Today’s Quote (4)

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”

Boswell/Life Of Johnson

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Richard Flanagan: The Unknown Terrorist

Persons and actions of this story are invented. If the description of certain journalistic practices shows ressemblances to the practices of the Bild newspaper, that’s because these ressemblances are not intended nor accidental, they are inescapable

The Unknown Terrorist, Richard Flanagan’s novel, is, as he himself says at the back of his forgettable new book, a modern take on Böll’s Verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum. And it is basically the same story. Woman fucks stranger, stranger is suspected of terrible crime, woman is suspected of being an accomplice. And I really like the Böll novel. Must be my favorite novel of his. So why was The Unknown Terrorist such a mess of a novel?

Can’t be the writing. Heinrich Böll is not a great stylist. What success his novels and stories have, style has nothing to do with that. Flanagan is, if anything, a better stylist. Much of the novel drags and much is functional at best, but there are outstanding passages as well. Can’t be the writing? Characters, maybe. That, actually, is the first problem. Although Böll’s characters are cliché characters, they need to be for the story to work in the little space that is allotted to them and Böll is a master in making even cliché come alive. Not so Flanagan. For one thing, he overdoes the cliché, adds many more layers of schlocky details. And then he just lets his characters get away with this. He doesn’t even try to make the characters believable. No Sir. When he slips his characters into the pockets of the story, he adds just the most necessary characterization. He sticks to the dolls (ironic, eh?) he constructed. Interaction between characters is unbelievable, as a rule.

But that is not his main error. The main problem with the novel is the old show-don’t-tell idea. He lets us know what people are thinking. Not just the protagonist, but also the journalist, the cops, and others. Every aspect of the story is examined and explained. It’s as if he was expecting his readers to be less smart than fourth graders. No guesswork for us. And this is where the novel goes terribly wrong. Yes, that’s tedious to read. But the political aspect of it is softened to an extent that is almost criminal. The hard criticism of mass media of Böll’s novel is softened to bad individuals who do know better but decide, greedily, to go ahead with the “story”. Whereas the only dedication of Flanagan is to David Hicks, a victim of misguided governmental policy, Böll’s reads like this:

Personen und Handlung dieser Erzählung sind frei erfunden. Sollten sich bei der Schilderung gewisser journalistischer Praktiken Ähnlichkeiten mit den Praktiken der Bild-Zeitung ergeben haben, so sind diese Ähnlichkeiten weder beabsichtigt noch zufällig, sondern unvermeidlich.

(Persons and actions of this story are invented. If the description of certain journalistic practices shows ressemblances to the practices of the Bild newspaper, that’s because these ressemblances are not intended nor accidental, they are inescapable). Lots of misguided governmental policies in his time, too. However, that’s plainly not his point. It’s about how the mass media distorts something if it conforms with certain bourgeois stereotypes.

This would have worked fine with The Unknown Terrorist, too. Slutty woman? Check. Arab terrorist? Check. Etc. And these stereotypes are seen to be at the basis of the journalist’s doing the story the way he does. However, it stops at this point. Richard Cody. And he does know better, but his greed for money and fame blinds him. Böll exposed the stereotypes that govern the press. Maybe a ‘real’ Richard Cody would not need the incentive of greed. The stereotypes alone are more than enough. This would have made an incisive commentary on the state of our nations. Look at the inane and inherently racist coverage of the remarks of Archbishop Williams, or check out the coverage in Danish newspapers of the alleged plot to kill the damn cartoonist. Or German newspapers covering that. Hell, mainstream coverage of muslims by privately owned media. Daily Express, anyone? Henryk M. Broder? Broder writes the stories Cody would write had he Broder’s erudition or style. Or check out how much of a deal it is that a photograph was published with Barack Hussein Obama wearing a turban.

No, The Unknown Terrorist is not tidy nor subtle. It doesn’t have to. It’s an angry book, wearing its moral indignation on its sleeve. But it is on this account, the political sphere, that it fails first and foremost. It attacks a government who uses a Patriot Act-like legislation to exert pressure on people. But the main protagonist’s life is not destroyed by that. It’s destroyed the hateful discourse taken up and whipped up by the press. Böll’s novel got him into a pickle with the press which launched a spite-and hateful campaign against the little indignant writer, a campaign that lasted years. No such chance with Flanagan, I presume. The boring little antepodean shit.
ISBN

Marsmenschlein

RTL hat eine zweite Staffel von “Teenager außer Kontrolle” produziert.

Sie saufen, sie kiffen, sie klauen und machen auch sonst alles, was der liebe Gott verboten hat. Jetzt gibt es für diese vier Teenager nur noch einen Ausweg um von der schiefen Bahn runter zu kommen… […]
Sie klauen, trinken, nehmen Drogen, sind aggressiv –kurz: sie sind außer Kontrolle und ihre Eltern wissen nicht mehr, was sie tun sollen. Acht verhaltensauffällige, schwer erziehbare Jugendliche werden auf Wunsch ihrer Eltern einer ungewöhnlichen Therapie in der freien Natur unterzogen. Im US-Bundesstaat Oregon, weit weg von Zuhause, weit weg von der Zivilisation, weit weg von all den gewohnten negativen Einflüssen bekommen die Teenager eine Chance auf eine neue Zukunft. Im Wildnis-Therapieprogramm der Organisation Catherine Freer unter der Leitung von Cheftherapeutin Annegret Noble unterziehen sich die Jugendlichen einer erlebnispädagogischen Verhaltenstherapie in der freien Natur. Dabei sollen sie alte Verhaltensmuster ablegen, ein neues Selbstwertgefühl und eine positive Lebensperspektive gewinnen.

Bizarr, wie manche Eltern ihren Kindern gegenüberstehen als ob es vom Himmel gefallene Fremde wären. Fremde Verbrecher. Verbrecher vom Mars. Und die Eltern haben damit nichts zu tun. Warum auch. Das bezieht sich nicht speziell auf die RTLinszenierten Familien. Das gibt es ja in meiner Umgebung genau so auch. Als ich mal für eine Recherche über Jugendgefängnisse mit Eltern sprach, kamen genau die selben Reaktionen. In dem netten Film mit John Cusack, der mit dieser Einstellung spielt, ist das Kind wenigstens tatsächlich ein einigermaßen Fremdes und das Marsmenschsein verliert sich mit dem Übernehmen von Verantwortung. Was ist los mit diesen Eltern?

Labeling

Racist objet trouvé

When the new chocolate-coloured sofa set was delivered to her Brampton home, Doris Moore was stunned to see packing labels describing the shade as “Nigger-brown.”

She and husband Douglas purchased a sofa, loveseat and chair in dark brown leather last week from Vanaik Furniture and Mattress store on Dundas St. E.

Moore, 30, who describes herself as an African-American born and raised in New York, said it was her 7-year-old daughter who pointed out the label just after delivery men from the Mississauga furniture store left.

“She’s very curious and she started reading the labels,” Moore explained. “She said, `Mommy, what is nig … ger brown?’ I went over and just couldn’t believe my eyes.”

She said yesterday each piece had a similar label affixed to the woven protective covering wrapped around the furniture.

“In this day and age, that’s totally unacceptable,” Moore said.

Douglas explained the origins of the word to daughter Olivia, telling how it was a bad name that blacks were called during the days of slavery in the United States.

“It was tough, because she really didn’t understand,” Moore said. “She’d never heard that word before and didn’t really understand the concept of it.”

Moore, who has a younger son and daughter, said she’s heard the word used many times, although it has never been directed in anger at her.

“But it’s a very, very bad word that makes you feel degraded, like you’re a nobody,” she said.

[…]

Moore said she’s not sure she wants the sofa set in her home.

Labeling

Racist objet trouvé

When the new chocolate-coloured sofa set was delivered to her Brampton home, Doris Moore was stunned to see packing labels describing the shade as “Nigger-brown.”

She and husband Douglas purchased a sofa, loveseat and chair in dark brown leather last week from Vanaik Furniture and Mattress store on Dundas St. E.

Moore, 30, who describes herself as an African-American born and raised in New York, said it was her 7-year-old daughter who pointed out the label just after delivery men from the Mississauga furniture store left.

“She’s very curious and she started reading the labels,” Moore explained. “She said, `Mommy, what is nig … ger brown?’ I went over and just couldn’t believe my eyes.”

She said yesterday each piece had a similar label affixed to the woven protective covering wrapped around the furniture.

“In this day and age, that’s totally unacceptable,” Moore said.

Douglas explained the origins of the word to daughter Olivia, telling how it was a bad name that blacks were called during the days of slavery in the United States.

“It was tough, because she really didn’t understand,” Moore said. “She’d never heard that word before and didn’t really understand the concept of it.”

Moore, who has a younger son and daughter, said she’s heard the word used many times, although it has never been directed in anger at her.

“But it’s a very, very bad word that makes you feel degraded, like you’re a nobody,” she said.

[…]

Moore said she’s not sure she wants the sofa set in her home.

How to consort with Communists

Excellent if sketchy post on PostGlobal on the striking difference in the way American government treats China and Cuba.

Economic liberalization will bring political liberation — as we’re constantly being told that it would be the case for China. Therefore, the U.S. has been trading with the Asian communist state as if there’s no tomorrow, achieving a record trade deficit of US$256 billion in 2007. However, we’re also told, this formula doesn’t apply to Cuba, another communist state.

If denying trade with Cuba is the way to press for positive changes on the island state, then denying trade with China should also be the way to press for positive changes in the mainland state. If trading with China is the way to open up the communist giant, then trading with Cuba should be the way to open up the small communist state.

Well, the China Exception somehow creeps in again, doesn’t it?

Intellectual honesty and policy consistency demands the lifting of the embargo against Cuba. After all, the embargo has failed to bring the downfall of Castro for decades. It’s time to try something different. If free trade with Cuba could bring progress to the people there, it may strengthen the case in China where free trade has, so far, failed to bring any magic.