Monday, December 15, 2008

Why Norwood Is So Hard To Explain (And Why It's Still A Good Book)

Norwood, by Charles Portis, is about a guy. His name his Norwood, and he hails from Ralph, Texas. That is the only explanation I can really give when anyone asks me what it’s about, but since I have time and paper, i’ll go into more depth. The book basically follows Norwood’s life over the course of a month or so. Sure, things happen, like meeting a wife on the bus and the World’s Second Shortest Perfect Man, but the way the Portis writes makes all the incidents feel mundane. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. Quite the contrary. You see, one does not read Norwood for plot twists and adventure; no, one reads Norwood for Charles Portis’ hilarious characters and situations, and his deadpan sense of humor.
The chain of events is as follows: Norwood’s sister gets married to a guy who he dislikes; Norwood meets a con man who gives him a car and tells him to drive his annoying lady to New York, where he will receive money; Norwood figures he’s been duped and leaves the stolen cars and Yvonne in the middle of the desert (actually, Yvonne drives away); He hops a train, on which a hobo steals his boots while Norwood is sleeping; Norwood jumps off train, buys shoes from two wanderers; Gets on a bus where he sorta--and that is a key word-- falls in love with this girl; they stop in a town so the girl (Rita Lee) can go break up with her boyfriend; Meanwhile, Norwood meets the world’s second smallest perfect man; He tags along with them; Norwood also takes along a “college educated” chicken from an amusement park booth; On the way back, they stop at an old Marine Corps buddy of Norwood’s and get back the 70 dollars he owes him; He returns home, runs into guy that gave him the stolen cars, beats him up; He goes home. See, that is the most abridged way of summarizing it as I could muster. No doubt Norwood will have other similar adventures, but Charles Portis purposefully doesn’t delve into them. I think he did this because he only wanted to illustrate one period of this man’s life, and he does so with such great characters and wry humor that he, somehow, pulls it off.
My only qualm with Norwood is that once I finished it it left me with a sort of empty feeling. It’s difficult to explain, but it made my life, and everyone’s life, extremely, painfully mundane. And truthfully. Rather than making you think your life is mundane, he makes you realize your life is mundane. And that is a feat on it’s own.
And Charles Portis does all this while remaining extremely humble and unassuming, I think. Whatever you think, I highly recommend this book, even if it was written in ‘66. You will not be sorry.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hayden's Country Wisdom

The Organic Grower's Guide to Vegetable Production
Vol. 1: Getting Started

By Hayden Holbert, senior country correspondent.

Vegetable growers do much more than produce vegetables. They also manage money, people, and natural resources. In fact, the growing is often the easy part. It's the part of adding the existing wealth of the soil in an attempt to adress the systems that comprise a vegetable farm. Marketing, soil, cover crops, compost, and pest management are all things incorporated into a succesful farm.
With sufficient experience under your belt, the next thing to do is locate a piece of land suitable for vegetable production and marketing. A piece of land at least three acres is plenty, and a good water source is recommended. It is also important not to go into debt. The organics business is a business unknown to many wealthy undertakers and can be unpredictable.
Soil fertility is of primary importance to vegetable production. Deep, well drained loamy soild are the most productive and responsive in terms of weather management. Nonetheless, soils of lesser quality can be improved, but this will be a long term task. Soils with sandy texture that excessively drain water can be useful for early season production. It will thrive on regular inputs of organic matter and frequent irrigation. Heavy textured soils that contain a lot of clay and drain poorly can also be improved with frequent organic matter additions and subsoil tillage. It is best to have a soil in the middle of these, but in my opinion it is better to have a soil on the heavier side. Availability is critical to vegetable growing. High quality soil might be able to produce good vegetable yields for some years without irrigation, but in a dry spell they will suffer considerable yield reduction.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dictatorship 101

So, you want to become a dictator. Before you can do so, there are some very important steps that he must consider before taking on this very long journey. They will all be covered in this lesson in the span of 5 chapters. Chapter 1: Pre-Power. Chapter 2: Eliminating all enemies. Chapter 3: Building your dictatorship. Chapter 4: Maintaining your dictatorship. Chapter 5: Making an exit.

Everyone knows that to get to the top, you have to start at the bottom. So your first step is, of course, becoming a peasant. All you have to do is pick a country to inhabit (particularly one with a broken economy) and invest most of your money into the broken economy. Or you can give it away. Once you have done that, you will have no choice but to start working for a living (this will come in handy later on). Eventually you will get mad at the terrible government and you will become a revolutionary. This is an important step. You must hold many rallies and protests (getting arrested if necessary) and capture the attention of the party leader. If he likes what you have done, he will appoint you a position in the party. After this, you must do all you can to help the party achieve a coup and take control of the government. Continue working your way up the power chain and making a name for yourself. A few ways to do this are making lots of public appearances, making a lot of friends within the party, and or begin writing for a hip magazine. Once you have made a name for yourself and gathered a considerable amount of followers, you can start accusing those under you of being dissidents from the party and having them exiled. This will greatly aid your climb upwards, which leads us to our next chapter,

Eliminating All Enemies
Continue exiling your underlings until you are just about at the top. Then, have a large group of people attack the leader and burn his house down. This will force him to leave the country, as he will believe it is no longer safe. Once you have done that, you are now the de-facto dictator. Eliminate every single other person in the government except for people who you absolutely trust. Even if they have been loyal all the way, it will still lower the probability of a revolution. Now that you are the official dictator, it’s time to start

Building Your Dictatorship
This is perhaps the most involved step of this whole bonanza. First things first: You must create an identifiable logo/color that is easily recognizable as the insignia of your empire (i.e. Hitler’s swastika or Mao’s red). Next put the insignia on the uniforms of all armed forces. After this, take the elite out of the armed forces and make a police force that will root out any dissidents and scare others from becoming dissidents. A secret police force is very important. They will enforce the censorship of the media and literature, they will get rid of all the intellectuals and put them to work, they will make sure everyone is saying your Oath of Loyalty (be creative-- they’ll have to say it no matter what!) This is the time when your dictatorship is booming-- almost everyone still believes that you are amazing, and industrial and agricultural production should be good, too, since everyone is working on farms and in factories. Meanwhile, you can bask in your own personal wealth and power. In your downtime, fashion a name for your dictatorship. Now that you have built your dictatorship, you are going to have to start working on

Maintaining Your Dictatorship
Around this time, people are going to start questioning you. At this point, production has gone down because people are tired of working so much, and since you gave the police force so much power, they are starting to get out of control. What’s more, your close friends are going to start realizing how old and unhealthy you look, and they will begin jockeying for power. But don’t lose faith! You can still make best with what years you still have left. It is now time to launch vigorous propaganda campaigns. You will have to work double time on convincing everyone that everything is a-okay. Make posters of healthy men and women working hard and being loyal to you. Also, keep exporting resources to keep other countries disillusioned on your success. Just because there’s a nationwide famine doesn’t mean you have to ruin foreign relations. This is also a good time to launch a Youth Education Program. The adults have already started heavily questioning you, so it’s time to start tapping in on those young, fresh, stupid minds. Take the manipulation as far as you can go. Make them say the oath of loyalty 4, maybe even 5 times a day. Make sure that your ideals are drilled in to their heads until they are practically vomiting it. Make yourself an icon of fear if you have to, anything to keep the passion alive after you are dead and gone. Which brings us to are last, but certainly not least, chapter:

Making An Exit
You’re old. You’re sickly. It’s time to go, and you know it. Now you have two choices: 1) Select a successor and leave with a decent amount of peace and tranquility, or 2) Launch a major, violent purge against a single group of people (religion or race, it doesn’t matter) and exile/execute them. This will leave the country in shambles, and while you are resting quietly in your grave, they will be left with no choice but to piece the country back together, bit by bit. W
The first choice is obviously the more reasonable one, but the second is much more fun. It doesn’t matter, you’re the dictator, you can do whatever the heck you want! Which is one great thing about being a dictator.

Well, I hope you enjoyed your lesson. Join us next time, when you will learn more about how to have a revolution and a military coup! Thanks, and have a lovely empire!