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.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Books, Books, Books

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn't enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes — and build yourself.

It's 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there's no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde — fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer — like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës — but without the dying-young bit.

By sixteen, she's smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She's writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she's built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar — written by Rizzo from Grease. How to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it.

The author of the best-selling and award-winning Netherland now gives us his eagerly awaited, stunningly different new novel: a tale of alienation and heartbreak in Dubai.

Distraught by a breakup with his long-term girlfriend, our unnamed hero leaves New York to take an unusual job in a strange desert metropolis. In Dubai at the height of its self-invention as a futuristic Shangri-la, he struggles with his new position as the “family officer” of the capricious and very rich Batros family. And he struggles, even more helplessly, with the “doghouse,” a seemingly inescapable condition of culpability in which he feels himself constantly trapped — even if he’s just going to the bathroom, or reading e-mail, or scuba diving. A comic and philosophically profound exploration of what has become of humankind’s moral progress, The Dog is told with Joseph O’Neill’s hallmark eloquence, empathy, and storytelling mastery. It is a brilliantly original, achingly funny fable for our globalized times.

When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally bestselling phenomenon, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel—who is flickering in and out of dementia—to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires,” divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.

A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

“No book this fall is more impressive than A Brief History of Seven Killings.” (Publishers Weekly)

From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes one of the year’s most anticipated novels, a lyrical, masterfully written epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.

Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters — assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts — A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the ‘70s, to the crack wars in ‘80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the ‘90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.

Mags was once an enslaved orphan living a harsh life in the mines, until the King's Own Herald discovered his talent and trained him as a spy. Now a Herald in his own right, at the newly established Heralds' Collegium, Mags has found a supportive family, including his Companion Dallen.

Although normally a Herald in his first year of Whites would be sent off on circuit, Mags is needed close to home for his abilities as a spy and his powerful Mindspeech gift. There is a secret, treacherous plot within the royal court to destroy the Heralds. The situation becomes dire after the life of Mags' mentor, King's Own Nikolas, is imperiled. His daughter Amily is chosen as the new King's Own, a complicated and dangerous job that is made more so by this perilous time. Can Mags and Amily save the court, the Heralds, and the Collegium itself?

The second volume of the bestselling landmark work on the history of the modern state

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, David Gress called Francis Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order “magisterial in its learning and admirably immodest in its ambition.” In The New York Times Book Review, Michael Lind described the book as “a major achievement by one of the leading public intellectuals of our time.” And in The Washington Post, Gerard DeGrott exclaimed “this is a book that will be remembered. Bring on volume two.”

Volume two is finally here, completing the most important work of political thought in at least a generation. Taking up the essential question of how societies develop strong, impersonal, and accountable political institutions, Fukuyama follows the story from the French Revolution to the so-called Arab Spring and the deep dysfunctions of contemporary American politics. He examines the effects of corruption on governance, and why some societies have been successful at rooting it out. He explores the different legacies of colonialism in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and offers a clear-eyed account of why some regions have thrived and developed more quickly than others. And he boldly reckons with the future of democracy in the face of a rising global middle class and entrenched political paralysis in the West.

A sweeping, masterful account of the struggle to create a well-functioning modern state, Political Order and Political Decay is destined to be a classic.

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, a powerful new reckoning with Jefferson Davis as military commander of the Confederacy

History has not been kind to Jefferson Davis. His cause went down in disastrous defeat and left the South impoverished for generations. If that cause had succeeded, it would have torn the United States in two and preserved the institution of slavery. Many Americans in Davis’s own time and in later generations considered him an incompetent leader, if not a traitor. Not so, argues James M. McPherson. In Embattled Rebel, McPherson shows us that Davis might have been on the wrong side of history, but it is too easy to diminish him because of his cause’s failure. In order to understand the Civil War and its outcome, it is essential to give Davis his due as a military leader and as the president of an aspiring Confederate nation.

Davis did not make it easy on himself. His subordinates and enemies alike considered him difficult, egotistical, and cold. He was gravely ill throughout much of the war, often working from home and even from his sickbed. Nonetheless, McPherson argues, Davis shaped and articulated the principal policy of the Confederacy with clarity and force: the quest for independent nationhood. Although he had not been a fire-breathing secessionist, once he committed himself to a Confederate nation he never deviated from this goal. In a sense, Davis was the last Confederate left standing in 1865.

As president of the Confederacy, Davis devoted most of his waking hours to military strategy and operations, along with Commander Robert E. Lee, and delegated the economic and diplomatic functions of strategy to his subordinates. Davis was present on several battlefields with Lee and even took part in some tactical planning; indeed, their close relationship stands as one of the great military-civilian partnerships in history.

Most critical appraisals of Davis emphasize his choices in and management of generals rather than his strategies, but no other chief executive in American history exercised such tenacious hands-on influence in the shaping of military strategy. And while he was imprisoned for two years after the Confederacy’s surrender awaiting a trial for treason that never came, and lived for another twenty-four years, he never once recanted the cause for which he had fought and lost. McPherson gives us Jefferson Davis as the commander in chief he really was, showing persuasively that while Davis did not win the war for the South, he was scarcely responsible for losing it.

A family is hunted by a centuries-old monster: a man with a relentless obsession who can take on any identity.

The String Diaries opens with Hannah frantically driving through the night — her daughter asleep in the back, her husband bleeding out in the seat beside her. In the trunk of the car rests a cache of diaries dating back 200 years, tied and retied with strings through generations. The diaries carry the rules for survival that have been handed down from mother to daughter since the 19th century. But how can Hannah escape an enemy with the ability to look and sound like the people she loves?

Stephen Lloyd Jones's debut novel is a sweeping thriller that extends from the present day, to Oxford in the 1970s, to Hungary at the turn of the 19th century, all tracing back to a man from an ancient royal family with a consuming passion — a boy who can change his shape, insert himself into the intimate lives of his victims, and destroy them.

If Hannah fails to end the chase now, her daughter is next in line. Only Hannah can decide how much she is willing to sacrifice to finally put a centuries-old curse to rest.

From longtime New York Times columnist Bob Herbert comes a wrenching portrayal of ordinary Americans struggling for survival in a nation that has lost its way

In his eighteen years as an opinion columnist for The New York Times, Herbert championed the working poor and the middle class. After filing his last column in 2011, he set off on a journey across the country to report on Americans who were being left behind in an economy that has never fully recovered from the Great Recession. The portraits of those he encountered fuel his new book, Losing Our Way. Herbert’s combination of heartrending reporting and keen political analysis is the purest expression since the Occupy movement of the plight of the 99 percent.

The individuals and families who are paying the price of America’s bad choices in recent decades form the book’s emotional center: an exhausted high school student in Brooklyn who works the overnight shift in a factory at minimum wage to help pay her family’s rent; a twenty-four-year-old soldier from Peachtree City, Georgia, who loses both legs in a misguided, mismanaged, seemingly endless war; a young woman, only recently engaged, who suffers devastating injuries in a tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis; and a group of parents in Pittsburgh who courageously fight back against the politicians who decimated funding for their children’s schools.

Herbert reminds us of a time in America when unemployment was low, wages and profits were high, and the nation’s wealth, by current standards, was distributed much more equitably. Today, the gap between the wealthy and everyone else has widened dramatically, the nation’s physical plant is crumbling, and the inability to find decent work is a plague on a generation. Herbert traces where we went wrong and spotlights the drastic and dangerous shift of political power from ordinary Americans to the corporate and financial elite. Hope for America, he argues, lies in a concerted push to redress that political imbalance. Searing and unforgettable, Losing Our Way ultimately inspires with its faith in ordinary citizens to take back their true political power and reclaim the American dream.

Today Was the Day

Via Facebook.

This was the first news article about finding Matthew Shepard, published in the Denver Post October 9, 1998.

Visit the Matthew Shepard Foundation

That'll do, Loukanikos. That'll do.

Via The Guardian

Greek media report that Loukanikos (Greek for sausage) passed away peacefully, having retired from protests in 2012.

Loukanikos began hitting the headlines in 2010, when the stray hound began appearing in the front line of anti-austerity protests.

Athens journalist Damian Mac Con Uladh reports that Loukanikos suffered from his years on the front line.

According to Avgi journalist Petros Katsakos, the dog’s health was adversely affected by tear gas and from being kicked from police, forcing him to “retire” from active protest about two years ago.

“He was on the couch sleeping, when suddenly his heart stopped beating,” Loukanikos’ carer told Avgi.

At the height of his fame, Loukanikos even feature in Time Magazine’s review of 2011 (full details).

Loukanikos ‘retired’ in autumn 2012, around the time that the eurozone crisis was easing. He swapped tear gas and riot shields for a gentler life with an Athens family, who offered“all the care, love, food and vaccinations” a dog could could need.

Sit down, Murakami

Image and article via NPR

This year's Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to French author Patrick Modiano, the Swedish Academy announced this morning. Something of a surprise selection, Modiano is the second French writer in less than a decade to have won the award.

In a citation read by Permanent Secretary Peter Englund, the academy lauded Modiano "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation."

Modiano made his debut in 1968 with the novel La Place de l'Etoile. In the years that have followed, Modiano's prolific output has garnered both popularity and acclaim in France, even as a relative few of his works have been translated into English. His most recent novel is Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier.

Only six of Modiano's more than 40 works have made their way into English. Night Rounds — his second novel, and the first in English — A Trace of Malice and Missing Person are among the few that have been translated. In these novels, as in much of his work, the troublesome questions of memory and Jewish identity are thrust to the fore — a fact that has drawn occasional comparisons between Modiano and another great French novelist, Marcel Proust.

The Telegraph reports that "Modiano was born in a west Paris suburb two months after World War II ended in Europe in July 1945. His father was of Jewish Italian origins and met his Belgian actress mother during the occupation of Paris — and his beginnings have strongly influenced his writing." Modiano still lives in Paris, and the city continues to play a central role in his fiction.

On Morning Edition, NPR's Lynn Neary spoke of these fateful beginnings. Born right at the end of World War II, Modiano remains haunted by Nazi Germany's occupation of France during the war, and his family's connections to it. "He called himself a product of the 'dunghill of the Occupation,' " Neary explained. "He said it was a time when two people, who never should have met, met by chance and produced a child."

In a rare interview accorded to France Today in 2011, Modiano says he never considered becoming anything but a writer. "I had no diploma, no definite goal to achieve. But it is tough for a young writer to begin so early. Really, I prefer not to read my early books. Not that I don't like them, but I don't recognize myself anymore, like an old actor watching himself as a young leading man."

Academy Permanent Secretary Peter Englund acknowledged that Modiano is likely not a household name in English-speaking countries. "He is well-known in France, but not anywhere else," he noted in an interview. If you're looking for an introduction to Modiano's work, Englund recommended reading the novel Missing Person, which won the prestigious French prize the Prix Goncourt in 1978.

The 69-year-old writer will receive approximately $1.1 million with the prize, in a ceremony slated for Dec. 10.

Awkward Gay Moments via Whisper

See more at HuffPost Gay Voices

The Death of My Childhood

Image and quote via BoingBoing

Peter Beagle's beloved novel is in development as a touring musical with Josh Duhamel and Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas.

GIF via we♥it