Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe

Wednesday, 30 November 2005

This entry brought to you without hyphens and a distinct shortage of commas.

Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe is a book by Gene Wolfe in a continuing series of books by Gene Wolfe that I have been reading a lot of Gene Wolfe lately, haven't I? I'm now reading a collection of short stories by Gene Wolfe called The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories.

Free Live Free takes place in what was at the time of publication contemporary Chicago. Four down on their luck soldiers of fortune take up an advertisement on its offer, free living space. The soldiers of fortune include an extremely short and nearsighted unlicensed detective, a door to door joke salesman, a fat prostitute and Madame Serpentina. This book proceeds as a comedy of errors until the last ten pages or so when in typical Gene Wolfe fashion all the tumblers finally fall into place and a little door opens shedding bright light all over the place and making you squint your eyes a little bit because the light is so bright it hurts a little since you've been wandering around in the dark for so long that you forgot you were in the dark.

Ben Free's house is condemned and the four tenants are enlisted to help defend it. They do a pretty good job for a couple of hours, but end up boot to backside and homeless. They sneak their way into a hotel and decide that the now disapparated Ben Free had dropped enough hints to indicate that he had some sort of treasure hidden in the house. The tenants bicker and bitch and eventually decide to go in together find the treasure and split it.

At this point the story intentionally frays into its component parts and you wonder what the hell happened to the plot. At one point all the threads come back together in an illusion of cohesion. Hilariously, all of the main characters and various supporting characters end up committed to Belmont Asylum when all they tried to do was go visit someone there. That part goes on for a while, but is so tongue in cheek and absurd that it doesn't get old. Each person they run in to psychoanalyzes them and finds them irreparably insane even though they aren't. Needless to say they end up taking over the asylum and then escape. Everything frays apart again and they each pursue their own particular heart's desire. They get them, and find out that their heart's are lacking.

I won't spoil the ending.

Link of the day: For all my vegetarian friends and family: Vegetarian Beer List.

Citizen Air Pollution

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

I spent two hours and fif­teen min­utes yes­ter­day lis­ten­ing to Denny Larson talk about air pol­lu­tion and how cit­i­zens can take ac­tion when the gov­ern­ment won’t. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to spend two hours and fif­teen min­utes there, but the de­ferred pay­off and Denny Larson’s love for hear­ing him­self talk [and who wouldn’t en­joy talk­ing with 4 pho­tog­ra­phers and two re­porters present] en­sured that we were stuck there for two hours and fif­teen min­utes. My im­pres­sion might be in­ac­cu­rate though, be­cause, af­ter two hours and fif­teen min­utes, and no ap­par­ent end in sight, I left ear­ly.

The en­tire rea­son I showed up was to learn how to as­sem­ble home-made air pol­lu­tion mon­i­tors, us­ing five gal­lon buck­ets. Similar “buck­et brigades” as they’re called ex­ist else­where and have worked with some suc­cess. Although they aren’t very high-tech, they are rather ex­pen­sive. Denny Larson men­tioned, two hours in­to the meet­ing, af­ter I asked him, that each buck­et costs about $125 dol­lars to make, most­ly be­cause of the pro­fes­sion­al grade valves that are used. Ever since I start­ed sub­mit­ting pol­lu­tion logs to OCA, they’ve been call­ing me about once a week ask­ing me to help more. I agreed to do some buck­et mon­i­tor­ing, but I can’t af­ford to drop $125 dol­lars for a buck­et and pay the lab fees for the pro­cess­ing. Pollution logs will have to do.

I did hear, al­though no proof was of­fered, that the Ohio EPA and the Cuyahoga County Air peo­ple are get­ting paid for do­ing noth­ing, that they have no portable equip­ment, and that the mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions are ei­ther far away from the pol­lu­tion or not mon­i­tor­ing for the right things at the right time. I al­ready knew that the Ohio EPA doesn’t work be­fore 8 or af­ter 5, so that pol­lut­ing dur­ing off hours is ba­si­cal­ly giv­en free rein. I al­so learned that one short-lived ac­ci­dent can pol­lute more than an en­tire year of nor­mal pro­duc­tion. And even though agen­cies in this area are be­ing paid to mon­i­tor en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, they aren’t do­ing their job and folks in Tremont and Slavic Village have to take mat­ters in­to their own hands. If you’ve got an ex­tra $125 lay­ing around, that is.

The fact that it took two hours and some prompt­ing to get to the ac­tu­al meat of the process is what has me so grouchy this morn­ing. Someone should have been mon­i­tor­ing the hot air be­ing emit­ted from Denny Larson. He should have tak­en no more than an hour, in­clud­ing the as­sem­bly of the buck­ets.

Link of the day: Make a Paper Box in five min­utes. Not two hours and fif­teen min­utes. If you’re crafty you can use in­ter­est­ing things print­ed on pa­per to make in­di­vid­u­al­ized box­es to hold the sev­ered body parts of those dear­est to you. Or not.

An Open Letter to Connersville, IN

Saturday, 26 November 2005

I sub­mit­ted this to my old hometown’s news­pa­per, the eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment group, cham­ber of com­merce [the on­line form is bro­ken!] and li­brary [pro­vid­ed email ad­dress does not ex­ist], since I was able to ac­com­plish vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing on­line this week­end. I didn’t send it to the mayor’s of­fice be­cause they on­ly sup­ply a snail mail ad­dress and a phone num­ber. No won­der every­one leaves town.

An Open Letter to Connersville, IN.

Dear old home­town,

I know that un­so­licit­ed ad­vice is sel­dom ap­pre­ci­at­ed, but while I was home for the Thanksgiving hol­i­day I spent a good while try­ing to find a de­cent in­ter­net con­nec­tion some­where in town in or­der to do a bit of telecom­mut­ing. Failing that, I ul­ti­mate­ly de­cid­ed that un­so­licit­ed ad­vice is bet­ter than no ad­vice at all. I cur­rent­ly live in Cleveland, where I can check my email just about any­where in less than two min­utes. In Connersville it takes al­most three-quar­ters of an hour. While Cleveland is sev­er­al or­ders of mag­ni­tude larg­er than Connersville, it comes from a sim­i­lar in­dus­tri­al and man­u­fac­tur­ing back­ground and is go­ing through a sim­i­lar process of re­de­f­i­n­i­tion. So I’m go­ing to steal some plays that are cur­rent­ly work­ing for Cleveland and scale them down to a small town lev­el.

In my mind, the most ef­fec­tive bang for your buck will come through de­vel­op­ing and en­hanc­ing the tech­nol­o­gy of the area. This can be done on an in­di­vid­ual, busi­ness, mu­nic­i­pal and even re­gion­al lev­el. You’ve got broad­band, now go wire­less. The Fayette County Public Library would be the per­fect place to set up a free WiFi net­work; and every town that wants to grow in­to the new tech econ­o­my should have at least one. In a per­fect world an en­tire town would be wired, but a few places here and there is a good start. Free WiFi acts as a cat­a­lyst for net­work­ing and in­for­ma­tion shar­ing.

You’ve got a city web­site, but it is sta­t­ic and ne­glect­ed and, frankly, about a decade be­hind the times. A Connersville wi­ki [fun­ny name, I know] would al­low the com­mu­ni­ty to give de­tailed de­scrip­tions of the area in their own words, and mul­ti­ple users could en­sure that in­for­ma­tion about the area is up­dat­ed quick­ly and ef­fi­cient­ly. Check out the Wikipedia for an ex­cel­lent ap­pli­ca­tion of this tech­nol­o­gy. Start your own weblogs about what­ev­er you find in­ter­est­ing and talk to your chil­dren about this kind of on­line in­ter­ac­tion, they prob­a­bly al­ready use free so­cial net­work­ing and weblog­ging ser­vices like Blogger, MySpace, Friendster, LiveJournal and Upcoming​.org.

A few more quick sug­ges­tions: The News-Examiner puts its con­tent on­line—very good — now make it in­ter­ac­tive: al­low com­ments, free on­line clas­si­fieds like Craigslist, et cetera. Honestly, the News-Examiner web­site is al­ready bet­ter than The Plain Dealer’s site in Cleveland. There should be a Connersville-spe­cif­ic bul­letin board for events and ac­tiv­i­ties and a com­put­er club at the high school or formed lo­cal­ly that holds com­mu­ni­ty train­ing ses­sions and sets-up web­sites and wire­less net­works for lo­cal busi­ness­es.

What are the up­shots of all this grass­roots ef­fort? There are far too many to list, but some of the most vis­i­ble and im­por­tant ones in­clude in­creased com­mu­ni­ca­tion among com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and a mod­ern and tech-smart busi­ness im­age that will seem much more at­trac­tive to pos­si­ble new eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment. IT com­pa­nies or new me­dia busi­ness­es that would be amenable to small town and ex­ur­ban lifestyles aren’t go­ing to look at Connersville un­less the web pres­ence is there. You’re sit­u­at­ed to tap in­to mar­kets in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and even Dayton. Distance isn’t re­al­ly mea­sured in miles so much as megabytes these days. That’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll see you in cy­ber­space.

Yours Truly,
Adam Harvey

I Found Your Pink Thong

Monday, 21 November 2005

I post­ed this at Craigslist:

I was at the Tremont Laundromat, which in­ci­den­tal­ly, didn’t have raw sewage flood­ing out the front door to­day, and af­ter I brought my clothes back to my apart­ment I found it. Yes, it. At first I thought I’d in­her­it­ed a raggedy piece of pink dry­er lint, but up­on clos­er in­spec­tion I dis­cov­ered that it was, in fact, your thong. Not just any thong, though. Your thong. This one is al­so, ap­par­ent­ly, made of cheese­cloth. The lit­tle bits of fab­ric that ap­prox­i­mate cov­er­ing are on­ly dis­tin­guish­able by be­ing slight­ly wider than the ac­tu­al thong, and a less­er shade of pink. Also, com­plete­ly sheer.

Wearing see-through un­der­wear [if one could be said to ac­tu­al­ly “wear” this item, and if a thong counts as “un­der­wear”] is some­thing of a co­nun­drum. Roland Barthes’s es­say Strip-tease may of­fer some in­sight in­to the para­dox­i­cal na­ture of cov­er­ing that is, in fact, not cov­er­ing; but I think it is rather ob­vi­ous that this thong serves as lit­tle more than gar­nish for a care­ful­ly or­ches­trat­ed rap­proche­ment be­tween var­i­ous and sundry gen­i­talia.

Stealing a page from Duchamp, I have tak­en to wear­ing your thong on my head, with the lit­tle tri­an­gle doohicky act­ing as a nose-guard. Thankfully this un­der­gar­ment had been washed be­fore I at­tempt­ed this ex­per­i­ment. As a nose-warmer, the thong lacks a cer­tain ef­fi­ca­cy that I can on­ly at­tribute to its screen-door like con­sis­ten­cy.

Currently, your thong is pinned to my bul­letin board, be­tween a pic­ture of my first dog and a po­lit­i­cal fly­er from the Ward 13 Councilman.

In any case, Miss, if you would like me to fa­cil­i­tate the re­turn of this sex­u­al­ly charged un­der­gar­ment you may send me an email and I am sure that an agree­ment can be reached.

There Are Doors by Gene Wolfe

Saturday, 19 November 2005

There Are Doors is Gene Wolfe's version of the ancient Indo-European legend of the Goddess/Queen of the Wood and the Horned King. Of all the various versions I've read of this story, Wolfe's definitely has the most interesting and nuanced portrayal of the these figures. In this iteration the relationship between The Wood and The World is described in several different ways, as reflection, frequency, and perhaps most strongly as Sea and Land. Mr. Green [Horned King] is in search of Lara/Lora/Marcella/Tina [The Goddess] through both worlds. Once a person from The Wood has met a person from The World, doors take on a special significance and act as portals between the two areas. I'm used to reading about the Goddess as a cold-hearted and puissant woman who is mourning the loss of her lover, usually without explaining why is this way. Wolfe adds substance to her distant nature by making her the only immortal in either world, and by adding a twist that every man from The Wood who has sex dies immediately after, like drones in a bee colony. When the Queen seeks love she has to go to The World, but also has to leave her lover afterward. So her coldness is a way for her to protect herself from the pain, As she takes other lovers, each of the previous ones becomes a bit sardonically a cuckolded version of the Horned King. We find that she does indeed love all of her Kings, and ones that are persistent enough to pursue her and catch her are allowed to serve her. The service isn't subservience, but an expression of love.

Gene Wolfe is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. His books move slowly and appear to jump around until suddenly the pieces fall into place and run smoothly and rapidly to a conclusion. His greatest strength seems to be his ability to lace a story with enough ambiguity that uncertainty never really leaves you until the last page, if then. Mr. Green is in and out of mental hospitals throughout the novel, so we're not sure if the world through his eyes is true or not. The type of storytelling isn't like Peace, but the doubt is ever present. I'm starting to round up anything I can find by him.