Tuesday, December 21, 2021
Florida Man So Far
Have some deadpan with your coffee. Check out Idiocy, Ltd. You will laugh dust.
Posted by Eric Mader at 2:56 PM No comments:
Labels: Florida man, headlines, the best
Sunday, December 12, 2021
Everybody’s read The Catcher in the Rye. Which is unfortunate in a way. It’s one of those Books with a Big Idea on Society (TM), and though the Big Idea was maybe striking in the 1950s, since the ‘60s, well, we’re all pretty much one version or another of Holden Caulfield. But the real reason it’s unfortunate is that this first novel is not Salinger’s main work. Who would bother to reread the book unless he had to?
Rereading Salinger this past month convinces me that The Catcher in the Rye really needn’t be read at all. For those who haven’t read Salinger, I’d suggest just skipping it. The worthwhile Salinger is Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey—where, of course, the Glass family appears in all its messy glory.
Salinger’s main achievement came in chasing about his child prodigies, the Glass children, staging their cognitive sophistication against the background of their oddly normal New York childhoods. But his theme isn’t just gifted kids in a messy home. Elder brother Seymour’s religious quest, the way it impinges upon his brilliant younger siblings, adds the third key element of tenson. Through most of the work, Seymour himself is absent, dead in fact, but nonetheless drives the others. The final pages of Franny and Zooey wonderfully cement his stature as teacher.
These three elements (sibling child prodigies + rough and tumble New York + serious religious quest) make for a tough balancing act. And it’s this, I’d say, that makes Salinger’s last published work Seymour—An Introduction a failure for most readers. I.e., unlike the rest, it doesn’t balance. Narrator Buddy Glass, bubbling with juvenile energy in the verbal register, is simply not convincing given that at the time of narration he is in fact a pudgy 40-year-old academic. The takeaway: Salinger can give his children a virtually impossible sophistication—it definitely works—but he can’t make an adult, in this case Buddy, a convincing childlike voice.
Still Sallinger’s last volume is worth reading: Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour have their high points: some of the character portraits in the former; Seymour’s literary life, his poetics, in the latter. But yes, long stretches of Seymour (the attempts to describe his appearance) shouldn’t have seen print.
Many Salinger fans regret that though he continued writing he didn’t continue publishing. I’m going to guess he knew what he was doing. Any artist knows when his work is just a rehashing of things he’s done better before, and he knows not to impose that rehashing on the world. Unless that artist is a rock band.
To conclude: Start with Nine Stories, then read Franny and Zooey. The rest mostly pales in comparison. Leave Holden Caulfield with his gripes on the shelf: Holden is a period piece and, for us, almost ancient history. His society is no longer ours, a fact we should regret. Why? The “fakes” Holden had to deal with were not, like our current fakes, dangerous to life, limb and basic liberty.
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Posted by Eric Mader at 12:43 PM No comments:
Labels: essential Salinger, Glass family, Salinger
Friday, December 10, 2021
Poseidon Retires “Transitory”
Your sister, Laodamas, is a dividend aristocrat, but I’m afraid I must abstain. I am Odysseus, son of Laertes, and Ithaca is my goal.
We embarked from the dusty plains of Troy, the tailwinds sped us on. Perhaps it was that led us to fall for the Lemonade hype. We awoke hungover on the coast of Ismarus, wailing Cicones approaching with spears. Maybe Upstart?
Polyphemus had the foresight to shift into commodities, but he didn’t see it through. If you know what I mean.
Frothy valuations carried my fleet across the wine dark wastes. But we ignored PE, ended scuttled in a sheltered harbor, our vessels smashed by hungry Laestrygonians.
Many a shipmate was cooked on a spit, eaten before my eyes.
Zeus still didn’t taper.
We came to the floating island of Cramer, whose wind gave us hope for a time, then blew us back. To the floating island of Cramer.
Circe and her maids gave us cheer and the delta variant. Natural emergence or lab leak? Porcine transformations notwithstanding, we guessed the latter.
Hades, Inc. has a wide moat, even Ocean. Does a vigorous business with vigorless clients. The blind CFO leaked us some Inside Info.
Back in Aeaea. Should I stay? I don’t stay.
We skirted the sweet song of Crypto, and soon the Straits came into view.
Talk about a supply-chain crunch! A huge octopus to one side, a yelping six-headed crab to the other.
We made it through, only to be stranded with the IPOs of the Sun.
I told my men to lay no finger upon them, but their semi stocks dragging, they bit.
Finally I was alone, adrift. I washed ashore on Ogygia, half dead. Calypso of the braided tresses nursed me back to health, offered me eternal youth and a simple Index ETF like SPY. I declined.
For Penelope my wife and Ithaca—rugged, brave Ithaca!
Oh if only I’d tasted that lotus.
I’ve now a third in cash, Eumaeus, waiting for the crash. Then I go back in.
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Posted by Eric Mader at 2:44 AM No comments:
Labels: stock market, The Odyssey
Saturday, November 20, 2021
Introduction to Viktor Shklovsky
Humans broke their knowledge into shards in order to learn to talk, to talk out loud.
Or else, to construct a whole, a unity from the shards.
There are places in the mountains where the rocks respond to a shout by a landslide.
There, the stones teach you poetry, teach you how to rhyme. --Shklovsky (c. 1983)
Alexandra Berlina's Viktor Shklovsy: A Reader makes for a really sumptuous introduction to the harried Russian critic, now best known as the man who first theorized defamiliarization as key to literary art.
Berlina is a wonderful editor, and selects from the whole range of Shklovsky's texts, critical or novelistic, often including things not otherwise available in English. The portrait that emerges is of a keenly persistent survivor, daring and muted by turns. The sections of memoir included, especially from A Sentimental Journey, capture everyday life during the revolutionary period in Shklovsky's sharp, prismatic prose. Selected letters bring out the disjunctions and pained miscommunications of a writer slipping in and out of Russia, nowhere quite at home. The volume catches Shklovsky's memories of Jakobson, Babel, Mandelstam and others.
Shklovksy lived a long life of writing, and in later years came to qualify some of his early Formalist claims. No matter, both the early claims and his later second thoughts (some of which were doubtless intended to appease Soviet authorities) show him always working at the same basic problems: the important ones. Like many great critics, he kept returning to the same handful of great writers to test his thinking: Tolstoy, Cervantes, and Sterne preeminent.
Shlovsky's prose, his edgy, jarring paragraphs, are unique, somehow both precise and slapdash. A great Russian who comes out in clear outline in Ms. Berlina's solid collection.
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Posted by Eric Mader at 1:44 PM No comments:
Labels: Alexandra Berlina, Reader, Viktor Shklovsky
Thursday, October 14, 2021
Every time you cross a city street you feel like you’re disappearing. Or rather, you feel that way just as you're reaching the other side. There’s a reason for it. It’s because every time you cross a street you’re hit by a car and killed. In at least one universe, you’re killed. But in at least one other universe the car misses you, and so you go on—feeling you’ve half disappeared.
The feeling wears off. Usually within seconds. The new universe is already growing on you, which is what universes do. Until you come to another road, with its cars and buses, another hit and miss.
But forget about cars. That’s just a teaser. The feeling you’ve half disappeared, which really occurs nearly every waking moment--isn’t it evidence that you’re always disappearing, every moment, but that something of you hangs on by hook or crook in every possible universe?
But forget about universes. That too is just teaser. The stuff of B-movies. In fact this whole piece so far is a B-movie. The real hook and crook are elsewhere.
“I am the bread of life,” He said.
Posted by Eric Mader at 12:12 PM 1 comment:
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
GPT-3: Who should be in charge?
Finally a computer game worth playing. Problem is, it’s still off-limits to the public. It’s called GPT-3, and Meghan O’Gieblyn writes it up in N+1.
GPT-3 is a language system model that has ingested most of the English-language Internet and through deep learning draws on the collected data to generate plausible human texts. In other words, it’s AI that can write strikingly humanish texts in any chosen genre. The results are (sorry, but the adjective is inevitable) surreal.
So far GPT-3 can mimic human writing at the level of sentence and paragraph. With prompts, it can mimic styles. This means, for instance, that GPT-3, fed an English translation of Proust, could rewrite it as a cowboy western. Which is maybe the first thing I’d get it to do.
It would be endless fun creating projects for this Beast. And probably soon I’d think of ways to get in trouble.
O’Gieblyn’s article touches on a lot, though for me the psychoanalytical models weigh a bit too heavily in her big picture. Still, it’s hard to blame her. The psyche according to Freud and Co. really does offer an obvious referent for posing many of the questions this Beast’s presence provokes.
When the name Borges appeared in her piece, “The Library of Babel”, I thought “Yes, too bad he’s no longer with us.” He’d be the one to put in charge of managing GPT-3 prompts and R&D and publications going forward. And he’d resist the predictable psychoanalytic mire.
In any case (and I know people are already thinking along these lines) the next task should be to get the Beast to recognize and then be able to mimic narrative categories: hero, plot, suspense, climax, etc. One might start with, say, the morphology of the folk tale as laid out by Propp and followers, and build from there. GPT-4, then -5.
It’s evident that just as deep fakes pose potential problems at the level of imagery, this kind of linguistic AI poses problems at the level of text. I’m thinking here more of the social and political realm than of issues like copyright. It is, after all, a Beast that is beginning to awake in these technologies. We have no reason, besides, to trust the Silicon Valley titans now forging them.
Which is why, finally, they should just put poets and writers in charge.
Read O’Gieblyn’s piece.
Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. and begin the long, hard reckoning.
Posted by Eric Mader at 2:01 PM No comments:
Labels: AI, deep learning, GPT-3, Meghan O'Gieblyn
Sunday, October 3, 2021
The novelty of being here is starting to wear off. I know that’s an absurd statement on the face of it, given that I’ve been here more than two decades. “Novelty”? That I could use the word in regards to Taiwan--I suppose it reveals something of my character: compared to most people, my enthusiasms move and develop in geologic time.
Still, slow as I am to change, my love for Taipei is wearing thin. The roads always blocked by blockheads double-parking; the constant racket; the hardware stores and pharmacies with aisles so tight you can’t turn around without knocking things from the shelf; the crowded sidewalks, now with women pushing their dogs around in oversized baby strollers--and finally, this cursed tonal language that still, after decades of my singing along, leads to misunderstandings.
The Taiwanese are wonderful, yes, impressive in every way; you can’t beat the Taiwanese. But the space they’re crammed into, that’s another thing.
I did move house a few months ago, out of one of the city’s most double-parked districts. The new place I moved into was “christened” almost immediately. Within a week or so of getting settled I was shaken awake one morning by an earthquake. Then a major typhoon hit, which caused the ceiling in one room to leak.
But these things don’t really bother me. What bothers me is the piling up of annoyances in public space. The feeling of being constantly harried by inevitable nuisances that are no one’s fault, given the population density.
Whenever I arrive in Taiwan after being abroad I’m always greeted by the unique scent of the air. I’ve noticed it every time, starting from my first visit. The air of Taiwan smells of a faint mixture of car exhaust and rotting fruit. Sounds awful, but there’s something attractive in it, something that always cheers me as I leave the airport. For decades this scent has carried a certain promise, and that promise has largely been fulfilled.
If I left Taiwan I know I’d miss it, probably within a month after leaving. Were I to move back to the US, at this stage, I’d be in a somewhat foreign country, a land now made up of two distinct tribes, with rank idiots everywhere, especially in the leftward tribe. I’d join with the mostly sane tribe (with its small corners of idiots too) and try to do my part to save our tottering Republic.
Taiwan's subtropical climate, which I’ve not really mentioned, only exacerbates every annoyance I’ve cited above. It is a climate suited for mold and fungus more than for humans.
Posted by Eric Mader at 4:43 PM 2 comments:
Friday, October 1, 2021
It’s true that back in the day a guy could get arrested for writing this genre. Go ahead: check FBI records if you don’t believe me. That was before my time, granted, but I’ve heard about it. They’d wait for you on the corner.
“That looks like some funny enjambment you got there.” And: “We’re taking you in.”
Still, if you ask me, I’ve been rereading some of the old timers, and some of these guys were arrested without cause. Far too prolix. It was short essays they wrote, not prose poems. It was cryptic narratives at best.
If you ask me.
Thing is, one needs to wreck the china shop with the smallest possible bull--a bull the size of a shoe, but still recognizable as bull.
You step in the door, you set the bull down, and already shelves begin to fall.
That’s what this crime is about, David Lehman. Your anthology is way too fat. Most of these guys, they'd never get into Sing Sing.
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Posted by Eric Mader at 12:33 PM No comments:
Labels: anthology, David Lehman, prose poem
Saturday, September 11, 2021
Biden’s 9/11 Anniversary Speech Leaked
Leaked text of the speech the president plans to give:
“Today we come together as Americans to commemorate a sad day in our history. It was two years ago today, September 11, 2019, that a mysterious virus jumped from an animal to a person in a wet market. I won’t name the country where that wet market is located, because they’ve instructed me not to.
“But the thing is, that virus spread. And in two short years, it has changed the world. Though we still don’t know what kind of animal transmitted it, there’s one thing we’re certain of. That animal had been driven from its natural habitat by the ravages of climate change.
“How many have we lost to this scourge? The numbers are staggering. But it stops today. My administration has promised to leave no American behind, and we won’t. That’s why I’m strengthening our mask mandates and making vaccines mandatory for all federal workers and most workers in the private sector.
“These vaccines are safe, and they work. If you’re vaccinated, you are fully protected from getting the virus, unless you are around unvaccinated people, in which case they might spread it to you and you might spread it to others. Though of course, if you’re vaccinated you can’t spread it to others if they’re wearing a mask.
“We must not betray all those who’ve already sacrificed so much in this battle. Which is why I’ve chosen to announce these new policies today, a day that Americans will never forget.”
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Posted by Eric Mader at 10:30 AM No comments:
Labels: 9/11, Afghanistan, Biden, satire
Sunday, August 29, 2021
A President for our Enemies
Posted by Eric Mader at 3:29 PM No comments:
Labels: Afghanistan, Biden, meme
Friday, August 27, 2021
It’s hard to believe what we’re witnessing. It's hard to believe it’s even possible. I try to imagine what the planning meetings must have been like to lead to so avoidable a debacle. I try to imagine Joe Biden at these meetings, in his role as "president", pretending to fill that role, like a Pekingese posing as a Dobermann. Because all of this was, believe it or not, the result of planning.
Our generals may often be mendacious (the grotesque Milley) but they are not fools. The problem is this: How explain such military incompetence? What can account for it other than misguided political directives--our generals deferring, as they must, to the orders of an impatient, disconnected Commander-in-Chief? Go ahead. Try to make sense of it otherwise. You can't.
What I've been wondering is: What would such deference look like at the table, as it was taking place?
Below is my best shot at such a scenario. Yes, there are touches of satire, but actually--what if things really played out something like this? And again, if they didn’t, well, how else account for a planning process and chain of command that let so many glaring contingencies be ignored?
Of course my piece is only speculation. But taking into consideration 1) military realities vs. 2) Biden’s own political priorities and tetchy personality, something like this seems plausible. Whence the decision to withdraw all our troops before clearing the $80 billion of hardware from our bases or securing American civilians? Even a child could see that this is the opposite of a sane withdrawal.
I’m in my fifties. There’s nothing that’s happened in my lifetime that comes close to this. The Iran hostage crisis? That was a terrible event indeed, but not a strategic catastrophe. Biden's Afghan drawdown may well be the most inept policy manouver in our history. And it pains me at multiple levels. It pains me for the Americans left behind, now stranded, absurdly dependant on the Taliban (!) for their safety. It pains me for the Afghan civilians who worked with us and trusted us, and now face certain death. It pains me for the sheer shame of such incompetence. But it pains me also because I'm an American living in Taiwan, with loved ones here in Taiwan, an important US ally, and the totalitarian bullies in China are already using this Afghan walkout to threaten Taiwan's democracy.
"See?" the Chinese press now screams. "The Americans may have their Taiwan Relations Act, they may be your ally, but when push comes to shove, you see what they will do."
Many Taiwanese don't believe it. Others, however, are unsure. My point, however, is a wider one. The fallout of Biden's grave misadventure is global. It is already casting a long shadow over our alliances, one that won't be easy to dispel.
Conference table in White House Situation Room, sometime in July. Biden seated at the head with a glass of milk in front of him. Flanking him on the left, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and another general. To Biden’s right, VP Harris, the CIA Director, and Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
BIDEN: Okay. So we’re ready to roll out of there. I called this meeting today just to be sure we’re all on the same page.
MILLEY: We’re prepared to implement withdrawal next month, Mr. President. Everything’s on schedule.
AUSTIN: We’re still coordinating some of the steps, as I told you yesterday, sir, but everything is nearly set.
GENERAL 2: I do see an issue we need to address, Mr. President. The Afghan troops have seen a delay in their salaries. It’s now been--
BIDEN: Well, I heard about that, from Lloyd. That’s up to the Afghan government now. We’re not going to be in charge.
GENERAL 2: Yes, but if you’ll allow me, Mr. President, we don’t want to have a situation where Afghan troops suddenly doubt they’ll be paid going forward. A lot of them live paycheck to paycheck.
BIDEN: Again, it’s not our business. I’ve spoken to the Afghan president, and he’s already taking care of that. They have to learn how to manage these things. [takes sip of milk]
CIA: Mr. President, it is true—
BIDEN: Excuse me a second. [rings buzzer; woman steps in] ... Susan, I wanted warm milk. This is room temperature.
SUSAN: Sorry, Mr. President. [takes glass]
BIDEN: You were saying?
CIA: I was saying that in our assessment, that a hiatus in pay for those soldiers, it could lead to desertions. And--
BIDEN: Aw, c’mon. They love their country just like you and I.
CIA: Well, Mr. President, something similar did happen in Iraq if you remember. When Paul Bremer went in, they made the mistake of discontinuing salary for regular Iraqi soldiers. It was a big mistake. It ended pushing a lot of them to ISIS.
BIDEN: Well, we’re not going to have that problem here. Because Karzai will take care of it.
GENERAL 2: Karzai?
BIDEN: Yes, I just talked to him two days ago. Good man.
LLOYD: You must mean Ghani, sir. Ghani is Afghan president now.
BIDEN: Yes, Ghani. Whatever. [laughs] I’ve been at this so long now, I sometimes mix up names.
CIA: So it’s your understanding, Mr. President, that we can trust President Ghani to get those salaries out to the soldiers before we withdraw. That he knows how crucial it is. You spoke with him about this personally?
BIDEN: He knows he has to. It’s his country.
GENERAL 2: Mr. President, I don’t mean to insist here, but we do need to keep an eye on this. We need to ensure Ghani is following through on this salary thing. We need to get it fixed, I’d say, before the end of July. We can’t have the Afghan army starting to doubt--
BIDEN: They won’t doubt. The Afghan army will be fine. [woman comes in and sets down warm milk] … Okay then. Back to business on other things. Mark, I expect all the troops to be moved out well before the middle of August. Will that be possible?
MILLEY: Um … We can certainly have many of the troops in the capital ready for departure.
BIDEN: I don’t want many. I want all. I want all our boys out. By mid-August.
MILLEY: There is still, Mr. President, the issue decommissioning the bases. We have a lot of hardware we need to move out, so there will be a certain troop presence needed to assist with that.
BIDEN: I don’t care about hardware. Listen to me. I want the boys out of there. Do you understand? The Afghan army can help us later with bringing the hardware out. The key is, I want the boys out first. I don’t want a single life lost during the withdrawal. That’s priority.
MILLEY: Yes, I understand, sir. I will take care of it.
CIA: Nonetheless, and of course I defer to the generals on this, but if I may say so, it’s not advisable to allow our bases, full of hardware, to just sit open like that. That’s what we call--
BIDEN: Listen. The bases won’t be open. Isn’t anyone hearing me here? We have the Afghan army to protect the bases. This isn’t Iraq. The Taliban has agreed not to move until we’re out, so we’ll have no problem getting out.
[pause; president looks around for confirmation]
CIA: But the only way the Taliban will honor that commitment, sir, I mean their commitment not to move, is if they know we are capable of striking them.
BIDEN: The Taliban won’t move. C’mon, man. They’re outnumbered by the Afghan army that we’ve been training for years. How are they gonna move? General Milley, you can speak for me here. The Afghan army is ready.
MILLEY: To the best of our knowledge, sir. They are a force to be reckoned with.
BIDEN: Good. Let these Taliban reckon with them. I want our American soldiers all back by the end of the month, nobody hurt, so that come September 11 we can celebrate finally ending this war. I want to use this to bring people together, to show them that we’re in control. [takes sip of milk; winces; hits buzzer with a smack; woman enters again] … Susan, what in the hell? Are you trying to burn my lips off here? I wanted warm milk. Do you people understand warm? [Susan apologizes, takes milk; leaves] … Ouch. That really was hot! … So, where were we now?
MILLEY: You were saying, Mr. President, that we need to do this withdrawal carefully and get it done on time. So. It can be done, and in terms of the bases--
BIDEN: It can be done. That’s what I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying here. I don’t want any casualties. And I don’t want you to think about the bases at all until our troops are out. I don’t want to hear any more about the bases. Got it? [looks at VP] … You’re quiet today.
HARRIS [breaks into Harris laugh]: Oh, I’m just waiting.
BIDEN: Waiting? For what?
HARRIS: I’m … I’m like you, Mr. President. I’m waiting for this to be over. [flashes glance at Milley] I mean, we’ve been there too long. I agree that we should get out by deadline, if it’s possible. And that the troops are priority.
BIDEN: Well, they are.
CIA: Mr. President, there will be many American civilians both in the capital and other areas. They will likely want out too. We should perhaps plan the security situation immediately following our initial troop withdrawal.
BIDEN: There will be time for that. Anyhow, people there will know we’re pulling out, so they’ll have to make that decision for themselves. Many Americans may want to stay.
[a faint cell phone beep is heard; everyone looks at Milley]
BIDEN: You’re looking at your phone. What is it?
MILLEY: Oh, nothing, sir. Instagram notification.
BIDEN: Insta…? What’s that? Military?
MILLEY: Uh, kind of. It’s related, sir.
[HARRIS tries to stifle laugh; General 2 looks glum; Susan comes in with warm milk]
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Posted by Eric Mader at 12:18 PM No comments:
Labels: 2021, Afghanistan, Biden, failure, planning, policy, withdrawal
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Psaki Heads to Afghanistan on “Confidence Mission”
After widespread backlash for her claim that no Americans are “stranded” in Afghanistan, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki realized that she had a credibility problem on her hands.
“It actually seems some Americans don’t trust our negotiations with the Taliban,” Psaki wrote in a heartfelt Facebook post Tuesday. “As if the Biden administration is incompetent, or that we’re lying somehow. It’s so discouraging!”
To prove skeptics wrong and shore up confidence in the president, Psaki announced today that she will fly personally to Kabul to visit with Americans waiting to leave.
“They are not stranded,” Psaki reiterated in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon after the announcement. “They are not in any danger. I will be in Kabul within days, and plan to visit with as many Americans as I can. First I’ll be asking them if they want to leave or not. Of course many may just want to stay. Kabul is a happening city. In any case, I’m mainly doing this to prove there’s no danger from the Taliban, because--c'mon!--there isn’t.”
Psaki said the president had already approved her mission.
”He was so cute about it. He said: ‘Go to Karachi if you want. Have fun.’”
Asked about her personal security during the Afghan stay, Psaki was taken aback.
“Listen, Don, I’ve just said there’s no danger,” she said. “My security will be minimal. I’ll do some shopping around Kabul, visit Americans, see if they want to leave, and probably have some photo-ops with young Talibans. It’ll be no problem, because the president has this totally under control.”
“It seems like a fun trip,” Lemon said. “I almost would like to go.”
“Well, maybe you can,” Psaki said. “It would be helpful to have at least one serious journalist along to document just how safe Kabul is.”
During Psaki’s temporary absence, Cardi B and Kathy Griffin are slated to take turns covering for her as press secretary, according to a White House source.
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Posted by Eric Mader at 11:42 AM No comments:
Sunday, August 22, 2021
So Biden is in charge of lunch, which is served at 1:00 p.m. He brings you a plate of fried eggs covered with swirls of toothpaste, then heads back into the kitchen. You call him out.
"This lunch is a disaster," you say.
"It’s not my fault," Biden says. "Trump is the one who decided lunch is served at 1:00."
“Huh? You put toothpaste on the eggs!”
“My advisors never told me not to put toothpaste on the eggs.”
Advisor appears in the door: “Sorry, Mr. President, but we’ve reminded you twice now that the toothpaste goes in the bathroom, next to the toothbrushes.”
“I don’t recall that,” Biden says. “And anyhow ... oral hygiene is an important goal. One we can all recognize and agree on. And I don’t know how you get clean teeth without toothpaste.”
“This lunch is a disaster,” you repeat.
“Well, I wouldn’t have made it any other way,” Biden says, straightening his apron. “I don't see how you can even eat lunch without teeth.”
“Where’s General Milley?” you ask.
Advisor, still in door: “He’s in a meeting with the Queer Americans of Color Alliance. Invited to speak on defeating white supremacy in the military.”
“But he’s supposed to be here.”
“It's an important meeting. It’s QACA.”
“Look," Biden says. "You just tell me how you get oral hygiene without toothpaste. Just tell me that!”
He shuffles defiantly back into the kitchen.
"I wouldn't drink that coffee," Advisor says, pointing to the cup in front of you.
"This is supposed to be coffee?"
"I get mine at Starbucks."
Advisor steps out.
Posted by Eric Mader at 4:15 PM No comments:
Labels: Joe Biden, Mark Milley, woke
Monday, August 16, 2021
Fauci: Taliban Poses No Threat to US
Speaking at the University of Pittsburgh today, NIH Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said that Americans needn’t worry about the Taliban seizing power in Afghanistan.
“We’ve reviewed countless photos and other information,” Fauci said, “and it’s clear to me that the Taliban practices strict masking and social distance rules. In short, Americans needn’t worry about the Taliban infecting other nations.”
Dr. Fauci showed various images of Taliban fighters practicing good COVID safety as they conducted their reign of terror over newly seized Afghan territory.
"Given the careful safety practices we see there, honestly, I foresee future opportunities to collaborate with them on viral research," he went on.
Asked about photos from the Afghan Presidential Palace showing Taliban commanders gathered without masks, Fauci said that was different.
“The leadership is a more sophisticated crowd, and in our assessment there’s little risk of spread. What threatens us at present isn’t sophisticated crowds gathering for special events, but things like people who gather to, say, ride motorcycles or go to church. It’s things like that we really need to be watching.”
Also today, CNN’s Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo wore Taliban headgear during their reporting to show recognition for the “brave Taliban fighters who still heed dire health realities,” as Cuomo said.
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Posted by Eric Mader at 2:26 PM No comments:
Labels: Anthony Fauci, CNN, masking, Taliban
Sunday, June 20, 2021
I’ve finally started reading Waugh, and, why not, I’ve begun with Brideshead Revisited. Really extraordinary.
I knew Brideshead would be “masterful”, but didn’t expect there’d be so much life in it. I suppose it’s my prejudice against the post-Victorian English, which led me always to imagine this book as largely a parade of pouty toffs. That it’s a deeply Catholic novel saves it. Class tics become entirely secondary to the book’s main burden: the quiet but irresistible flame of the Holy Spirit.
It’s as close as a novel gets to perfect. And wonderfully, there’s a great enigma at the heart of it—Lady Marchmain and the question of just what about her drives the others away, each of them to be dragged back to the faith she inculcated, on wildly various rock-strewn paths, by the workings of grace.
Waugh’s staging of the homoerotic theme is a wonder as well. He casts a spectrum, ranging from the toxic queen Anthony Blanche, to Sebastian, and finally to the narrator. But no major character in the novel stays quite put; none is a mere type. In this trio, even Blanche, the most stereotypical, ends up shining in his way, at his last meeting with Ryder where he eviscerates the latter’s South American canvases.
But I don’t intend to begin writing on the individual characters and what they see or can’t see. There’s so much to think through—a sense of real, living enigma.
I’d often read about Waugh’s style, and now experience it as reader. In fact it’s a kind of miracle. Waugh's prose is creamy and smooth, yet at the same time razor sharp. How is that done?
I’m grateful to Fr. Paul Mankowski. It was his 2017 essay on Waugh, also belatedly read and come upon by chance, that led me to begin reading.
Posted by Eric Mader at 2:06 PM No comments:
Labels: Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
Saturday, April 3, 2021
細緻的幸福,濃烈的快樂,它們閃爍得比艷陽下海平面一波波的白點奪目。而 當日光開始退色,溫和的深藍正悄悄地從海底渲染。還沒完全消失的陽光反射 在即將消逝的浪花尖端,呈現出一抹淡淡的萊姆黃,切斷了與沙灘原有的界 線,然後退去,接著重新來一遍。這副曖昧的景象就印照在你眼廉,這份純淨 的喜悅也隨著海浪聲流入了你的意識中,終於你忍不住的大叫出來:
嘟-----------就在不久前,你似乎有了新的超能力,說是能用念力讓視線裡人自爆,血肉模 糊的那種。剛開始,你盡可能的不要使用那個力量,一想到捷運站的清潔人員 要處裡那些血漬就令你罪惡,血乾在地板上是很難刷乾淨的,而還沒乾掉的也 很容易讓人滑倒, 「我用想像的就好了。」 你心裡是這麼想的,但卻沒想到就在你想的那一刻,你旁邊穿著校服且濃妝豔 抹的女高中生就這樣自爆了,捷運車廂瞬間漆上了一層不怎麼均勻的鮮紅,內 臟幾乎都被炸碎了,殘渣從牆上緩緩滑下,而小腸的一小截掛在你的肩上,你 是呆了,傻了,忽然竄出的腥味讓你忍不住就往博愛座上的老先生吐,之後你 迅速地深吸了一口氣,再試著慢慢呼出來,用沾滿血的袖子擦了擦一樣全是鮮 血的臉,然後又深吸一口氣,但這次卻感受到了平靜,於是你的聽覺才又被開 啟,原來警鈴響了。
隨著工作人員疏散的指示你離開了捷運站,回家的路上行人們都在偷偷地瞄 你,畢竟現在十二月底了,萬聖節也過了一段時間了,反正你倒是什麼也沒察 覺,自顧自地走,手卻還是緊緊握著拳頭,因為只要一放鬆一定又會抖個不 停。過了一個馬路,直走,看到粉橘色的磚牆右轉,那裏有一對年輕男女正上 演著依依不捨的戲碼,你並不陌生,畢竟他們每天都在那裡,有時你甚至會有
的想法。女孩的中長髮如一顆切開卻忘記抹鹽,忘記吃的蘋果,棕,髮尾稍稍 的捲著,耳垂上戴著一副銀色的垂吊式耳環,不時隨著風和身體的移動輕輕晃 著。男孩的手像是蟒蛇抑或藤蔓,盤繞在女孩的脖子,時而緊,時而又再讓對 方有些喘息的空間。但你始終沒看過他們的臉,那兩張臉是如此沉溺於對方身 上。經過他們,你在一棵盛開的九重葛左轉,柏油路上掉滿了桃紅色的花瓣, 你之前都會偷偷撿一片放進一樓的信箱,然後在下次跟妹妹一起出門時,跟她 打賭打開後信箱會有桃紅色的花瓣在裡面,她總會先露出不可思議的臉,然後 才開始懷疑是不是你放的,當然你就要表示出也很驚訝的表情,假裝自己真的 有什麼魔法般似的,暫時沉靜在與那奇幻世界最近距離的時刻。
你回到家,拖著感覺不到重量的身體走向浴室,慢慢地旋轉金色圓形手把,在 輕輕將門關上,將塞子堵住浴缸的排水孔,熱水隨之灌入,白色的水氣漸漸地 瀰漫整個空間。然後你脫去身上的衣物,用梳子梳了梳凝結的髮絲,你雙手撐 在鏡子前的水槽,盯著自己鏡子裡的嘴唇
雙腳踏進浴缸,再慢慢地將整個身體泡進去。以你為中心,有如一朵快速生長 的紅花,水被暈染成了血紅,像煙一樣彎曲地擴散著,而你突然就哭了,眼淚 不停不停流下,它們一個個溫柔地掉入了水平面,稀釋了一些本來的腥紅色, 多出了空隙,你將臉壓進這朵濕潤的大紅花,
也許你說對了,但不知為何,眼淚的溫度總是比任何液體都要在高。 你把原本的水放掉,然後又重新放了一次,這次你感到了無比的安心,你將頭 靠在浴缸微微凸起的邊緣,唱起歌來了:
L is for the way you look at me~
O is for the only one I see~
V is very very extraordinary~
E is even more than anyone that you adore can~
Love is all that I can give to you......
接下來幾個禮拜,市區裡的爆炸事件因你而增加,你越來越常披著一層鮮紅的 腥味回家,而人們也陷入了恐慌,但你卻比往常感到放鬆,不再那麼焦慮,偶 爾也能對於明天的到來抱著一些期待,不過還是覺得身體像是被掏空,卻很沉 重。這一天你一如往常地出門,但是就在中午吃飯時碰巧遇到了許久沒見的友 人,他先是朝你走來並打了聲招呼,然後順理成章地坐到你對面的位子。你們 聊了很多基本的話題,像是過得如何?最近在忙些什麼?你家的貓是不是又變 胖了?之後有什麼打算?等等的。吃完飯後,你們剛好都要去同一個公車站牌 等車。行人們伸長的脖子望向遠方,電子勘版上的時刻表正不停的切換,中 文、英文、中文,十二分鐘、七分鐘、五分鐘、即將進站...。你似乎有些緊 張,不知道該不該把那個問題說出來,問出來是否會破壞原本的平衡呢?這心 裡也許早就已經有了答案的問題。你看了看友人的公車還有幾分鐘會抵達,五 分鐘,真是個好時間,就算真的尷尬了,也不用面對他太久,於是你用右手捏 了捏左手的手指便點點他的肩膀 「啊,那個啊,其實也不是什麼重要的問題,我只想問一下...」 他淺淺的微笑著,露出了疑惑的神情
你歪了歪嘴 「我之前有試著打給你幾次,但你好像都在忙,還是其實你有換電話號碼 呢?」
他停頓了幾秒 「喔,沒有啦!可能是因為我最近上的課比較多,所以時常關著鈴聲吧,而忙 一忙也就忘記回撥了,下次先傳個訊息過來吧,有空我一定會回的。」 你微微點了點頭表示理解,當然也注意到了那停頓的幾秒,你深吸一口氣... 「你知道嗎,其實我好像一直都把你當成我最好的朋友。」 你尷尬的硬擠出了像是在嘲諷自己的笑聲,明顯刻意又不自然的笑聲 「明明認識那麼久,現在才發覺是不是有點太不靈敏了啊!」 你又倉促地笑了兩下,便把一旁的頭髮勾到耳後 「咦?原來是這樣嗎?那還真是我的榮幸,好感動喔!」 他伸手擁抱你,但他的笑聲似乎來的比你還要急,即將進站的字樣出現在他要 做的公車號碼後頭
「不過你幹嘛一直用髮圈彈自己啊?不痛嗎?」 「啊,啊沒有啦,我在聽歌,是在打拍子啦!」 髮圈嗒、嗒、嗒地彈在你的皮膚
(您撥的號碼是空號,請查明後在撥。The number you dialed is not in s...)
之後的每一天,你引爆的人數都要比以往多更多,也許是因為感覺到離超能力 消失的那天越來越近了,卻沒辦法知道準確的是哪一天,讓你變得躁狂。你引 爆了路人、你引爆了嬰兒、你引爆了老人、你引爆了上班族、引爆了在天橋上 與你擦肩而過的女孩、引爆了某場演唱會的所有人、朋友、家人、那對轉角的 情侶。最後你獨自縮進房間的床角,你能感覺超能力在今天就會離開了,夕陽 從窗簾搖擺中的縫隙透進來,斷斷續續照射在你的腳尖,那種溫暖輕柔地就要 傳片你整身,終於你忍不住的大叫出來: 「等等!讓我也!讓我自己也......」
[E.M.: This tale by my student Jill Hsieh has some fine touches, I'd say. I've decided to post it. Keep on Keeping Cal-]
Posted by Eric Mader at 2:43 PM No comments:
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Race vs. Logos
I’m not interested in race. What’s more, if you yourself are interested in race, I’m probably not much interested in you. You might dream of a pure white America, you might be Ibram Kendi or a BLM fanatic. Either way, I’m not interested. Your discourse is shallow, ultimately lame, and of course your discourse is racist.
What interest me are truth and justice. And liberty. The Christian concepts of truth, justice, and liberty that formed in the West. I want to help keep them alive and develop them, wherever on the globe they appear. These interest me because they serve the Logos--that light best revealed in Christ.
White people who see and follow that Light interest me as much as Africans or Asians who do. As much, and no more. After all, at present there are tens of millions of white people who revel in darkness, fighting against the Light with a stubbornness one can only call demonic. These tens of millions, what share do I have in their skin color?
If I have a share with anyone, I want it to be with those who recognize and serve the Kingdom announced by our Lord. Many who are Asian, Black, Latino serve this Kingdom, many much better than I have.
The Kingdom has no room prepared for racism, whether from left or right. Race is a dead end, a trap, the tool of demagogues. As ideology it is destructive, as a lens through which to study humanity it is boring.
The Logos, quite otherwise, is light and life, ever new.
Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. and begin the long, hard reckoning.
Posted by Eric Mader at 1:33 PM No comments:
Labels: BLM, Christianity, Ibram Kendi, race, racism, white supremacy
Sunday, February 21, 2021
The Gospel Truth: Michael Pakaluk’s Hermeneutics of Faith
Michael Pakaluk is doing really extraordinary things with the gospels. I predict his translations (of Mark in 2019, and now of John) will only grow in stature over time. He gets right to the marrow, both at the level of English rendition and in terms of his brilliantly subtle approach to the place and uniqueness of each text.
This work is long overdue. After two centuries of scholars laboring under a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” Pakaluk does something like the opposite. He goes straight to what the very earliest records tell us of the gospels, then asks himself the question: “If these early testimonies about the writing of these texts are correct, what might we expect in terms of the kind of text we’d get?” In short, Pakaluk applies what we may call a hermeneutics of trust, or more properly, a hermeneutics of faith. In both Mark and John, this approach ends up bearing much fruit--multiple new insights that other translators have either glossed over, or not even thought to ask about. Really, there’s a boldness in Pakaluk’s project that has something of the quality of lightning to it.
For years I’ve been waiting for a scholar who took Mark’s widely remarked “roughness” seriously enough to try to render it in English. It matters, because Mark’s was the first gospel, the text that established the model for what a gospel was to be. Further, the reeling speed and breathlessness of Mark’s narrative are part of what make it so powerful as witness and account. Finally, the fact that Mark reads as a transcription of someone speaking buttresses the ancient account of the gospel--namely, that the evangelist Mark transcribed it directly from Peter’s testimony.
The Apostle, leader of Rome’s Christian community, naturally recounted his experiences to the faithful there. Getting on in years, it was recognized that his testimony should be recorded in writing, and Mark was called to transcribe it. That the text we have shows all indications of being a spoken narrative stands as strong evidence it is in fact what it was said to be: Peter’s memoirs.
What we’ve lacked is an English translation that showed sufficient care in rendering just these more “spoken” aspects of the text. In Pakaluk’s translation, which he titles The Memoirs of St. Peter, we finally have just that. His English Mark is supremely effective as spoken narrative, and follows the tense shifts and quick perspectival shifts of the original Greek. The translator lays out these uniquely Markan characteristics in his commentary, and convincingly makes the case that, indeed, they indicate the speech of a witness. In any case, no ancient writer was sufficiently cunning to fake so many natural characteristics of firsthand narrative. Any reasonable reader will be convinced: this gospel is a transcription from speech, and it is a transcription of the speech of someone who was there when the events happened.
With his new translation, Mary’s Voice in the Gospel According to John, Pakaluk again begins by turning his keen attentiveness to the situation of the gospel’s composition. He knows that both the gospel itself and the earliest testimony tell us that after his crucifixion Jesus’ mother Mary went to live with John. How then, the scholar wonders, would sharing a house over many years with the Lord’s mother, remembering and recounting His life in company with her, likely shape the gospel writer’s later portrayal of Jesus? It’s a brilliant thought experiment to pose, and in his introduction and commentary, Pakaluk lays out the possibilities. These, in turn, go a long way toward explaining why, in such striking ways, the Gospel of John is so different from the three synoptic gospels.
Pakaluk’s actual English translation of John, his word choice and phrasing, are of course explained in his notes via reference to the Greek. But what is really different here, in its very rareness, is how sharp and precise, and often poetic, the English is. One feels the pith of debate in these sentences (Jesus in John is often in dialogue) and one feels it in chiseled, natural English. Why is this so rare in our translations?
I believe it was Robert Alter who wrote somewhere that the problem with the King James Version was that they didn't really know Hebrew, whereas the problem with modern Bible translations is that they don't really know English. It is apt.
Modern Bible translators tend to fall into one of two opposing vices. Some seek to render scriptural texts in an English as wooden and unproblematic as a high school textbook. This flattens out the power of the Spirit-inspired writers--whose texts are often intentionally problematic!--even as it often ends by smuggling the translator’s own biases directly into the English phrasing. This is done for “for clarity’s sake”. (Think of the NIV.)
The other, opposing vice is to believe that the Greek, by virtue of its inherent linguistic difference, conveys things that can’t be conveyed in English. And so, to get to the scriptural meaning, one must create a kind of “Hellenized English”. In this way we end up with translations that are neither really in Greek nor English, written in an unwieldy, eccentric new language that often (again) only conveys the translator’s own interpretive claims. (Think David Bentley Hart.)
Pakaluk somehow manages to avoid both these vices. Partly, I’m sure, it’s his training as a philosopher, but partly it’s his strong literary grasp of English that keeps him on the straight and narrow. He’s done the hard work of finding a native English that grabs the reader as it grabs the gospel truth.
Pakaluk’s Mary’s Voice in the Gospel According to John, just published this Lent, is a must read for Catholics serious about Scripture. More, it is a blessing to have, besieged as we are by cant, ideology, and misguided novelty.
Check Pakaluk's Mary’s Voice in the Gospel According to John
Check Pakaluk's The Memoirs of St. Peter
[Note that there is currently an offer
to buy both books together at discount.]
Some deadpan with your coffee? My Idiocy, Ltd. is now in print. Dryest humor in the west.
Posted by Eric Mader at 7:58 AM No comments:
Labels: Gospel of John, Gospel of Mark, Michael Pakaluk, narrative, translation
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