Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dream Log: Physics and Disapproval

I dreamed that my brother was living with some fanatical Christians. They may have been his father- and mother-in-law, but I don't remember meeting his bride. Their home, a large apartment on a high floor of a drab brick building among high drab brick buildings, had the look of guilty religious conformity. Even the benches on either side of one long narrow table looked like church pews.

I had brought with me an armload of books, mostly books on topics of physics and math published by Dover, such as this one:


My brother had some Dover books on related topics, and he seemed to deliberately be mixing up his Dover books with mine. I kept trying to separate them again, and I asked myself in vain why I had brought so many books with me to begin with. It wasn't as if I was going to teach my brother anything about such things. He's an accomplished mechanical engineer, his knowledge of physics and advanced math is far ahead of mine. And I also wasn't intending to give him any of the books or loan any of them to him. And I felt sure that my brother knew all of this. I wondered whether he was teasing me by mixing up his books with mine.

I scrambled around, trying to make sure that I had all of my books and none of my brother's, getting ready to flee this place. I asked myself why I hadn't carried the books in a backpack, or at least in a box: there were too many of them to comfortably carry in my arms.

My brother's mother-in-law (I presumed) was darting around and loudly disapproving of me and my scientific outlook. Then she spotted, among my books, this one --


-- which may well have been the only book ever written by a communist, small- or capital-c, whose title or author she would've recognized -- and she became louder and more agitated still, screeching, "He's communistic! He's communistic!"

For a moment I thought of correcting her, telling her that the correct adjective was "communist," or, even better, she could use the noun form and say that I was a communist. But immediately I asked myself what good that could do. It was about then that I woke up.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reputations

John Irving went a long way out of his way, in his novel The World According to Garp, to diss the Austrain writer Franz Grillparzer, 1792-1872, remembered today for dramas such as Das goldene Vlies. Actually, in den US today he's probably most famous for being the first famous writer better than whom the fictional novelist Garp, a thinly-disguised version of John Irving, was certain he could write. This was supposedly an important milestone in any developing writer's life: finding a writer to whom one feels superior -- as a writer, at least.

I don't know whether or not that makes any sense: that you have to find some famous writer whom you are certain you can outwrite in order to become a successful writer. Perhaps it makes sense only for kinds of writers I was never interested in being. I'm not sure whether anything that John Irving has ever asserted makes much sense for people like me: the implication that he is a better writer than Grillparzer is really rather silly; the implication that he even deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as someone like Grillparzer is rather silly. The assertion by Irving that he has read anything by Grillparzer in German and understood it strains my credulity. I think Irving thinks that the name Grillparzer sounds silly, and that that is about the extent of what Irving has to say about Grillparzer. Or consider the advice he gave at a writer's conference for dealing with writer's block. He called it the constipation method: wait as long as you possibly can, and then run to the typewriter. I am certain that another writer's retort was much wittier than anything Irving has ever written: she asked, what if you don't make it to the typewriter in time? I'm sorry that I don't remember her name.

I was sure, as a young squirt reading The World According to Garp, that I could outwrite Irving, but I already knew by then that I could outwrite many -- no, most writers of bestsellers: Crichton, Ludlum, Richard Adams (Author of Watership Down), Peter Benchley, son of Robert, author of Jaws, and so forth. That I could add one more to that list, Irving, who managed to fool some people for some time into thinking he was the sort of author who deserved awards, was no big deal.

The big deal was discovering writers like Gaddis, Gass, John Hawkes, Robert Musil, Pynchon, Yeats, Doeblin, writers who really challenged me and continue to do so, and learning how close to unknown some of them were during their lifetimes, and how far most of them were from bestseller lists for most or all of their lives.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Materials of Which Watch Cases Can Be Made

* Stainless steel. Seems that everywhere I turn, people who write about watches are writing enthusiastically about stainless steel watches. I haven't been watching the world of watches very long, and I don't know what they were writing not long ago, but I clearly gather that stainless steel is being treated as the New Cool Thing. Whether this reflects an actual change in taste among people who used to buy gold or platinum watches, and still could afford to, but now have decided that it's more tasteful to be less ostentatious in their choice of wristwear; or whether those tastes haven't changed at all among those who can afford any watches they want, and what has changed is the approach of those writing, who have decided to try to reach more readers buy writing about watches more people can afford; or if the answer is some Door #3 which hasn't occurred to me, I don't know.

On the one hand, I have a stainless steel watch:


and am therefore unintentionally stylish at the moment. On the other hand, I not only didn't intend to be trendy when I got my Seiko 5 (there are any like it, but this one is mine), I really don't care about being trendy. I refer you to Thorstein Veblen.



* Brass. Boring. And high-maintenance unless you want it to look as dull as dirt or plate it with gold or nickel or something.

* Silver. I don't know any thing interesting to tell you about silver watches cases.

* Titanium. It doesn't move me. Sorry.

* Tantalum. I wrote a whole post about that one.

* Gold. It costs about 2/3 as much per ounce as it did in 2011, and that fall in the price of the metal has definitely been accompanied by a steep drop in the prices of gold watches. Perhaps the snooty exclusive rich class really has taken a recent like to stainless steel watches, and maybe part of the reason for that is that suddenly, many more people could afford gold watches, making them suddenly much less fun for the snooty exclusive rich class.

* Platinum. Everything I just speculated about gold except more so, because in the past few years the price of the metal has fallen even more sharply than that of gold.

I wish I had a watch made of gold, or, even better and even more expensive, platinum. And I really don't care what snooty exclusive rich people think of that. And I don't care that some of them will be convinced that I'm lying when I say I don't care, and that I want a watch like that for completely other reasons than any having to do with their exclusive hamster wheels. They are hamsters, those snooty people. Hamsters on exclusive wheels. Veblen. He covered all this.

* Sapphire. Yes, sapphire. If you're like I was recently, you didn't realize that sapphires aren't always blue, and that synthetic transparent sapphire is used instead of glass these days for the crystals of high-end watches. It's much tougher than glass. At least one watch company, Hublot, has made entire cases from sapphire for certain models.


Which I happen to think is wicked cool, and I don't care if the Watch Snob thinks everything Hublot does is horribly tacky, this isn't the first thing Hublot has done which I like very, very much. (For example: the watch in that picture has a 40-day power reserve. As far as I know, that's the 2nd all-time longest power reserve for a watch, behind that other Hublot with a 50 day power reserve which is also available in a variety of case materials including sapphire.)

The Watch Snob wrote in one of his columns that he guaranteed that Hublot would be out of business by the time he turned 40, which makes me wish I knew when he wrote that and how old he was then. We'll see what we see about what kind of shape Hublot is in as a company.

* Wood. Today, not in the 16th century when one might be more inclined to forgive a watchmaker for not knowing any better, but today, some watches are made with not only their cases but also quite a few of their moving parts made from wood. This makes me feel perhaps somewhat the way the Watch Snob feels about Hublot. I feel that wooden watches are wrong. I feel that it's wrong for people to buy wooden watches, as that will only tend to encourage them to make more of them. I don't feel inclined to discuss it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jemand fragte, wie gute Literatur ihre Leser findet.

Wenn ich ueberhaupt eine Ahnung davon haette, wie gute Literatur ihre Leser findet, waere ich langst reich und bereuhmt und nobelgekroent und wuerde noch andere gute Schriftsteller helfen, alle die schiere Scheisse auf den Bestsellern beiseite zu schieben und verdientvollerweise reich und beruehmt zu werden, und wir waeren oft auf Fernsehen, mal, um die Talkshows viel interessanter zu machen, mal, um als Weise die Leute dieses seltsamen Planeten guten Rat zu geben.

Vielleicht wuerde ich ein Haus in Suedkalifornien haben, nahe genug Conans Studio dass ich bequem von daheim dorthin zu Fuss gehen koennte; und eine Wohnung in New York, vielleicht in New York by Gehry;


und eine in Berlin, und eine in Paris -- oder vielleicht wuerde ich lieber in Hotels wohnen, als viele Wohnungen selbst besitzen. Wuerde ich gern per Flugzeug reisen, wenn ich es stets in der Luxury-Klasse taete? Ich weiss es nicht. Ich flog einmal in First Class, aber ich weiss nicht, ob diese First Class wirklich Luxury-Klasse war. Wenn es wirklich war, wenn es kaum besser als das gibt ohne ein eigenes Flugzeug zu besitzen, dann waere es offiziell: ich moechte fliegen nicht sehr. Ich glaube, dass es etwas luxurioeser geht als auf der First Klasse, welche ich erlebte. Aber ich weiss nicht, ob es irgendwo so gut fliegt dass ich es geniessen wuerde.

Ich haette vielleicht sovielen Einfluss, dass ich hoechstpersoenlich die Eroelbranche vernichte koennte, indem ich fuer Solar und Wind und Gezeitenkraft und Geothermisch und so fort redete.

Moechte ich US-Praesident werden? Ich weiss es nicht. Ich weiss es wirklich nicht.

Aber, wie gesagt, ich weiss nicht, wie gute Literatur zu ihren Lesern kommt. Ich wuesste es gern.

Naja, wenigstens habe ich eine Ahnung davon, was gute Literatur ist, und vermag sie in mehreren Sprachen zu lesen. Das ist ein Trost in meinem Elend.



Friday, July 14, 2017

"Game of Thrones" is Coming

The title of this post is a joke which you might not get if you don't watch the show.

Smug snobs are circulating memes about how they've never watched "Game of Thrones." I used to be those snobs. Yeah, I used to be proud of not watching "Game of Thrones." Then a few years ago, pretty quickly, I got hooked. For a while, being the fan of history that I am, I was very annoyed by the fact that what appeared to be an early-to-High-Medieval Western European world had some literacy, but not in Latin, because in reality, it generally took centuries before it even occurred to Western Europeans to even try to write in the native languages, so that Latin was not only the universal written language, it was the only written language, and Latin persisted along the written native languages for centuries after that. Then I told myself, Yeah, Steve, and in real life there weren't any dragons or magic or giants either, and I got over it. Somewhat. Not completely.

It would still be awesome if you learned Latin. Just the same way it would be awesome if you watched "Game of Thrones." Either way, you would thank me, and you're welcome!

It's a tremendously good show. I, like many millions of other people, am passionately in love with Daenerys Targaryen. I think Jaime is not all that bad. I hope that Arya and the Hound will end up being friends, although I'm not sure how realistic it is to hope for that. And so on and so forth. You know what I'm talking about. It's a tremendously good show. If you're too smart to watch it -- pfffft. Yes, I said pfffft, Sir! Your loss!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I am Not Clothed in Immense Power

I'm frustrated that the investigation of Donald Trump is not moving faster. I'm frustrated that Trump is still President, that he hasn't already been impeached and removed from office, or removed by means of the 25th Amendment, or persuaded to resign by the size and intensity of the opposition to him. On Facebook today, I've been debating things with some people who also very much want to see Trump removed from office, but who are concerned that the investigation and eventual prosecution by Mueller not move too fast, because they want above all for it to be thorough. They say they feel the urgency of removing Trump as much as I do, but I don't think they do. This country has been in a continuous state of dire emergency since January 20.

Anything which can be done can be done faster or slower. Faster does not have to mean sloppier or less thoroughly. Have you seen Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln?



I'm not much of a Spielberg fan usually, but that is an excellent movie. It shows a lot of the horse-trading which Lincoln and other leading Washington Republicans did in order to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Discussing Trump these days, perhaps the last Republican President, I think of that movie about the first Republican President. I sometimes feel like Daniel Day-Lewis' Lincoln in one of the film's most dramatic moments, spurring people along, pounding angrily on the table-top with the mighty palm of his hand, pointing a huge finger (Spielberg did an amazing job, as director, of making Day-Lewis look gigantic throughout the film.) and shouting, referring to when he wanted certain things to be accomplished: "NOW! NOW! NOW!"

If only I were "clothed in immense power" like Lincoln, and could make powerful people jump and run and exert themselves to the utmost by shouting at them. Perhaps I've gained a bit of power by virtue of sheer persistence, by having e-mailed various powerful people on the subject of Trump every day for over 180 consecutive days and signed many petitions and marched in rallies and all of those other things that many of us have been doing.

Perhaps I've not gained any power at all. It's not as if I'm going to stop either way.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dream Log: Big Kind Dutch Museum

Last night I dreamed I was in a big modern museum somewhere in the Netherlands. As I am in many of my dreams, so in this one I was alone, broke and surrounded by strangers. I don't speak Dutch very well at all. In many of these dreams, in addition to my other immediate problems, I don't speak the local language. But of course, Dutch people speak English very well.

This was a very modern museum, and it seemed to be dedicated to the "everything is art" approach. And so for example, there were large groups of children in the museum, and it seemed they were being treated in the anti-disciplinarian "let them find their own way" approach of some modern schools. In a large room, the size of a large gymnasium, a group of children, maybe 10 or 12 years old, were kicking a soccer ball around. I was in a hallway which led into that large room. The ball came down the hallway toward me. I don't know whether the children had seen me standing alone in the hallway and intentionally kicked the ball to me the first time. But after I kicked it back to them the first time, they definitely kicked it back to me on purpose. And so we kicked the ball back and forth for a while, they in the large room and I in the hallway. They seemed to generally approve of my performance. However, I was not certain whether it was obvious that I was American, and whether they were taking into account, when judging the way I ran the ball down and kicked it, that I can from one of the very few places on Earth where most of the people, or at least most of them my age, hardly ever play soccer.

After the children took their ball and moved on, I sat alone on a staircase near the top of a large atrium, and wondered where the word "soccer" came from.

Then suddenly I noticed that I had lost both my shoes and my socks, and it was wintry outside. I had definitely had my shoes and socks just a moment earlier, when I was kicking the soccer ball, and now, suddenly, somehow, they were gone. I felt very embarrassed about this. But at the same time I had a feeling that I was not going to be treated harshly just when I most needed help, because I was in the Netherlands. (I don't know whether this was a realistic estimation of the Netherlands.) In any case, eventually I found a lost and found which had a variety of clothing items in a large cardboard box. A pair of shoes which could have been mine were in the box. I took those shoes and two unmatched socks from the lost and found. The museum guard in charge of the lost of found seemed to notice that I was taking socks which didn't match, and presumably weren't mine, but he seemed less concerned about that than about the fact that a person was here who needed socks. It was twilight, getting dark, and I assumed that the museum was about to close. But then two possibilities occurred to me: one, that maybe the museum didn't close; and two, that even if it was closing, they'd let me stay there. Just because it was clear I needed somewhere to stay.

I didn't talk to anyone all throughout the dream, and yet somehow I was fairly certain about what they were thinking, and what they thought of me. And it seemed that, by and large, they didn't want to go out of their way to make my troubles worse.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

My Glorious Career As a Brilliant Provocateur

I have a vivid imagination. Some would say, if they knew its full proportions, an over-active imagination. I have a healthy self-confidence in the quality of my writing. For example, when I write about receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, although I usually attempt to do so in a humourous way, I'm not joking. I imagine it all the time, and I imagine my blog blowing up -- almost constantly. (For the benefit of readers my age and older and/or with a native language other then English who may possibly be unfamiliar with the idiom: "to blow up" means "to very suddenly become extremely popular." I'm not talking about stuff literally splodin'.) I have a lot of healthy self-confidence: time after time, I finish a blog post and think to myself: This one will be a big hit.

And time after time that post is not a hit at all, but I keep my chin up and keep plugging away.

But so far, the single most clicked-on post in my 8 years of blogging is at best a medium-sized hit. Although it has several times more pageviews than anything else on this blog, I'm careful not to call it my most-read blog post, because it's clear than many of those who've commented on it, positively as well as negatively, haven't read it very carefully at all. Maybe my average post isn't any more carefully-read, on average, than my one medium-sized-or-smaller hit, maybe my average post is much more carefully-read. It's just that in the case of the hit, I know for sure that many haven't read it carefully because there are so many comments on it, on this blog and elsewhere, which completely miss its main points, such as that I am an atheist and am not sure whether or not Jesus existed.

Some time after I noticed this widespread incautious readership, I also noticed how often I myself will just read a headline or the first paragraph of something before I move on. So I see that it wouldn't be right for me to complain too much about people treating my work the same way. However, I have tried to refrain from expressing overly-emphatic opinions about written works, whether short articles or multi-volume studies, which I know only from reading a part of them.

Anyway, yesterday I wrote a post about the Volksbühne Berlin and its upcoming change in leadership, and naturally I hope that it will be the one which finally makes me a huge glorious superstar -- it, or this one, or the one linked above could get a big second wind, or another post I wrote days or years ago could blow up. As if I care how I become a huge success -- and it's gotten some reaction, both positive and negative, somewhere else on the Internet, not here on the blog itself.

And the negative reaction -- disappointingly, so far there has been only one negative reaction -- referred to Americans blabbing away without a clue. And this is interesting in more than one way. I can't really tell whether the person making the comment has read the entire blog post. If not, it would be an ironic although hardly unusual example of someone accusing a writer of not having a clue based on work they hadn't read. If the entire post was read, however -- it's not particularly long -- then, well -- I mean, I did make it particularly clear in the post, I think, that I was viewing the controversy over the Volksbühne from a long way away, and that I knew that I actually knew very little about it. But my critic did not merely blame me for speaking up without a clue, but blamed Americans for doing so and inferred that I was a typical American and that we -- Americans -- generally stink. Which, unconsciously or not, ironically or deliberately, would seem to reinforce my point about the opposition to the change in leadership of the Volksbühne having a element of xenophobia about it.

Yesterday's blog post about the Volksbühne is not particularly substantial, I freely admit that here, just as I admitted it there. However, I can see how it's possible that it could become quite widely clicked-upon -- I'm fastidiously avoiding saying "widely-read" -- because, like my medium-sized hit about Paulkovich, it deals with a topic about which people have strong opinions. And so, like my medium-sized hit, it could conceivably serve as a place for people to gather and verbally abuse each other. The wily fame-seeking provokateur writes on subjects about which people are already provoked. Yesterday's post was actually less about the Volksbühne than about some people's extremely-passionate reactions against the incoming new leader of the company, so passionate that, even without knowing many of the details or the players involved, it is difficult for me to believe that these reactions make sense.

In essence, many of my essays are about me. Many essays, from the time that Montaigne invented the genre, have been primarily about their authors. Some may see this as arrogance, I see it as honesty. The only subject one can describe with full authority is oneself. It can actually be modesty: I was going to write about Julius Caesar, but I eventually had to face the fact that I'm not competent to write an article about Julius Caesar which would be of any use to any expert; and so instead I'm writing an essay about my failure to rise to the level of a scholar of the subject of Caesar. The self is also guaranteed to be a unique subject for every author.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Volksbühne Berlin and Chris Dercon

I finally un-followed whats-her-name ("I'll never forget what's her-name") on Facebook, because I couldn't stand her posts protesting Chris Dercon's impending leadership of the Volksbühne Berlin any more.

Of course, she and the people who commented agreeing with her didn't put it that way: they weren't talking about Chris Dercon coming to the Volksbühne and taking over for Frank Castorf: they were talking about the end of the Volksbühne; no, the end of serious theatre in Berlin; no, the end of serious theatre, period; no, the end of the world. Besides the Facebook posts she also has attended protests outside the Volksbühne. Did she actually organize and lead these protests? I don't know. Has she worked as an actress at the Volksbühne? I'm not sure about that either.

Just in case someone doesn't know: I've never seen a performance at the Volksbühne. I've seen lots and lots of pictures of productions, and a few videoclips, and read some reviews, and read some of the plays performed there. But I've never actually been there; ergo, by definition, I don't know what I'm talking about.

My first reaction, when She Who Has Been Unfollowed began her torrent of furious posts, was that it all seemed rather overdone for what was, ironically, a rather elite affair. I was assuming a greater similarity to a theatre culture with which I am actually familiar -- big-time commercial theatre in NYC -- than there actually is. Tickets to a Broadway or Off-Broadway or even some Off-Off-Broadway shows are expensive enough to make it quite an exclusive affair. Not to mention the comps: the many tickets given absolutely free to big shots who could afford perfectly well to pay full price, because it's ab-so-lute-ly backwards.

But I figured I'd better do some research before just wading into the middle of all of that Facebook lamentation and calling them all silly elitist drama queens. And it turned out that I was wrong: tickets for the Volksbühne are much less expensive than those for a Broadway play: no ticket costs more than 40 Euros; retirees and low-income people pay about half price; and some people who qualify on the basis of need can get several tickets per season free.

My next reaction was to say that they could've taken all of the energy they'd expending being furious about something which hasn't happened yet and might be quite different than what they expect, and used it to start their own damn theatre company. And they could. But, as I continued to research the Volksbühne, I learned that, in addition to the money taken in at the box office, the state of Berlin gave the Volksbühne 184 Euros for every ticket sold in 2009, and 141 Euros for every ticket sold in 2010 (these are the latest statistics I could find). And I imagine that they get the use of that theatre building right in the middle of Berlin rent-free, too.



Okay, so, yeah, they could start their own company, but starting one like the Volksbühne might be harder than I had imagined.

So I was wrong about all of that, and drastically under-informed about how German theatre in general works, and I've never seen a production at the Volksbühne, never seen one directed by Castorf, or by Dercon. So do I still actually have a freakin' problem with the protesters?

Yes. One word which is frequently used by them when they describe the way in which Dercon is going to destroy the the Volksbühne is "international." They foresee Volksbühne productions which will be slick, safe, aimed at garnering international prizes. And no longer the distinctly Berliner theatre they love. Dercon ain't even a gosh-dang German, he's a furriner, a Belgian.

What kind of God-damned Communist objects to internationalism? Provincial Communists. That's what kind. I've never been to the Volksbühne, but I have by gosh been to Berlin, and it's magnificent, and one of the things which makes it so is its openness to the world.

The whole world.

And, and, I do believe that while some international prizes are given to slick and safe theatre productions, others aren't. So that if the Volksbühne under Dercon's leadership does win some international prizes, it won't mean that everything the protesters said was correct. Although no doubt they will claim that it does.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Germany is On the Verge of Legalizing LGBT Marriage

Germany is on the verge of legalizing LGBT marriage. One legislative body has approved it, we're waiting for a second to make it official. Although their version of the Supreme Court might overturn the law.

People's reactions show that bigotry is the same wherever you go.

There are the people acting as if the Bible were the law of the land -- but much more when it has to do with homosexuality than when it has to do with shellfish and pork and the Sabbath.

There are people saying that -- although in many cases they assure us that they personally have nothing at all against homosexuals -- allowing gay marriage will be "only the beginning" and will open the gates for people who want to marry small children, animals or their siblings or parents. As if pedophilia, bestiality or incest were more likely to be practiced or favored by homosexuals than by heterosexuals. They're not.

In one land just an in another, about 100% of the people who are vehemently opposed to gay marriage and gay rights in general are, often but not always subconsciously, gay. They are afraid that expansion of gay rights, and the concomitant greater public profile of gay people because they have less reason to be afraid and hide, will make it harder for them to hide their own true nature. From themselves above all, in many but not all cases.

Apart from such neuroses of ancient religion and self-loathing, from a mentally healthy point of view, this change in the laws of Germany is not a beginning, but an end: an end to a discrimination again LGBT's. It's as simple as it can be: it's a refusal, when it comes to the issue of marriage, to make the lives of LGBT's more difficult than they already are.