Saturday, May 19, 2012

Robert Aickman

There is a very highly regarded weird fiction writer named Robert Aickman (he called his tales "strange stories"). He published 48 during his lifetime, and although many fellow writers and weird fiction aficionados rank him among the absolute best weird fiction writers of the 20th Century, his books are very hard to find. Even buying them online means prices starting at $100.

I have seen Aickman referenced time and time again, but figured I'd probably never read him.

Then it hit me...might the New York Public Library possess a few copies?

Sure enough, they have some of his books available to read on the premises.

So I went...

The first book I requested...had been mysteriously moved off the premises. How appropriate.

The second one...was there.

As soon as I started reading his tale "The School Friend",  I knew I'd found a man who was absolutely his own writer; a writer in the same league as Poe or Lovecraft. His stories are unlike most weird or supernatural stories. They have very little action. Instead, their effect is more cumulative. Every sentence has some unsettling detail, like a reference to a bed that looked like the sleeper had been awakened very suddenly, which slowly taps the amygdala.

Aickman created atmosphere through meticulous, unconventional detail. It is like with each story he was building a Jenga tower little by little. Then suddenly there is a moment where things first begin to really feel wrong, where one of those Jenga pieces is yanked out. Like the moment in "Never Visit Venice" where the women says offhandedly that they're headed to where "the real danger" is. That's when the Jenga tower first loses one of its pieces.

But unlike most weird fiction, when a piece or pieces is removed from an Aickman tower, the tower doesn't collapse like you'd expect. Instead, Aickman's towers just wobble and wobble, leaving you to wonder what the hell is keeping it up...

It is refreshing when an artist lives up to the hype. If you care about this sort of thing and have access to Aickman's work, he is worth checking out.

Here is an radio adaptation of one of his most famous stories:

It is episode 17, "Ringing the Changes".

Monday, May 14, 2012


If you live long enough, you get to see firsthand just how stupid people really are.

In the 2004 presidential election, the mantra was "anyone but Bush." Sure we're in trouble, but if we can just get John Kerry in there, maybe there is still time to save the country! Get to the polls: this is the most important election of your lifetime!

Now in 2012 the mantra among Republicans is "anyone but Obama." Sure we're in trouble, but if we can just get Mitt Romney in there, maybe there is still time to save the country! Get to the polls: this is the most important election of your lifetime!

Wow, two "most important elections of my lifetime" in just eight years. I guess no one expected me to live very long.

There is no such thing as a "most important election of a lifetime," because each election is exactly the same. Presidential elections alter nothing.

In 2008, the Obama Apostles ran to the polls seeking change! Instead of change, these adorable do-gooders have been treated to a delightful continuation of Bush's foreign policies (and aggressive interventionism certainly didn't start with Bush; the US has been an international occupying force since McKinley) and domestic brutality.

And those who claim Bush was a free market alternative to Obama seem to have missed his bailout of the banks and and the car companies.

Now if you're a young voter, say 20 or younger, you can't really be expected to appreciate the histrionics of 2004 or the fact that they are being repeated verbatim today. You have an excuse. This is the first MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION OF YOUR LIFETIME of your lifetime.

But if you are 26 or older, and a believer in the UNPRECENDENTED IMPORTANCE OF THIS ELECTION, you're at best a useful idiot (and probably a useless eater).

It does not matter who holds the musical chair in the Oval Office. Under Bush II, the Republicans captured all three branches of government. There was thundering talk from Republicans and Democrats about the dramatic implications for abortion!

Nothing happened. Nothing changed. The supposedly anti-abortion Republicans had control of all three branches of government and Roe vs. Wade escaped without a scratch on it. The Republican voters who thought this was their chance to stop abortion saw their efforts lead to a whole lotta nothing.

And all the Democratic voters who gnashed their teeth about the impending disappearance of Roe vs Wade thanks to Republican control...also wrong. Nothing happened. Nothing changed.

Take a breath. This is not the most important election of your lifetime. Every election is the same, and it is an airtight bet that each new president is going to be worse than his precedessor. Bamboozled voters sprint to the polls every four years, and appropriately utter the same line beggars use: "Gimme some change, gimme some change!" And like those unfortunate beggars (who also don't see their fortunes change), each time they are left holding an empty cup.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Paradox of Theft

When central banks cause bubbles, they leave a trail of broken dreams and broken bank accounts in their wake. Many of the newly rich find they are less rich than they thought, and many of those who bought in expecting to become rich find that not only are they not rich; they are much poorer than they were before. The bottom line: these bubbles induce people to speculate more recklesslessly and spend more in aggregate than they otherwise would have.
Then comes the crash. And what happens? Central banks cut interest rates, sometimes drastically. This induces those with any savings left to save less, and continues the dislocations caused by the original bubble.
And when some unsophisticate from outside the central bank priesthood points out that abnormally low interest rates might be harming saving (thereby limiting the pool of funds that would reliquify lending) and are thus keeping household balance sheets in peril, the reply comes that we can't hike interest rates now; after all, the economy is still recovering from the collapse of the bubble!
It is like saying to someone who's been on a merry-go-round too long and is now neckdeep in dizziness and nausea that he shouldn't get off the merry-go-round just yet. After all, he's not ready to be on his feet! Much better to stay on a lurching, spinning apparatus until he is no longer dizzy...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A VERY Few Good Men

I have voted just once, and it was for Ron Paul in 2008. It is unlikely I will ever vote again.

This has nothing to do Dr. Paul’s 2008 performance. I knew going in that every vote cast is a vote thrown away, but I guess I had some notion of registering my dissatisfaction with the establishment (yes, I realize that is also a waste of time). Anyway, Paul is the only elected figure I respect, and the way he has sustained the momentum of the 2008 campaign and risen so dramatically in the public consciousness has been one of the few encouraging surprises of my lifetime.

But although I have been inspired by Ron Paul’s ascendance, this has not improved my opinion of government. If anything, it has fortified my grim view of it.

The very fact that Ron Paul is so exceptional is all the evidence you need that government cannot be managed or restrained. It would take a House and a Senate and a Supreme Court overwhelmingly filled with Ron Pauls to keep government from being a winter without end, and there has been just one Ron Paul in the entire history of the US (and one Ron Paul isn’t even enough to dominate a committee, let alone a Congress). I am not exaggerating. When it comes to abstaining from nonsense, there isn’t another track record as consistent as Paul’s (and many of his supposedly fellow anti-establishment types don't hold up to examination). And we should remember that he has never been tested at the executive level. Much as I admire him, we have no idea if he would remain Dr. No while residing in the White House.

The exception of Ron Paul proves the rule: government is an unwieldy boomerang…everything you put into it comes soaring back to lop your face off.

Yet folks continue to believe. Reminds me of investors who pay Wall Street fund managers hefty performance fees to deliver them above-market returns. Most fund managers do not beat the market. This has always been true. Yet people forever point to those sparse few market-beaters like Peter Lynch and Ray Dalio as proof that trying to beat the market is worthwhile. Stand back and you'll observe that the staggering dearth of market-beaters suggests that attempting to beat the market is unrealistic. This info. falls on stone deaf ears. Investors keep fruitlessly chasing unrealistic market returns and voters keep fruitlessly chasing unrealistic political returns.

There has been one Ron Paul in 200+ years, yet we're expected to keep the faith about government. And voters do keep the faith. No matter how many times their efforts fail, no matter how many times they're betrayed...they keep believing. Just like investors. Wall Street comes out with Value at Risk; the political system comes out with Tea Parties. The results remain as dire as ever. The fact that the Ron Pauls and Howard Buffetts and Grover Clevelands are as stunningly infrequent as the Peter Lynches and Ray Dalios demonstrates how useless it is to think you’re going to beat the government. The difference is that when you buy a mutual fund, they might charge you a 2% performance fee. For voters, the “performance fee” charged by the government (taxes) is usually more than ten times that.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Realism Realism

Today I was reading Borges’s A Universal History of Iniquity, and had the same sensation I usually have when reading Borges; lots of great ideas for how a story might be told…used to tell stories that aren’t memorable. Despite all the acclaim, to me he is more of a fiction theoretician than an author you might quote on your tombstone (unless your tombstone is part of some truly final dissertation).
Were it not for the liberal arts racket that has sprawled across college campuses like so many pretentious vines, I wonder whether Borges would have attained the stature he attained. Would the reading public have found as much worth in his experiments?
And now that the modern college structure seems to be sinking, what will become of artists whose output resonates more in the classroom than outside it? Without the Bow-Tie Mafia at your local Student Loan Depot assigning these works, will art theoreticians lose some of their stature? Will artists who were driven to create stories rather than curiosities experience a resurgence?
And without the art theoreticians being assigned year after year to today’s budding writers, might we see an improvement in popular culture? Will we see an end to atonal poetry? Might we pick up a fiction magazine and find a tale that does more than just congratulate itself for being a story within a story within a story within a story? If so, I’m sure someone will find a way to give the credit to Steve Jobs.