Fear, Fear, and Fear

Oh, my God, swine flu. It’s the swine flu. It’s all over everybody else’s News, so it must be News! Swine Flu! Look out!! Jesus Christ, don’t tell me it’s swine flu! Oh my God! It’s swine flu!! Put on your mask! Why else would everyone be wearing masks? Look out!!

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Movies

Dustin Rowles @ Pajiba on The Soloist:

“The Soloist is a movie designed for well-off white people who carry their NPR tote bags into the theater and assuage their liberal guilt, not by contributing to the homeless, but by giving money to a studio that hires a millionaire to pretend to be homeless. Liberal guilt properly assuaged, the well-off white person can go home, drink their Trader Joes’ wine, and watch Bride Wars without any remorse.”

http://www.pajiba.com/film_reviews/the-soloist-review.php

Books – High Fidelity, My Horizontal Life

Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is four/fifths of one of the best books I’ve ever read. Rob Fleming, record-store manager and middle-aged eternal adolescent, is so well-informed by the same sociocultural forces that informed (and still inform) so many of us in the late 20th century, that I actually dropped the book in stunned personal recognition in a few spots. And I know I’m not the only one – Slate’s David Edelstein declared:

“A couple of times I felt like throwing the book into the air and screaming. Had Hornby been spying on the most embarrassing moments in my life? More likely, he’d somehow put his finger on those shaming crises we all experience that say: Evolve or be miserably stunted forever.”

Whether it’s Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Frederick Exley or Candace Bushnell, it’s refreshing, and a little terrifying, to be in the presence of an author who Gets It gender-wise – who seemingly knows us better than we know ourselves, and can’t understand, or understands too well, why we’re so easily distracted from our better selves.

The book opens with Rob’s girlfriend, Laura, having moved out of their apartment, and Rob is in the throes of the dozens of mixed feelings and misgivings that the event inevitably creates. Part of his process in dealing with the trauma is to review the other notable break-ups in his life. We get a list of past girlfriends, a summary of their good and bad qualities, and how that particular pairing ended. Rob, like many of us, tends to list the things – here are the songs, here are the places, here are the particular people – that make up his life rather than having his own true sense of the life that leads to those things.

The inner narrative spun by Rob is shamelessly emotional yet bracingly unsentimental, objectively logical yet hip to life’s arbitrary abstracts; expects the worst but hopes for the best, even while no good deed goes unpunished. Despite his own cynical self-deprecations, he generally thinks the best of the humanity that surrounds him, even while having a clear-eyed view of the double-and-triple meanings inherent within any conversation between well-meaning people. His subsequent friendship with the singer Marie illustrates both his good sense and emotional fragility. Will they or won’t they?

“You OK?” she says.
I nod. “You?”
“For now. But I wouldn’t be if I thought this was the end of the evening.”
When I was seventeen, I used to lie awake at night hoping that women would say things like that to me; now, it just brings back the panic.
“I’m sure it isn’t.”
“Good. In that case, I’ll fix us something else to drink. You sticking to the whiskey, or you want a coffee?”
I stick to the whiskey, so I’ll have an excuse if nothing happens, or if things happen too quickly, or if blah blah blah.
“You, know, I really thought you hated me,” she says. “You’d never said more than two words to me before this evening, and they were real crotchety words.”
“Is that why you were interested?”
“Yeah, kind of, I guess.”
“That’s not the right answer.”
“No, but… if a guy’s kind of weird with me, I want to find out what’s going on, you know?”
“And you know now?”
“Nope. Do you?”
Yep.
“Nope.”

Our best hope (or, at least, mine) for Rob is that his inherent broad-mindedness, cultural smarts and sadder-but-wiser emotional mileage will take him out of his own way and into bigger and better places and relationships. But Laura, the recent ex, reappears in his life; initially to reclaim belongings from the old apartment, then, sadly, because of the death of her father. And, again, Hornby relates these episodes with the same gracious knowingness he’s used to describe Rob’s family, co-workers and the re-visited ex-girlfriends. We understand what’s great about Laura, and what’s problematic about Rob. But I was disappointed that the book ends with them back together. Apparently, all Laura needed was to accept Rob As He Is, and all Rob needed was to be Saved By The Love Of A Good Woman. I can see an argument to be made that This Is Rob Evolving, but, for me, Hornby worked too hard, too revealingly, too enlighteningly, to settle for this kind of facile acquiescence. Both Rob, and Laura, deserved better.

You, of course, should read this wonderful book nonetheless. Your emotional mileage may differ. And my disappointment with the ending doesn’t mitigate the joys of reading the majority of the book. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and it’ll end as it does, for you, admirably or otherwise.

————————————————

“My relationship with my father had been on the proverbial fritz since the time I was fifteen and called the police to report him for child molesting. He had never molested me, but I wanted to have a party that weekend and needed him out of the house.”

As willfully tawdry as High Fidelity is relentlessly hip, My Horizontal Life is Chelsea Handler’s chronicle of sex and indulgence, in New Jersey growing up and in Los Angeles, umm, growing up. The book is, brazenly, all about her, and the confederates she employs, or who employ her, in the ongoing quest to have as much good sex as possible, or failing that, to get as drunk and fucked up as the company will allow. But you honestly couldn’t ask for a more bullshit-less tour guide. There’s a refreshing equanimity to Chelsea’s adventures – the midgets, the blacks, the Jews, the Cubans, the yuppies, the kinks, all are presented at Chelsea’s eye-level; they are neither Her Greatest Moments or Her Worst Nightmares, but simply who they were when they were together, and, in the long run, it’s all good. There’s a jaundiced graciousness here; nothing happens that’s at someone else’s expense, unless they’ve set themselves up for it. And Chelsea produces just as much embarrassing awkwardness as she witnesses. There’s no sense of self-congratulatory, I-got-away-with-something I’m-so-crazy-and-you’ll-never-be condescension.

Not for the squeamish or easily-offended, My Horizontal Life is quality trash, big fun that’s smarter and chummier than it needed to be.

Energy / Politics

A very entertaining and informative article on ‘cap and trade’ vs. straight carbon tax.

“If the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008, a bill circulating in the Senate last year, or the current Waxman-Markey bill are any guide to this year’s coming attractions, climate change legislation from leading Democrats is likely to be based on large giveaways of money-generating polluting rights to large industries, and on offsets, or low-priced carbon credits that polluters use to have other firms supposedly sequester carbon for them. As detailed in recent works by Larry Lohmann, Michael Wara and David Victor, Pat McCully (2) and others, experience in the European Union has shown such schemes create perverse incentives for the worst polluters and the shrewdest offset dealers to increase emissions in the short run and to game the trading schemes in the long run.

“A simpler alternative that is subject to far less political manipulation is a carbon tax. In a political landscape where new taxes are verboten, a simple carbon levy is off the table among Congressional leaders and the Obama Administration. This is a shame. A cap-and-trade program would function like a heavy sales tax to ordinary citizens but would not function to readily redirect capital in a green direction. Instead, if big industry has it way, tens of billions of dollars in trading revenues would quickly disappear into the pockets of large industries, while coal plants, corn ethanol, and mega-dams are built at record rates.

“A tax policy based on readily verifiable carbon emissions at the point of production or distribution, on the other hand, would send clear and rapid price signals to consumers. Prices at market would then reflect the total upstream carbon emissions attached to goods and services. This far more tangible market-based system would work rapidly and would remain fairly impervious to political manipulation. It would also be far easier to assess the effect of the tax on its intended target. Much as GDP growth has long been considered the economy’s master variable, the climate’s press-ready variable from a carbon tax would be total greenhouse gas emissions measured in carbon equivalents.”

http://www.counterpunch.org/williams04152009.html

Breaking News…

I’m just gonna say, flat out, that those ‘hostages’ of the Somali pirates are, really, in no more danger than Samantha Ronson is from the Wagnerian anger of Lindsay Lohan. Enough, already! Shut up! Kill them or shut up! Are you kidding??!! You’re gonna kill them to teach us a lesson? Really??!!

Sometimes you just have to say ‘Know what you’re getting into when you fuck with us!’ They took us as hostages. Kill them now.