Monthly Archives: August 2011

Happy Birthday, Here’s A Meal Ticket for the Hospital Cafeteria

A picture of nothing. This is nothing.

There’s a two things you learn when you stay overnight for a few consecutive days at a hospital, waiting for test results for a loved one. One is that the passage of time is entirely subjective, a phenomenon noted when the circadian rhythm of one’s daily routine is smashed to bits. The other is that hospital employees on all levels get paid millions of dollars a year to ensure the impression that they are carting around screaming humanity and not screaming piles of middle-grade meat for open-air market sale.

It’s better when your stay is situated in an acclaimed children’s hospital—regrettably, a hospital for children, not run by children—but not too much better. Everything you’d come to expect from a building full of convalescent pre-adolescents is present but with a patina of swept corners and curvy modern architecture blocking the horror show. The pouty swell of sprained ankles and the exaggerated misery of inconvenienced relatives hovers on the edge of perception. It’s there if you just brush back the gossamer facade.

The good thing is that with all there’s some useful leisure time when you finish working your day job remotely, listening to a doctor’s helpful drone, assisting anxious spouses, wondering when you’ll get to see your other child soon, and catching up on back episodes of Bleach on Netflix. There’s time for thinking of writing and writing about thinking about it—the results of which you now have just consumed. Was this an ill-considered use of time or could this live on?

Somewhere a printout of an open-ended circle has been completed with a red crayon and is now already forgotten.

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Proceed to Destroy Your E-Reader with My E-book, Bored in the Breakroom

I’m not going to write much here or post a cute picture as I’m working off caffeine fumes and a broken sleep pattern from the night before. Bored in the Breakroom is now available—press here. Note: the Diesel bookstore link is being saucy, but the others are fine so far.

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Babies Are Me

Not the e-book cover.

There are two notable births of late, one of which involves my new son, Nickolas Manni DiNitto, while the other involves my e-book, Bored in the Breakroom. The latter of these I will post about tomorrow, the former of which I will post a photo (look to the side).

For reasons unknown the e-self-publisher I use “ships” the books out to websites, and there’s a lag in availability. Maybe it’s a matter of administrative workings because the lag is extended beyond the near-instant speed of email. Why it takes time to essentially process a file not even 200k is beyond me; I would just ignite the e-mail airwaves myself but it wouldn’t be officially official in the same way.

But still, the book is available in certain places and I will post information soon. It will be available even more places which will give me ample excuse to pester everyone through rounds of tweets, meaningless hashtags, shortened URLs, and Oxford commas. I recommend diverting all power to forward shields before the first projectile hits.

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Book Review: The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail

Book Review: The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail

Insert overused Monty Python reference.

Becky Garrison’s book isn’t really necessary, and I mean that in the nicest-spirited way possible. The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail: The Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith (deep breath) is Garrison’s jab back at the new atheist polemicists and their proposition—if I understand it correctly—that religion is no good because it produces people that do bad things. I feel like I’m simplifying the argument but on the basis of what I’ve read from them, this is really the bare bones of the proposition.

The issue with these kinds of arguments is that 1) it doesn’t necessarily, and often doesn’t, address whether or not religious propositions about God/god/gods are correct, and 2) “bad apple”, one of many cognitive bias fallacies, argumentation is easily refuted. Garrison’s book accomplishes the latter quite well but I say the book is unnecessary because, since religious belief is widespread and diverse, all one needs is to know a few kinds of people and a smattering of inductive logic to counteract it.

Garrison notes, among others, as the frontrunners of the new atheist intellectual movement: Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Anne Coulter’s antipode, Richard Dawkins. She cites their main arguments (take your pick…”religious people are stupid” or “religious people are neocon warmongers”, et al.), and then offers up counterexamples as proof. This avenue of the discussion of the desirability of religious belief consists of finding as many bad examples of the “other side”, throwing both piles on a scale and seeing which one weighs more. The heaviest is judged the winner. It is an abysmal, base state of affairs for debating something so complicated and philosophically involved. Attention-deficit, TV-raised populations are unable to get involved at that level so this may be why Garrison’s new atheist apologist opponents, along with their religious counterparts, are so popular.

I had to learn to look past Garrison’s writing style, which can be too alliterative and cutesy for my taste. She seems to have a likable personality and she has a base of knowledge and the writing chops/experience to back it up. As I have said, her counterarguments are effective because the original arguments aren’t very good in the first place; they are demonstrably untrue. And some are just plain bad history, like the idea that the church was anti-science during the Dark Ages Medieval Period (pg. 104). Sometimes Garrison skirts into left-wing politics as proof as a “Hey, at least I’m not one of those conservative Republican people!” framing of her argument (as if conservative statists were somehow less Christian that liberal statists by default), which I believe is leaning towards the wrong disposition to adopt. But again, she is addressing specific arguments that have already been proffered, not offering a comprehensive philosophy for Christian socio-political activity.

New Atheists isn’t without it’s touching or humorous moments, which is where Garrison is at her best. There were times I wish she would throw some ontological fisticuffs. She almost came close when she mentioned Dawkins’ interesting but kinda flaccid argument for why God is improbable*. Still, the book is effective in the Boggle debate, where one side needs to find more words (bad examples) of the other side to come out the winner. Whether or not she actually does is up to the reader.

*A quick note on this argument. Assuming Dawkins is applying this to monotheism, where God exhibits properties to the maximal degree (all-loving, all-knowing, etc.), that God’s existence is to be improbable is to be expected. One is not very likely to come across a being that would have these kinds of properties to the maximal degree, by the very nature of being maximal. Regardless of that, all that is needed for God’s existence, statistically, is a chance—of any amount&mdashgreater than zero. For Dawkins’ God to not exist it would be better to argue for a zero chance, because God would only need to occur once to invalidate the argument. See another short refutation about Dawkins’ argument here.

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I’m Not Tweeting About Jesse Pearson’s Blog

Every so often one comes across the blog run by someone competent enough in writing that a mere Twitter mention seems inadequate, like throwing a brick to fill a sinkhole. Not a small sinkhole, but the one that just devoured your shack of a house and your rich, overbearing neighbor’s fleet of Hummers and his Yorkie’s fleet of Hummers.

So it is with Jesse Pearson. I mean, c’mon:

Stephen King is a coiled spring of cocaine psychosis here. Total compacted rage and paranoia. Read the part where Annie chops off Paul’s leg with an ax, then flip the book over and lock eyes with King for a second. If we could add a soundtrack of discordant horns and violin-stabs to this photo… Gesamtkunstwerk.

Note for fellow office drones: in the linked post there is a non-pornographic photograph of Patricia’s Highsmiths. Click and enter to win an unemployment check.

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Stop Telling Me Everything About Everything

Not enough red.

There’s only a handful of things that separate good storytelling from the sea of decent but forgettable reads, and it’s creating a sense of mystery and explaining away only part of it. It properly engages the reader’s imagination, which, I’m starting to believe, causes a physiological reaction not unlike the reaction one might receive from eating chocolate or finishing a warrior combo during yoga — not that I would know anything about that since men don’t eat chocolate or do yoga, right?

If you finish a book and still have questions, you’re more apt to seek out someone else who has read the book to exchange ideas, and when people talk about a book it generally means it’s ignited something that wasn’t there before. Unless you’re talking about sparkling model-vampires and teenage girls making regrettable life decisions, in which case some people are talking about a book because it’s outright ridiculous.

The Metamorphosis is Kafka’s best short story, because the account of Samsa’s (and the Samsas’) life after his bugging out was explained in detail, but we don’t know the how or why of Samsas transformation. Heck, we don’t even know exactly what kind of bug he turned into. We’re left to fill in the details by ourselves. Yes it was an allegory for alienation and whatnot but compared to Kafka’s interrupted, agonizing descriptions of everything (I’m looking at you, In the Penal Colony), Metamorphosis is actually enjoyable.

We can also look at Ayn Rand. Not straight in the eyes, mind you — she would take it as a challenge to fight — but her writing. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are fine soundtracks for objectivists to get their make out on, but people who are able to function in normal society look to Anthem for reading pleasure. Here, we know there was some war, some bureaucrats took over, and now people call themselves “we” and have numbers for names. There’s a lot we have to assume and it’s not a terrible task to actually wonder what happened. This is Rand before her full on, “I’m going to cave your face in, Irreversible-style, with this minor character’s backstory. Oh by the way, here’s a speech about government intervention. Religion sucks!” mode. There’s an actual story, with unimportant and important things left out, not an extended political statement through which Jane Book Club does not want to wade. She’ll drown and go back to reading The Happiness Project at the bottom of the ocean, and we’ve lost her forever.

Authors: you’ve heard the advice to resist explaining things, but you need to do it more. Confuse us with mystery, not plot holes. Throw that Macguffin in there and leave it unresolved. I know this idea is worse and less intuitive than letting your kids play on the train tracks instead of watching TV, but being in danger is a lot more interesting than enduring another Dora episode.

Photo by TheCreativePenn.

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The Unnecessary E-book Cover Teaser Post

Bored. So bored.

There’s not much you can do for an e-book of short stories except things like this. I’m not extroverted or good-looking enough to do a Youtube video or talented enough to make a trailer, so this is the biggest gun in my arsenal, and the bullet is a stock photo I bought for $9. The gunpowder is a half-functioning copy of Gimp. Maybe the chamber is our bedroom where the ol’ Macbook sits, and me racking the slide is like shifting the mouse over a mousepad photo of my daughter when she was a few days old. The sliding air around the heated spinning bullet is the lukewarm coffee I just finished.

Please click the picture to engorge the pixels and ignore my crying over a poorly-formed analogy.

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Book Review: All Quiet on the Western Front

"The best, Jerry! The best!"

Continuing my unofficial tour of all the books you read in high school and never entertained a thought about again, I come to All Quiet on the Western Front. Erich Maria Remarque’s archaic, turn-of-the-century German prose, weirded out teenage reading levels America-wide and was rivaled only by Hemingway’s casual, complacent-shrug narration about life-changing events. All this, this talk of mess-tins and pining away for beans cooked in fat and French girls across the river. Remarque, himself a vertaran has brought the dirt and danger of an entirely-removed world — the panorama of the World War I battlefield — to affluent, cloistered populations since 1929.

Inside, the pulled quotes of reviews of the book proclaim it as the greatest war novel of all time. After reading Starship Troopers, an acclaimed war novel in its own right, and a slew of books from the Halo series, coming back to an “ordinary” novel about war, set in the past, seemed anti-climactic: a very siloed narrative in the first person offering starkly-worded battlefield violence.

For a book about war there’s scant fighting being fought, at least by Bäumer’s side. The bulk of the text has him playing connect-the-dots from hole to hole while on the receiving end of bombing raids, foraging for food, enduring periodic stays at hospitals, and launching into fraternal back-and-forths with company buddies (which include antagonizing the blowhardish Corporal Himmelstoss). When Bäumer actually does manage to kill someone it’s framed as a inglorious accident that left Bäumer swaddled in remorse.

The best parts of Western Front are seen in Bäumer’s descriptions during battle and musing during his downtime. There’s not much exploration of politics or macro-military strategy; time is wasted away as Bäumer and co. make agonized marches into battlefields and dodge death to get to the next meal (the two events are humorously fused when Bäumer and troops refuse to abandon a house meal and piano music while being shot at and bombed).

After one particular bombing, Bäumer reminisces and we see the great meat of Remarque’s prose on display.

We could never regain the old intimacy with those scenes. It was not any recognition of their beauty and their significance that attracted us, but the communion, the feeling of a comradeship with the things and events of our existence, which cut us off and made the world of our parents a thing incomprehensible to us–for then we surrendered ourselves to events and were lost in them, and the least little thing was enough to carry us down the stream of eternity. Perhaps it was only the privilege of our youth, but as yet we recognised no limits and saw nowhere an end. We had that thrill of expectation in the blood which united us with the course of our days.

To-day we would pass through the scenes of our youth like travellers. We are burnt up by hard facts; like tradesmen we understand distinctions, and like butchers, necessities. We are no longer untroubled–we are indifferent. We might exist there; but should we really live there?

We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial–I believe we are lost.

You can read All Quiet on the Western Front for free here.

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