Just underneath the sign that says Salvation Mountain is another one asking for donations of paint. It’s not hard to see why: the mountain itself, a handmade version of Calvary, complete with cross, looks like a child’s furious scribblings blown into life. Blues and greens and reds splash across the hill, cut through with a snaking yellow—the yellow brick road, according to another sign beside it, upon which you can walk up past the letters that proclaim GOD IS LOVE, and stand under the cross.
South from that vantage, there isn’t much but those gnarled, low branches that let the desert surrounding Southern California’s Salton Sea pretend that life has any business around here. Every other direction, it looks a bit like a particularly spacious used car lot: old motorhomes, sand-blasted minivans and the odd unreasonably shiny, late-model sedan are sprinkled throughout breaks in the brush. Clothing lines and tents and grills and metal barrels surround them like the vehicles were shaken out before being plopped in the sand.
I only learned after returning within range of roaming-charge-free wifi that this collection of squatters actually had a name: Slab City, after the concrete foundations that used to hold up military buildings, and have since been occupied by some combination of drifters and drop-outs. On the way in, we passed a sun-baked man who appeared to be wearing a sarong riding a no-shit donkey; the only other people who weren’t in rental cars walked.
People in my social media feeds have been pretty excited about “this amazing new app that lets you read a novel in 90 minutes” the past little while. They’re talking about the new speed reading app Spritz, which flashes text at anywhere from 250 to 1000 words a minute, and uses a novel technique to focus your eyes in one place as it does so. Using it is a thoroughly discombobulating, fascinating experience—try it here. The best description I’ve heard is that it’s less like reading and more like snorting words as if they were coke.
That it was so hotly discussed amongst my friends, mostly literature academics and writers, feels like a sign that we were clearly drawn to and then put off by the idea—not incensed so much as sympathetic to the need to read more, but baffled as to why anyone would want to read that fast. That ambivalence arose, I’d guess, because with Spritz, we’ve happened upon the Soylent of reading.
”Actually experiencing the new car small is a rare event—most people will only be exposed to it a few times in their life—but it’s saturated in cultural meaning. It’s a product in its own right, a signifier of newness for a broad range of products, from cars to carpets to plywood to cosmetics to mobile homes.” Oh, and it’s mostly formaldehyde.
Since the invention of the telegraph (literally), Canadians have worried about how we can possibly tell our stories as a country of a few paltry million next to the enormous media market to the south. This has spawned all sorts of policies, some of them effective if misguided (contributing to the production of such Canadian heritage monuments as Vikings), that have incrementally become just another subsidy to just another industry; Orphan Black is a fine show, but it’s hardly a Canadian story, unless clones are another one of the country’s founding parties and nobody told me. Did you know you spent more than $300,000 on its production?
But nothing has been quite such a gift to corporations who have done so little to earn it as Canada’s terrified regulation of ownership in its telecommunications sector. Allegedly intended to keep a vital communications tool in Canadian hands for a country where communications are sometimes all we have keeping us together, the reality is that Canada’s telco regulation has mainly succeeded at protecting a handful of major players from the horrors of having to compete against any well-capitalized foreign firm, or even (for the most part) each other.
This is fine if you’re a shareholder in Bell, Rogers, Telus, or Videotron, but there’s not a lot of evidence that Canadians are actually well served by this model.
The last time I managed to throw a Halloween costume together, it was Lord Summerisle from The Wicker Man (“a heathen, conceivably, but not, I hope, an unenlightened one”). I must have been fated, then, to join everybody else obsessing over True Detective, the show where Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson travel languid bayous to solve an increasingly vast case of ritualized murder, butch-sounding beers in hand.
The story owes much of its ominous atmosphere to the way it collapses and confuses existing genres, noir and Southern gothic and pulp horror, so that uncanny Mardi Gras masks or grim industrial vistas loom in the same frame as Lovecraftian occult sigils. Carving apart a standard police-procedural timeline—one set of scenes portrays the first 1995 investigation, while the contemporary one finds these ex-partners fielding questions about why its closure proved illusory—the interrogation becomes unreliable narration, as McConaughey’s Rust Cohle (severe, sinewy loner) and Harrelson’s Marty Hart (scrunch-faced jock) overwrite their past actions for some enigmatic purpose (heroic, it turns out).
There’s a segment in Arabian Nights, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s loose adaptation of the ancient Persian folk tales and his penultimate film, which encapsulates the director’s sensibility. The scene relates the well-known story of Aziz and his cousin Aziza, to whom he has been arranged to marry. On the morning of the ceremony, Aziz, briefly leaving the proceedings to fetch a missing guest, happens upon a young woman in town named Badur, whose beauty proves such a distraction that he fails to return in time to be wed. Aziza, though devastated, loves her fiancé so deeply that she conspires to help him win the affections of the woman of whom he’s now clearly enamored, guiding him through a series of arcane rituals and challenges in code toward the object of his desire. Aziz soon prevails and is united with Badur; Aziza, her sacrifice complete, suddenly dies. The story ends when Badur decides to murder Aziz as punishment for his cruelty to his former fiancé. In a desperate appeal for clemency he invokes an aphorism offered by Aziza before her death: “Fidelity is splendid, but not more than infidelity.” Badur relents, opting for a different sort of retribution: she castrates him.
I hate to say this, especially after Sochi, but what if Russia isn’t the villain in Ukraine? What if they’re actually just using their military strength to clean up some of the messiness that’s been lying around since the sloppy break-up of the Soviet Union? Sure, that messiness was largely due to the empire-building Soviets, who bulldozed an extraordinarily diverse part of the globe with which we’re only now getting reacquainted. But the questions are fundamental ones, pitting practical administration against Woodrow Wilson’s notepad notion of self-determination against the backdrop of histories that make no clear case.
The Ukraine region of Crimea, which has moved to the centre of the present conflict, has been batted about by history as much as anywhere. It was dominated by the descendants of the Golden Horde, the Tatars, from the 13th century, who declared it an independent state in 1441. But by 1944, their numbers had dwindled to just 179,000, and Stalin decided to wipe the slate by expelling all of them to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Two thirds of them died in transit, meaning that by the time they were allowed back in 23 years ago, Stalin’s plan had worked, and they were no longer a force.
Joseph Boyden’s books reside on a towering wall of shelves in the library of the New Orleans home he shares with his wife, Amanda Boyden (author of Babylon Rolling and Pretty Little Dirty). Last fall Hazlitt dropped by their house—formerly a 19th century corner grocery store—shortly after Joseph’s latest novel, The Orenda, was named to the Giller Prize longlist. Yesterday The Orenda was named the winner of this year’s Canada Reads.
Early on the morning of February 20, 1976, two police officers approached a green Camaro parked at a rest stop near Pompano Beach, Florida. Inside, Jesse Tafero and his partner Sonia Jacobs were sleeping, along with Jacobs’ two young children. Tafero’s friend, Walter Rhodes, was asleep in the driver’s seat.
Exactly what happened next remains unclear. What’s certain is that one of the patrolmen asked the two men to step out of the vehicle, shots were fired, and both officers were killed. Tafero, Rhodes and the family tore down the interstate in the stolen police car. When they were stopped at a roadblock, the gun used in the shooting, which was registered to Jacobs, was in Tafero’s waistband.
Rhodes immediately struck a deal. In exchange for a lighter sentence, he testified that Jacobs and Tafero were solely responsible for the shooting. The couple, meanwhile, insisted that Rhodes, who was on probation, had panicked, shot the officers, and then given Tafero the gun while he drove away. Someone was lying, but with little physical evidence, it was difficult to know which story was true and which was false.
When I was in junior high, there was a trend of boys going up to girls they liked (using “liked” rather generously here) and pulling down their pants in public. This was in the time of Juicy Couture sweatpants, those loose-fitting, candy-coloured terry-cloth items that sat low on your hips and really let your muffin top breathe.
The boys targeted the popular girls, eager to see their underwear, the underside of their butt, their pubic bone. Truly, junior high boys are treasures.
BETHLEHEM SHOALS: So, seven episodes of True Detective down, one to go. I don’t entirely know where we’ve been. I have no idea where we’re headed. I guess I know where I am right now, but that could be a lie. Pasha, some help?
PASHA MALLA: Episode 7 seemed to most explicitly foreground True Detective’s intentions, at least as I see them. Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart claim that he’s writing a true crime novel has been the most meta moment so far, and Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle twice talked about how his life was a circle, or a spiral. Also, the schlocky moments felt especially schlocky. I’d like to think this was intentional, but the episode featured a repeat interview with yet another crazy person that also descended into a bout of revelatory histrionics, and the ease with which Rust was able to convince Marty to join him on this old case due to “a debt” was a little far-fetched. These are conventions of pulp fiction, which I think we’re being trusted to accept as such, but what is the show going to do with all this alleged self-awareness in the end?
What comes to mind when you think back a decade to 2004? A few things stick out for me: the mounting horror over the Iraq War; the beginning of the long dance of veils to bring Michael Ignatieff into Canadian politics; the speech one Barack H. Obama gave to the Democratic National Convention that year; and, of course, the re-election of George W. Bush that would put Obama on the road to the White House in 2008.
Bush’s re-election was helped in part by nearly a dozen ballot initiatives in red states that banned gay marriage that year, in a time when the Republican Party was, amazingly, even less discreet about its homophobia than it is today. But ten years later, anti-gay measures across the United States are falling before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor. There may yet be incremental reversals, but wiser writers than I are confident the forces against marriage equality in America have been dealt a mortal blow.
This is only in part because public opinion has turned around on the question of marriage equality. After all, public opinion has often been a lagging indicator when it comes to human rights—as recently as 1994, a majority of Americans opposed interracial marriage. The majority of Americans do now tolerate gay and lesbian marriage, but there’s a funny wrinkle to that fact: most Americans think the rest of the country is more intolerant than they are.
The Internet has been a boon for losers—or perhaps, I should say, it has been a boon for me. Prior to the web, being “in the know” was as impossible a goal for me as climbing Everest or talking to a girl I liked without sweating profusely. Today, though, with an endless library of culture at my fingertips, suddenly that obscure Algerian film, new bar, or buzzy novel is easy to find, even for oddballs like me. The obstacle of discovery has, at last, been lifted. But, because nothing good can last, am I to understand that after all that, I have to now be worried about the rise of the secret Internet?
By that term, I don’t mean the dark or deep web—places like the Silk Road that are invisible to Google and, thus, most web users. No, the secret Internet is instead something hidden in plain sight: it’s the surprising return of the email newsletter as the way to stay on top of what people are talking about. It’s the proliferation of private mailing lists, an old standby that seemed to be approaching irrelevance until suddenly, it wasn’t. And it’s the rise of communities obscured from public view, almost like secret societies.
Astra Taylor is a Winnipeg-born Georgia-raised writer, documentary filmmaker, and musician. She is the director of 2005’s Zizek! and 2008’s Examined Life. Most recently, she is the author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power And Culture in the Digital...
Good Lord, the guy who sang “Rico Suave” is getting a reality show on VH1, of course he is.
The Oculus Rift is a jaw-dropping experimental technology that hopes to make real the dreams of—nope, sorry. Can’t do it. What’s virtual reality actually
good for? Recreating Seinfeld.