Monday, July 31, 2006

Further Thoughts on Peace Presence

As I mentioned before, since I’ve gotten back in Grand Rapids I’ve tried to make a point of attending the local Peace Presence vigil.

They have more information on their website here, but basically it is just a weekly vigil holding up signs for peace and against the war.

The effectiveness of this on national policy has been called into question by my sister, and actually some of these same discussion have been taking place among the group itself via the WMJPC (West Michigan Justice and Peace Coalition) Listserv.

Certainly if these kind of vigils are viewed as the be all and end all of activism, there are problems. But all of the people involved in this vigil are involved in other activities, such as Peace Education at IGE or counter-recruitment efforts at Media Mouse. Taken as a bare minimum from which other activities branch off, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Peace Presence.

All protest activities seek to focus the attention the cause, and remind people about the issues. If these are all useless, than much of the civil rights movement should have been a failure. After all, what concrete benefits were accomplished by Martin Luther King’s March on Washington other than bringing civil rights to the attention of the nation?

My philosophy is that if you have the time, and you think there’s a possibility it might do some good, and you’re reasonably sure it won’t do any bad, than get off your ass and join in. Its way too easy for people to cynics to just sit back and criticize.

The response we get from the passing motorists and pedestrians is really encouraging. Say what you want about Grand Rapids, I get the impression most people are behind us. I’d estimate maybe 50 % of the passing people honk or give us signs of support. Maybe 49% is indifferent. Only 1% of the people are negative.

So it’s probably stupid to get hung up on that 1%, right? I mean there’s no issue that everyone agrees on. And if everyone was against the war, there probably wouldn’t be any need for us to do that vigil in the first place.

But what bugs me is the vileness and intellectual poverty of that 1%.

For example last week we had a middle aged man scream obscenities at us and tell us what miserable people we were. Now I could understand this if we were a bunch of punk kids with signs like, “Hey baby killers, how many civilians did you massacre in Haditha?” or something like that. But at the time of the outburst it was me and two elderly women. One woman had a sign that said, “Honk for peace,” the other woman had a sign “We can’t bomb the world to peace” and I had a sign that said, “No Iraq war.” What kind of a human being sees signs for peace and flies into such a spitting fury?

And then there’s the intellectual poverty. Almost everyone of our critics mentions something about protecting freedom, or how we wouldn’t have the freedom to stand there and protest if the troops weren’t in Iraq.

Yeah, right buddy. I wouldn’t have the freedom to stand here if our troops hadn’t been bombing cities in a small country half way around the world.

Even by its own internal logic, this criticism makes absolutely no sense. “Our troops are over there protecting your freedom to protest....So don’t you dare use it”?

But how anyone makes a connection between the war in Iraq and my personal freedoms is beyond me. Of course this is the same argument that has been used in every foreign war the US has ever fought. Like during Vietnam when every pro-war group called itself something related to freedom. “We need to travel around the world and drop thousands of tons of Napalm and cluster bombs on peasant villages to protect our freedom”.

The logic, as far as I can tell, runs something like this.
1). In the revolutionary war, we were fighting for our freedom from the British.
2). Therefore every war we have fought or will fight since then is to protect our freedom.

I guess at least I should be glad that now it kind of makes sense. I mean in Vietnam it made absolutely no since. We were bombing the Vietnamese to prevent free elections. Now at least there was a terrorist attack on US soil that connects our freedom to the war.

....Of course you’d have to ignore the fact that the hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.

....And you’d have to ignore that there was no connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

...And that there were no weapons of Mass destruction found.

...And for that matter, you’d have to believe that the terrorists attacked us in the first place simply because they can’t stand our freedom. It had nothing to do with our military intervention in the Middle East.

Ok, maybe it doesn’t make that much sense. But we can agree that the war in Iraq was fought for the principle of Freedom, right? Bringing democracy to Iraq.

........Of course you’d have to ignore that all of our allies in the region besides Israel are undemocratic.

.......And you’d have to ignore that the US supported Saddam Hussein up until the first Gulf War, and gave him weapons during the very years of his worst human rights atrocities. (See this video)

......And that the architects of the War were all on record 10 years earlier giving their reasons why they didn’t think democracy could be imposed on Iraq by invasion (see here and here)

......And that in this war for democracy, all of our allies overrode the will of their people to join us in this war. And that the governments that actually listened to their people were ridiculed by our State Department for being weak and old fashioned (see the Chomsky quote).

.........Or you'd have to be safely cocooned in a shell of AM radio and Fox news. In which case I guess you don't know about any of the previous points.

When the government tells you it wants your sons and daughters to go and die in a foreign land, its your job as a citizen to be critical. That’s the bare minimum of a citizen. If you just say, “Okay, ship them out!”, we might as well have just stayed with King George III and never fought the revolution. If you think you’re being patriotic by yelling obscenities at Peace demonstrators, you've got to sort it out.

*******************************************************

In other news, unfortunately my commitment to give up Caffeine for the anti-war fast has fallen apart. After many set backs and restarts, I think I'm just given up. Instead I'm going to give up cigarettes and alcohol for the duration, and see if I have any better luck with that.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The influence of Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress can be seen in George Lucas's Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, particularly in the technique of telling of the story from the points of view of the film's lowliest characters. The relationship of R2-D2 and C-3PO is very similar to that of Tahei and Matakichi. Also, the characters of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia mirror those of the general Rokurota Makabe and Princess Yuki. Early in the development of Star Wars, George Lucas even considered Toshiro Mifune (the actor who played Rokurota) for the role of Obi-Wan.

Link of the Day
Oakland Police Spies Chosen to Lead War Protest

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

 (Book Review)
The Bear once recommended this book to me way back when we were still Calvin students. We were having a late night political/philosophical discussion, and he said to me, “Chewie, I think you would really enjoy this book. It was the hippy bible.”

The book stayed untouched on my bookshelf for a couple months before I finally gave it back to the Bear. Taking the time to read a book, at least for me, is enough of a commitment that I can never seem to do it for other people’s reasons.

But recently I’ve been trying to return to the idea of reading for fun, and thought I might take the Bear up on some of his science fiction recommendations.

This book is a cult classic, which means, according to the definition of cult classic, it is very well known inside of some circles, and then almost completely unknown once you get outside of those circles. It was published in 1961 and, as the Bear mentions, became very popular with the flower children. This is also the book responsible for introducing the word “grok” into the language, or at least into hippy or science fiction circles.

The plot of the book is about the first Martian visitor to the US. Only it turns out the first Martian is actually a human.

The first human expedition to Mars resulted in the death of all aboard except the infant Valentine Michael Smith. Years later, the Martian named Smith, now an adult, is sent back to earth to rejoin his race.

So this is a typical “Man from Mars” outside observer type story line, except this time its literal. Smith doesn’t understand anything about human culture, and has to learn about the human race and all its idiosyncracies.

Between the observations of the man from Mars, and the long diatribes by philosopher Jubal Harshaw (who acts as Heinlein’s mouth piece) there’s a lot to chew on in this book. In fact arguably too much. If Heinlein isn’t outright violating one of the cardinal rules of writing, “Don’t cram too many themes into one book”, then at least he’s pretty damn close.

But near the end of the book especially a few main themes do start to emerge: critiques of organized religion, advocating free love, and a communal view of property. (Did I mention this book was popular with hippies?)

The politics of Heinlein are rather interesting and not always consistent. (This wikipedia entry does a good job of trying to sort it out). Some of Heinlein’s more militaristic views in other books, such as the idea in “Starship Troopers” that citizenship should be based on military service, would not have been popular with the 68 generation. But all of that is absent from “Stranger in a Strange Land” which, if taken alone, would easily lead one to believe that Heinlein was an anarchist socialist.

Still, its difficult to know how seriously to take this book as manifesto. The idyllic free love commune that is created near the end of the book is predicated on Martian telepathy and special abilities. If Science Fiction is about the “What ifs” instead of the “what is” than this makes interesting reading, but is Heinlein advocating this kind of lifestyle for us ordinary humans?

After growing up in an environment where sex was demonized, in my young days at Calvin I was very attracted to the philosophies of Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxembourg, and other thinkers who advocated abolition of the traditional family in favor of free love associations. (In fact I think it might have been during a discussion on this topic that the Bear recommend this book.) But my actual experience at the time was limited.

In the years since I’ve been out in the world, my experience is that people do really get hurt by casual sex relations. But whether this is because of societal conditioning or raw human nature is beyond me. In my experience, it seems like it is the woman who ends up hurt, thus leading me at times to wonder if free love might be a male fantasy more than a well thought out philosophy. But when I tried to make up this point once, my sister violently disagreed and said that girls were more than capable of taking care of themselves, and that I was being a misogynist. And now that I think about, both Emma Goldman and Rosa Luxembourg were women.

...Well, obviously I’m still sorting through some of these issues. To sum up: “Stranger in a Strange Land” is a pretty good book, that will give you some interesting things to think about, although you do have to be patient with the various philosophical digressions the story takes.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
In one anonymous letter sent to King just before he received the Nobel Peace Prize, the FBI threatened King with releasing information about his affairs unless he committed suicide

Link of the Day
Conservative pundits made wildly wrong claims about how Iraq would turn out -- what are they saying now about the Middle East?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Journal Entry 1/24/99

(Retrospection)

Woke up and worked on this journal. Brett Nelson came in and caught me. It was the first time I admitted to another Calvin student that I was keeping this journal. (Or anyone for that matter-although my sister Kirstin did see me work on it during xmas break. And, come to think about it, I had mentioned it to Abby as well- but this is the first time another Calvin student has caught me in the act).

Brett wanted to go to Arby's and I accompanied him (I had nothing better to do). He debated this journal w/ me. I said I wanted to keep a record of College memories for when I got older. Brett said being old isn't as bad as I always make it out to be. He said I’ll be the same person only older; and his Grandpa still remembers things that happened to him when he was little, so I don't need to write everything down to remember it.

Brett bought me a Calvin special (2 Roast Beefs) at Arby's. On the way back, I told Brett about the spring break offer (I had heard about it from Margaret in the weight room Friday). He was super excited, and called Bosch when we got back. Rob was debating what to do (he wanted to go with us, but his parents were going to Hawaii).

Brian, our RA, came into our apartment to hang out with us for a while. There was a beer bottle cap right where he was sitting, and it bugged me a long time, until I went over and sat by him, then grabbed it when Brian was looking at Cecil. It wasn't the smoothest thing I've ever done in the world, and I suspect Brian might have noticed but just chose not to make an issue out of it. Also, Rob Patton and Melissa were in the next room in the same bed, which was also a violation of Calvin apartment housing. Brian and Brett were planning a football game, but I left to go tutoring.

I picked up Nhi at her house, and than we drove to Lan's house. Nhi made me some egg rolls, and I ate 3 of them plus some kind of desert thing she had made (I was getting full fast though-I had 2 Roast Beefs and a Slim Fast drink at my apartment before I left). I helped them on their homework. Lan had a lot of math that I could help her on (she was making a lot of mistakes that day, and she felt bad, but I guided her through 2 lessons). Nhi didn't have math anymore-almost all of her classes focused on learning more English. I gave her some suggestions on her paper, but she didn't want me to see what she was writing (in the revised version) so I let it be.

After the homework was done I stayed and talked with the girls for a while. Lan wanted to talk to practice her English. I was asked if I liked girls with short hair or long hair better, and when I answered both, Lan said it was a smart answer, but then they pressed me for a real answer. Finally I said I like short hair, but I like long hair too. Since Nhi had been complaining about how her father wouldn't let her cut her hair, I didn't want to say anything that would make her feel bad. Lan also gave me various pictures of Chinese celebrities, and I had to tell her who I thought was the prettiest. I used all the Chinese phrases that Jared English had taught me, and Lan recognized them all (although sometimes my pronunciation was so bad I had to say it in English also before she realized what I was talking about.)

I left around 8, and went back to my apartment. There was a message that Molly was coming over to get temporary tattoos with us as we had agreed. Rob stopped by on his break from work, and said he didn't know where we would get the Tattoos, and I didn't either, so we decided to just do something else with Molly. Brett came by, and Holly V visited him. She had just broken up with Dave Y, and they talked about that for a while. I kind of just hung the room while they were talking. I figured if they wanted privacy, they would have gone into the other room, and besides I had been there first.

Holly eventually left. Jon A stopped by and talked about all his Hollywood connections. Molly called and asked to speak to Rob. Rob made faces as Molly complained and complained about no tattoos. I talked to Molly for a while. It was somewhat awkward-- I was stretching for things to say at points but I kept talking and there were no big silences. Abby stopped by and she gave me a rough time about being on the phone so long and I took this as my escape. I offered to pick Molly up from NVW, and drove over there and got her. She brought a photo book over, which we looked at.

Rob made a comment about a compromising picture of Brett. Molly tried to grab Rob’s pictures, while Brett and Rob and I tried to hold her back. I knew the picture was in the closet, and tried to get it but Brett stopped me "Are you trying to ruin me?" he asked, and I stopped. After wrestling about the pictures for a while, Brett left to hide them elsewhere in the building, while Rob and I kept Molly in the apartment.

Molly got out after Brett had hid the pictures, and was looking all over for them. Brian (our RA) came in building, and hung out with us for a while. Finally Brett made Molly promise not to harm the pictures, and got them out, and the three of us looked at them. Brett laughed at a lot of Rob’s pictures. Molly took one of Rob's pictures of her and crinkled it up. (She thought it was an unflattering pose, because her mouth was open). We rescued it from her.

She asked to see it again, and promised she wouldn't hurt it. Then, despite this promise, when I gave it back she ripped it in two. Rob was outraged and said he was going to use the negative to make posters, T shirts, a web site about that picture, so Molly tried to crinkle up the negative but we stopped her.

Rob was eating whip cream from the can (as was his custom). Molly wanted to try the whip cream, and squirted a bunch into her mouth. But then after filling her mouth with Whip Cream, she spit it out at Brett. Brett was covered with Whip cream. "I can't believe you just did that Molly," he said. I was really laughing hard at this.

Brett threw some of the whip cream back at Molly. Some of it got in her hair, so she wiped it out. Then Molly got a hold of the whip cream again and put it in her mouth. Brett threatened her with the sprayer on the sink, so she spit the whip cream out on Rob instead. Then she squirted Whip Cream over Brett and got it down his shirt, until Rob and Brett held her down and extended the sink sprayer out enough to douse her with water.

Molly whined a lot about being wet, but then when we turned our back she grabbed the butter container. Brett ran after her yelling "Molly No! That’s not our butter!" Indeed we had borrowed the butter from the girls in the apartment upstairs. Heedless of Brett's concerns, Molly grabbed out a handful of butter and smeared it all over Rob and he smeared some of it back. Then Molly complained that her clothes were soaked and smelled like Butter.

We started cleaning up all the mess we had made. Since Rob's shirt was dirty anyway, I used it to clean the kitchen floor. (He had taken it off after getting butter all over it) . Rob really over-reacted when he found out I was using his shirt to clean the floor, and I laughed a lot. Rob tried to leave the apartment and go to the laundry room to wash his shirt, but he was so upset he forgot to unlock the door. He pulled the door, realized it was locked, unlocked the first latch, pulled again, and then unlocked the second lock, pulled one more time, and finally got the last lock. Brett and I were rolling on the floor laughing.

Molly wanted to borrow some of our clothing, since all of her stuff was covered with whip cream and butter. She wanted Rob’s Hawaiian shirt, but he didn't want to give it to her. There followed an epic wrestling match with Molly trying to grab the shirt and Rob trying to guard it. Finally Rob got so frustrated he rubbed the shirt all over the less clean areas of his body so that Molly wouldn't want to wear it anymore. At one point he stuck it down his pants and said "It’s surpassed the underwear Molly." At that point Brett and Cecil started saying, in mock official sounding voices ,"Surpassion, the new fragrance by Rob Patton".

{Thereafter the shirt became known as "The shirt of Surpassion" and no one wanted to touch Rob when he wore that shirt}.

Finally, Molly agreed to take Rob’s Budweiser shirt, with the frogs on it. We went to the laundry room and I helped Molly wash her shirt and socks. I tried to keep her entertained with a series of jokes, but I was somewhat struggling for material. "This washer eats clothes-are you sure you don’t want hot water?" At one point Rob creeped in from behind and startled Molly, and she screamed loudly.

Molly's socks weren't dry, so Molly and I went back into the apartment to get her a pair she could borrow-after making her promise not to wake the rest of the boys up (they were all in bed by now). She was very picky but we finally found a pair she would tolerate.

I volunteered to take Molly back to her dorm. Cat Calls from boys were directed towards me as we left the room, but I ignored them and quietly hoped Molly hadn't heard it.

Brett had brought sheets out for Molly, and I offered to let her sleep in apartment, but I said it very casually and didn't press it when she said she didn't dare. Molly wouldn't even come back in room when I was getting my shoes on (I don’t know if she was just being silly again, or if she thought I was trying to pull something on her). I made a snowball, but Molly asked me not to throw it and I threw it away. "Despite the fact, Molly, that if our situations were reversed and you had the snowball, I have no doubt in my mind it would end up in the back of my head," I said.
I cleaned the snow off the car, and gave Molly the keys to start it up. Then she tried to drive off with out me. I got in front of the car, but when I tried to stop it I just was pushed along the ice when I put my hands in front of the car. I tried to push against the car but I was just pushed backwards. Then Molly got the car stuck in the snow, and I agreed to push her out if she promised not to lock the door and try and drive off again. After we got unstuck, she did lock the door, and I was pushed backwards by the car for quite some time, until Campus Safety drove by. Campus Safety didn't do anything, but neither of us were looking to get in trouble for dangerous horseplay, so Molly relented and let me in the car at that point. It was really snowing hard now, so we went to do donuts in the offices across Calvin College. The snow was really slick, even though there wasn't too much built up on the ground. The car didn't spin that well and Molly (who was still in the driver's seat) didn't push it. Went by NVW. I agreed to walk in with her and make sure her card still worked. She said she would stop by tomorrow at 11 to drop off clothes and pick up clothes, and I said I would be up. I went home, set alarm for 10, and went to bed.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
In the episode "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo" of the TV series The Simpsons, the following exchange takes place:
Marge: Come on, Homer. Japan will be fun! You liked Rashomon.
Homer: That's not how I remember it

Link of the Day
(Via Bierma's Blog)
Colin Powell, in a 1992 press briefing as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush:
Saddam Hussein is a terrible person, he is a threat to his own people. I think his people would be better off with a different leader, but there is this sort of romantic notion that if Saddam Hussein got hit by a bus tomorrow, some Jeffersonian democrat is waiting in the wings to hold popular elections. (Laughter.) You're going to get -- guess what -- probably another Saddam Hussein. It will take a little while for them to paint the pictures all over the walls again -- (laughter) -- but there should be no illusions about the nature of that country or its society. And the American people and all of the people who second-guess us now would have been outraged if we had gone on to Baghdad and we found ourselves in Baghdad with American soldiers patrolling the streets two years later still looking for Jefferson.

(Also don't forget these quotes).

Monday, July 24, 2006

Pictures of Shoko









Just a few weeks ago I apologized one this blog for not having any pictures of Shoko with her eyes open. Then today I got more pictures from Shoko in the mail.

The first 5 are of me and Shoko at her Aunt and Uncles place. [Actually since Blogger loaded the new pictures from the top down, they've become the bottom 5 now]. Shoko still has her eyes closed in a couple of them. I can't really figure out why she has such bad luck with cameras because if you meet her in person she really does have very nice eyes. I think maybe she must just blink a lot.

This was in early May, about a week before I returned to Grand Rapids. In contrast to Shoko's mother, I was a big hit at this house. They were really excited to have me. The uncle said that they had never had a foreigner over for dinner before, so it was a big deal. The daughter was studying the protestant reformation at school, so they were really excited to have an actual real live protestant in the house who she could talk to. I did my best to explain the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, and generally enjoyed playing the expert.

The bottom 4 [or I guess they're the top 4 now] are pictures Shoko just took last week and mailed out to me so I wouldn't complain about how I never had any pictures of her. Notice the nice eyes.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Oita's Mt. Hachimen is also home to the popular music festival, Concert on the Rock. This annual charity event sees over 30 international acts performing over a June weekend for the pleasure of Japan's music lovers. The natural surroundings make it one of the most picturesque rock festivals in the world. Hmmm....I heavily suspect the Concert on the Rock folks had a hand in writing this very generous Wikipedia entry. Nevertheless I do have found memories of my own experiences at this concert.

Link of the Day
Regular Readers of this blog have probably noted I usually link to Chris or Justin when they describe some aspect of Ajimu or Oita life that I either never got around to or didn't describe very well myself.
Chris has a good entry summarizing the "Sex Museum" in Beppu (just one town over from Ajimu). I spent a very interesting afternoon here myself a few years ago.
Also both Chris and Justin wrote about the local Jamaica festival. Read Chris here or Justin here.

I wrote about this festival at this time last year ( seems so long ago now), but they've got pictures on their blog which help give it more of a flavor.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

 (Book Review)
I first heard about this book because it was mentioned in “U.S.!” By Chris Bachelder, another book I read recently. In “U.S.!”, there is a fictional scene in which Upton Sinclair and E.L. Doctorow meet to discuss their respective works, and Doctorow’s "Ragtime" is mentioned because of its fictional treatment of anarchist Emma Goldman.

Since I read Emma Goldman’s autobiography last summer, that was enough to get me interested in this book. And then I found out “Ragtime” was listed as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library, and I thought this would be an opportunity to check another one of their books off my list and feel smugly superior to everyone else in the process. So when I walked into my local library to find this book on their display case, it was a foregone conclusion to check it out.

Although Emma Goldman does pop up several times in this book, its not “The Emma Goldman Book” by any means. Emma Goldman is but one of several historical characters who walk in and out of the book, sharing the stage with Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Harry Houdini, Zapapata, the archduke Franz Ferdinand, Booker T. Washington, Sigmund Freud, and many others.

In addition to these historical giants a lot of minor and forgotten historical figures also pop up in the novel, like Evelyn Nesbitt, who appearently at one time was all over the tabloid papers because of her part in a love triangle that ended in a sensational murder and media circus courtroom trial.

I felt like I knew Emma Goldman’s life well enough to easily distinguish which parts of her story were fictional and which were real. (In fact, I’m pretty sure Doctorow must have also read Goldman’s autobiography, because most of Goldman’s biographical details seem lifted from Goldman’s own account). But for the rest of these characters I was constantly running back and forth to Wikipedia to find out what was true and what was not. This is a book that mixes history with fiction, and if you’re a history nerd like me you can’t sleep at night until you sort out what is true and what isn’t. So be forewarned.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that this book has been made into both a film and a Broadway musical. It’s a good book, but not all good books translate into good movies, and this book in particular doesn’t seem to have much of a linear plot. It wouldn’t have been my first choice to convert into the medium of drama, but I’ve not seen either the film or the musical, so I don’t know how they handled it.

Stylistically this book was a bit of a struggle for me at the beginning, but got progressively easier to read as I got into it. The story also starts out slowly, but really picks up a lot of speed in the last 100 pages.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
A swagman is an old Australian term describing an underclass of transient temporary workers, who travelled by foot from farm to farm carrying the traditional swag. A romanticised figure, the swagman remains famous through the song "Waltzing Matilda", by Banjo Paterson, which details a swagman who turns to stealing a sheep from the local squatter.

Link of the Day
I Was Israel’s Dupe By TOM HAYDEN
Hayden Revisits Sharon’s 1982 Attack on Beirut and His and Fonda’s Trip of Shame

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Paris Babylon by Rupert Christiansen

(Book Review)

This is another book on the Paris Commune, a subject which, as I’ve indicated several times on this blog, has become an interest of mine.

The Paris Commune is like any event in history in that it is very easy to understand if viewed in its simplest terms, but becomes very complex and confusing when you look at the details.

The accepted myth about the Paris Commune is that it is the first communist revolution. The French right was eager to demonize the Paris Commune with this accusation, and the Communists were eager to take credit, so the myth went unchallenged by both left and right historians for many years. Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao all wrote extensively about the Paris Commune and viewed it as the birth of the communist era.

The anarchists also lay claim to the Paris Commune for different reasons. This may seem contradictory, but remember anarchism and communism come out of the same socialist tradition, and 1871, the year of the Paris Commune, was before anarchists had been expelled from Marx’s International Workingmen’s Association. (This website here explains the Paris Commune from an Anarchist perspective).

But what was the Paris Commune really? Was it an international conspiracy controlled by the nefarious Dr. Marx and the International Workingmen’s Association, or was it a spontaneous uprising by a population who had suffered too much under the callous of the Second Empire, the blunders of the French Government during the Franco-Prussian War, and the Siege of Paris by the Prussian army.

Although Christiansen’s book is subtitled “The Story of the Paris Commune”, the Paris Commune itself doesn’t come on the scene until the last 100 pages. The rest of the book is dealing with the decadence of Paris under Napoleon III and the Second Empire, and the sufferings of the Parisian population during the siege. Hence the title and the comparisons with Paris as the second Babylon.

As a popular historian Christiansen does a great job during the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune. During both the siege and Commune he gives a day by day blow of what was going on in Paris, focusing on journal entries and memoirs from the participants. Fascinating reading.

Unfortunately the beginning of the book, the first 160 pages, is a bit slow. And nothing kills a book like a slow beginning. Unless the reader has a lot of patience, they might never get to the interesting parts.

For example there is the long chapter devoted to Urban renewal programs in Paris in the 1860s, during which I almost gave up the book. This is important historically, and certainly one of the causes of the Commune. (The fact that the poor were forced out of their old neighborhoods to make room for the Opera houses of the rich is cited by every historian as one of the causes of urban unrest in the late 1860s). But in a popular history, is it necessary to spend a whole chapter on the details of the urban renewal program? Could this point have been made in fewer words?

Others of Christiansen’s excursions are of questionable relevance. He devotes another chapter to the murder of Kinck family, a brutal murder which became a media circus in Paris in the 1860s. Even 100 years later the crime still feels fresh with tabloid voyeurism, but what is the connection to the Commune? According to Christiansen: “Every murder holds a mirror to society’s underbelly–its conscience, its values its soul. [Kinck’s murder trial] tells us about the way the Second Empire’s promotion of enterprise, commerce and profit as moral ideals could poison a fantasizing young teenager; it tells us about the bourgeois’ fear of the worker and the corruption of justice.”

Yeah, I suppose. Or one could say that every society, at any point in history, has always had its sickos and murderers.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Metric calendar was abolished because having a ten-day work week gave workers less rest (one day off every ten instead of one day off every seven); because the equinox was a mobile date to start every new year (a fantastic source of confusion for almost everybody); and because it was incompatible with the secular rhythms of trade fairs and agricultural markets.

Link of the Day
The Rightwing Language Police

Friday, July 14, 2006

Halloween 1999






(Retrospection)

Perhaps my favorite Halloween ever. I dressed up like Rob and imitated him, he did likewise with me. We sent the pictures to Brett who was doing an exchange program in China. Brett's Korean girlfriend, who had never met either of us, thought that we looked good in each other's clothes, and should always keep the other one's fashion. We didn't follow the advice though, and the next day I was back to me, and Rob was back to Rob.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Fictional Japanese Superheroes in the DC Universe:
Tsunami, aka Miya Shimada, an American citizen, the daughter of Japanese immigrants. She has superhuman control over the waves.
and
Doctor Light, aka Kimiyo Hoshi has the ability to manipulate ambient light for a variety of purposes. She can absorb all forms of illumination, and release that absorbed enregy as blinding flashes or light, or destructive laser beams. (Probably more, but those are the only two I know about).

Link of the Day
I've been lurking on Whiskey Prajer's blog (one of Phil's friends) for a long time now because I enjoy his thoughtful reviews of books and movies. He's started a project of blogging his favorite movies, counting down from 15. He's up to 11 last time I checked.
I think I'll sit this one out, but any one else feel like taking on the same project? I'm sure it would make interesting reading.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

 (Book Review)

Wow, did I love this book!

This is one of those books that’s been on my list for a long time, but that I kept putting off. I wanted to read it because I had heard it was about the Spanish Civil War, which is one of my historical interests because of the connection with anarchist and radical history. 5 years ago this is one of the few books I brought with me to Japan with the intention of reading, but never did.

I kept putting the book off because I had bad experiences with Hemingway in high school, and found the famous Hemingway style to be more annoying than anything else.

Perhaps I’ve matured as a reader, or perhaps this book is better than Hemingway’s usual, but I did not find Hemingway’s style as annoying as I remembered it. In fact I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The story takes place in the mountains behind the fascist lines among the guerrilla fighters. Robert Jordan is an American volunteer who has been sent to dynamite a bridge in the fascist territory. Pablo, the leader of the guerrilla’s, is opposed to this mission because he views it as an unnecessary risk.

The debate about whether or not to destroy the bridge takes up most of the book. In a way it reminded me of those George Romero Zombie movies. An army of zombies is outside the house, but the humans spend the whole time arguing among themselves. “Go to the basement.” “No stay upstairs!”

“For Whom the Bell Tolls” has the same sense of misdirected energy. The guerillas are deep behind fascist lines, but they spend most of their time arguing with each other. Although this is a tactical rather than ideological debate, I suspect Hemingway might have meant this to be symbolic of the Spanish Civil War as a whole, and the failure of the anti-fascist forces to form a United Front. The issue of internal divisions is addressed more explicitly later in the book. Near the end there is a passage when one of the characters is sent to deliver a crucial message and gets delayed first by paranoid Anarchists, next by bureaucratic republicans, and finally by purge happy communists. The end result is that the message arrives too late.

Its always difficult to tease out the political beliefs of an author based on statements made by his characters, but I suspect Hemingway and I do not line up exactly. Robert Jordan, the main character, makes a number of statements that I really agreed with, including the subject of hidden fascism in the United States. On the other hand, the anarchists in this book are portrayed as either useless or drunks. And several characters make racist statements against Gypsies. (I guess it might be unfair to extend these sentiments to Hemingway himself, but they are never corrected elsewhere in the book.)


But politics aside the book as a story is amazing. I think especially Hemingway has a real skill for conversation. Not necessarily “writing the way people talk” (in fact much of the dialogue sounded stilted) but rather having a sense for the natural flow conversations take. And also the mental thought process of the characters was very well described.

The book is not antiwar, at least not in the tradition of “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The characters believe in the cause they are fighting for. But Hemingway makes a real effort to show the costs and misery of war. And the fascist soldiers are not shown as mindless robots to be killed like they would be in an Indiana Jones movie.

The theme of suicide is prevalent as well. Given how Hemingway ended his life, it’s interesting to see what his thoughts on the subject are.

Oh, and lest I forget, the book is also a love story. I guess I haven’t mentioned that yet, even though that’s the main point of the book. Actually the love story parts didn’t really stick with me that much. I enjoyed them for what they were, but it is the other themes of the book that I took more interest in. I guess there’s just no hope for me as a romantic.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Aquaman has been referenced on two occasions in the animated television series The Simpsons (1989—). In "Treehouse of Horror VIII" (airdate October 26, 1997), in a sequence entitled "The Homega Man," the Comic Book Guy is shown reading an Aquaman comic as he states aloud, "But Aquaman, you can't marry a girl without gills. You're from two different worlds." He looks up to see a neutron bomb heading directly for him and mutters, "Ooo, I wasted my life," just before the bomb explodes. In "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder" (airdate November 14, 1999) when Homer is drowning at the beach, he shouts out to his infant daughter, "Maggie, help! Call Aquaman!"

Link of the Day
This one is old news, about 3 years ago now, but I wanted to link to it just because I realized I never linked to it before. A salon.com article on police spying in Grand Rapids.
I was in Japan when all this was going on, but I'm extremely proud to say I know most of the people mentioned in the article. Abby Puls is a good friend from Calvin, and in fact stayed over here at my parents house a few nights once when she was waiting on a ride home for Christmas break. Erica Freshour and Jeff Smith are friends from Media Mouse, and I've gone on many adventures with them including the Quebec protest.

I know many of you have already seen this article. I see Phil Christman even had a letter into Salon about it. I was asking Jeff Smith about this the other day, and he told me that they had told the local media all about it, but no one thought it was news worthy until after Salon did a piece on it. Only then did the Grand Rapids Press and others cover the incident. Pathetic.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Couch Burning

It’s great to be back home and having good times with friends once again. Last night there was a good old-fashioned couch burning at Hoort’s place.

Guam or Dean could probably tell you more about the history of this couch. Apparently its been in the Calvin family for about 9 years or so now, and has a lot of memories attached to it. But its also getting old and needed to be put out of its misery. As we watched that couch go up in flames, we felt the last of our youth burning away with it.

But it wasn’t just about couch burning. We had a great game of frisbee golf first. I’ve decided not to keep track of my score, but I have a feeling I was near the back of the pack. The amazing Mr. Guam put away another win.

Word is gradually getting around that I’m engaged, and so I was asked to tell my story. (Such as it is. I’m going to have to come up with a new story so that I have something better to tell). Also some people wanted to see pictures. I didn’t have pictures with me at the time, but pictures of Shoko can be seen on-line here and here. Neither of them are very good actually, because she has her eyes closed.

(Now that I have acess to a scanner, I guess I'm no longer limited to digital pictures other people take. I'll try and make it a point to scan in more pictures sometime soon. Although even on those pictures Shoko has her eyes closed a lot. I think she must just blink a lot at the wrong times).

We tried out Hoort’s throwing knives for a while, which I think could easily have provided hours of amusement had we not stopped for dinner. I also had the distinction of losing a knife on the first throw. I stepped up, threw the knife as hard as I could at the target, and it sank right into the ground. After all the knives had been thrown, nobody could find mine. We all remember it disappearing into the dirt a few feet away from me, but despite endless searching (and Hoort even getting out the gardening tools to dig with) we couldn’t retrieve the knife.

Hell of a first throw, huh? Pasta suspects that my knife was actually picked up by another person in the confusion, and it was a different knife that got lost. And I like this theory a bit because it lets me off the hook for losing Hoort’s knife. On the other hand, I do kind of like the idea of having so powerful a throw as to bury the knife deep into the dirt.

The couch, when we finally put it on the fire, really went up in flames a lot quicker than I think any of us expected. There were a couple minutes when it looked like the neighboring trees were going to catch fire, and Hoort brought out the garden hose just in case. And then, as quickly as it had flared up, the flames subsided.

Afterwards a night of good discussion and reminiscing. In addition to losing Hoort’s knife, I also had the distinction of being the last guest to leave. I was just saying to Hoort, “Well, now that Dean and Jess have left, if I’m not careful I’ll be the proverbial last guest who has to be kicked out of the house.”
“You already are,” Hoort said. “Guam and Yoshi, the only ones left, are staying the night.”

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Peanuts are a Japanese twin sister singing group. They are Ito Emi (Ito Hideyo) and Ito Yumi (Ito Tsukiko). The twins were born in Nagoya on April 1, 1941.
They are very well known from their appearances in Mothra and Godzilla movies of the 1960s, in which they appeared as fairies called shobijin (small beauties) who had telepathic communication with Mothra.
(A bit cheesy perhaps, but one of my favorite Japanese groups. I'm listening to their CD as I write this).

Link of the Day
Star Democrats and the Prolongation of the Iraq War

Friday, July 07, 2006

Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain

 (Book Review)

This isn’t one of Mark Twain’s better known works, but Twain is one of those authors you can never go wrong with.

The plot is a little difficult to summarize, partly because this is, as Twain admits, a combination of different stories. And partly because most of the action takes place in the 5th act. Most of the rest of the book is just the characters positioning themselves.

So I think it is easier to just introduce the main characters instead. First is Dave Wilson, who is the smartest person in the town, and a great wit. Unfortunately no one else in the town understands irony, and so Wilson’s ironic witticisms are taken at face value, and the town people conclude he’s actually a complete idiot, thus the nickname “Pudd’nhead Wilson.”

Then there are the two babies switched at birth. One, Tom Driscoll, is the legitimate son and heir to the estate fortune. The other one, Chambers, is 1/32nd black, 31/32nd white, and thus under Southern law considered a slave and a piece of property. But no one notices when his mother switches the two babies and thus reverses the fortunes of each.

And finally two twin Italian nobles, who rent out a room in the town, and become the fascination and darlings of this sleepy Southern town.

When these three elements are mixed together, and a murder mystery thrown in during the 5th act, hilarity and Twain’s biting social commentary ensues.

According to the book’s cover jacket: “Twain’s ruminations on the issues of the day make this a novel of perpetual questions, and one of the author’s most ironic and elusive.” Which I took to mean: “We know he’s criticizing something, we just don’t know what.”

Some of the themes of the novel are easier to tease out than others. For instance an obvious point of criticism is the Southern law that 1/32nd black blood was enough to make one a slave. And the fact that these two babies could be switched and no one would ever notice hints that race is not so much a physical reality as much as a social concept. In this way Mark Twain seems to be ahead of his time. Also the fate of poor Pudd’nhead Wilson shows that genius is mocked more frequently than it is appreciated. As to the rest of the themes, I’ll leave to those more perceptive than me.

The actual story itself, I found the ending anti-climatic, and too predictable. Instead the real beauty of this book is all the humor mixed in along the way. For example each chapter opens with delightful ironic quotes from “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calender,”; the kind of biting one-liners that Mark Twain is famous for. My personal favorite was: “Adam was but human -- this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.”

(For someone who didn’t believe in the Bible, Mark Twain sure references it a lot. If you don’t know the story about Elisha, the 42 youths, and the bears, you’ll miss another great one-liner. I suppose in the days of Mark Twain biblical literacy must have just been assumed.)

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Davy Crockett had a son named Rob Patton Crockett, who in 1838 administrated his father's Texas land claim after Davy Crockett's death at the Alamo.

Link of the Day
Another addition in Swagman Family Blogging. It appears my little brother has set up a blog here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Happy 4th of July to Me

So, yesterday was my first 4th of July in the United States for four years. It's not really much of a Holiday they celebrate in Japan, so it is nice to be back in the US for a good old 4th of July celebration, for nostolgia's sake, if nothing else.

Although to a certain extent, I almost enjoyed the 4th of July more when I was abroad. Being downtown in a crowd of several thousand of Americans, you don't really feel that special. When you're the only American in your town, the day kind of takes on new meaning for you. Sometimes some of us ex-pats would get together at Tropicoco or something for a little impromptu 4th of July Celebration. It was just like in "The Great Escape" when the Americans and British are celebrating the 4th of July together, and Steve McQueen kept saying, "Happy 4th of July, down with the British" and everyone had a good laugh.

When in Japan, I'd also make it a point to try and talk to my students about the 4th of July, as part of a cultural exchange if nothing else. I'd tell them that it was a really important day, because it was the first time since antiquity that a country had done away with the king, and created a free Republic.

Although recently I've been doing some reading, and I'm not sure if this is true anymore. In a book I was reading, it turns out the Netherlands were a Republic from 1581 and 1795. (There's also a Wikipedia Article here, if anyone wants a quick reference.) Strange that this never came up in any of my American civics classes in school. Maybe Guam or Lucretius or any of you other history nerds can help me out here with explaining why this is often overlooked. At any rate, it looks like my pride in being American is slightly diminished, but my pride in being Dutch is now slightly increased, so my overall pride is still at a steady level.

The last 4th of July I was in Grand Rapids (July 4th, 2001) we at Media Mouse joined in with the AdBusters campaign, and ordered an American flag filled with corporate symbols. We then had a little rally down at Veterans park, where we waved our Corporate America flag, and handed out flyers about how America was under the dominance of corporations. (Bork and Mulder were there as well, I recall. Do you guys remember that?) The old pamphlet is still on Media Mouse's website, if anyone is looking for a blast from the past.

So, anyway, now that I'm back in the US again, I thought it appropriate to once again exercise my patriotic duty to dissent on July 4th. After all, as Howard Zinn says, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism".
(A contrary opinion can be found on my sister's blog. She records her disgust with my protesting on July 4th here. Once again it's gotten a bit hard to read these days since her unfortunate visual choice of white print over white flower, but I usually just copy and paste it onto a different screen).

This year there is a fast for peace going on national through September 21, and the Grand Rapids Chapter of Code Pink organized a local presence at Veterans park. (Information on the national fast is here, and you can Read the local flyer here. Also Sarah sends me information on Celebrities participating here.)

Unfortunately for me, fasting is not one of my strong points. I just like food way too much. And I never really saw the point of it.

(Some of you may remember how I used to antagonize the people at Calvin who were fasting for spiritual reasons by talking about food the whole time. To me the point of religion has always been in doing outward good, and I viewed the inward spiritualism as self-righteousness. Although in retrospect it was childish of me, and I do regret antagonizing the fasters. After all if Nate wanted to fast, what harm was he doing me? I should just have let him alone. But then again whenever we get together with the boys, the memory of me talking about my favorite foods and Nate getting up and leaving and slamming the door always comes up as one of the funnier Calvin memories).

Anyway, it was explained to me that I could do a modified Fast, so I decided to give up Caffiene and sweets for the Duration. I'm not sure if this really counts because both are things that I really should be giving up anyway. Just like I'm not really sure if it counts giving up bad things for Lent. Not that I'm currently in the habit of observing Lent, but just as an intellectual question. If you give up smoking or sweets or something you probably shouldn't be having anyway for Lent, does that count?

Brett was also somewhat skeptical about how my plan to give up coffee was going to bring the war to a close, and when pressed I had a hard time defending it. "What do you think people are going to say," he said sarcastically to me. "For God's sake don't shoot! That man hasn't had a cup of coffee in two months!"

Well, I guess it's a token effort, right? My general philosophy is that it's easy to just sit back and be critical, but its also important for people to try and make some sort of an effort in some way. In the meantime, Nate, if you want to brew a cup of coffee right in front of me, we'll just call it even, okay?

Anyway, if anyone is interested in participating, there are fast pledge sheets you can down load here, and then mail into Washington.

The peace presence on the 4th of July in Grand Rapids was a bit disappointing. Other than the family that organized it, very few people showed up. Although that is discouraging, it does make me that much more glad I went, because they were really hurting for people.

In the evening I went downtown to see Fireworks with Brett and Sarah and friends. I saw a few people I hadn't seen in years, so that was really nice. On the other hand I remember during my Calvin days I used to go downtown for festivals and see tons of people I know. Naturally after being out of the country for 5 years, I guess I can't expect to keep up so many contacts, but I think a lot of it is just getting older as well, and high school and college friends have moved away. A little depressing in a way.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Philistinism is a derogatory term used to describe a particular attitude or set of values. When a person is called a Philistine (in the relevant sense), he is said to despise or undervalue art, beauty, intellectual content, and/or spiritual values. Because the Philistines were neighbors and enemies of the Israelites, the term originates from German student slang, supposedly first in Jena in the late 17th century, as a dismissive term for the townspeople (compare the British university slang, 'townies,') It is said that at a memorial service for a student killed in a town-gown clash, the minister took for his text the words of Delilah to Samson,'The Philistines be upon thee, Samson!'

Link of the Day
Patriotism & The Fourth of July by Howard Zinn

Monday, July 03, 2006

Two Different Thoughts

Once again I’m combining two unrelated thoughts under one post.
First:

Congress
Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
- Mark Twain


The Behavior of Congress for the past few weeks has been even more idiotic than usual: debating an amendment to ban flag burning, ban gay marriage, and the problem of violent video games. If you’ve been watching “The Daily Show” lately, they’ve been doing a good job of satirizing this, but I want to add my voice of disgust.

There is apparently a widespread belief in Republican circles that poverty, business regulations, health care, and environment is all the job of the private sector, and it’s the government’s responsibility to regulate what video games you buy and making sure gay people can’t get married, and protect the flag. I just don’t understand this. And I suspect the founding fathers are rolling in their graves. We don’t send these guys to Washington so they can debate about whether or not we have too much liberty. They’ve got more important things to do.

I know I’ve gone on similar rants before, but this is one thing I’ve never understood. As this old Tom Tomorrow cartoon shows, Democrats can sometimes fall into the same fallacy, but the last 6 years have been safely Republican.

Superman Returns
I saw “Superman Returns” the other night with my family.

As with any summer blockbuster movie, this has been getting more than its fair share of ink. (Imagine if we paid that much attention to what Congress was doing!) But I want to throw in my two cents.

I’ve heard a lot of talk lately from certain people about how lame Superman is: how Superman is too powerful so that his adventures not even interesting, or how he is too perfect so that he doesn’t have any of the necessary human faults necessary to sustain human interest.

There’s no doubt that Superman is outdated. You could argue that Batman is cooler because he doesn’t have any superpowers. Or you could say Spider-man is cooler because he has a lot more real life type problems. And you’d be right. But you’d be missing the point.

Superman is the closet thing we have to an American legend; an American equivalent of King Arthur or Joan of Arc or what have you. If you doubt it, just see how much name recognition Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone or whoever have overseas. But people in every country of the world recognize Superman immediately. To say Superman is the most famous comic book character ever would simply be stating the obvious.

To my mind, the Superman story is a lot like the Trojan War. The concepts behind the Trojan War became outdated centuries ago. (A ten year war over a woman?) And yet every generation feels the need to try their hand at retelling it. Remember how excited some of us got when the Troy movie came out?

Superman’s the same way. Sure his story is not 3000 years old, but 70 years is a long time for a comic book character. How many boys today have lunch boxes with “The Lone Ranger” or “Flash Gordon” or “Dick Tracy” etc.

The challenge is in reinventing this American icon for a new generation. Its also part of the fun. Sure, Superman’s godlike abilities make it hard to write a suspenseful story, but it can be done. You just have to pit him against an equally skilled villain, like Doomsday or Lobo, or Brainiac in the comic books. Or you focus on the subplots and relationships instead, like in the TV show “Lois and Clark”.

The point is it can be done. All that being said...
This new Superman movie really sucked eggs. Kevin Spacey was good as Lex Luther, but there was absolutely no plot to speak of. The ending was melodramatic, drawn out, and just symbolic enough to be pretentious. (Pretentiousness is the kiss of death for any comic book adaptation.) Matt Lind has a good post going further into some of this symbolism.
Too much of the movie revolved around Superman flying around or posing against the backdrop of dramatic music. Everyone’s glad to see Superman back on the silver screen, but there’s a limit to what the audience should have to put up with for the sake of nostalgia.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Beatles' "Revolver" is often cited as one of the greatest albums in pop music history. In 1997 it was named the 3rd greatest album of all time in a 'Music of the Millennium' poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 2, while in 2001 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 1. Revolver was also voted the best album of all time in the Virgin All Time Top 1,000 Albums . A PopMatters review described the album as "the individual members of the greatest band in the history of pop music peaking at the exact same time", while Ink Blot magazine claims it "stands at the summit of western pop music".

Link of the Day
Ten Lessons from the Criminalization of Dissent

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

 (Book Review)

Surprise! This book is actually pretty well written. Despite its title being synonymous with B-movies, the original book demonstrates that Jack Finney has a lot of talent.

I know many of you will question my literary tastes, but I challenge you to just read the first couple pages and look at what skill the author sets up his characters with. Then, for comparisons sake, read a couple pages of something from the “Left Behind” series.

My only problem is with the plot. For one thing it moves pretty slowly. I guess most of that is intentional, but it’s always annoying when it takes the main characters a long time to realize something the reader knows from page one. The main characters realize very early on that many of their friends just don’t seem the same, but don’t realize the truth until much later in the book when the evidence is absolutely overwhelming. Which I suppose is probably how things would be in real life. Most sane people wouldn’t realize it was an alien invasion until they had exhausted all other possibilities.

I think (and I’m just thinking off the cuff here) that perhaps there has been an evolution in science fiction writing. Modern readers are so sick of the main characters taking forever to realize what they already know that modern writers short circuit a lot of the plausible disbelief, and have characters jump to conclusions a lot sooner. But again, that’s just off the cuff.

The other problem is that after all the build-up, the ending is anti-climatic, and seems a little bit deus-ex-machina. Somewhat like the “War of the Worlds” ending. Just when it looks like all is lost, all of a sudden.....(Well, I won’t give away the ending, but if you’ve read “War of the Worlds” it’s not all that dissimilar). Although, given the enormous odds against which the main characters had to fight, I was thinking that the final ending would be something like that. There was no way they could have won in a straight fight.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Perhaps most controversial of all of Mark Twain's work was the 1879 humorous talk at the Stomach Club in Paris, entitled "Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism", which concluded with the thought, "If you must gamble your lives sexually, don't play a lone hand too much." This talk was not published until 1943, and then only in a limited edition of fifty copies
Link of the Day
Media coverage of Iraq debate steeped in GOP talking points