Monday, May 22, 2017

Voice of A Generation

I read Douglas Coupland’s “Generation X” back in the mid-1990s, when I was a disaffected college student studying journalism and English and wishing I was done with school.

I was also listening to a new band, introduced to me in the wilds of Idaho by a brother who was living the life of a sophisticate in Phoenix: They Might Be Giants.

I remember being told Coupland was the voice of my Generation X. And I recall, while reading his book, that maybe he was. Or maybe he wasn’t. I was younger and more callow than his protagonists, anxious to get out into the world and make my mark in the exciting field of newspaper journalism.

I remember listening to TMBG – their album Flood was one of the first albums I ever bought with my own money – and thinking, hey, these are funny songs. Or at least I should call them funny so I can be as sophisticated as my brother in Phoenix.

Nowadays, I can claim to have read Coupland’s “Generation X”.

Nowadays, I still listen to TMBG.

Slate writer Laura Miller, in her review of Coupland’s “Bit Rot,” laments the fall of Coupland as the Voice of A Generation.

I think she ought to pull her old TMBG albums out of mothballs and consider she’s overlooked the real VOAG all along.
What qualifies them as VOAG in my book? Well, this song for a start:

The song captures the pre-Internet narcissism that’s now bubbled over into the full-blown Me-Fest that represents the Internet and, to many extremes, my generation and those that have come after it. That I have a platform at all to flap my gums about whether TMBG is the true voice of Generation X is evidence that the Internet Me-Fest is the defining element of my generation.  (And remember, it’s not important that anyone actually listen to what I have to say, but that I say it in a public forum. Because truly I should be allowed to blurt there merest idea if by random whim one occurs to me. And here it is. And there it goes. Because in a day or two, Generation X-like, I’ll have forgotten what I’ve written here unless I encounter it again in a year or two when Facebook reminds me I’ve written it.

Meanwhile, I’m in my veal-fattening pen but absent the bleeding hippie boss. (My current boss is also Generation X; I have failed to climb the corporate ladder but as my corporate ambitions can be summed up in one Dilbert comic, I’m not all that bothered by it.)

But one song, I can hear you asking – does one song define VOAG? Well, they let one book define it for Douglas Coupland, but I have more evidence.

I could point to Flood, TMBG’s most popular album, but then I’d have to discuss my hatred for “Your Racist Friend,” which while politically motivated, is absolutely unsingable unless you’re really in the mood for a whiny, whiny, WHINY song. My hatred of the song probably implies to many of my generation, and those that follow, that I am the racist friend being sung about. That assumption is false. Be honest with yourself, the song is terrible.

So I’ll move on to their better album, Apollo 18.

More specifically, this song:

In a spare 74 seconds, TMBG captures the feeling of gleeful angst Generation X is known for. Note it doesn’t describe what the angst feels like, nor its point of origin. It’s angst for angst’s sake, which is the hallmark of this generation. That overseas guy thinks he can describe it, but overseas is how it really feels.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

No one, the old saw goes, reports on the planes that land without mishap.

But the crashes. Oh, the crashes.

And we are plane crash-watchers.

It’s easy to blame social media, particularly when it offers us, almost weekly, live feeds and play-by-plays of others in disintegration. But social media is just the latest manifestation of something that’s been going on likely since cuneiform, hieroglyphics, and cave paintings.

And I can’t click my tongue at the crash-watchers, because Iread the feeds and play-by-plays. I probably would not watch a video. Probably. Because video puts it too close. Snide texts, posts, or tweets where the event is interpreted rather than presented raw, removes us enough from caring about either side to help the drama enter the realm of entertainment.

And watching one? A Tony Bennett song, to be sure. More evidence we’ve been doing this long before social media.

Fortunately, there is plenty of evidence out there of healthy relationships. Or at least relationships where spouses are talking through difficulties and working things out. And even getting caught being happy together. There are songs that go along with those too.

Romanticism and Verisimilitude

As always with Farley Mowat, you have to wonder where the verity and the verisimilitude intersect.

Nevertheless, his novel “Grey Seas Under” is a wonderful tale, where all the storms are the worst the North Atlantic has ever seen, where all the heroes are Newfoundlanders (unless they’re killing whales, of course) and the future is best regarded by a person wearing a kilt and standing with his back to the future while clasping his hands over his ears and yelling “Nananananananana!” at the top of his lungs.

I admit I tire of the “it’s new=better” mantra the world slips into, but Mowat’s writing in many ways reminds me of the philosophy professor I had at the University of Idaho who turned the university’s motto “Where Tradition Meets the Future” into something else when he added “and Beats it Into Submission” to the end of it.

But back to Grey Seas Under. A whale of a tale, if you like tales of the sea, which I do. I read Mowat’s “The Serpent’s Coil” many years ago and was thus delighted when I found this book at the thrift store.

It is a good tale of heroism, though there’s less of the human element in Grey Seas Under than there is in The Serpent’s Coil – and maybe that’s just faulty memory at work. This book feels, however, more like an allegorical tale of a battle between sea and ship, while The Serpent’s Coil wraps that around the stories of the men who sailed in the ship as well. There’s some of that in Grey Seas Under, but less than the other. So if you want humanity, go with the latter.

Still, Mowat knows how to turn a phrase. Behold (and, also, spoilers!):

That tale ended in the wind-swept dawn of February 5. It ended when there came a message from the signal station at Chebucto Head – a message that brought Featherstone out of his bed, and sent him racing through the icy streets toward the company wharf.

In the first bleak light of day he stood with a dozen others on the Foundation dock and watched with unbelieving eyes the slow, infinitely painful progress of a strange a phantom as ever fumbled its way into Halifax harbor.

She came in under quarter power, which was all that she had left within her. She was so heavily encased in ice that she would not have been recognizable to any man who had not known her well. She was listing 12 degrees to port, and she was so far down by the head that those who watched her held their breaths for fear that she would plunge back into the hungry seas from which she appeared to have risen, wraithlike, in the winter dawn.

The watchers on the dock needed have had no fear that she would fail to reach her old familiar berth. It was the grey seas under and the white winds above who had failed, in this their last attempt to take her to themselves.

The Franklin had come home from her last voyage.

And this is where Mowat succeeds where few can these days – he’s such a romantic.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Afraid of Nixon? Wait for Jaworski.


It’s a popular adjective these days.

Many of the talking heads I’m listening to and many of the schooled and amateur commenters are missing the point, however, when they spew the Nixonian epithet in the wake of President Donald Trump firing FBI Director James Comey over what I’m not exactly sure:

The redress to Nixonianism is Jaworskianism.

Remember your history: Richard Nixon wanted Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox fired for daring to subpoena recordings of Nixon’s conversations with his staff. Attorney General Elliot Richardson refused to fire Cox and resigned – followed by Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus refusal and resignation, the new Attorney General, Robert Bork (who, later would see his own last name used to coin a popular political phrase) fired Cox. Classic Saturday Night Massacre.

Jaworski came in as the second special prosecutor in the growing Watergate scandal, and contrary to fears (even those expressed by Bork) Jaworski didn’t toe any line except that of justice.

Jaworski immediately subpoenaed the same tapes Cox wanted to listen to, and the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, saying the “generalized assertion of [executive] privilege must yield to the demonstrated, specific need for evidence in a pending criminal trial.”

Nixon, I suppose, could have fired Jaworski, and kept on firing attorneys general until he found on who would not subpoena the tapes, but not even Nixon is that Nixonian.

What I’m driving at is this: The truth will out, no matter what presidents may or may not do. We’ve seen sufficient checks and balances in our government since January 20, and we will continue to see them. I suppose I’m one of the na├»ve few who still believes government functions as the Founders intended, even if that functionality is as creaky and slow as it is. In hindsight, it’s also important to remember that the Nixonian epithet didn’t develop overnight, nor did the white hats triumph over the black hats immediately. It took time.  Have faith that government will work, albeit not at the pace you might expect.

As for that investigation, I have my doubts (amateurish as they may be) that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and/or Russian hackers (I don’t dispute the hacking and disinformation campaign took place). The Democrats were going to be split between Clinton and Sanders with or without Russian hacking or disinformation, and the rise of Trump can only be explained by the rise of Trump. Until any investigation can prove collusion that led to victory (despite, remember, Clinton winning the popular vote) I have to question whether the Russian Connection is merely the Democrats’ Benghazi.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Training Kicks In

As I read these articles and watched The Tri-City Herald’s video on this event at the Hanford Site in Washington State, my emergency response training kicked in.

But before I continue, a few provisos:

  1.  I’m speaking here as a private citizen who knows next to nothing about what’s going on currently at Hanford.
  2. I’m speaking here as a private citizen, not as a representative of Fluor Idaho LLC, my employer.
The news stories I’ve read have all the tells of a notification specialist and an information center doing their jobs. They’re offering basic information on the incident and their reaction to it, but nothing more. This is not out of secrecy, but out of a plan to study the event and decide how to react to it, react to it, and then offer information. There is no speculation.

What I fear is that this incident – no matter what comes of it – will add to the fear of nuclear power, though this is clearly related to the leftovers of nuclear weapons production. One does not equate the other, though the science is similar.

Also of concern is the increased hand-wringing this event might bring up over waste storage and removal at The Department of Energy’s legacy sites. We’ve already seen such handwringing  delay fuel research at the Idaho National Laboratory because of missed cleanup deadlines here.

So far, the media reactions have been pretty muted. Waiting for a talking head to flip, however.

Not that the place is the cleanest in the world.

How do I feel about the place I work?

INL and the ICP have taken their bruises, rightfully so. However, I feel safe here.
And I wonder what Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, currently visiting us in Idaho, is thinking of his job now there’s an emergency on his hands.