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"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

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"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

February 26, 2009


My brain is too tired to come up with things to yammer about on its own. What do you think it should yammer about?

Perhaps it could blather on about George R.R. Martin's short story "A Song for Lya," and why it's one of the greatest works ever written about the problem of being human. Please don't disagree with me on this, because you would be wrong.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at February 26, 2009 10:19 AM

I think it should yammer on about bagels and what better shapes they could come in.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at February 26, 2009 12:22 PM

Jonathan, out of curiosity, who are some of your favorite authors/books?

Posted by: anon at February 26, 2009 02:35 PM

Just to mix things up, how about a discussion about critiques of Zionism and whether or not it is anti-Semitism to criticize Israel?

Posted by: Seth at February 26, 2009 02:39 PM

Yeah I'm reading Tears of Autumn right now (on your recommendation) and I am kind of disappointed.

John Le Carre provides a much more credible (and aesthetically satisfying) representation of the world of espionage.

Posted by: Seth at February 26, 2009 02:46 PM

Tim, I'm reading Brothers Karamazov right now and I've got to warn you: there are lengthy stretches of mind-numbing religious navelgazery in between the more enjoyable Peyton-Place-in-Russia bits. Fascinating to a Christian, maybe, but for me it's like listening to geeks debating whether or not the Punisher could beat up a Balrog...for five hours straight. Also, the Ewan McTeagle-like financial drama gets old pretty fast. I know I'm supposed to love it or I'm a hopeless philistine, and when it's good it's great, but I've been cheating and reading other books on the side.

Jon, I'd say go ahead and yammer about "A Song for Lya". I don't recall if I've read it, though I loved "Sandkings". But don't let any of that fool you into reading any of the Song of Ice and Fire books; I made that mistake after hearing people praise them to the skies, and discovered that Martin has turned from writing intriguing short fiction to churning out offensive, turgid snuff-porn pseudo-fantasy that desperately needs to be edited to about 5% of its current length. Smear your entire body with a dog turd before you read one of these books; you'll enjoy it more.

And if you're burned, take a break, eh? We'll still be here when you get back.

Posted by: John Caruso at February 26, 2009 02:48 PM

I think it should yammer on about bagels and what better shapes they could come in.

Obviously they should be cubes, but with holes still running through the middle of them -- three of them, connecting each of the parallel sides, all meeting in the middle.

I know others have proposed twelve-sided bagels with the same hole arrangement, but that would be stupid.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at February 26, 2009 02:51 PM

That story is all backwards. Hell is other people.

Posted by: abb1 at February 26, 2009 03:09 PM

John, perhaps you'd like to clarify your characterization of the SoIaF books as snuff-porn? Turgid I understand, but I'm only about half way through "Game of Thrones" and I'm not hating it quite as extravagantly -- yet.

Posted by: Michael Hughes at February 26, 2009 03:42 PM

Game of Thrones was at least readable enough for me to start the second book, though I had serious reservations. But snuff porn is a pretty literal description: women are not infrequently raped and sometimes murdered afterward in the books. This in addition to torture-murder...and Martin seems to get a sick vicarious thrill out of describing ultraviolence at length (and sex, often forced, with creepy clinical detail). This really kicks in in the second book, which I got about halfway through before deciding I didn't want any more of his apparent mental illness in my brain.

Posted by: John Caruso at February 26, 2009 04:20 PM

I like the book by that lady where these two people hook up, and he dies, then he comes back as a ghost and haunts the moors, then gets his realtor's license. And when she gets a new boyfriend he sells the house to a company that bulldozes it to make a bowling alley.

Posted by: Carl at February 26, 2009 05:47 PM

That sounds familiar, carl. Madam Bovary? Oh, no, wait - Op-Center: Games of State‎?

Posted by: RobWeaver at February 26, 2009 06:26 PM

Re: Ender's Game

I've read the first, and I concur, it is touching. Which is why it's a little bizarre that Orson Scott Card is a full-on self-professed terror-war-on-"islamofascism" supporter, clash-of-civilizations-ist, and one of the most anti-gay marriage pundits around. (I know because living in Utah, I regularly get subjected to his latest foolishness.)

Posted by: Cloud at February 26, 2009 07:25 PM

If Jon is tired of thinking of new stuff to blawg about, couldn't he just declare, "Open thread, be excellent to one another," and leave it at that? Seems to work for this guy.

And I know you didn't really need that link.

Posted by: SteveB at February 26, 2009 10:34 PM

John Caruso, I think that's a highly exaggerated description of the violence of "Ice and Fire." It is violent, but no more so than a somewhat realistic depiction of medieval Europe requires. In fact, it softpedals the reality quite a bit. The rapes and murders of the commoners especially, which are not as numerous as you imply, serve a necessary purpose to what Martin is doing: showing the effect of wars on the people who can't do anything about it. This is especially important since the main characters are nobles, and one of Martin's themes is how the wars they start for their political games ruin and end the lives of so many.

I like the series, for the record. It has its flaws but I find the political intrigue plotlines interesting, and many of the characters are well drawn (especially if you're familiar with fantasy, because Martin likes to play with established fantasy tropes).

Posted by: LadyVetinari at February 27, 2009 01:28 AM

May be, you could write about and have a discussion on some of the things the President has done RIGHT! in his first thirty eight days!!!!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at February 27, 2009 10:16 AM

Yeah, give Obama a chance! He may not be perfect, but parts of him are excellent! He's the only president we've got! If he fails, America fails!

Posted by: Duncan at February 27, 2009 10:47 AM

the ratio of comfortable to afflicted is changing very fast and the power of the comfortable, defined by their ability to cooperate against the much larger other group, is dwindling because of the extent to which they lied to each other, i think. if you want to poke someone comfortable in the eye, who? scapegoaters and snake oil sellers, maybe?

(StO: i gave up being surprised that people didn't recognize ender as a revenge fantasy a long time ago.)

Posted by: hapa at February 27, 2009 02:52 PM

Let's discuss when a 'withdrawal' not a withdrawal, no matter what people believe?

Posted by: Susan at February 27, 2009 05:48 PM

I agree with you and have posted a comment a while ago with couple of links which also could be discussed but the comment has gone to the moderator and should be posted soon.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at February 27, 2009 10:08 PM

did people make jokes in the progressive era?

Posted by: hapa at February 28, 2009 02:31 AM

I originally read the OSC books without knowing any of the controversy (or perhaps before it) behind his 'conservative' beliefs, and without any knowledge of the controversy behind his books and his personal beliefs. The works of his that I have read have been amoung the most even handed treatments of any religions that I have ever read.

But I really must say, that after finding out about that stuff, I can only respect those books that I read even more. Because they are written by a truly curious human, one with wisdom I can (and have) learned from. These books aren't about politics or religion, they are about humans.

I have no problem with any author's beliefs, because if their work reflected any outrageous bias, I could easily ignore it. But I've learned more from OSC's books than from most people I know, and long vacuous articles with nothing but ad hominem attacks on fictional characters sure don't prove otherwise.

Posted by: tim at February 28, 2009 04:42 AM

Also, for the literarily deficient, if a conservative Christian can write a series of Humanist novels, that novelist is practicing the highest form of art; empathy.

Just like Slayer

Wikipedia:Slayer is best known for speaking through perspective without being necessarily sympathetic to the cause of their inspiration.

Posted by: tim at February 28, 2009 04:53 AM

REGULATE 2BIG2FAIL 2 2LITTLE2CARE. Call Nancy Pelosi @1-202-225-0100, DC business hours only, call often, spread it around. America STILL has a BANKruptsy Court.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 28, 2009 10:14 AM

Ender's Game is about "humanism??" Really?

I always thought of it as a long, tautological defense of xenophobia. "Humanism" as analogous with "Stalinism," or "Nazism."

Posted by: woody at February 28, 2009 02:22 PM

woody, it has been some years now since I read Ender's Game, but I did not see it as a defense of xenophobia -- tautological or otherwise. I saw it as an attack on xenophobia, since when Ender realizes that he was not playing training games, as he'd been told, but actually killing other sentient creatures, he rejected what had been his side and set out to find a home for the people he'd nearly destroyed. I see the book as a rejoinder to Heinlein's Starship Troopers, which really is a defense of xenophobia (except that it doesn't see xenophobia as needing defense -- it takes for granted that The Enemy should be wiped out like the Bugs they are).

None of this mitigates Card's personal bigotry, of course, but he's not the first author I've read whose personal and artistic politics were different, and who seemed smarter in their fiction than in life. Dostoevsky was another, except for The Possessed/The Demons (depends on how the title is translated). I forget who it was that complained about the religious discussions in The Brothers Karamazov, but I found those discussions fascinating, and quite fitting within the book.

Posted by: Duncan at February 28, 2009 03:20 PM

Duncan, what did you think about "The Possessed?" I read it so long ago I don't remember much about it. From what I've read since, it was harshly critical of the would-be revolutionaries of the time, portraying them as fanatical nihilists. I vaguely recall this, but when I read it I was more centrist in politics, so Dostoevsky was stereotyping the left in obviously unfair ways it might not have bothered me then.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at March 1, 2009 05:32 PM

Donald, I liked "The Possessed" the least of all of Dostoevsky's fiction. It wasn't that he was critical of the "revolutionaries", but that he caricatured them in a way that he didn't any other characters in the rest of his work. Even Raskolnikov got better treatment. Maybe the Russian revolutionaries of the time really were that one-dimensional, but I doubt it, and I gather from some critical writing I've read that the portrayal is indeed inaccurate. Accuracy isn't mandatory in fiction, of course, but this sort of caricature makes for a bad novel.

Posted by: Duncan at March 2, 2009 10:29 AM

Ender's Game basically asserts that the character's moral purity, the depth of his feelings, outweighs his actions in a moral calculus. It's an idea that's truer in literature, or in the mind of a narcissist, than it can possibly be in real life. But it seems to me like a dangerous and common sort of fallacy.

(On the other hand, I do think Card deserves some token credit for failing to ignore--however briefly--some of the moral issues associated with his plot, especially if he disagreed with them.)

Posted by: Keifus at March 2, 2009 05:12 PM

I liked "The Gospel according to Gamaliel Crucis; or, The Astrogator's Testimony" by Michael Bishop.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at March 3, 2009 10:51 PM

I always liked The Navy Bluejacket's Manual. It has a nifty section on Knot Tying.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at March 4, 2009 12:21 AM