My new home page header image is Leaf Relief by Mark Englebrecht. My previous header image was one of his photographs as well. His Flickr page is full of wonderful, CC-licensed nature photography, and I’d encourage you to give it a look. As ever, all CC images used on this site are attributed on the About page.
There is a great deal of primary source evidence available on terrorists’ motivations, aspirations, and justifications. They appear in interviews with imprisoned terrorists and in the publications and Web sites of terrorist groups. I also spoke to any terrorist I could. In the days before September 11, 2001, this was a lot easier than it has been since.
On one occasion a few years ago, some colleagues and I convened a group of what we politely termed “activists,” representatives from a number of ethnonationalist terrorist groups, for a secret conference in a private location. We met for several days, during which we conducted ourselves much like an academic conference. I gave a paper on the factors driving terrorists’ decisions to escalate, and a senior member of a well-known terrorist group served as commentator on my paper. He politely pointed out where he thought I was right and where he disagreed, where my generalizations applied to his movement and where they did not. We all socialized together for several days. It was soon difficult to tell to which camp an individual belonged.
With colleagues, I helped to organize a second similar gathering, this time with representation from religious terrorist groups. We were scheduled to meet from September 11 to 14, 2001. Six weeks before the planned meeting, worried that one of the groups might make the meeting public and when one of the insurgent groups insisted that there could be no Jews among the academics, we decided to cancel. I have often imagined what it would have been like to have been in that company on that day.
I recently went with Meghan McCarron to a screening of the long, excellent video essay Los Angeles Plays Itself, and since then have been reading some interviews with the director, Thom Andersen. In an interview with StopSmiling in 2007 he commented on changes in public transportation in Los Angeles.
Since I made the movie, the bus system and public transportation system in general has gotten better. But it’s on the verge of getting worse because, over the next couple years, they want to raise fares more than 100 percent. They’re losing money. It’s attributable to the investment in subways and so-called “light-rail” projects. The ridership on those systems has never been very high because the idea of those systems is not to serve the public that actually uses public transportation, but to attract another public to using public transportation.
I don’t know how these issues have developed in the seven years since he gave that interview, but his observation–that new public transport proposals were designed to appeal to wealthier people, and therefore not only didn’t address the needs of those who actually used pubic transport but exacerbated them–strikes me as profound. I suspect this is a common phenomenon, and one that I will strive to look for now that it’s been pointed out for me. It reminds me of something I once heard articulated by a Berkeley economist on the radio: the free market works on price signaling, so people too impoverished to contribute a meaningful signal are invisible, treated by the market as if they don’t exist. Thus, free market solutions are simply inapplicable to problems of poverty. Andersen’s observation is an example of how, even if the needs of impoverished communities is invisible to the free market, the rhetoric of those needs, or more specifically their value as a tool to justify profitable endeavor, is not.
- “So This Is New York” – Another personal essay by Evan James, on his first trip to New York and how it doomed the relationship it was intended to strengthen. Includes passages such as, “The image of Martha Stewart gliding into the open-plan work area, trailed by a trotting Chow and two French bulldogs, peppering the air with profanity, made me smile. I still dreamed of working in magazines back then, and hoped to say “fuck” a lot in an editorial office of my own one day.” If you haven’t, also check out his previous Observer piece, “From Brooklyn to P-Town for Bear Week.”
- “Live Nude Girls” – Genevieve Valentine wrote a crucial piece on the relentlessness of modern attacks on women, as evidenced by the recent attacks on women in the games industry and theft of personal pictures of celebrities. No one cuts to the heart of things quite like Genevieve does.
- “The Next Generation” – Jonathan Gharrie with a personal essay on bonding with his father over Star Trek, and how the different installments mirror aspects of their lives.
- “Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying” – Alice Sola Kim’s story in the current issue of Tin House (I have no idea how long it will be available online) about a trio of teenage Korean adoptees and what happens when they try to use magic to connect with the parents who gave them up. Stick-in-your-skull creepy and beautiful, like all of her stories are.
- “Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology” – Theodora Goss with a Borges-inspired story in Lightspeed. I heard her read part of this at ICFA, and was enthralled. Glad it found a home in Lightspeed so I can learn how it ended.
- “Alexander” – Alex Walton, writing for the PEN poetry series.
- “Self-portrait as ‘Stephanie has died of dysentery'” – Stephanie Goehring in Everyday Genius.
Looking through the data, instead of a wasteland of cut stumps, we find a forest of bonsai.
My last book roundup only had three graphic novels in it. This bunch, though, more than doubles the number I’ve read all year. My rate has also slowed way, way down. (Though I can claim success for my New Year’s resolution of averaging at least a book per week in 2014. No way to miss that mark now.) For both of these, I blame my August move from Iowa to Texas, which sapped huge amounts of my time and attention.
- Mad As Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies by Dave Itzkoff – This was a gift from my friend Samantha Lange, in thanks for introducing her to Network, which she had never previously seen. It’s a fantastic retrospective of Paddy Chayefsky’s career leading up to the film, and a detailed look into the production itself. Easily recommended for other Network obsessives.
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – My mother had been singing Patchett’s praises to me, and so I read Run, which I liked but did not love. Friends told me, though, that I should give Bel Canto a try anyway. They were right. This is an utterly gorgeous book, in the mix for my favorite I’ve read this year. It is a deft piece of kaleidoscopic insight and tenderness, which manages to create some suspenseful, harrowing moments without ever seeming to ask for them. An incredible book.
- The Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune – I’d bounced off this book a few times, but now have finally made it to the end. I think it was more an act of stubbornness than anything else. I’ve enjoyed many of animated projects based on Shirow Masamune’s manga, but find the book itself cold, cursory, almost flippant. He clearly puts a very great deal of thought and attention into the functioning of his imagined future, but the stories themselves seem little more than excuses to get aspects of that future on the page. All of the elements of the famous and influential movie of the same name are in here, but almost completely lacking in the liveliness they had on the screen. I own his other GitS volumes, but it will probably be a while before I get to them.
- Incandescence by Greg Egan – I love Greg Egan. I love his writing, yes, but I also just love that he exists. There is every other hard science fiction writer who has ever been, and then, floating above them in a diamond firmament, is Greg Egan. What he is doing in this book is so much harder than mere hard science fiction that it’s almost a new kind of literature altogether. And while I get great intellectual excitement from that, I don’t mean it completely as a compliment. This novel is, well, hard. Difficult. The idea was to come up with a scenario where a culture inventing science would come up with relativity before Newtonian mechanics. He pulls this off, but it makes for a narrative experience that is didactic and difficult to follow. Exciting if you are excited by the beauty of physical ideas, but a lot more like doing homework than most things I approach for entertainment. In some writing on his website, Egan indicates that he expects that readers will need to keep a notebook nearby to draw some diagrams if they are to get the most out of the novel. Again, I love Greg Egan. I love that someone is writing novels that ask their readers to draw free-body diagrams. But I didn’t do it; I just followed what I could and trusted that it all hung together. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed this book less than I have Egan’s others: this book insists on being appreciated on its own terms, and I didn’t want to put in the effort.
- So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell – This small novel seems to inspire cultish reverence around Iowa City, so I read it. I enjoyed it. But I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. My experience here may have been soured by overbuilt expectation.
- Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds by Gail Simone and Ed Benes
- Birds of Prey: Sensei & Student by Gail Simone and Ed Benes – I read these two Birds of Prey volumes sitting on the floor of Karen Meisner’s library during my last visit to Madison. I’ve long been wanting to read the BoP comics, and enjoyed these enough that I expect I will track down the rest of the trades sometime soon.
- House of Holes by Nicholson Baker – Verbally clever sex farce. The novelty, and thus the entertainment, wore off for me about 2/3 of the way through. (Suspect I would have loved it if it were a Ralph Bakshi-style cartoon, though.) I’ll give Baker another chance though, on the strength of his prose cleverness and his nonfiction writing about pacifism.
- The Hustler by Walter Tevis – I only have two more to go, but it’s starting to look like Walter Tevis never wrote anything that wasn’t good. This, his first novel, is excellent. The prose is rougher than in some of his later work, but in a way that fits the story, so for all I know it was intentional. I watched the Paul Newman movie after I finished the book, and thought it was good in the places where it recapitulated what Tevis wrote, and inexcusable in the places it didn’t. Loved the book, hated the movie.
- Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley – I’m a huge fan of his previous work, Scott Pilgrim, so I was eager to read this book, though I didn’t expect it to be more of the same. Thus, I wasn’t at all disappointed. While there are a few notes of Pilgrim-esque humor (including one direct callback), Seconds is it’s own book, and a very successful one. It’s about the spirits of places, and about fucking up your life by altering your own history. It’s great.
- Dragon Ball vol. 1 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 2 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 3 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 4 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 5 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 6 by Akira Toriyama
- Dragon Ball vol. 7 by Akira Toriyama – Moving from Iowa to Texas was long, involved, and unpleasant. While I was doing it, I wanted something to read that would take no effort at all, just pure, mindless entertainment. These fit the purpose nicely. I might finish the series someday. I might wait to do it until I’m similarly stressed out again.
- The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem – I love Lem. So when I heard that the movie The Congress was based on this Lem novel, I was very excited to watch it with my parents, also Lem fans. It was terrible, a total train wreck of a film. No one should pay to see it. Read the book instead, which is a minor one of his works, but fun and short.
- The Adventures of Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware – I read this many years ago, but had forgotten much of it. It’s truly excellent, though given the universal acclaim you probably already knew that. The reread was inspired by Shelby Blessing, who identified this as her favorite novel, graphic or otherwise. Also, having recently read Essex County, I was struck by the similarity between this and Lemire’s book. Since they are both collections of work originally serialized, I’d need to know more about the timelines to even begin to guess at vectors of influence.
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – I have been a fan of Ness’s writing since I read his Chaos Walking trilogy. This book, illustrated by Jim Kay and based on a concept by the late Siobhan Dowd, is gorgeous. Gorgeously written, gorgeously drawn. A heartbreaking fable of stories and loss, and clearly deserving of its multiple awards. I own a copy of Ness’s novel More Than This, and will probably read it soon.