22 May 2008

News, News, News

You may have seen the photos of Obama's rally in Portland, Oregon last week that drew an estimated 75,000 people. Apparently there are skeptical righties, unconvinced of Obama's drawing power, claiming a great portion of the crowd was only there to hear his opening act; wildly popular rock superstars--and Portland natives--The Decemberists.

(By the way, is there a decent person anywhere named Bob Knight? What about that name makes you an autocratic jackass? Phone in if you know someone to reverse this trend.)


I polished off Chris Bachelder's satirical novel U.S.! in just a couple of days. It's a quick read, and often entertaining though much of the humor relies on in-jokes, a common problem with the McSweeney's set. The jokes I got, however, were very funny, such as a letter written to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 1998, part of the scrapbook of collected ephemera that comprises the first half of the book, that is absolutely uproarious.

U.S.! imagines a world where socialist muckraker Upton Sinclair, after his death in 1968, is resurrected by idealistic lefties, only to be assassinated again shortly thereafter. Thus begins a perpetual cycle of death and reanimation, with both sides unrelenting in their determination even as the feud becomes less and less relevant to the wider world.

Besides having fun with Sinclair's many tics and oddities, Bachelder resurrects the old lefty primarily to wrestle with the value of didacticism in art, almost as extinct as the American left itself. Sinclair's countless novels are famously terrible, with boilerplate shallow characters and earnest commitment to furthering the socialist cause. Notably, this style is alive and well in the evangelical Christian world, with similar results.

The films of Ken Loach are an example of how didactic works can still be worthwhile and survive on its own merits. (I need to set up a Loach marathon soon, as I've still only seen two films.) Loach's secret, I think, is keeping his antagonist off-screen, and weighing how it effects his characters, allowing him to make his points without creating grossly unrealistic situations. And, of course, there is P.T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood, based loosely on Sinclair's Oil! Maybe we'll disinter the old man's spirit yet.


From the Wapo, U.S. immigration officials drugging people on deportation flights. A few days old, but still ought to be seen.