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29 May 2013


Reading Oliver Burkeman’s latestcolumn, I have become aware of the term “deepities,” originally coined by philosopher Daniel Dennett.  If you’ve read a book by Paulo Coelho or been subjected to ‘Eat, Love, Pray,’ you have already encountered deepities.  They are those sayings possessing the thin veneer of profundity, but then crumbling once logically examined.  One of Burkeman’s examples is: “beauty is only skin deep.”  I have another one in mind, this saying from ‘Love Story’: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”


Forgive me, but my bullshit meter goes ballistic at such an inanity.  Love means having to say you’re sorry, often that you are very, very sorry.  John Lennon quipped that love means having to say you’re sorry every five minutes.  The veneer of profundity in this phrase comes in because many of the more romantic ideas of love treat it as an unconditional state.  Since there are no conditions placed on it, there are no expectations to be thwarted, and thus no need to apologize.  As a secondary reading, it could mean that you love someone so much that you look past a misstep, making an apology needless.  The first idea, of love as an unconditional state, exists in romance novels with Fabio on the cover, not it real life.  In real life, love comes with certain expectations and conditions, a constant contract continually renegotiated by the concerned parties.  I would go so far to say that many divorces occur because people fail to recognize the changing expectations of their partner, and thus the changing relationship of their marriage.  The secondary idea, of looking past faults, has nothing to do with actually saying your sorry.

Ryan O’Neal made great fun of this line with Barbara Streisand here.

Do you have any deepities driving you nuts?

A political post

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who represents my district (it shames me to say), has announced she will not seek re-election.  This makes me wonder: is the circus finally leaving town?  While she has her fans among the Islamophobes, gay haters, and assorted illiterati, most sane and rational people look on her the way they would a herpes pimple in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head: interesting, but very bad news.

Here is a partial list of Bachmann’s “greatest hits”:

  • She claimed on national television that the HPV vaccine caused mental retardation, not because of any scientific research stating so (there is none), but because she was told that by one of her fans.
  • She advocated her husband’s use of gay reparative therapy (known better in the professional psychology and psychiatry fields as “psychological abuse” and “unfounded and unscientific chicanery”).
  • She thought John Quincy Adams was a founding father (he was eight years old at the time of the signing of the declaration of independence).
  • She went after an aide to Secretary of state Clinton because the aide was muslim, accusing her of being a “sleeper agent.”  This insanity was condemned by members of her own party.
  • Despite mountains of scientific evidence to the contrary, she believes the world is about 6000 years old
  • She wanted to mount a modern-day McCarthy witch hunt of congress, claiming many of them were “anti-American” or “in the pay of foreign agents.”
  • During 8 years in congress, she proposed 58 acts of legislation, 53 of which died in committee.  Of the remaining five, three of them went on to a vote, of which only one passed the house.  That bill failed to be signed into law.  Eight years, no accomplishments on her own merits.  Not a one.
  • At the time I am writing this, Bachmann is under investigation by the Federal Election Commission, an Iowa board of ethics, and the FBI for the handling of funds during her very unsuccessful 2012 presidential bid.

Etc., etc., etc.

As happy as I am with this news, the real winners are not liberals such as myself, but conservatives.  By this, I don’t mean the faction of the Teahadists who think our president was born in Kenya, deny science, and/or believe that our constitution was based solely on the Bible (despite the 1st amendment, article six, and most of the letters of the original framers, not to mention 200 years of legal documents) and that Jesus has personally chosen us as his chosen people.  That tinfoil hat brigade will no doubt be in great mourning today.  That makes me even happier.

No, the conservatives I am thinking of are ones like Jon Huntsmann or even Ron Paul, people who have grave reservations about our fiscal policies, about our relationship with other super powers (China), who recognize that we need to rethink social programs, people who realize that very much good can be done by federal programs, but that there are far too many costing far too much.  Because, when you have dunces like Bachmann barking from the main tent of the circus, the house lights shine on her and the sensible people of her party are shunned into the dark.  It’s hard to talk about government waste when you have a member wanting to investigate aides for ties to a conspiracy.  It’s hard to suggest more sensible healthcare options when one of your members is claiming Obamacare will kill millions of women.  It’s hard to talk about foreign relations when one of your members has just said we need to think about nuking Iran.  We need competing ideas, and to have them we need serious people, especially intelligent ones with competing ideas, not three ring clowns with wild conspiracy theories.

16 May 2013

Missing out on the talk

I just found out about this talk, which is taking place 2000 miles away in Los Angeles.  Let me know if audio becomes available online.

14 May 2013

a good line

From “Neither Saints nor Sinners,” a story by Alberto Vanasco:

“Neither the passage of time nor the incursion of motorways has managed to do away with the old boardinghouse on Montes de Oca where Basilio and Jacinto lived.”

That's a pretty solid opening line. 

09 May 2013

Discovering Fernando Sanchez Sorondo


Reading through “Celeste Goes Dancing,” a collection of Argentine short stories, I came across a story called “Javier Waconda’s Sisters,” by Fernando Sanchez Sorondo.  What a masterful tale.  It seems very little of the writer’s work is translated into English, which means I really do need to learn to read Spanish with a little proficiency, if for no other reason than to read more of Sanchez Sorondo. While many of the stories in the collection are outstanding, this one stands out to me for three reasons:

1.)   The author’s pacing.  Sanchez Sorondo uses uncertainty in the story to create tension, yet brings instances and characters into view at an almost leisurely pace.  Because the reader wants the uncertainty resolved (which of the title character’s sisters has died, something he must speculate about until he can travel to his parents’ home), we eagerly plow forward.  The story continually slows that progress, building tension without killing it.  I think this pacing issue is a very underappreciated aspect of fiction, and often those very bad stories we read are bad particularly because of pacing.  The cheap boilerplate novels of third rate scribblers feel so third rate because we go from character introduction to explosions, secret ops bases, and kung fu masters in the space of a paragraph.  Uncomfortably fast pacing is usually a result of stories constituted mainly of plot, not of character or much contemplation.  On the other end of the pacing spectrum, we have the navel-gazing, lethargic, bloated and self-important novels of recently graduated MFAs who have overdosed on David Foster Wallace and now try to mimic him, often with dreadful – yet amusing – results.  DFW had something to say, and that something took a bit of time (much like Javier Marías in that way, if not in style), whereas these books don’t.  (I fear this will be a perfect description of my writing)

2.)     The prose.  Gorgeous stuff.  Many writers can turn a phrase or two, but every paragraph?  The story is only a few pages long, yet my marginalia was nearly as long.  Some things I wrote, not very literary but honest, were: “Holy shit, this is good,” and “Where the hell has this writer been all my life,” and “I need to not read this in a public place.  Weeping from beauty is still frowned upon,” and “who cares about shedding manly tears.  This is amazing.”  I wrote some quasi-intelligent commentary too, but that’s all pretty dry and technical.

3.)   The story beneath the story.  Hemingway famously described his iceberg theory as one of omission, where superfluous details are left out and only the immediate actions and settings are there, leaving the reader to construct the rest of the iceberg that makes up the “whole story.”  While “Javier Waconda’s Sisters” is nowhere near  as sparse as a Hemingway tale, there is a great deal of the iceberg still left below the waves.  One interesting aspect of this submerged portion of the tale is the disintigration of the country of Argentina, which we see falling into ruins, dying in unknown portions, as the title character travels through the land by bus.  Another aspect is the relationship Waconda has with his sisters, which is hinted at in recounted memories, conjuring speculations ranging from the grotesque to the sublime.

A wonderful story.  Now, to work on learning Spanish.