Wednesday, September 24, 2008 WCL sees the world.

On Global Warming: "We have much bigger issues to worry about. The uproar over this issue is shockingly similar to the shrieking of the millenialists a few years back. Also, take a look at the weather patterns for the week after September 11, 2001 and get back to me. Then we can talk seriously about this issue."

On the End Days: "It doesn't take a whole lot to permanently damage human civilization. Don't get me wrong, humans will survive no matter what, but all it takes are one or two cataclysmic events to really wreak havoc. Maybe the food supply gets disrupted and famine breaks out. Perhaps the US's energy or technological infrastructure get disrupted for a few weeks. Whatever. If one of these disasters is sustained over a few weeks, then it will bring us to our knees. It will send us back to a pre-industrialized state. And once we're pre-industrial again, we can't retrace our footsteps of modern progress. We can't climb out of that hole. We can't recreate the technologies to pump the oil we need. We can't create renewable energy resources without the help of non-renewables at this point. And so we'll be stuck in a sort of pre-historic state forever. If you think about it, it's an elegant answer to Fermi's paradox. This will be a problem long before global warming begins taking its toll."

On the Newseum charging a $20 entrance fee: "They have some real fucking nerve."

On the Palin VP pick: "It's a fundamentally unserious choice. It's a farce. I sometimes think that McCain is keeping his charade of a campaign going just so that on the day before the election, he can give a press conference where he'll say, 'I ran this campaign as a total joke to test the American people, and they have failed that test.'"

On sushi: "Complete and utter yuppie bullshit."

On why same sex marriage is fundamentally dissimilar from plural marriage: "It may seem odd to us, but you must remember that until very recently, marriage was never about love. The Victorians are responsible for that [travesty]. Instead, marriage served as a means for passing along property, inheritance, social status. That remains fundamentally unchanged if you provide a legal avenue for same-sex marriage. Not so for plural marriage. And on a practical level, do you suggest that we could reform the legal system and tax code to accommodate multiple wives or husbands? It would be impossible."

On his 3D pictures of Mars' surface: "They are remarkable. I sometimes can't sleep because I'm so excited just thinking about them. That and the Hadron collider keep me awake at night."


Sunday, September 21, 2008

...Native Son (by Richard Wright).

If you’re ever feeling depressed and want to read a book to offset your sad mood, and someone recommends that you read Native Son, do not do it. Run the other direction. Pick up some light chick-lit, the kind with cursive writing on the cover and a picture of someone’s legs in high-heels. Because Native Son is the most viscerally upsetting and maddening and blood-curdlingly-infuriating book in the world. Depressing doesn’t even describe it. What is a word that conveys more active sadness than depressing? Anguish? Native Son makes you want to throw up because you are so mad at the world and so sad for Bigger Thomas, the doomed protagonist, and it makes you want to kill yourself for being complicit in the horrible, corrupt, hateful and oppressive world Wright describes. Native Son is almost like a dare to the reader. Wright is daring you to look at the gruesome reality he goes to great lengths to depict in too much detail. Wright doesn’t end a scene when you wish he would, he stays in the moment, observing the horrible details, at times making me skim through passages or skip ahead or turn my face away to wince and shake my head and just hope it would all be over soon. Bigger violently killing a huge rat. Bigger jerking off. Bigger smothering a girl to death. Bigger cutting off her head and burning her body. Bigger raping and murdering his girlfriend. And this is from the protagonist, with whom you sympathize the whole time! Because everyone else around Bigger is far worse, and you so desperately love Max when he swoops in – too late, of course – to try to explain to the white world why Bigger’s “crimes” shouldn’t be seen as crimes but instead as symptoms of the pathological culture of black poverty and oppression created by this white culture of 1930s Chicago that of course, wants to accuse and punish Bigger of crimes that it has defined and then set Bigger up to commit. The world Wright depicts is so infuriating and so accurate that the fact that this book came out in the1930s – and that Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for a Day – descrbing black poverty in 1990s Chicago – came out in 2008, makes one believe that if Wright were alive today he’d be just as mad, and therefore there is no solace when one finishes reading Native Son – no solace in thinking “oh, well, that was in the 1930s, things are better now”, and therefore you hate yourself more and you hate the world and you yearn for a message of hope and how-to and you curse Richard Wright for forcing you to bear witness to this tragic opera of oppression and evil and for not telling you what to do to fix it and you curse the fact that it’s still broken, and none of this makes Native Son an “enjoyable” book but in fact makes it not so much relevant as mandatory.

...Half of a Yellow Sun (by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie).

This may be the best book I have ever read by any living writer. And Adichie is only 30 – that’s right; born in 1977. That’s right, better than Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie. And forget your Zadie Smiths and Jhumpa Lahiris. This novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, makes me regret every second I’ve wasted reading Smith and Lahiri because if Adichie were writing about paint drying in the most boring office in the most boring city in Canada it would be more interesting than anything this side of The Kite Runner. The Kite Runner is actually not a bad comparison in terms of politico-historical objectives, but Adichie is a bold literary stylist and practitioner, whose chops are up to the task of her ambition. The writer that comes most to mind in comparison is Dostoevsky; the book that comes most to mind is John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman. These comparisons come to mind because Adichie sets the bar high, as it were – high enough that one might say “heck no, you can’t pull that off, you’re only 30 – and even if you pulled off 1/4 of what you’re trying to achieve, you’d have created something great.” And then she clears the bar, and sticks the landing, and wins the gold medal. She deserves a Nobel Prize. Half of a Yellow Sun is not a ‘nearly perfect’ book, it is a perfect book. It sweeps the reader up in a gripping plot cleverly choreographed but never seeming anything other than organic and real, full of love and mystery and potentially unreliable protagonists – but underneath these surface-level intrigues is an urgent political objective and history lesson, but of course never pedantic or didactic. The reader is literally enthralled in the story not only of our protagonists Ugwu, Olanna, Odenigbo, Kainene, and Richard, but of the Biafran war – a war that took place in the 60s, not long after Nigeria’s independence from Britain, during which Adichie was not alive. She aims to reveal the cruelty and suffering and post-colonial aftershocked corruption and geo-political collusion that basically let the Igbo people of the breakaway nation of Biafra starve and be massacred for three years, in a way that implicates the reader for never having known much about Biafra as well as the actual perpetrators behind the Biafra situation. Reading this book feels like a punch in the stomach, but you can’t look away, and you come away all the better for it.