Friday, June 24, 2011

Jesse Heiman: Prenatal Infant

In April I received this check for the security deposit on my old house:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Professionalism & Dinosaur Stamps

        There's something eerie about applying for a job you've applied for in the past. Especially when the last time you applied you never heard back from them. It's like calling out to someone in the dark. When you call out to them the first time you have a hope that they'll respond. Yet you're met with silence and so you call out again. This time a little of that hope is gone and a little more doubt takes hold. Who knows what will happen? Maybe someone will call back, maybe something will attack from the darkness, or maybe you'll just be met with silence once again.

        You might remember that I've applied to the MCAD Art Cellar&Bookstore before. It did not go over as planned. Apparently demonstrating being a fun personality and easy conversationalist isn't the right plan for a situation like this. But the position is open again and thus I am back again. This time I've scaled back my approach and made the whole thing a little more professional. However, I am not good at wearing suits and sending out boring job applications. No sir. My ties have the three stooges on them and my job applications have fancy fonts and dinosaur stamps!

Because, ladies and gentleman, that is just how I roll.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book List 2011: Part 3

Hey it's another Book List! You must be so very excited.

Or maybe not. Either way here it is.

* = reread

The Assignation
by. Joyce Carol Oates

A collection of short stories dealing with relationships.

        The cover and some of its reviews would make you think that this book is about love or sex or romance or something. But it's not. Those are all elements in some of the stories, but I think that the subject that ties these stories together is "Relationships". Relationships between lovers, between husbands and wives, between strangers, between families. It's always hard talking about collections because there's so much to them. Of course I enjoyed some stories more than others. Some of them were riveting, others delicately moving, and some of them were too long, others just confusing. But over all I'm glad I gave it a read.

          “She knew that she was in love, he was the person she thought about, obsessively, even when she believed she wasn't thinking of anyone or anything at all. At night when she slept alone, which was most nights; during the day when she made her way like a sleepwalker through a delicate equilibrium of forces,—benevolent forces, dangerous forces, tugs and swerves and unexpected careenings of good and bad luck. If she did things right he would love her, if she did things wrong he would stop loving her, the universe was as simple and as terrible as that: the truth we've always known.”

Ender's Game
by. Orson Scott Card

Humanity barely survived when the Buggers came to Earth. Now no one knows if or when they'll strike again. A strong military is now an absolute necessity. The best and brightest kids are send to Battle School where they learn to fight and they learn to win. Ender Wiggin is the smartest and most capable kid they've ever met, but because of that he is constantly being tested, forced, denied, and even hated. But what happens when a kid who just wants to be loved is always forced to fight?

        As some of you may remember, this is one of my favorite books. This makes it a very hard book to talk about; it's quite challenging to condense all the things I love about it into single talking points. Do I talk about the interesting plot and the great pacing? Do I talk about the exciting battles? Or do I talk about the intriguing characters? In the end I think it all comes down to the fact that it's relatable. The desire of wanting to be loved, the guilt of hurting someone else, the pain of being hurt, the loneliness of feeling like an outcast. These are all things I think we can all relate to and they're all wrapped up in a great story.

          “"It goes deeper than that. Being here alone with nothing to do, I've been thinking about myself, too. Trying to understand why I hate myself so badly."

          "No, Ender."

          "Don't tell me 'No, Ender.' It took me a long time to realize that I did, but believe me, I did. Do. And it came down to this: In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them—"

          "You beat them." For a moment she was not afraid of his understanding.

          "No, you don't understand. I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don't exist."”

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ
by. Philip Pullman

An alternative telling of the story of Jesus and his brother Christ.

        I should've known better than to read a religious book by Philip Pullman. I mean if you've read his His Dark Materials series you'll know he's made his views on religion very clear. I guess I'll start with the things I liked.

        I would say the book's great strength is in how it presents Jesus as a real person and how it presents an alternative version of his miracles. It really illustrates how stories can get away from us and of how quick people are to see things the way they want to see them. If this book was done by someone else, someone who had a modicum of respect for the source material, it probably could've been great. However, Pullman's condescending attitude seeps into the text and in the end you're left without any regard for any of the characters. And chances are that was his intent. His Jesus is a pompous jerk and his Christ is an ignorant liar. The whole thing seems like a blunt attack by someone who thought they were being subtle.

          “Knowing how highly Jesus had regarded John, some of those followers of the Baptist came to Galilee and told him what had happened; and Jesus, wanting to be alone, went out in a boat by himself. No one knew where he had gone, but Christ let one or two people know, and soon the word got around. When Jesus came ashore in what he thought would be a lonely place, he found a great crowed waiting for him.

          He felt sorry for them, and began to speak, and some people who were sick felt themselves uplifted by his presence, and declared themselves cured.

          It was nearly evening, and Jesus' disciples said to him 'This is the middle of nowhere, and all these people need to eat. Tell them to go away now, and find a village where they can buy food. They can't stay here all night.'

          Jesus said 'They don't need to go away. As for food, what have you got between you?'

          'Five loaves and two fishes, master; nothing else.'

          'Give them to me,' said Jesus.

          He took the loaves and the fishes, and blessed them, and then said to the crowd 'See how I share this food out? You do the same. There'll be enough for everyone.'

          And sure enough, it turned out that one man had brought some barley cakes, and another had a couple of apples, and a third had some dried fish, and a fourth had a pocketful of raisins, and so on; and between them all, there was plenty to go round. No one was left hungry. And Christ, watching it all and taking notes recorded this as another miracle.”

The Death and Life of the Great American School System:
How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education
by. Diane Ravitch

An expert discusses the state of the American school system and the problems it's facing.

        This is really a fascinating book. More than that it's compelling. Diane Ravitch actually used to be a supporter of testing and choice in schools, that is until the evidence started piling up and she had to admit she was wrong. Because of this she has an intimate understanding of both sides of the argument. Couple that with the loads of examples, studies, and other evidence (the weapons of a historian of education) she is uniquely suited to rip apart the arguments of her opponents. Even if you're a fan of testing and choice in schools, you'll still learn all about the history of public education, and why public education is so important. It really is a fascinating book and I highly recommend you check it out.

          “So, depending on which economist or statistician one preferred, the achievement gap between races, ethnic groups, and income groups could be closed in three years (Sanders), four years (Gordon, Kane, and Staiger), or five years (Hanushek and Rivkin). Over a short period of time, this assertion became an urban myth among journalists and policy wonks in Washington, something that "everyone knew." This particular urban myth fed a fantasy that schools serving poor children might be able to construct a teaching corps made up exclusively of superstar teachers, the ones who produced large gains year after year. This is akin to saying that baseball teams should consist only of players who hit over .300 and pitchers who win at least twenty games every season; after all, such players exist, so why should not such teams exist? The fact that no such team exists should give pause to those who believe that almost every teacher in almost every school in almost every district might be a superstar if only school leaders could fire at will.”

The Wave:
In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean
by. Susan Casey

A look at the truly gigantic waves that inhabit our oceans through the eyes of the people who study them, the people who experience them, and the people who ride them.

        This book has so many of the elements that I love in a good nonfiction book: It's about a subject I didn't know anything about, it's full of interesting information, and it's exciting to read. I don't really know what to say about it. There are huge, just absolutely HUGE, waves going on out there. And where you find waves of that size...well, let's say that things are never boring when there's a giant wave around.

          “The earthquake's impact on Alaska reads like a list of special effects for a high-budget disaster movie: gaping cracks opened in the ground releasing clouds of sulfurous gas; areas of land suddenly liquefied. Anchorage was all but destroyed that night; an entire suburb slid into the sea. The port city of Valdez was assailed by fifty-foot waves and ended up partly underwater, and in Whittier, population seventy, a pair of forty-footers killed thirteen. At Seward, an oil-storage depot exploded into a fireball, and giant waves picked up an oil tanker and deposited it on land. The waves, now filled with flaming debris, went on to hit the Texaco oil installation, and it too exploded. Fiery forty-foot walls of water wiped out Seward's waterfront, its power plant, and most of its houses. These fire-waves then struck the railyard, where they swept a 120-ton locomotive with an eighty-boxcar train more than three hundred feet inland. The boxcars, also filled with oil, burst like popcorn. Meanwhile the fishing town of Kodiak lost its entire hundred-boat fleet.

          The waves sped south toward Canada, smacking Vancouver Island, and continued on to Washington and Oregon. In all of these places they caused destruction and death, but on a mercifully smaller scale. Californians had received warnings that the tsunami was headed their way, but no one was overly concerned. The waves seemed to be fading.

          Until they arrived at Crescent City.

          High tide had risen and it was close to midnight when the Three Sisters showed up, a trio of waves surging south under a starry, full-moon sky. These first three were ocean Valkyries; they leveled the lower part of Crescent City, scouring two miles inland. Power lines collapsed, fire erupted, people were pinned against ceilings in flooded buildings. Twenty-nine blocks were left underwater, 172 businesses and 91 homes erased. Ten died. But it was the fourth wave that delivered the knockout punch, winding up by draining the harbor, and then rushing back at the land, coming in as a malignant black wall studded with logs, metal, plastic, glass, cars, trucks, home appliances, junk, treasures, bodies.

          It was a very bad night. Entire buildings were knocked off their foundations and dragged away. More things exploded. A house ended up on Highway 101. And water, everywhere there was water, swirling like the contents of a demonic blender. The world as everyone in Crescent City knew it had turned darkly aquatic.”

A Geography of Time:
The Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist,
or How Every Culture Keeps Time a Little Bit Differently
by. Robert Levine

A look at the relativity of time throughout different cultures and how changing your sense of time changes your perspective on the world.

        Time is such a fascinating subject. Partially because it seems so mundane. And that is exactly what makes this books so interesting. It points out all these ideas that you, or at least I, have never stopped to consider. How time has influenced the ways people live their lives, how our perceptions of time vary so wildly, how much frustration is created when your sense of time conflicts with someone else's.

        So you know what to expect, the book is written in a different style than a lot of sciencey nonfiction books. It's done in much more of a bathroom reader fashion, where it's ideas are generally segmented into little sections that make it very easy to read a bit and then put it down. I kind of like how easy it is to slip in and out of it, but I kind of don't like how that also means it's hard to really get immersed in the material. But, as long as you know what to expect I don't think you'll have a problem.

          “Before the invention of the first mechanical clocks, the idea of coordinating people's activities was nearly impossible. Any appointments that had to be made usually took place at dawn. It is no coincidence that, historically, so many important events occurred at sunrise—duels, battles, meetings.”

The Gospel of Food:
Everything You Think You Know About Food is Wrong
by. Barry Glassner

A debunking of the ideas surrounding food.

        I read this book because Barry Glassner recently became the president of my alma mater, Lewis & Clark College. I wasn't expecting much, but it ended up being a great book. You're always hearing theories about food being thrown around as fact. Sometimes you hear the same things theories in documentary after documentary, and article after article, all reiterating the same ideas about food. This books debunks what we think we know about food. It takes a look at what the facts are saying,what people are saying, and at the discrepancies in between.

        My only criticism of the book is that Glassner walks a thin edge between scientific and anecdotal. If a book is straight up science it can get a little dry, but if it's straight up anecdotes then it loses some credibility. I feel as though in some chapters he slips a little too far into the anecdotal style and thus those parts feel a little too experience based. But overall I think he does a good job of straddling the line.

        ...Okay, I lied. I actually have two criticisms. The other one is that its cover design is just awful. I could go on about the many reasons I don't care for it, but that's neither here nor there.

          “No one would seriously argue ice cream as a health food, though in fact that advice is no less fallacious than its opposite, a faulty logic that assumes if a steady diet of something is harmful, going without it must be healthful. That wrongheaded reasoning is rampant. For one of his studies, Paul Rozin presented the following scenario to a diverse sample of Americans: "Assume you are alone on a desert island for one year and you can have water and one other food. Pick the food that you think would be best for your health." Seven choices were offered: corn, alfalfa sprouts, hot dogs, spinach, peaches, bananas, and milk chocolate.

          Fewer than one in ten people chose hot dogs or milk chocolate, the two foods on the list that come closest to providing a complete diet because of the fats and other nutrients they contain.

          In response to another set of questions, half of Rozin's respondents said that even very small amounts of salt, cholesterol, and fat are unhealthy. More than one in four believed that a diet totally free of those substances is healthiest, when in reality, of course, they are crucial nutrients for human health. Without them, we could not survive.

          Most nutrition writers are not likely to correct those misconceptions. Their goal is not to elucidate the virtues of hot dogs, fats, and seasonings, but rather, as Emily Green put it, "to keep nasty food out of people's mouths." Nor is there much incentive for other journalists to challenge the conventional wisdom. Those who do typically find themselves accused off being an enemy of public health.”

by. Jay-Z

Rapper Jay-Z writes about his life, his music, and in doing so offers a perspective off a world many don't understand.

        This book is just impressive. It's definitely one of the best things I've read this year, if only because it was able to dispel some of my ignorance about some things. Through his words you really can start to understand rap and the culture generally associated with it. It's easy to think that rap often glorifies violence and drugs and all that, but in the same sense it's also easy to think ill about people you don't know. Jay-Z is smart. He is able to eloquently explain things you thought you understood, but actually don't understand. He points out that people who grew up in nice neighborhoods don't understand the culture of areas like where he grew up. Thus they aren't able to follow the references and wordplay of rappers from such a culture. And even when someone can't understand most of a song their ears may still manage to catch some profanity or maybe a few lines about drugs and violence and they'll think they understand what the song was about. Jay-Z not only explains these ideas, but throughout the book he has pieces of his lyrics that he's annotated. He explains what the songs are about and what the references mean. I think everyone should read this book if only to help them understand a part of America that perhaps they just don't know enough about.

        If that wasn't enough the book just looks amazing. Whoever designed it and did the layouts did a fantastic job.

          “But great MCing is not just about filling in the meter of the song with rhythm and melody. The other ways that poets make words work is by giving them layers of meaning, so you can use them to get at complicated truths in a way that straightforward storytelling fails to do. The words you use can be read a dozen different ways. They can be funny and serious. They can be symbolic and literal. They can be nakedly obvious and subliminally effective at the same time. The art of rap is deceptive. It seems so straightforward and personal and real that people read it completely literally, as raw testimony or autobiography. And sometimes the words we use, nigga, bitch, motherfucker, and the violence of the images overwhelms some listeners. It's all white noise to them till they hear a bitch or a nigga and then they run off yelling "See!" and feel vindicated in their narrow conception of what music is about. But that would be like listening to Maya Angelou and ignoring everything until you heard her drop a line about drinking or sleeping with someone's husband and then dismissing her as an alcoholic adulterer.”

A Fictional History of the United States With Huge Chunks Missing
edited by. T Cooper & Adam Mansbach

A collection of short stories surrounding historical events in the United States.

        I didn't like this book. Possibly because it told me it was going to be a different kind of book than it was. I even went as far as to write down quotes from it's introduction and elsewhere so I could point out all the little ways in which it completely misrepresented itself. But I don't want to bother with it.

        It claims it's some great work that takes a look at the unrepresented parts history through the lens of fiction. However, it is just a collection of random short stories. Sure they take place during certain historical events...but couldn't that be said of any story?

        Anyways, here's an excerpt from the first story. It is the best one and the one that exemplifies what I thought the rest would be like.

          “Long before anyone reached the eastern shores of America, this story goes, the continent was visited from the other side, by Japanese fishermen who were blown across the Pacific by a storm. They reached the Aleutian Islands, which were just like the country they had left, but rockier and more desolate, and infested with a small black biting fly unknown in Japan. Driven almost mad by these insects, the Japanese fishermen sailed down the coast as far as California, which looked just like China, only it was more arid and there were no temples. For reasons that this story does not supply, the fishermen wandered inland as far as New Mexico, where they lived for many years. They taught the natives to make pots, and to paint them with decorative patterns; they taught them the Japanese words for blue and yellow, and showed them how to burn their dead. There was so much they wanted to teach the natives! But most of their knowledge was useless in this desert country: no point in showing the natives how to fish, or how to build boats. As for the rest—the construction of huts, or the weaving of tatami mats—the natives already had their own way of doing things. Discouraged, the Japanese fishermen traveled overland back to California, where they found their boats half buried in sea grass. They cut themselves free and set out to sea; almost at once they were carried back to Japan by a storm blowing in the opposite direction. To this day, in parts of New Mexico, you can find fragments of pottery with designs on them that could be Japanese; also, Japanese and Zuni share the words ha and mo. which mean leaf and spherical object, respectively.”

by. Joey Comeau

A series of unusual cover letters that tell a story about the man behind them.

        Everything Joey Comeau does is amazing, but everything he does is amazing in a different way. As some of you may recall he is the writer for one of my absolute favorite webcomics A Softer World. It is slightly hard to describe, but his greatest ability is how he is able to present ideas in such a manner that changes how you view and think about them.

        This is a favorite book of mine. I won't even bother describing it because you can't get a better description than the one on the back of the book.

Cover letters are all the same. They're useless. You write the same lies over and over again, listing the store-bought parts of yourself that you respect the least. God knows how they tell anyone apart, but this is how it's done.

And then one day a car comes out of nowhere, and suddenly everything changes and you don't know if he'll ever wake up. You get out of bed in the morning, and when you sit down to write another paint-by-numbers cover letter, something entirely different comes out.

You start threatening instead of begging. You tell impolite jokes. You talk about your childhood and your sexual fantasies. You sign your real name and you put yourself honestly into letter after letter and there is no way you are ever going to get this job. Not with a letter like this.

And you send it anyway.

        It's a book that takes the form of a collection of cover letters. When they're read separately they're hilarious/delightful/thought provoking entities.

          “Dear Irving Oil, I am writing to apply for a job with your company, and I have included my resume for your review. You will find that every reference and each previous job will check out as valid, but I think that it's important to be honest: my assigned mission is to take you down, from the inside.”

        But they're all written by the same character and as you read through them you start to learn more about him.

          “I am teaching her to pick locks. She's a little bewildered by all this attention, I think. I am living in the guest room. I bought some locks so we can practice. Picking locks is surprisingly easy. She learns quick, too, my grandmother. She's so sharp.

          This morning she asked me, what next? I told her everything is next. We'll learn to pick pockets next, to hack computers and telephone networks, to disarm someone quickly and efficiently, to seduce anyone and steal their keycards while they sleep, to live on submarines.

          We'll wake up every day and we'll tell ourselves, 'Live for today, you retarded little shit. The end is near.'”