Aside

OK. What if cats, when we’re not looking, travel in time? Maybe Hitler wonders why cats are always appearing and disappearing around him. (Cats are woefully under-equipped to kill Hitler. But that doesn’t stop them from trying.) Anyway, the next time you can’t find your cat and then, mysteriously, there it is? “Failed again, eh, Mr. Whiskers?”
Your Daily Devotional is a lightly-edited entry from my Twitter feed. Follow me at @jefftiedrich

Your Daily Devotional for October 9, 2014

WordsDay: Literature

When the cloth makes the man: J.F. Powers’s Morte D’Urban

Catholicism is darkly comic in J.F. Powers’s Morte D’Urban – would that it were more comic, less dark, in the real world…

Morte D’Urban by J.F. Powers (image courtesy Goodreads)

Well, this goes back yet again to Wufnik. He and I seem to bandy about the names of writers that we want the other to look into (often further into) on a regular basis. I did a piece a few weeks back abusing some schmuck who proclaimed “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” the greatest short story of all time. In his comment on that piece, Wufnik mentioned a couple of stories: Shirley Jackson’s widely anthologized masterpiece “The Lottery” and “Prince of Darkness” by another unjustly neglected American master of literary fiction, J. F. Powers.

I’d read Powers’s story sometime ago (in fact, I’d read his first collection of stories, of which “Prince of Darkness” was the title work). So, thinking I should read it again given Wufnik’s high opinion of it, I promptly went out to one of my favorite used book sellers and looked for a copy of that collection. In doing so I came across, in addition to the story collection, Powers’s first novel, a National Book Award winner, Morte D’Urban. So I got both books. When I came to them in my always increasing reading list, I had to make a choice. Since my own first book, a “novel-in-stories,” is called Morte D’Eden, I decided to give the Powers novel a go.

Am I glad I did. Continue reading

SCotUS

Scalia and categorical religious beliefs

SCotUSJustice Antonin Scalia believes that “religious beliefs aren’t reasonable.” He is not saying that religious beliefs are not appropriate or not fair–that would be a shock, coming from him. Rather he goes on to say that “I mean, religious beliefs are categorical.” In other words, religious beliefs are unequivocal or unconditional.

Scalia made that statement yesterday during oral arguments for the case Holt v. Hobbs. The case involves a prisoner in Arkansas, Gregory Holt, who is a convert to Islam. He wishes to wear a beard in accordance with his new-found religious beliefs. The state of Arkansas is insisting on enforcing its state-law which prohibits prisoners from wearing religiously-motivated beards for security reasons (namely the threat of prisoners hiding contraband in their beards). Holt tried to be “reasonable” about his request and agreed to limit the growth to a half-inch. Scalia’s response to Holt’s request, reported in The Washington Post,  is telling:

“Well, religious beliefs aren’t reasonable,” Scalia said. “I mean, religious beliefs are categorical. You know, it’s ‘God tells you.’ It’s not a matter of being reasonable. God be reasonable? He’s supposed to have a full beard.”

Continue reading

Say Ello to the Great Firewall

ellnoThere’s a cyberwar on and we’re losing. The New York Times reports 10 financial institutions including JP Morgan Chase are compromised and we don’t know the extent of the damage. Home Depot, Target (asking for it), Ebay, P.F. Chang’s, the Montana Health Department, and Domino’s Pizza (Belgium and France), have all been attacked in 2014, more than 1,000 businesses in total.

Meanwhile the hot new social network startup Ello is capturing 20,000 users per day, despite grave warnings that their business model doesn’t make sense unless there’s something we don’t know about it. One rave review mentions the total lack of political content. Do you believe that all those creative free-thinking American citizens suddenly tacitly agreed to stop discussing politics when they joined this site? I joined up to ask them that very question. Continue reading

Ello

Ello: some thoughts on why there isn’t much political discussion on our controversial new social network

elloIn the last week or so I have seen an amazing amount of energy devoted to burying Ello. Mind you, it hasn’t launched yet. Still in beta. These folks are trying to kill it before the doors officially open. What’s weird is the range of attacks I’m seeing. Business insiders patting it on the head and ‘splaining why, noble as it is, it just won’t work. (I can’t prove that these folks are pimping for Facebook, but their efforts have to be making Zuck happy.) Pro-privacy types saying it’s sold out before it gets started because the developers take venture capital money. Design junkies telling us how it’s the worse design experience since, well like ever. On and on and on and on.

[sigh]

I’m not here to tell you that it’s going to put Facebook out of business. Continue reading

Renewable-Journal-1

Leaf owners – beware the gas station car wash! – Renewable Journal for 10/6/2014

Renewable-Journal-1For more posts in this series, please click here.

A couple months back, I gave my Leaf a bath in a gas station car wash. I came out of it complaining that it didn’t get all the bird poop off my pretty new car, but that happens sometimes – some car washes are just not that good. The thing that stuck with me, though, was that it was hard to get the car positioned right in the car wash, and even harder to get the car out of the wash at all. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Education

Using Facebook to promote school fundraisers: a friend goes ballistic

A friend of mine has been using Facebook to solicit contributions for his son’s school fundraiser. He’s not alone – I’ve seen more and more of this lately, and perhaps you have, too. Last night he exploded – apparently despite all his pleas, he got no response. As in, zero. He went off on his FB friends in ways that are certain to offend a lot of them.

A few moments ago I posted this to the thread.

_________

Dear Xxxx:

I understand your frustration, and if I had kids I’d probably stay mad. But I think you’re upset at the wrong people. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Ben Ames Williams’s The Strange Woman and Art as Commerce….

Almost forgotten as a writer now, Ben Ames Williams’s novels and stories represent the most interesting of American literary legacies – market driven art….

The Strange Woman by Ben Ames Williams (image courtesy Goodreads)

This essay concerns one of the novels of Ben Ames Williams. If you’re asking yourself “Who?” be assured that you’re not alone. A very successful “popular fiction” writer of the first half of the 20th century, Williams is almost forgotten now.  The novel we’ll be discussing shortly is called The Strange Woman and was published when Williams was at the height of his popularity.  The novel itself is…okay. The writer who produced it is fascinating as an example of a writer who made his creative decisions with a watchful eye to the market and whose oeuvre, as a result reflects that watchfulness – and whose literary reputation also reflects that watchfulness.

I have written on multiple occasions about the American reading public’s interests, partly because I have wanted to understand the literary marketplace better myself, partly because as a writer who now lives in the purgatory assigned to the vast majority of those who write “literary fiction,” I have often looked with envy at those who have been able to navigate the labyrinth of American publishing in ways that have given them great success – both popular and financial (let me note here that no artist is averse to making money, no matter how much he/she may protest that art should be an act of illumination for humanity and money be damned). Continue reading

S&R Honors: Edmund Blackadder

S&R Honors Edmund BlackadderScholars & Rogues has been around for seven and a half years or so, and during that time we have evolved. Early on we were a political blog with a culturalist bent. These days we’re a “journal of progressive culture” – in a nutshell, we’re a culture blog informed by a strong political foundation. Our writing wanders far and wide, as you may have noticed, but the pieces all seem to fit together.

We have had, through the years, a number of discussions about who we are and who we want to be. In corporate terminology, what is the Scholars & Rogues brand? And while these conversations have occasionally been nuanced and overrun with self-doubt – if you don’t have the occasional crisis of identity in seven years you’re not trying hard enough – I have always had an answer that served as a sort of starting point.

The S&R brand is Edmund Blackadder. Continue reading

Gotham: four quick thoughts

We’re two episodes into Gotham, the new Batman prequel series, and we may be on the verge of the greatest iteration of the famed (and occasionally overdone) franchise yet.

Some brief observations.

1: Robin Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot is fucking awesome. If this keeps up, he’s going to rival Heath Ledger’s Joker as the ultimate series villain.

2: Camren Bicondova can maybe evolve into the best Cat Woman ever. She’s got a look and she’s got, if you’ll forgive me, a certain catitude. Continue reading

Douche-buggy

The American love affair with cars just caught V.D.

“Pretty cool, huh?”

I looked at the owner, driver, whatever, with a look that probably betrayed my massive disdain for his ride and what he just said.

“The girls love it,” he proclaimed.

“Not any girls I know over the age of 10,” I thought to myself as I snapped one more picture and walked toward my car.

Ye fucking gods, at least that idiot Springsteen sang about a Cadillac…

(Picture taken at Midtown Market, Brisbane, California on October 2nd, 2014)

chinese-yuan-public-domain-750x400px-717x400

China denies my right to vote in NC

chinese-yuan-public-domain-750x400px-717x400I’m not registered to vote. I was registered when I voted early in the primary on May 6, but my status has been changed without my knowledge or consent. Several people who live in upstate New York are registered to vote here, likely without their knowledge or consent. I discovered this while helping get out the vote for the Democratic Party. Many of the registered Democrats on the list do not live here or do not exist. Many of the Democrats who do live here are suddenly and mysteriously unregistered.

It appears the voter rolls have been purged and then patched up to look like the old demographics. You can expect the worst voter turnout ever on November 4 because the only people allowed to vote will be Tea Party sympathizers. Republicans who do not bow to the almighty shareholder (China) will not be allowed to vote either. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

The State of Literary Art VI: The Final Frontiers…

In the end Joe David Bellamy’s Literary Luxuries reads now more like an elegy for a now lost literary landscape…and a lost friend to literature….

Literary Luxuries by Joe David Bellamy (image courtesy University of Missouri Press)

(For previous essays in this series, look herehereherehere and here.)

This, the last in this series of essays on the state of literary fiction at the end of the last century, will be a final look back to that halcyon time when an author thought he knew what the literary landscape was and felt comfortable making projections about whose literary reputations might last. Joe David Bellamy’s Literary Luxuries seems almost quaint now in its belief that the literary horizon was visible and that which authors might have lasting reputations would be a predictable thing.

Ah, the quaint mid- nineties.  You know, when we thought Yahoo would be the search engine of choice and that the Internet would be primarily a supplement to make library use easier.

This last essay will look at two sections of his book. The first is a “teaching writing” issue that Bellamy talks about in a section called “Literary Vices.” Here Bellamy is on pretty solid ground. He gives solid, if unexceptional advice (beware of being too autobiographical), though he still feels the need to defend the “super fictions” of such Postmodernists such as Barthelme and DeLillo against the criticism of John Gardner (a debate I discuss in  this essay). He also revisits the struggles he participated in against the attacks on the NEA (disguised, as pretty much all the Right’s attacks on anything that shows interest in public support for anything but military adventuring and their attendant crony capitalism, as moral outrage) by the Right while he was there. This is pretty straightforward stuff and Bellamy’s positions are probably in sync with most serious literary (or arts) types. Continue reading