Saturday, December 27, 2008
So here's what I've been wondering:
Does the playing of "Little Drummer Boy" in stores over and over and over subtly undermine the capitalist enterprise? The song, as you will recall, is about a "poor boy" who visits the baby Jesus, but has "no gifts to bring"--at least none "fit to give a king." In desperation (?) he plays a little number on his drum and the baby Jesus smiles at him. So this could suggest that material gifts are not necessary, and never were necessary, at Christmas. The wise men weren't so wise to haul that gold and frankincense and myrrh across the sands after all. The boy gives of himself by sharing his special (and perhaps only) talent, which is all Jesus really asks.
On the other hand, perhaps the drummer boy only gets a pass because, as he explains to the linguistically adept newborn, he is a "poor boy too." If he weren't poor, he would have been expected to cough up something nice in a gold or a myrrh. Each according to his means, in other words, which could be a nod to either communism or pre-easy-credit capitalism. But if he hadn't pleaded poverty, would Jesus have been pissed at getting a drum solo when he expected something he could melt down and sell later on?
So what's the message of this song, and how is the message affected by hearing it on a Muzak program amid the glare of fluorescent lights and the whir of hysterical consumption? As we shop along to its insidious thrum, do we think, wow, I'm glad I'm not so poor as to be reduced to playing a drum. I can offer the finest gifts--or I ought to, anyway. Maybe I haven't spent enough on Aunt Martha. OR--what the hell am I doing here? All this junk I'm buying just reifies, and further complicates, the family psychodrama that blows into town like a storm system every year. By god, we need to simplify our lives! I'm putting this chafing dish back! Aunt Martha will understand, if I just explain it in exactly the right words...
Certainly if the song is meant to be subversive, it isn't working. Merchants see it as no threat. Or perhaps the constant repetition is what robs it of its power.
Friday, December 19, 2008
But. The Rick Warren invocation is unforgivable. Not only for all the reasons that thousands of bloggers have already mentioned. But because it fucks up the inauguration for us. This was supposed to be our--progressives'--moment to celebrate so many victories against considerable odds. Now the whole thing feels icky. I am not even sure I want to watch, whereas at one point I was seriously considering trying to go to DC for the event. Warren is Pat Robertson in a fat-and-younger suit. It is sickening that 1) there is assumed to be such a position as "America's preacher," which must be filled now that Billy Graham...is he dead? I forget... and, anyway, 2) Rick Warren is, by fiat, that preacher. If we must have a cartoon balloon hovering over the country to represent our values, how about Underdog from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade?
Monday, December 15, 2008
On the other hand, we had a lovely dinner with friends last weekend, for which I made the vegan moussaka from Veganomicon. That one's a definite keeper, and the pine-nut cream sauce more than makes up for the absence of cheese. And this weekend I made bread from scratch! I don't believe I have ever done that before--meaning real bread, with the damp towel and the kneading and the waiting around. The recipe was from this month's Vegetarian Times, which offers several good-looking recipes, most of which seem veganizable. I made the rye, which turned out great. I've been looking for bread recipes after the repeated failure of the extra-fast, no-knead recipe from the NYT. Could have been me, no doubt, but this thing was a brick, twice.
Actually I feel a little less bleak just having written the above. When in doubt, cook, or write about it, I guess.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
I remember being taught, as a little kid, that every coin or dollar bill I had represented an amount of gold in Fort Knox. If I wanted to, I could show up at the Fort and demand my bit of gold in exchange for my currency. The system was designed to save our backs; otherwise we'd all have to drag around sacks of gold and the most wealthy would end up horribly crippled--who wanted that? It all made good sense, and I happily did my part as a consumer for many years, a little gold nimbus hovering in the back of my mind every time I performed the ritual of exchange. Apparently, though, none of this has been true for quite some time, and the only people who want it to be true are right-wing, tin-foil-hatted survivalists.
The gold standard is problematic for a couple of reasons I can think of. One--mining gold is terrible for the earth and for the people who do it. Two--what's really so great about gold? It's pretty, it's malleable, it's hard to get (see One, above)--but so what? There are other pretty objects, as different civilizations have shown by trading in beads, shells, etc. So is the issue beauty combined with rarity? But if rarity, or difficulty in attaining (which may be, in fact, the same thing), means *doing damage* in order to attain, what's the value there? In one way or another, we have to pay for that damage.
OK, so back to what money is now. If it represents the combined value of all goods and services produced in this country (and in the world, too, I guess), that seems to be a tautology: money is worth what we buy with it. There are goods we don't buy, services we don't use. In any case, we're back to mass delusion. Now, we're all deciding that Hummers, for instance, aren't valuable after all. What happens if the concept of value starts getting radically separated from the material world? Can we monetize time, for instance, in a way that would support our current economic system? Or is that just another form of barter--if I give you five hundred hours of my time for a Prius, does that just mean I'm doing something I'd rather not be doing during that time, like working? And how do I prove I've worked, if you weren't there to watch me--by giving you the money? Is there no escaping the material world? Does value always entail some form of money?
Some economist on Marketplace last week finally raised this question, and said something to the effect that money is now nothing but numbers on screens. Because of all these complicated financial instruments (like derivatives), no one knows what the numbers really represent. The problem is, in a nutshell, that everyone has started wondering. And the powers that be want us to just shut up and stop asking questions--don't even think the questions, or you are sinning and there will be consequences. The system will crash and you will be poor.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
So this thing turned out pretty good. I'd say 3.5 stars out of five. A few caveats: I think next time I will use roasted, unsalted cashews for more cashewy goodness. One could maybe add in other nuts, like walnuts, for variety. It should also be noted that sauteeing nuts is not an activity one can wander away from. They burn. I caught them just in time. I might make more layers: eggplant/stuffing/eggplant/stuffing/eggplant/tomatoes. But I'm like that with eggplant. I am not sure the brewer's yeast is all that necessary; you could probably use nutritional yeast, or just throw in some more herbs, like sage. Vegetarian / mushroom gravy and cranberry sauce* really do complement this.
*I finally made cranberry sauce from scratch--there's nothing to it. (I know you know that. But I grew up with the purplish stuff shlooping out of the can, so this is a thrill for me. Damn, it's good.)
Monday, November 17, 2008
- Barack Obama is still President-Elect. Evidence is mounting that we did not dream it.
- Our cat Bella took her first trip to the vet (that was bad) but she is OK. The vet is two blocks away, which is also good news.
- The Slacktivist has resumed his Left Behind Fridays with his first critique of Left Behind: The Movie. And it includes a pretty fine explanation of why bad books make better movies than good books (even though, in this case, a bad book also seems to have engendered a bad movie, which is good news for Slacktivist fans). (OK, and technically that's Friday good news, not Monday good news, but I found it on a Monday, when I needed it a lot more.) (One thing glass-half-empty people do is nitpick about details and then use them to buffer their announcement of having enjoyed something, even though they did not, because they were nitpicking in preparation for the apology they knew they would have to issue for having pleasure.)(Well, I still enjoy the Slacktivist, and will probably save the LBFs for Mondays in the future.)
- (Meanwhile Bella plots her revenge.)
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Growing up, I was taught that if someone bullies you, you should ignore them. Don't give them the satisfaction of reacting, and they'll go away. As anyone who's been bullied knows, this is bullshit. The solution is martial arts. Even if not applying the techniques to the bully's face and nuts, the training gives one bearing--an ever-so-subtle, don't-fuck-with-me stance. But I digress.
My point here is this: if you think of Palin as a bully, and I do, then she has to be taken down (I mean rhetorically and conceptually, not physically). The constant ridicule has been important in this regard. But what if we think of her, in addition, as a pathetic attention-sponge? Or maybe she's like those aliens in Star Trek (or the carnies in Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, which was a terrible movie, Wired's recent recommendation notwithstanding?)--what if she feeds on negative emotions, our twisted longings and resentments? We on the left have those too, you know. Since she's largely a media creature, if we ignore her, she will on some level cease to exist. Joe the Plumber has already been flushed.
Maybe I'm just finally saturated. Something snapped about 8:45 this morning when I popped over to Andrew Sullivan's for his latest SP tidbit, and, honestly, I just didn't care. (Also one of his readers begged him to give it a rest, and Josh Marshall has said the same thing--It's Over, Sarah.) If only.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Trev thinks I should let go of the whole SP thing, now that the election is over. I will, once I'm certain that she's been utterly and irretrievably destroyed as a political force. This Urban Dictionary entry should help.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
1. What Aravosis said. I'm still mad as hell at the right in this country. I do not want to offer them a seat at the table. We did that before. Each one of their asses took up at least two seats. They made us say grace to their mean, nasty little god. They threw food and knives. They spilled blood, human and animal, on our tablecloth and claimed it was their own. They hollered with their mouths full and cranked up Rush Limbaugh while we were trying to talk. Then they left us their mess to clean up.
2. And they will scorch the earth in retreat. See: passage of Prop 8, in California. This is shameful. But already the good guys are fighting back (again from Aravosis).
So here's why monotheism is bad. When there's just one god, it's too easy to confuse yourself with him. (Isn't it amazing how God always wants what I want? What a great God!) Whereas, if there are many, you have to wonder--well, Dionysis seems to want x, but Appollo wants y. What are ya gonna do? Either you throw up your hands, or you have to choose a side and let them battle it out on Olympos. Sort of like representative democracy.
Friday, October 31, 2008
However I would trade six months of a full-on Cleveland winter* for:
--Defeat of Proposition 8
*I offer this only if there are no alternatives; i.e. if these things weren't going to happen unless I personally volunteered to experience a full-on Cleveland winter for six months. In that case I'd do it for a year if I had to. But only if.**
**For an Obama landslide, I'm prepared to offer three months, with same conditions as above applying.***
***Lots of liberals, including me, think they are magic. That is, they think they personally can doom the election through any expression of optimism. Maybe we're narcissists, infants, just like everybody says; or maybe the fact that any human being could be so deluded as to vote for McCain/Palin or so cruel as to vote for Prop 8 is inexplicable by any form of rational thought, so we turn to magic.****
****We are not magic. But we have power.
Barack Obama for President.
No on 8.
This cheered me up. Especially this part:
The I Forget How to Turn a Doorknob Effect This is expected to keep roughly one percent of Republican voters from leaving the house.
Monday, October 27, 2008
That's my new story, and I'm sticking to it. Thanks, Malcolm!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
One thing we will not be doing in Kernville is kayaking on the Kern River. My cousin took us out for a spin, literally, about four years ago. We beginners got to use inflatable kayaks, which, OK, don't tip as much, but they do get blown along on the current like giant leaves, causing smaller persons borne thereon to outstrip all the people in the other kayaks who know what they are doing and can shout instructions as you dive over the rapids. Not that instructions might have helped at that point. Oh, the other thing these inflatables do is they spin around backward, which is how I went over the dreaded Ewing's rapid the first time out. The second time, I actually came out of the boat (this all really did happen in slow motion) and hovered above it for a few moments; but I was somehow able to polevault myself back in, using my paddle.
So a little car trip through Oildale doesn't seem so bad now.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
John McCain: If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying Mr. Obama as "not one of us," I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence.
However, where are the nation's great Christian leaders at this moment? Where is Rick Warren, for example, the oh-so-reasonable one? Does Christianity have nothing to say about "instigating violence"? The silence from the pulpits is astounding.
Monday, October 06, 2008
A few years ago someone (I can't remember who, unfortunately) observed that W. stumbled most commonly when speaking about caring for others ("Is our children learning?" "I know how hard it is to put food on your family"). These notions either brought up some kind of weird emotional blockage, or else were so foreign to him that he could not even use the language. As for Palin, I don't know for sure. But I think the issue is foreignness. Anything not directly related to Sarah and her quest for power is simply baffling. Other people? Other countries, opinions? Newspapers, you say, with, what did you call them? writers...? Does...not...compute....
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I gather there's a world financial crisis or something going on, too.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I couldn't sleep last night because of the Lifetime poll that said the M-P and O-B tickets were about even on "women's issues." The upshot, apparently, was that women now think McCain understands them because he has one standing beside him, hollering quasi-fascist inanities and lies. Today TalkLeft and others provide some perspective. But there is a parallel universe, separated from ours by an infinitessimal membrane, in which McCain and Palin are considered legitimate presidential candidates. And the membrane is porous.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Amanda Marcotte makes the interesting point that all of us are complicit in a creative person's suicide; we feed off that person's sadness (though he was willing, more than willing, to let us do so). I'm not sure how I feel about that idea. The late and equally lamented Joe Strummer once said non-smokers should be banned from enjoying any creative work done by smokers. After all (I'm interpolating a bit), they're the ones who scorched their lungs and risked cancer as part of their creative process. It's not fair that we get to have it risk-free.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Monday, September 08, 2008
According to Wikipedia, this mola mola is probably basking, which it needs to do frequently in order to warm up and not freeze to death. As the article says, the fish resembles a head with a tail stuck on it. We saw three of these on our trip, all doing the same thing, and have seen the much larger one at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Bottom line: there is no Intelligent Designer. I mean, what could the Smart One have been thinking? Floating like a dying goldfish, or tottering through the chilly water that threatens to kill it, this slapped-together model is, at best, a transition. Is this the pelagic Sarah Palin? Oops, we didn't have time to do the QA on this one, but the boss likes it so--it's a FISH, dammit, the best fish ever.
Thursday, September 04, 2008
Chart points to several examples of progressive language in the R's lines about Palin. I suspect she is partly kidding when she says this: "as irritating as the zealotry of the newly converted always is, I'm glad to see that they're starting to come around."
I want to take a closer look at one statement, because I think it's not just a matter of "coming around" (no matter how hypocritically). It's also a problem of linguistic alternatives:
"We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby ..."
As many have noted, the language of choice is on full display here. Feminists have fought for decades so women can freely choose parenthood *if and when we want it.* But how would this sentence work if the Palins' true ideology lay beneath it?
--"We're proud that Bristol was forced to stay pregnant and give birth at age 17."
--"We're proud that we have taught Bristol that there is never a choice when it comes to pregnancy."
--"We're proud that Bristol never had a choice in this matter."
Notice how unloving the parents now sound. It's impossible to be "proud" of a girl who has no autonomy, no choice. Bristol doesn't sound like a person here, but a prisoner, a mere receptacle for sperm and her parents' tyranny. Few parents could be proud of being that cruel, that dehumanizing. In fact there's no way to make this kind of statement in anti-choice terms and come off as anything other than monsters--who, at best, kept their daughter profoundly ignorant (hence the pregnancy in the first place), or, at worst, forced her into giving birth in order to save their own reputations.
The statement shows the Palins do love their daughter--because they gave her a choice.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I'm still ruminating on all the implications, but one aspect that struck me is how seriously the bf community polices itself. Note, for example, the comments by Michael Rugg, founder of the Bigfoot Discovery Museum in Felton (which we visited a few weeks ago). Belief based on the most fleeing vision is fine, but deliberate hoaxing gives the whole enterprise of finding bf a bad name.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Here's one for the family values crowd: the team currently running McCain's campaign is the same one that created the ugly, racist "whisper campaign" about his adopted daughter in South Carolina in 2000. What does it say about this man that he is now selling out his own family, his own daughter, for political gain? Why won't he stand up for his own vulnerable child? Who would do this?
(Also: why does Blogger put a red "misspelled" underline below Obama and not McCain?)
Monday, August 11, 2008
“[E]litism” in this country isn’t defined by how much money you have, but whether you ever enjoy your life. For instance, you can make a lot of money and not be an elitist if your work is joyless and purposeless. This is why the Waltons are considered salt-of-the-Earth types, even though they’re the richest family in the world: because the only joy they get out of life is exploiting cheap labor both here and abroad to produce and sell cheap plastic crap. And since the Waltons are such miserable people, it’s hard for the average spite voter to feel much resentment toward them, since they’re basically richer versions of themselves.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Subject: Changes to the toilet paper
We are now seeing yet another repercussion from the economic problems affecting our manufacturing businesses. The major paper companies have universally reduced the width of toilet paper by 1/4”. In most cases this does not affect the functioning of the dispenser however, in the models with folding end pieces there is a problem. Our current supplier is providing extensions to place beside the TP to keep it in the holder and the janitors are adding them now.
We are also looking into the new, smaller sustainable companies coming on the market to see if they have products which have the old dimensions and are green.
Please bear with us through this and let us know if your building is experiencing problems.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Last Sunday Trev and I visited the Bigfoot Discovery Museum in Felton, in the
While we're on the subject of me being a dweeb who misses the bigfoot for the book: I see on the BDM site that they have mitigated the singular / plural problem I've always wondered about. Supposedly there are many Bigfoots, or bigfeet, or whatever, but "Bigfoot" suggests that, like the Highlander, there can be only one. However the BDM uses a lower case "b," and seems to employ "bigfoot" as a collective noun that's the same as its singular form, like "deer." Problem solved; and in the process the monster is converted to a more-or-less regular forest critter. (I suspect certain style guides have already instituted this preference. When I published my article in Tin House, I noted in my bio that I was writing a novel about Bigfoot--and the editor, lc'd the "b." At the time I thought it was a mistake, but it turns out they were ahead of me.)
Friday, August 01, 2008
UPDATE: Greenwald, along with today's NYT, points out that there still is no solid evidence against the scientist in question. We may be in for another thrilling ride on the government / media bullshit roller coaster.
Must remember: Do not envy. STEAL.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
*Stuart Dybek does a wonderful job explaining the difference between these terms in the latest Missouri Review.
UPDATE: Having finished the book now, I can say that in the last hundred pages or so, Gibson outshimmers and out-DeLillos DeLillo. While seeming to leave me somewhat cold, the book has stayed with me in a way that more immediately emotional stories have not--which is also true of DeLillo's work, especially Mao II. So here's Gibson:
And then she hears the sound of a helicopter, from somewhere behind her and, turning, sees the long white beam of light sweeping the dead ground as it comes, like a lighthouse gone mad from loneliness, and searching that barren ground as foolishly, as randomly, as any grieving heart ever has.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Ever since the Reagan era, Republicans have been equating fear with patriotism. Not just fear of foreign enemies, although that is the target of FDR's speech, and the entirety of the Bush/McCain campaign strategy. Good Americans are also supposed to fear gays, uppity and / or single and / or child-free women, people with dark skin and unfamiliar names, people who think, people who read, artists, urbanites, non-Christians, non-hunters, non-American-Idol-watchers, people who walk to work, unusually calm people...I know I've left out over half the categories. From fear comes helplessness, and, yes, "clinging" to old habits, old ideas. As Bob Herbert said a few days ago, since when have we become such a can't do society?
There are plenty of reasons to be worried, even frightened--the biggest reason being politicians who exploit fear. It means they have no other justification for their positions, and that means all their actions are aimed at consolidating power. Fear is the tool of dictatorship, not democracy.
Monday, July 21, 2008
We now reap the, um, benefits of this decision's extraordinary success. Being a Christian's so easy, anyone, and I mean anyone, can do it. Which is both this guy's message, and the reason for his absolute lack of self awareness in delivering it. It's important to watch the video all the way to the end, where events turn spectacularly dark. (Could this be a hoax? Could it?)
Dr. Horrible also got dark at the end, which surprised me at first, but which, on reflection, seems appropriate. At least that ending was intentional. Maybe it's just me, but Dr. Horrible and the pickle video somehow share a core narrative.
Thanks to Zach for the tip.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Monday, July 14, 2008
1. Pig (or ape or shark or any other animal name) as a derogatory term. Pigs are fine animals. But even if they weren't, who are we to judge them? Better to call a poorly-behaved pig a human; except there's really no such thing as poor behavior in pigs, just behavior that is less convenient for those trying to imprison and kill them. And that is, actually, good behavior.
2. Nonbeliever or unbeliever for atheist. Even "atheist" has a negative prefix, which gives the impression of absence and nihilism. This built-in absence makes it easy for theists to claim "they have no morals, no conscience, nothing to aspire to"--when in fact we believe in a great many things, including reason, imagination, progress, beauty, wonder, brilliance, mystery, and even the sacred. The fact that there are no good alternatives for "atheist" shows the extent to which theists have controlled our language. I do not, however, find much power in the term "Bright" as proposed by Dawkins and Dennett. (It does have the advantage of being every bit as smug as "believer" or "Godly" is for others.) I'm a believer, but not in God.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
More often than not, I have found myself with the choice of the following emanations: ESPN, probably the least offensive of the three, and admittedly wonderful when they show tennis; Fox News; and--no, he's not dead--Maury Povich. Today I had the opportunity to ask myself: which is worse, Fox or Maury? Fox needs no introduction. Maury, for those who don't remember, hosts a talk show in which people, usually couples, usually African-American, are lured on to participate in an emotional cage-fight. Secrets are revealed (the baby isn't his! She slept with a woman! He's a peeping Tom!), leading to screaming, crying, chasing around the studio, and, rarely, a tentative reconciliation which belies the fact that these two have just ruined each others' lives. Maury appears to function as a kind of Satanic therapist. However, I was not really able to come up with an answer about which show I would choose to watch while being tortured.
I would have given the nod, very reluctantly, to Fox, except for something I observed about the commercials on both shows. I was watching at about 2:30 in the afternoon, and Fox showed a preponderance of ads for what you might call less-than-vital household products. There's a thing called a Green Bag that keeps your fruits and vegetables fresh for days, nay weeks, longer. Carrots kept naked in the crisper are bendy and brown, while Green Bagged carrots crack, like so! There's a similar, more industrial looking device for meat, thanks to which you can now buy pork chops in bulk and save money! (Vegetarian rant postponed; just go give PETA some bucks.) I also saw at least two ads for a plastic globe, available in several colors, that you fill with water and stick in your houseplants, to avoid the agony of pouring water directly into the plants.
I conclude that at this time of day, Fox assumes its audience to be middle-aged housewives with no aspirations besides tinkering around the edges of their domestic systems. Whereas during Maury, which certainly offered its share of ads for dumb stuff, I also saw several commercials for Heald Technical College and possibly another school as well. These ads featured women of all races earning degrees and getting jobs. Women who watch Maury, it seems, are home, but don't want to be there--at least not for long. Judging from what we see on Maury, they're wise to get out as soon as possible. But on Fox, we learn that everything outside is scary: rapist camp counselors! Terrorists! Black people running for president! Better to stay inside and tend to your carrots and plastic balls.
*minus lockers or showers, a widely discussed and mystifying omission
**trademark George Saunders
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Patience with uncertainty. That's the key.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Anyway, a few days later, Trev got an email advising him to flip the Roomba over and bash the wheel repeatedly with the heel of his hand (I paraphrase). He did, and after a few tries--it worked! The Roomba shot across the carpet and cleaned steadily for longer than it ever had before. It didn't even want its brushes cleaned.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Norman Fischer's dharma talk was on atheists, especially Daniel Dennett, and their quarrels with "believers." Norman said the argument seemed to him "beside the point"--that we all have religious inklings (Dennett says we are naturally selected to be religious), and the issue really is the language we use to express those feelings. So "God" for one person might be, perhaps, "wonder" for another person. However, Norman also suggested that the language, or concept, of an authoritarian guy on a throne, manipulating us from above and outside, is not a helpful one. We all have to avoid "clamping down" on our concepts, which is what makes us intolerant and judgmental and destructive.
I tended to agree. When people ask me if I believe in God, I always want to ask, "What do you mean?" Guy on a throne? No way. But do I have a sense of the sacred, of something larger? A sense of wonder and awe at the universe? A sense of responsibility toward all creation, even without a creator? Yes. I'd like to think I feel responsible because I care about my fellow beings, not because I'm afraid of punishment or because I want a reward. I think that's called being an adult, and I would like to be one some day.
I'm very glad Dennett and Dawkins and PZ Meyers and all the other atheists are kicking up a ruckus, and by the above definition I'm one of them. On the other hand, I'm not always sure what they're arguing against. If it's the guy on the throne, though, count me in. That guy, even if he exists, should be resisted unto death, and beyond.*
*Update: Here's a helpful post from Tristero, which tells me I need to read my New Atheists more thoroughly. Yes, they're fighting Throne Man, and therefore I cast my lot with them.
But the language here really *is* a problem. "Atheist" seems to me to cover too much ground. As does "God," possibly.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Thursday, June 12, 2008
So we recently bought a Roomba. I hate buying anything (except Moo Shoes and food), and as I've said, I hate the very idea that a product could "change my life." But with the Roomba, resistance is futile. It really makes a difference. Now we can actually be doing other things while vacuuming--frantically doing dishes and cleaning the bathroom, for instance, in anticipation of company, or simply talking (about the Roomba). Best of all, it does not scare the cats. They watch it warily when it first starts up and back away if it charges at them (which it does once in a while, randomly of course); but then they go about their business. No recovery time necessary.
The troubling thing about [the] Roomba (it refers to itself as "Roomba" with no definite article) is its servant status. When we're done with it we take it to the spare room, put it on its charger, and close the door. It feels very Upstairs Downstairs. Maybe if the Roomba weren't so cheerful, with its blooping noises and pleasant requests for assistance ("Please remove and clean Roomba's brushes!") it would be easier. I could do with a little class resentment, a touch of sullenness. Better yet, I'd like it to speak in the voice of George W. Bush. That way I could make it work all day long and not feel the least bit guilty. As it stands I still feel, after a half hour or so, that it really deserves a break.
Monday, June 09, 2008
I don't think misogyny alone doomed her campaign, but I do agree with this, on the Hillary nutcracker. Whoever bought or sold this deserves to have it used on him.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
It does not mean "of or pertaining to a Three Musketeers bar"--but "of little value." I suppose we did need a single word for that concept. So the word itself probably isn't, you know, nugatory. Time will tell.
At the conference I realized that I've never been in a room with 150 lawyers before. I'm rarely in a room with more than one lawyer; in the rooms I'm in, there are almost always zero. I'm pretty sure my colleague and I were the only ones cracking up and passing notes about "nugatory."
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Here is a picture of Bella, taken by Trev's new SRV-1 Blackfin Robot, the Open Source Wireless Mobile Robot with Video for Telepresence, Autonomous and Swarm Operation.
As you can see, Bella is somewhere in the middle on the "impressed with robot" scale.
That's me in the background, not working on my novel.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Monday, May 12, 2008
The same went for Speed Racer. The crappy, repetitive animation and the un-synched soundtrack caused me to wave my little fist in the air and shout epithets. But more than any of these aesthetic failures, I hated Spritle. I hated his concentric-circle cap, especially the fact that it matched the chimp's, which I found inexplicable and somehow gruesome. I hated his stupidity (half the plots, as I recall, revolved around Spritle and the chimp getting into some kind of trouble from which Speed had to rescue them--like he had nothing better to do!). And--above everything--I hated Spritle's voice. God, how it grated. To this day I curl up like a potato bug when I even think of that voice.
Interestingly, I watched a lot of Speed Racer. It never occurred to me to Turn It Off if I didn't like it. It must have been between two shows that I did like, or something. But I'm afraid this says something about me, and possibly about the well-trained young TV viewer.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Your journal isn't about you. No offense, and as important as you are, your journal is not an extension of you. Rather, it is like a Polaroid camera that you aim at everything around you and with which you snap a photo. This café. That conversation. That wide, beautiful coastline with clouds hovering over the water like cotton candy and the smell of the surf pushing spring toward the dessert on a mission from God.
For the life of me I have never been able to grasp this concept of a journal. Exhibit A: this blog, which is about me, me, me. If I make a written snapshot of "this cafe," it's "this cafe" with the back of my head in the foreground. You can see me looking.
I suppose this has something to do with my resistance to "show, don't tell"--the dictum to do every part of the story in scene and not summary. In telling, I, the author, can be more present, as in "look at me telling you this." Whereas in scene, one has to efface oneself, become a window through which the reader looks. Bleh.
The best example of the Polaroid style of journal that I can think of is Yuri Olesha's No Day Without A Line. It really is a book of snapshots, written with surreal visual clarity.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
The film is an extended author interview, and Gibson has interesting things to say. As IMDB puts it, however, "you see Gibson talking in the backseat of a car, often with a cigarette in his hand, while the world goes by. Interviews are spliced with quickly edited footage of modern day life and the effect, for the most part, works." Works, if by "working" you mean inducing seizures, an endeavor which I suppose could be valuable in some military or scientific context. Plus, dissonant background music by The Edge makes it impossible simply to shut one's eyes and listen.
This movie literally is out to get you.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Thursday, April 24, 2008
He says this is the "National Geographic" style of photo, showing what the place is really like--people interacting with the landscape. (Mind you this was taken in spring, which explains both the waterfall and the relatively sparse crowd--which was still too big for me.)
I tend to think that when people (non-native at least) and cars show up in nature photographs, they somehow invalidate the whole picture. But why would I think that? Are these people not part of this place? Are they not using (by driving through, photographing, walking on) the land? Especially in Yosemite, how are tourists anything but a central feature of the landscape?
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Lately I've been looking at houses on distant hills (because I'm writing about someone who spies on people in such a house through a telescope) and trying to figure out how far away they actually are and how high up. The question adds certain dimensions, as it were, to the story--I begin to wonder how long it would take the spy-ee (once he's discovered the spy-er) to drive down the hill in a rage and bang on the spy-er's door. All this does help add texture and create a sense of being there in the story. So I hope, anyway. I've always tended to leave my characters suspended in the air, not being especially interested in setting on the technical level. But now I'm beginning to see how setting, and specifically blocking, have their own ways of driving the story.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Friday, April 11, 2008
Update: Speaking of Natalie, here's her column on the subject. She's got it covered.
People own the territory that they are born into. That's the richest ore writers can mine.... Get in touch with where you're from. No matter where you're from, even if it's a subdivision in Kenner, Louisiana, that is your literary heritage. If you look at it closely enough, you'll see that it is as exotic and unique as some Central or South American culture in the mountains.Gautreaux writes about southern Louisiana and its "priests, drunks, train conductors, unemployed workers, and card-playing grandmothers with sharp-tongued wit." All very well. But what if one's heritage is rust-belt suburbia? (OK, it does sound kind of exotic when I put it that way.)
I can't understand these people who say that anybody can write about anything and any time if they do enough research because they cut themselves off from the speech of those they grew up with.
--Tim Gautreaux, Novel Voices, ed. Lavasseur and Rabalais
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Willpower and persistence are relatively new concepts for me. Most of my life I've assumed that if something doesn't go well the first or second time I try it, that means it's not going to happen. The idea of regrouping, coming back, regrouping, coming back, etc., still seems like a revelation. These days I'm surrounded by highly successful, highly persistent people. Some are almost like machines, moving inexorably forward--they roll into a closed door, bounce off it, and roll at it again until they push it open.
I also learned about persistence from Norman Fischer's book Taking Our Places (and thanks to Sara for this recommendation). Zen meditation is the practice of persistence, especially because, in my experience anyway, it is not immediately rewarding. One sits there and wonders why one is bothering. Enlightenment does not come; relaxation, even, does not always come. Yet one sits down and does it, at the appointed time, again and again. (I say "one" because at the moment *I* am not doing it persistently, or even very often. OK, but I did get the concept; really I did. And I am persisting in my writing, despite hitting a dismaying patch that I won't go into just now.)
A big part of persistence is recognizing the value of what you're persisting at, even--or especially--if no one else does.
Stubbornness and passive or active aggression are not persistence. It can't be done in anger or revenge, or to prove a point. It should not be destructive. This is why I'm having a hard time admiring what Hillary Clinton calls her "resilience." Yes, she's a survivor, but that seems to be all she is and all she can ever be at this point. It's not her fault, entirely--she's had to make compromises and those compromises have trapped her. But surviving is not governing, and I'm afraid it's not even a good example in this case.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
For a long time I couldn't bear even to look at Walden, because it was so closely woven into all my academic work. I couldn't read it outside of that tense, grinding mindset--must find more ways Thoreau is a masochistic fascist! While I think the Thoreau piece is my best work from that era, I'm glad it wasn't published. I can see in my marginal notes on the pages how aggressive I was as a reader. My goal seemed to be to prove myself superior to this great, influential, and brave (yes, I know the cabin was in Emerson's backyard) thinker. So lately I've been rereading Walden as more of an aspiring kindred spirit.
I doubt I'll do any more academic writing beyond the occasional half-baked thought on this blog. But if I did, I'd like to write on this bit from the first section of Walden, "Economy":
I took down this dwelling the same morning, drawing the nails,and removed it to the pond-side by small cartloads, spreading the boards on the grass there to bleach and warp back again in the sun. One early thrush gave me a note or two as I drove along the woodland path. I was informed treacherously by a young Patrick that neighbor Seeley, an Irishman, in the intervals of the carting, transferred the still tolerable, straight, and drivable nails, staples, and spikes to his pocket, and then stood when I came back to pass the time of day, and look freshly up, unconcerned, with spring thoughts, at the devastation; there being a dearth of work, as he said. He was there to represent spectatordom, and help make this seemingly insignificant event one with the removal of the gods of Troy.
So much going on here. Thoreau has bought and dismantled another Irishman's cabin to reuse the boards for his own. We've just seen that Irish family walking off into the unknown, all except their cat, who "took to the woods," became wild, but then died (Thoreau has heard) in a trap set for woodchucks. I'd like to say more about these vanishing scenes at some point. I'm sure this very scene has inspired similar ones in my fiction.
But what I'm most interested in here is the way Thoreau leaves the stage and lets someone else, young Patrick, and Seeley also, take over the narrative. It's like the line in To the Lighthouse, the boiling-down of Mr. Ramsay's philosophy: "think of a kitchen table when you're not there." It's a moment when the first person narrator, a stand-in for all of us, who are always the first-person narrators of our stories, sees himself as peripheral. Life goes on in our absence, our plans and our cabins quietly dismantled. Thoreau returns to claim Seeley's thefts as lending grandeur to his little project; he's joking and not joking at the same time. Still, that doesn't change the fact that he has left both his boards and his story in others' hands, "in the intervals of the carting."
Monday, March 24, 2008
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Monday, March 17, 2008
I asked Hayden White a similar question a few years ago, and he said the problem is that the right has mastered "normative" language--in other words, they speak to our deep, collective desire to be "normal." The left may not even know this language, because (as artists, intellectuals, etc.) we are outsiders. We spend our lives extolling and defending the different. I suppose by making something sound familiar by repetition, one also makes it normal--something everybody who is normal knows. And how do we cut through this falsely comforting haze of familiarity? The familiar, after all, is the primal urge of conservatism.
I think one step would be to associate that need for familiarity with fear. The right manipulate fear, but we should constantly call them on it. Not just by saying they're fear-mongers, but that they are afraid themselves. They are scared little boys and girls quivering in their caves, while the rest of us want to go out and become better. The American self-improvement imperative could help here.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
As for io9 itself, I quite like it. They post constantly and I don't always have the patience to read the actual articles, but they have awesome pictures and the tags (Triviagasm, Steal This Pitch, Retro Futurism, Tanks...) are entertaining in and of themselves.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
What else did we learn? We did not love Rescue Dawn, the film screened on Tuesday night. Despite Herzog's protestations, it really did seem like a straight-on adventure (he hates the word "adventure") with no attention to moral complexities or the curious meanderings of his other films. It seems like he was too close to the subject, Dieter Dengler, and wanted to memorialize him as an ingenious hero; Dengler was dying while the film was being made. Also the actors playing prisoners, especially Jeremy Davies, lost way, way too much weight for their roles. Really, I am willing to suspend disbelief. Put some dirt on the guys' faces, give them some baggy clothes, and I'll happily believe they are prisoners. I'm not interested in weight loss as extreme film-making stunt.
Friday, February 29, 2008
Lunch room, locker room: the trash talk is still being batted around about women as if everything's the fault of a few feminist bitches with frigid temperatures and Tilda Swinton hauteur who insist on being where they're not wanted, going where they don't belong. And underneath the trash talk is the even more unattractive noise of white men whining because things aren't like they used to be. No, they are not. This news should have reached you by now and soaked in. Things haven't been like they used to be for about thirty years now, hell, maybe forty. So set your inner Pat Buchanan free in that patchy stretch of woods along the interstate and accept the reality of women's equality without being such a bullying baby about it.
Monday, February 25, 2008
For the first part of class we talked about what it takes to put on a play; what was interesting is that we understood all the parts except the one between "getting money to finance" and "opening night." What goes in rehearsals? How do actors find their characters? How do they work together? I wondered why the "tech rehearsal" occurs so late in the game--that's perhaps the first time actors get to put on the full costumes and make sure dresses don't get hooked on furniture, etc. But if an actor needs to wear the costume to understand why, for instance, she can't bend over or wave her arms a certain way, why not wear the costume sooner? Answer: because the costume, more likely than not, hasn't been made yet. So it seems harder to work outside-in under these circumstances. For practical reasons, it seems, psychology often has to come first.
During the last half hour or so, we did a few acting exercises. One was to make a brief statement about something banal that had happened to us that day (mine was about buying a latte). Then we repeated the line while doing different things with our bodies, such as glancing around the room, or, in my case, lying back in the chair like a client on the therapists' couch. (I must have been radiating something for Rachel to suggest that.) Anyway what was amazing is that changing position and action really did change the line delivery. Not only was it harder to make my voice do certain things when I was lying back, that difficulty--or maybe the position itself--changed my emotions slightly. So by lying back I started speaking more slowly and dully. No other effort was required to make this rather striking change in how the line came out. I, for one, really am malleable from the outside in. Shiatsu massage, here I come.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Later we caught up to them again and the boy had somehow gotten his bike wedged against a pillar. Not surprising, given his loftier preoccupations.
(edited to remove crummy analogy)