Nicholson Baker on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog via NYTBR

Bottom of p. 4, The New York Times Book Review of Sunday, 25 August 2013:

“Quotable”

I look on the Internet, and there’s a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t seem any different to me than it felt like when I used to go to a newsstand and there was Elle magazine and professional-wrestling magazines and highbrow magazines, men’s fashion, women’s fashion, comics, just that . . .  blast of everythingness that comes at you.  Well, that’s what comes out of the computer screen now.  It’s very similar in its . . .  texture to what the newsstand, let’s say, at Harvard Square felt like back in the day.

—  Nicholson Baker, on The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog

Not the Most Shining Moment: FIASCO, pp. 277 – 278

Even though readers know the author’s ideological stance (With a title like Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, it’s probably pretty obvious), Ricks marshals more than enough documentation to support his thesis.

An Iraqi general, Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a man who voluntarily walked into a U.S. army base camp, seeking the release of his sons from custody, was held by the U.S. Army and “died of smothering and chest compression.”  On November 26, 2003, according to author Thomas Ricks, four soldiers put Mowhoush “into a sleeping bag, sat on him, and rolled him around the floor.  That abuse followed two weeks of brutal interrogations of Mowhoush by Iraqis working under U. S. supervision . . . ” Documents show that the Iraqis “were members of the Scorpions, a group of Iraqis recruited before the war by the CIA to carry out small-scale subversion, and then employed afterward for help in interpreting and interrogations.”

A military forensic pathologist, a Major Michael Smith, testified that Mowhoush “had what’s referred to as ‘facial suffusion,’ which is blood basically being congested in the face . . .  He also had numerous bruises on his chest, abdomen, arms, legs, one bruise on the head, and he also had several rib fractures — five, in fact.”

A Col. Teeples, who commanded troops in western Iraq “from April 2003 to March 2004,” put the blame on the lack of troops.  “The year that we were there,” Teeples told investigators, “we were an ‘economy of foce’ organization, and that means that we are put into a position to perform a very large mission with a small force.”  Nor, he added, “did he have some of the right sort of troops . . .  In the realm of detainees and interrogation, we did not have official interrogators.”

As a team leader in the 82nd Airborne told Human Rights Watch, “Shit started to go bad right away.”

Ricks writes:

These attacks weren’t inflicted to collect intelligence but simply to blow off steam.  “Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC (for “Person Under Control”) interrogation tent.  In a way it was sport.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The 2nd Iraq War: p. 126 of FIASCO

Self began reading Fiasco:  The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks, two days ago.

In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which she read A Passage to India and almost every other book she’s read this year, she’s been moving very fast through Fiasco:  she’s now on p. 126.

For the first 120 or so pages, Ricks has relentlessly pounded at the theme “failure to plan.” (Interestingly, Ricks rarely mentions 9/11, though no doubt Congress, like the rest of the country, was suffering from guilt and anger on a very intense level —  not the best frame of mind for formulating rational policy)

Finally, the scene switches from DC and policy wonks to boots on the ground in Iraq.  Like everything self has read so far, the description, the nuanced shifts in point of view, are riveting.  The following is told from the point of view of Colonel David Perkins, who commanded the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade:

The first attack consisted of an armored column built around twenty-nine tanks that swung up a major highway, Route 8, that cut into the southwestern part of Baghdad, a mix of industrial areas and square, two-story, adobe-style houses and then veered out to catch the arrow-straight, four-lane expressway to the sprawling international airport west of the city . . .  the Iraqi defenders were only prepared to fight in one direction, so a fast move through their lines tended to disorient their response.  “If I could push through, and get in behind them, and then reattack out from the center, what I was doing was reattacking from a direction that they weren’t used to defending from, and it was very hard to turn around and redefend . . . “

*     *     *     *

The 3rd Infantry Division estimated that it killed two thousand enemy fighters during the mission.  Its official history offers no figure for the number of civilians killed, but Iraqis said there were many.  “I was emotionally spent,” said Lt. Colonel Eric Schwartz, who commanded an armored battalion in the first attack.  “One of my tank commanders had been killed, I had a soldier shot in the eye, shot in the forehead, shot in the shoulder, shot in the back, shot in the face . . . “

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

From Lines to Patterns 2: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

It’s raining, it’s pouring.

All-day HBO marathon binge.

Can’t believe the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is closed for reconstruction — for the next three years.

Stairwell, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Stairwell, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The Garden Today (Bella aka The Ancient One is in lower left-hand corner)

The Garden Today (Bella aka The Ancient One is in lower left-hand corner)

The 5th & Mission Street Garage (Our Go-To Place for Parking When We're Watching an Exhibit at SFMOMA)

The 5th & Mission Street Garage (Our Go-To Place for Parking When Attending an Event at Yerba Buena or Bayanihan Community Center)

The Old Ways

Part of the reason self loves Bacolod so much is . . .  the past is very much alive here.  And the women are such “femmes”:

Anita Arregui

Anita Arregui (Are those Ray-Bans?  Whatever —  self thinks they look hot!)

Daniela Jalandoni

Daniela Jalandoni (Why is she hanging on to a farm tractor?)

Nice Stilettos! The feet belong to Daniela Jalandoni.

Nice Stilettos! The feet belong to Daniela Jalandoni.

Marlboro Woman? (Don't know who this is)

Marlboro Woman? (Don’t know who this lady is, but self loves her direct gaze, her confidence, her beehive “do”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Self Hearts Tori Amos

Ms. Amos is writing a musical for Britain’s National Theatre.  Read her interview with The Observer (Sunday, 15 September 2013).

A few highlights:

Observer:  You have composed the music for a new musical, The Light Princess, at the National Theatre.  It was supposed to have been delivered in 2011.  Has it been a troubled process?

It’s been great, are you kidding?  The princess floats around the stage:  that took time to work out.  Nick Hytner (director of the National Theatre) said to me:  “The hardest form to achieve on stage is a good musical.  There are more failed musicals than any type of art.”  Nick told us to write something powerful, that we weren’t required to dumb down or make something for everone from 5 to 95.

Observer:  Where did the plot come from?  (It involves a prince and princess of opposing lands, brought down by grief, who fall in love.)

I think everyone understands grief, the journey it takes us on, whether it’s the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a disappointment.  Some people don’t deal with it, the power of it.  Some do.  Some feel the weight of it and it informs their choices.  I’ve had to open up to grief in different contexts.

Observer:  Your 13 albums have sold 12m copies and you’re an eight-time Grammy-nominated musician.  Was music always your passion?

I attended the Peabody Conservatory for classical music when I was five, but later fell out with its conservative philosophy.  My dad said if I wanted a career in contemporary music I needed training.  One day, when I was 13, he told me to dress to look older, so I put on trousers and heels and we went out and knocked on the doors of bars in Georgetown, Washington.  Mr. Henry’s, a gay bar, gave me my first opportunity.  My dad got flak from some parishioners, but he told them:  “I can’t think of a safer place for a 13-year-old than a gay bar.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

From Lines to Patterns: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

The Marina, San Francisco, April 2013

The Marina, San Francisco, April 2013

The Backyard Deck

The Backyard Deck

San Marco Square, April 2013

San Marco Square, April 2013

Here’s the prompt on The Daily Post WordPress site:

We see lines and patterns in the world around us, in nature and things man-made.  Sometimes we don’t realize they’re there:  on the street, across the walls, up in the sky, and along the ground on which we walk . . .  so grab your camera, get outside, and snap a great shot of shapes or lines that you stumble upon, or a cool texture or pattern that catches your eye.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Gleaned From Wall Street Journal Books (Saturday/Sunday, Sept. 14 – 15, 2013)

  • Daniel Woodrell is an Ozarks’ based writer whose novels are very very noir.  Self plans to tackle the following of his books:  Winter’s Bone (made into a crackling good movie starring Jennifer Lawrence), the Bayou Trilogy, and his latest, The Maid’s Version.
  • Self also wants to read Bitter River, a new mystery set in a “hard-times small town” called Acker’s Gap, West Virginia.  It’s the second book in a series by Julia Keller.
  • And she REALLY wants to read a new book about the Rolling Stones, Rocks Off, by Bill Janovitz.
  • One of self’s favorite sections of the Wall Street Journal book review is the “Five Best” feature, which asks a celebrated writer to name five favorite books on a certain theme.  This week’s theme was “treason and betrayal” and the respondent was Allan Massie.  Here are three of the five books on his list:  The Meaning of Treason, by Rebecca West (published 1949); Whittaker Chambers, by Sam Tanenhaus (published 1997); and The Dark of Summer, by Eric Linklater (published 1956)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Inside 4: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

So happy to be in "The Nest."  There's a typhoon signal alert outside.

It is great to be in “The Nes,.” especially when there’s a typhoon signal alert outside.

A restaurant inside an art gallery in Bacolod

A restaurant inside an art gallery in Bacolod

When self still entertained dreams of doing something agricultural in her Dear Departed Dad’s hometown, she visited her little slice of earth in Barangay Granada, saw how the land sloped upwards from the National Highway, and wondered aloud whether she needed to get an irrigation pump.

It took her cousins less than 10 seconds to set her straight:  “A pump!  What for?  It’ll just get stolen.”

BWAH. HA. HA. HAAAAA!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

“Neighbours in the Country”

Almost to the end of La’s Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith.

Self has read three other books by McCall Smith:  two from the Precious Ramotswe mysteries, and a third entitled 44 Scotland Street.

She’s liked them all:  McCall Smith has such an affable story-telling voice.

At first, she did not have high hopes for La’s Orchestra Saves the World.  The title was too obvious.  Would that mean the book itself was obvious, too?

It is very, very similar to Trevor’s Love and Summer, which was also a book about country folk and their secretive ways.

But no one writes plucky heroines like McCall Smith.

SPOILER ALERT!

The man La falls in love with has just been arrested for theft.  She goes to her next-door neighbor’s house in need of a little cheering up.  Then she observes how the neighbor’s son has acquired a new gramophone and an expensive leather jacket.  The neighbor is called Mrs. Agg (What a name.  Like “ugh”!  McCall Smith must believe in signifying:  Names, for him, must be much like a code).  So, here is how La’s mind begins to work:

Mrs. Agg must have known that Lennie had suddenly got his hands onto money, with his new gramophone and his leather jacket, and that large parcel, whatever it had contained.  She must have wondered where he got it; there would be no secrets in a family like that, all living cheek by jowl in that small farmhouse.  La could have told her about . . .  the theft, but did not, because just to mention it would have amounted to an accusation, and one could not fall out with neighbours in the country.  They relied on one another.  She and the Aggs had to live together, and if she denounced Lennie as a thief that would be impossible . . .  this was how evil prospered; this was how appeasement made tyrants confident.  One turned a blind eye . . .

And it was now, as she walked slowly about the garden, that she decided that she would give up her orchestra.  She no longer had the spirit for it.  She wanted simply to withdraw in her house, to read, to listen to the wireless, to struggle with her vegetables.  She would look after the hens — perhaps seek out more war work of that sort —  but she would keep to herself, in the little world that she had made for herself, where she could be safe.

But, more even than her desire to ensure her own personal safety, she must tell the truth.  So she goes to a policeman’s house, and confides in him her suspicion of Lennie, the neighbor’s son:

“You’ve seen somebody spending money?”

La swallowed.  “Yes.”

“Who?”

La held the policeman’s gaze.  If she had been a suspect, she would have found his eyes the most difficult of all.  They were the eyes of a countryman, but there was a knowingness about them.

She details her truth, what she has seen in her neighbor’s farmhouse.  And this is the response from the policeman:  He looks away.

This is simply heartbreaking:  La “could tell that what she had said was not welcome.”  The policeman’s attitude changes; it seems “more closed now.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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