Posted by: Dan | February 17, 2019

January Reviews

Discussed in this post: 9 Books (Meeting the Universe Halfway; Hitler (vol. 2); God’s Being is in Becoming; Kingdom Cons; The Transmigration of Bodies; Area X (The Southern Reach Trilogy); and The World Goes On); 2 Movies (The Favourite; and One Cut of the Dead); and 2 Documentaries (Surviving R. Kelly; and Missing Mom).

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I once read a book by some guy named Cormac about this guy who likes to fuck dead people.  He would kill them when they were parked in cars up on some lover’s lane or lookout or whatever and then take them down to this cave where he stored all the bodies of the people he liked to fuck.  Cormac is all into telling us that this corpse fucker is human like you and me and that guy who fucks watermelons in another story Cormac wrote, but he doesn’t describe the actual corpse fucking.  Like does the guy use lube or does he fuck ‘em dry?  Where does he fuck ‘em?  Just the usual orifices or does he fuck the holes he made when he stabbed his victims up, like a bed bug engaged in traumatic insemination (“male bedbugs have saber-like penises, that they use to stab females in the abdomen. The male releases sperm into the females [sic] circulatory system, not into their reproductive tract” as The Smithsonian Mag tells us) or like that when James Spader fucks the gash in Rosanna Arquette’s leg in that Cronenberg movie?  Cormac never actually describes much fucking in his stories, which is a pretty good thing, I guess, because, for Cormac, it seems like fucking always has to do with horrible or violent things – like fucking corpses, or that little kid with the Judge in that other book about the sunset, or the watermelons I already mentioned, I suppose, but I think that’s supposed to be funny.  Come to think of it, I think the watermelon fucking is the closest thing Cormac gives us to a sex scene.  I’m not sure I can trust a guy who only talks about sex in this way.  But anyway, yeah, this corpse fucker is supposed to be a child of god just like you or me or whatever, for whatever that’s worth, and maybe it’s worth something and maybe it isn’t, in which case it’s all the same anyway, but I don’t know if I buy that.  I mean, I don’t know, but if we want to blur the lines between all of us – corpse fuckers or just regular fuckers or people who aren’t fucking at all and who are fucking mad about that or whomever else – in order to suggest that, well, we’re all just human, and we’re all just specks of dust, and we’re all just equally loved or abandoned by god (take your pick), I mean I guess I get your point but, yo, isn’t that a little played out?  And where has that gotten us?  And, really, don’t we still want some lines in the sand somewhere?  Because isn’t that rapist anthem by Robin Thicke called “Blurred Lines”?  Don’t we want to say, hey, sorry Cormac bro, this dude ain’t just like me?  Come on.  It’s like when Sufjan sings that sweet, sweet love song to that guy who dressed like a clown and raped and murdered adolescent boys.  When Sufjan proclaims that “in my best behaviour / I am really just like him / Look beneath the floorboards / For the secrets I have hid,” I don’t think, “Man that’s a really profound post-Evangelical point about the universality of sin and the fallenness of man [sic].”  Instead, I think about how R. Kelly openly sang, for years and years, about all the adolescent girls he kidnapped and raped, and I think, fuck me, better start digging up Sufjan’s floors.  Because maybe it’s provocative or sweet to relate to all these horrible men and say, “don’t we really have more in common than not? should we not all say, ‘there but for the grace of God, go I?’” but if we don’t draw some kind of line and say, yo, that ain’t me, I ain’t like that and I never will be, what all do we let slide?

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Posted by: Dan | February 1, 2019

On the Occasion of our Fifth Anniversary


There are a lot of evenings in my life now when I sit quietly on the couch–while Ruby is sleeping and Charlie is reading with a flashlight under his sheets, and Jess is getting ready for bed–and I feel happy.  It’s a gentle happiness — not the ecstatic joy one feels upon hearing especially good news, or the excitement one feels while visiting new and beautiful places — just a slow steady contentment that adds to itself a little bit more each day and, once it gets inside of you, it feels like it’s going to stick around for a while.

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Posted by: Dan | January 5, 2019

Black Hole Sun


Two or three nights ago, the following thoughts came to me while I was dreaming:

We are composed of the component parts of stars that have died, and all the energy we use in order to stay alive comes to us from light (usually light that has been converted to glucose and then modified to produce adenosine triphosphate).  In other words, we are stardust and it is a star (in our case, the sun) that keep us alive.  This reminded me of Peter Wohlleben’s observation that when a tree is cut down, the children and peers of that tree will sometimes keep the stump alive for a hundred years or more by sending it food through the fungal network connecting their roots.  We are like the stumps of stars, kept alive by other stars that continue to feed us.  Regardless of what you make of that, we are, quite literally, children of light.

The domain of light is also the domain of electromagnetism.  Everything from the light waves we see to the sound waves we hear to the shape molecules take to the amount of radiation that reaches the surface of the earth to the transfer of electrons in the Calvin-Benson Cycle, takes place because of electromagnetism.  In fact, of the four fundamental forces (so-called because, as far as scientists can tell, they exist all the time, everywhere), both the strong and weak nuclear forces increasingly seem to be elements of electromagnetism.  The only remaining fundamental force – gravity – seems to be very different and it is the inability of bring electromagnetism and gravity together that continues to prevent the formulation of a super theory of everything.

But then my dream self thought the following:

If all of life as we know it is the product of light, what if there were forms of life that lived from an energy generated not by light but by darkness?  As children of light, we tend to see darkness as a void –as the absence of light – but what if darkness itself is a pleroma—an overflowing full of the presence of something we are not equipped to sense or identify?  If that were the case, then isn’t it possible that black holes, rather than being bottomless pits, are simply dark stars?  Of course, from the perspective of creatures of light, they appear to consume everything that we know of and that we associate with the light—but from the perspective of the darkness, wouldn’t our stars look the same?  From the perspective of the dark, doesn’t the sun look like a hole devouring everything associate with darkness?  This caused me to pause and wonder more about the possibility of a shadow biome.

Yet if such a biome exists, if the darkness is a fullness rather than an emptiness, how could creatures of light possibly know that or make contact with that?  This is where gravity re-enters the picture.  It is gravity that reveals to us the presence of dark matter within the universe.  We can only explain the movements of the stars if we posit large quantities of matter that we cannot detect– we can only detect the influence of that matter on other things (and so we posit the existence of dark matter, not because we can access it but because it explains movements that otherwise make no sense to us).  So for creatures of light, electromagnetism explains everything but gravity.  But gravity reveals dark matter to us.  So what if we have been approaching gravity the wrong way?

Generally, gravity is described as an attractive force that exists within matter – that is to say, objects with mass are attracted to other objects with mass and the more massive an object, the more it will attract other objects to it.  But what if, instead of gravity being a force intrinsic to the matter that we know, gravity is an extrinsic force?  What if gravity is a force that is pushing (rather than pulling) massive objects together?  What if, in other words, electromagnetism is the force that goes with light matter, and gravity is the force that goes with dark matter?   Electromagnetism would be the fundamental force of our world, as we know it and gravity would be the force that reveals that our world, as we know it, is not all that there is.  Gravity, from this perspective, would be the way in which that which feeds off of darkness interacts with that which feeds off of light.

And, at this point, I awoke from my dream.

Posted by: Dan | January 4, 2019

A Christmas Story


The colony of Escherichia coli (E. coli) nestled comfortably within the mucin glycoprotein covering the epithelium in the cecum of #2633148 at the new $660-million poultry processing plant in London, Ontario, was struggling. The niche it had carved for itself within the gut microbiome was increasingly being reduced in size due to incursions from neighbouring Peptostreptococcus, Propionibacteria, Bacteroides, Lactobacillus, and Eubacteria. To make things even worse, a recent invasion of Campylobacter jejuni caused a minor inflammation and brought a surge of beta-defensins—macrophages and heterophils—to the colony. While highly evolved, the beta-defensins don’t always discriminate and this, too, caused the loss of some E. coli lives as the permeability of their cellular walls were disrupted and lysis was induced. In layperson’s terms—they bled out.

It was a lot for the colony to take, although #2633148 seemed unaffected (the mucin layer of gallus gallus domesticus is better equipped than the mucous membrane of homo sapiens sapiens, and it is able to prevent Campylobacter jejuni from adhering to epithelial cells).

The members of the colony looked back to brighter days and cried out to God for help:

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace.
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
our mothers are widows.
We must buy the zinc we absorb;
our glucose can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
we are weary and find no rest.
We submitted to Bacteroides and Eubacteria
to get enough adenosine triphosphate.
Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
and we bear their punishment.
Slaves rule over us,
and there is no one to free us from their hands.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives
because of the sword in the desert.
Our peptidoglycan layer is hot as an oven,
feverish from hunger.
Women have been violated in the gut microbiome,
and virgins in the epithelium.
Princes have been hung up by their membranes;
elders are shown no respect.
Young men toil at the millstones;
boys stagger under loads of D-mannose.
The elders are gone from the mucin;
the young men have stopped their music.
Joy is gone from our hearts;
our dancing has turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are faint,
because of these things our eyes grow dim
for our cecum, which lies desolate,
with Campylobacter jejuni prowling over it.

You, Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure.

And on December 25, 2021, God heard the prayers of the E. coli and he sent his only begotten Son to dwell as one of them within the cecum of #2633148. He was named Emmanuel, which is God With Us. And he came and he spoke of peace, and of love, and of caring for one another. But when #2633148 was stunned, bled, scalded, picked, decapitated, and eviscerated, he died.

But this was not the end. A memory of Emmanuel survived in the E. coli bloom that took place in #2633148’s final fecal deposit. A competitive exclusion culture was drawn from this fecal deposit and fed orally to chicks that had been born in incubators at the plant. This helped them to develop a healthy gut microbiome in an otherwise rather sanitized environment, but it also allowed the story to be passed on about the Escherichia coli who, although he existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grapsed but took on a slave-like nature and the likeness of a bacterium, and who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death in a processing plant.

Posted by: Dan | January 2, 2019

2018: Reviews in Review

This year I read 90 books, watched 49 movies, and 32 documentaries.  Here are the best of the best and the worst of the worst.  Enjoy!

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Posted by: Dan | January 1, 2019

December Reviews

I closed out 2018 by knocking off several lingering texts and films and so there are a few more reviews than usual this month.  Some pretty decent ones though (if I say so myself).  Here’s what caught my eye: 12 Books (Popul Vuh; Madness and Modernism; Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini; Aspirational Fascism; How the World Swung to the Right; Gore Capitalism; Re-Enchanting the World; All About Love; The Invention of Morel; Signs Preceding the End of the World; Open City; and The Pure and the Impure); 8 Movies (Roma; A Gentle Creature; I Am Not a Witch; Mandy; Annihilation; Bird Box; The Lodgers; and Thelma and Louise); 4 Documentaries (Shoah; The Last of the Unjust; The American Meme; and Shirkers).

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Posted by: Dan | December 2, 2018

November Reviews

Discussed in this post: 9 Books (The Sleepwalkers; Hitler [vol. 1]; Landscapes of Collectivity in the Life Sciences; Automating Inequality; Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women; The Emergence of Memory; Abdullah’s Feet; Split Tooth; and Their Eyes Were Watching God); 4 Movies (A Fantastic Woman; Zama; The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; and Cam); 1 Documentary (Free Solo).

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Posted by: Dan | November 6, 2018

October Reviews

Discussed in this post: 8 Books (Modernism and Fascism; Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia; The Second Sex; Gender Trouble; The Spinning Magnet; The End; New Poems; and rest in the mourning); 4 Movies (Hereditary; Marrowbone; Suntan; and The Edge of Seventeen); and 3 Documentaries (People of the Po Valley; The Dawn Wall; and Generation Wealth).

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We ride bicycles until the trails end and follow creeks to culverts, under roads, far away, vast domains.  At night, you are a king in a castle and I am a knight in a tower.  We battle giants and talk with dragons.  In the winter, we go to school along a road with no sidewalks.  The slush and ice from the plows are often as deep as our knees.  I walk on the side closest to the cars because you are my little brother and it is part of me to try and keep you safe.

And I try but you have always been courageous.  Hitting ramps on rollerblades, crashing and scraping and bleeding and going back again, over and over again, until you had learned how to fly and how to land.  Standing up to the bully who was mocking the knock-kneed kid in class who never bothered anyone.  Doing the flips I was always too scared to attempt on a trampoline.  And now, trying to wring some good out of massive institutions, convinced that you can be a part of making the world a better place, convinced that things don’t have to be this way, convinced that they can be changed, convinced that you are changing them—you are still battling giants and you are doing so optimistically.

But still, in my heart, I want to keep you safe.

At the start of high school, it was you who first introduced me to the people who would become my friends.  In our room, after our parents had kicked me out, you put up pictures and items on my now empty bed, as an act of grieving, love, remembrance, and rebellion.  In all my years of talking to people about the ways in which lives are devastated by homelessness, you were one of the few who listened and took it all very seriously.  And when I forgot my keys and came home late from work and was terrified to ring the bell or knock because I didn’t want to wake my father and face his wrath, you were the one who opened the door after I threw gravel at our bedroom window.  You weren’t too happy about it, but you did it.

In your heart, you want to keep us all safe.

I know this, although your heart has often been a mystery to me.  A mystery and a wonder.  This man who speaks with quiet confidence was a king inside a castle, this professor being quoted by scholars and journalists was a boy using tap water to part his hair in the middle, this advocate calling for love and attention to the most vulnerable members of our community was sleeping beside me at our grandparents, making blanket forts, barricades of pillows, mountains and river valleys in the bed sheets.  We created lives, we created worlds, we created safe spaces and love—we created them out of nothing.

And you haven’t stopped.  Only now the blanket forts you build are other people who care, and programs, policies and community development projects for people experiencing poverty, people experiencing homelessness, and people experiencing domestic violence.  I’m proud of you, Giantslayer.  I love you.  You’ve got this.

(But if you ever get tired, if you ever feel doubt, if you ever feel you don’t, I’ll happily take the side of the road closest to the cars for a little while more.)

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