biggest exploding heads

I haven’t read Michael Wolff’s new book Fire and Fury; Inside the Trump White House of Fuckwitted Fuckwits OMG You Guys!!! I probably won’t read it. I’ve read the same excerpts most of you have read, and that’s probably enough.

I mean, all the horrible things Wolff says about Comrade Trump? It’s basically stuff many of us already believed. Hell, most of it is stuff we’ve already witnessed. Trump being crude and rude? Every day. Trump being mean and spiteful? Every day. Trump displaying massive ignorance of the world around him? Every damned day. Trump demonstrating a complete lack of interest in…well, just about anything but himself (and, to a lesser extent, Ivanka)? Yes, of course, every day.

Seriously, everybody who’s read the following excerpt has said, “Yep, that’s Trump.”

Here was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant gratification, be that a hamburger, a segment on Fox & Friends or an Oval Office photo opp. “I want a win. I want a win. Where’s my win?” he would regularly declaim. He was, in words used by almost every member of the senior staff on repeated occasions, “like a child.”

Like a child. A spoiled, pampered, spiteful child. Here’s a true thing: Donald Trump is basically Dudley Dursley in a bloated adult body. You know…Dudley Dursley? Harry Potter’s cousin? The fat, cruel, selfish, violent bully with no feelings whatsoever for others? This guy:

Comrade Trump wants more. More than anybody else. Doesn’t even matter what it is, he wants more. Always more. More and bigger. The biggest. He wants the biggest inauguration crowds, the biggest tax cut, the biggest missiles, the biggest wall, the biggest brain, the biggest generals, the biggest ratings.

Trump, of course, says the book is all lies. He’s threatened to sue Steve Bannon, who apparently is quoted frequently in the book, for violating a non-disclosure agreement AND defamation. Trump has the biggest legal team, but they don’t seem to understand that in order for a statement to be defamatory, it has to be untrue, And if a statement is untrue, then it can’t be a violation of a non-disclosure agreement. This is just another example of how Comrade Trump has put together a team of fuckwits.

What’s most entertaining about this (a year ago, I’d have felt bad for finding any of this entertaining — but significant Trump exposure has made me a tad more cruel) is the fact that so many conservatives are complaining that the book might possibly have a few minor factual details somewhat wrong. They feel the book doesn’t depict Comrade Trump in a very favorable light. They feel the book is perhaps a wee bit biased.

I find that entertaining because those same conservative asshats twenty years writing and promoting similar books about Hillary Clinton. They spent eight years writing and promoting similar books about Barack Obama. Wildly outrageous books full of blatant lies, delusional thinking, and insane conspiracy theories. Now I’m finding it wildly entertaining to read FreeRepublic and see them attempt to reconcile what Bannon says with what Comrade Trump says. A lot of them have decided that Trump and Bannon are in cahoots. Seriously. They’re positing that these two guys are acting, that they’re only appearing to abuse and insult each other. They’re doing this in order to lull snowflake liberals into…something, so that something something, after which there’ll be something and liberal heads will explode. Not too sure what that something is, but the turf will be littered with exploded liberal heads.

Liberal heads exploding — that’s how conservatives measure the value of just about anything. The more liberal head that explode, the better a thing is.

I don’t expect to see conservative heads explode over this. The material is too dense.

the elves all burst into song

A few days ago, on a whim, I decided to re-read The Lord of the Rings this summer. It’s been a long while since I’ve read the books. I first read them when I was eighteen years old and in Basic Training. We weren’t allowed to have any books during Basic (or any other personal belongings, for that matter), but somebody had smuggled in the paperback version of LoTR — and we’d chopped them up into something like chapter-sized chunks, easily hideable. About half of my unit, desperate to read anything, passed around the various chapters, sometimes out of order, and we’d discuss the story over chow or when we were out in the field.

I’ve re-read the books a couple of times since then, and I’ve seen the movies, of course. I’m not quite sure what sparked the decision to re-read them again. Maybe the current enthusiasm for HBO’s version of Game of Thrones (which I haven’t seen, though, again, I’ve read the books). But like I said, it was a whim — and I am weak to the whim.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

I was surprised and delighted to discover LoTR was available as an e-book, and only for something like ten dollars. So I downloaded it (unlike the print versions, all three volumes and all six books are in one large file, which makes it easy.

The first thing I noticed was the deliberate pace of the writing. I don’t think you could accurately describe it as slowly-paced, but the pacing is very deliberately moderated. Tolkien clearly wanted his readers to settle into the story, to get nestled down into his Middle Earth. That sort of pacing would, I suspect, be a hard sell for a publisher these day. I’ve no doubt an awful lot of modern readers would find the pacing off-putting, but I think it suits the story.

I was reading comfortably along, enjoying the gradual increase in tension — the discovery that Bilbo’s ring was the One Ring, the unexplained tardiness of Gandalf, the sale of Bag End to the dreadful Sackville-Bagginses, the arrival of the wonderfully spooky Black Riders. Then Frodo and Sam and Pippin, making their way through the woods, stumble upon a troupe of wandering Elves.

LOTR elvesI’d always remembered this scene with particular fondness. In part, that’s because it’s Sam Gamgee’s very first experience with Elves, and so much is made of his desire to see them. But I suspect I’ve liked this scene in part because when I first read it I was living in a barracks with forty other troops. The tranquility of the scene and the ethereal quality of the encounter was so utterly unlike barracks life. So I was prepared to be charmed. Then I read this:

The Elves all burst into song. Suddenly under the trees a fire sprang up with a red light.

“Come!” the Elves called to the hobbits. “Come! Now is the time for speech and merriment!”

Several things occurred to me at that point. First, Elves can be pretty fucking annoying. I suppose you can excuse the fact that they just start singing en masse, without any warning because…well, Elves. But the tendency to speak in exclamation points is a tad over the top. Actually, when it’s a single Elf speaking it’s not so bad, but as a group they’re awfully exclamatory.

Second, speech and merriment? Okay, they’re Elves — you can’t expect them to say “Let’s hang out, talk, drink a bit, have some fun, whaddaya say?” I get that. But there’s something about the need to announce that it’s time to talk and have fun that sort of mutes the fun of talking. They announce everything, the Elves. “Earlier was the time for walking in green woods! Then came the time for impromptu acapella singing! Now is the time for speech and merriment!”

But as you continue to read the scene, you realize there’s a great deal of speech, but not much merriment at all. What did Frodo and the Elves speak about?

The tidings were mostly sad and ominous: of gathering darkness, the wars of Men, and the flight of the Elves.

That’s awfully merriment-deficient. I’m sure orcs would think that was a hoot, but we’re talking about High Elves here. Maybe they should stick to bursting into song.



The third thing that occurred to me was this: Tolkien, as a writer, gets away with a lot of shit we wouldn’t tolerate in a modern writer. He gets away with it because he’s Tolkien. He didn’t invent epic fantasy fiction, but he’s the guy who single-handedly revived the genre, and that makes him an unalloyed literary badass. Only a literary badass could write this and get away with it:

The merry voice of Pippin came to him. He was running on the green turf and singing.

If a student of mine wrote that, I’d bitch-slap him ’til Tuesday. The image of a small, furry-footed being larking about on the lawn and singing like Julie Andrews on an alp is singularly ridiculous. Dude, singing and running at the same time? Really?

But because it’s Tolkien, I not only tolerate it, I embrace it. Yes, his writing is creaky and his style is outmoded and archaic. I don’t care. Yes, his dialog is sometimes (well, often) embarrassing. I really don’t care. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien provides me with speech and merriment, so he gets a pass.

“Courage is found in unlikely places,” said Gildor. “Be of good hope! Sleep now!”

I’m almost certainly going to read other books as well this summer. I’ll take occasional short breaks from reading The Lord of the Rings and dip into something without Elves. But LoTR will be the book I read last before turning out the light. I am of good hope! I may burst into song!

But probably not.

joel stein is a dick

The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.”

Yeah. That’s Joel Stein in a short (but not short enough) rant called Adults Should Read Adult Books written for the New York Times. Stein says, “I have no idea what “The Hunger Games” is like… I don’t know because it’s a book for kids. I’ll read ‘The Hunger Games’ when I finish the previous 3,000 years of fiction written for adults.”

It can’t be easy to be such a pompous dick. It must take a great deal of practice, so I’m willing to give Stein some credit for his dedication. And I wouldn’t want to deny him the right to object to any genre of literature; after all, I’ve been known to make the occasional disparaging comment about Romance fiction. But I’d never suggest there’s anything wrong with somebody who chose to read Romance novels. Stein’s absolute rejection of the value of Young Adult fiction isn’t what makes him a dick. That just makes him ignorant.

No, what makes Joel Stein an Olympic caliber dick is that he sets himself up as an arbiter of what is appropriate for adults to read when he has written a soon-to-be-released nonfiction book called (and I’m not making this up) Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity. The book is apparently about Stein’s panic at learning he is about to become the father of a son, and trying to discover what it means to be a ‘man’ by (and really, I’m not making this up at all) briefly engaging in testosterone-driven tasks. He spends three days (3!) in some form of military basic training, he spends a 24 hour shift with the fire department, he goes camping (with…and lawdy, I wish I was making this up…the Boy Scouts), he does some home repairs. In other words, he pays a fleeting visit to what he believes is the world of manhood in the hope that he’ll learn something profound about masculinity.

Then, in this wee little rant, he writes “You can’t take an adult seriously when he’s debating you over why Twilight vampires are O.K. with sunlight.” And that is what makes Joel Stein a dick.

Joel, bunkie, this is where you make your mistake. Men read Young Adult fiction and aren’t embarrassed by it.

words is my business

Words is my business. I know a lot of them, and I enjoy using them. I enjoy seeing and hearing them used. I adore people who use them well.

One of the reasons I adore Meera Lee Sethi (just one of the reasons; there are so many reasons to adore Meera that you’d need an abacus to keep count) is because she’s engaged in the most wonderful and quixotic projects I’ve seen in some time: 366 Days of Words in Science.

This is more than a mere introduction to esoteric words. It’s partly a sort of diary, and partly a collection of philosophical musings, and partly a work or art (each term is accompanied by a photo that in some way illustrates the concept), and partly an act of immense generosity. It’s a delightful combination of intelligence and charm, and every day it offers something new to captivate the curious.

It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever be able to use ‘ceratotrichia’ or ‘palpebral’ in casual conversation, even if I can remember them. I’ve no idea how many of these 366 words I’ll actually fold into my vocabulary. But I do know that each day I look forward to another term, another photograph, and another brief peek into Meera’s mind.

So this little blog post is just an aliquot (a measured portion from a larger sample) of my affection for words and for science and for Meera. The level of my actual affection for words, science, and Meera is only measurable on a galactic scale.

summer reading

I’ve spent the early part of the summer re-reading the old adventure novels I loved as a boy. I began with Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini–a novel set during the French Revolution, with one of the best opening lines ever written: He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. Sabatini loved that line so much he used it as his epitaph. He wrote a sequel, Scaramouche the Kingmaker, a decade later–though whether he wrote it because he liked the character or because he needed the cash, I’ve no idea. In any event, it’s a novel that probably should have remained unwritten.

I also read The Prisoner of Zenda, written by Anthony Hope in 1894. It’s an impossibly romantic story, and I mean ‘romantic’ in the old sense of the term. The novel has the most wonderful sociopathic villain, with a perfectly villainous name: Rupert of Hentzau. It also inspired an entire (and, sadly, cheesy) sub-genre of adventure novels in which dissolute or unfortunate members of royalty are temporarily replaced by doppelgangers who manage to save the kingdom. As with Sabatini, Hope wrote a sequel–this one entitled Rupert of Hentzau, featuring that same charming sociopath. The sequel was less successful, though not as painfully bad as Sabatini’s.

Now I’m reading The Four Feathers, the 1902 novel by A.E.W. Mason about a young man raised in a British military family who is labeled a coward (the accusation of cowardice is accompanied by a white feather). It takes place in the Sudan during the early 1880s, when the forces of the Mahdi took on the British Empire–one of the first modern clashes between imperialism and religious fanaticism. The protagonist proves his courage by secretly traveling to the Sudan (in disguise, of course–romantic fictional heroes always travel in disguise) and over the course of six years, rescuing his accusers and returning to each of them the white feather. Happily, Mason didn’t write a sequel.