more here at Dreaming Up Daily.

Maybe there's some projection involved here, too, for in the press of other business, and required reading (for stories and reviews), I've neglected the nourishment I've always sought in literature. But I "indulged" myself in a spate of such reading in recent weeks, beginning with a memoir by contemporary novelist and poet Jim Harrison.

I was going to summarize that little exploration just for Books In Heat (my books blog), but now I've decided to go into it more thoroughly, starting here.

So that's something I plan to do over the next few days. Look for it above.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bon voyage, hummingbirds. See you in the spring. Posted by Picasa
Unreliable Media

Why is so much of the news media we've always depended on in the process of falling apart? On cable, CNN had a solid reputation for real news coverage, and when it started msNBC had a reasonable mix of news and punditry on both sides within the political middle. Now they are both trying real hard to become clones of Faux News. According to people who watched it (I'm not one--I axed all but basic cable months ago and never looked back) msnbc covered the Scalito hearings yesterday for hours without a single non-Republican, non-Bushite voice, not even in interviews.

Now apparently our TV news and newspapers have lost interest even in their own. An outrageous incident in Iraq is alleged--after requesting interviews from U.S. military officials on a story she was doing on misappropriated U.S. and British funds in Iraq, U.S. soldiers broke into the bedroom of a reporter working for the Guardian newspaper in England, and fired shots as she, her husband and children were sleeping. According to jpol at Booman Trib, this has gone unreported in our news media. There are links to earlier posts and foreign press stories saying that journalists are being targeted by coalition/Iraqi forces in Iraq.

And around here, I'm still waiting for any sort of story on the death by hospital policy of Tirhas Habtegiris.

When journalists are slow to even defend their own, it argues for decadence or pervasive depression. I think it's both. It's decadence at the top--management with priorities, both corporate and personal, that don't include good journalism, plus decadent "stars" who make lots of money from running at the mouth and identify with the rich and powerful in that class world they are now entering.

And it's depression in the ranks, as resources for newsgathering are cut, newsroom layoffs, buyouts and firings are increasing, shrinking the number of reporters that together with marketing invades editorial policy, taking away ability and freedom to report. A friend at one city newspaper told me recently that editorial management called a meeting of reporters to discuss low morale, but everyone was too depressed to even show up. It was a joke, and it wasn't.

The news media in question is often called Mainstream Media or MSM in the blogosphere. Kos is arguing for the term "traditional media" because MSM is a right-wing invention, the media are not the enemy, and the usual newspapers and TV are no longer alone in the mainstream. He points out that Daily Kos has more readers than some cable news channels have viewers, and it would rank in the top five of newspapers by circulation.

The Big Blogs have their problems, too. But one thing they do well: if something significant is reported anywhere in the world via the Internet, it will get reported on one blog or another. Once a story gets some interest, bloggers will dig into available public records and scoop out the facts, the contradictions and patterns.

The major weakness is of course that if it isn't on the Internet, it's unlikely to be blogged. Bloggers do report on public events in their vicinity (speeches, election campaigns, etc.) but without getting paid to report, and without the travel and other resources of a news organization, there are limits to the news blogs can provide. So bloggers still rely on news media, though these days those news organizations are often overseas.

The deadly irony of all this is that the right wing fanatics effectively created the impression that American news reporting was unreliable (because of liberal bias), and because they were effective in tarring the media, news organizations responded in part by taking the right wing fanatical view, and in the process they have become unreliable. New ditzsy anchors, blowhard pundits, and regular apologies for bad reporting from major newspapers don't help.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Winter in the North Carolina mountains Posted by Picasa
Opening Today: The Winter of Our Discontent

Now is the winter of our discontent, not to be made glorious summer by the daughter of New York. At least not yet.

Even with the first out-loud Impeachment talk in December, it's still very likely that the American people and the entire world are stuck with G.W. Bush as President for the next three years. A Republican Congress arranged a bogus impeachment of a Democratic President but since they've more than proven that their partisanship trumps their patriotism, this Congress will take the ship of state down before they'll permit a Bush Impeachment.

Democrats have a chance to win a slim Senate majority in November, and with the likelihood of a major scandal affecting a score of GOPer House members, some possibility of taking both houses. But even then we run into the major barrier: impeach Bush, get Cheney. Of course, Cheney might be forced to pull an Agnew and get out first to avoid jail...but that's a lot of ifs.

Still, the discontent starts ringing big time today, Monday, with the beginning of hearings on Samuel Alito for Supreme Court. Until recently this shaped up to be a fight over Roe v. Wade, but revelations of White House spying on Americans in defiance of law has changed the dynamic, though Roe is still a mighty factor.

Now, as the Nation summed it up, " The Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito represent the first major battle in an emerging constitutional war over the authority of the President."

Alito has left an alarming paper trail. For instance, he picked the perfect year--1984--to write a memo supporting the federal right to wiretap American peace activists without a warrant.
This also indicates a consistency with Bush's last attempted appointment, of Harriet Miers. Right wing fanatics were puzzled (and yes, admit it, a little hurt) that Bush appointed somebody without proven right wing fanaticism on key issues. Why on earth did he choose her? As he tried to rally support among fundie fanatics, GOP party chair Ken Mehlman was quoted as telling them of the need to confirm a justice who will not interfere with the administration’s management of the war on terrorism.

That what Miers was all about: the loyalty to do the right thing if the court tried to restrict the President's power to do whatever he wants, as long as he says it's necessary to defend the U.S. (which may actually mean to him, his rich buddies, his church and a few of his favorite corporations.) Having failed at that, Bush chose somebody who'd shown evidence on the record of supporting such power, even if he didn't happen to be a proven personal toadie.

This of course is only the opening act of what is likely to be The Winter of Our Discontent--the Series. There are the unfolding scandals involving ace lobbyist Abramoff, the delayed justice to De Lay, as well as two other dubious snooping campaigns, by the Pentagon and FBI respectively. The White House National Security Agency buggings (if such an arcane term can be used for a whole new era of electronic spying) are the most clearly contrary to law, though the White House is aggressively asserting its Constitutional right to ignore the Constitution. This is going to be a matter for the courts first, and I suspect it's the reason for Bush taking this stance and doing what John Dean said was unprecedented: a President admitting an impeachable offense. Aggressive assertion of his presidential power would tend to make this a matter for the Supreme Court to decide (insulating Bush from congressional action), which would make sense if Alito wins confirmation, as so far is expected.

But that's not all. The Plame Game isn't over, and Rove is still a favorite to be indicted.

In the meantime, Bush is taking the same damn the torpedoes full speed ahead rhetorical stance on Iraqnam, where the news is not changing American public opinion in Bushcorpse favor. Like more death and destruction, news of poor oil revenue, a Pentagon study that up to 80% of Marine casualities could have been prevented by the use of body armor which is available but the Pentagon won't use, and now, a study by a Nobel Prize winning economist and a Harvard budget expert that the real cost of the Iraqmire could eventually be over two TRILLION DOLLARS. This is more than ten times the official estimate.

As this news gets into the national bloodstream, discontent is likely to increase. Bushcorpse stopped its free fall to the bottom in opinion polls at least temporarily, but its much publicized "rebound" still has 60% against him. A month from now the free fall could be back.

Especially as it sinks in: three more years.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Another big day for the Bus and Big Ben, as the Steelers spot the Bengals 10 points, then win 31-17 in the first round of the playoffs. Bengal starting qback Carson Palmer completed his first pass and one of his linemen blocked a Steeler lineman into him, ending his season. The long replay was heartrending---not only did the injury hurt, but the opposing lineman involved was visibly upset---nobody likes to see somebody hurt like that. Posted by Picasa
Our Sci-Fi Weather

The Eureka Reporter reports the explanation by the National Weather Service for the sudden windstorm that devastated the Humboldt County electrical grid on December 31. Some people in less than remote places were without power for six days.

Several storms came through from the Pacific during Christmas week. By New Year's Eve morning the latest bout of heavy rains and constant winds had died down, only a weak storm was forecast for early in the new year, and most of the county was breathing a sigh of relief because it seemed the worst had passed and the grid got through it fine. But then at about 9:30 am winds that are estimated at up to 85 mph hit various parts of the area, and did the damage. They were brief, and didn't affect all areas.

Now the Weather Service says that it was such a rare weather event that there is no record of it happening in Humboldt before. A similiar situation happened in Portland, OR in the 90s, which weather types have been studying ever since.

It's called a bent-back occuluded front. In this case the storm had indeed passed--the front was in Montery to the south and Sacramento to the southeast. But "rapidly intensifying" low pressure in the ocean off our coast actually sucked the storm front back--the front "bent" back to the North Coast.

This explanation came in a story about why the NWS didn't issue a wind warning, not the most intelligent approach to the phenomenon, since it's not clear what the Emergency Alert would have done. Here's a classic graph on the outcome: But by the time they realized how strong the winds would be, it was too late, Dean [of the NWS] said. "The feeling at the time was that the winds had already started, so people already had the information that it was windy."

Yeah, good thinking. But what about this weird event? Nobody has seen it around here until the 1990s and now it's happened again. The conventional wisdom, especially in newspaperland (and especially in conservative Repub Bushloving newspaperland) is that weather is full of freak events. It's that tricky old Mother Nature, tsk tsk, hardy har har.

Well, some humility is certainly proper but global heating scenarios predict such freak weather, and if the oceans are warmer in places they weren't before, we may be in for more "freak" storms. For which, incidentally we are not well prepared, as this event makes clear. The power crews performed admirably afterwards, but the flow of timely information was spotty and inconsistent, and generally a failure. Missing the point even a week afterward ices that particular cake.

There was a terrible TV movie on a few months ago about a series of storms that wiped out various picturesque capitals of the world and threatened to be "the end of the world!" as the title indicated. It ran for something like 4 hours over two nights, so I taped it and we watched the highlights. Good popcorn trash tv, but science fiction is rarely without relevance to the undercurrents of mood in the present. Sci fi weather isn't just coming. We just had some.