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A mere butterfly, flitting hither and yon

So, if it’s OK with y’all, Gentle Readers, I’m just going to fling at you a bunch of things I thought were interesting to post about, but which I haven’t actually written a post about:

  • There are some interesting things over at Matthew Yglesias’s’’ses proudly eponymous site about the War Powers Act. I am becoming even more entrenched in my belief that the War Powers Act, for all that it was intended to limit the power of the Executive to engage in undeclared wars, in fact hands the war power to the Executive to use at the whim of whoever happens to be President. We should repeal it and start again, ideally with an incredibly restrictive law that makes it clear that the war power belongs solely to the Legislatures, and that the President must not invade any other sovereign nation without a proper declaration of war. I know, I know, as Commander in Chief, the President has to respond quickly and whatnot. No, he doesn’t. There is no reason why the President should be able to invade without first getting a declaration of war. He can command our military within our borders and within the borders of our allies and generally play defense by himself, great. If we have an invitation from a sovereign government (an officially recognized sovereign government) to bring in peace-keeping troops and military advisors, well, we can work something out in a bill to allow for retroactive permission, but pretty quick. Not three months, or two, or one. Is our national transportation system so bad that we can’t convene a special session to deal with a crisis?
  • Robert Gallucci makes a terrific point in a short interview with Foreign Policy when he says “this theory that Bolton apparently operates on, that we’re in a situation where we have to worry about rewarding people or not rewarding people is not a useful construct for international relations. It’s probably not bad if you’re trying to teach your kids about the playground, but [it doesn’t work] for international politics.” I have a sense that Our Only President and his cabal of incompetents and crooks somehow think of non-westerners and not-quite-grupp, and that they have to be Taught Lessons. I think there is a question of maturity, but I don’t think the point of that question is away from the White House.
  • I’m not all the way through it, but I can already recommend Mary Robinette Kowal’s series of posts about reading aloud. There is a lot of stuff there that is just technical enough to be actually useful.
  • I understand that the point of a recommended reading list is to, you know, recommend books that I have not actually read before, but I was surprised to see how little of Locus magazine’s recommended stuff from 2006 I had read. Or, frankly, am interested in reading. I believe I have only read one of the grupp novels and one of the first novels, and none of the YA books. I have read some good things from 2006, haven’t I? Or have I? It was interesting to see Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon and James Morrow on the list—I usually complain about books that are clearly speculative being kept out of talk about specfic, but in the case of The Last Witchfinder I am skeptical about its place on the list at all.
  • From Zadie Smith on Litchrachoor in The Guardian January 13th, an essay called “Fail Better”: “[G]reat writing forces you to submit to its vision. You spend the morning reading Chekhov and in the afternoon, walking through your neighbourhood, the world has turned Chekhovian; the waitress in the cafe offers a non- sequitur, a dog dances in the street.” The essay appears to have disappeared from The Guardian’s site, but it has been cached for those who are interested and have mad skillz. Mostly, though, I just liked the description there.
  • There have been a lot of notes in Left Blogovia about the various candidates’ positions on Iran, and whether they should take military strikes off the table. Just to be clear, if Larry King or the buffoon Chris Matthews asks you about military strikes, you say “They would be a mistake.” If he asks if that means that they are off the table, you say “They would be a mistake.” If he persists, and insists that he must know if they are off the table, ask him “what table? I’m talking about foreign policy and the possibility of a tragic and unnecessary war; what are you talking about?” If you become President and circumstances compel you, in your judgement, to order military strikes, you will have the power to do so (with the prior approval of the Legislature, yes?) whether they were on the table or not.
  • Travis Daub mentions a six-year old interview with Lori Wallach, during which she used her line about “two ships passing in the night. One ship is loaded with chopsticks cut from wood in the Pacific Northwest and being shipped to Japan. The other ship is loaded with toothpicks cut from trees in Malaysia and packaged in Japan on their way to California.” Mr. Daub is reminded of this by the news that “Producing and shipping one bottle of Fiji bottled water around the globe consumes nearly 27 liters of water, nearly a kilogram of fossil fuels, and generates more than a pound of carbon dioxide emissions.” Mmmm, water.
  • Remember the Maine!

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I was going to comment on all of these miniposts, one by one, but I keep coming back to Pynchon. 'Cause Pynchon's Da Bomb, y'all.

But, yeah, I wouldn't call Against the Day "speculative fiction" either. Not any more than I'd call, say William Vollmann's fiction "speculative fiction." Or Kurt Vonnegut's. Junior or senior. Or that other guy.

Faulkner. William. That's his name. Him either.

Or, say, Mark Twain.

I think maybe I'd call Pynchon a magical realist. How 'bout you? Discuss.

(By the way, Against the Day may be Pynchon's best novel so far, although that's just my opinion.)


"off the table"? who's across the table? cheney? cheney's a lunatic. i don't negotiate with lunatics. get rid of him and then we can discuss what's on and off the table.

Wait a minute, Matt. I would say that some of Mark Twain's stuff is definitely SF. He wasn't an SF writer (vaddevah dat means) but he was a writer who on occasion wrote fantasies. E.M. Forster wrote the odd bit of SF, too; he wasn't an SF writer. But James Morrow is an SF writer who happens to have written a novel with only the slightest tinge of SFness, to my eyes. If the list is of 2006 books by SF writers, then take Mr. Pynchon and Mr. McCarthy off; if the list is of 2006 SF books, then take The Last Witchfinder off. But that's just my opinion.

And, er, I haven't read any Pynchon. But Lot 49 was the fourth book for a dollar from that table, and I'll start it real soon now.

And by my preference, it would be (Step 1) Remove V.P. Cheney from the table, (Step B) Wash the table, and only then (Step III) Sit down to discuss what's on the table. Also advisable: Make sure nobody's walked off with any of the chairs.


Well, ok. I'll grant you all that.

I've had an ongoing argument with Ben (although not real recently) about the nature of genre, and he's said some very insightful things to back up his positions, as you would expect from Ben. But my basic position is that genre is basically a way of having prejudices against kinds of art and for art-vendors to encourage those prejudices. It's also a way for artists to make a quick buck by finding a niche and catering to people who have a prejudice for artworks occupying that niche.

That said, I recognize that I have Said Prejudices myself (most of the fiction on my bookshelves could be loosely categorized as "SF," not many "mysteries," etc.), but I recognize that and I'm okay with it. But that doesn't mean genre is a real thing, like goddess or quantum mechanics.

I would suggest that Mark Twain's fantasies tend to be fantastic allegories, as opposed to the epic fantasy stuff that tends to get filed on the SF shelf at your bookvendor of choice. Also, there are prejudices that the bookvendors themselves perpetuate. Like The Time Traveler's Wife gets filed under "Fiction" at the local MegaBooks, just as Vollmann does, or Pynchon, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for that matter. I bet that they have Twain and Faulkner filed under something arbitrary like "Classics" with The Iliad or whatnot. China Mieville is probably filed under SF, as is Margaret Atwood. I'd imagine Laurell K. Hamilton is filed as SF, but Diana Gabaldon is romance.

All of which is really to reinforce my contention that genre's a question of how you look at art, and it doesn't say much about the art, per se, except to give a nod (as Ben would have it) to the cultural dialogues that the art is referencing as it arts merrily along.

I can't say anything about Dick Cheney without impugning his sexual practices, somehow, so I'm going to leave talking about the table off the table.


Also, Lot 49 is a fine thing. I'd suggest reading the others, though. All of them except Vineland are incredible. Vineland's just an SF novel.

*ducks the flying objects and scurries away giggling*


Yeah, Pynchon's definitely worth it, esp. V, Crying, and Mason & Dixon.

Gravity's Rainbow is, of course, the masterpiece, but I go back and forth on whether its brilliance is sufficient to justify putting up with its deliberate chaos and obscurity.

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