Saturday, December 4, 2010

Impotent Support

There's a chain status going around in Facebook right now:

Changeyour FB profile [picture] to a cartoon from your childhood. The goal? to not see ahuman face on FB till monday, december 6th. join the fight against child abuse and copy and paste to your status to invite your friends to do the same..

That won't stop anyone from abusing children, nor from ignoring child abuse when they see it. The gesture simply lacks impact.

There is, first of all, a very weak connection between old cartoons and child abuse, and this tenuous link carries no emotional force. When I see Pinky and The Brain, I don't think "Oh, those poor children"; I think "One is a genius, the other's insane". These images hold for us memories of mindless entertainment, not tragedies in need of fixing, and so a smattering of old cartoon characters won't inspire anyone to action.

This is all based on the ridiculous idea that "spreading awareness" of an issue (that is to say, mentioning it and doing nothing else) will alleviate it. If anyone is in a position to stop someone from abusing a child, they already know that the child is being abused (or if they don't, this crusade won't tell them what qualifies as abuse or whether any particular child whom they can help is being abused). I am fully aware of the fact that some children are beaten and molested, but my knowing doesn't stop it from happening. Even if I see it and find myself in a position to stop it, seeing the Rugrats on Facebook won't be the thing that spurs me into action.
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Saturday, November 13, 2010


How dare I laugh and play a game?
How dare I look for pleasure?
I'm selfish, starving for my glut,
a pig by any measure.

And no-one in the world (apart
from ev'ry other devil)
would dare to grin at idle thoughts
or close his eyes and revel.

For open eyes would see the stains
upon his merrymaking.
With ev'ry feast, a thousand starve.
We're cruel to not be aching.

Our joy is local, hoarded here;
we drakes adore our gold.
And dragonslayers, though they fight,
are killed for being bold.

But even now, apologetic,
I confess to smiling.
My verse — pretentious, pithy tripe —
delights me in its styling.

So I'm a monster. I confess.
Now burn me with the lumber.
But add a bit of hickory;
the other monsters hunger.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Book review: The Kite Runner

I normally wouldn't post something like this to AESOT, but I'm proud of it and I want my ego to have a place for memorabilia.

To anyone reading this review who has not read the book: here there be spoilers. Except not really, because Khaled Hosseini spoils his own book thoroughly.

Despite the author's best efforts to make us sympathize with Amir, the hero of the story, it is abundantly clear from the outset that Amir is, all in all, a total jackass. He's not evil in the way that the villain Assef is, but he's just as selfish and nearly as mean. The prime difference between the protagonist and the antagonist is that Amir is wussier than Assef, so Amir and his "friend" -- that is to say, "patsy" -- Hassan end up being the downtrodden party. But Amir forces Hassan into doing things he doesn't want to do, lets him take the blame for wrongdoings, and, to top it all off, lets him get raped. Yet we're supposed to sympathize enough with Amir to care when tragedy befalls him?

And speaking of tragedy, this book is so drenched in sorrow that I would not have been surprised to find it torn to shreds from cutting itself. If you can reliably predict the next thing that's going to happen by figuring out what the most tragic possibility is, then something went wrong. It is seriously the most depressing thing I have ever read, which might have been forgivable if the utter lack of surprise twists hadn't made it feel like I read it before. It had maybe one half-twist. Of course, that would make it a Möbius strip, so that might explain why it felt so predictably familiar as I re-walked the single tragic surface over and over and over and...

But even where the tragedy switches from a crashing wave of tears to an undertow which will inevitably drag you back in kicking and screaming, the foreshadowing ruins it. It's not even foreshadowing, really. Hosseini seems to think that foreshadowing is supposed to say, "This is what will happen. I thought I'd warn you." NO! That is not how you do it! If we know how it's going to turn out before we finish, what's the point of reading it? For instance, during the climax of the book, when Amir is about to enter the house and fight Assef (NO, THAT IS NOT A SPOILER. WHO ELSE WOULD IT BE?), it says quite plainly that it would be the last time for a while that Amir was eating solid food. If he won't be eating solid food for a while, that means he survived. Considering who he's fighting, he would need to win in order to survive. So basically, the author just told us that he wins. Well thanks for that, Hitchcock! He ruined the suspense! In his attempt to add tension to the thread of the story, he pulled too hard and it snapped, causing the tapestry (a shoddily-woven tapestry depicting nothing more artistic than a frowny face, but a tapestry nonetheless) to fall apart right as he was about to finish it.
Except no, he wasn't about to finish it. This book seems to really be three stories, all stapled together at the last minute with a few words changed so they connect a little better. First, there's the story of Amir's childhood, which ends with him pulling a dick move and forcing Hassan to leave. Second, there's the story of him going to America and finding a wife. This second section is fully one-third of the story, and its ONLY PURPOSE to the rest of the plot is to give Amir somewhere to take Sohrab for the last two pages. Time well spent! It was a nice diversion from the story, because I need my breaks built into the book; I can't be bothered to just set it down and pick something else up when I want to read an irrelevant story. The third story is of Amir going back to Afghanistan to rescue Sohrab, and it consists entirely of parallels to the first story which are meant to make me think "I see what you did there", but more often make me think "I saw what you were going to do there ten pages back". And this section of the book goes on far too long after the climax. He rescued Sohrab. Hooray, happy ending! ...wait, why are there still more chapters?

For the remainder of the book, Sohrab tries to kill himself, runs away, and generally makes it very difficult for Amir to bring him somewhere not quite as miserable without resorting to handcuffs and duct tape. The only loose end tied up in the last few chapters is the one regarding how they actually get to America, and that could easily have been left for the reader to figure out. The only purpose I see of letting this loose end linger for several chapters is so that it can lash out at the reader with more tragedy and punish us for not snapping the book closed and BURNING IT ALREADY.

(Inspired by the review style of Ben "Yahtzee" Crowshaw.)

Please note that this was originally written to answer someone who asked me what I didn't like about the book, and it is posted here primarily for humor; the book does have its merits, and Hosseini does show some significant writing skill (but in my opinion the book is still not very good).
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Society's values regarding love are self-contradictory. We view love based on physical appeal as shallow and imperfect, but our views of sexual orientation imply that love is predicated on some degree of lust.
  • There are men with feminine personalities, and women with masculine personalities, so the body is the only constant difference between the two genders; that is to say, gender is a physical fact, but not a mental or emotional one.
  • It is acceptable, at the very least, for someone to be heterosexual.
But if a man rejects a perfectly nice woman based on her physical appearance, he is declared a pig. This is not very different from a man rejecting a perfectly nice man based on his gender. They are different extents of the same irresistible influence of lust, and therefore if we do not condemn the latter, we should at least be understanding of the former.

"... reason is still there accusing the baseness and injustice of the passions and disturbing the peace of those who give way to them, and the passions are still alive in those who want to reject them." —Blaise Pascal
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Friday, July 2, 2010

Constellation Analogy

Crux constellationImage via Wikipedia

Think of ideas as stars, and religions as constellations. When you looked into the night sky for the first time, you saw countless points of light; some were bright and obvious while others were dim and hard to spot, but they were all beautiful. But then someone pointed to a few of those stars and drew lines between them. Over time, you learned to see a constellation in the sky whenever you look at those stars, and now you don't even think about the fact that those connections were invented. They have become just as natural as the stars themselves, and the beauty of the stars is somewhat dependant on the lines between them. Stars that aren't connected become mundane; you ignore them as you look for your constellation, and smile only when you find it. To have a good perspective, you need to appreciate all of the stars, not just the ones that are part of your constellation.
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