Archives for the month of: November, 2011

finished reading umberto eco’s “the prague cemetery” recently.  was great as expected.  and made me feel how little i know of history once again.  that’s inevitable with any eco novel.  i consider myself an educated person.  nevertheless, i was only able to get about 30-40% of all his historical references.   yeah, the general stuff about garibaldi and his expedition of the thousand, the french-prussian conflict, references to dumas and hugo, france’s third republic, the dreyfus trial, the anti-jesuit and anti-freemason movements and anti-semitism in france and russia, i already knew some about.  ditto the protocols of the elders of zion.  but what i knew was only the tip of the iceberg as well as “the prague cemetery” is concerned…

same goes for every eco book i read.  my favorite, still is, “foucault’s pendulum“– the ultimate conspiracy theory book, less goofy and better constructed than “The Illuminatus! Trilogy” …   but more on the pendulum and its connection to the headline of this post, “where is dan brown when we need him?” later..

my second favorite is “the island of the day before“, the perfect book about regret.  it utilizes perhaps the best metaphor in modern literature as far as regret and past mistakes go– a 17th century man is stuck on a ship, swimming distance from an island.  he believes the island is on the other side of the international date line.   the “date line” is almost a science fiction concept for his 17th century enlightenment mind– he believes, if somehow he can reach the island, he will travel to “yesterday” and will be able to stop the ship from wrecking.  unfortunately he can’t swim.  in this conundrum, with the 17th century enlightenment version of time travel eating up his mind, he reminisces about his past mistakes and everything he would have changed only if he could.  like i said, the perfect metaphor for regret and past mistakes.  who, among the living or the dead, did not fantasize of traveling back in time to fix at least one mistake?

eco is a curator of obscure and esoteric knowledge.  he is also a master of unreliable narrators, memory and longing, past mistakes and conspiracy theories.  he is addicted to memories, or their transformation with age, and nostalgia (from greek, compound of nostos, “returning home”, and algos, “pain, ache”), best showcased in the island, mentioned above, and “the mysterious flame of queen loana“– books chuck full of artifacts triggering memories like proust’s madeleines…

and all his books make you want to sign up for graduate studies in history, philosophy or comparative religion.  i am yet to read an eco book without hitting 20 other books and sources simultaneously or sequentially to quench my thirst for knowledge.   they all make you realize that this late in the game, may you be 25 or 40, even if you dedicate the rest of your life to reading and research, your chances are slim in catching up with eco…

he is, and i guess that would be the ultimate compliment to him with his constant shout-outs to the great blind librarian of argentina, is the 21st century borges; or borges if he wrote novels instead of short stories…

the cemetery, as anyone who follows up on literature knows by now, is a satirical novel about the fictional creator of the infamous “the protocols of the elders of zion“, perhaps the most important anti-semitic conspiracy theory, and the biggest literary forgery of all time.   no need to delve into the protocols now– everyone has heard about them, but i am sure few on the western hemisphere have read ’em.  it is grotesquely shocking that they are still read and preached about as true texts in the eastern world and select neo-nazi circles, here and elsewhere.  but, like they say around my lovely brooklyn, “whaddaya gonna do?”– every conspiracy theory, no matter how frivolous it is or how well documented that it is a fraudulent, has a buyer…  people thrive on conspiracy theories.  no wonder the X-files was one of the most popular tv shows of all time…

captain simon simonini is our narrator.  actually one of our three narrators– the second narrator, a jesuit priest, is actually the alter ego of our captain and a third narrator jumps in only to correlate the often conflicting and confusing testimonies of the captain and his alter ego.

captain simonini is the ultimate unreliable narrator.  and he is despicable and evil to the bone.  he may be the most evil and despicable narrator created in modern literature.  the most evil literary creation in modern literature, in my humble opinion, is mccarthy’s judge holden in the “blood meridian“.  simonini is not as evil as the judge was.  but he is up there.  besides, judge holden was not the narrator and simonini is far more despicable: the judge was far more evil but had some sort of an honor code and dignity.  simonini has neither…

the captain is a career fraud and master of forgery.  he will forge any document, from wills and trusts to any old political document. he is an equal opportunity/ affirmative action hater– he hates anyone and everyone…  the book consists of his forgeries, leading up to the protocols and its many prior reincarnations, and how he self-justifies his skills as a forger and a fraud, gently reminding me of welles’ “f is for fake”, discussed elsewhere in this blog

his alter ego, the jesuit priest (don’t make me type his name here– i’ll have to look it up somewhere and copy/paste, too much work) is much more reliable and a slightly more decent person.   he initially thinks that he is a good man.  but, as the story unfolds, he realizes that he was just another instrument of evil from the captain’s toolbox…

eco had to make the captain this despicable– after all, the book, in the wrong hands, may be taken too seriously.  don’t get me wrong, almost everything in the book, except the narrators, are real historical characters.  but, a reader who doesn’t understand eco’s humor and satire, or who reads it as face value, can find the book a great anti-semitic text.  suffice it to say, eco had balls to publish it…

and this brings me to the post’s “pisses” tag; everything else i wrote before could simply be tagged “tickles”.  eco’s american publisher, on the other hand, did not have the same balls– they had to include a blurb in the back cover from cynthia ozick, without citing where the blurb is from (obviously written by ms. ozick only to grace the back cover of the cemetery), as a disclaimer.  ms. ozick’s disclaimer (gracing the back cover as a “blurb”) is sad to say the least.  she expounds:

“A J’accuse is always timely, but there has rarely been anyone to write it– until the advent of the falsely demonic Umberto Eco, a Zola posing as the devil.  His is a satanically dangerous novel, as are all ironic tales, especially if they should fall into the hands of a naive reader.  So: naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers, keep away!  This magnificently sly, scarifying, circuitous, history-besotted jape is meant solely for the wise, the intrepid, and (if one may nowadays dare this biblical note) the righteous.”

“naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers”?  really?  this is the first time i’ve seen a disclaimer on a work of fiction, as a blurb sans a source, on a book’s cover, which is designed to sell it.   even the “satanic verses” did not have such a disclaimer on it.  this blurb reminds me only of the “disclaimers” in high school science books agains “evolution”, shamelessly stating that “evolution” is just a “theory”, not proven, and is one among many other theories of our miserable existence, including creation.

why, oh why, put a disclaimer like this on a great book?

did the publishers think that the racists, anti-semites, and other assorted hate-mongers will decide not to read the book because of the disclaimer?  or not take it seriously because of it?  will a neo-nazi decide to leave it on the shelf when he sees the disclaimer, mumbling “thanks to ms. ozick i will not read this book– she made me realize i am not wise or intrepid enough”?  please– it is just a worthless cover your ass by the publishers– like the DVD CYAs sony and their ilk make us watch– nothing in this film represents the opinions of sony corporation or its employees.  please, have some balls if you’re publishing art– may it be literature or film– grow some balls and stand behind your artists and the freedom of speech…

enough ranting though– let’s get back to the subject line of this post: where is dan brown when we need him?  well, i am sure he is on a private island somewhere, waiting on the publication of the cliff’s notes to “the prague cemetery”…

dan brown’s stupid, stupid “the da vinci code”, and most of his oeuvre, is umberto eco’s “foucault’s pendulum” for the “naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers”…

so ms. ozick and mr. eco’s US publishers need not fear– i am sure, as soon as the cliff’s notes to “the prague cemetery” comes out and mr. brown finally reads its watered down summary, there will be a bestseller written out of the cemetery for the “naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers” with a tom hanks blockbuster following.  mind the cemetery was a bestseller in most of europe. we don’t need to fear the same happening on this side of the pond ms. ozick: only a watered down version, with enough built in disclaimers so you don’t have to write any more “blurbs”, will eventually hit our great nation’s grocery stores and walmarts, most likely from the hands of mr. brown’s assistants and ghostwriters…

so, ms. ozick and the great publishing house of houghton mifflin harcout, fear not of the “naive readers, country bumpkins, gullible gapers”, i am sure your remedy is right around the corner…

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the times, in its style section this week, which usually gets me to rant incessantly with their shameless promotion of commercial trends as uniqueness and their neu hipsterism, packaged as faux individuality, but in reality is nothing but pack mentality, designed specifically for bored soccer moms, printed a true article of hope: a report on the rising number of black atheists in america.

congratulations times style section, now this is refreshing– mostly you give us nothing but what was cool a year ago, or sap stories reading almost like treatments for oprah’s book club manuscripts and/ or showtime romantic comedy series, or rants of social nazis…  unfortunately, i must say, the only consistently interesting thing in the times’ style section is bill cunningham’s street photography…

the report, in a nutshell, is about the rising number of atheists or non-believers (obviously huge difference there) in the black community.  the numbers are encouraging:

In the two years since, Black Atheists has grown to 879 members from that initial 100, YouTube confessionals have attracted thousands, blogs like “Godless and Black” have gained followings, and hundreds more have joined Facebook groups like Black Atheist Alliance (524 members) to share their struggles with “coming out” about their atheism.

of course the times had to drop a sentence like “african-americans are remarkably religious even for a country known for its faithfulness, as the united states is” and then continue with:

According to the Pew Forum 2008 United States Religious Landscape Survey, 88 percent of African-Americans believe in God with absolute certainty, compared with 71 percent of the total population, with more than half attending religious services at least once a week.

the american faithfulness is, by itself, sufficient to trigger its own rants, as it did time and again…  the us of a, despite its self-proclaimed pole position as the leader of the free world, is an extremely religious country.  which is mind boggling: it is very hard to reconcile “the free world” with religious fundamentalism.  but, given the americans collective depression and discontent, the poverty and lack of solid public school education in most of the flyover states and dysfunctional families, it is really not a big a surprise. the formula is very simple:

poverty + lack of good education + dysfunctional families + depression/ discontent = religious fundamentalism.

take any of the two causes out, for instance poverty + depression, and you are left with simply religious people.  factor in at least three of the symptoms, you can easily add “fundamentalism” to “religious”…

this rings truer in marginalized communities– like the black or the hispanic community.   the last bastion of catholicism in the united states, in its most medieval form, is the hispanic community.  sames goes for protestant faiths in the black community.  and with also the rise of islam in the black communities.  the poorer, the less educated a community is, the more religious it will become.

religion in the black community is the last major artifact of slavery still standing.  the slaverunners not only took the black people’s freedom, but also poisoned them with their hardcore religion.   slavery was abolished in 1860s, but the de facto end of state sponsored racism was the civil rights movement in the 60s, a hundred years after the emancipation proclamation.  racism, however, still hovers like a spectre over this nation, haunting us in the form of poverty, sub par education and other forms of marginalization.   the question of racism, in this day and age, is not much different than the proverbial chicken-egg question…

adam clayton powell, jr, back in the heyday of the civil rights movement, declared “to demand these god-given rights is to seek black power”.  hence, the concept of “black power” was defined.  now, only when the black community can take the “god-given” out of the equation, then their power and their freedom will be absolute…

the old mantra of “religion is the opium of the masses” still holds true.  especially in this country.  in the third-world, in developing nations, religion is inevitable.  their poverty and non-existent value of life attracts religion to them like the plague.  in the united states, how religion infiltrates the society is a little more complicated.  and it is more true in poor communities, especially the black community.  hence, this times report is most encouraging.  obviously there is always hope– but the study goes on to show that there is a movement backing up the hope:

i simply hope that the movement will grow, groups like the african-americans for humanism will gain more momentum and will end the last bastion of slavery left in the united states, the religious dogma injected to once freemen during their atlantic crossing, and the corrupt power of black church organizations, which are seen and endorsed as “political machines” by the rich and the powerful, will diminish in influence, resulting in free people once again…  when the al sharpton’s and jesse jackson’s find themselves without any true power, when the church of god and the southern baptists move back their mega-churches to strip-mall offices, when rappers give little or no shout-outs to JC and his once estranged father, freedom will reign and racism will dwindle…  at least i can only hope…

and the rising number of atheists or non-believers in the black community is the most powerful indicator of this movement towards freedom.  it was interesting, but not surprising to read that for black families it is easier to accept their children coming out as gay than it is to accept them as coming out as atheists or non-believers.  religion is the only salvation and hope of poor or uneducated people.  a lifestyle choice such as coming out as gay is more easily swallowed than turning your back to the only form of salvation or hope you can imagine.

the movement is gaining momentum and atheism is not the only solution– simply being a non-believer or an agnostic is good enough.  after all, atheism is much harder to swallow– for an educated person, it is impossible to prove the existence of a negative– hence the hard to swallow part.  logical and intellectual thinking precludes a full on denial of a deity’s existence– the impossibility of proving the existence of a negative.  nevertheless, simply rejecting religion, is a good enough and healthy start towards freedom and towards being a better person.  enough said…

long time since i ranted here.  nice weather, too many distractions, and other assorted excuses kept me on a short-leash.  with the weather turning, back on the keyboard tapping away.

turkish media has been reporting possible new legislation to enable the conscripted recruits to pay their ways out of the mandatory military service, by serving 21 days of basic training, and in some cases not even serving that, if they agree to pay handsomely, in euros.  this is not new– turkish males, who have mandatory military service based on the constitution, but who have been living and working abroad for at least three years have always been able to do that.  also, after the terrible istanbul earthquake of 1999, the same was offered to turkish citizens sans the live/ work abroad limitation.

the new proposal, as the wsj reported yesterday,  may be offered to all turkish males over the age of 25 without any requirements.  the government is proposing a sliding scale for what you have to pay depending on your age.   according to the wsj, the government may raise up to $1.5B with this system…

this comes at a very interesting juncture– the turkish military is fighting threats of terrorism in eastern and southeastern turkey.  the need for a strong military is extremely crucial- at least for the foreseeable future.   but why is the government backing this proposal up?

the current administration in turkey has been boasting about “turkey’s strong economy” and the “strength of the lira” for the last year or so.  prime minister erdogan declared success on the economy without any reservations.  however, the people are taxed beyond reason, especially in consumer goods and imports.  the administration, like the administrations before, failed immensely in collecting corporate taxes.  same goes for taxing the rich.  the middle class bears all the burden– taxes on import electronics and cars may reach or exceed 200%.   the government, it seems, can only collect taxes from those on a salary or at the point of sale.

in my recent trips to turkey, i was always handed new banknotes.  the country is chuck full of new money.  feels like the administration is inflating the economy with newly coined currency, creating a huge bubble.

and now this– attempting to create a huge revenue stream with having citizens pay their way out of the military service when the military is most needed.  of course tens of thousand will not be able to afford the fee they suggest.  even if they agree on an installment plan from the government.   the current proposal, with its sliding scale, suggesting up to 25,000 euros for the very young with a minimum of 5,000 euros at a minimum,  even paid in installments, with the net minimum wage set at 512 liras per month, which is slightly less than $300, would be impossible to pay by the majority of the population.

moreover, despite the administrations insistent mantra of a strong lira, this payment scale is set in euros, showing how much real confidence the administration has in its national currency.

this just goes on to add to the signs– turkish economy, with all the administration’s propaganda, is actually an overinflated artificial bubble and it is about to burst.   with the administration’s utter eagerness to back up this conscription legislation, and knowing, in turkey, people do not tend to act till the very last second, i fear the bubble will burst come february or march.  hope i am wrong…

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