Saturday, October 30, 2010

In Defense of Fire, or I Heart the Interwebs

A while ago I posted about Eating the Dinosaur. I'm back to chat a bit about the last chapter which drove me nuts. It's written in a perfectly serviceable fashion so there's nothing wrong there but the content touches on one of those topics that really gets my goat. Briefly, in Klosterman's own words:

"Like so many modern people, my relationship with technology makes no sense whatsoever: It's the most important aspect of my life that I hate. The more central it becomes to how I live, the worse it seems for the world at large. I believe all technology has a positive short-term effect and a negative long-term impact, and - on balance - the exponential upsurge of technology's social import has been detrimental to the human experience."

In the context in which this is expressed (i.e. not the words of a leader about to, er, lead her group of radicals against the establishment) I 100% believe only someone of privilege in a developed country would say something so nonsensical.

"The only people who think the Internet is a calamity are people whose lives have been hurt by it; the only people who insist the Internet is wonderful are those who need it to give their life meaning."

I have to assume this is an overstatement simply for contentious content. Seriously, this is too broad in scope to even take seriously.

"His [Ted Kascinsky] ideas were too radical, but at least they were his own."

WTF? Like he wasn't socialized? Kascinsky was produced by a society and even interacted with that society before withdrawing to express himself in unacceptable ways. I would agree that he has some authorial right to his ideas but to suggest he invented some kind of new idea about society's relationships with technology is to act like other people hadn't already said this (and, much to their credit, without violent follow-through) and that he was not influenced by the very society he shunned. Puh-lease! I have to imagine the doomsday soap-boxer was invented not long after fire. You know there was that one guy looking at the flames thinking, "This shit could burn the whole valley down! I'll take my meat raw thanks and the rest of you fire-loving crazies can go to hell."

"Technology is bad for civilization. We are living in a manner that is unnatural. We are latently enslaved by our own ingenuity, and we have unknowingly constructed a simulated world. The benefits of technology are easy to point out... , but they do not compensate for the overall loss of humanity that is its inevitable consequence. As a species, we have never been less human than we are right now."

It's not that I mind the anti-tech attitude. If that's how you feel, fine, but when you base it specifically on its so-called dehumanizing aspects I have to call the straight-up bullshit call on you. I have two questions for folks of this school of thought: How far back would you like to go (and then make no subsequent progress) to keep yourself human and Why are you letting a tool run your life? The first question is facetious (Mr. Klosterman meet Fire-Hating Guy, long shall you rant!) but the second is serious.

Technology is a tool. Period. No, exclamation point! It is only a tool. Just as a hammer can help a person construct shelter it can also help one person harm another. Because it has this potential and I have the "ingenuity" to realize it, does that mean I am now enslaved by the hammer and it is only a matter of time before I harm my society by hitting someone over the head with it? This argument is just too silly. You want to hate technology and list all the ways in which it "controls" people and "is bad for civilization," then I'll be annoyed but I'll leave you to it. However, to say that technology and humanity have an inverse relationship is not to recognize some very basic facts about society.

One of our great needs is communication. One of our most precious preservers of freedom is information. Please tell me a greater tool for communication and the dissemination of information than the internet? Yeah, I know there's a lot of crap out there but I'm not an idiot. Just as I don't allow technology to run my life (or, for fuck's sake, give it meaning) I know to take what is offered by anyone in any form with a critical eye. If a bunch of random, irrelevant crap is the price of easy access to information then it is a very small price indeed. 

My gosh, I'm just so freaking irked right now thinking about this! I'm sitting here on my couch after a day of the following: re-reading a favorite book, watching college football, watching the world series, eating delicious food, riding my horse, catching up on my favorite internet sites, making plans to meet friends for dinner (via email, natch!), having interesting conversations with Dr M about ethical shortcomings in the management of college athletes, and playing with my dogs. Why can I have this wonderful day? Because of communication, information exchange, and technology!

I didn't actually have to hand over any cash to do what I did today but all of those things cost money. I have money because I have a job. I can do that job because I have an education. I have an education because many brave women came before me to demand the right to education (not to mention equal pay for equal work). These things are possible because I live in a stable society vs. societies that currently must focus on the most basic medical and nutritional needs of their people. I have all of these things because of communication and information exchange, and these vital aspects of society are enhanced and preserved through technology.

You know there are still women who aren't allowed to go to school and there are still kids who are too sick to go to school and there are dictators that are still successful in their coups all because of limited access to information? The only way to fight this is committing to access for everyone. If a few people out there can't handle the tools of technology then I am sorry but they've made their choices. Personally, I'm going to encourage innovation* and advancement until everyone out there has a way to get to the information they need. If the cell phones and internets are going to get us there then sign me up!

Scoff at technology if you like but take a moment to say a heartfelt thank you that you have the privilege to do this. If not for technology it would not be possible.

*And I will dearly hope that one of those innovations made possible by ingenuity and technology will be how to have all this technology without rampant environmental destruction. That, of course, is another topic for another day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Truth Hurts

If you thought you knew all the depressing little perfidies that led the US into Iraq you, like me, might be surprised to learn that the truth of their creation is beyond belief. Except, it's not. I mean, it is, but since it happened there is no choice but to believe it. How awful! How very awful!

Anyway, if interested, check out The Way of the World. And keep in mind that the message is ultimately hopeful, but the history is pretty damn depressing.

Item of note: I detest the title. It's a bit over-stated as compared to the book's actual content.

And, finally, I don't think I've ever used a word more precisely than the use of 'perfidy' up there. I'm not going to claim to have just used it more precisely than anyone ever before but I think I at least made the top 5.

perfidy - deliberate breach of faith; calculated violation of trust; treachery

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time to give Moo another try?

I tried to read Moo by Jane Smiley years ago but I wasn't able to get into it (though Horse Heaven is one of my favorite reads). But I'm thinking it's time to give it another try. The reason? My view from the bike path as I head to my building:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Storybook Love, or The Princess Bride cont.

I can't believe Michael and I had all that chatty chatty about The Princess Bride and neither of us mentioned the song Storybook Love. It's fantastic! In fact, it probably makes the credits for the movie the best darn credits I've ever seen.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Title: The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's classic tale of true love and high adventure: the "good parts" version
Author: William Goldman
Publisher: Ballantine Publishing Group (1998); originally published 1973

Michael (of Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer fame) and I are back with another set of reviews for a book that has been adapted for the screen.

Click here for Michael's review of one of the awesomest movies ever made!

Continue reading below for my review of a book that was published some years back. (Oops! Have I already given away my tepid-at-best feelings toward this book?)

Review: the "good parts" version - The Princess Bride is, basically, a big spoof that works much better as a movie than as a book.

Review: unabridged version - Buttercup has grown up on her parents' farm and has been happily mistreating Farm Boy for many years. (During this time she is also becoming one of the most beautiful women in the world, this is outlined by the narrator as she moves up in the top twenty.) One day she realizes she is in love with Farm Boy. He has loved her for years (no idea why) and wants to provide a nice farm for her so he sets off to "seek his fortune" but he is captured and killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts on his way to America. Devastated, Buttercup swears to never love again. Some time and events pass and Prince Humperdinck decides that Buttercup will be his wife. (Don't worry, she doesn't love him.) In the weeks leading up to the marriage, she is kidnapped by a trio of mercenaries but then re(?)kidnapped by the Dread Pirate Roberts.

A note on the narrator: I've read this book 2 times now and still can't figure what the shit Goldman was thinking with this narrator. The idea is awesome but in reality, well... In brief, Narrator's dad used to read him the awesome Princess Bride story by S. Morgenstern. Narrator wants his son to experience it as well but when they start to read the book on their own it turns out Narrator's dad had edited out all the long/boring stuff (thus, the "good parts" version). So as you read along in The Princess Bride the Narrator often cuts in to explain what he edited out. It's a fun idea, and certainly amusing at times, but the Narrator is such a right, royal jizzwad that he completely ruins the story. Seriously! I'm sitting there trying to enjoy The Princess Bride but all I can think is how I want to poke ice picks into Narrator's eyes. I skipped most of his parts this time around and I suggest that if you are the type of person who can have a story ruined by the proximity of dickish behavior that you skip his parts, too. At the very least, pass up on the introduction.

Ok, on to the book...

I go back and forth between thinking Goldman made a truly fantastic spoof or just a total crap book. "Let me explain. No, it would take too long." (hahahahaha) I'll list a few things I liked and then get on to what it is about the book that grates on my last nerve.

Good stuff -
Inigo and Fezzik
Prince Humperdinck
The word "humperdinck"
The Fire Swamp
The presence of the mysterious "holocaust cloak" is explained and it's something I'd always wondered about in the movie.

Other Stuff -
The writing/plot/characterization are completely wooden if you don't understand fantasy/adventure stories (and a little bit even if you do). I want to think this is part of the spoof. The idea here being that you accept all these ridiculous things because you do understand fantasy/adventure stories and it's part of the spoof. The thing is, I love spoofs but something about this one falls hella flat. I spent most of my time being annoyed rather than amused.

Buttercup is the most useless individual alive in the story's two fictional countries - and possibly the world. She may as well have been a mussel for all she brought to the book. Seriously! Why did Westley (our erstwhile Farm Boy) ever fall in love with her? I mean, yeah, the depth of his character was illustrated by the fact that he reads Books* so there's not much to him either but throughout the story we see that he Reads,* has ambition, is a great swordsman, is very strong, is an excellent strategist, is loyal, is funny and Buttercup is... holy hell she's too boring to even come up with a derogatory term. I'd say she's stupid (this is the girl who spent 6 months in "princess classes" and can't even fracking spell divine) but that seems to be attributing more to her character than was intended. Gah! But again, I'm hoping this is the spoof. You have your typical More Awesome Than Awesome hero and your Too Useless to Live heroine. But again again, it's more annoying than anything else.

Inigo and Fezzik are pulled straight from the canon. They are not unique or developed. They both play into caricature types that are meant to appeal to readers on an immediate emotional level. These two and Prince Humperdinck are what work well within the spoof framework. They embody archetypes we've seen done well and done poorly and done ad naseum but they are still likable in their own right and bring much to the story. That's good spoofing.

I made a few notes on this read through with the intention of being a bit more in depth and including examples of why the book didn't work for me but the idea of flipping through to the relevant sections simply bores me (a bit like the book). For whatever reason this spoof/story just does not work for me in book form. Maybe if I didn't love^ the movie so much the book would have worked better but, alas, it's not to be. I will once again leave my movie thoughts for over at the movie review but trust me when I say that the true genius here was Goldman turning this into a screenplay. I wonder if he, too, realized this story wasn't made for a book and a movie was the way to go.

So be sure to skip this book and go straight to the movie, and the movie review by clicking here!

*Books being a generic description of never-actually-named books that characters read when authors are not interested in properly developing characters (these characters are closely related to those who Quote (hat tip: Jed))

^love as in luuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrve with big smoochie xxx's and a giant throbbing heart

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Coming up next:
The Lathe of Heaven

Links to previous joint posts:
A Scanner Darkly
The Children of Men
The Minority Report