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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Who’s your daddy?

Well, I managed to read yet another book by Orwell during my spare time at work. Despite the many interruptions, deft window-switching with the Alt /Tab button combination, I managed to finish Nineteen Eighty-Four.
I already knew so much about it, and - typically - was ready to write it off as overrated and paranoid. Big Brother, Orwellian, Thought Police … all those words are now in our everyday vocabulary. The amazing thing, though, is that we actually live in a society frighteningly similar to the one Orwell predicted way back in 1949 - when Nineteen Eighty-Four was first published. It’s tacitly accepted, for example, that pretty much everywhere we go we are being watched. Surveillance cameras are everywhere from banks, to troublesome city corners, to subway stations, to the lobbies in our apartment buildings. Our email is being filtered, our search queries are being scrutinized … and we all know about it, and have come to accept it.

"The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering -- a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons -- a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting -- three hundred million people all with the same face."

Having literally just finished the book, I haven’t had time to digest it. It usually takes a few days for something this profound to really sink in. But, from what I read, it goes well beyond the superficial reference the book has become. It’s a diatribe against warped socialism, against Stalinism, against fanatical idealism, infantile utopianism - yet it is also a reflection on our own "western" society and where it’s going. This is one of those books that I completely understood. I didn’t totally identify with its main character, Winston, but I understood so much of what was happening to him.

The book works because it disguises whatever didacticism it has within a truly driven plot structure which hardly ever falters. The last fifty or so pages - dealing with torture and mind control … the infamous Room 101 - are breathless.

It’s about one lone man, the last "man", it seems, who rebels against the omni-present, godlike behemoth of Big Brother. He encounters other illuminated souls, and even love. But one day he realizes those whom he most implicitly trusts might turn against him.

Orwell takes the classic theme of impossible love and does something so twisted and original with it that I felt both inspired and hollow inside after reading it. This guy levels everything around him.

My only critique, fresh from reading this, and after a double espresso (work perk), is that while his descriptive style is unmatched, his writing lacks a certain spark when it comes to dialogue, or human interaction. Like:

'We are the dead,' he said.
'We're not dead yet,' said Julia prosaically.

Much of the book takes place in Winston’s head, through necessity, but in the moments where he actually interacts with his lover, Julia, or his friend the shopkeeper, there is always a sort of stilted feeling. Like the dialogue had overshadowing it that driven purpose and rigor that enveloped the book, without any of the characteristic meandering and tangents in everyday speech. Also, there were many places where he could have written the dialogue instead of summarizing it in a "And then they talked about …" type paragraph. I would have liked action instead of paragraphs summing up Julia’s philosophies …. But I digress.

The end result is a fantastic and prescient book. It shows the origins of post-totalitarian thought. It’s a critique of English Socialism (Ingsoc) within the context of mid-century Britain when Stalin was on her doorstep, and people were still blindly defending him. It’s a critique on the hysteria of the masses. It’s about the individual who stands back and says, 'wait a second, something's wrong'.

Funny, while writing this I was reminded of Diogenes, the original Cynic. He used to walk through the streets of ancient Athens holding a lit lantern in broad daylight, looking for honest men.

I wonder if he ever found one.

"How could you tell how much of it was lies? It might be true that the average human being was better off now than he had been before the Revolution. The only evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own bones, the instinctive feeling that the conditions you lived in were intolerable and that at some other time they must have been different. It struck him that the truly characteristic thing about modern life was not its cruelty and insecurity, but simply its bareness, its dinginess, its listlessness. Life, if you looked about you, bore no resemblance not only to the lies that streamed out of the telescreens, but even to the ideals that the Party was trying to achieve."

This is as good as it gets. Read it online, for free. Trust me, copy it into your word processor at work and one will ever know.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The tyranny of pop

I don’t tell everybody about my blog or my other writing endeavors. Why? Well for the same reason other people decide to be totally anonymous so they can more freely rant, I don’t tell everybody what I do in my spare time so they won’t cramp my style. I wouldn’t be able to voice opinions such as these:

The people at my work have the worst fucking taste in music you could possibly imagine.* And, most unfortunately, to the detriment of my sanity, they all have Itunes installed on their computers and have thousands of songs each. The bombardment of crapacious music is constant.

Just now I heard, for the thousandth time, that horrible, horrible, song that goes Dooo do do do dooooeeeeooooo, by Mariah Carey where she shrieks like a eunuch on hot coals (I don’t know the name, nor will I ask). I’m waiting for Maneater, which is sure to come next. Yes, you read right. Maneater, that risqué song from the eighties. Then there’s Bulería by David Bisbal, that blond jerry-curled fool that spins around all the time. Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Coldplay, Christina Aguilera, Jarabe de Palo, Natalie Imbruglia, Robbie Williams, The Darkness …

But wait, there’s more, so much more! Songs from the Titanic soundtrack(!), Madonna, Ozone** … the Cranberries, Ugly Kid Joe … Barry White (?!) … and, I don’t know who it’s by, but that song I Need a Hero … and then, countless songs that have only gotten famous after being used in a commercial (yup, these are the types) … and, the absolute worst of all, which for some reason is always louder than all the others: the You’re Beautiful song. This is a sonic assault of unspeakable cruelty.

In fact, instead of torturing prisoners with Eminem, they ought to use the You’re Beautiful song. At 120 decibels they’ll be pleading for mercy after the first hair-raising refrain. It will make the most battle-hardened, fanatical muyahidin cry for his momma. I’m so sure of this.

They did, in all fairness, ask me if I wanted to put my music on. I declined for three reasons:

1. I think, due to the incredibly boring nature of my job, that putting good music on would spoil it. I take great pleasure in good music, and I don’t want any negative associations made. It’s so much more appropriate to cut and paste, make charts and graphs in powerpoint, translate phrases like "paralelamente, los distribuidores están ampliando las categorías de productos que ofrecen para cerrar el punto de venta" to the tune of say, Maneater.

Oh oh here she comes
Watch out boy she'll chew you up!
Oh oh here she comes
She's a maneeeeeter

Uh, yeah. That's dangerous. I often think the nineties sucked, but the eighties take the cake!

2. My second reason for declining their offer is I don’t want to scare them. Their ears couldn’t possibly comprehend the glory of say, Tenor Madness or Giant Steps. They would think I’m a pedant if I put on Don Cherry or Zorn’s Filmworks or anything longer than three minutes without shitty loops and obvious AABA chorus structure. They’ll think I’m hopelessly weird (the worst social stigma) if I played those great Dirty Harry soundtracks.

And, finally: 3. I need this job. It pays my rent, feeds me. I put my music on and they’ll suddenly be downsizing my department. This I know.

I’m perfectly aware that I’m not the "normal" one here, and, by democratic majority this means I have to cede my right to listen to the kind of music I want to listen to. I’ve come to accept that the most "underground" I’ll ever hear here is "No woman no cry" (crazy pot smoking rastafarian!)

Life is about understanding the compulsions of our fellow human beings, and - if they don’t interfere with your personal integrity - coming to accept them.

Meanwhile, I have 4.5 days of music on my Itunes at home.

A post script: Luckily no one I work with even knows what a blog is. So, I can get away with writing this stuff and publishing it in my spare time at work without really risking my neck. Just to clear that up.

* To somewhat soften the blow - because, really, to be fair I have to mention this - the people in my little space are decent and friendly people

** Horrendous Romanian europop popular everywhere in Spain. You might recognize the following lyrics: Dadala heeeee, dadala hoooooo, dadala ha ha ...

In fact I will make an axiom whereby every human being would be better off if they were to follow it: Europop SUCKS and it should NEVER be listened to.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Me first, ad infinitum

China now lays claim to being the discoverer of America, before Catalunya and Iceland.

This, while tests are being conducted throughout Catalunya to see if people with the last name Colom share DNA with Christopher Columbus.

Apparently, after fighting with the Generalitat de Catalunya against King John the Faithless Columbus had to obscure his past because he wanted a favor from King John’s son, Ferdinand (we all know what that was) - hence his renowned origins in Genova … hence Colon, Colom, Colombo - and, finally - Columbus.

Who the hell cares who really discovered America? 12,000 years ago Tok and Thwok probably dragged their hairy knuckles across the Bering Straight and began the descent down to what we now call La Tierra del Fuego, subsisting on wild berries, grizzly carrion, and the lice they picked out of each others’ hair. Many generations passed during this epic journey, and their horny slope-headed descendants proliferated throughout the vast continent of "America".

But, alas, poor Tok and Thwok are condemned to oblivion, as will be Christopher, Zheng, and Leif many millennia from now when self-aggrandizing nations ruled by the descendants of mutated cockroaches revise history according to their interests.

They will remember the dark days of La Cucaracha, when their ancestors battled giant, swaggering drunks wearing sombrereros; petrified roach motels will serve as poignant reminders of their mortality; and they will say their ancestors, indeed, were the first to discover that vast continent when one day a fortuitous current carried one of them on a large turd across a seemingly interminable stretch of gray ocean.

On the dawn of a dazzling new era one lone cockroach scurried up the stony shores of the ancient Indian island of Manhattan, and there he found savage cockroaches living in the ruins of a strange and tangled-up concrete jungle … and so on and so on …

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Strange weather

New entry in my Barcelonareporter column.

Check it out: Strange weather

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Memoirs from the Circus

3ammagazine, a British ezine, has published an old short story of mine. It’s actually one of the first I ever wrote.

It takes place in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco where I used to live, and it’s almost all true (really, I can’t make some of this stuff up).

Also, it looks like they published an older version of the story, as the new, slightly-revised version is called "Vantage Point" - which has more impact in my humble, nit-picky writerly opinion. Anyway, the revisions are so slight only I would probably notice them.

There are nights when anything can happen; wild, hot nights when uptown folks maunder through the grid in search of adventure, and end up with eventual regrets …

Read it here

Monday, January 02, 2006

Gettin’ lousy, 2006

Photo from today's edition of El Periodico.

It’s nice to know people in
Barcelona are just like anybody else.

For some reason, people the world over feel compelled to drink themselves into oblivion at the end of the year. I’ve done it plenty of times, with the help of other illicit substances on various occasions, but this year I woke up with barely a throbbing pulse in the upper right lobe of my little brain. A very, very quiet new years twas.

Not so on the Ramblas, where allegedly guiris (at least according to El Periodico) decided to bust bottles and piss out all the surplus cava that’s been flowing. From my window- in the next hip barrio of Sant Pere - I heard drunks jabbering in many tongues, staggering into the end of the night to the dawn of the new year ...

... the other day I heard some old hag bitching about the new smoking ordnance, throwing around her second-hand semi-factual bullshit basically blaming the Americans for everything. She left out the Italians, the French, the Irish among others. Get over it lady, and start blaming your government.

I’ve also heard we got a fare hike coming on the metro.

But besides all that, I think it’s going to be a pretty good year. Cheers y’all.