Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On Projects and Process

Tobias Wolff (novelist) talks to The Believer about the writing process:

Everything I've written, including this book [Old School], has seemed to me, at one point or another, something I probably ought to abandon. Even the best things I've written have seemed to me at some point very unlikely to be worth the effort I had already put into them. But I know I have to push through. Sometimes when I get to the other end it still won't be that great, but at least I will have finished it. For me, it's more important to keep the discipline of finishing things than to be assured at every moment that it's worth doing.

We don't believe that the article is available online. Pick up a copy of The Believer, it's a fine magazine (with no advertising!!).

They do have an entire interview with Steve Martin available.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Does The Audi Need an Oil Change?

I'm sure that some of our readers remember Pat Tillman. He's the former NFL football player who left his job (as an NFL player) to join the army. He served at least two tours of duty in Afgahnistan before he was killed in the line of duty. Upon his death he was immediately hailed as a hero and images of him and tales of his heroic death were everywhere.

As everyone found out much later, Tillman's death was the result of friendly fire. The story initially told by the army was one of a man leading his troops into battle against Taliban forces and being killed while saving one his men.

We believe that dying because of friendly fire should not diminish Tillman's sacrifice or make him any less of a hero. However, apparently, the Army disagrees. They lied about his death and Tillman's family is pissed.

"Pat had high ideals about the country; that's why he did what he did," Mary Tillman said in her first lengthy interview since her son's death. "The military let him down. The administration let him down. It was a sign of disrespect. The fact that he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. The fact that they lied about it afterward is disgusting."

link to article

Editor's Note: The book of choice right now in the littleboxes office is Spanking the Donkey by Matt Taibbi. After reading his work we've become even more painfully aware of our incessant use of the passive voice in our cliche-ridden prose. We'd like to apologize to our readers for our overall lack of writing ability. We hope you continue to enjoy reading things written at a fifth grade (is that too high?) level. Thank you for your time.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Given to Fly

Turns out the world is complicated. Is the world, whatever that is, capable of being understood?

We read a few other blogs here at littleboxes. Zap has been writing a lot about causality and models of the world. He seems likes a rather curious guy and what is confusing him right now is how people (like us?) come to understand the world. Specifically how do we come to understand what causes what? Do we view the world as completely random? That would, for example, describe a view that "It doesn't matter whether or not I work hard, any raise I get will be completely random." Or, another example, "I don't need to show up for work because I may just get fired randomly anyway." Clearly, the whole everything is random model doesn't hold up too well. What works a little better is assigning some causation to things. For example, "I believe that if I work hard my chances at a raise are better than they would otherwise be." Of course, it's possible that at your workplace, if it's anything like ours, only awards raises to people who know people. Our co-worker Alex is a lazy fucker who often shows up to work completely high and wearing a gorilla costume, yet he is our highest paid employee. Turns out that Alex is the boss's son in-law.

Anyway. Y over at Yin-Yang was writing recently about Iraq and commenting on the idea that we should pull out of Iraq now.

We started to try to think of what our opinion on the whole Iraq mess is. Specifically, do we have answer to the question, should we pull all our troops out of Iraq now?

Well, unfortunately, we don't have answer. Of course, only two answers really exist to that question. All other answers are variations on the whole "yes/no" theme. But, we really don't know the, in Zap's terms, "model" for what is happening in Iraq. Would pulling out do any good? We have no idea. Sure it would likely save some american lives in the short run, but what about the long run?

We're sure that arguments could be made on both sides, but does anyone really know the answer? How can anyone, or any group, really be sure of what is causing what over there or anywhere? Seems like everyone is just making "educated" guesses. Of course, no one admits this. Would it be just too scary to the public if our leaders came out and said, "well, we're really not sure we are doing the right thing, but we have to do something, and given what we think we know, we're proceeding like this..." ?.

Now, if we were in charge and just had to make a decision, it would simply be our best guess. But, we have a hard time even speculating on what that "best guess" would be. It's just so god damn complicated. We would be paralyzed with fear.

Maybe it would be better to act with (apparent) complete certainty, like Dear Leader.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

We enjoy reading...

Matt Taibbi.

See his review of Tom Friedman's new book "The World is Flat." (link)

It's impossible to divorce "The World Is Flat" from its rhetorical approach. It's not for nothing that Thomas Friedman is called "the most important columnist in America today." That it's Friedman's own colleague at the New York Times (Walter Russell Mead) calling him this, on the back of Friedman's own book, is immaterial. Friedman is an important American. He is the perfect symbol of our culture of emboldened stupidity. Like George Bush, he's in the reality-making business. In the new flat world, argument is no longer a two-way street for people like the president and the country's most important columnist. You no longer have to worry about actually convincing anyone; the process ends when you make the case.

Things are true because you say they are. The only thing that matters is how sure you sound when you say it. In politics, this allows America to invade a castrated Iraq in self-defense. In the intellectual world, Friedman is now probing the outer limits of this trick's potential, and it's absolutely perfect, a stroke of genius, that he's choosing to argue that the world is flat. The only thing that would have been better would be if he had chosen to argue that the moon was made of cheese.

And that's basically what he's doing here. The internet is speeding up business communications, and global labor markets are more fluid than ever. Therefore, the moon is made of cheese. That is the rhetorical gist of "The World Is Flat." It's brilliant. Only an America-hater could fail to appreciate it.

Mr. Taibbi also wrote a nice little article for Rolling Stone last year. The article chronicles his adventures as an undercover republican in Florida. Good stuff. We think he has a book as well, but even though we could help him sell a few million copies, the only thing we endorse is easy cheese.

Here's another sweet part of the Taibbi review of Friedman that we just had to share:

The book's genesis is conversation Friedman has with Nandan Nilekani, the CEO of Infosys. Nilekani causally mutters to Friedman: "Tom, the playing field is being leveled." To you and me, an innocent throwaway phrase--the level playing field being, after all, one of the most oft-repeated stock ideas in the history of human interaction. Not to Friedman. Ten minutes after his talk with Nilekani, he is pitching a tent in his company van on the road back from the Infosys campus in Bangalore:

As I left the Infosys campus that evening along the road back to Bangalore, I kept chewing on that phrase: "The playing field is being leveled."

What Nandan is saying, I thought, is that the playing field is being flattened... Flattened? Flattened? My God, he's telling me the world is flat!

This is like three pages into the book, and already the premise is totally fucked. Nilekani said level, not flat. The two concepts are completely different. Level is a qualitative idea that implies equality and competitive balance; flat is a physical, geographic concept that Friedman, remember, is openly contrasting--ironically, as it were--with Columbus's discovery that the world is round.

Except for one thing. The significance of Columbus's discovery was that on a round earth, humanity is more interconnected than on a flat one. On a round earth, the two most distant points are closer together than they are on a flat earth. But Friedman is going to spend the next 470 pages turning the "flat world" into a metaphor for global interconnectedness. Furthermore, he is specifically going to use the word round to describe the old, geographically isolated, unconnected world.

In a Friedman book, the reader naturally seizes up in dread the instant a suggestive word like "Windows" is introduced; you wince, knowing what's coming, the same way you do when Leslie Nielsen orders a Black Russian. And Friedman doesn't disappoint. His description of the early 90s:

The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been--but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.

How the fuck do you open a window in a fallen wall? More to the point, why would you open a window in a fallen wall? Or did the walls somehow fall in such a way that they left the windows floating in place to be opened?

Four hundred and 73 pages of this, folks. Is there no God?

click here to see a bunch of Taibbi articles.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


New post in littleboxes music. Check it out.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals-Cold Roses: This album is OK. I really enjoyed "let it ride" (the first single) with its easy flow and relaxed vocals. This is my favorite kind of alt-country and the vibe reminds me of the Wilco song "Summer teeth." There must be a few other goods song on here, but too many of them just wander around with half-assed lyrics. [...]

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

If Only We Could Get God's Endorsement

This post by Respectful of Otters got us thinking. As many of you know, getting us thinking is never a good idea, but we thought we'd run with it.

from Rivka (over at respectful):

Rev. Chandler apparently believes that God has directly endorsed the Republican ticket; astoundingly, he offered the defense that his actions were "not political."

What if God has actually endorsed the republican party? Of course, unfortunately he hasn't decided to make it public knowledge and has instead only informed a few good Christians, such as Rev. Chandler above. God has a nasty habit of not making things public. Sure would be a lot simpler if he would just spout off from on high and let us all know what he is thinking. We guess he likes to keep things complicated.

But suppose that God (you know, the white-dude with the white robe and the beard) had made his endorsement of George W. Bush public. It sure would settle a few questions and maybe create some even more interesting questions. We would certainly all know that God existed and that he was the God evisioned by the right-wing christians in the United States.

Would his endorsement deflate the ranks of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam?

Maybe more interestingly, how would Christian people and Jewish people in the U.S. react? Would they be compelled to support George W. Bush? Might they say, "God, I really appreciate your opinion and all, but I just don't like this Bush character?" Maybe this would be the ultimate test? Kinda like...

Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."

If you were a Christian and then your God endorsed George W. Bush what would you do? Obviously it's an easy question if you already support the President. But what if George Bush really rubbed you the wrong way?

Moreover, what if you weren't even religious. Now after God spoke from above you might be re-evaluating many things. Athiests and all religious people would probably ask God the what we like to call the FIVE ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

Am I going to hell?
Am I going to hell if I voted for John Kerry?
Am I going to hell if I voted for a third party candidate (e.g. Buddha, Vishnu)?
Did Moses really look like Charleton Heston?
Is there really a planet of the apes and will Mark Wahlberg be able to save us?

Of course, one might not ask these essential questions in that order.

So, we'd like to use this space to ask God to please make his endorsements public next time. For we are dealing with humans and while Rev. Chandler is probably an honorable man, sometimes, even honorable men are mistaken.

Kenny Chesney responds to a question regarding how many times he engaged in sexual relations with Renee Zellweger during their first night as a couple:

Humanity Critic blogs about crazy shit that has come out of Pat Robertson's mouth. By the way, in an informal poll 90% of the littleboxes staff think Humanity Critic has one kick-ass blog. It is regularly entertaining and often insightful.

Here's some statements by Mr. Robertson that humanity critic points out:

"[Homosexuals] want to come into churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the face of ministers."

"The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."

See the nappy diatribe link on the right hand side for humanity critic's blog.

Monday, May 02, 2005

What's Going On?

What is going on this spring/summer?

Well, not much really in the grand history of the world. Will this be a year that is forgotten in the annals of history?

We vaguely remember some sort of formation of a government in Iraq. The Tsunami was memorable, but that was last year.

Maybe something memorable will happen this summer. By memorable we mean something etched into the pysche of at least 40% of all humanity. Is that always something horrible?

How about American history, anything memorable? What will children learn about in history classes 40 years from now? In 2005 this happened! As if events are all neatly self-contained into one year or even several years. What a horrible way to learn about the world.

Meanwhile, we had a staff outing on Friday night and a bunch of us say Dylan at the Beacon Theater in NYC. Holy Shit. What a great show. Bob.

He once said:

Democracy don't rule the world,
You'd better get that in your head.
This world is ruled by violence
But I guess that's better left unsaid.

Meanwhile during meanwhile...

Murder is the leading cause of work-related deaths among journalists and most of those killed on the job were not caught in cross-fire in conflict zones but hunted down and murdered, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Monday. (LINK)

God is, indeed, everywhere.
He's in the ocean:

The day that Josh Long and Troy Driscoll were rescued after nearly a week adrift at sea dawned with a perfect sunrise, a rainbow and dolphins capering around their tiny sailboat.

"It was amazing. (Saturday) morning something felt different, a lot different," the 17-year-old Long said from his hospital bed on Monday. "I can honestly say I never gave up hope. God had us in his hands the whole time."

After surviving on their faith, raw jellyfish and seawater for almost a week, the two saw a fishing boat on the horizon late Saturday. They were rescued off the North Carolina coast, more than 100 miles from where they set out off South Carolina to fish.

"I asked God, 'If it's your will that we not live, take us home,'" said Driscoll, 15. "'If not, send us a boat.'"
The boys huddled together at night and spent their days searching the horizon for help, praying and singing hymns.
Driscoll's father, Tony, was first to get a call from the Coast Guard that the boys were all right.

"I screamed at the top of my lungs that they've got our boys," he recalled. "We never gave up hope. That's the bottom line. God had his angels around those boys the whole time."

he's in the Kansas schools:
Kansas is holding its own hearings on what school children should be taught about how life on Earth began.

The Kansas Board of Education has scheduled six days of courtroom-style hearings to begin on Thursday in the capitol Topeka. More than two dozen witnesses will give testimony and be subject to cross-examination, with the majority expected to argue against teaching evolution.
But Kansas won't allow him in liquor stores:
More than two years after a court ruling allowed local governments to defy the state's long-standing ban on Sunday liquor sales, lawmakers passed a bill Sunday to officially remove the prohibition from the books. (Link)