Friday, November 20, 2020

The Silence by Don DeLillo

DeLillo's latest, a novella of just over one hundred pages, is long enough to be both imperfectly stimulating and imperfectly annoying. 

It's set amidst a very sudden and simultaneous end to human technology, loosely defined, emblemised by a blank screen on Superbowl night, 2022.

It begins a little earlier on a flight from Paris to New York which features a couple of factual inaccuracies about such a situation which irked me in a way that I was never going to get over in a mere 90 pages.

DeLillo is old enough to recall a world without email, a world where many are yet to invest so much of themselves outside of themselves, in cyberspace. When we founded our company in the early 90s, it's most replicated function was to persuade clients to adopt email, to inhabit the interwebs. Did we really help bring about an irreversible change? Would a sudden return to the world my parents were born into be so utterly apocalyptic?

"E-mail-less. Try to imagine it. Say it. Hear how it sounds. E-mail-less.”

One of the characters is a young physicist fixated on Einstein and relativity and sits squarely at the intersection of the stimulating and annoying in this book. As far as the former state of mind goes, I gathered that DeLillo was asking if technology is all that underpins our sense of a shared present and that without it, we'd be locked into a terrifying subjectivity.

Still, there's something rather #firstworldproblems-y about this scenario, or at least something suggestive that the USA's problems are inherently bigger problems than anybody else's.

One line will however stick with me, resonating perhaps more for the specific personal and collective moment in which I came across it...

"Life can get so interesting that we forget to be afraid."

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne

An enjoyably unsettling karmic-noir novel set in a decadent (and decaying) luxury apartment complex during times of political upheaval in Bangkok. 

The most developed character in the story is the city itself. 

My one experience of the Thai capital occurred a decade ago, and was both striking and limited, as I showed up at precisely one of these moments of conflict and curfew. As I collected my boarding pass at Narita the JAL check-in agent admonished me thus: “Bangkok...dangerous”, a movie reference which tickled me at the time.

Lawrence Osborne’s Bangkok is indeed a subtly dangerous place to exist as a foreigner of fluctuating purpose and identity. None of the western characters here are properly aware of how over-ripe tropical biology and sociology are slowly usurping their high-rise sanctuary. (Which turns out to be the author's actual current abode.)
Some of the protagonists turn out to be dramatic dead-ends, and yet are no less welcome acquaintances, such as Ximena, the Chilean chef. (Curiously, The Kingdom most reminds me of a complex called Infinity in downtown Santiago of which I have three times become a short-term resident.)
Even Goi, the access-all-areas apartment cleaner seems to offer plot potentialities which decline along with the entire environment.
I can now confirm that stories set in such blocks are almost as appealing to me as those set in old luxury hotels.

Greenland (2020)

Rather like a Roland Emmerich blockbuster catastrophe movie with the volume turned down to slightly more bearable levels. 

Director Ric Roman Waugh has previously pulled off a similar trick with Gerard Butler’s ...Has Fallen franchise.

It’s fundamentally silly — a comet breaks up above the Earth taking out first Tampa and Bogotá before settling on an ‘extinction level event’ — yet grounded in a likeable family trio, and in Butler and Baccherin, one would have to say, lie the film’s principal strengths.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Biden Wins!

They might just have to build him another White House to govern from though.

Or maybe they can take the Donald from his bed in the real White House one night — just after he dozes off watching Fox News — and upload his 'consciousness' into a simulation where America is eternally great again and he's winning and tweeting like his life depends on it.
We'd get all the content but none of the consequences. 

So the return to what they call normalcy up there wouldn't seem quite so 'meh' after all.

That Cheshire Cat smile is trending on CNN right now. The panelists are totally wetting themselves.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Can we?


i.e. there has to be some basic level of denial that we can all hang on to, surely?

Trump, it turns out, was on to something when he suggested that from November 3 onwards nobody in the US was going to hear much more about covid. 

One thing we have learned this week, it is possible to report over 100,000 new cases along with over 1100 fatalities daily, and for hardly anybody to be all that bovved.

The Superfluous O


Transatlantic Comparisons

I guess it's never really occurred to me quite like this before, but on US election night this year I realised other ways in which our British system of parliamentary elections is generally preferable to the American electoral college. 

The broadcasting of partial results is really not a good idea, this year in particular. 

Whatever flaws the US might have as a mature modern democracy are clearly being exacerbated right by a system whereby an incumbent would-be autocrat can exploit the fact that upwards of a third of the electorate might not really understand the process of vote counting.

Then there's the fact that whether Biden wins the college by one vote or a hundred, he ends up with pretty much the same set of super powers. 

Compare this to our former PM Theresa May, who was still PM, but a very different sort of PM, already a bit more former, after the general election she called which duly led to a loss of the Tory majority she'd inherited. 

It may well be possible to pry Trump's arthritic fingers off the White House and replace them with Biden's, but what America and the world is not going to get right now as part of the process is a clear rejection of everything that has happened over the past four years. 

And maybe it will find it needed that even more than it needed a narrow Democrat win in 2020.

There's one other thing. This lame duck business is also non-optimal. In the UK if the opposition wins a majority No10 has a new resident almost immediately. 

Even a beaten Trump gets to be the world's most powerful man until January. Can you imagine the trouble he's going to cause, not least as he will still be in overall charge of the federal covid response. 

It would be like the Russians showing up in Berlin in 1945 and telling Hitler he could still run Germany from his bunker for another month or so.

And can anyone really imagine the Donald is going to give a dignified concession speech any time before hell freezes over? 

This in turn would be like the Pope appearing at the Vatican balcony and announcing that, on balance, he's no longer quite so sure about this whole God business after all.