Thursday, October 30, 2014

We are born to live here

Image and quote from Kentucky For Kentucky

Hell for Certain, or sometimes Hell-Fer-Sartin, is a few miles north of Hyden along the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River. The most common story for how it got its name involves a missionary who took a trip to the area long ago. When asked where he’d been he said something to the effect of, “I don’t know, but it was Hell for certain!”

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NPR's 50 Great Teachers

A statue of Socrates in front of Athens' Academy.

NPR's Eric Westervelt begins a series on 50 great teachers with a post on Socrates and his influence on the Western world.

We're starting this celebration of teaching with Socrates, the superstar teacher of the ancient world. He was sentenced to death more than 2,400 years ago for "impiety" and "corrupting" the minds of the youth of Athens.

But Socrates' ideas helped form the foundation of Western philosophy and the scientific method of inquiry. And his question-and-dialogue-based teaching style lives on in many classrooms as the Socratic method.

I went to Oakland Technical High School in California to see it in action.

New Books: Divas, Deerhunters, and My First Bond

William Gibson returns with his first novel since 2010’s New York Times–bestselling Zero History.

Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran’s benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC’s elite Haptic Recon force. Then one night Burton has to go out, but there’s a job he’s supposed to do—a job Flynne didn’t know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He’s supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That’s all there is to it. He’s offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn’t what Burton told her to expect. It might be a game, but it might also be murder.

There’s little debate that Robert De Niro is one of the greatest screen actors of his generation, perhaps of all time—if not, in fact, the greatest. His work, particularly in the first 20 years of his career, is unparalleled. Mean Streets, the Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, the Deer Hunter, and Raging Bull all dazzled moviegoers and critics alike, displaying a talent the likes of which had rarely—if ever—been seen. De Niro become known for his deep involvement in his characters, assuming that role completely into his own life, resulting in extraordinary, chameleonic performances.

Yet little is known about the off-screen De Niro—he is an intensely private man, whose rare public appearances are often marked by inarticulateness and palpable awkwardness. It can be almost painful to watch at times, in powerful contrast to his confident movie personae. In this elegant and compelling biography, bestselling writer Shawn Levy writes of these many De Niros—the characters and the man—seeking to understand the evolution of an actor who once dove deeply into his roles as if to hide his inner nature, and who now seemingly avoids acting challenges, taking roles which make few apparent demands on his overwhelming talent. Following De Niro's roots as the child of artists (his father, the abstract painter Robert De Niro Sr., was widely celebrated) who encouraged him from an early age to be independent of vision and spirit, to his intense schooling as an actor, the rise of his career, his marriages, his life as a father, restauranteur, and businessman, and, of course, his current movie career, Levy has written a biography that reads like a novel about a character whose inner turmoil takes him to heights of artistry. His many friendships with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Meryl Streep, Harvey Keitel, Shelley Winters, Francis Ford Coppola, among many others, are woven into this extraordinary portrait of DeNiro the man and the artist, also adding a depth of understanding not before seen.

Levy has had unprecedented access to De Niro's personal research and production materials, creating a new impression of the effort that went into the actor's legendary performances. The insights gained from DeNiro’s intense working habits shed new perspective on DeNiro’s thinking and portrayals and are wonderful to read. Levy also spoke to De Niro's collaborators and friends to depict De Niro's transition from an ambitious young man to a transfixing and enigmatic artist and cultural figure.

Shawn Levy has written a truly engaging, insightful, and entertaining portrait of one of the most wonderful film artists of our time, a book that is worthy of such a great talent.

The wait is over. Bestselling science fiction master Peter F. Hamilton is back with the first of a new two-book saga set in his popular Commonwealth universe. Distinguished by deft plotting, a teeming cast of characters, dazzling scientific speculation, and imagination that brings the truly alien to life, The Abyss Beyond Dreams reveals Hamilton as a storyteller of astonishing ingenuity and power.

The year is 3326. Nigel Sheldon, one of the founders of the Commonwealth, receives a visit from the Raiel—self-appointed guardians of the Void, the enigmatic construct at the core of the galaxy that threatens the existence of all that lives. The Raiel convince Nigel to participate in a desperate scheme to infiltrate the Void.

Once inside, Nigel discovers that humans are not the only life-forms to have been sucked into the Void, where the laws of physics are subtly different and mental powers indistinguishable from magic are commonplace. The humans trapped there are afflicted by an alien species of biological mimics—the Fallers—that are intelligent but merciless killers.

Yet these same aliens may hold the key to destroying the threat of the Void forever—if Nigel can uncover their secrets. As the Fallers’ relentless attacks continue, and the fragile human society splinters into civil war, Nigel must uncover the secrets of the Fallers—before he is killed by the very people he has come to save.

A brief yet definitive new biography of one of film's greatest legends: perfect for readers who want to know more about the iconic star but who don't want to commit to a lengthy work.

He was the very first icon of the silver screen and is one of the most recognizable of Hollywood faces, even a hundred years after his first film. But what of the man behind the moustache? Peter Ackroyd's new biography turns the spotlight on Chaplin's life as well as his work, from his humble theatrical beginnings in music halls to winning an honorary Academy Award. Everything is here, from the glamor of his golden age to the murky scandals of the 1940s and eventual exile to Switzerland. There are charming anecdotes along the way: playing the violin in a New York hotel room to mask the sound of Stan Laurel frying pork chops and long Hollywood lunches with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. This masterful brief biography offers fresh revelations about one of the most familiar faces of the last century and brings the Little Tramp vividly to life.

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.

Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. At once joyous and haunting, this story offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes. And it gives the reader a chance to learn things that only Auri knows…

In this book, Patrick Rothfuss brings us into the world of one of The Kingkiller Chronicle’s most enigmatic characters. Full of secrets and mysteries, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of a broken girl trying to live in a broken world.

The definitive biography of the Queen of Soul from acclaimed music writer David Ritz.

Aretha Franklin began life as the golden daughter of a progressive and promiscuous Baptist preacher. Raised without her mother, she was a gospel prodigy who gave birth to two sons in her teens and left them and her native Detroit for New York, where she struggled to find her true voice. It was not until 1967, when a white Jewish producer insisted she return to her gospel-soul roots, that fame and fortune finally came via "Respect" and a rapidfire string of hits. She has evolved ever since, amidst personal tragedy, surprise Grammy performances, and career reinventions.

Again and again, Aretha stubbornly finds a way to triumph over troubles, even as they continue to build. Her hold on the crown is tenacious, and in RESPECT, David Ritz gives us the definitive life of one of the greatest talents in all American culture.

A monumental, genre-defying novel over ten years in the making, Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is a masterwork from a writer in full command of his many talents.

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.

Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

Marked by the same bravura storytelling and precise language that made The Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos.

In a career that spans over seven decades, Roger Moore has been at the very heart of Hollywood. Of course, he's an actor and has starred in films that have made him famous the world over; but he's also a tremendous prankster, joker and raconteur. Despite the fact that he is well known as one of the nicest guys in the business, on and off the screen he has always been up for some fun. In this fabulous collection of true stories from his stellar career, Moore lifts the lid on the movie business, from Hollywood to Pinewood. One Lucky Bastard features outrageous tales from his own life and career as well as those told to him by a host of stars and filmmakers including, Tony Curtis, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, David Niven, Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, John Mills, Peter Sellers, Michael Winner, Cubby Broccoli, and many more. Wonderfully entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny, these extraordinary tales from the world of the movies is vintage Moore at his very best.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Short Stack

"A billion husbands are about to be replaced."

From the author of Fight Club, the classic portrait of the damaged contemporary male psyche, now comes this novel about the apocalyptic marketing possibilities of a new product that gives new meaning to the term "self-help."

Penny Harrigan is a low-level associate in a big Manhattan law firm with an apartment in Queens and no love life at all. So it comes as a great shock when she finds herself invited to dinner by one C. Linus Maxwell, a software mega-billionaire and lover of the most gorgeous and accomplished women on earth. After dining at Manhattan's most exclusive restaurant, he whisks Penny off to a hotel suite in Paris, where he proceeds, notebook in hand, to bring her to previously undreamed-of heights of gratification for days on end. What's not to like? This: Penny discovers that she is a test subject for the final development of a line of feminine products to be marketed in a nationwide chain of boutiques called Beautiful You. So potent and effective are these devices that women by the millions line up outside the stores on opening day and then lock themselves in their room with them and stop coming out. Except for batteries. Maxwell's plan for battery-powered world domination must be stopped. But how?

In When Mystical Creatures Attack!, Ms. Freedman’s high school English class writes essays in which mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. Students include Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with excessive eyeliner and an anti-authoritarian complex that would be interesting were it not so ill-informed,” and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum run on the capitalist model of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores.

The lives of Janice, Cody, and Ms. Freedman are revealed through in-class essays, letters, therapeutic journal exercises, an advice column, a reality show television transcript, a diary, and a Methodist women’s fundraising cookbook. (Recipes include “Dark Night of the Soul Food,” “Render Unto Caesar Salad,” and “Valley of the Shadow of Death by Chocolate Cake.”) In “Virtue of the Month,” the ghost of Ms. Freedman’s mother argues that suicide is not a choice. In “The Un-Game,” Janice’s chain-smoking nursing home charge composes a dirty limerick. In “The Hall of Old-Testament Miracles,” wax figures of Bible characters come to life, hungry for Cody’s flesh.

Set against a South Texas landscape where cicadas hum and the air smells of taco stands and jasmine flowers, these stories range from laugh-out-loud funny to achingly poignant. This surreal, exuberant collection mines the dark recesses of the soul while illuminating the human heart.

Written in an accessible Q&A format, here, finally, is the go-to resource for parents hoping to understand and communicate with their gay child. Through their LGBTQ-oriented site, the authors are uniquely experienced to answer parents' many questions and share insight and guidance on both emotional and practical topics. Filled with real-life experiences from gay kids and parents, this is the book gay kids want their parents to read.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Boy You Got Me Wantin' Books Books Books

For readers of Nora Ephron, Tina Fey, and David Sedaris, this hilarious, wise, and fiercely candid collection of personal essays establishes Lena Dunham—the acclaimed creator, producer, and star of HBO’s Girls—as one of the most original young talents writing today.

In Not That Kind of Girl, Dunham illuminates the experiences that are part of making one’s way in the world: falling in love, feeling alone, being ten pounds overweight despite eating only health food, having to prove yourself in a room full of men twice your age, finding true love, and most of all, having the guts to believe that your story is one that deserves to be told.

“Take My Virginity (No Really, Take It)” is the account of Dunham’s first time, and how her expectations of sex didn’t quite live up to the actual event (“No floodgate had been opened, no vault of true womanhood unlocked”); “Girls & Jerks” explores her former attraction to less-than-nice guys—guys who had perfected the “dynamic of disrespect” she found so intriguing; “Is This Even Real?” is a meditation on her lifelong obsession with death and dying—what she calls her “genetically predestined morbidity.” And in “I Didn’t F*** Them, but They Yelled at Me,” she imagines the tell-all she will write when she is eighty and past caring, able to reflect honestly on the sexism and condescension she has encountered in Hollywood, where women are “treated like the paper thingies that protect glasses in hotel bathrooms—necessary but infinitely disposable.”

Exuberant, moving, and keenly observed, Not That Kind of Girl is a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the struggle that is growing up. “I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you,” Dunham writes. “But if I can take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile.”

In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn't her crime that shocked the nation — it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had planned to pass as a man in order to marry her seventeen-year-old fiancée Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden from ever speaking again.

Freda adjusted to this fate with an ease that stunned a heartbroken Alice. Her desperation grew with each unanswered letter — and her father’s razor soon went missing. On January 25, Alice publicly slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat. Her same-sex love was deemed insane by her father that very night, and medical experts agreed: This was a dangerous and incurable perversion. As the courtroom was expanded to accommodate national interest, Alice spent months in jail — including the night that three of her fellow prisoners were lynched (an event which captured the attention of journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells). After a jury of "the finest men in Memphis" declared Alice insane, she was remanded to an asylum, where she died under mysterious circumstances just a few years later.

Alice + Freda Forever recounts this tragic, real-life love story with over 100 illustrated love letters, maps, artifacts, historical documents, newspaper articles, courtroom proceedings, and intimate, domestic scenes — painting a vivid picture of a sadly familiar world.

A dysfunctional British nuclear family seek a new life away from the big city in the sleepy Somerset countryside. At first their new home, The Hollow, seems to embrace them, creating a rare peace and harmony within the family. But when the house turns on them, it seems to know just how to hurt them the most — threatening to destroy them from the inside out.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Stolen Child comes a hypnotic literary horror novel about a young boy trapped inside his own world, whose drawings blur the lines between fantasy and reality.

Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a life of their own, no one is safe from the terror they inspire. His mother, Holly, begins to hear strange sounds in the night coming from the ocean, and she seeks answers from the local Catholic priest and his Japanese housekeeper, who fill her head with stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, frantically searching for a strange apparition running wild in the dunes. And the boy’s only friend, Nick, becomes helplessly entangled in the eerie power of the drawings. While those around Jack Peter are haunted by what they think they see, only he knows the truth behind the frightful occurrences as the outside world encroaches upon them all.

In the tradition of The Turn of the Screw, Keith Donohue’s The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a mesmerizing tale of psychological terror and imagination run wild, a perfectly creepy read for a dark night.

In “The Falling World,” Jade, sister queen of the Indigo Cloud Court, has traveled with Chime and Balm to another Raksuran court. When she fails to return, her consort, Moon, along with Stone and a party of warriors and hunters, must track them down. Finding them turns out to be the easy part; freeing them from an ancient trap hidden in the depths of the Reaches is much more difficult.

“The Tale of Indigo and Cloud” explores the history of the Indigo Cloud Court, long before Moon was born. In the distant past, Indigo stole Cloud from Emerald Twilight. But in doing so, the reigning Queen Cerise and Indigo are now poised for a conflict that could spark war throughout all the courts of the Reaches.

Stories of Moon and the shape changers of Raksura have delighted readers for years. This world is a dangerous place full of strange mysteries, where the future can never be taken for granted and must always be fought for with wits and ingenuity, and often tooth and claw. With two brand-new novellas, Martha Wells shows that the world of the Raksura has many more stories to tell…

Based on first-hand reporting from Syria and Washington, journalist Reese Erlich unravels the complex dynamics underlying the Syrian civil war. Through vivid, on-the-ground accounts and interviews with both rebel leaders and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Erlich gives the reader a better understanding of this momentous power struggle and why it matters.

Through his many contacts inside Syria, the author reveals who is supporting Assad and why; he describes the agendas of the rebel factions; and he depicts in stark terms the dire plight of many ordinary Syrian people caught in the cross-fire. The book also provides insights into the role of the Kurds, the continuing influence of Iran, and the policies of American leaders who seem interested only in protecting US regional interests.

Disturbing and enlightening at once, this timely book shows you not only what is happening inside Syria but why it is so important for the Middle East, the US, and the world.

The first half or so of this harsh and sometimes masterful fourth outing from poet, memoirist, and editor Wiman (Every Riven Thing) might represent the best verse he has yet penned. Wiman’s short lines and sometimes dense rhymes look back at his West Texas youth, at “that back-// seat, sweat-/ soaked, skin-// habited Heaven,” at the “cactus song” of a high-spirited grandma, at “my hard horizonless country/ whose one road releases me like heat as I walk on.” A former editor of Poetry magazine, Wiman’s wide reading there perhaps helped him develop his serious, careful, and widely admired technique. He now teaches at Yale Divinity School; as the volume progresses the poems’ themes gravitate toward questions of Christian faith. “I tried to cry out in the old way/ of thanksgiving, ritual lamentation, rockshriek of joy./ There was no answer. Had there ever been?” His search for religious answers twines itself tautly with reflections on his own illness, homages to poets of the past, and exemplary self-scrutiny. If these poems of anger and devotion find few immediate admirers, they are nonetheless part of a serious poet’s lifelong thought about life and death, about body and soul, about memory and family, about this world and what is beyond. (Publishers Weekly)
Humans were surrounded by other animals from the beginning of time: they were food, clothes, adversaries, companions, jokes, and gods. And yet, our companions in evolution are leaving the world — both as physical beings and spiritual symbols — and not returning. In this collection of linked essays, Alison Hawthorne Deming asks, and seeks to answer: what does the disappearance of animals mean for human imagination and existence? Moving from mammoth hunts to dying house cats, she explores profound questions about what it means to be animal. What is inherent in animals that leads us to destroy, and what that leads us toward peace? As human animals, how does art both define us as a species and how does it emerge primarily from our relationship with other species? The reader emerges with a transformed sense of how the living world around us has defined and continues to define us in a powerful way.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

And this is what I mean by...

...what celebrities say being given too much value.

Image and post via Los Angeles Times

John Grisham is known for writing bestselling legal thrillers like "The Firm," "The Client" and "The Pelican Brief." Promoting his upcoming novel "Gray Mountain," he told England's the Daily Telegraph that America's prison system is out of control.

And in the process, he said some pretty creepy things about people viewing child porn.

"We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who've never harmed anybody, would never touch a child," Grisham said. "But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn."

The description of "white men in prison who've never harmed anybody" is problematic on its own -- particularly in the wake of Ferguson, Mo., where 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed young African American man, was shot and killed by police. Grisham's racially-loaded statement raises questions of what constitutes harmlessness, and how race is a factor.

Grisham's explanation that reaching child porn online must be a mistake, and that being drunk somehow constitutes an excuse, seems equally troubling.

Grisham went on to explain what happened to an old classmate:

"His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labeled '16-year-old wannabe hookers or something like that.' And it said '16-year-old girls.' So he went there. Downloaded some stuff -- it was 16-year-old girls who looked 30."

He continued, "He shouldn't have done it. It was stupid, but it wasn't 10-year-old boys. He didn't touch anything. And God, a week later there was a knock on the door: ‘FBI!’ and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people -- sex offenders -- and he went to prison for three years."

Grisham went on, "There's so many of them now. There's so many 'sex offenders' -- that's what they're called -- that they put them in the same prison. Like they're a bunch of perverts, or something; thousands of ’em. We've gone nuts with this incarceration."

The Daily Telegraph writes, "Asked about the argument that viewing child pornography fueled the industry of abuse needed to create the pictures, Mr. Grisham said that current sentencing policies failed to draw a distinction between real-world abusers and those who downloaded content, accidentally or otherwise."

Grisham responded, "I have no sympathy for real paedophiles,” he said, "God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that's what they're getting."

Obviously the man's an idiot. Which if you couldn't tell that from his writing, hopefully, you can from him just opening his mouth.

In other news labeled "Not Surprised At All": Nicholas Sparks Author of The Notebook Sued Over Alleged Racism, Homophobia, Anti-Semitism

"Excuse me soldier, we bought a ticket so we could see our home."

Image via Susiya Forever

"Archaeology as a tool of the occupation" via Middle East Monitor

It costs four dollars to visit the archaeological site of Susiya in the southernmost part of the West Bank. For your four dollars you can view an ancient Jewish city, supposedly once home to 3,000 people which peaked in the years 400 to 800 CE, the late Talmudic, mid-Byzantine, and early Arab eras. The Jewish inhabitants are estimated to have disappeared some 1,200 years ago, according to the Center for Educational Tourism in Israel.

Father and son, Muhammad and Nasser Nawaj'ah, paid their four dollars, not to marvel at the century's old synagogue or the ancient water system but to reminisce - Mohammed was born in one of the cave dwellings as was his son. The area is now devoid of any signs of the Palestinian village that existed until the late 1980's but it is still infused with memories of both their childhoods, of the community's traditional way of life and of a far more stable time.

In 1986 the Palestinian residents were forcibly evicted to make way for the archaeological park. Today they live close by and continue to face the threat of eviction. In a 2011 short film Nasser and Muhammad are shown returning to their previous homes 25 years after they were displaced. Their first journey back is short-lived with the Israeli soldiers seeming keen to escort the pair out of the site. Nasser interjects: "Excuse me soldier, we bought a ticket so we could see our home." In contrast, shortly before the army arrived, the father and son had watched an Israeli explanatory video stating: "Only traces remain (of the Jewish civilization) in these silent ruins, but they are engraved in stone." The ruins have been used to invoke a present day Jewish connection with the land, and in the process, there is an attempt to erase any Palestinian connection to it.

Yonathan Mizrachi from Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO that seeks to unpick the role archaeology plays in the Israel/Palestine conflict says it is about reinforcing identity. "Archaeology is being used to emphasise a specific narrative, one side of the conflict. The question "who was here before?" is central to this conflict. This says: "my roots are older than yours.'"

According to the NGO, in the Eighth and Ninth centuries, a mosque was built on the remains of the ancient synagogue found in Susiya. The presence of the mosque on top of the synagogue raises interesting questions, none of which are addressed and could greatly enhance understanding of Susiya's place in the cultural and social space of the South Hebron Hills.

There are many similar examples of archaeology being recruited to assert ownership, such as in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan. Silwan is the site of the "City of David," an archaeological attraction tempting scores of tourists and pilgrims every year. Visitors travel from across the globe to marvel at the artifacts and caves, admiring the picturesque views.

According to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, 65% of Palestinian-owned homes in Silwan have demolition orders, with lack of building permits predominantly cited as the justification, yet only 20 such permits have been issued since 1967 and permission to build extra floor has to travel though a total of 11 Israeli ministries. Currently a plan is underway to create "green zones" in the area which will displace 1,200 residents.

"It (the archaeological site) gives settlers the legitimisation to live there," Mizarchi noted. He added: "The City of David succeeded in creating a new identity of Silwan."

Herodion, Herod the Great's monumental palace built around 23-20 BC and perched on the highest hill in the area, is another example. From the top of the site, the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in the West Bank, which lies just 5 km away, is clearly visible. On approach you must drive past a military base and pay an entrance fee to an Israeli man whose desk sits in a shop selling "I love Israel" and "Visit Israel" t-shirts.

Memo visited the site and asked some of the tourists, who shuttled off buses run by Israeli tour companies, where they believed they were. Most were unsure. One woman from the US remarked, "Judging from the Israeli soldiers and the Hebrew, I would say Israel." While her husband walked away muttering "Israel" defiantly, the woman returned and said in a whisper, "I suppose we are where the person with the biggest weapons wants to tell us we are. That's not right, but I think that's how it is."

We are increasingly seeing archaeology recruited by the Israeli government and settlers to demonstrate connection and roots of the Jewish people to Palestinian land, asserting ownership, and attempting to simultaneously wipe away traces of Palestinian ownership. This is not the way it is meant to be assures Yonathan. He notes: "Think about Jerusalem; there are many cultures, civilisations, religions, all part of the history of Jerusalem. It should open your mind; it is a story of difference. It is not the story of one people."

New Books: Hackers, Liars, Fathers and King Solomon

In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.

A beloved star of stage, television, and film — “one of the most fun people in show business” (Time magazine) — Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father — a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.

When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.

The "genealogy show" mentioned is the British version of Who Do You Think You Are and the episode is here.

Following his blockbuster biography of Steve Jobs, The Innovators is Walter Isaacson’s revealing story of the people who created the computer and the Internet. It is destined to be the standard history of the digital revolution and an indispensable guide to how innovation really happens.

What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail?

In his masterly saga, Isaacson begins with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution, such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page.

This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It’s also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative.

For an era that seeks to foster innovation, creativity, and teamwork, The Innovators shows how they happen.

Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Nonfiction

From 1996, here is Breaking the Code, a biopic of Alan Turing starring Derek Jacobi. (I don't know how much it focuses on Turing's personal life, though I'd say it'd be impossible to talk about him at all without quite a lengthy discussion of it.)

Via NPR - the review "When Good Kids Go Feral" by Colin Dwyer gives more a sense of what the book is about:

This book really could have used some more cannibalism.

Strange to say it, I realize — especially about a novel that contains no fewer than three scenes of graphic dismemberment. Teeming as it is with hordes of rats, winged infants and sex scenes that rage and roil with all the romance of a Rob Zombie flick, Chase Novak's Brood isn't lacking for gore. It's got so much, in fact, that a few prim readers may even find the novel to be in poor taste.

I can't say I'm among them, though — partly because it's tough to talk about taste, or anything food-related, for several hours after setting this book down. But mostly because it's clear that in writing these scenes, Novak was having a blast. The moments in between can be stuffed with filler, but his prose sings with joy when he describes the snap of a bone, delights — and disturbs — when he dredges dark humor from the aftermath. Simply put, the people-eaters bring out the best in Chase Novak.

Now, Novak doesn't really exist. He's actually Scott Spencer, a writer who for decades wrote serious, literary novels — the kind that get nominated for National Book Awards (Endless Love, A Ship Made of Paper) and earn their author a Guggenheim Fellowship (he got one in 2004). Spencer first adopted his pen name for last year's Breed, a charmingly grotesque novel that marked a fairly dramatic departure from his earlier work; with Brood, its sequel, he picks the name Novak back up and dusts off the same characters, finding them again two years after the close of the first book.

At the heart of both books is a set of twins, Adam and Alice, who have suffered an unusually violent upbringing. The fruit of an experimental fertility treatment, they've survived their wealthy Manhattanite parents — in more ways than one — but they fear now they won't escape their parents' fates. Just on the cusp of puberty, Adam and Alice dread becoming the carnal, cannibalistic beasts that the treatment made of their parents. This battle for influence between beast and child, waged quietly within them, also plays out on a grander scale between packs of feral teens — born of the same experimental treatment — and the twins' aunt Cynthia, who's eager to reclaim them from their traumatic past.

The novel's not one for subtlety. The symbolism of the conflict — between animal and human, body and mind — is drawn in broad strokes, and so are its comments on class and pharmaceuticals. The aging elite of Manhattan don't care to help the mostly homeless, desperate teens roaming the city's parks; they prefer instead to slip into tubs perfumed with Ethiopian bath gel and sip the kids' blood, in little vials of a nasty street drug called Zoom.

As for biochemistry, well: "We are only at the beginning of the breath-taking dance between science and nature. What can be done with the atom will be done with the gene." It's tough not to hear ominous overtones in this mini-manifesto, given the ambitions and methods of the scientists involved in the novel.

While these themes help thread the book together, it's tough to shake the feeling that they exist just to kill time between, well, killings. For the most part, they don't go anywhere in particular; the frights and set pieces seem to grow not from all this exposition, but from happenstance instead. And Novak has an odd tendency to repeat himself — calling back bland observations about New York's nightlife, Cynthia's old antique shop or even jokes whose punch lines he has told us already, several pages earlier. In many ways, this slim novel could have been pared down even further, and been the better for it.

Or, even better yet, these down moments could simply have been swapped for more of the scenes that Novak handles so well. In the frenzy of the fight or in the tense minutes leading up to it, the book finds its groove, that B-movie bliss in which gore gets so gratuitous, it's occasionally funny — and always fun. Perhaps that's why somehow, despite all the broken bones and bared teeth and churning blood, Brood left me wanting just a little bit more. And yes, that goes for the cannibalism, too.

Via The Morris Book Shop:

"The pestilence…entered rapidly on the work of death. No one was seen moving in the streets. Many…fled the theatre of destruction. Coffins were…out of the question. A dozen dead bodies…waiting for graves." - Excerpt from 6/18/1833 - Letters of Henry Clay. Speaker of the House, Senator, US Congress. Courtesy of Special Collections University of Kentucky.

In 1833, when Lexington was a new city, a cholera epidemic struck which decimated the citizenry by 500 souls. In the midst of this disaster, three unlikely heroes arose - a former slave, a homeless vagrant, and a society matron. This fact-based account brings you their fascinating stories and takes you through cholera's grip, as each answers the call for humanity.

The "homeless vagrant" mentioned is one William "King" Solomon.

The author Terry Foody will be at the Lexington Public Library for a program on the Cholera Epidemic on October 26. In a moment of happy kismet later that night is the zombie-themed Thriller parade that will pass the library.

I'm not a big fan of having someone more "learned" telling me what to think about a piece, but if it collects all of the work, I'll bite…or wrap my gelatinous tentacles around it's ankle and pull it shivering into my waiting, dripping maw…which seems more appropriate.

From across strange aeons comes the long-awaited annotated edition of “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale” (Stephen King).

"With an increasing distance from the twentieth century…the New England poet, author, essayist, and stunningly profuse epistolary Howard Phillips Lovecraft is beginning to emerge as one of that tumultuous period’s most critically fascinating and yet enigmatic figures," writes Alan Moore in his introduction to The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft. Despite this nearly unprecedented posthumous trajectory, at the time of his death at the age of forty-six, Lovecraft's work had appeared only in dime-store magazines, ignored by the public and maligned by critics. Now well over a century after his birth, Lovecraft is increasingly being recognized as the foundation for American horror and science fiction, the source of "incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction" (Joyce Carol Oates).

In this volume, Leslie S. Klinger reanimates Lovecraft with clarity and historical insight, charting the rise of the erstwhile pulp writer, whose rediscovery and reclamation into the literary canon can be compared only to that of Poe or Melville. Weaving together a broad base of existing scholarship with his own original insights, Klinger appends Lovecraft's uncanny oeuvre and Kafkaesque life story in a way that provides context and unlocks many of the secrets of his often cryptic body of work.Over the course of his career, Lovecraft—"the Copernicus of the horror story" (Fritz Leiber)—made a marked departure from the gothic style of his predecessors that focused mostly on ghosts, ghouls, and witches, instead crafting a vast mythos in which humanity is but a blissfully unaware speck in a cosmos shared by vast and ancient alien beings. One of the progenitors of "weird fiction," Lovecraft wrote stories suggesting that we share not just our reality but our planet, and even a common ancestry, with unspeakable, godlike creatures just one accidental revelation away from emerging from their epoch of hibernation and extinguishing both our individual sanity and entire civilization.Following his best-selling The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Leslie S. Klinger collects here twenty-two of Lovecraft's best, most chilling "Arkham" tales, including "The Call of Cthulhu," At the Mountains of Madness, "The Whisperer in Darkness," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Colour Out of Space," and others. With nearly 300 illustrations, including full-color reproductions of the original artwork and covers from Weird Tales and Astounding Stories, and more than 1,000 annotations, this volume illuminates every dimension of H.P. Lovecraft and stirs the Great Old Ones in their millennia of sleep.

About the beginning of Politics as Tabloid/Reality Game Show. Via Publishers Weekly:

Political columnist Bai (The Argument) makes a persuasive case for reexamining the career of presidential candidate Gary Hart, whose downfall in the wake of speculation about an extramarital affair, he argues, marks a turning point in the deterioration of American political journalism and democracy. Bai analyzes the forces coalescing around the scandal that brought down the Democratic frontrunner in May 1987, and captures those frenzied days in a masterfully written account. The possibility that a candidate might be lying about his sex life was not usually relevant, given the close relationship between major news outlets and politicians, but much had changed, especially given Watergate’s influence on a generation of reporters. By the time allegations of adultery met Hart’s campaign in New Hampshire, two previously separate streams, the tabloid press and political journalism, joined forces. The result has been “an unbridgeable divide&ehllip;between our candidates and our media” and an accompanying lack of substance and transparency in the political process. Based on extensive interviews with reporters and campaign insiders, including Hart and Donna Rice (the then 29-year-old model photographed sitting on his lap), Bai appraises Hart the politician, political visionary, and high-minded yet obstinately private man, and asks what the country might have lost with his foreshortened career. This first-rate work of political journalism will fan embers long thought to have gone out.

I'm getting so tired of all the fin de siècle literary memes (post-apocalypse and zombies and freaking vampires) but, welp…

A bighearted dystopian novel about the corrosive effects of fear and the redemptive power of love.

With soaring literary prose and the tense pacing of a thriller, the first-time novelist Peyton Marshall imagines a grim and startling future. At the end of the twenty-first century — in a transformed America — the sons of convicted felons are tested for a set of genetic markers. Boys who test positive become compulsory wards of the state — removed from their homes and raised on "Goodhouse" campuses, where they learn to reform their darkest thoughts and impulses. Goodhouse is a savage place — part prison, part boarding school — and now a radical religious group, the Holy Redeemer’s Church of Purity, is intent on destroying each campus and purifying every child with fire.

We see all this through the eyes of James, a transfer student who watched as the radicals set fire to his old Goodhouse and killed nearly everyone he’d ever known. In addition to adjusting to a new campus with new rules, James now has to contend with Bethany, a brilliant, medically fragile girl who wants to save him, and with her father, the school’s sinister director of medical studies. Soon, however, James realizes that the biggest threat might already be there, inside the fortified walls of Goodhouse itself.

Partly based on the true story of the nineteenth-century Preston School of Industry, Goodhouse explores questions of identity and free will—and what it means to test the limits of human endurance.

Yeah. I'm going there. Get the lube ready.

In this Dark Mission novella, Jonas Stone emerges from the shadows into his own story, and finally allows himself to have the same shot at love he's provided his friends.

Jonas Stone has been given his first independent operation: rescue the insurrection leader's imprisoned grandson from the Mission. Getting the job done means more than setting Danny Granger free — it means staying with him while he heals. Staying too close, for way too long.

Danny is everything Jonas isn't: confident, optimistic, honest — a man to be reckoned with. If only it didn't mean going against everything Jonas has planned. He's kept his secrets for years, hidden behind a mask no one can see through…until now. Danny isn't the kind of man Jonas deserves. But he may be exactly the man Jonas needs.

New Books

There's been an absolute bukkake of books this week, but instead of just shooting them all over your face, I'm gonna break one huge, long orgy of books post into a few smaller ones over the course of the next week.

Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Via NPR: National Book Award Finalists Meet and Greet

Image from NPR

The National Book Award Finalists were announced this morning on NPR, so click over and meet our lucky and plucky contestants. [Cue 70s game show theme music.]

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Katherine Mansfield Quote

Image via The Guardian

The mind I love must have wild places.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bones confirmed to belong to Philip II of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great

Image via bio.

Article via Discovery News

A team of Greek researchers has confirmed that bones found in a two-chambered royal tomb at Vergina, a town some 100 miles away from Amphipolis's mysterious burial mound, indeed belong to the Macedonian King Philip II, Alexander the Great's father.

The anthropological investigation examined 350 bones and fragments found in two larnakes, or caskets, of the tomb. It uncovered pathologies, activity markers and trauma that helped identify the tomb's occupants.

Along with the cremated remains of Philip II, the burial, commonly known as Tomb II, also contained the bones of a woman warrior, possibly the daughter of the Skythian King Athea, Theodore Antikas, head of the Art-Anthropological research team of the Vergina excavation, told Discovery News.

The findings will be announced on Friday [October 10] at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. Accompanied by 3,000 digital color photographs and supported by X-ray computed tomography, scanning electron microscopy, and X-ray fluorescence, the research aims to settle a decades-old debate over the cremated skeleton.

Scholars have argued over those bones ever since Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos discovered the tomb in 1977-78. He excavated a large mound -- the Great Tumulus -- at Vergina on the advice of the English classicist Nicholas Hammond.

Among the monuments found within the tumulus were three tombs. One, called Tomb I, had been looted, but contained a stunning wall painting of the Rape of Persephone, along with fragmentary human remains.

Tomb II remained undisturbed and contained the almost complete cremated remains of a male skeleton in the main chamber and the cremated remains of a female in the antechamber. Grave goods included silver and bronze vessels, gold wreaths, weapons, armor and two gold larnakes.

Tomb III was also found unlooted, with a silver funerary urn that contained the bones of a young male, and a number of silver vessels and ivory reliefs.

Most of the scholarly debate concentrated on the occupants of Tomb II, with experts arguing that the occupants were either Philip II and Cleopatra or Meda, both his wives, or Philip III Arrhidaeus, Alexander's half-brother, who assumed the throne after Alexander's death, with his wife Eurydice.

King Philip II was a powerful fourth-century B.C. military ruler from the Greek kingdom of Macedon who gained control of Greece and the Balkan peninsula through tactful use of warfare, diplomacy, and marriage alliances (the Macedonians practiced polygamy).

His efforts -- he reformed the Macedonian army and proposed the invasion of Persia -- later provided the basis for the achievements of his son and successor Alexander the Great, who went on to conquer most of the known world.

The overlord of an empire stretching from Greece and Egypt eastward across Asia to India, Alexander died in Babylon, now in central Iraq, in June of 323 B.C. — just before his 33rd birthday.

His elusive tomb is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the ancient world.

Analyzed by Antikas' team since 2009, the male and female bones in Philip II's tomb have revealed peculiarities not previously seen or recorded.

"The individual suffered from frontal and maxillary sinusitis that might have been caused by an old facial trauma," Antikas said.

Such trauma could be related to an arrow that hit and blinded Philip II's right eye at the siege of Methone in 354 B.C. The Macedonian king survived and ruled for another 18 years before he was assassinated at the celebration of his daughter's wedding.

The anthropologists found further bone evidence to support the identification with Philip II, who being a warrior, suffered many wounds, as historical accounts testify.

"He had signs of chronic pathology on the visceral surface of several low thoracic ribs, indicating pleuritis," Antikas said.

He noted that the pathology may have been the effect of Philip's trauma when his right clavicle was shattered with a lance in 345 or 344 B.C.

Greece is the time, is the place, is the motion

Detail of a floor mosaic showing Hermes leading a man to Hades found in the Amphipolis Tomb that was discovered in August.

Image and quote below via NPR

Have y'all been keeping track of the discoveries in northern Greece? I didn't know anything about it until the middle of September. Apparently, a tomb has been discovered in Macedonia. It is the largest tomb in Greece and is thought to contain the remains of someone somehow related to Alexander the Great - either a general in his military or possibly a family member - some sources claim that it may be the tomb of Alexander's mother Olympias.

Over the weekend, workers uncovered an almost completely intact floor mosaic in the tomb.

Archaeologists have uncovered an intricate and beautiful floor mosaic in a large tomb in northern Greece. Dating from the last quarter of the 4th century B.C., the mosaic covers a space of nearly 15 feet by 10 feet. It features two horses, a man and the god Hermes; it was found in a tomb that was discovered in August.

"The detail of the work is amazing, in the depiction of the horses, the persons, and the chariots and also the harmony of the colors," Greece's Times of Change site says.

The mosaic is made of small pebbles whose colors range from white, black and grey to blue, red and yellow. They're arranged to create a scene in which two horses draw a chariot carrying a bearded man with a laurel wreath on his head.

"The Greek God Hermes is shown leading, for he is the traditional guide to the spirits of the dead, into the underworld of Hades," according to the website The Amphipolis Tomb. Hermes is depicted wearing a hat and cloak, and carrying a caduceus.

Photos posted online by Greece's Culture Ministry show that the mosaic has been damaged in its center, but the accompanying notice says many of the pieces from the damaged area were found nearby.

We've reported on the tomb before — and on its ties to the era of Alexander the Great. Last month, NPR's Joanna Kakissis asked the question "Who's Buried In The 'Magnificent' Tomb From Ancient Greece?"

From Athens, Joanna reports for our Newscast unit:

"The tomb near the ancient Macedonian city of Amphipolis likely doesn't contain the remains of the young conqueror who died in Babylon at age 32. But it could contain someone very significant from the era, says Robin Lane Fox, a British historian and a specialist on Alexander the Great.

"'My suspicion would be that this is a very high-ranking companion in Alexander's former army,' Fox says, 'who has returned back, or been returned as a body, to his home in Amphipolis.'

"Archaeologists working on the site have so far refused interviews and have only released photos of their discoveries through the Greek government."

In other news, Greece tells IMF it wants early exit from rescue programme. I wonder how Greeks feel about this.

But I also saw this: Greece to contribute 1 million euros to Gaza reconstruction. While I'm behind the Gaza reconstruction, how can Greece currently afford this?

Good Morning.

Image by me.

Over the weekend, I finished reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas - which I had started reading my second week in Greece. Though I had to take a chocolate/The Walking Dead break when one of my favorite characters killed himself. (Before you ask, I'm on Season 4 of The Walking Dead.) The book was very thick - physically, emotionally and mentally and I'm pretty sure that I missed quite a bit, so I'm planning to re-read it sometime in the next year. But who knows? There's so much to read and so little time to do it, and I think I've gathered quite a bit from the book without getting too mired into its intricacies. So we'll see.

Quote from David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas:

If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president's pen or a vainglorious general's sword.

A life spent shaping a world I want [my child] to inherit, not one I fear [he] shall inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living.

Also...

...now I'm a spent firework; but at least I've been a firework.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Life is Complete

Via BuzzFeed: Which British Actor Is Your Soulmate?

From Judith Halberstam's The Queer Art of Failure

Image via Duke University Press

A friend posted this quote of Facebook.

"[P]ositive thinking is a North American affliction, 'a mass delusion' that emerges out of a combination of American exceptionalism and a desire to believe that success happens to good people and failure is just a consequence of a bad attitude rather than structural conditions [...] Indeed believing that success depends upon one's attitude is far preferable to Americans than recognizing that their success is the outcome of the tilted scales of race, class, and gender."

Via Salon: It's OK to admit that H.P. Lovecraft was racist.

Image from The Royal Academy at Osyth

Also at Salon, I read this article from September about fans of H.P. Lovecraft and winners of the World Fantasy Award which is a caricatured bust of Lovecraft dealing with his racism.

By Laura Miller via Salon

The World Fantasy Awards, presented at the World Fantasy Convention every fall, have been around for almost 40 years. The trophy for such categories as Novel, Short Fiction and Anthology is a caricatured bust of H.P. Lovecraft, author of such classics of weird fiction as “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Call of Cthulhu.” Lovecraft is a beloved figure in pop culture, and an influence on everyone from the Argentinian metafictionist Jorge Luis Borges to the film director Guillermo del Toro, as well as untold numbers of rock bands and game designers.

But not everyone who wins a “Howard” likes the idea of keeping Lovecraft’s face around the house. Nnedi Okorafor, who won the WFA for best novel in 2011 (“Who Fears Death”), wrote a blog post about her discomfort with the trophy after a friend showed her a racist poem that Lovecraft wrote in 1912. Enough dissatisfaction has accumulated to inspire another writer, Daniel Jose Older, to petition the WFA’s administrators to change the award to a bust of the late Octavia Butler, an African-American author more commonly identified with science fiction.

Whether or not Butler would be the right choice (other commenters have suggested a non-portrait design), what’s most surprising about the ensuing debate over the proposal is how defensive it has made some members of Lovecraft’s extensive following. The fuss has accentuated some of the shortcomings of our increasingly fan-driven culture.

I think this concept of "fan-driven culture" is something that I'll be thinking about and touching on for a while. I think I touched on it a bit in my last post in which I make the statement that we give too much weight to the things celebrities say.

We live in a culture increasingly dominated by fandoms, and while the enthusiasm of fans can be invigorating it’s not always conducive to critical thought. When we love a writer’s work — and I must confess that I do love Lovecraft’s, if not everything about it — we often have an attendant and childish desire to idolize its maker. In Lovecraft’s case, this impulse is particularly perverse because the power of his fiction derives from the hot mess of its creator’s psyche. Like Poe, Lovecraft speaks to a gnarled, doomy and phobic corner of human nature that all of us visit from time to time.

This is leavened by the undeniable camp appeal of his prose style, with all its wheezing, creaking, gibbering, florid and hilariously hyperbolic excesses: “I felt the strangling tendrils of a cancerous horror whose roots reached into illimitable pasts and fathomless abysms of the night that broods beyond time.” Some readers cannot tolerate such cavalcades of bossy adjectives; the critic Edmund Wilson once complained, “Surely one of the primary rules for writing an effective tale of horror is never to use any of these words — especially if you are going, at the end, to produce an invisible whistling octopus.” Which is a fair cop … and yet, and yet. For the Lovecraft buffs I know, the silliness is a significant part of the charm.

If there was ever a writer who should not be taken too seriously, it’s this one. Although Lovecraft’s stated theme — the terror of confronting the insignificance of humanity in an unfeeling, unthinking universe — is as heavy as it gets, the latent content of carnal, particularly sexual, revulsion often threatens to take over. The oozing goo, the primordial squids! Whatever Lovecraft thought he was doing, he wasn’t big on self-awareness, or else he’d have been Beckett. Freud and his theories of repression and sublimation become impossible to resist when you’re tracing this author’s energy to its source — that is, to all the stuff Lovecraft was avoiding thinking about while allegedly facing the unthinkable. This is what makes his fiction go.

[...]

Of all the people currently expressing their reservations about Lovecraft and the WFA trophy, I’ve yet to find one who’s telling others to stop reading him. In fact, most of these critics continue to enjoy his work for its imaginative scope, gothic sensibility and any number of other reasons. The World Fantasy Award, however, is another matter. It’s an expression of the values of a community, not a reader’s private choice. When Joshi writes, “If Nnedi Okorafor and China Miéville [another WFA winner who objects to the trophy] are so offended at owning the WFA, they should simply return it and be done with the matter,” he is essentially telling writers like Okorafor that they must accept an honor from that community in the form of a man who considered them to be “semi-human” and filled “with vice.” Suck it up, or get out. I’m pretty sure this is not the message the World Fantasy Convention meant to send when they gave Okorafor the prize in the first place.

Attagirl! Malala Yousafzai wins Nobel

Image and quote via NPR

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was attacked by Taliban militants for promoting education for girls, will share the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian campaigner against exploitation of children.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee says on Nobelprize.org:

"Showing great personal courage, Kailash Satyarthi, maintaining Gandhi's tradition, has headed various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain. He has also contributed to the development of important international conventions on children's rights.

"Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations. This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances. Through her heroic struggle she has become a leading spokesperson for girls' rights to education."

Just to be clear, I love Reza Aslan.

Image and quote (below) from Salon

I think Reza Aslan is possibly the most intelligent person I've heard speak in my entire life. While in Crete, my host and I watched a lot of CNN International, and it's quite amazing how completely different it is from American CNN. I mean even the coverage on sports seemed more intelligent, but there was also a long interview with Aslan, and I was amazed at how he actually answered the questions put to him.

In the US, it seems most interviewees answer questions on news networks by not actually answering the questions - they say something and if you aren't paying attention it may seem as though the question was answered but really the answer was completely in some other country while the question remained, shuffling its feet in its awkward powder blue suit.

Having said that, maybe Aslan does the same on American CNN, I don't know...

Also, let me say that I've completely avoided the Affleck/Maher hoohaw, for three reasons. 1) It looked like it would just stress me out. 2) I think Bill Maher is a slimy cars saleman. 3) I think we in the US seem to think that celebrities have more of a right to be heard than say someone who's actually thought about whatever it is they happen to be talking about. (This is also why I pay no attention whatsoever to Tom Cruise and why I've also avoided the Raven-Symone interview. She may have a point, but it's HER point and has no business being broadcast hither and yon.)

But Aslan is a person who thinks and writes and thinks some more. He's also articulate and realizes that there are other modes of thought beyond his own. These are all things that I look for in someone who is beamed into my home via one media or another.

Q: Do you feel like that shift — from being critical of all religions, including Islam, to being especially critical of Islam, specifically — is something we’re seeing elsewhere in the media?

A: Oh, yes. This is not just a problem with Bill Maher, it’s not just a problem with CNN or Fox News.

I think there is a general oversimplification [in American media] when it comes to the discourse about Islam and Muslims. And partly that has to do with the reality that in large parts of the Muslim world there are undeniable, unavoidable political/cultural/sectarian/religious conflicts that are saturating our television screens. So if you are just some average person watching the news on a regular basis, it’s not that difficult to draw a line between the violence that’s taking place in Syria and Iraq and the Muslim who lives across the street from you.

But Bill Maher isn’t the average person! [Laughs] He is a media personality, he’s intelligent, he’s humorous, he has a cultural significance — and so it’s surprising to see these kinds of unconsidered remarks from him; and more importantly, an inability to recognize how his rhetoric is coming across.

I want to be 100 percent clear about this: Bill Maher is not a bigot. I know him, I’ve hung out with him; he’s not a bigot. But the way that he talks about Islam is undeniably bigoted, and for him to just simply excuse that by saying, “I’m a liberal! We can’t be bigots!” is, I think, disingenuous. To put it in its simplest way, if you are constantly having to say, “I am not a bigot,” you might want to rethink [what you're saying].

Reza Aslan is the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.