Books of 2014, #6: A Feast of Snakes, by Harry Crews

Harry Crews has been on my radar for a long time, but for some reason I never actually took the plunge. I was shocked this was still the case when he died last year, but it still took me until this month to read one of his books. I picked this one because, honestly, it was for sale in a local bookshop when David MacLean was in town reading from The Answer to the Riddle is Me. I felt bad about the fact that I’d pre-ordered MacLean’s book from Amazon, so I spent about $80 on other books while I was there for the reading, and so Crews found his way into my bag.

I can’t speak to Crews’ entire output, but Feast is something I might call “Faulknerian Modern.” If you read books like As I Lay Dying, or generally other books that touch on the Snopeses, it’s hard to miss the utter disdain and disgust Faulkner holds for most of his characters. Anse Bundren is a horrible, ignorant jackass of a man; of that there can be no question. It’s impossible not to read it and see a harsh critique of the South Faulkner knew well.

When I read Faulkner, that South is, temporally at least, far from me. I don’t react viscerally to the ignorance and general embrace of brutality, because I live in a more modern world, and his people don’t. I see them as awful, but they don’t make me HATE.

With Crews, though, it’s different. He’s doing much of the same thing here in Mystic, Georgia with Feast, except it’s set in 1975, and consequently resonates a great deal more. Frankly, I hate every one of these ignorant fucks, and by the end of the book sort of wished for a massive cataclysm to wipe Mystic off the map.

I”m not sure that Crews has the same sneering contempt for his characters that we see in some of Faulkner’s work, but it seems likely. Writers, like any other kind of intellectual, are generally unwelcome in the poor, rural south, and I’m sure Crews had some of the same scars that Faulkner had. At the same time, Crews includes a single learned character — the new boyfriend of a local girl come home from the University of Georgia — and treats him just as poorly, so there’s something in the rural south’s ignorant brutality that Crews seems to think as justified, too.

All that said, the book is solid. Despite my feelings about Joe Lon Mackey himself, I followed his story with the same horrified attention you’d give a train wreck (and, in that sense, was not disappointed). He’s the sort of person we have all seen: ignorant as fuck, but a star football player in a rural high school, so worshiped as a god until he graduated. College was never going to happen, so he is stuck in his backwater shithole town forever, endlessly revisiting his past while a profoundly shitty future stretches before him. No one we encounter is any less fucked up, or any less hopeless.

Should you read it? That, I’m not sure of. It’s harsh and brutal. There is endless violence. There is a brutal dogfighting subplot, the details of which make it clear Crews has been exposed to it in some detail. There is sexual assault. My takeaway was really just to be thankful that I do not have to live in a shithole like Mystic, or be around ignorant, ruined people like Joe Lon.

So that’s something.

Update: Apparently you don’t have to go all the way to Georgia for a ridiculous snake festival.

Books of 2014, #5: The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers

There’s not really much to say here other than that Nic Pizzolatto and HBO have done more interesting things with the material than the original author.

I only heard about this because it turns out to be part of the mythos, if you will, for HBO’s True Detective; Amazon jumped on the bandwagon and made the Kindle edition of The King in Yellow free a few weeks back, and so I snagged it to read on vacation. (It’s still free, if you want to sample it.)

Honestly, it’s kind of bland, and not really worth your time. Only the first few stories even reference the titular King, and in those it’s generally in a very Lovecraftian thing-you-should-not-know sense. My advice: skip it.

Frankly, you pod-coffee freaks deserve what you get

Those goofballs who make the execrable Keurig machines are annoyed that people make “compatible” pods, so they’re working out a way to keep them from working by using something akin to DRM.

But since people aren’t generally very excited about reduced functionality, they’re lying about why they’re doing it. What tools.

But, as the title says, you pod-coffee people deserve whatever you get. Grind your own, use a pour-over device, and be done with it. Cheap AND delicious!

In which we quote wisdom from, of all places, Tumblr

I think the most important thing that facebook is going to do for humanity in general and the United States in particular, as a society, is inform us which of our friends/relatives/acquaintances are fucking idiots that we really should not associate with at all.

From Will’s Tumblr.

This maps closely to another quote, the specifics and citation for which I’ve lost, to the effect of “Twitter makes me want to buy drinks for people I don’t know, and Facebook makes me want to punch my friends and family.”

911: Stuff you need to do RIGHT NOW if you haven’t already

Use an Apple device? And by this I mean any iPad, iPhone, or Mac?

Then you need to install all available OS updates with a furious quickness, for there is a security bug to end all security bugs in the SSL code on your device. All platforms are affected.

It’s a seriously bad, bad, bad bug. It may be the worse security bug of all time. No certificate validation is happening, which means that site you think you have an encrypted connection to might not be who they say they are. That’s an ID thief’s dream come true.

This bug is bad enough that it’s entirely possible that it was deliberately introduced at the behest of the NSA. The crypto we use daily relies on provably unbreakable encryption, so the only vulnerabilities they can exploit rely on broken implementations; this is a known tactic that the NSA and similar organizations have used. The timing certainly works.

More here.

You can check to see if you’re vulnerable using this site. On a Mac, you’ll need to use Safari to get the best possible reading, but it’ll mostly work with other browsers.

Shoring up the argument that it’s part of a deliberate effort: an even worse bug has subsequently been discovered in the Linux GnuTLS code.

Skipping the technical stuff, the takeway for you, the Heathen reader, is that you absolutely MUST upgrade your iOS devices and Macs today, right the fuck now. Full stop.

Fortunately, Apple makes this pretty easy. Just go to Settings -> General -> Software Update on an iPhone or iPad, or to (Black Apple) -> Software Update on a Mac.

Here’s something I didn’t know that’s awesome

When Bruce Springsteen toured Australia last year, he needed an extra guitar man because Little Steven couldn’t make the trip.

He tapped Tom Morello, with whom he’d apparently become friends since a performance together in LA in 2008.

Here they are, doing “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (from the Hall of Fame in 2009, not the Aussie tour).

I think it’s safe to say the collaboration works. Play it loud.

(Via this Rolling Stone interview with Morello, which is worth reading for lots of reasons.)

Update

In the “that settles it” department, looks like I’m buying tickets to see Bruce in the Woodlands in May, because Morello is with him for the whole tour owing at least partly to Van Zandt’s shooting schedule on Lilyhammer.

“The Internet is Fucked.”

Without network neutrality, it may well be. N.B. that Netflix is already paying Comcast for the privilege of not being throttled. This should alarm you.

The Verge has more.

The communications networks have been built largely by government-protected monopolies, but those monopolies are now trying to extract every single dime from their customers they can. We have to stop this. The FCC needs to treat them as common carriers, and we need to realize that the net is a basic utility, like water or power.

If we don’t fix this, then the net as we’ve enjoyed it for the last 15 years is going to die.

The best lede in the history of journalism, bar none

Seriously, beat this, from the Atlantic’s new feature on fraternities:

Oe warm spring night in 2011, a young man named Travis Hughes stood on the back deck of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Marshall University, in West Virginia, and was struck by what seemed to him—under the influence of powerful inebriants, not least among them the clear ether of youth itself—to be an excellent idea: he would shove a bottle rocket up his ass and blast it into the sweet night air. And perhaps it was an excellent idea. What was not an excellent idea, however, was to misjudge the relative tightness of a 20-year-old sphincter and the propulsive reliability of a 20-cent bottle rocket. What followed ignition was not the bright report of a successful blastoff, but the muffled thud of fire in the hole.

Books of 2014, #4: Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks (19 Feb)

Well, darn.

The first Culture book I read was the the awful Consider Phlebas a couple years ago. Honestly, it’s such crap that it nearly put me off the whole series. It wasn’t until last year that I bothered with the next volume of the series, Player of Games, largely due to the number of people I found who agreed that Phlebas was crap and that a better place to start was Games.

Ok, fine. Turns out, they were right; Games was a fun book. With Banks inconveniently promoted to the choir invisible, though, I didn’t want to run right into another Culture book, so I paced myself, and didn’t start the third book until this month. And now, having finished it, I think I’m done with Culture.

Weapons is a mess. Banks is trying an ambitious interleaved structure here, but it didn’t really work for me — largely because I never really gave a shit what happened, or had happened, to the protagonist. This is further reflected by the enormous gap between the last book and this one; by the end I was really finding this a slog.

It’s entirely possible Banks just isn’t for me.

“The government cannot be so beholden to its own inflated terrorism fears that it willingly punishes a person for nearly a decade because of a paperwork error. “

TechDirt gives the Feds both barrels over the appalling case of Rahinah Ibrahim:

Our government lies.

This is an obvious statement but it needs to be put out there in black and white. We, the people, are represented and “protected” by a government that actively lies to its constituents to cover up its mistakes. The recent case of Rahinah Ibrahim, who was accidentally placed on the government’s “no fly” list and only removed after a long legal battle, illustrates this truth about our government to a sickening degree.

Instead of owning up to the mistake, our government argued for the better part of a decade that to even acknowledge that a no-fly list existed would expose “state secrets” and that they therefore couldn’t possibly even confirm or deny any such list, so obviously discussing this person’s status, or trying to ensure that the status was correctly determined, was impossible.

For example, from James Clapper this year, quoted in the TechDirt article:

“My assertion of the state secret and statutory privileges in this case precludes defendant or any other agency from making any response, including through document production or deposition testimony, that would serve to disclose classified information regarding plaintiff or any other individual; the sources, methods, and means by which classified information is collected; and information which would confirm or deny whether information regarding plaintiff or any other individual is in NCTC’s TIDE database.” — James Clapper, director of national intelligence, April 23, 2013.

What. The. Fuck. Techdirt again:

Eric Holder’s deferral to “state secrets” in 2013 was based on the belief that a single disclosure, especially if it prompted more, would lead to terrorists gaming the no-fly list. John Tyler, then-attorney for the DOJ, claimed in 2006 that Ibrahim’s complaint was so inextricably intertwined with the utility of the “no fly” list that her case should be dismissed.

According to these statements, being mistakenly placed on the “no fly” list is just something those wrongly blacklisted will have to deal with. These citizens (and other foreigners) just need to resign themselves to the fact that they won’t be boarding planes, possibly for the rest of their lives. Once you’re on the list, you’re on it. The list is apparently so crucial to national security that even admitting it may have blacklisted someone accidentally would turn the nation’s airports into terrorist playgrounds.

A mistake was made made, but rather than looking for a solution, the government grabbed its “state secret” broom and swept it under the “neither confirm nor deny” rug.

The government cannot be so beholden to its own inflated terrorism fears that it willingly punishes a person for nearly a decade because of a paperwork error. There’s plenty of middle ground between keeping the country safe and screwing someone over because an agent couldn’t follow a form’s instructions.

Go read the whole thing.

More Federal Keystone-Ism

Remember when the FBI claimed it didn’t have to answer Ryan Shapiro’s FOIA requests because he might learn something as a consequence of their hilariously inconsistent and irrational redaction?

Yeah, they’re doing it again. This time, they heavily redacted a letter released to some privacy hawks in Congress despite the fact that one of them had already been released in full previously. But go read the whole link; it’d be hilarious if it weren’t, you know, the top law enforcement body in the country.

Darwin At Work

Snake handling pastor bitten by snake during service. He then refused medical attention, and was thereby promoted to the choir invisible.

All good Heathen, of course, know this Robert Heinlein quote, from Time Enough for Love.

Stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity.

RAH was wrong about many, many things, but this is not one of those times.

Holy Crap.

Look. I don’t watch TV news. It’s been a dead letter for a long time. I sure don’t watch TV sports coverage — I’ve got little use for the nattering foolishness that usually qualifies as sports broadcasting, and find reading stories on ESPN completely fills what needs I have for information from that world.

So I skipped Dale Hansen’s commentary on Michael Sam until just now. That, gentle Heathen, was a mistake.

Dale Hansen is the sports anchor for Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA. It should without saying, then, that Hansen is an older, straight, white man (I checked; he’s 65). So what Hansen says about Michael Sam caught me a little flatfooted even though I knew, as you must by now as well, what his position was.

Go watch.

You’d think that “journalists” would have at least SOME shame about these things

NBC ran a report about how your devices would get OWNED immediately by evil Russian hackers the minute you turn them on in Sochi.

Turns out, not so much. It’s basically the exploding truck all over again. As noted in the TechDirt takedown:

  • The reporter was in Moscow, not Sochi.
  • The problem was sketchy web sites the reporter sought out, not the connection in the Moscow coffee shop, and so are equally dangerous regardless of where you are — Moscow or Minneapolis.
  • The hack required the reporter to CHOOSE TO DOWNLOAD AND INSTALL MALWARE (yes, it said it was an AV tool, but that man in the van won’t really give you candy, either).
  • The malware would only install if the reporter TURNED OFF SAFETY FEATURES that are left on by default.

Nice job. NBC are, of course, doubling down and insisting their story is genuine and correct, because they are generally craven and ignorant.

More at the well-regarded Errata Security.

My friend Chris Mohney is doing something interesting

PLAY will be a short film about childhood, playtime, and that sort of secret world we all lost when we grew up. Chris and his partner will rpoduce the footage using a dozen GoPro cameras strapped to a dozen children who are then turned loose in a New York playground. It sounds like a punchline, but it really does work — he’s got a little sample up on his Tumblr, shot from his son’s perspective. It’s immersive and cool, and the idea of having a broader pool of such footage to work from is pretty fascinating.

There is, inevitably, a Kickstarter to make the whole thing real. The goal is modest ($24K), and they’re almost 10% of the way there. Help ‘em out, if you’ve got a little extra in your pocket.

Busy? I don’t care. Do this.

Today is the day we fight back against ridiculous, overreaching, plainly illegal surveillance from the NSA.

Go to the link. The EFF will help you determine who your reps in Congress are, and will even set up the phone calls and give you talking points.

Make time. Even if your reps are, as mine are, generally weasels. This kind of day of action is precisely what pols respect.

This is a democracy. Take part.