Thursday, June 14, 2018

You Review Books for a Living

Imagine what it's like to be the book critic for GQ. Now imagine yourself writing these words:

Every year, I read over a hundred books. This means I polish off somewhere between two and three books a week. I'm not saying that to brag (okay, I am), but I really believe that anyone can make time to read. Chances are you wish you read more, since everyone feels this way (except me, I’m amazing). 
Of course you included those parenthetical interruptions in an attempt to be amusing. It's funny to express a high opinion of yourself because bragging is generally considered to be rude and annoying. Now imagine you write the rest of the listicle without including a line like "getting a job as a professional book critic" as a good way to get yourself to read more.

You are Kevin Nguyen. This is what your life is like.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Which Kind of White Supremacist Are You?

Charles Murray is a white supremacist who built his academic career on pseudoscience claiming to prove that black people are intellectually inferior. His kind - the reactionary pedant - was best described last year by Rick Perlstein.

For some reason, PBS found it worthwhile to publish a truly idiotic BuzzFeed-style quiz developed by Murray:
Do you live in a bubble? 
There exists a new upper class that’s completely disconnected from the average white American and American culture at large, argues Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist and author.
Take this 25-question quiz, based on a similar one published in Murray’s 2012 book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010,” to find out just how thick your bubble is.
Well, how about it? Are you disconnected from the average white American and American culture at large?

Slippery professional bigots like Murray get away with this kind of chicanery all the time. Murray has hoodwinked PBS into merging two distinct concepts: "the average white American" and "American culture at large." "American culture at large" actually has as much to do with the average Latino American and the average African American and the average Asian American as it does with the average white American because whiteness is not a prerequisite for representing American culture.

This quiz is part of a new subgenre of right wing propaganda that sees the stratification of the U.S. more as a function of culture and race rather than economics. The convenient fiction is also spread by other seedy characters including Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance and the clownishly wimpy New York Times columnist David Brooks.

If you want to know whether you're disconnected from the average American, there's a very easy way to check. Take a look at your tax return. Then answer this three question quiz:
Do you make at least six figures? 
Is your income is $250,000 or more? 
Does your tax return show you pull down a million or more a year?
Ready to check your results? That's easy too:
If you answered yes to the first question, you may be a little out of touch.  
If you answered yes to the second question, you're probably more than a little out of touch.  
If you answered yes to the third question, you are crazy out of touch. 
See, wasn't that easy? You don't need a fucking 25 question quiz to figure out that massive income inequality is making the upper class lose touch with reality.

And remember, steer clear of Charles Murray and Just Say No to white supremacists no matter what kind of pseudoscience they attempt to use to dress up their busted old sophistries.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


What makes blood shine in the sunlight?

I write of the poisons first in my life, then in my poetry, last in my computer. I wrote about ingrown hairs and diamonds before. I got paid for that. Everything that pays is false. Poison is the only truth.

I developed magpie behaviors at some point in my life, maybe back when I used to pace around the pool for hours on end. I always liked walking. It’s a healthful activity. It’s medicine. Too much of it is poison, and that’s how I cooked my brain.

I’ll steal a metaphor from here, a stylish phrasing from there. Add it all up and it’s some stroke of genius. It takes a genius to go to war and a fool to make peace. A rambling weird piece of nonsense is just what the doctor ordered. She ordered it from room service and took a nap, only waking when the knocking outside her door grew desperate.

A doctor knows something about poisons. Place the pellet under the tongue and let it dissolve. I try to assemble thoughts and everything falls apart. They race off in a million different directions. I’m too busy reading to wrangle them back together.

The doctor examined the deep cuts on my fingers and chuckled. How did you do this to yourself? You’re not supposed to do this to yourself. The next thing I know we’re talking about a more embarrassing subject. The president. Pause for applause. Please clap.

I had fair warning. Panix attax early on. Within a month of falling in love, or less, I watched her writhing helplessly. I’d never seen a person so broken by existence. I know she’s funny dude, but Jesus. Don’t hurt yourself. More importantly, don’t hurt her. (Who? The doctor? My mother? The apothecary? The ne’er-do-well uncle? That’s me in the future. That’s my father in the past. Well, boy!)

This is an essay about poison. A memoir of poisoning - being poisoned and poisoning others. You know that because I’m telling you. I’m very clever. I’m not shrill. I’m a shard of glass.

There was a man I once knew who I was introduced to by a student of Chinese religion. This student was fucking my sister at the time. The man was called That Guy That Gets All the Bad Poison Away. I’ve never forgot him. He will always be with me. He gets the bad poison away, the poison that always seems to get you in the end. Without warning, you’re dead. Out of nowhere comes the Bad Posion. That’s why it’s useful to know That Guy Who Gets All the Bad Poison Away.

I crawl up inside the imaginative fancies of those around me. I live in them and they become my reality. And then they begin to shrink until I burst forth and collect the remains for later filing. It is a magpie tendency. I picked up That Guy Who Gets All the Bad Poison Away and never set him back down. Just like Aimsol, a nonsense word a friend once texted me and has become a entire domain in my imagination. I want to give life to ideas discarded by others. It’s a wicked, quixotic compulsion. They’re barely even ideas. What are they?

Sometimes the person you want so badly is the same person that you never want to see again. How can you be so damn logical?

Distractible, irascible, and lost. I can’t hold the same idea in my head for more than few seconds. I’m even losing object permanence. Go check and see if you locked the door. Go ahead and check. Don’t let bad poison get into your house or car or any other closet bag of bags, lock it up and double check that you did.

But the Guy, how does he know it’s bad poison? There are good poisons, after all. Good poisons make blood shine under sunlight.

I only sleep normally when I’m in a relationship.

I resolved to be stoic to gain the approval of my parents.

I am a red-eyed idiot.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Snow Falling on Video Games

Snow Crash
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson would have worked a whole lot better as a video game. There are countless fight sequences, chase scenes, and detailed descriptions of weapons and gear. Some of levels - ahem, settings I mean - are remarkably imaginative and would be very fun to play around in. Though many gamers don't go in for this kind of thing as much as I once did, the interactions between Hiro and the Librarian as well as some of the more colorful side characters would have entertained and inspired me quite a lot in the manner of backstory/literary/historical content heavy games such as Deus Ex and Alpha Centauri that I loved as an adolescent.

Unfortunately, Neal Stephenson made Snow Crash a novel, not a video game, although apparently his original goal was to publish it as a 'computer-generated graphic novel.' That sounds like it would have been a much more fascinating project. It also would have obviated the need for Stephenson to type up so many badly written passages. The cringe inducing dialogue would have been easier to forgive inside speech bubbles. I don't mean to be cruel here, but by the author's own admission on the 'Acknowledgements' page, he spent more time fruitlessly coding custom image processing software to produce the aborted graphic version during the production of the work than he did actually writing it. That indicates to me that his raison d'etre was something other than producing a great novel in the traditional sense.

As I said before, there are some pretty cool things in here. Some interesting ideas sluice about. It has promise. But the characters are flat and mostly lifeless. The creepily sexualized 15-year-old punk skater girl Y.T. is the worst victim of Stephenson's poor abilities at characterization. The scene in which she reaches orgasm literally in the first moment a hulking man two or three times her age sticks his dick into her is almost idiotic enough to qualify the book for a failing grade all on its own. At least have the decency to set your creepy rapey fantasies inside the Metaverse.

The plot manages to be overly convoluted and entirely simplistic at the same time. The ending in particular leaves one dissatisfied at the vague and unintentional anticlimax after all the build up of the previous 400 pages. The legitimately thrilling moment where Y.T. kicks the tablet out of the helicopter is squandered when it leads to a yet another series of overwrought chase and fight scenes.

The book strains in its attempts at humor, at profundity, at pathos, at suspense, at depth. Its potentially compelling vision for the future of endless franchise restaurants and logos as a form of light in themselves are undercut by a weird belief that soon-to-be-forgotten Reagan era figures such as Ed Meese would remain relevant enough to provide the name for trillion dollar bills and such. The inclusion of WWII and Vietnam as important events in the lives of its characters or their parents also rubbed me the wrong way - how near in the future are we supposed to believe this takes place?

My choice for sci-fi author par excellence, Phillip K. Dick, can be accused of writing bad dialogue, and of poor prose style more general. But at least his character possess enough humanity for you to actually connect with them as more than mere avatars in a boring, non-interactive video game. At least his ideas feel more original than the mishmash of undigested research that dominates too much of Snow Crash. Even when his stories are confusing, Dick's work is never as long and as pointless convoluted as this book is.

To wrap up this overlong whinge of a review - this novel is far too dull and obvious to justify its length. Perhaps it is obvious because reality has caught up with the world Stephenson imagines. But there's no excuse for it being dull - it wastes far too many fireworks for that to be intentional.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

More Wikipedia Pages I've Created

A few years ago I shared a list of Wikipedia pages I've created. Well, I've written a bunch more since then and so I thought I'd do a bit of an update. And I may ask myself, Robbie, what are you doing with your life? I'm just having fun with it. Here they are:

The Faraway Nearby - A book by one of my favorite authors Rebecca Solnit. In this one she combines memoir, literary criticism, travelogue in another dazzling hybrid.

White Girls - Hilton Als' very peculiar collection of essays about notable white girls, including Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor and of course Michael Jackson.

The Funkees - The Funkees were an afro-rock/funk group that came out of Nigeria in the 70s, contemporaneous with Fela Kuti but with tighter songwriting.

Day Wave - Day Wave is an indie rock band. Shhh don't tell Wikipedia's schoolmarmish editors but the members of the band are close friends of mine from school days.

Gabriel Joaquim dos Santos - This dude is a super cool outsider artist/architect who built a structure called The House of the Flower in Brazil.

Dominik Lang - He's a Czech installation artist. I saw an impressive work of his at Inhotim.

Joseph Crépin - Crépin was a crazy spiritualist outsider artist. I love outsider artists.

Gaston Chaissaic - Another outsider-y artist. Since creating this article, I got to see Chaissaic's work in person at the Centre Pompidou.

Bogosav Živković - A Serbian outsider artist-carpenter. He made sculpture out of wood, and I'm obssesed with his name. His first name especially pleases my ears when I hear it and brain when I think of it.

Wes Anderson's Directing Style - Okay, so I didn't create the article on Wes Anderson, but I did add a detailed discourse on his stylistic techniques as a filmmaker. 

Apocalyspe, girl - It's a really good album by Jenny Hval, that genius singer of feminist horror lullabies.

Kate Berlant - She is a very funny comedian. Go watch 555 right now.

Salomo Friedlaender - A weirdo expressionist German writer of grotesques and philosophical satires who published under the pseudonym 'Mynona' which is the German word for anonymous spelled backwards.

Multiple Choice - A really good and cool novel by Chilean prankster Alejandro Zambra. It feels as much like a collection of poetry and short stories as a novel, and it is very short. And good.

As before, I often publish only the seeds of a good Wikipedia article, and when the planets align other editors help it bloom into a real article much to my delight. In general, I've been trying to improve Wikipedia's coverage of outsider artists, as well as obscure, forgotten, neglected, abandoned, forsaken, unrecognized, unacknowledged, overshadowed, out-of-fashion authors, playwrights, filmmakers, performers, and artists of all kinds.

Friday, May 6, 2016

These Bland White Men Are Movie Stars For Some Reason

Chris Evans
Chris Evan is perfect for the role of Captain America because just like Captain America, Chris Evan is an utterly boring shell. He's a hollow white male mascot with nothing to say. Therefore he's a perfect avatar to represent diversity in Hollywood circa 2016.

Sam Worthington
Speaking of avatar, Sam Worthington starred in Avatar. The highest-grossing movie of all time. Everyone saw Avatar, right? I will remind you, Avatar (apparently) starred Sam Worthington, at least if we're going to believe How would you describe Sam Worthinton? Can you remember anything about him? Anything at all?

Well, here's one thing I can say about Sam Worthinston. By virtue of his being a total non-entity, Sam Worthington is the only actor capable of making Giovanni Ribisi believable as a dynamic, menacing villain. Giovanni Ribisi. From Friends.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson
The new Godzilla movie was going to be great until Bryan Cranston died 15 minutes into it and we were stuck watching watching this charmless block of wood for the rest of the movie.

Charlie Hunnam
No one gives a shit about Charlie Hunnam.

Garrett Hedlund
Man oh man, Garrett Hedlund, what did we do to deserve you? White men make up less than a third of the U.S. population and Hollywood makes its blockbusters for the rest of the world anyway. So what then explains Garrett Headlands?

Armie Hammer
The most interesting thing about Armie Hammer is his name.

Chris Hemsworth (Huntsman)
As Thor, Chris Hemsworth is the only member of The Avengers more stilted than Chris Evans. They should really kick out the Hulk, Iron Man, Arrow Man, and Black Dahlia and then rename their team The League of the Ordinary Chris's. Then they should disband and kill themselves.

Hemsworth also stars in another 'franchise' called Huntsman. Huntsman movies are not about former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, though that would likely be more interesting than what they are about. Huntsman is a made up white male lead added to the Snow White fairy tale for no reason at all except as an excuse to cast another bland white man to star a fantasy action movie that no one will ever care about or remember.

Snow White and the Huntsman came out a few years ago. This spring, a sequel appeared entitled Huntsman: Winter's War. That's right, Hollywood made a sequel to Snow White without Snow White because I guess these days there are too many movies coming out starring women. Instead the movie stars Chris Hemsworth as Huntsman. Huntsman, who fought in Winter's War and ran for the Republican nomination for president in 2012 but lost to Mitt Romney.

Liam Hemsworth
Oh God, Huntsman has a brother. Holy Jesus. And he's starring in the new Independence Day movie, replacing Will Smith. Will the reign of terror of bland white men starring in every blockbuster never end?

Josh Hutcherson
This guy isn't even real. I made him up. He stars as, as...uh, let's say his character's name is Peeta...yeah, Peeta. Peeta Mellark. He's in a series of movies about, fuck it, how about the movie's just kids killing other kids. And these movies, starring Josh...Hutcherson? Is that what we're calling him? Yeah, Josh Hutcherson as a kid named Peeta. These movies have grossed nearly $3 billion at the box office. Yep. Peeta Mellark.

Josh Hartnett
You ever wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night and your heart's racing and all you can think is WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO JOSH HARTNETT? As the patron saint of bland white male movie stars, we can only hope they all go his way: languishing in obscurity before turning 40.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Little Marco and Big Trump: A Dom/Sub Slashfic

“Damn it, Donald! I was supposed to be the chosen one!”

Little Marco sat across the desk from the man who looked likely to end his political career that evening. Big Trump appeared casual but confident, barrel-chested with strong-looking rounded shoulders that rested easily on the luxuriously appointed leather swivel chair. 
"Don't worry about it, Little'll all be over soon. I've beat you so many times it's gonna be a relief to you now that you're finished, believe me. Once you endorse we'll figure out how you're gonna serve in my administration, since you can't go back to Florida after I embarrass you in front of everyone there. Maybe you can be my FEMA Administrator...wait, you're too much of a choker for that, aren't you -"

"I'm not a choker! And stop calling me Little Marco!"

How Little Marco hated his debased desire for Big Trump's embrace! He looked down, averting his eyes from the enormous desk carved of rich mahogany, the classy gold pens and sharpies held up in those little holder things littered across that same desk, the various gold encrusted trophies and plaques scattered about the office suite, the golden-hued tapestries hanging from the walls, the tremendously-sized windows that overlooked the glittering Manhattan skyline, and all the other goldish fineries that bedecked the Trump Tower penthouse, serving on this blackest of nights as Little Marco's very own Rubicon.

When Little Marco opened his eyes again, he felt hot tears run down his cheeks. Through the tears, he saw fingers drumming on Big Trump's desk. He knew who they belonged to. Many people said Big Trump's fingers were very short and sausage-like, and even little Marco believed them at first. He felt even more sullen as he thought back to the day he had impugned Big Trump's hands. They didn't seem so small now.

“They don't seem so small now, do they?” Trump was holding up his hands in Little Marco's face. "Come here, Little Marco." Trump beckoned him forward, and then patted his right leg. Their eyes locked with an intensity Little Marco was only beginning to understand. Yes, Donald…claim me…

All he wanted was to rush over onto the bigger man's lap and begin to lap, but he resisted and turned away in anguish. His voice squeaked,  “Let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that I'm going to endorse you just because -”

But Trump was on him before he could finish the sentence he had practiced over and over again in the mirror, the sentence that would firmly reject Trump's entreaties for his endorsement, the sentence that was useless now since Trump hadn't even asked, he had taken, like always - and the only thing firmly rejected were Little Marco's clothes, which were firmly rejected off his body and onto the floor. Trump fell upon him like a savage, bent him over the desk and thrust into him with a rigid and corpulent coil of elderly loins, and in the pleasure Little Marco took from Trump's lust, his body became an extension of Trump's tremendous success in the GOP primaries—proof of his worthiness to be the next President of the United States, in Little Marco's eyes, at least.

A river of sweat and spittle dribbled down Little Marco's back and gathered at the base of his spine. Between spanks, yanks, and bleats, flecks of spit flew out the sides of Big Trump's mouth. Each bit of spittle that hit Little Marco on his back, legs, forehead, chin, and ear lobes only hardened his resolve. And by resolve, I mean erection. Little Marco's endorsement was forthcoming momentarily. He would endorse all over the rich mahogany desk, just before Trump made America great again deep inside Little Marco's body cavity.

Little Marco collapsed onto the now-slippery desk in ecstasy. Trump pulled his pants back up and began to stagger around the room raving to himself and anyone within earshot."What a tremendous blow for conservatism! That was a tremendous blow, frankly, for our country! Nobody pounds Little Marco better than me, believe me, and I pounded him for very cheap. We made the best deals. And how you do it, let me tell you, is good management..." Trump continued speaking in this manner without interruption for the next seventy minutes, though eventually he left the office suite and finished his peroration in front of a bank of cameras and slack-jawed supporters.

Curled up in a trembling, clammy ball on the desk, Little Marco thought of all the older men he had shoved out of the way on his way to this ignoble night. Charlie Crist. Jeb Bush. He wondered where they were now, and whether Trump had already ruptured their anuses too. He quivered, and his teeth began to chatter. Then, through slimy, feverish, lips, Little Marco whimpered: "The horror...the horror..."