Sunday, July 26, 2009

Clay Shirky and the Spittle of God
(And other stories)

So I've been a little lax in blogging lately, but that's because I've been very busy. Here are just a few of the things I've done:

-Seen Niagra Falls
Although my original conception of Niagara Falls involved it being an idyllic lakeside summer campground with maybe a creepy motel or two in the background, it actually resembled nothing more than the Canadian Las Vegas, or maybe the Year Two intro to Grim Fandango. Giant hotels? Check. Giant (government-run) casinos? Check. Long lines of people waiting for healthcare? Sadly, no.

That reminds me: on the way back there was a huge backup of cars on the interstate as one of the lanes was closed for repair. My father grumbled about how Obama's stimulus plan was creating traffic and I retorted by saying "At least people will get some jobs". His reply? "Do you see anyone working?" We drove by about three miles of empty, closed-off road before we saw one lone highway worker sitting in a steamroller smoking a cigarette.

Anyways, when we were in Niagara we decided to take the Maiden Mist tour, and suddenly I'm on a boat going to sail, or paddle, or whatever nautically-themed verb is considered appropriate, to the very foot of the Falls. The SS Maiden Mist was actually a *Canadian*-chartered vessel, which means that in lieu of life vests or any kind of safety instructions we were instead given plastic ponchos that resembled transparent Jedi robes and directions to crowd as close to the front of the boat as possible. Or that's what it felt like, with 400 tourists pressing in around us, including a Korean group whose guide sneered at my family when we posed for pictures and said, (in loud, clear Korean that everyone in my family could understand) "Look at those dumb@$$ Japs who just want photo opportunities".

I will admit, being on a boat without any flotation devices despite the possible capsizing due to the thousands of tons of water crashing about seemed to be a little edgier, a little riskier. My father went on about how in Canada the lack of a litigious society produces such pure, unencumbered experiences as this; I was just amazed by the fact that THERE WERE NO FREAKING LIFE VESTS. Oh wait, there were; they were inside a large metal footlocker welded to the top deck that was marked "Life Vests: Use Only in Case of an Emergency". That was sealed. With a giant padlock. To make sure we would *only* use them in case of an emergency. Because we use them during other times too.

As the boat approaches the base of the Falls, the gentle touch of thousands of droplets of mist floating through the air and caressing your face becomes a feeling of brutish bashing from streams exploding outwards, like smashing your face into a wall made of water over and over again, except the water is solid as a rock and there's so much of it you're wondering if you can get George Clooney to play you in the Hollywood drama version.

It was pretty much a white-out of epic proportions that obscured vision and seemed to crush the very breath out of one's lungs. Also, it was wet.

-Picked Blueberries
I've always known that immigrant laborers in this country have it hard, but never this hard. I spent a few hours picking blueberries with a white paint bucket, because picking your own blueberries gives you a greater appreciation of where your food comes from. Also, you only pay $1.40 a pound as opposed to $1.90 a pound, a huge savings, which is why I was so surprised to see the pitying looks from the truck full of farm workers that passed me by halfway through my berry experience.

And it does get to you. Despite the fact that you can eat all the berries you want (mmmmm, berries), the pickin' gives you a lickin' after a while, mainly because the best clusters of berries are down on the lowest branches. So, ignoring years and years of my father's admonitions not to settle for the low-hanging fruit, I stoop down and grab handfuls of berries, testing a few to see if they're sour (an unseasonably cold and light-less summer in Michigan has led to many fruit being un-ripe). I feel I can confidently say that that particular farm is run by people with sweet yet slightly bitter dispositions, as by their fruits you shall know them. ZING!

-Seen Clay Shirky at a Conference
Clay Shirky is perhaps the second-most-famous "celebrity" I've seen this summer (and by "celebrity" I of course mean "public figure only I and Minh have heard of"). He is a new-media-social-networks guy who is very articulate and good with the whole sound-bytes thing, which is presumably why he does well in the media despite being antithetical to their biases, and, more importantly, he looks like a bald version of Tom Hanks. This second fact fascinated me to no end during his talk, which included mention of the Facebook group titled "The Consortium of Loose, Forward, Pub-Going Women" and their campaign of peaceful protest via the mailing of underpants (or "Chaddi") to an orthodox religious gorup. It was funny.

-Tried to Start Reading Mason & Dixon
On the recommendation of those who know I liked the encyclopediac novels of Neal Stephenson I went down to the library and got myself a brick-thick copy of Thomas Pynchon's epic eighteenth-century novel Mason & Dixon, which distinguishes itself from fiction normal people read by two defining characteristics:

1) The Novel Itself is written by the Author in Marvelous and Authentick Style, using the Germanic Overcapitalization of Nouns, the Spelling Concurrent to Grammatical Trends of the Period, the Use of Unrelated Authorial Assides and Digressions at Every Possible Opportunity (Which I believe to be Delightful yet Odorous to Readers with Little Time or Attention Spane, which is Why the Practice Should be limited only to Authors who can shew their Prodigious Skill at Witticisms and Rhetoric), and the Practice and Habitt of finding Excuses Galor to insert Clauses that further confuse the Gentle Reader who will have Lost Track of What the Beginning of the Sentence Said (because of the Flexible Nature of the English Language, which allows for Dreadful Splicing of Gerundical Phrases if the Author so Chuses) of the Time Period in Which It Is Set, which makes It both Delightful and a Major Paine in the Arse to be Read.

2) It doesn't have a Plot.

Surprisingly, Point #1 doesn't bother me as much as Point #2. Part of this is because I have ample experience reading other science fiction novels set in different time periods, and read or seen different sci-fi works with different languages in use. Point #2, though, is difficult for me to deal with. There is no plot. There are no character arcs (yet). There are very few characters who actually seem to matter (yet). It's picaresque but has no structure. It reads very much like stream-of-consciousness does, but seems to meander, with entire chapters and scenes having no purpose other than to show off the depth of the author's research, or his clever use of puns, or his (admittedly) well-versed command of the English language.

In other words, it's like James Joyce's work, except that it's (grudgingly) funny. I haven't decided whether it will be worth it or not.

1 comment:

Minh Nguyễn said...

Man, Bruce Schneier and Clay Shirky? Now all you have to see is Randall Munroe and you’ll be all set!

(Tip: The moment you see Randall, look up. Cory Doctorow will be overhead, donning a cape and goggles. Hat Man can’t be far behind.)