volcanic ash footprints in Mexico again & Baja California rock shelter

Ah, so the story about the 40,000 year old footprints in the volcanic ash in Mexico has surfaced again. It’s popped up several times before. There’s something new this time though:

Nevertheless, says Gonzalez, recent excavations at a site in Baja California have unearthed a rock shelter containing heaps of shells that have been carbon-dated as 44,000 years old, a finding that bolsters the notion that people lived throughout the region about 40 millennia ago.

Eh? How recent? What site is this? Is this the same one that’s supposed to be on Isla Espíritu Santo or is this something completely different?

Israeli cave identified as inhabited 40,000 years ago

It’s just a short AP article:

Archaeologists say bears and buffalo once roamed, and prehistoric men chipped flint into tools, in what later became the Holy Land, Israel’s Antiquities Authority said Thursday.

They found the evidence in a huge cave in the Galilee in Israel’s north.

Israel’s Antiquities Authority released a statement saying the cave was discovered by accident. Workers were excavating for a sewage line when they came across it.

Experts date the cave to the Upper Paleolithic Period, which began 40,000 years ago. They found ancient flint tools used by early man, as well as remains of animals that are no longer in the region, including bears, buffalo and red deer.

The antiquities authority said it’s the first cave with artifacts from that period to be found in more than 40 years.

The statement didn’t say exactly where the stalactite cave is. The main chamber is 80 by 60 yards (meters). It’s closed to the public.

The Incredible Hercules

Originally, there was to be a quick post blurbing all of the comics that i’ve been reading recently. Some of the quick assessments spilled over into a few paragraphs, much to my embarrassment.

Because of my nerdy, fanboyish obsession with Greek mythology as a child, i never cared for the Marvel interpretation. It seemed like a cheap, insincere homage, and besides…. his name is Herakles, not Hercules. (Romanization irked my childhood self for reasons that i still cannot rationalize.) The comic Planet Hulk tickled my fancy, in that sword and sandals rebellion flavor. When the story came to Earth and became Planet Hulk, it surprised me that the only fun thing about it was Hercules wading into the fray to defend his friend. Then i remembered that one of my favorite bits about Civil War was Hercules stubbornly sticking with Captain America, because Steve Rogers is his friend and he trusts him. This naive loyalty was oddly charming in superhero comics, in which so many characters are jaded cynics. So when Hercules pops up to do a repeat performance of allying himself to a lost cause on the principle of friendship, i was happy to see it.

It took me by surprise when it took a turn into the mythological Hercules empathizing with the Hulk’s slain pregnant wife, as the story made sense. When World War Hulk concluded, and the Incredible Hercules cranked up, i stuck with it, as suddenly the hard-drinking brawling Olympian made sense to me in the Marvel Universe. Pak kept delivering great interpretations of classical mythology, with relevant parallels from the happenings in the comic to the actual myths, with big doses of humor and a little pathos. Hercules flashing back to the slaughter of his family made him so much more than a muscled buffoon, but it was when he was arrested by SHIELD, then confronted by his brother Ares, now a member of the Avengers that Herc said, “This isn’t going to be about your stupid birds again, is it?”

The Stymphalian birds. Awesome.

From there, more myths are drawn in, sometimes contradicting each other, which is addressed in the storytelling. It never gets bogged down in the past though, as it doesn’t hesitate to have something as silly as Herc and Ares slugging it out on top of a SHIELD helicarrier, swatting each other with missiles. To be honest, i don’t recall much about Marvel’s Hercules prior to this, aside from him having a rivalry with Thor. Maybe the old stories had references to stuff like Kyknos too, but i kinda doubt it.

It’s not just about the easy familiarity with Greek mythology. Pak has this comic wrapped more into Marvel continuity than any other title that i can think of running right now. In the past seven issues, the story has tied into Civil War, World War Hulk, the Initiative, the Secret Invasion, the Eternals, and the original Champions. Compare this to the turgid storytelling going on in Thor, and it’s obvious that one pay homage to tradition yet keep the story lively and fun. There even seems to be a minor dig at JMS’s Thor in the new Godsquad issue of Herc, too absorbed in their own dramas to save the world.

Please forgive the sloppiness and lack of originality. I’m not sure if i have ever bothered to post about superhero comics on the blog before, and i’m not as comfortable posting everything that pops into my head like i did, oh… say nine years ago. There are so many specialist bloggers that have arisen over the years that a casual generalist like myself feels silly posting about anything in public anymore. It’s just that i have little better to do at the moment.

reassessing Eco

Back when i read Eco’s Baudolino a few years ago, i quite enjoyed it, but Varieties of Unreligious Experience and Eco eviscerates it. He’s rather convincing. Eco has been fading from my mind as the years go on. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana had already undermined my estimation of Eco’s prose, but this was almost painful to read. Alexander Theroux’s Darconville’s Cat was already slated to be read this summer, and a few days ago, i order his essay collection The Primary Colors.

Eco will probably always remain important in my personal canon, as he was one of my gateway authors, one of those guys that i read back when i began reading seriously again that actually stuck.

stumbling in reading

2008 has been a good year for me setting out to read a book and completing it. Normally, for every book that i complete, there are four more that are unfinished, sometimes out of boredom, but more likely out of being distracted by the next interesting book or my other big problem, that i enjoy beginnings more than endings.

A few days ago, i wrapped up Miéville’s The Scar (which was more enjoyable for me than Perdido Street Station, even though stories with even the slightest nautical theme leave me cold.) It turned out to be a little too much fun for me, as i’m now craving more books like that, plot-driven escapist thrills. Now some of the postmodern, experimental books that i assigned myself seem like too much work, and even the more traditional books are losing favor as i wonder if i can find some other dizzy fantasy for another fix. This is why i was so snobby about not reading fantasy and science fiction for so long. I get addicted and lose all discipline, forgetting how to think as i read.

Sorrentino’s collection of essays Something Said is kicking my ass. After Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things, i thought he was one kind of writer, brilliant and casually acerbic. Now that his mind is laid bare here, he’s a hell of a lot more intimidating, far more formal and crystalline than i previously understood. Still, It was funny to read the one in which he scourges John Gardner. Last night, i was toying with Mulligan Stew, only to wind up rereading portions of O’Brien’s The Third Policeman instead.

Silvina Ocampo’s Leopoldina’s Dream turned up in the stacks again. This is the easiest thing that i’ve tackled since Miéville’s The Scar. It’s good stuff, but i’m remembering why i put the book down months ago. The short stories follow a formula of a remembrance of the past, often of childhood or of a certain child, and having an exceptionally cruel twist right towards the end, apparently illustrating that man’s casual inhumanity to man is inherent from birth. She’s great with vivid details that paint the scenes, and there’s a certain grim humor that she excels at, but it gets boring after awhile. Death or betrayal comes near the last two paragraphs every time.

Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness is dizzyingly weird. So far, it’s not the most bizarre thing that i’ve ever read, but it’s rapidly getting there. His zealous insistence that his mystical revelations be addressed in the most scientific terms possible is messing with my head. One footnote actually points out that certain phrases that are in quotes are not quoted from any particular human work, but from the voices he hears in his head and certainly nothing that he could have coined on his own, thus they must remain quotes, although he cannot cite where the voices got them. Whew…

There some other stuff that i’ve tackled in the past few days, but those later.

book haul 05.25.08

The expedition to New Orleans to hit all of the bookstores was a good one… even though we went to only two bookstores in the Quarter, Beckham’s and Crescent City Books. Over the past year or two, i’d picked up a number of old New Directions books from Beckham’s, but i didn’t have a clue that Crescent City Books existed right around the block. Bill promised that there were lots of Dalkey Archive there, and the promise was fulfilled. It’s proving to be a bad idea to look some of the books up this morning though, as i’m finding slightly cheaper copies than the ones that i bought… and almost nothing that i bought was on a wishlist, except for one book.

Beckham’s haul:

  • Italo Calvino. Mr. Palomar. I already had a copy, but this one’s a hardcover.
  • Humberto Constantini. The Long Night of Francisco. Unfamiliar author, but he’s Argentine.
  • Paul West. The Dry Danube. Books concerning Hitler make me distinctly uncomfortable. Bill pushed this into my hands and insisted that it’s worth my time. I’ve already had enough trouble explaining to people why i bought a book titled Nazi Literature in the Americas.
  • Roberto Calasso. K. Wait a minute… this was on my wishlist. Hell yeah.
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet. For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction. Bill cursed, and called me “Mr. Johnny-on-the-spot” for finding this one first. Fuck you, Bill. I told you that was the shelf where i found Conversations with Borges last time.

Crescent City Books haul:

  • Guiseppe Pontiggia. The Invisible Player. Never heard of it before. Over at Beckham’s, Bill urged me to grab anything from Eridanos Library, so i did. Not quite sure what to expect.
  • Mati Unt. Things in the Night. Dalkey Archive. Estonian. No expectations. I don’t think that i’ve read anything Baltic previously.
  • Svetislav Basara. Chinese Letter. Dalkey Archive. Serbian. Kinda a gimme. Of course i couldn’t leave this behind. I don’t recall Stanislav mentioning him, but it looks like an easy, fun read.
  • Arno Schmidt. Nobodaddys’ Children. Dalkey Archive again. It probably could have waited, as there were multiple copies on the shelves, but flipping to the first page to read “The Moon’s bald Mongol skull shoved closer to me,” clenched it.
  • Robert Walser. Jacob von Guten. Vila-Matas references Walser quite a lot, and it’s stupid for me to ignore Vila-Matas. There was also a collection of short pieces, but Bill took that one (what was the title?) as i sensed that it wouldn’t be a proper introduction to Walser, and i felt selfish snagging both the Robbe-Grillet and that Pontiggia.

We left a ton of stuff behind, including a stack of Sorrentino. I have yet to finish the collection Something Said or to start Mulligan Stew, so buying up every Sorrentino in sight is a little too ambitious.

mixtapes

The Cassette from My Ex site has some nice little stories, even though i cannot really do that. My now ex-wife made some awesome mixes, but they were mostly CDs and i don’t feel like listening to those much yet. The tapes that she made were damned good as well, but i was easing out of the tape format at that time, so i never connected as much with them. The only other mixtapes that i received were not from exes, but friends and penpals. The penpal that i was closest to, and still mourn losing touch with, didn’t so much make mixtapes, as copy entire discographies of artists.

It was me who made most of the mixtapes in my life. Most of them were probably desperate, toxic creations. The tracklistings are locked up in a filing cabinet with ten years of diaries and letters that i don’t dare yet exhume. The recipients are now hated, long missing or dead. So yeah… fuck mixtapes. I’m not so nostalgic about them after all.

These days i only make mixes that are commissioned by requests. Kat asks for an artist or style, and i line up a CD or playlist. I don’t miss laying my heart bare in a tracklisting at all. Some of the people i don’t miss at all, yet the music that was selected for the ears is still tainted.

ancient, unknowable life beneath the ocean’s floor

The news of there being enormous masses of single-celled organisms living deep beneath the floors of the oceans that are possibly millions of years old is a weird, alien concept. These organisms could possibly account for one tenth of all living carbon, but the weird thing remains of how damned old they are. There are almost no predators, and they simply exist, rarely reproducing, just maintaining their existence in a state of stasis. It kinda leads me into one of those mad messianic fervors, declaring “Death is life!” and these nearly immortal prokaryotes are alien, unthinking gods beyond comprehension.

You know… the usual.

stumbling in blogging again this May

Medieval 2: Total War ate my brain again. Firing up the game seemed like a good distraction, as reading and writing was not enough to ward off existential angst about unemployment this week. The only job related email that i’ve been getting has been unsolicited ones about pharmaceutical sales positions. All hope is not yet lost, but the only jobs that i can find are too far away for the price of gas or frustratingly paying less than what i’m currently drawing in unemployment. Something will materialize, but this week, i had to ward off feelings of worthlessness by fending off nearly unrelenting waves of Mongol armies from the walls of Constantinople with a handful of Cossack musketeers.

To make matters worse, when the gaming fever broke, i dove into Mieville’s The Scar… another form of escapism. (I quite liked Perdido Street Station, but The Scar is turning out to be far superior, despite my queasiness at all subjects nautical.) The Scar won out over several other books in the queue, like Queneau’s Witch Grass and a couple of Sorrentino books that i picked up used for a penny.

Nope. That post on Zachary Mason’s Lost Books of the Odyssey still has not coalesced, but please, please buy and read this book. Franzen and Wood can sit around pontificating for months, blowing smoke up everyone’s asses about the state of fiction, yet there is a great debut that has been largely unheralded by most critics. The invocations of Borges and Calvino are very much justified, and i’ve noticed that an Amazon commenter namechecks Nail Gaiman. Mason’s novel is far superior to Gaiman’s novels (again, notice that i exclude his comics) in my opinion, but yeah, Lost Books of the Odyssey is very accessible, and speculative fiction readers who fetishize the New Weird could find a lot to love about this book.

Damn. Maybe i ought just ought to finish that post…