The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Readings for October 2016

Something . . . unexpected happened with my reading in October. It all started in Disneyland. We had just finished riding Star Tours and landed in the gift shop. I saw there were some Star Wars comic books there, so I took a look.

One or two caught my eye. I had some pocket money, so I picked up a one-off issue for C-3P0. I read it back at the hotel and was surprised how much I had liked it. In my other recent forays into comics, I had not really thought the experience was worth the money. But for some reason this time, I thought it was pretty great. The story was decent, and the art was engaging.

So two days later, finding myself again in the same gift shop, I picked up another comic, in the Poe Dameron series. I read it and enjoyed it too.

Back home, I took a big step in nerdiness - I visited my local comic book shop. I nervously asked the attendant for some recommendations - and didn't really like any of them. And here I discovered my previous trouble with comic books: I don't really like superheroes. But I found I did like other stuff, like Star Wars, Back to the Future, and a realist drama Briggs Land.

So I tried a few things. And then came back and got some more. Then I started looking at the library for trade paperbacks. And things got out a hand a bit, and I did not complete anything else other than comics in October.

I have kept up the hobby a bit, but it doesn't have the same intensity (surprising nobody since I am pretty fickle in my hobbies). Whether or not I continue on, it was fun for this month at least.

Comics

  • C-3P0
  • Poe Dameron #4
  • Poe Dameron #5
  • Poe Dameron #6
  • Poe Dameron #7
  • Back to the Future: Citizen Brown #1
  • Back to the Future: Citizen Brown #2
  • Briggs Land #1
  • Briggs Land #2
  • Briggs Land #3
  • Neil Young's Greendale by Josh Dysart and Cliff Chiang

Trump as Tragedy, Clinton as Farce

In December of 2015 I made the following quip:

The above applies all the more since we have Donald Trump instead of Jeb Bush!

Cynics like myself ought to admit that we experience a bit of glee when our expectations are fulfilled. And oh how they have been fulfilled! Trump v. Clinton is truly a ludicrous contest for choosing leadership for the United States of America. What's more, they are almost meant for each other, because neither would be competitive against a different opponent. A neo-Shakespeare in coming centuries is destined to dramatize this affair.

I will now provide my own account, dear reader, not with the subtle rhythm of a bard, but with my own meager faculties, because I feel the need to summarize my thoughts on this matter. And hopefully through summary comes serenity.

Prologue: Concerning Character

Much of my prior reflection on presidential politics has centered on the policies of candidates, and not on their character. I suppose this is a side-effect of the times in which I have come of age. After four terms of the Presidency being free from the blight of personal scandal, we Americans thought perhaps we had moved on from those historical messes. But alas, here we are, with "temperament" and "character" and "trustworthiness" taking a prominent place in the campaign.

I will not comment on the character of the candidates below, but will leave this observation: the hypocrisy of the partisan system with respect to sex scandals has been laid bare by scandalous videos and accusations against Trump. Everything the Republicans said to attack Bill Clinton the Democrats have charged against Trump. Every defense offered by Democrats has been issued by Republicans.

I do think character matters, but that's not the context of this reflection.

Trump as Tragedy

Donald J. Trump is something like a dream deferred for political reformists and radicals. He is a candidate from outside the political class who holds ideas which are genuinely contrary to the status quo. Trump even goes so far as to break with the bi-partisan consensus on global trade and foreign policy.

(I happen to agree with relatively little of Trump's proposals - prominent exceptions being his seeking to reform global trade and his criticism of the Iraq War. Nonetheless his ideas are important because they differ from bi-partisan consensus.)

This of course has drawn the ire of the elite (yes, there really are an "elite") who have targeted Trump this past year with an unprecedented barrage of Op-Eds and cross-party support. Yet in spite of his distinct lack of newspaper endorsements Trump's candidacy remains alive. Being criticized by the right people has done much to bolster his campaign.

Facing a genuine threat to established political order backed by a growing popular movement, one would expect the leaders of both parties and the media to make every effort to discredit and disqualify Trump before he has a chance to gain power. That they did, but the ammo was fully supplied by Trump himself, and in abounding quantities.

I will not rehearse the whole infamous list of his outrageous statements here, but suffice it to say that Trump is a wicked man who is running on a platform which appeals to the worst aspects of our political natures. It is fair to say in some cases that his words and actions have been unfairly portrayed by his opponents. But the preponderance of evidence is clear: he really is not the type of person whom you want leading our great republic.

Now imagine someone who espoused Trump's contrarian policy ideas but had a personality like John Kasich. I doubt that candidate would even make the "main" GOP primary debate stage, and instead be relegated to the "under-card" debate. In other words our political environment seems to only reward reformist policy with attention in exchange for Trump-like behavior. Not only does he want a radical halt to immigration, but he says that many immigrants are rapists. Not only does he say the Iraq war was a mistake, but he adds that the U.S. should plunder their natural resources. Not only does he argue for a constructive relationship with Russia in the middle east, but he praises the autocratic Vladimir Putin.

The establishment really received a boon. They were tasked with de-legitimizing the fringe candidate, but Trump mostly take care of the job himself. When it comes to protecting the insular status quo from new ideas, you could hardly script a better defense: "novel is crazy." However we may find that in 2016, the year of Brexit, voters do not care to listen to the intellectual wings of the political parties. In other words, Trump might win in spite of himself, or perhaps to spite the elites.

My primary concern with Trump is not the scandals but his avowed desire to be the strong-man. As he said in his nomination acceptance speech at the convention:

I alone can fix this.

This is obviously outside of the spirit of American republicanism. Let us contemplate for a moment how Republicans mocked the young Democrats who put near-salvific hope in Obama. Let the GOP recall that it is the party which had decried the expansion of the power of the Executive Branch to interfere in all areas of life. For there is no way for the leader to fix everything but by the erosion of local control.

Trump is casting himself as the autocrat and the hero. He is already making threats to use the power of the office of the President to settle personal scores and punish his rivals. He unashamedly calls for unspeakable conduct in war. He should not be our President.

Clinton as Farce

Hillary Clinton's nomination as the Democratic candidate for the presidency has been fore-ordained since her loss to Obama in 2008. She is the chosen one. As private correspondence (which was stolen and made public) has shown, she was the preferred choice of the Democratic National Committee, which it was assumed should be neutral until the nomination was complete. Clinton's lock was so secure that only a no-name and a radical even bothered challenging her in the primaries.

It should have been a fairly clear warning sign that the Democrats had decided on a damaged candidate when a self-described socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union gave her a run for her money in a long and close primary race. Were the party elites really so blind to her weaknesses as a candidate? Or did they have a fatalistic commitment that she had to be nominated no matter what?

Hillary Clinton was already one of the least liked and least trusted politicians in the country. She was a carpetbagger. She voted for the Iraq War. She favored bombing Libya. She was paid ludicrous sums of money to regale bankers with her lackluster public speaking skills - what only the most naive would deny was a bribe. She had the liability of donations to their family foundation from questionable sources. She had the private email server. It was shown via leaks that her campaign thought of the press as a wing of their campaign communications team. And so on, and so on.

Of all the Democratic politicians in this country, it had to be her? It's farcical.

I personally do not find any one of those scandals extraordinary per se. I would not be caught chanting "lock her up!" Still, Clinton has managed to accumulate a rather impressive stable of scandals. But the central issue I have with her candidacy is not about her scandals, but about her relationships:

It is not appropriate for the close relation of a President to subsequently become President.

Republicans are loathe to bring up this criticism for the obvious reason of their recent electoral victory of a President's son. This has happened in the past, and the United States has survived it. However I would venture that when we were looking at the possibility of choosing between either the wife of an ex-President, or the man looking to be the third president in his nuclear family, the danger is getting acute. This nation is a republic, and political power is not supposed to be preserved in a family as in a monarchy, nor shared among a few as in an oligarchy.

Hillary Clinton is well-qualified but damaged goods. Her identity rather than her strength as a candidate was the primary criterion in her nomination. It is best to avoid the consolidation of power in a few families, therefore Hillary Clinton should not be the President.

Conclusion

Our free and mostly-fair nominating processes produced two really bad candidates. How does that work out for your democratic ideology?

I left the U.S. President portion of my ballot blank. I felt like the best way to deal with that question was to not dignify it with a response. Others may prefer to vote third-party or vote for a registered write-in candidate. Those are all great options.

The point is: if you think this situation is ridiculous, make it known with your vote (or lack thereof). But don't settle for just voting. Discuss it with your friends and family too. We are going to have to get over some social discomfort if we want to escape this ridiculous partisan circumstance.

If I am being honest, I would prefer Hillary Clinton to win. The simple reason is this: Assuming the worst on both sides, I believe that our republic is better able to cope with a corrupt politician than with a nationalist autocrat.

We'll see what happens. I am not too worried. More than likely in either case the winner will not be as bad as opponents claimed. But even in a worst-case scenario, people do not have to lay down and let terrible things happen.

Readings for September 2016

In which I read a stage play.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorn, and John Tiffany

There seems to have been a bit of marketing confusion for this book which must be cleared up right away - this is a script for a stage play. It contains stage directions and dialogue. Many people I spoke to thought this was a novel. It is indeed "the eighth Harry Potter" story, but it is a play. I have not seen the play, only read the script.

The verdict is: it's not bad. I worried that after the magic of the initial Harry Potter sequence nothing will measure up. See the Star Wars prequels for an example of this. Luckily the story starts with a very compelling premise: it is rumored that Voldemort left behind a child, and the paranoia introduced by this produces some great drama.

Somewhat unfortunately, a lot of the plot is driven by time travel. That was used with decent effect in the third Harry Potter novel. But as so often happens with time travel, the plot gets burdened with the weight of its pure plottiness, and many, many distractions are introduced to the reader in the form of continuity questions. These didn't ruin it for me, but it did cause me to question whether the conclusions of the story really ring true.

One thing I can say is I really would like to see this production live one day. The stage craft implied by the stage directions is really amazing, and I'd love to see how they pull everything off. I am sure it will go on tour someday, but it may be a decade before it comes to Portland.

If you are a Potter maniac I'll recommend it. Though if that is the case you've likely already read it.

Periodicals

  • Harper's August 2016
  • Harper's September 2016
  • Harper's October 2016

Whew, all caught up!

Readings for August 2016

Summer reading, in force!

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

I'll begin by giving the Recommended tag. Stardust is a delightful little tale which shows Gaiman at his best. I may even read this one again one day.

It is always pleasant when as I reader I wonder to myself, "how did the author come up with this?" Novelty, not in a jarring sense, but in a way which works within the terms of the story, is what I love about this tale. Like all good modern fairy tales, it reacts to and plays off of common tropes, but enhances them with a twist.

Do yourself a favor, read Stardust.

My Struggle: Book 5 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Zadie Smith is quoted as saying:

KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD. MY STRUGGLE. It's unbelievable. I just read 200 pages of it and I need the next volume like crack.

I'm in the same boat, Zadie. And I got my fix this month, as the fifth volume of Knausgaard's My Struggle has arrived in English hardcover. As has become my custom I bought it immediately on discovering its availability, abandoned what I had been reading heretofore been reading, and devoured it.

Book 5 is worth it - I think it is my favorite since Book 1. Books 3 and 4 had gotten into a more pure narrative recollection of Knausgaard's childhood. While this was interesting reading, it lacked the interludes and flash-forwards of the first two volumes which I loved so much. This book launches the young author's writing career and fills in the history of his young adult life, which had been covered obliquely in the prior works. There's a number of "a ha!" moments and moments which add richer detail to already-covered anecdotes.

Then there is a fairly significant story near the end which I'll not spoil. It adds some poignancy to the author's departure from Bergen and the dissolution of his first marriage. It was heavy, and emotional for me as a reader. All of this makes good writing.

Heartily recommended, and I can't wait for the final volume!

The Telling by Ursula K. LeGuin

LeGuin: she's so great she can make you love the "anthropologists in space" premise. The Telling relates the tale of an outsider - Sutty from earth - who comes to the planet Aka to observe and catalog the practices of the locals. While she was in her long interstellar flight the planet had a cultural revolution, so much of what she came expecting to find has been forced underground.

Our heroine finds her way out of the officially-sanctioned, government approved activities to visit people in the back country who still practice their ancient cultural traditions undercover. This centers on "The Telling", which is some part wisdom tradition and perhaps another part religion, but it eludes Sutty's attempts at definition. The search for truth leads her deep into the mountains, but also enlists her hosts in danger of reprisal from the central government. It's a pretty good yarn.

LeGuin deploys a trick that I love which works so well in the context of this novel. In a secret meeting place Sutty is experiencing a ritual when she observes something impossible, something supernatural. Yet nobody else truly acknowledges it, and she is left wondering if it was not some trick of perception in the poorly-lit room. This episode is left mostly unresolved for the reader, so you are left to ponder just what the nature of "The Telling" is. Recommended.

Periodicals

  • Harper's July 2016

Separate php-fpm pools for great victory

Let's say you use a pretty standard Nginx/PHp-fpm/Linux/Mariadb ("nephilim"?) stack for hosting web applications. On most distributions you'll have a single php-fpm pool which spawns workers to execute tasks handed to it by the web server, either via a POSIX or TCP socket. That's great for simplicity's sake.

But what if you have some web-app you want to run but don't really trust. HINT: You shouldn't really trust any internet facing application. If there's a remote code execution flaw in the code for webapp foo, an attacker then assumes the security persona of the entire php-fpm pool, including access to other applications' memory, file-system space, and databases. Yikes!

Nothing in the below is particularly novel, but it may be useful nonetheless. There's also the container approach to solving this, which is probably more secure overall, but is not available to everyone. The context of the examples below is running GNU Social on Centos 7. (On Centos 7, nginx runs as the "nginx" user, and php-fpm runs by default as the "apache" user, the same as httpd normally runs as).

Separate Databases

Each application should have its own database with its own unique username and password. I think most people know this, but stating it here for good measure.

Separate User

Each web application should have its own local unprivileged user account. If that account never needs a shell environment, it is best to not give it a login shell either. GNU Social requires a shell to run its queue daemon scripts, so here is how I did it:

useradd -m -s /bin/bash social

Assuming you have "PermitEmptyPasswords no" in your sshd_config, you don't have to set a password. Otherwise set a very strong one. It'll never be used under normal operations.

A note specific to GNU Social: the queue daemons should run as this user as well. We're in a systemd world now on Linux, so see an example of a unit file for queue daemons. You'll want to set the user to set:

User=social
Group=social

Separate File-system Path

Take note of the group your webserver (nginx in my example) runs as. In Centos it is "nginx", in Debian derivatives it appears to be "www-data".

You've extracted your web application's files into /var/www/social.example.com/ . You'll want to lock this down so that only the application pool user and the webserver can have access:

chown -R social:nginx /var/www/social.example.com/
chmod -R o-rwx /var/www/social.example.com/
# Also follow GNU Social's install instructions for setting
# write permissions on avatar/ file/, and the base directory so
# config.php can be written by the installer

This way the web server can read the application's root contents (e.g. php scripts and static files), and the php-fpm pool for your application will have write access (for writing the configuration at install time and uploading files). Other users should have no access to this location (go ahead, test it).

When you create a separate php-fpm pool below, you'll need to provide a session and cache path which are writable by the social user:

mkdir -p /var/lib/social/{cache,session}
chown root:social /var/lib/social/{cache,session}
chmod 770 /var/lib/social/{cache,session}

Separate php-fpm pools

Pools for php-fpm.d are typically found in /etc/php-fpm.d/. Your mileage may vary based on distribution, etc. Take a look at the default pool to see how it is configured.

Depending on the resources of your system, you may want to reduce the value of pm.max_children (and relate settings) to make room for your new pool. This can be tuned depending on the relative resource demands of your pools.

Now copy the default pool to a new file in the same directory called social.conf and edit it. Below are the required edits:

  1. Give the pool a unique socket, either a different path for a POSIX socket, or a different port number for a TCP sockets. Assuming everything is on a single server, I recommend the POSIX socket, e.g. "listen = /var/run/php-fpm-social.sock"
  2. Set "user = social"
  3. Set "group = social"
  4. Set "php_value[session.save_path] = /var/lib/social/session"
  5. Set "php_value[wsdl_cache_dir] = /var/lib/social/cache"

Configure your nginx configuration file for the site to use the unique socket listed above:

fastcgi_pass unix:/var/run/php-fpm-social.sock;

Now you are ready to restart php-fpm and nginx and your queue daemons. If you run the following, you should see some php-fpm workers running as social:

ps aux | grep php-fpm

If there is trouble, there are a few places you'll want to look:

  • nginx error log
  • nginx access log
  • php-fpm error.log
  • php-fpm www-error.log

Assuming that worked, you've got a separate, more-secure install of GNU Social. I did the foolish thing and changed the configuration after installing the site. I don't recommend it, unless you want an exercise in rapid troubleshooting. ;-)

Published:
Category: ktl Tags: technology

Voting is the Act of an American

Erick Erickson this evening published a series of messages summarizing his stance on why voting for Donald Trump as the lesser of two evil is by no means compulsory for Christians. I must admit that in the past my previous conception of Erickson was more or less as a partisan hack. However in this election cycle he has been an unwavering pillar in the Never Trump movement. This has gained my attention. The below excerpt has earned my respect.

When I was working out my thoughts on non-voting in 2008, the idea seemed beyond the pale to many of my acquaintances. In 2016, given the preposterous choice set before the American public, non-voting is becoming more and more attractive to the general public. In particular it appeals to those conservative Christians who once felt comfortably at home in the GOP but now are alienated by the strongman who won that party's nomination.

Erickson is right in that pocket. In another message he cites his seminary education in the recent years has forced him to rank politics and religion, and we can see from the above which one came out on top.

Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton is a crisis for our republic, but a useful one. There have been many times throughout history when the faithful have worried about a friendly political status quo giving way. And yet the church persists. This is of course not to say that such epochal changes are without undesirable consequences. But part of the vocation of Christianity is courage.

Readings for July 2016

In which I go obscure and mainstream.

Advances in the Study of Greek by Constantine Campbell

I don't believe I had read any new Greek books after grad school until now. Seeing as I had a bit of a gap, Constantine Campbell's Advances in the Study of Greek seemed like a perfect way to catch up. The scope of its advances are mostly in the time-frame after I last did academic study, so it really was quite helpful.

The book is organized into various fields of Greek, with a survey of the various subjects of recent inquiry and a summary of the various positions where there is controversy. There is not too much wading into the weeds, except in the case of aspect - which I think can be forgiven given the author's stake in that subject.

It felt good to read up on recent topics and realize that I haven't gotten so far behind in spite of being about three years behind in reading JBL. Recommended for everyone who wants to stay abreast of Greek scholarship.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

The unexpected release of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman created a lot of media buzz and was a smashing success. I randomly encountered a pile of five of these in the stacks of my local public library after the frenzy had died down, so I decided to snag one. After all, I should try to read mainstream literature from time to time, right?

What was this novel's relationship to the To Kill a Mockingbird, that cornerstone of the American literary canon? It is set in the same universe as it were, with the same characters in the same town, only later. It was marketed, implicitly at least, as a "sequel", though Watchman was written first. However there happen to be a couple continuity issues, as my wife noticed in a back-to-back reading of the two. The other thing she noted is that a few passages are lifted verbatim, which serves as evidence of an emerging consensus: it was a first "draft" which was later reworked into Mockingbird.

"First draft" seems like a bit of a stretch, because that implies that Watchman became Mockingbird through revision and editing, which is absurd given that the finished products are distinct enough that one can be claimed to be the sequel of the other. But Watchman was definitely the precursor, though initially rejected.

One wonders about the wisdom of publishing works which were rejected or abandoned. My most memorable encounter with this practice was with Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes, which was discovered and published posthumously. That novel, while an amusing diversion from Crichton's normal genre, was a half-baked mess. Crichton probably left it in the drawer for a reason, and in my opinion his literary estate stained his legacy a bit by releasing it.

I don't think Watchman fits into that mold precisely. However it is true that the structure is not traditional for a novel. It is basically a series of a few recollections from Scout's past, accompanied by relatively few scenes of dialog and soliloquy. The recollections are, by the way, quite enjoyable, especially Scot and a friend playing "church revival."

Finally there is the matter of the "controversial" reveal of Atticus Finch being a segregationist in late life. I happen to not find anything controversial about good character development. I was somewhat disquieted by Scout's reaction to the bigoted reality of her hometown.

I will not recommend this one. If you'd like a good read, proceed to To Kill a Mockingbird.

Readings for May 2016

I continue to invest time in Gravity's Rainbow but have nothing yet to show for it.

Periodicals

  • Harper's April 2016
  • Harper's May 2016
Published:
Category: books Tags: readings

Walking the thin red line in Syria

More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.

Yes, there's nothing like military strikes to help preserve a cease-fire...

I agree with the fifty-one U.S. State Department bureaucrats that US policy in Syria is not productive. The Obama administration calling for the ouster of Assad but taking no military action to back that up makes me speculate that they fear the consequences of the government falling. Based on recent misadventures in Iraq and Libya they should, mightily. However the U.S. has intervened by arming certain rebel groups, by brokering a chemical weapons deal with Russia, and by launching airstrikes against ISIS.

The aforementioned dissent memo in the State Department of course invokes ISIS in its justification - namely that to defeat the proto-state the civil war must first be resolved. I happen to agree with that point. Once there is a clear winner among the "legitimate" belligerents, the world will unite (or at least stop interfering) with the winning party to defeat ISIS. However the Obama administration's reluctance to use decisive force makes me wonder if they suspect that the rebels, having triumphed over Assad with U.S. help, would nonetheless be unable to effectively rule the country and defeat ISIS.

So here we stand in a great policy blunder: the U.S. officially opposes Assad thanks to old rivalries and a careless remark on the campaign trail, but President Obama's temperance won't allow the U.S. to double down. I appreciate his instinct to keep the U.S. out of a quagmire. I also mourn for the people of Syria who must endure this prolonged conflict.

"First as tragedy, then as farce", but now we're on to the third or fourth iteration.

Readings for April 2016

Novel streak!

The Land Across by Gene Wolfe

I happened across a positive review of Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun and decided to check it out. As it happened my local library branch did not have that particular work, but did have some more recent of his novels. I was honestly unsure what to choose, so after some jacket perusal I went with The Land Across. It is the surreal story of a travel writer stranded in a generic eastern European nation. Grafton suffers successive misadventures at the hands of the bureaucracy and the occult. Let the reader decide which threat is more dire.

Now I'm not one to put much stock in review blurbs. However, Gene Wolfe has the amazing distinction of being called the sci-fi/fantasy community's Melville by Ursula K. LeGuin. I was sold.

The Land Across is one of those novels where I have a particular issue: I really enjoy my reading experience, but I progress slowly. In this case I dragged through and eventually took a break to read My Struggle Book Four. Then I picked Wolfe up again and finished it. I love Wolfe's voice and I love the tone of this book. But for some reason I was not compelled to turn pages. Gass is another author with whom I had this struggle, but later enjoyed tremendously. So I'll try another by Wolfe, maybe the original recommendation.

Assumption by Percival Everett

After Glyph I went directly back to the Percival Everett well. Assumption is comprised of three novellas centered on the same small town policy deputy in the U.S. Southwest. Now I'll give this note in hopes it'll save another reader the confusion I suffered: Assumption is three discrete stories, not three acts in the same arc. I was confused in reading because I was looking for a link from the first story in the second before I more-carefully read the back cover description.

Do you like detective stories? Do you like deconstructing detective story tropes? Check it out. I really enjoyed it. Recommended.

Periodicals

  • Harper's March 2016

Readings for March 2016

I have gotten into a streak of reading novels, which is nice.

Glyph by Percival Everett

Everett is one of the authors I had on my "to try" list, so I grabbed a Glyph, a slim, fairly-recently published work. It is the farcical story of a an infant prodigy who doesn't deign to talk, but writes with a skill both startling and amazing to the adults in his world. Needless to say this draws interest from a number of fronts, and before long we're treated to the literary version of a baby outsmarting his kidnappers, a la the "Baby's Day Out" film. But it's better than that, of course. Really Everett draws together themes of childhood, race, and parental love to provide a rich subtext for the zany antics.

I'll recommend it, especially for its brevity, as an easy way to step in to Everett. I've already logged another by him, as you'll see next month.

My Struggle: Book 4 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I am one of those shameless Karl Ove Knausgaard fans of whom it has become hip to make fun. I discovered that the fourth installment of My Struggle had been published in English, so I took a detour on the way to another meeting to pop into Powell's and purchase it. I was late to the meeting. I suppose that means I'm an addict, as the Knausgaard habit is affecting my responsibilities in the rest of my life.

The theme of this work is so simple: a young man trying to get lucky. At first it seems so cliche for a memoir, but then it really is foundational to the ego of a young man, isn't it? This volume interweaves the Quest with his last two years of secondary school and a year working as a teacher in Northern Norway.

As always, Knausgaard's recollections have the effect of stirring up my own memories of my youth, sometimes dredging up things I haven't recalled for years. On the whole it is a good thing, but can be uncomfortable as well. And zooming in to a young man's first year of independence - and the seemingly-boundless potential lying ahead - has the peculiar effect of forcing the reader to also consider "what could have been"?

Recommended of course, and I can't wait until the next volume drops. Maybe I'll be the only one in a tent on the sidewalk, waiting to buy it on its first day.

Moved some git repositories

I have become enamored of Gogs, a self-hosting solution for git repositories, so I've moved most of my personal repositories from a certain large centralized git service provider to my own instance. Check it out:

https://scm.smithfam.info/nathan

I understand this may require collaborates to actually use git in the manner in which it was designed - namely as decentralized version control. If you'd like to submit a patch to one of my projects, you'll need to craft a git pull request and email me.

Will non-voting be chic in 2016?

In 2008 I read an essay collection entitled Electing Not to Vote and it threw me for a loop, launching me on a prodigious series of blog posts in which I concluded that "the only way to vote righteously is to vote self-righteously." During the next US presidential election cycle I started an abortive series called "Peace in Babylon" from which my best observation was that "the end of Constantinianism requires Christians to be courageous once more". In retrospect those are some of the posts of which I am most proud of in my short personal history of blogging, because they represent a serious engagement with a text and a topic without much of a safety net. Being a bit older now I have found I am less likely to take such strong stances in published works, but I'm not necessarily proud of that.

In addition to the increased writing output, reflecting on Electing Not to Vote troubled how I think about politics and the storm unleashed has not really calmed since. I have not voted for President since (sorry Mom), though I have participated in some local elections. I joke that I am on the spectrum between socialism and Christian anarchism, but I have mainly centered on what I call Yoderian pacifism. Centered, not settled. If there is something political I believe every day, it is that US national politics are ridiculous.

This present 2016 election cycle presents fertile ground for further reflection on these topics, because it is of course the most ludicrous Presidential primary race in memory. So if I was scandalized in 2008, by 2016 it is "first as tragedy, then as farce." Therefore I will re-read Electing Not to Vote and see where it takes me. Given the present cynicism taking root among the American electorate, I would not be surprised if non-voting becomes a popular choice this fall. But will it be meaningful, or despondent?

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Category: politics

Readings for February 2016

In which I enjoy some pop novels.

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson

When in doubt, Brandon Sanderson. Shadows of Self is the next installment in the Mistborn series, and the second in the Wax and Wayne cycle: you know, magic in a steam-punk setting. And I'm OK with that. Sanderson in this novel is showing his increasing command of comedy - I had some honest guffaws. He also managed to find a way to write novels (for some series) which do not stretch the technology of book binding, so that is a plus. Recommended.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I saw the film The Martian in the theater with a friend and loved it. My wife picked up the novel recently, and it was even better. I really devoured it (and so did she, after I relinquished it). Most of the time I don't put too much stock in "real science" sci-fi, because to me the storytelling is ultimately more important than the genre bonafides. This story managed to blend both to perfect taste. Recommended, and I hope the author Andy Weir writes more to enjoy in the future.

Periodicals

  • Tin House #62

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