15 May 2015

The Week in Water

Wondering what's going on this week in the world of water? Look no further! This week we focus on the positive, science-y aspects of our planet's most precious resource.

Did you miss the 7th World Water Forum in South Korea? Don't worry, there was a blogger there.

Water is "the weirdest liquid on the planet."

British scientists have revealed the molecular structure of water's liquid surface.

Astrophysicist have shown that water could have been abundant in the early universe.

NASA has found evidence for water ice at Mercury's poles.

What role did water play in the chemistry that led to life on Earth?

Seaweed might have the chemical super-power to counteract the increasing acidification of the world's oceans.

Scientists believe there exists an entire, virtually unknown world of microbial life under the surface of Antartica.

MIT scientists have developed a portable, solar-powered water desalination machine. Portable. Solar-powered. Desalination. This is the sort of game-changer I've been going on about since before I started this little shebeen. Here's another, smaller distiller.

Oak Ridge (Tennessee) scientists have developed a graphene-based desalination membrane. Scalability appears to be the next challenge.

Britain is planning a wind farm some 80 miles off the Yorkshire coast at a submerged island on Dogger Bank.

Want to see a video of the formation of a new island near Tonga resulting from an underwater volcano? Here you go! You're welcome.

30 April 2015

Because I Love You...

Here's two and a half minutes of pure power pop perfection from Unlikely Friends' "Solid Gold Cowboys." Terrific album from the Seattle combo—think Teenage Fanclub + Guided by Voices + Beat Happening (aka Calvin Johnson). Seriously, do yourselves a favor.

"I've been making my mind up...I've been making my mind up...twice."

24 April 2015

This Week in Water

A quick thanks and tip of the cap to BDR and Thunder for contributing links to this belated TWIW!

A severe lack of clean water is killing indigenous children in Colombia.

Residents near Duke Energy's ash ponds have been warned not to use their well water.

Yes. It's been confirmed. Hydraulic fracking has been causing all those earthquakes in Oklahoma. But readers of WoW's 'This Week in Water' knew that already, didn't we!

Don't kid yourself: U.S. politics plays an important role in water regulation and distribution.

Sanitation workers in Rio de Janeiro have cleared 32 tons of dead fish from the lagoon where Olympic rowing events are scheduled to take place next year.

Scientists at Ohio State University have developed a mesh with enormous potential for cleaning up oil spills. It captures oil while allowing water to pass through.

Brazil, which has been experiencing severe drought, wants to build a 350MW floating solar power plant.

Mining concerns want to build floating nuclear power plants in the Arctic Ocean to power the developing mining industries there. Eh? What could go wrong?

With all the melting ice, giant waves have been observed forming in open Arctic waters for the first time.

Will oceans continue to rise? Will this rise become exponential in the near future? Some think so.

Evidence strongly indicates that the Gulf of Maine is warming.

The Gulf Stream which, among other things keeps Britain from freezing over, is slowing down faster than ever. This is due, in part, to melting ice cap in Greenland.

A Monster Kelvin Wave, a warming of sub-surface temperatures stretching along equatorial Pacific waters, is raising concerns about a potential Super El Nino.

A rare Easter typhoon struck the Philippines. Flooding in Chile killed 107.

A mysterious blob of warm water, 2000 km wide and 100 meters deep stretching from Juneau, Alaska, to the Baja Peninsula, has changed water circulation patterns and weather patterns and is contributing to California's lingering drought.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has called for a mandatory 25% reduction in consumer water usage.

Due to drought, entire cities in California are sinking as the underground aquifers dry up.

To deal with the on-going historic drought, Los Angeles and other cities in California are developing technologies for capturing rainwater runoff, restoring the L.A. River, and curbing excess demand.

William Shatner wants to build a $30 billion pipeline to bring water to Southern California from Washington State and plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise the cash. Better that than tar sands oil from Canada.

The four-year-old California drought is only a symptom in a larger, global water crisis.

Here's a survey of the primary obstacles to desalination of seawater.

Much of this country's fruits and vegetables are grown in California. But, due to its arid nature, the U.S. West may not be the most propitious place to concentrate the country's agricultural food production. The South, e.g., which has a surplus of rainfall traditionally, could convert a portion of its cotton-growing land.

17 April 2015

Jon Stewart Outs Cheney as an Iranian Double Agent and War Criminal

This is why Jon Stewart deserves a Peabody Award for journalistic excellence and why I, for one, am going to miss him when he leaves 'The Daily Show':

On Thursday night (04/16/2014), Stewart demonstrated why the Beltway Press should never lend credence to anything former Vice President Dick Cheney says, particularly about Iraq or Iran.

Here's my own transcribed transcript of the segment.

Cheney (on Iran):  "This is a totally radical regime; that is the premier sponsor of state terrorism in the world, and Obama's about to give them nuclear weapons. It's a...I can't think of a more terrible burden to leave the next president than what Obama's creating here."

Stewart:  "Really? You can't think of an administration that left a more terrible burden? Think hard. [Pictures of George W. Bush and Cheney on the screen] No wait. Think, if I can ask you, harder. Maybe you need a visual aid. Can you think of an administration that left?...can you?...all right.

"But that wasn't the worst thing he had to say."

Cheney:  "...if you had somebody as president who wanted to take America down, who wanted to fundamentally weaken our position in the world...reduce our capacity to influence events, turn our back on our allies, and encourage our adversaries, it would look exactly like what Barack Obama is doing."

Stewart: [mocking Cheney in a Burgess Meredith as 'The Penguin' voice from the old "Batman" TV series]: "Wah, wah. Is Barack Obama a traitor? Wah. I don't... Wah. I don't know if he's a traitor but...Wah...but he does a great impression of a traitor. Wah.

"But basically the vice president's point appears to be this: Anyone who strengthens the strategic position of Iran is, by definition, working to weaken the United States of America. So, I guess the formulation would be whoever strengthened Iran more would be the greater threat to America.

"Using Dick Cheney's own metric as our baseline can we uncover a greater threat to America than even Barack Obama? Well, we find out in tonight's installment of: 'The Jon Stewart Mysteries Presents The Case of the Iranian Agent!'

"Thank you for joining me in the library Mr. Vice President, represented here by a balloon with a frowny face painted on it.

"Vice President Cheney, you leveled some serious charges that Barack Obama has strengthened Iran. Is there anything else you can think of over the last, say, I don't know, 12 years and 28 days that could also be seen as fundamentally strengthening Iran's position in that region?

[Video clip of Robert Gates, former Defense Secretary]: "One of the consequences of that invasion of Iraq was ultimately to strengthen Iran's role and influence in the region."

Stewart [in Sherlock Holmes-style deer-stalker hat with Meerschaum pipe]: "Well, and who, sir, was responsible for that invasion? Who, sir? Here, let me look it up in my history books. [mumbles] ... By gum, it was you! [pointing at the Cheney balloon] It was you!"

"I take your reddened face as embarrassment. And if invading Iraq not only removed Iran's closest foe but complicated America's ability to actively countervail Iran's nuclear program [headline from 08/10/2005 Philadelphia Inquirer "...the Iraq quagmire has deprived the United States of the option of bombing their nuclear facilities."], well, in fact, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, by the end of your administration, Vice President Cheney, Iran had 20 times the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges as when you came into office. And that...could that not be considered handing Iran a nuclear weapon, sir? A conclusion so damning it could only be spoken through two different oral affectations.

"I see the smile and lines and topography has gone from your face.

"Yes, Dick Cheney, you took out Iran's enemies while giving Iran time to build up their nuclear program. But surely you could course correct this by just installing in Iraq another strong anti-Iranian government to take Saddam Hussein's place. As any America-loving vice president would do. What was your move, sir?"

[News footage from 07/29/2014 "Frontline"]: "In Baghdad, with violence growing, the Bush team began urgently looking for an Iraqi leader to unite the country and stop the fighting. A CIA officer at the embassy had a suggestion: a relatively unknown Shiite member of Parliament, Nouri Kamil al-Maliki."

Stewart [in Sam Spade-style fedora]: "And that's when Maliki walked in, and I decided to shift genres. Maliki, he was a heart-stopping dame—actually, a middle-aged Iraqi man—who called himself al-Maliki. He had a pair of get-away sticks that went all the way up from the floor to his pelvic region like a normal adult. Who was this brave future enemy of Iran?"

[clip from 06/25/2014 "The Lead with Jake Tapper", with Fareed Zakaria]: "For 25 years, this guy's been a hard-line Shiite sectarian politician. When he was in exile from Saddam Hussein's regime, he lived in Iran. He was funded by the Iranians."

Stewart: "For an American administration to replace Saddam Hussein with a man emboldened and indebted to our greatest regional enemy, according to Dick Cheney's own logic, anyone who trusted Maliki would have to be naive or deliberately trying to weaken America."

[07/29/2007 clip of Cheney on CNN's "The Situation Room"]: Wolf Blitzer: "Do you trust Nouri al-Maliki?" Cheney: "I do. At this point I don't have any reason not to trust him."

Stewart: "Do you? Well, it seems you're getting sweat on your brow. [misting balloon] It seems you're getting a little hot in here isn't it, Mr. Vice President. Strange! I find the temperature quite mild.

"Still not gonna' confess your disingenuous, utterly lacking in self-examination, ironic attack on the Obama administration? Well, I guess I'll have to give up. Guess I'll just have to go back and report to my superiors that I couldn't crack the case. Eh, what're you gonna' do?

[Stewart now doing a "Columbo" impression]: "I got just one more thing. One more thing, Mr. Vice President. I just can't get it out of my mind. You mentioned earlier there's a reason why you would never want an American president to deal with Iran, and you've thought so for quite some time. Isn't that true?"

[03/07/2006 C-SPAN clip of Cheney]: "Iranians have endured a generation of repression at the hands of a fanatical regime. That regime is one of the primary state sponsors of terror."

Stewart: "Wah. State sponsors of terrorism? So, you yourself would never do something or engage with a regime such as that for their benefit or perhaps yours even when, let's say, in 1998, you were CEO of a giant oil services company. What was the name again? Ah, wah, Halliburton was what it was called. Halliburton."

[06/23/1998 clip of Cheney with subtitles]: "We find ourselves these days, American firms, cut out of the action, in terms of anything that develops with respect to Iran. ... Unfortunately, as has been point out repeatedly in recent weeks, our government has become 'sanctions happy.'"

Stewart: "Wah. Very interesting. You, sir, were arguing for the United States to life sanctions on Iran so your company, Halliburton, could get contracts with this radical regime. Contracts worth millions of dollars. And pardon me if I'm impugning your character—I hate to do it—but what would you make of a man whose final act in the business world before joining the American government as vice president would be to enter into contracts with the number one state sponsor of terror just before leaving to become Bush's running mate. [on-screen screenshot of 10/09/2004 newspaper: "...before Cheney left Halliburton to become Bush's running mate...Halliburton Products & Services...opened a Tehran office in early 2000..."] Contracts that were only legal because you did them through a foreign subsidiary, Mr. Cheney.

"And then once you were in office, in gratitude for Iran's money, you hand Iran the greatest prize of all...Iraq.

"Isn't it you, sir, who is the double agent determined to bring America down? Isn't it you...[balloon releases]...He's getting away!...Damn you, Dick Cheney!"

This, my friends, is utter brilliance. Satire of a like that would make Juvenal or Swift proud. There's no one else (now that Steven Colbert's gone and excepting, perhaps, John Oliver) out there that can do this with such authority and humor. It's funny! And, frankly, it puts the Beltway media's journalism, which report Cheney's critical words about Obama but do little to put them in proper context, to shame.

And, yes, it sounds like a war crime!

I did the transcript for my own future benefit and for those of you who would rather read than watch a video. All its flaws are mine. For the rest of you, here's the full 10 minute clip. It's worth a watch.

29 March 2015

All the Way to Memphis

[Click to embiggen pics in slide show]
Entering Mississippi
Stopping for gas in Elvis's hometown
Ardent Studios: Home of Big Star
Yes, that Big Star
Portrait of Big Star in the Ardent hallway
The Big Board at Ardent
This probably means you!
Reunion of the legendary Seafood Orchestra at memorial for fellow member Rick Ivy (also late of Panther Burns). You know you're in a music scene town when the Presbyterian minister quotes Tav Falco at the memorial service!
Did not make it there, but snapped a drive-by pic of the billboard
Ruins of U.S. Marine Hospital
Mississippi River Railroad Bridge
Another view
Where we didn't stay
One of our host's most prized possessions. And why wouldn't it be?! Thanks, D!
Elvis's favorite restaurant. Didn't get a chance to stop in this trip, but I've eaten there before.

I'm sure you've heard of it.
THE place to meet for ribs in town! Thanks, Ronny!

23 March 2015

This Week in Water

The island nation of Vanuatu is in desperate straits after a direct hit by a massive, Category 5 cyclone. Relief agencies desperately need monetary help.

Ocean acidification may destroy the economies of many U.S. coastal towns.

Massive glacier melt runoff in Alaska may have dire consequences for marine life in the region. Alaska is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the country. It is the canary in the climate coal mine or the frog in the boiling pot; and it is baking.

Winter Arctic sea ice achieved the lowest level in history.

The Totten Glacier in East Antarctica is melting from below as well as from above. It is roughly the size of the U.S. South (538,000 square kilometers), and if it melted global sea levels could rise eleven feet.

Boston set an all-time seasonal snowfall record.

California's record drought, now in its fourth year, has brought calls for $1 Billion in drought relief and conservation planning. The State only has about one year's worth of water left, and snow melt was down again this winter.

Coastal fog in California is declining, and that means the decline of its redwoods among other things.

Waikiki Beach is eroding and may soon disappear.

Oxygen-breathing microbes have been found teeming in sediment in the deadest regions of the world's oceans.

From slowly growing crust on the bottom of the ocean, cosmologists are able to decipher evidence of an ancient, nearby supernova.

They have found life—i.e., evidence of organic molecules—on Mars. For Real!

Scientists have found evidence of a vast hidden ocean on Ganymede, Jupiter's and the Solar System's largest moon.

16 March 2015

Boys & Trees & Memories of These

"I had no idea who to call. I slumped down on the splayed roots of the great bur oak that still commanded the front yard of the old parsonage. The only sound I could hear was the rumor of an occasional breeze in the clacking of its high branches.

This tree was said to be well over a century old when I had climbed it as a boy. I lay my head back against its rough bark and stared up at the sky through the tracery of its dark arms. In the creaking canopy, I could still plot the route, the exact footholds, limbs, knots, and gnarls, that took me the highest—40, maybe 50 feet up.

On winter days I could see practically the entire square mile of the town of Fallstone Trace from my topmost perch: the rusted tin roof of the ruins of the cotton gin; the gingerbread post office; the red brick school where I snoozed through eight years of clanging radiators and stopped clocks; the rotting timber water tower every schoolboy for generations was condemned to climb in ceremonious challenge to its rickety steps; the gas station where I had my first summer job at fourteen and drank up each Saturday's pay in salted nuts and small green-bottle Cokes stamped on the bottom with the names of exotic, unfathomably distant cities—Peoria, Ft. Worth, Albany, and that jewel of distant jewels Seattle; the feed-and-seed store whose plate glass window front bobbled with newly-hatched chicks dyed blue and red and pink and even yellow come Easter-time; the cinder-block volunteer fire station and steel-frame siren tower (the only rival of the steeple on my father's church) where my father, solemn in black robe and Bible, presided over the mock pomp of a womanless wedding and fried chicken and watermelon supper fund-raiser each October around revival time.

A tree like this was a thing to be prized. I was tempted to climb again but for my worsted suit and the leather soled shoes I had worn for the alleged funeral this afternoon. Besides, I had no heart for it. One is supposed to have a lingering affection for the things of youth, to bask in the everlasting radiance of one's past. Family, community, heritage, tradition: these were the things that mattered, the things that made you who you were. They anchored you. You carried them forward no matter where your roving took you. Then, by dint of some vague sentimental calculus, you cemented your identity by reclaiming them, even in exile. Wasn't that what the heart was, after all?

The only thing I felt now was pain as another cramp of an anxious nausea gripped my empty gut."  Jim H., EULOGY pp.258-59

12 March 2015

Satin Island Review

1 "The world is all that is the case."
1.1 "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."
1.2 Those quotes, I'm sure you'll recognize, come from Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, its first and last sequentially numbered propositions.
1.3 Tom McCarthy's new novel, Satin Island, is similarly sequentially numbered.
1.4 (I love a book that makes me pull my battered copies of Wittgenstein off the shelf.)
1.5 (Those of you who follow me (langame) on Twitter (@140xLangame) or who've located my email address on this page (langame[dot]wow@gmail[dot]com) will note that the handle of my online persona is drawn from his Philosophical Investigations (and has been since at least the early '90s). Language game —> Langame.)
1.6 There is the world, what we can say about it, and language. "The rest is silence." (Hamlet's last words.)
1.7 The early Wittgenstein (of the Tractatus) believed that in articulating the structure of the propositional logic he would reveal the true structure of the world. Call it metaphysical Realism.
1.8 The later Wittgenstein (of the Investigations) rejected the possibility of such a foundation. Call it metaphysical Anti-Realism.

2 Serious novels tend to try to solve one of two problems: the labyrinth of the human heart or the conundrum of the greater world.
2.1 The best tend to frame the collision of the two.
2.2 Tom McCarthy's first novel, Remainder, explored the manic arena of the former and found no center and no exit, merely neurotic repetition. His second, C., attempted to take the reader over and under and through the latter with all its fatalistic implications, and discovered hints of meaning but, ultimately, no solution.
2.2 In his new novel, Satin Island, the writer steps back from the abyss where the two worlds, the inner and the outer, approach (however asymptotically).
2.3 Satin Island begins with its protagonist, U., recalling being stranded with tons of other people in the Turin airport, a hub facility, because European airspace was at a standstill.
2.4 Here's a quote:
"People need foundation myths, some imprint of year zero, a bolt that secures the scaffolding that in turn holds fast the entire architecture of reality, of time: memory-chambers and oblivion-cellars, walls between eras, hallways that sweep us on towards the end-days and the coming whatever-it-is. We see things shroudedly, as through a veil, an over-pixellated screen. When the shapeless plasma takes on form and resolution, like a fish approaching us through murky waters or an image looming into view from noxious liquid in a darkroom, when it begins to coalesce into a figure that's discernible, if ciphered, we can say: This is it, stirring, looming, even if it isn't really, if it's all just ink-blots." (SI, 3-4)
2.5 Satin Island ends with U. in another transit hub silently declining to board a crowded ferry to Staten Island, NY.
2.6 Here's a quote:
"I was, as I mentioned, jet-lagged: disoriented, undirected. I'd travelled down to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal to take the ferry and not taken it, or perhaps just traveled down there to not take the ferry. I'd been standing in the same spot for some time now. So, too, had the plain-clothes security personnel, and the MTA man. As the concourse filled up with incoming passengers, our arrangement, its sculpted geometry, which had impresed itself upon me with such clarity and (at the same time) mystery for a few minutes, faded back into the general mass of bodies. It was still there, though, camouflaged or buried: none of us had moved. The homeless guy was still there, too, going slowly down the row of payphones, searching for forgotten change caught in their mechanism. In his attempt to trigger its release, he lifted each receiver from its cradle and held it up for a few seconds, waiting for coins to drop. None did. I looked out at the harbour once again. The dazzle on the water now was all-consuming, overexposed, blinding: the departed ferry, Staten Island, all the other landmarks and most of the sky had disappeared in a great holocaust of light, whose retinal after-effects, in turn, made th terminal's interior too dark when I turned back to it. It took a few more seconds for the levels to adjust. I found myself still looking at the homeless guy. He was still holding a receiver away from his ear, making no attempt to listen to or talk into it. He looked all wrong; anachronistic. Who uses payphones these days? I wondered if these one even worked. I stared at him; our eyes met for a while; then I, uncomfortable, broke off the contact and started walking, past the growing stream of people, out of the terminal and back into the city." (SI, 188-89)
2.7 Shapeless plasma takes on form like a fish approaching through murky water. The departing ferry and everything around it dissolves into a dazzling holocaust of light on water. The rest is silence.
2.8 Beautiful.

3 In his Acknowlegements, McCarthy rather cheekily challenges his readers: "Satin Island, like all books, contains hundreds of borrowings, echoes, remixes and straight repetitions. To list them all would take up as much space as the text itself. The critical reader can entertain him- or herself tracking some of them down, if he or she is that way inclined."
3.1 Wittgenstein is clearly a presiding force here. As is the wavering Hamlet. I will venture two more before I tire.
3.2 In my 2010 review of C., I wrote the following: "Pynchon in GR [Gravity's Rainbow] portrays the demise of the individual in the rise of the paranoid style of politics. GR confirmed the suspicions of a generation of Luddites that the incursion of technology in human affairs, historically sited in the WWII "Zone", betokened the rise of a culture of death. The love of technology is the lust for death. Our hopes and aspirations for our creations, artistic and scientific and technological, ascend along the arc of the rainbow, reach their natural apogee and then, under the weight of gravity, come screaming across the sky and crash explosively back to earth. Now, think visually for a second: turn the finite rainbow arc on its side and what do you have? The letter C! Topple the letter C and what do you have? The arc of the rainbow. Coincidence? I think not."
3.3 My somewhat flippant remark that, thematically, C., based on a bit of visual symbolic logic, felt like a WWI prequel to Gravity's Rainbow's WWII now seems prescient. As if to confirm this, McCarthy names his protagonist in Satin Island 'U.', a further flipping of our visual arc. An upside down Gravity's Rainbow would be one in which there are no structures of meaning determining every aspect of our lives, but rather the meaning of the world is only what we can impose upon it, and, at the end, the world is too vast (too fast) for us to impose any real and lasting meaning on it.
3.4 (The fact that Melanie Jackson, Mr. Pynchon's wife, is McCarthy's U.S. agent does nothing to counter this observation. But I digress.)
3.4 (Now I digress further. Does this mean McCarthy's next novel will flip the visual symbol of the arc a further quarter turn so that it will somehow involve the logical symbol for material implication, the 'if-then' operator, the conditional: ⊃ ?
3.5 How about this? Motif: Causality, the principle at work in the greater world though not necessarily the human heart. Theme: This is how you know the world is real, you can do things that cause other things to happen in it. Tom?
3.6 Just saying. ;-))
3.7 In David Haglund's New Yorker piece about Satin Island, he recalls Zadie Smith's critical essay comparing Remainder with Joseph O'Neill's Netherland, and points out the sly irony of McCarthy's ending Satin Island at the Staten Island Ferry terminal while Netherland ends on the ferry itself.
3.7 I won't go over that ground again mainly because Satin Island calls to mind another novel where the protagonist flees a situation he doesn't fully comprehend and winds up on a ferry: Emmanuel Carrère's The Mustache. (If you don't know it, find a copy now and read it. There is also a movie directed by the author which you can find on the Web (if you know how to look). See it, too.)
3.8 Short synopsis: One day the hero decides to shave off his mustache. No one notices. He becomes increasingly suspicious of a conspiracy against him. He feels his identity slipping, and his paranoia grows until his sanity seems at stake. He flees Paris for, ultimately, Hong Kong where he winds up riding the Kowloon Ferry back and forth across the harbor over and over again.
3.9 Enough.

4 U., McCarthy's protagonist, is an academic, an anthropologist, who works for a London consulting firm. A big picture kind of guy. He seems to know little, however, about the company he works for and doesn't seem to have a particularly clear sense of his remit within it. He is put on a project—of which his company has a small piece—he does not fully comprehend. He doesn't even know quite how his own contribution fits into the overall scheme of his firm's aspect of the project, but he has some hearsay evidence that the greater project will somehow affect 'everything'.
4.1 His mercurial, enigmatic boss encourages U. to pursue his intellectual passion (when he's not otherwise occupied) which is a Present Tense Anthropology or an Anthropology of the Now, aka the "Great Report" (GR, anybody?). Something we are led to believe cannot be accomplished. A fool's errand.
4.2 U. has a colleague with an equally obscure, vague job description. They are 'big picture' guys stuck in the basement of a corporate consulting culture, presumably there to provide context for the company's clients.
4.3 U. also has a girlfriend (of sorts) and a dying friend.
4.4 U. travels to business conferences where he meets with mixed reactions to his vague ideas. He pursues random thoughts and, importantly, images down the rabbit-holes of research and the internet: e.g., the deaths of parachutists, oil slicks.
4.5 There is a randomness to his life, a disorientation.
4.5 It's almost as if McCarthy is saying that the way into the world isn't some systematic foray, it's serendipitous. Higglety-pigglety. Write everything, no matter how seemingly insignificant, down—the mantra of U.'s anthropologist (that dying 'science') heroes Claude Lévi-Strauss and Bronislaw Malinowski—then try to figure it out later.
4.6 Unfortunately, as Wittgenstein and systematic logic teaches us, the only way to make sense of it all is outside of the system you are trying to observe and describe. In the human case 'after' means after life; it means dying first: meta-physics, if you will.
4.7  (And, apparently, U. is not yet ready or willing to take that next step—as evidenced by his unwillingness to flow with the faceless crowd onto the (Stygian?) ferry. He accepts his life with all its anxiety and disorientation, and he determines to go on, to live with his discomfort—a true Beckettian anti-hero.)
4.8 And McCarthy does have some trenchant criticism for the Christian view of things, which is one historical attempt at an extra-systemic (or metaphysical) explanation of things. The minister at his friend's funeral tries to console those gathered with the standard platitudes and bromides, but "everything that was said about Petr was wrong. I don't mean that it was wrongly nuanced or beside the point or missing the essence of his character or anything like that. I mean that it was simply, in a factual sense, false. ... I just sat there, seething with quiet fury that this act of personal and cosmic fraudulence would never be requited." (SI, 152)
4.9 Also for the 'ever-popular tortured artist effect:' McCarthy gives himself, the writer/artist no quarter. His girlfriend, Madison, lets U. know she was stuck once in the same Turin airport where U. begins the novel but is cagey about telling him the circumstances. Eventually he wangles her story out of her: she was subjected to some very real physical and psycho-sexual torture due to her protest at a global capital summit; this in stark contrast to U.'s existential angst over his Great Report.

5 The central image—in a book full of images (always a strength of McCarthy's!)—is that of U.'s dream of Satin Island.
5.1 Here it is:
"I was flying...over a harbour by a city. It was a great, imperial city, the world's greatest—all of them, from all periods: Carthage, London, Alexandria, Vienna, Byzantium and New York, all superimposed on one another the way things are in dreams. We'd left the city and were flying above the harbour. This was full of bustle: tug-boats, steams, yachts, you name it, bobbing and crisscrossing in water whose ridges and wave-troughs glinted in the sun, though it was nighttime. Out in the harbour—some way out, separated from the city by swathes of this choppy water—was an excrescence, a protuberance, a lump: an island. Was it man-made? Possibly. Its sides rose steeply from the sea; they were constructed of cement, or old bricks. The island was dark in hue; yet, like the sea, it seemed somehow lit up. As we approached it—flying quite low, parallel to the water—the building on it loomed larger and larger. These buildings—huge, derelict factories whose outer walls and rafters, barely intact, recalled the shells of bombed cathedrals—ran one into the next to form a single giant, half-ruined complex that covered the island's entire surface area. Inside this complex, rubbish was being burnt: it was a trash-incinerating plant. Giant mountains of the stuff were piled up in its great, empty halls, rising in places almost to where the ceiling would have been. They were being burnt slowly, from th inside, with a smoulder, rather than roaring, fire. Whence the glow: like embers when you poke them, the mounds' surfaces, where cracked or worn through by the heat, were oozing a vermilion shade of yellow. It was this glowing ooze, which hinted at a deeper, almost infinite reserve of yet-more-glowing ooze inside the trash-mountain's main body, that made the scene so rich and vivid, filled it with a splendour that was regal. Yes, regal—that was the strange thing: if the city was the capital, the seat of empire, then this island was the exact opposite, the inverse—the other place, the feeder, filterer, overflow-manager, the dirty, secreted-away appendix without which the body-proper couldn't function; yet it seemed it its very degradation, more weirdly opulent than the capital it served. We were homing right in on it now: descending in our chopper through the factory-cathedral's shell, skimming the rubbish-piles as walls and rafters towered above us, gazing in awe and fascination at the glowing ooze, its colours as they morphed from vermilion yellow to mercurial silver, then on to purple, umber, burnt sienna, the foil-like flashing of its folds and gashes as light flowed across them. And, as we skimmed and veered and marvelled, a voice—the helicopter pilot's maybe, or some kind of commentator, or perhaps, as before with the roller-blader half-dream, just my own—announced clearly and concisely: Satin Island." (SI, 141-43)
5.2 Try this on for size: The heart is a smoldering dreamscape over which the self floats, the great world's ruined garbage dump: Satin Island. Its objective correlative, Staten Island, can only be approached at one's peril, for as one does the world (of the self) dissolves into a silent, pixellated tin flash of sun dazzle.
5.3 (Want more literary trash talk: have some Eliot, Pynchon, Gass, DeLillo, Beckett, and Ammons (from 2008)).
5.3 U. is not on some internal quest to find himself, as was the nameless narrator of Remainder. Nor is he on some pilgrimage to find the meaning of the world, as was C. He, his identity, is assumed, given; his Being is bracketed, in Heidegger-speak, and U. is seeking the tantalizing but elusive name of the world.
À propos of nothing, Query: How does one pronounce U.'s boss's name, Peyman? Is it "Pie-man", as in 'Simple Simon met a ...'? or is it "Pay-man", as in ...? Well, you get the picture.

11 March 2015

Let's Talk About Cars

Here's Lee Rourke in his 2010 novel, THE CANAL (Melville House):
"'It's an Audi TT 225 Quattro Coupe. It's a powerful little machine able to explode from zero to sixty in six point six seconds flat. A top speed of one hundred and fifty-one miles per hour. Although, I'm positive I've pushed it further. It's specified in pearl-effect black with a grey leather interior. But the wheels—perfect seven and a half by seventeen inch rims. People would turn heads whenever I sped by. It's really my ultimate machine. You should see the engine—seventeen eighty-one cc's in size, gleaming all year round.'
"'It's simple: we are technology—we rival nature. We are able to mould ourselves into something superior. Put simply, my car means more to me than any other thing I can think of..." [p. 58]
"'I had to do it. I saw him and...I had to obliterate him from my life. I had to make him obsolete. There was no other option...It felt good, butterflies in my stomach, that type of thing, some call it a buzz...My god, the sound of the engine as I approached him, dropping a gear, there was nothing I could do except hit him.'
"'He didn't matter. We don't matter. If you could have felt what I felt behind that wheel—just the rumble, the slight tremor of surface movement, of things, bitumen, passing beneath me. The speed...the engine growling...We are limited. We need something more, we need that added extra in life. Technology provides all we need. Technology dominates a large part of our unique relationship with the exterior world. I have never wanted to hide behind technology. I have always wanted to use it, to control it, to display it. It has always puzzled me why one would want to hide one's hearing aid away from the world. Why do that? Do you understand? It is an extension. That's all. Part of us...All of us should understand that technology will be the death of us, not our saviour...It's leaving us all behind. I am just repeating the obvious.'" [p. 66] Lee Rourke, THE CANAL
Now here's me, in my as yet unagented, unpublished novel EULOGY (which was requested and is currently in the hands of an agent at Writer's House in its totality. Waiting...waiting...)
"The car, a bare-bones airport rental with nothing to speak of for acceleration—not that I could use it now—crept along the jammed expressway. I slammed my palms against the steering wheel. There had been no signs to alert me to the delays. I glanced at the digital clock on the dashboard: 7:39. Worthless piece of shit! I was so used to being a passenger in an unending series of cabs and trains I could never again feel at ease behind the wheel of an automobile.
"There was a book I had read in college, a book of poetry. I couldn't remember who it was by. Some obscure younger poet. A vanity pressing, maybe. What was it called? Something about people and cars. Rivers of Rust. Seeing the stream of traffic strung out before me on the highway put me in mind of it. The extended metaphor of the long poem—or series of poems, I forget—posited a world in which human beings had evolved an automobile-like exoskeleton: homo automobili or some such. And these car-people flowed along the rivulets and creeks and streams and rivers of their new roadway world until they gave out and were junked and their shells cannibalized for parts. Maybe it was called Driven. It might have been an allegory about death, I don't know. I was never very apt at literature. I looked at my watch. It was nearly one o'clock and I had, under the best of conditions, another half-hour's drive ahead of me. The funeral was at two. This felt nothing like poetry.
"A greasy drizzle confounded the two speeds of the car's windshield wipers: they either squeaked across dry glass or smeared the spatters of water in blurry arcs across my field of vision. To make time, I drove along the right shoulder of the road wherever I could and took every exit and sped down each on-ramp, waiting to merge with the stalled stream of traffic until forced to do so by a bridge abutment or signage or other roadside obstruction. I knew I was pissing off the other drivers who didn't have the balls to do what I was doing, but I didn't care. They would have to deal with their own timidity and jealousy. I had a funeral to make. Their rules did not apply to me." [ms pp. 244-45] Jim H., EULOGY.


(as mentioned in THE CANAL)

06 March 2015

This Week in Water

It's official: NOAA has announced the arrival of El Niño, a warming of temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that affects weather and climate in various ways around the globe.

Arctic sea ice is thinning faster than previously thought.

For only the second time in its history, the Alaska Iditarod sled race had to change its starting point due to poor or no snowfall and rivers that did not freeze due to warming weather.

Here's a graphic depiction of the decline of Arctic sea ice from 1987-2014. (from NOAA)(h/t)

At the other pole of the globe, glacial melting and retreating ice makes Antartica 'Ground Zero' of global climate change.

Not only are the oceans rising, many land areas are sinking, dramatically increasing the incidence of flooding. This phenomenon, known as subsidence, is beginning to be felt in many coastal cities of the U.S. East Coast, including Norfolk and the Chesapeake Bay and Miami.

Mars apparently once had oceans that covered up to one-fifth of the planet's surface. NASA has taken pictures of frosty slopes on the Red Planet.

Though the Earth's oceans are becoming increasingly more acidic, scientists are now able to map pH levels using satellite data and are finding that the acidity is unevenly distributed. Open ocean areas are more alkaline (basic).

As previously reported, Sao Paulo, Brazil, the world's 12th largest mega-city will run out of water (pop. 20,000,000) before Summer—unless something changes drastically.

Drought-weakened Amazonian forests absorb less carbon from the atmosphere—the same issue facing acidifying oceans.

Droughts can lead to famines. Who knew?

Methane leaking craters are proliferating in Siberia due to thawing of permafrost.

PNC Financial Services Group is scaling back its financing of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.

Maybe my favorite thing: the world's first wave-generating power grid station was switched on in Australia. It not only generates power, it desalinates water—with ZERO EMISSIONS. Good on ya', Mates!

Maybe my second favorite thing: An octopus in a lab at Middlebury College took a GoPro camera that scientists had placed in its tank and took a picture of its captors. [Grigori v. Katje, anyone?] Okay, it's my favorite!

Female sticklebacks in the North Sea prime their offspring to cope with climate change. Scientists also discovered a deepsea microorganism that hasn't evolved in more than 2 billion years. Meanwhile, citing Old Testament scripture from Genesis 8:22 as authority, a man with real political power, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma who not coincidently chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee now that Republicans have taken control of the Senate, used a snowball he'd brought into the chambers from outside the Capitol to refute the existence of climate change.