Saturday, June 25, 2016

What I'm Reading: Chomp

Chomp is a YA novel by Carl Hiaasen, and I have to say, I adored this book. It follows Wahoo Cray, a young man (maybe around 13) whose father is an animal wrangler. That is, they keep all sorts of wildlife in their backyard in a small town on the outskirts of Miami, and whenever a TV or movie company wants to film a commercial or movie with wildlife in it, they call Wahoo's dad. The Crays have a very large but tame (-ish) alligator, a huge boa constrictor, monkeys, all sorts of birds, and so on. Wahoo himself is missing a thumb because one time when he was feeding the gator, Alice, he wasn't careful and she took off a little more than she was supposed to.

Unfortunately, there was a freak deep freeze in southern Florida and a frozen iguana fell out of a tree and knocked Wahoo's father unconscious. That was months ago, and ever since he's had horrible headaches and doublevision and they've been unable to take on any TV jobs. Since they're behind on their mortgage, Wahoo's mom has flown to China to teach Chinese lessons to visiting executives, leaving her son and husband to fend for themselves. When an offer comes in from a nature show offering big money, Wahoo tells them his dad will take the job, planning to do most of the work himself.

The nature show is a reality TV series about Derek Badger, a supposed survivalist who is dropped into various remote, tropical settings every week and has to rely on his wits to survive. In reality, Derek is a nincompoop with a fake Australian accent who relies on his crew to make him look good and takes a helicopter back to a luxury hotel every evening after filming is over. His one asset that makes his TV career possible is that he's willing to eat anything. The Crays' agreement to supply animals for an episode set in the Everglades sets in motion a series of events that will challenge all participants in unforeseen ways.

Last year I read an anthology called Grit Lit collecting "Rough South" stories. In a lot of ways, Chomp reminds me of a kid's version of one of those stories. In my review of that book, I said that most of the characters were "folks with a tendency towards drink, violence, and short-term employment," and that's the case here is well. Although the younger age group it's aimed at necessitates a brighter style of storytelling than the stories in Grit Lit, this book has an awful lot of backwoods drunkards and layabouts up to no good. In Chomp, that makes for a lot of very funny scenes.

Chomp has a great voice, a definite and unique setting, and tons of great humor. My son (11 years old) has read it and really liked it, and I think anybody from his age on up to adult would enjoy it as well.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Place Names in Rock Lyrics: Rip This Joint

For this feature we've previously done Sweet Little SixteenDancing in the StreetsNight TrainRock'n MePop MuzikGirls, Girls, GirlsFire Down BelowTruckin'Everywhere That I'm NotMess Around, Back in the USABack in the USSR, and America.

The next song is Rip This Joint, from the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street album. The lyrics sound to me like the Stones are ready to go on tour but have some trepidation US authorities will let them in to play:

Mister President, Mister Immigration Man,
Let me in, sweetie, to your fair land.

I know they sometimes had some trouble with local police in the US (if you can believe it). I'm not sure I remember hearing about trouble with US immigration, but maybe they did, or maybe it's just rhetorical. In any case, once they get in, they have an expansive list of cities they want to play:

I'm Tampa bound and Memphis too,
Short Fat Fanny is on the loose.
Dig that sound on the radio,
Then slip it right across into Buffalo.
Dick and Pat in ole D.C.,
Well they're gonna hold some shit for me.
Ying yang, you're my thing,
Oh, now, baby, won't you hear me sing.
Flip Flop, fit to drop,
Come on baby, won't you let it rock?
Oh, yeah!

From San Jose down to Santa Fe,
Kiss me quick, baby, won'tcha make my day.
Down to New Orleans with the Dixie Dean,
'Cross to Dallas, Texas with the Butter Queen.
Rip this joint, gonna rip yours too,
Some brand new steps and some weight to lose.
Gonna roll this joint, gonna get down low,
Round and round and round we'll go.
Wham, Bham, Birmingham, Alabam' don't give a damn.
Little Rock fit to drop.
Ah, let it rock.

So the place names in this song are:
Little Rock
New Orleans
San Jose
Santa Fe
Washington, DC

And lots of cities new to our list: Birmingham, Little Rock, Memphis, San Jose, Santa Fe, Tampa

And here's the master list:

Notes: The city that has been mentioned most often is New York, with New Orleans in second and Los Angeles and Philadelphia tied for third. The biggest cities we haven't heard from yet, at least in the United States, are Cleveland, Kansas City, and Seattle. Odd to me that Memphis, a huge blues city, has been mentioned only once.

Atlanta x3
Baltimore x3
Baton Rouge
Buffalo x2
--(northern) California
--(coast of) California
Chicago x3
Dallas x2
Delaware (Bay)
Detroit x3
Ft. Lauderdale
Georgia (country)
Las Vegas
Little Rock
Los Angeles x4
--Miami Beach
New Jersey (turnpike)
New Orleans x5
New York City x6
Nova Scotia
Paris x2
Philadelphia x4
Pittsburgh x2
San Francisco
San Jose
Santa Fe
St. Louis x3
(heart of) Texas
Washington, DC x3

Saturday, June 11, 2016

What I'm Reading: The Republic

Last year, I read Five Dialogues by Plato and reviewed them on this site. This year I've revisited Plato's Republic, which I read in college. In this most famous of Plato's dialogues, Socrates, who is always the main character in Plato's works, makes a proposal to some friends: he can demonstrate that a virtuous man is always happier than an unvirtuous man. Some of his interlocutors scoff, saying that virtuous men may be happier because society esteems them, but if they were able to be unvirtuous without anybody knowing, they would do so in an instant.

To demonstrate his point, Socrates builds a perfectly virtuous city, with the idea that by examining a larger entity (a city), it may be easier to spot virtue and its effects and then transfer those lessons to a smaller entity (a man). This conceptual building of the city takes up the bulk of the book. By the end, Socrates has described a city guarded by a well-educated warrior class, and led by a philosopher-king. He then compares this city, which he demonstrates to be the happiest of all cities, with four other types of cities in order of their happiness: first, honor-loving cities ruled by warriors; second, money-loving cities ruled by merchants; third, democracies ruled by the people; and finally the unhappiest of cities, despotisms ruled by a tyrant.

Then, he compares each of the type of cities to different types of men: philosophers who love knowledge and truth correspond to his perfect city; followed by honor-loving warriors, money-loving merchants; undisciplined democrats, and tyrants.

Thus, he demonstrates to his friends' satisfaction (if not quite the modern reader's) that each succeeding type of city is less and less happy. Correspondingly, he also shows that philosophers, who with their love of knowledge and truth are the most just of men, are also the happiest, and each succeeding type of man is less and less happy.

What I found interesting is how he believes the guardians and the philosopher-king in his perfect city should be educated. He thinks as children they should receive training in poetry and music, elementary mathematics, and physical training. Those who exhibit the right temperaments will move on as teenagers to three years of vigorous physical training followed by ten years of mathematics (!), at which point they'll be ready to be guardians. Those guardians who might advance to leadership roles will then receive five years of "dialectic" training (i.e. making and weighing arguments), followed by ten years of studying what we would call political science. Only then, in their mid-forties, would they be ready to lead a city.

If this sounds simplistic, it is not, for Socrates also anticipates all sorts of counterarguments and negates them. One counterargument I found impressive was his explanation of why an unjust man may appear to others to be successful and admirable. He compares such a man to a runner who gets a fast start in a race, and appears to spectators to be far in the lead. But as time goes on and the lead runner tires and falls behind, so the unjust man finds his way is not so easy as creditors, friends, and neighbors discover his true nature and gradually stop interacting with him.

Like the Five Dialogues, this book is pretty easy to read, at least on a line by line basis. Socrates' language is straight-forward and conversational, as indeed, it is supposed to be a conversation among he and his friends. The simplicity of the language frees your attention for the consideration of his sophisticated arguments.

I don't think I would recommend this to somebody looking for light reading (although as I say above, it is not actually that hard to read), but for those willing to think about ethics, virtue, and how we order our society, this is arguably the most basic text in Western literature on those topics. Actually, the book has much the feel of a late-night bull session in a dorm room, so for the right kind of person, I think the Republic might be not only thought-provoking, but even fun to read.