The year is almost over.

Mad linkage:

Chuck Klosterman on Jonathan Franzen.

Mary-Kate Olsen and SUDDEN NUDITY.

Reality A and Reality B” by Haruki Murakami.

The Onion AV Club interviews Charles Burns.

Aaron Sorkin on Sarah Palin’s reality TV show.

The Day looks interesting, but maybe I’m just a sucker for post apocalyptic post rock?

Thankfully Giada De Laurentiis is not fucking John Mayer.

Ken Burns hates reality TV.

They made a TV show out of Douglas Adam’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis to star as rival political candidates in a Jay Roach comedy.

Pictures in this post are originally from here, here, here, here, and here.

The 25 best children’s books of all time.

The real-life Swedish murder that inspired Stieg Larsson.

Watch James Franco as he makes out with himself in a mirror.

Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel to be called “Paradise.”

Inception in real time!

The MPAA has overturned it’s rating on Blue Valentine.

On The Bro’d.

Bebe Zeva’s account of her relationship with Carles/”Hipster Runoff” seems “fascinating” and “insightful” and “not at all made up.”

7 scenes from The Walking Dead comic that should’ve ended up in the TV show.

Umberto Eco on WikiLeaks.

The most racist commercial ever is hilarious.

Ah, 2010, we hardly knew ye, you came and went, and now the end of you is almost upon us…

“Who do YOU care about, Kate?”

The final season of Lost continues with last night’s slightly more measured, but intriguing episode, “What Kate Does,” an interesting titular callback to season 2’s “What Kate Did.”

It’s interesting how last week’s episode strongly mirrored the pilot, and this week we get a Kate-centric episode, similar to how Kate was the first character to get a flashback episode all to herself with “Tabula Rasa,” and next week’s episode, “The Substitute,” is a Locke episode, so I presume that episode 4 of this season, if we’re following the structure of season 1 where applicable, will be a Jack episode? And at some point we’re getting a Hurley episode seemingly entitled “Everybody Loves Hugo,” presumably dealing how altbro Hurley/Sideways Hurley is the luckiest man in the world rather than cursed.

Ah, but then there’s Kate…

Kate: “I’m sorry I followed you, Sawyer.”

Sawyer: “Which fucking time, you goddamn harpy?”

I was a Kate fan when the show first started, but I don’t think it’s a secret that that slowly eroded as the time flashed all about us, though I’ve probably never hated her as much as I’ve been vocal about it. But the dichotomy in last night’s episode was beyond fascinating, with the Kate we’ve known and grown with over the past 5+ plus years alongside Sideways Kate who landed in LAX and escaped the Marshal to keep on running…

In fact, really, Kate was always a fascinating character if, for nothing else, the juxtaposition of her make up. She is/was our female lead, the character would’ve stepped up to lead status in the alternate universe where the writers followed their original intention to kill off Jack (as potentially played by Michael Keaton) in the pilot, and she’s also a criminal and worse, a fugitive. And even worse: a murderer. And *gasp* worse: She’s not just a suspected murderer, she is indeed guilty. Sure, she had a good reason, as far as she’s concerned, but she did indeed pull the trigger, as it were.

That’s actually one of the things that I do love about the character. Here she is, put here, all of these things and our female lead, the woman we want to root for as she falls into a love triangle, then a quadranagle, then a triangle again, and the writers don’t shy away from it. Warts and all is how they give her to us. And you could argue that she’s just as fucked up as Jack is, but possibly more functioning. Be it copious amounts of tree climbing (something that actress Evangeline Lilly personally loves and requests for the character, it’s reported) or just getting into the mix of things, she knows how to find a goal or a task, no matter how misguided, and run to it.

And there she is on the Island, in one version of the here and now, running again, only this time she’s not being chased, she’s doing the chasing. And it wouldn’t be Kate if it wasn’t a bad decision leading her to a dead end. Only this time, the dead end’s Juliet. And a possible future of any kind of Sawyer.

And then there’s the alternate universe Kate, or Sideways Kate. Again her fate is intertwined with Claire and Aaron. She’s on the run. There’s a nice little appearance by Arzt, referencing both Midnight Cowboy, but also Back To The Future, part 2. And when Christian hit Sawyer with his car door (before they went to do that “more masculine” kind of running away from a situation: drinking). She runs into the tough guy mechanic, similar to Wayne and early Sawyer, the kind of man Kate always finds herself gravitating towards? And weren’t we all hoping for a little more from the resolution to meeting the couple who wanted to adopt Claire’s baby? Obviously that would’ve never happened, but I guess I was just hoping for… more. And then there’s those that also get swept into Claire’s fate, like Dr. Ethan Goodspeed (here again the character whose appearance is all a neat gimmick and/or a marker to let the viewer know where we are on the show’s sprawling and ever expansive totem pole of a timeline). “I don’t want to have to stick you with needles if I don’t have to,” he says and we all have a nice little chuckle. “That Aaron’s gonna be a handful!”

But there’s a lot of interesting things going on in that hospital room as baby Aaron is possibly born/not born right there. The return of the Joan Hart alias! The readouts say it’s October, not September. And Claire gives Kate a credit card, which I’m just assuming will have some interesting numbers on them. But none of it felt as special as that brief momentary glance between Kate and Jack as she was spiriting away from the airport…

Just remember, Kate: He walks among us, but he is not one of us.

But then we’re back on the Island. Kate eventually leaves Sawyer, the walking wound, who’s dumped his engagement ring for Juliet and, so he hopes, some of his grief for her. But the problem is, without those, he has nothing. Which leaves him in a perfect place for Fake Locke/”Flocke”/The Locke-ness Monster to come and find him at…

But Sawyer has nothing for Kate, that’s sure. So where does she run to next? Back to Jack? In search of Claire? Somewhere to find herself? We know what she’s done, but the question now is more about what Kate does next and it could be anything.

And the temple! So much there. Is Jack finally starting to regain some of his balls and own parts of this show again? Sayid is alive! And not a zombie! And the former torturer is tortured. Again!

There’s an awesome The Empire Strikes Back reference there, post-torture. Also, is that some of the protective ash being blown over his body during his “diagnosis?” Dogen types on a typewriter! Aldo returns! And he’s still kind of a pussy. And Sayid is… infected? By “the sickness?” By the Smoke Monster? The same as the French team was “infected?” The same as… Claire?

The Airborne Toxic Event.

So I’ve told you that my favorite author is Amy Hempel, right? Let me share with you what is possibly my second favorite author (though it’s a tight knit cluster towards the top of great literature, the post modernist), Don Delillo.

I’ll make this simple and easy

Name: Don Delillo.

Born: November 20, 1936 in New York.

Died: Thankfully not yet. He’s 72.

Best known novel: Either White Noise or Underworld.

Last published novel: Falling Man, about a survivor of 9/11. The title, of course, is based on this classic image:

Which is entitled “The Falling Man” and was taken by Richard Drew at 9:41 AM on September 11, 2001.

Next novel: Omega Point is the title, which is… so very intriguing. It’ll be his 15th novel. It’s scheduled for release in February, 2010, which is too far away.

Plot description: “A young filmmaker visits the desert home of a secret war adviser in the hopes of making a documentary. The situation is complicated by the arrival of the older man’s daughter, and the narrative takes a dark turn.”

from here.

Things that primarily inspire him:Abstract expressionism, foreign films, and jazz.” Also, the things we do to history. And the things that history does to us in return.

Themes he likes/keeps returning to in his work: rampant consumerism, novelty intellectualism, underground conspiracies, the disintegration and re-integration of the family, and the promise of rebirth through violence (from wikipedia, but wikipedia is right). Also, mass media pollution, the collision and interchangeability of words and images, and the draining of meaning and context from an event as our lives are filled up with more and more simulacra.

Writers who cite him as a major influence: Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Franzen, and David Foster Wallace.

His place in the world: Harold Bloom has named him as one of the four major novelists of his time, the other three being Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, and Phillip Roth.

His humble beginnings: The world of advertising. He wrote image ads for Sears Roebuck amongst others but eventually quit to start his writing career, including his first novel.

About the start of his writing career, he said: “I did some short stories at that time, but very infrequently. I quit my job just to quit. I didn’t quit my job to write fiction. I just didn’t want to work anymore.”

Forays into film: Only one screenplay so far, for a film entitled Game 6, about the 1986 World Series. The script was written in the 90s, but the film (I don’t know when it was actually produced) came out in 2006, and stars Michael Keaton (who would later go on to do a shitty looking thriller entitled White Noise that has nothing to do with the Delillo book), Griffin Dunne, and Robert Downey, jr. and has a score by Yo La Tengo. The story is classic Delillo.

Theatre: He’s written four plays, two of which, The Day Room and Valparaiso, I’m happy to say I own and have read. The other two, Love-Lies-Bleeding and The Word For Snow, I have not yet.

Just a few of his awards: The National Book Award (for White Noise) and the Jerusalem Prize, which is given to writers who deal with the themes of human freedom, society, politics, and government. And he also won the 2009 Common Wealth Award for Literature.

from here.

The first line of Underworld: “He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful.” The opening prologue of the book was also released as it’s own novella, with the separate title, Pafko At The Wall.

Some real talk from White Noise: “All plots move deathwards.”

Musical name checks: Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes, Rhett Miller, Luna, and a band called Too Much Joy. Also, the band called The Airborne Toxic Event got their band name from White Noise.

The first line of Great Jones Street: “Fame requires every kind of excess.”

Don Delillo, as depicted by Brian Wood. From here.

One of my favorite quotes from his books #1: “I don’t want your candor. I want your soul in a silver thimble.”

Fictionalized version of him: blogs for The Onion covering last year’s election.

His three favorite things: “Silence, exile, and cunning. And so on.” Also, paraphrasing James Joyce.

The criticism: There’s been a lot. While there can be no argument that Delillo is a smarter author than a large majority out there, many would say that his books tend towards being over stylized and perhaps a bit intellectually shallow. I think that argument is fair in certain cases.

More criticism: George Will described Delillo’s Libra, which is a study of Lee Harvey Oswald, as “sandbox existentialism,” and then added that the book is an act of “literary vandalism and bad citizenship.”

Delillo’s response to Will: “I don’t take it seriously, but being called a ‘bad citizen’ is a compliment to a novelist, at least to my mind. That’s exactly what we ought to do. We ought to be bad citizens. We ought to, in the sense that we’re writing against what power represents, and often what government represents, and what the corporation dictates, and what consumer consciousness has come to mean. In that sense, if we’re bad citizen, we’re doing our job.”

One of my favorite quotes from his books #2: “History is the sum total of the things they aren’t telling us.” So true.

One of my favorite passages from his books: “I went out on the terrace. Automobiles were moving across Central Park, ticking red taillights trailing each other  north and west and toward the darkness and the river, headlights coming this way, soft orange, the whistling doormen. The park’s lamplights were dull cold steady silver. I was wasting my life.” From Americana, his first novel.

What he’s said about his first novel: “It’s no accident that my first novel was called Americana. This was a private declaration of independence, a statement of my intention to use the whole picture, the whole culture. America was and is the immigrant’s dream, and as the son of two immigrants I was attracted by the sense of possibility that had drawn my grandparents and parents.”

The above quote was from an interview that was referenced on a great site about the author: Don Delillo’s America. It’s a really good resource about the author.

Where’s a good place to start with Delillo: White Noise. Start there and enjoy it. Read about the book here and here and here.

One last thing, how is “Delillo pronounced?” Like this: Duh Lih Lo.

One last great quote from Don Delillo: “Years ago I use to think it was possible for  novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on humn consciousness. What writers used to do before we were all incorporated.”

Nothing rhymes with Albania.

I was chillin’ in a coffee shop a while back, listening to music and reading up on some of the magazines that I’d put off during the past few months, including the latest issue of mental_floss.

If you’ve never heard of it, I really wouldn’t worry about it. It’s basically just a cutesy bi-monthly magazine for trivia lore enthusiasts, something for people who think they’re smart but probably don’t patronize those weekly bar trivia encounters (those are basically all questions about who’s fucking who on Grey’s Anatomy anyways, right?). It’s no Harper’s, that’s for damn sure.

The contents for the Nov/Dec issue include a cover story on “The New Einsteins,” nine visionaries in a variety of fields who are doing things to eventually grow organs, peer into black holes, help paraplegics to walk, etc. Plus, there’s a feature on the “cool” history of ice (“what began as a joke at a family picnic turned into a multi-billion dollar industry”), a brief history of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (which is exactly how I like my Sylvia Plath: brief)(Also, Ted Hughes = total douchebag? Discuss), and a fascinating 50 cent tour on the country of Albania, which is what I want to talk about today.

Albania is a tiny, sad little country and I thought I might share a little of what I’ve read in that issue and some of my research with you, but I’m going to do it quick and easy, in the style of one of my favorite blogs: Joeblog!

A quick aside: While looking at a clip from Wag The Dog on youtube, I noticed that one of the comments is simply “FUCK OFF albania.” Ha ha, ahhh, xenophobia, so prevalent on youtube, isn’t it? Anyways…

  • Albania is located on the eastern side of the Adriatic sea, right across and almost practically under the boot of Italy, both geographically and metaphorically.
  • The country’s best known leader, Enver Hoxha, is a dictator who ruled over Albania from 1944 to 1985. He closed off the country to the outside world after World War II and watched as the country slowly imploded into itself.
  • The economy was still in ruins til the 1990s. You know what got it kick started again? Revolution!
  • Famous Albanians? John and Jim Belushi and Regis Philbin all have Albanian roots. And then there’s Nobel laureate Ferid Murad whose discoveries are responsible for a little drug called Viagra that you may or may not have heard of.
  • The country’s GDP is described by mental_floss as dismally low, but says that economists have noticed something fascinating: Pretty much all Albanians who leave their country get much richer (by who knows what means). If you could ethnic Albanians living at home and abroad, the GDP increases by 60 percent.
  • I can back that up somewhat. I used to be involved with a girl with Albanian roots. Her family was loaded. Good times.
  • For most of the 20th century, the capitol city of Tirana looked like any other dreary Stalinist city, but in 2000, mayor Edi Rama decided to change that…

  • Rama, a former painter, realized that the city couldn’t afford a makeover, so he decided on a much more immediate solution: Literally painting the town in bright and flamboyant shades of blue, yellow, green, orange, and violet. Volunteers were recruited to turn the concrete jungle into one giant canvas. They only problem? They didn’t order enough paint.
  • Good move? Who knows, but one that lasts til this day. And coupled with Rama’s economic reform and crackdown on crime, he recieved not only reelection but quite a few UN grants. And in 2004 he was named “World Mayor” by London’s City Mayors organization. And he was included in Time Magazine’s European Heroes of 2005 list.
  • Back to Enver Hoxha: Wanting his people to be subject to him above all else, but trying to be a benevolent ruler, he would frequently pass out bacon to his people. During Ramadan. Despite the fact that 70% percent of Albania is Muslim. But still, he forced the people to eat it, because he expected them to worship him.
  • So much so that the country’s physics textbooks were altered to say that Hoxha discovered gravity. Suck it, Isaac Newton.
  • “The Chinese leaders are acting like leaders of a ‘great state.’ They think, ‘The Albanians fell out with the Soviet Union because they had us, and if they fall with us, too, they will go back to the Soviets,’ therefore they say, ‘Either with us or the Soviets, it’s all the same, The Albanians are done for.’ But to hell with them! We shall fight all this trash, because we are Albanian Marxists-Leninists and on our correct course we shall always triumph!” -Enver Hoxha.
  • Today Hoxha’s statues are all gone from Albania, torn down by the people, and the largest monument built to honor him has apparently been converted to a disco.
  • Albania loves America! Despite their communist background, they are one of the most pro-America countries in the world.
  • Their sweet but kind of pathetic infatuation with us started in 1919 when Woodrow Wilson stopped the European powers from carving up the country during the Paris Conference. And of course, our protecting ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in the 1990s didn’t hurt either. And then there’s this lovable rascal here…

  • There was a massive crowd that came to visit George W. Bush when he visited the country in 2007, but after the fact video footage of the people flooding the streets captured something interesting: Someone apparently snatched the President’s watch. The country was filled with a combination of pride and dismay.
  • While crime is scourge in the cities of Albania, it’s also considered a national craft. Maybe even a pastime (baseball’s just not for everyone). Popular lore says that a thief once picked the pockets of the king of Albania in a London elevator. Moments later, the King then picked the thief’s pocket before the elevator doors open. FTW!

  • Lovely tourist spot you’ve never heard of: Saranda. Or, Sarandë. A gorgeous beach destination, described by The Guardian as “set to become the new ‘undiscovered gem’ of the overcrowded Med,” with claims to have some immaculately clean water. Why? Because industrial pollution was on the downward spiral after the collapse of communism in the country so the beach has remained wonderfully smog-free. Also, very few tourists know of it. (There is one tiny catch though: It’s in Albania.)
  • Albania is only the second poorest nation in Europe! Choke on that poverty, Moldova.
  • Related to that, you wouldn’t be able to guess how poor the Albanian people are because of the bountiful number of incredibly nice cars on their roads. But there’s a simple explanation: the cars are stolen! Like I said up above, theft is the national pastime of the Albanian people.

  • It has been claimed by The Simpsons that Albania’s main export is “furious political thought” and Cheers asserted that it was “chrome,” but in reality, the chief export of the country is textiles. Which is, let’s face, much less interesting.
  • There’s an Albanian Idol! The annual Festivali I Këngës, the Festival Of Songs, is an annual American Idol-type comptetition that is supposed to reflect on the mood of the nation. During Hoxha’s time, the songs were sad and depressing (Resulting in or perhaps caused by the fact that some of the performers would be killed after the competition because Hoxha disapproved of their performances). But of late, the songs have been more more poppier.
  • Albania has blood feuds! Blood feuds! Only there, it’s called Gjakmarrja. It’s a regular thing there since the 15th century, having caused it not to be safe for some men, who would be targets of such feuds at times, to leave the house. So the women have to take over in the social structure, living as Avowed Virgins. They keep their hair short, dress like and take on the personas of men. They swear off sex and tend to the livestock, pray in the mens’ section of the mosques, and drink and carouse about loudly (like a man would, I guess?), and carry guns. Why? Because the men are useless and typically hiding (a sed meta comment that, right?). It sucks for the women, but it’s also a much used loophole for women forced into arranged marriages. Or if their husband abuses them (which is still acceptable according to the kanun, the medieval legal code many Albanians still follow). Here’s the actual story itself, which is absolutely fascinating.

  • In 1928, Ahmet Muhtar Bey Zogolli declared himself King of Albania and then shortened his name to Zog, which means “bird” in Albanian. Some of my favorite parts in this portion on Albania was the stuff on Zog of Albania.
  • Before he crowned himself king, Zog was Albania’s President from 1925 to 1928. But the people just called him King during that period because they didn’t know what a President was.

  • I’m going to relay this paragraph from the bit on Zog verbatim because I love it: “Zog spent most of his reign drinking, playing poker, and antagonizing his subjects. In fact, it’s estimated that he provoked 600 blood oaths and 55 assassination attempts during 11 years in power.” Beautiful.
  • Zog was good friends with Mussolini, relying on him heavily during his reign, but Mussolini eventually turned on him. But that was because Albania relied so heavily on Italy during that time (to the point that the national banks of Albania were in Rome and Italian was the language taught to children in Albania’s schools).  Mussolini eventually declared Albania a protectorate of Italy and sent his army to invade in 1939.
  • Fearing for his life, Zog and his family were exiled from the country. So, sensible guy that he was, Zog flet to London with suitcases filled with gold. From the article: “He and his entourage took over a floor at the Ritz, where Zog chain-smoked 200 perfumed cigarettes a day. In the evenings, he was known to telephone random rooms, just to see if any other guests wanted to talk or play cards.”

  • I mention Wag The Dog earlier, directed by Barry Levinson and written by David Mamet, because it involved concocting a fake war with Albania to cover up political scandal. Now I know how truly preposterous the notion of Albania at war with anyone is.

Anyways, thanks for joining me a little journey through Albania, which has to be one of the most fascinating and sad countries I’ve ever read about. Let’s go lay on the beaches there, and get our pockets picked and maybe, if we’re lucky, get ourselves in a little of that blood feud action, what do you say?