Godless (Netflix)

Am currently watching Godless, part of a new fixation with the Westerns genre.

“No other nation,” the historian David Hamilton Murdoch writes in The American West: The Invention of a Myth, “has taken a time and place from its past and produced a construct of the imagination equal to America’s creation of the West.”

From a good Atlantic article, What Godless Says about America.

Yuval Harari, author of “Sapiens,” on AI, religion, and 60-day meditation retreats

I thought I’d share an excellent interview by the author of my current favorite book, Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. As artificial intelligence becomes more normative, the elimination of low skill labor is in the near future, i.e., machines replacing humans is no longer a question of if but of when. There are many people discussing this and writing books, but few can provide the kind of historical perspective on our species in the way that Yuval Harari does. He also does Vipassana meditation retreats, like the one I just finished. (My retreat was only ten days, his retreats are two months.) If you want a sample of the kinds of things Harari talks about, here’s a great 60 minute interview he did with Ezra Klein:


The violence on both sides

The kinds of violence that we are seeing in protests, on campuses and in Charlottesville will likely only continue to escalate. I’m surprised that it hasn’t been worse, frankly, but I’m grateful that we’ve been able to hold it together — but the kinds of violence we are seeing are symptoms of a social sickness, and hence the answer is not to condemn the violence itself, despite how affirming it may feel. President Trump does what he always does: heap as much blame for the violence on liberals and the left as is humanly possible (hence “violence on both sides”). The left justifies itself and condemns fascist violence. But condemning violence completely misses the point of what is happening in our society. Read more

Mike’s Hippie Friends Come To Visit | YouTube

As a writer and a leftist, I have always found All In The Family to be an intriguing sitcom. The show crammed together very different generational perspectives under one roof, together in one family. From a storytelling perspective, the show didn’t seek to make a point so much as to lay out the different perspectives, as in this episode where Mike’s hippie friends come to visit and Archie won’t let them sleep together in his house because they aren’t married.

I’m not saying that All In The Family didn’t have a particular angle or perspective, but rather that each side could identify with one or the other of the characters, while simultaneously laughing at the ones they didn’t agree with. Many artists (myself included) tend to feel compelled to take a side and make the point clear, but there’s something intriguing when a writer is able to bring together very different perspectives and put them in tension with each other.

Busy techno-bees be busy buzzing, busy buzzing in my busy brain

So, the title is a tongue twister, for those who are into such things, people weird like me.

We’ve all now extended ourselves via the virtual world of the Internet, it isn’t science fiction, it’s just our daily reality, a reality that is both virtual and real…and often times, our lives lie somewhere in between.

Here’s the leading idea: Technology is an extension of the self.

It ain’t all bad, I’m not saying that, not really. Speaking for myself, my brain remembers more shit, due to the fact that I have the Google Note app on my smartphone. I have access to a wider variety of news and current events info., because I can browse through the vast infinite space of information and ideas, aka the world wide web. I can retain and recall more of that information because I use the Evernote app to save web pages and notes as well as my own thoughts and writings. And I correspond quicker — instantly sending messages around the world! — and I correspond more often, via email and text and Instant Messaging and, yes, Facebook.

These are a few ways in which my life is virtual, ways in which my self is extended out past the “realness” of the real world. It’s weird, though, even though for most of us it feels normal. It’s weird because we weren’t really meant for this. That is, we didn’t really evolve to have our self extended in this way. Our cognitive equipment wasn’t necessarily meant to be so spread out.

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I finished The Goldfinch last spring, but it was hard to know what to write. I had pretty high expectations for the novel. I’d read and loved The Secret History (Tartt’s first novel), and The Goldfinch was a runaway bestseller, and that wasn’t all — the book also won a Pulitzer Prize.

Yep, so I had high expectations, and I enjoyed the novel, I did, and I’d recommend it; but there were a lot of parts that felt really bogged down to me. Specifically, I spent what I felt to be an excruciating amount of time wallowing with Theo (the narrator and protagonist) in his self-destruction and various drug-altered states of mind. And please note that I happen to be a big fan of exploring altered states of mind. It’s something I’ve written a good deal about — whether it be intoxicants or meditation or heightened states of religious expression, it’s all just super fantastic to me — but in Goldfinch, it all just felt to me a little bit repetitive.

That being said, I’d give Goldfinch a 3.8 on a 5 scale. If you find the plot and premise and subject matter (the place of art in dealing with modern neuroses) intriguing, then go for it.

The Goldfinch sparked an intense and ongoing debate among critics about whether or not this is a exemplary novel, a novel worthy to be held up as “good literature.” I didn’t find myself siding strongly one way or another. I felt I appreciated what Tartt was doing — for me it’s a good novel (read it) but it’s not great — on the other hand, Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History, was.

Gen X slackers unite!

I just read about the new Netflix series, Friends from College. From what I’ve read, it’s about Gen Xers who hit middle age and must deal with their own slackerist lives. I’ll probably watch it, and I’ll probably laugh at it. It’s usually pretty easy to make me laugh and after all, it’s my kind of people. I’m rapidly approaching forty, myself, in little over a year, and I’m also a bonafide (though not distinguished) member of the Gen X demographic, a late-born Gen Xer, to be be precise, just on the cusps of what the experts refer to as the Millennial generation — but I’m a card carrying Gen Xer all the same.

So, I’ll probably watch it, and I’ll probably laugh, but there’s something more going on here, more than just a generation that can’t grow up or get serious about their lives. There is, in truth, a certain cultural decay that seems to be more and more obvious every day.

Read more

Our conveniences are killing us | The Guardian

Winter storms battered this stretch of coastal California, blocking the sole road – but residents forced to leave their cars at home have been feeling the benefit.

“I’ll be sort of sorry to see the bridge go back up,” said Carey. “We’re all hiking that trail all the time, but next year how many will still do it?”

Source: ‘Every crisis has a silver lining’: why Big Sur’s isolation is making people fitter | US news | The Guardian

Fundamentalism, racism, fear and propaganda: An insider explains why rural, Christian white America will never change

I’m very happy to have landed out west — I love the landscapes, the culture, I just love the whole vibe — but I’m originally from the Midwest, and this makes me more than a little suspicious when I read articles that slam the Red States. I don’t disagree with most of the points made in this article, even though it’s harsh, and I even agree with the author’s basic premise that too much is being made of trying to “understand” the swing state Trump voter, as if Trump won and the Democrats lost at (literally) every level simply because they didn’t have better Red State focus groups.

To understand rural white Christian conservatives is to understand that their perspective is non-negotiable. The author gets this right. It’s the fundamentalist strain of evangelical Christianity — there are certain things you just believe, certain things you don’t question. And more to the point: there are evil enemies (liberals and leftists, atheists and secularists) against which one must be hyper vigilant. A liberal or secular perspective (and the facts they cite) can be safely dismissed without serious consideration because their point of view (and the state of their soul) is fundamentally and fatally flawed. Read more

Bond v. Bourne: Two American Stories

Yesterday an article of mine went up at Cinema Faith, comparing the James Bond and Jason Bourne films and the various versions of America that they present. The films are intertwined into American culture, spanning decades (29 films total, between the two of them), so I’ve planned it as a series of three articles.

Bourne’s journey mirrored my own, and many others. It mirrored our own spiritual and national amnesia. Like many of my peers, I was taught a sanitized, glorified version of American history, a Christian ideology of “one nation, under God.” Sure we had our messy periods — what with slavery and that nasty bit with killing all of those Indians — but we fixed all that, didn’t we? The America of today is a land of opportunity, opportunity for all, isn’t it?


The shadows cast in a Christ-haunted culture

“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”


That’s Flannery O’Connor, and I won’t even begin to try to unpack all that’s there. I simply wanted to post the quote, because I’ve been eagerly re-reading and studying O’Connor. I’ve always loved reading her works, but I think there’s something in what she does with her characters that seems extremely helpful for me, in the last push of getting my novel ready for publishing. [Fingers crossed] She often works with very common characters, many of whom are steeped in prejudices, and through freakish turns of fate, they confront something essential about themselves. Well, maybe it’s not even about self-knowledge, so much as a sort of “letting go” that opens them to a certain experience of grace and openness.

In any event, the ghostly metaphor of a “Christ-haunted” culture is, I think, a beautiful one, and eerily accurate — and I think it makes sense across the diverse American cultures. Even some hundred years or so after O’Connor talked about a Christ-haunted culture, even as we continue the slow slide into a post-Christian society, I think there’s still something of a significant shadow cast.

Source: Goodreads | Quote by Flannery O’Connor: “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particu…”

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore


A few months ago I heard about the critically acclaimed Netflix Original film, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore. I received the tip via Cinema Faith, a film site that I do a little writing for.

I enjoyed the film and recommend it, especially if you’ve already got a Netflix account. It was funny and relaxing, but as the film progresses the stakes are raised for the characters. By the end, the film becomes a rather reflective experience, reflective and perhaps even a bit unnerving. Read more

The dying hipsters

Christian Lorentzen of Time Out New York argues that “hipsterism fetishizes the authentic” elements of all of the “fringe movements of the postwar era—Beat, hippie, punk, even grunge”, and draws on the “cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity” and “gay style,” and then “regurgitates it with a winking inauthenticity.” He claims that this group of “18-to-34-year-olds,” who are mostly white, “have defanged, skinned and consumed” all of these influences.Lorentzen says hipsters, “in their present undead incarnation,” are “essentially people who think of themselves as being cooler than America,” also referring to them as “the assassins of cool.” He argues that metrosexuality is the hipster appropriation of gay culture, as a trait carried over from their “Emo” phase. He writes that “these aesthetics are assimilatedcannibalizedinto a repertoire of meaninglessness, from which the hipster can construct an identity in the manner of a collage, or a shuffled playlist on an iPod.” He also criticizes how the subculture’s original menace has long been abandoned and has been replaced with “the form of not-quite-passive aggression called snark.”

In a Huffington Post article entitled “Who’s a Hipster?”, Julia Plevin argues that the “definition of ‘hipster’ remains opaque to anyone outside this self-proclaiming, highly-selective circle”. She claims that the “whole point of hipsters is that they avoid labels and being labeled. However, they all dress the same and act the same and conform in their non-conformity” to an “iconic carefully created sloppy vintage look”.

Rob Horning developed a critique of hipsterism in his April 2009 article “The Death of the Hipster” in PopMatters, exploring several possible definitions for the hipster. He muses that the hipster might be the “embodiment of postmodernism as a spent force, revealing what happens when pastiche and irony exhaust themselves as aesthetics”, or might be “a kind of permanent cultural middleman in hypermediated late capitalism, selling out alternative sources of social power developed by outsider groups, just as the original ‘white negros’ evinced by Norman Mailer did to the original, pre-pejorative ‘hipsters’blacks”. Horning also proposed that the role of hipsters may be to “appropriat[e] the new cultural capital forms, delivering them to mainstream media in a commercial form and stripping their inventors … of the power and the glory”. Horning argues that the “problem with hipsters” is the “way in which they reduce the particularity of anything you might be curious about or invested in into the same dreary common denominator of how ‘cool’ it is perceived to be”, as “just another signifier of personal identity”. Furthermore, he argues that the “hipster is defined by a lack of authenticity, by a sense of lateness to the scene” or the way that they transform the situation into a “self-conscious scene, something others can scrutinize and exploit”.

source: wikipedia

Hipsters: The reincarnation

In early 2000, both The New York Times and Time Out New York ran profiles of Williamsburg, Brooklyn without using the term hipster. The Times referred to “bohemians” and TONY to “arty East Village types”. By 2003, when The Hipster Handbook was published by Williamsburg resident Robert Lanham, the term had come into widespread use in relation to Williamsburg and similar neighborhoods. The Hipster Handbook described hipsters as young people with “mop-top haircuts, swinging retro pocketbooks, talking on cell phones, smoking European cigarettes… strutting in platform shoes with a biography of Che Guevara sticking out of their bags”.Lanham further describes hipsters: “You graduated from a liberal arts school whose football team hasn’t won a game since the Reagan administration” and “you have one Republican friend who you always describe as being your ‘one Republican friend. One author dates the initial phase of the revival of the term from 1999 to 2003.

source: wikipedia