Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Review: "Fools Rush In"

I am woefully behind on book reviews, by which I mean that I haven't done one all year.  My general hope to complete a book review for each book read is fading fast.  To stop the bleeding, I'll start with one of my all-time favorite books that I revisited a few months ago. 

"Fools Rush In" is the story of a city as its main character, much like Baltimore is the true star of HBO's "The Wire."  Sarevejo is the majority-muslim city of Bosnia that was under siege during the civil war that engulfed the old Yugoslavia in the '90's.  At the time the story takes place, the city has been surrounded by the Serbian army, the UN is in the area "monitoring the situation," and thousands of civilians have been slaughtered. 

Bill Carter is a damaged man.  Broken and damaged from the death of his fiance, he goes to Bosnia to feel again.  It is quickly obvious to him that the UN and other peace-keeping forces are doing little other than counting the growing number of casualties, and he stumbles upon a shoe-string charity group that delivers food beyond the frontlines of the war.  The group is made up of other men who came together looking for some kind of purpose.  They found it amidst the blood and ruin and genocide of Bosnia-Herzogovina. 

While the rest of the group moves in and out of Sarajevo, often leaving for months to gather food and deliver in other areas, Carter cannot leave.  He finds his purpose living amongst a war-ravaged people, sprinting across sniper alley, sharing the dwindling food of the city, living and learning with the patriots, the artists, the families, the hipsters and the poets who loved their city too much to leave when they had the chance.  At one point, he realizes why he couldn't leave:

"Yet there would be turning back.  Not now.  Not after meeting the people I had met and seeing what I had seen. It would be like hearing a woman scream rape and going for a drink just to get out of earshot.  No, it was too late for people like Graeme and me, suckers who believe that if we give a little more it will turn around for the better.  It wasn't that I thought I could save the world.  At this point I would have settled for erasing my memory.  Once memory gets hardwired into your brain it gets more difficult to erase your sense of responsibility.  Why else do we have that cancer called television?  Why are we inundated with sound bite news, and infantile politicians making promises they never intend to keep?  Low ball, baby.  Keep it simple and stupid.  Keep the masses doped up on false expectations of lower taxes, second mortgages and entry into the country club, and you've got yourself a happy society ready, willing and able to ignore those cries of rape.  No one can hear them - the TV is too loud."
In short, what has been seen cannot be unseen, and by the time Carter had stumbled into this new world, he could no longer pretend that men, women and children were not being slaughtered by their former neighbors as the world sat on their hands.

"Fools Rush In" is a powerful, powerful book, full of passion, terror, and tragedy, but above all, love.  I could not recommend it higher.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Moab, Utah Roadtrip

The plan called for 25 hours of driving in 4 days.  Nestled in the soft crook of my couch and several beers deep, this seemed completely reasonable. 

I left home around 5:00am and headed Southwest towards John's place.  Arriving exactly at the time we had agreed on, he was, of course, still asleep.  Coffee and insults fixed all that, and we headed out to the canyonlands of eastern Utah. 

Hours passed.  After the initial excitement of changing lanes and freeways a few times, we arrived at the I-15 freeway, and settled into the mind-numbing rythymns that accompany all that is completely flat and completely straight.  We passed Las Vegas, probably the ugliest city in the world during the daylight hours.  As my Dad says, "no one chose to live there, that's just where the horses died."

Some several hundred hours later, we arrived in Moab, the mountain bike capital of the world.  There actually happened to be a large mountain bike festival the weekend we were there, and there was spandex, shaved legs, and shiny titanium frames for as far as the eye could see.  Sights this disturbing should never be observed sober, so we hit up the local brewery. 

Despite some strange Mormom law that allows a maximum alcohol content of 3.2% on beer, the beverages were certainly...well, beer-flavored at least, and they eased the pain of a long-ass drive. 

Hours later, full, tired, and half-drunk, we stumbled off to bed before visiting the Arches National Park the next morning.  And it was worth it:



The next day consisted of waking up early, copious amounts of coffee, political discourse (without anything being resolved), and amazing red-rock scenery throughout Utah and Arizona.  We were hauling ass because we were hoping to kayak on Lake Powell in Page, Arizona.  Sadly, due to some vindictive god, we arrived too late to make this a reality.  Thus, we hit up the internetz to come up with a back-up plan.  We found a well-reviewed hike in an area that was described as "adjacent to Page, Arizona."  Having looked for apartments on craigslist, I should have known that this was an obvious trap.

58 miles later, we found the trail-head just as the sun was starting to go down.  If we wanted to catch the sunset, we were going to have to charge up this massive rock fortress at breakneck speed.  Sadly, you cannot get to the top of any peak without the trail being mostly uphill, and this became drudgery.  I still had visions of getting some prize-winning photo, so I pushed ahead of John and headed for the top.


An hour later, completely alone and lost in my own thoughts, I heard rocks come tumbling down somewhere ahead of me, and it brought me to a complete stop.  Either there was a rock slide or...there was something else up there.  I stayed still.  I waited.  Another small shower of rocks above and ahead of me.  Terrible thoughts of mountain lions and alligators and yeti's came to the forefront of my mind, and I refused to move a muscle.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw something big and dark step out of the shadows.  MOUNTAIN LION!  Just a mountain goat.  Not so awesome as the first mountain alligator ever found, but still cool.  We stared at each other, and then went our separate ways.


After getting some good pictures of the sun setting over the hills, we headed back in the darkness with our headlamps, and drove back to the campground..


After conquering mountains and their monsters, we felt the need to get drunk.  Thankfully, we were outside the clutches of the Church of Latter Day Saints, and we were able to get all of the hard alcohol and non near-beer that we wanted at some bourgeousie hotel bar back in town. 

Celebrations are great, but they make a 10 hour drive back home the next day even more painful than is probably necessary.  Great trip.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Los Angeles

This is the third time that I have tried to write this post. The difficulty is that the Occupy movements are too complicated to simply label as “good” or “bad.”

On the one hand, people are getting absolutely fucked over, and there are legitimate and righteous reasons to protest the lack of lubrication.

On the other, all the stereotypes that opponents of the movement use to label the protesters are there. There are anarchists and aging hippies and full-time radicals, all of whom don’t want to fix the system, but to smash it.

I don’t think I really need to make the case that people are rightfully angry. The middle-class is being dismantled. The wealth of the country is dramatically being accumulated exclusively in the hands of a few. Corporate personhood has made politicians entirely dependent on the large-money donations that business, labor and ideological groups can provide. When politicians require the support and donations of these groups above the support of the common man, then any mutterings they make about their affinity for the middle-class are simply platitudes.

While I agree with the majority of the complaints that the protesters are making, I am not yet convinced that these groups are capable of creating any kind of actual change. Last night I watched a two hour debate on whether or not Occupy Los Angeles should become a non-profit corporation. The benefits of creating a corporation were that it would allow greater financial transparency, limit the liability of the individuals involved, allow for checks to be written from the movement itself rather than from individuals, and dramatically reduce the inherent risks involved with having a few individuals be entirely responsible for the spending & receiving of the donation dollars.

Unfortunately, “corporation” is such a dirty word that the proposal eventually had to be tabled after hours of debate. This is where radicals in the movement allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. As much as I would love to believe that a leftist utopia is possible, the fact is that it is not. No one speaks for the whole of the movement, least of all me, but I think that the more radical agendas are hindering the possibility of actual changes that can be made in our country. The majority of the country does not want to end the Federal Reserve or try to form a Marxist-style Commune or go back to a gold standard. As I see it, focusing on impossibilities are neither productive nor desirable.

The movement is still quite new, so perhaps it can be forgiven for a lack of a coherent message, but it should happen soon. The current lack of direction allows for opponents of the movement to characterize it as a group of social misfits and crackpots who are just trying to cause trouble. If the legitimate complaints of working and middle-class people are ignored because of the fringe elements of the movement, that would be a real tragedy.