<= 2001.02

2001.04 =>

[MARCH 2001.]

hog callin blues

Apparently the Workshop has a prom at the end of the year. It's about the only social event that everyone goes to, and people actually wear tuxedos and it's actually called "prom" and so on. This is extremely cute, and possibly will allow me to redeem my past. I went to one prom in high school, and it wasn't even for the school I was attending at the time. I accompanied Happycat and his girlfriend; my date was a girl I didn't know well who had offered to spring for the tickets, so I said okay.

8:00 pm: I'm trying to figure out how to put the goddamn tux on. The only time I've worn such a contraption.

8:30 pm: Happycat and I leave for his girlfriend's house.

8:50 pm: We pull into the girlfriend's driveway and realize that we've left the corsages in Happycat's refrigerator. We pull back out as she opens the door. "Maybe she'll think it was a car in another driveway," I say.

9:30 pm: Back at her place, with corsages. Pause as her father, who is a professional photographer, takes pictures of everyone. On to pick up my date, who lives at the literal other end of Tucson. I no longer remember why she was at this high school.

10:30 pm: Driving, dinner. Surprisingly, the sushi place is still open.

11:30 pm: Arrive at the prom with a half hour to go. We dance, but can't really get into it. It's kind of dispiriting and reminds me why I hated everything when I was seventeen. The only consolation is that my ex-girlfriend is there with terrible hair and a 300-pound pizza deliveryman as her date.

12:00 am: Back to Happycat's place. Drink sherry, smoke cigars. I know, we were snobs even then. We also watch Tank Girl. Ninety minutes into the movie I pass out on Happycat's couch. This was my principal hobby in high school.

So, as you can see, my expectations for this prom are quite high.

This is good news (Dutch gay marriage), but then I get upset while reading it, especially the bit about euthanasia: how come my country is so backward about these things?

Genetically modified mice eat more, weigh less, and only some of them die. "They appear happy," scientists say.


seeds of its own destruction

Right now, metameat.net doesn't want to exist, but www.metameat.net does. I don't get the fine distinction and I can't check my mail.

See, here's the problem with the President: he actually seems like a nice enough guy in many respects. He's able to laugh at himself. It would be seriously disarming if he weren't controlled by evil people, who have decided it's best not to let him talk so much.

What America, or at least five old geezers in black robes, wanted was a genial, figurehead-type CEO who is incapable of defending or even explaining the decisions made by his corporate masters on the board of directors, but who can make ignorance seem charming.

Or, more generally:

The President in particular is very much a figurehead--he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason the President is... a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it.

Almost plausible, isn't it? Only the second passage is from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and is talking about Zaphod Beeblebrox.


independent as a hog on ice

Via misterpants: pictures of KISS fans in Japan. These are great.

I have this measuring cup made by a Czech glassware company. It came with a couple of Czech recipe suggestions, e.g.:

A classic Czech Dish that is tasty and delicious.

1 1/2 lbs. Pork arm roast--cubed, 1 large onion--chopped, 2 tablespoon cooking oil, 1 1/2 cups cubed rye bread (remove crust), 1 cup beer, 1 cube beef bouillon dissolved in 2 1/4 cups water or two cups beef stock, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds.

Heat medium sauté pan with 2 tablespoons cooking oil; brown onions until tender. Add cubed pork and brown slowly while adding salt, pepper, caraway seeds, and dissolved beef bouillon or beef stock. Cook 40 minutes watching that the liquid does not dissolve, add water as needed. While meat is cooking, soak rye bread in beer, remove meat and pour rye bread and beer mixture into cooking liquid; stir often. Simmer for 10 minutes, place entire liquid in blender; blend until smooth; return meat and blended liquid to casserole. Cook in 325 degree over for 30 minutes.

There's also a beer cake, so we can see where Czech cuisine places its priorities.

On the other hand, I can't recommend Jiri Grusa's The Questionnaire highly enough. He's a friend of Vaclav Havel's and originally circulated the novel in an underground edition of nineteen typewritten copies, which landed him in jail for "initiating disorder." He's currently the Czech ambassador to Austria, where Joerg Haider no doubt makes him nervous. But the novel itself is excellent, told from a dreamy, constantly shifting perspective that I want to call "magical realist" only because I can't think of a more precise description. The trope is that the narrator is completing a standard employment questionnaire, and in mock obesiance to the questionnaire's request for completeness he writes a generation-spanning, impressionistic history of himself, his family and his hometown. Really beautiful, often funny, and sometimes scary as hell.


existential mew

Via Geegaw: the complete "If Only Bert Were Here," from Lorrie Moore's Birds of America, chronicling the aftermath of a beloved cat's death in that inimitable Lorrie Moore way.

The singing von Trapps from The Sound of Music: where are they now? Liesl does interior design work (she bought 17 mannequins for Michael Jackson's bedroom), Friedrich went on to be Spiderman, and Louisa posed nude for Playboy as "The Tender Trapp," then married Robert Urich.

Q: How do you take a stand against our President's backward take on reproductive rights etc.? A: Pubic hair.

The life and times of Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-61): just your average boy trying to deal with his libido in the Victorian era. It started at puberty and never got better:

From the age of 14, he periodically marks the pages with an asterisk that evidently indicates descents into the vice of masturbation. "Shame shame that there shd be any sensuality when I know full well the higher pleasures of intellect, yes, & those highest ones of Christianity," he laments at one point. But the asterisks continued, often accompanied by references to "my worst temptation", "visits to sin and wickedness", and "the passion to which I have given way".

In 1839, the diary records that he spoke to his father about his habit; the next day he saw a doctor. How would he have been diagnosed? Perhaps as the victim of a disease known to the Victorians as "spermatorrhoea". This was a medical nonsense of the time (although one earnestly believed in) which proposed that masturbation led to an uncontrollable flow of semen, which eventually led to impotence and depression before culminating in total physical debility.


below the mineshaft

Last night I was dumb enough to revisit mad-cow.org, which I'm not even linking because I'm angry with it. They have this thoroughly irresponsible section labeled "Bovine-CJD: might you already have it?" Early-onset symptoms include anxiety, depression, memory problems and pains in the arms and legs. Of course, after reading it, I immediately noticed "Hey, I do have pains in my arms and legs." Sort of. I expect that my brain can will these pains to occur if it thinks they're supposed to be there. Christ, I never used to be hypochondriac. In high school I would walk around campus ingesting leaves from random plants to see what would happen.

The life and times of John Nash, who invented game theory as a graduate student and immediately moved on to a spectacular decades-long madness in which he claimed, among other things, to be the Emperor of Antarctica. (I knew a schizophrenic in Palo Alto, unrelated, also obsessed with Antarctica.) Nash eventually recovered and won the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics.

Survey sez Americans are not getting enough sleep or sex, and 34% of adults sleep alone.

Nélida Piñón is a Brazilian author of short and strange stories like "The Warmth of Things," in which a fat kid turns into a tamale, or is possibly a tamale the whole time. It's unclear. Oddly, her books are standard Parisian university fare in French translation, but she sells poorly at home.


filling arenas with the force of his face

Last night at the Oscar ballot I tied for second, as I was dumb enough to think a movie other than Gladiator would win the big one. The consolation prizes, handed out to three of us, were these extremely campy sci-fi videos; mine was "The Cage," the original never-aired pilot for Star Trek where someone other than William Shatner was the captain. Then my horribly awkward social moment: I had to trade with Chelsey because I already owned that video of "The Cage." Okay, so I think it's sitting in a box somewhere in Arizona, but it was still mortifying.

As long as I have no shame, there's a picture from the tournament yesterday. We're at the bottom of the page; they spelled my name wrong, which is probably a blessing since search engines won't be able to find it. Note the number of spectators. Actually, it sort of looks like we're all taking a polygraph test.

Time talks about phobias and anxiety disorders, and the use of behavior modification therapy and SSRIs to treat them. I had a fear of Subway for a few months. I was standing in line to get a sandwich on 17 October, and I know it was 17 October because I was reading a newspaper article on Beethoven's lead poisoning. I became aware that the the light over my newspaper was pulsing at a quick and regular rate; this was alarming enough to cause a ringing in my ears, which is sort of my personal sign of near danger. I looked up and realized that the effect was caused by the blades of the ceiling fan, spinning under the fluorescent light; but this realization didn't help at all because it meant that the entire restaurant was pulsing now, in an unnatural and wholly unnerving way, and the Subway Sandwich Artists working behind the counter began to seem like automatons, soulless and not wholly friendly, and I began to ascribe hostile intentions to the people sitting in the yellow booths eating their sandwiches, and the cumulative effect was that Subway was not a safe place and I had to get out. I ran out to the Iowa City pedestrian mall and wandered around it for a while and began to think that something was wrong with my visual cortex because I couldn't get a good fix on moving objects, plus I was woozy from low blood sugar since I hadn't eaten my sandwich, and the whole business was no good and I didn't go back to Subway for months.

The point being this is silly, because Lord knows there's enough in the world that we actually should fear.

And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
         --T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday


i am dork, hear me roar

I've been gone most of the day at a College Bowl tournament. Yes, College Bowl, as in myself and Elizabeth and Calvin (both poets) comprised a Workshop team which competed against other Iowa teams in answering trivia questions about Brunei, alpha particles, and Darva Conger.

I won an Iowa T-shirt. Our team made it to the final match in the tournament (yes, there were NCAA-style brackets and everything), beating other departments, fraternities, and a team named Devo. The event didn't really have any spectators and the other teams, having been beaten, decided they could go home early; so the final match was kind of anticlimatic since it was just us, the other team, the moderators and lots of empty chairs. We lost, narrowly, and I think the entire thing was videotaped on a digital camera and they're actually going to post statistics and things, to which I will duly link because I am, yes, a dork. The best part about the whole business was the machine we used to buzz our answers, which had a whole light rig and a complicated algorithm for determining who was allowed to buzz when. It was called "The Judge."

The movie thing, which I really only want to see for the Bjork/Yorke duet, happens tonight. My money's on Traffic, which I haven't actually seen, because people like Issue Movies even if they haven't actually seen them, and I refuse to believe that we live in a society which could heap such accolades on Gladiator.

I scored a 35% on the Gay-O-Meter (thanks Chelsey). "Loosen up, mate," the site advises me. "Women like a man who has some softer edges."

In the arena of personality tests, we've been running Workshop folk through the Media Matcher. We're heavy on the Trent Reznors and William Burroughses; there's also been at least one Salvador Dalí and a Howard Stern.


that's entertainment

Little time to write today: there's a movie party planned (Harvey, Battlefield: Earth) and this place is a disgrace. Look at the bathroom. What's that stuff in the sink? I don't know. I hope Lysol kills it.

Bits of Mir could wash up on Pacific islands. I hope they do, and I hope a remote group of Micronesians decides to worship them, just like John Frum and the cargo cults.

Neuroscience marches on, suggesting that highly specific different areas of the brain activate when math prodigies do calculations, when normal people do calculations, when people receive money, when people lose money and when people name vegetables.


vicious and vitreous

I'm writing again; so not really leaving the house, for the nonce. Also, in a dim way, I'm actually following a sports event for the first time in a few years, as Arizona looks to be doing well in the NCAA tournament. Stanford's doing even better, but that excites me less, for some reason I can't probe.

Ed Harris talks about Pollock.

After Krzysztof Kieslowski completed his sublime "Three Colors" trilogy with Red in 1994, he claimed he was done with movies. From here on, he said, he would only sit in his apartment and smoke cigarettes. Not surprisingly, this didn't last long; I really believe that for most artists the Muse is a cast-iron bitch who pulls you whither she will, whether you like it or not, and quitting just isn't an option. Shortly before his death in 1996, Kieslowski began to work with his longtime collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz on scripts for a planned trilogy based on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Looks like they're actually going to see the light of day, in some version. "Heaven" will be released this fall: it's English language, with Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) directing and Cate Blanchett starring.

Nina reports that Geegaw's hit count has halved. This is a goddamn shame. Go read Geegaw, folks; especially if you're one of those strange people who like poetry and stuff.


joys of the butaneous sort

People come up to me in the Dey House and say that they've seen the site and they are telling other people (like the undergrads they're teaching) to check it out. "Oh," I say, embarrassed, "um, thank you."

This is when Marlowe tells me to stop pretending to be embarrassed. "You're such a whore!" he says. "You're loving the attention! Look at you, you whore." Then we all go over to his place to smoke his hookah. Last night we were out of hookah charcoal and had to light it with these butane-soaked barbecue coals; it seemed a little dicey at the time but my motor functions are still intact today. Vu abstained until we made fun of him for fearing Big Bad Mr. Butane, then he caved.

An article on Steve Martin's downward spiral which I only half agree with. Yes, it's usually unfortunate when comedians make a go at the "serious artist" badge, but some of Martin's New Yorker bits were pretty funny. That one about the period shortage in Times Roman was hilarious. They're certainly better than the New Yorker pieces by Woody Allen, whom the article holds up as a foil to Martin. Those -- at least the ones I've read -- are really awful. They're like T.C. Boyle at his most unhinged, but written by an eleventh-grader with a vocab booster book full of long Latinate adverbs. Maybe if you live in New York you think five involuted pages about renovating an apartment is funny. I dunno.

A long footnote from this out of print annotated Rime of the Ancient Mariner I have, which I at least find hilarious:

Intended for Lyrical Ballads, though not included, was Wordsworth's narrative poem "Peter Bell," in which he sought to dramatize the same moral theme of Coleridge's ballad, but without resort to the supernatural. Parallels with The Ancient Mariner are so obvious, and the poetry so inept, that the poem is almost a parody. Peter Bell, a wanderer by land instead of sea, in an uncouth, immoral salesman of (Wedgewood?) pottery, blind to the beauty of yellow primroses and other aspects of nature:

Not for the moon cared he a tittle,
And for the stars he cared as little.

An act of cruelty to one of God's humble creatures, a donkey, plunges him into a sequence of terrifying events which lead finally to his remorse, repentance, and spiritual rebirth. There are numerous, deliberate attempts to introduce images from Coleridge's ballad: a man's corpse, a horned moon, moonlight, blood, the donkey's shining eye, a grotesque grin, auroral lights, an apparition, those three mystic numbers (3, 7, and 9), the great harlot of Babylon, an empty bucket, an underground explosion, and many others.

Here's the inept poem itself.


ineluctable modality of the marginal

Here's that song. California Dreaming, mp3, 1902592 bytes. I recorded it back in December when all the winter imagery was much more apropos, but I was lazy about mixing it down.

Here's another review of Rick Moody's Demonology. I don't know whether it's an accurate reflection of the book (it's hardcover, I'm poor), but it hits a serious question in current fiction spot-on:

Moody’s not alone here: the other New White Guys -- as Wallace has dubbed the group that includes him, Moody, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Donald Antrim, and for good measure, let’s throw in that upstart Dave Eggers -- have almost had the same trouble. Schooled in the late ’70s and ’80s by English departments and creative-writing programs in which narrative deconstruction and paranoid irony was the rage -- Moody’s mentor was Robert Coover, perhaps experimentalism’s sleekest, coldest customer -- and understandably unwilling to follow the inimitable path of Raymond Carver, these writers find themselves swimming in postmodernism’s backwash, not quite sure how to make their own way. It’s an old Oedipal story -- younger writers trying to write themselves free of their forebears -- and so far, Wallace is probably the only one to find his way to shore, and that’s because he’s the only one who’s managed to make postmodern innovation organic to his work, and even that took a while. Look at Eggers, for instance: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, his smash memoir, is split right down the middle between heartbreaking pathos (a realistic description of Eggers’ mother’s death) and pop-metafictional showoffiness (the rest of the book). Both sides are intriguing, but the chasm between them is ominous.

Ha, and that's what I wrote about Eggers two days ago, kind of. See how smart I am? Reviewers agree with me! This also connects to that entry from a while ago about the problem with modern male novelists. But I find this to be a serious question, sitting down to write in the second year of the twenty-first century, having gotten to the point where I can string a competent sentence together: whither now? What kind of things do I want to write? And I'm finding myself caught in the same dilemma that the article above attributes to Moody. On the one hand, character-based fiction is honest and genuine and somehow inherently moral in a way that I feel to be important, but can't quite articulate. On the other hand, acrobatics with language and form are so much more fun, and make one's writing more immediately distinctive. I don't want to write more earnest little coming-of-age stories where people have sex and/or go to bars and/or think about their parents and/or have epiphanies while in the car. It's been done over and moreover. There are piles and piles of published stories like that, all well-crafted and ultimately forgettable.

I want to write fiction with intellectual depth and weight; something that seriously treats the era in which we live; something the ramifications of which go beyond its own plot. And I have nothing against those old warhorses on which fiction is built -- sex and death and intergenerational conflict and what have you -- but it shouldn't stop there. Anyone can stop there. I want to dig deeper.

Ambitious? Yes. Beyond ambitious: pretentious, elitist and grandiose? I know. Hypertrophied head (as critics of Pynchon et al. charge) combined with failure of heart? Might well be. Simple immaturity: inability to see beyond linguistic flash? How the hell should I know? I'm 22 and I'm trying to write a book and I desperately want it to mean things, but I see how it could end up torn apart by the same chasm that reviewer sees in Eggers' book. It would look like this:

Aimless college students
Love triangle
Drug-induced mental collapse
Post-child prodigy trauma
Being lost and afraid in Central America
Parent diagnosed with schizophrenia
Suicide and related guilt
Silicon Valley money vs. ideals conflict


Self-referential book-within-book and play-within-book
Cantor, Gödel, transfinite math and the continuum hypothesis
The neuroscience of dreams
U.S.-Latin American relations, post-1950
Purposely obvious use of archetype (e.g. a mother named María vs. a whore named Salome)
Theory of narrative using Joyce and Beckett as opposite poles
The implications of globalization

So who knows? I have to put on some pants.


further adventures

Adam Sandler and Paul Thomas Anderson? Huh?

The following keys do not function for me: ScrLk, Num Lk, Pause/Break, Del, Backspace, Home, End, right bracket, backslash, Enter, PgUp, PgDn. The only ones that really bother me are the Enter and the Backspace/Del. If I had Backspace or Delete I'd be fine, but it's difficult to do without either. And the Enter key is a good key. I tend to use it a lot. In the meantime I'm on the keyboard borrowed from Vu, which means that my computer is now less a functional laptop and more a desktop with a small screen. Except it sure does crash a lot for a desktop. I'd rather have the delete key than the backspace, since with Windows 98 I find I have to Ctrl+Alt+Del a lot.

Vu's gone masochistic, incidentally. He has a sign over his computer reading SHUT THE FUCK UP AND WRITE, and his screen saver is a bouncing 3-D logo reading "Writing hurts." See what Iowa is doing to us. There's still snow on the ground, and John Phillips is dead.

I have this cover of "California Dreaming" but I can't get it to load. More soon.


i am tired, i am true of heart

Lyse and I went to San Francisco's Musée Mécanique yesterday. Read all about it. I don't apologize about paying for the opium den, or rather causing it to be paid for; the little moving opium-ingesting figures were kind of creepy, if you squinted hard.

Spent the night in transit, in the successive interiors of airplanes and airports; I alternately slept and read the Dave Eggers book, finally. It's good, yes, but I wonder. The ironic bits intrigued me and made me laugh while I was reading them, but after finishing the book and being genuinely moved by the serious parts, I'm no longer sure whether the ironic bits are in the book's best interest. I'll have to think about this.

I just spilled coffee on my keyboard. Fuck fuck fuck. I'm now typing on a keyboard borrowed from Vu, which is all right except that the purpose of having a laptop is kind of defeated if you can't type j, k, l, backspace, delete, or carriage return without an external keyboard. Maybe it'll dry out overnight or something.


the workers are going home

We saw Weezer last night. I didn't expect this to happen, but halfway through the day the tickets materialized and we went. Rivers Cuomo was wearing glasses and a striped shirt that made him look like Waldo, as in Where's Waldo? All he needed was a cap and a big stack of books. He seemed a little unsure about the whole situation; he didn't really move while he was singing. I wonder what it's like to be in your thirties and still performing "The Sweater Song." As Kristofer points out, the band has to simultaneously cater to the teenage fans and to the older people like us who are there for nostalgia/camp. Tricky.

The scary thing about the show was how old it made me feel. People started crushing inward as soon as the band came on, and we freaked out and spent most of "My Name Is Jonas" pushing away from the stage. The audience was full of high school kids bopping up and down. The show ended before midnight with strobe lights and confetti, and our asses hurt from standing, and we felt already tired and goddamn old.

I'm leaving the city at 11:30 tonight, getting into Chicago at 5:30 a.m. And on from there.


someone did that already

Poe78 and I got stopped yesterday by the Fun Police at Fisherman's Wharf. The Fun Police officer was a man with an indeterminate foreign accent wearing sunglasses and a badge. He spoke for a full minute or so before we could catch any actual words, and even when he started using words they didn't make any sense. He kept saying something about not smiling and I thought he had a schizoid disorder until it became clear that he was issuing me a citation for not smiling in the Smile Zone. Also, he cited me for not shaving that morning, as I've gotten pretty lazy about shaving because really, who am I trying to impress? Also, he cited me and Poe78 for not holding hands; though tempted, I didn't give him the whole story about how we once dated but don't any more and have respective significant others who weren't around because they have jobs. He had some document from the Society of Krishna Consciousness and a permit from the city and it all seemed legit so we gave him $1.25 in change. We couldn't give him more because our bank cards weren't working.

We also rented Legend of Drunken Master last night. I learned the following from it:
    --Ginseng root is rare and priceless.
    --If you make tea from bonsai roots, it will kill you.
    --The British Museum is evil and imperialist and exploits workers in steel mills.
    --Drunken boxing kicks ass.

Drunken punk Finnegans Wake performance art. "Two-fifths of our band had been to graduate school, and we actually thought Finnegans Wake was cool."



Popscene is a lovely club, at least on Thursday nights, but a rock-star-sized hangover, plus men working jackhammers outside, makes an inauspicious start to Friday. Which rock star? Say that giant guy who played lead guitar for Soundgarden. I forget his name. He's inside my head and there's not enough room.

They're thinking about banning ads for AIDS drugs out here. The ads, which try to put a upbeat face on being HIV-positive, are apparently too upbeat, to the point where people assume AIDS is no longer a crisis and stop being careful. There's been an unusually large number of new infections this year.

The ad with the headline "Going the Distance" features four healthy hikers on a rocky mountaintop, gazing into space, a rugged outdoor scene fit for a sports equipment ad.

That's a phony and distorted image of what it's like to have AIDS, said Jeff Getty, who has fought the disease for years and is organizing opposition to the ads through the group Survive AIDS.

"On these drugs, you don't feel like climbing a mountain," Getty said. "They don't show people on toilets, with IV's in their arms, which is what it is like."

I have to go away now. I can't check email out here, incidentally, so if you wrote me in the last few days and I haven't written back, that's why. I'll be back in Iowa on Monday and everything will once again be in its right place.


et tu

Julius Caesar, dead 2044 years today - though actually anniversaries don't mean anything that far back because of Gregorian calendar reform.

Britney Spears wrote a novel.

Recent quotes by and about G.W.Bush:

BUSH: Part of the problem in dealing with North Korea, there's not very much transparency. We're not certain whether they're keeping to all terms of all agreements. [The U.S. has only one agreement with North Korea.]


ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL EXPLAINING BUSH'S STATEMENT IN LIGHT OF THE FACT THAT NORTH KOREA IS NOT KNOWN TO HAVE VIOLATED THE AGREEMENT: I'm not trying to put words in the president's mouth, and I'll leave his statement stand. But what there is concern about is the verification of existing arrangements ... There are transparency questions that North Korea is not a transparent state, and therefore we do not have a 100 percent ability to monitor these agreements. So his concern about them is not of a specific instance of violation, but our confidence in whether or not these agreements are being violated or not.

SAME OFFICIAL, LATER: When he said, agreement arrangements, what he's talking about is the proposal that was on the table at the end of the administration wasn't verifiable, in his mind ... He was referring to the totality of it in the sense that I was saying that he's concerned about there not being verifiable --

SAME OFFICIAL, LATER: The president is always correct.

GREENPEACE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR JOHN PASSACANTANDO, EXPLAINING BUSH'S BROKEN ENERGY PLEDGE: The good news is if Bush is not planning on doing anything real about solving global warming, it's a blessing that he's not smart enough to use green rhetoric. What he's done here is very honest: He told the American public how bad he's going to be on global warming.

Folks, we've got ourselves a president who requires exegesis.


extinction of desire

Bah, there goes one G.W.Bush campaign pledge. Also, carbon dioxide isn't a pollutant in the new century.

Mr Deasy laughed with rich delight, putting back his savingsbox.
--I knew you couldn't, he said joyously. But one day you must feel it. We are a generous people but we must also be just.
--I fear those big words, said Stephen, which make us so unhappy.


less than jake vs. better than ezra

Russia resumes arms sales to Iran, plus help with its nuclear power plant. At the end of the article it mentions that Iran mostly used Russian arms from previous sales in its war with Iraq - and of course, the U.S. was selling arms to Saddam at that point.

Hallucinogens as psychotherapy. Psilocybin can alleviate OCD, LSD has reduced fear of death and peyote has helped stave off alcoholism. There are many more studies in the works, though of course it'll take forever to implement these substances in any sort of therapeutic program, with our nation's backward attitude vis à vis psychoactive chemicals.

Q & A with Thomas Pringle, the guy who runs mad-cow.org:

Q. What should Americans who have lived abroad, especially in England, do about possible exposure to mad cow disease?

A. I tell them that they should not worry all that much but should monitor developments. There are 60 million people living in Britain who are massively exposed and who ate many more hamburgers. We need to wait and see how big the problem gets in England.

Q. When people ask you what you eat, what do you say?

A. I read a fair number of autopsy reports and see what this disease can do. So I'm much more conscious of what I eat. I wouldn't touch a lambchop given the levels of scrapie here in the Willamette Valley. I would not eat oxtail soup or a T-bone steak. I occasionally eat fish and chicken. But canned tuna fish weirdly can have bovine casings, so I don't eat that. French wine is sometimes clarified with bovine blood, and I probably unwittingly drank some of that at some point. I avoid English cheeses. Basically all my food is locally produced. I'm not interested in food that I don't know where it came from.

I just hope they get a blood test developed soon so I can take it and stop fretting.


rhesus pieces

...resurfacing in San Francisco, where oh my God the weather is so gorgeous that I can say "tra la la" without irony. Tra la la. Though note that financial woes notwithstanding, Pacific Gas & Electric is still able to pay men in orange vests to jackhammer the living hell out of the sidewalk in front of the house, starting at 8:30.

This is only an issue for me because I don't have a job.

Burger King recalls more toys. This one is the Rattling, Rattling Riverboat. It rattles, squeaks, and then pins come loose. This one would be creepy enough even without the choking hazard. I wrote this a year or so ago about the lethal Pokémon.

Prominent book critics reveal what they haven't gotten around to reading. This makes me feel so much better about myself. The New Yorker's Louis Menand writes:

I have started four times but have never gotten past the middle of the second volume of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu and yet (this is the shameful part) this has not prevented me from calling other books "Proustian."

OK, now it is time for me to get in the car and go on down to Stanford, where I bet it's even warmer. If you're at Stanford and reading this, I will find you.


the misadventures of nosiop

I'm learning Spanish proverbs. Dios no da alas a las alacránes porque volando picarían. (God doesn't give wings to scorpions, for they would sting in flight.) Mona en seda pero mona queda. (A monkey in silk is still a monkey.) En casa del horcado, no se habla de cabresto. (In the house of a hanged man, one doesn't speak of rope.)

Also a marvelous children's song:

¡Pancho Villa
mató su tía
con un zapato
que no servía!
Pancho Villa
planchó su tía
con una tortilla.
¡Pancho Villa
plastó la tortilla
con mantequilla!

Pancho Villa
killed his aunt
with a shoe
that didn't work!
Pancho Villa
ironed his aunt
with a tortilla.
Pancho Villa
mashed the tortilla
with butter!

Did you know it's National Poison Prevention Month? So start preventing poison. I've never seen Mr. Yuk before, but apparently he's outlasted other poison-warning mascots, including Officer Ugg, Deputy Don't, and "Nosiop," a snake whose name you spell backward, etc. The concern about the time-honored skull and crossbones logo is that kids might find it cool or confuse it with Pirate Punch or something.

A short review of the new Noam Chomsky book which pretty much mirrors my uneasy stance toward the man; yes, he's right about a lot of things, but he's gotten to the point where his rhetoric is just as sweeping and knee-jerk as that of the propagandistic establishment he condemns.


you & me & the devil makes three

Today you get some ad copy from the Special Travel Section of the New Yorker, showing how Joe/Jane America has moved into this sort of cultural imperialism so vague and well-intentioned that (s)he doesn't even realize it's happening.

As Americans travel more frequently, many are eschewing overly choreographed iteneraries, and opting instead for a more authentic experience, even if they have to travel great distances to get it.

"Basically, what you've seen in the last ten years is a movement away from collecting places, and a movement toward collecting cultures," says Keith Bellows, who logs more than a hundred thousand miles a year as National Geographic Traveler's editor. Cultural travel is becoming so popular, in fact, that it is no longer viewed as just a "niche market," explains Cathy Keefe, a spokesperson for the Travel Industry of America (TIA). According to a recent TIA study, more than sixty-five million Americans per year visit a historic site or a museum or sttend a multicultural event. The study found that, on average, Americans who take culture-oriented trips tend to take longer vacations and spend more dollars on them than other travellers. "The sheer volume of travellers interested in art and history, along with their spending patterns, travel patterns, and demographics, leaves no doubt that culture is now a significant part of the U.S. travel experience," says TIA president William S. Norman.

Of course, "culture" and "travel" mean different things to different people. Some want a cultural experience. Members of this group are observers and spend their trips museum and gallery hopping in as many cities as possible. Or they attend concerts, plays, or films at an annual festival in a favorite country. Those who seek to experience a culture first hand are participants, and attain their goal by taking vacations that allow them to interact and work closely with indigenous peoples. For example, they may want to paint, perform, or even cook in different ethnic styles.

Whatever a traveller's interest, the value of a journey hinges on its authenticity, which can be elusive in a world that is inundated with American pop culture. Finding a genuine experience requires research, flexibility, and a willingness to move beyond the limitations imposed by being a cultural outsider. "You have to be willing to go farther afield. Pushing that boundary is a way to have a truly authentic experience," Bellows says. The good news is that travel agencies and tourism boards in the United States and around the world are now catering to both kinds of cultural travellers-the observers and the participants."

Not that tourism is inherently evil or anything. But look at the language they're using. Commodity, commodity, commodity.


la nieva de nevada

After days of springlike weather, it's currently 34 and snowing in Reno. I will never escape the winter gods.

Also, my sister showed me this horrid object she's received as a gift. It's a disembodied head called the Silly Slammer, it's ugly as sin, and when punched it yells "Get a life!" or "Get real!" Also, its eyebrows are purple.


airplanes redux

--- Flight 1 ---
American Airlines #4088 **
Depart: Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, IA (CID) at 10:35AM - 8-Mar-2001
Arrive: Chicago, IL - O'Hare (ORD) at 11:35AM - 8-Mar-2001
Class: Coach Seat(s): 14A Meal(s): None
--- Flight 2 ---
American Airlines #489
Depart: Chicago, IL - O'Hare (ORD) at 1:30PM - 8-Mar-2001
Arrive: San Francisco, CA (SFO) at 4:17PM - 8-Mar-2001
Class: Coach Seat(s): 18B Meal(s): Snack
Flight: United Airlines flight 2430 on a Boeing 737-500 Jet
From: San Francisco, CA (SFO) Thu., Mar 08 6:55pm
To: Reno/Tahoe, NV (RNO) Thu., Mar 08 7:49pm
Seat: Check in at Airport Non-Stop
Meal: No Meal Served


quotidian exposé

So here's the part where I'm likely to put my foot in my mouth, since I know that Workshop people are reading this now. Over the weekend, the recipients of next year's Teaching-Writing Fellowships (TWF, pronounce it "twif") were announced. It's a prestigious deal and basically means that the powers-that-be have looked upon your writing and found its odor sweet in their nostrils. Some good friends of mine were recipients, and they are now especially good friends since I'll need to ride their coattails to fame.

See, that's a joke, but people have these like pathological strictures about not joking about the TWF. Everyone gets very uptight about it, since the community is kind of insular anyway and there's always the underlying competitive streak. Also, we're actually getting ideological rifts, which is kind of exciting. I didn't think we were allowed to have those until we were old and crusty and had to write polemics instead of having sex, like Norman Mailer. But the budding Carvers are clashing with the budding Pynchons, and it's all a lot of fun until your own personal story goes up. Anyway, you could cut the tension with a knife in the week before the TWFs were announced. Nobody would talk about it except my friend Marlowe (tobacconist, cabalist) who has a thing about flouting social convention and would talk to people using no word but "twif," like the little "dink" creatures in Spaceballs.

So on Friday the fellowships were announced. A lot of people who had hoped to receive one did not (there were 7 awards, out of our first-year fiction class of 25). So substance abuse occurred. There was a party Friday night, and by the time I met up with people at 10:30 they'd already been drunk and/or stoned for the last seven hours. One gentleman had a bad reaction to the weed and ran home across the river, through the frozen streets of Iowa City, in order to take a shower. I didn't even know what was going on at first; I'm on this different system where the TWF awards don't affect me, so I can watch with sociological interest.

Ethan, incidentally, claims that you shouldn't want the TWF because it causes everyone to start gunning for you. He received it as a student and turned it down after a couple months, since he can get away with things like that.

The evil space fungus is set to land on 20 March.


the adventures of devil duck

Geegaw has had a serious chromatic and lexical incident today. Also note Housecleaning with Albert Camus.

This man is really talented with the Etch-a-Sketch. Now I have seen everything on the Web, and my heart is full.

Tit for tat. We dig tunnels under the Russian embassy, the Russians dig tunnels under ours. There's nothing exactly surprising about this.

The long, strange story of sex.com. In 1994, a college student is smart enough to realize it's a domain name worth having; in 1995, a convicted felon manages to snake it away and turn it into a porn site. From there it gets weirder. "I think," a lawyer says of the two, for no apparent reason, "if they had met each other in some different forum they would actually be friends."

Sound the alarm bell: I've started work on the second draft of my novel about Central America and math. Only this time it'll be longer and, like, really deep and stuff. In the meantime I'm on the 2000-word-a-day workout, so I'm not sure how that will impact this site. I may get more rambling and self-indulgent, if that's possible.


la tour bruyarde

My dialup connection will last around two minutes at a time; then, inevitably, it makes a despairing little pop and my icon with the two computers and the phone line is overlaid by a big red circle, letting me know that there's one more way for me to lose contact with the outside world. So I can't go hunting for links today, much.

Over the weekend I read A.S. Byatt's Babel Tower. It's good. She's a smart lady. There's one of these books-within-the-book that, as Lyse points out, is an unusually clever self-referential exercise since, as the main plot goes on, it requires you to re-evaluate your reaction to earlier passages and then it implicates you. Busted! It also gleefully references everything from Blake to Tolkein to Chomsky.

There's been argument recently as to whether you can use "reference" as a verb. According to Merriam-Webster, it's been a transitive verb for over a century:

Main Entry: reference
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): -enced; -enc·ing
Date: 1891
1 a : to supply with references b : to cite in or as a reference
2 : to put in a form (as a table) adapted to easy reference

Chris Offutt claims that's crap, it's an ugly verb, the verbing of language is destroying our language, and that we already have a perfectly good verb in "refer." But it's not the same since "refer" isn't transitive; you have to refer to things. Furthermore, they mean different things. In conversation I might refer to Hitchcock's Vertigo; but in the Simpsons episode where Principal Skinner climbs the school tower, looks down the staircase and sees the same shift of proportion that Jimmy Stewart saw, the episode is referencing Vertigo. There wasn't much of a need for this word before the meta-post-whatever era of quotation, but now that it's here the word has naturally come into common speech. It seems to fulfill the basic requirement for a new word, which is that it concisely describes something which previously had no concise descriptor, so even if it is overly academic we'd all better get used to it.

The KKK adopted a highway, which sucks, but we can still take comfort in the fact that the KKK is dumb. James Alan McPherson, a genial if abstracted Workshop teacher who was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer for fiction, is also Iowa City's local KKK organizer. They didn't have one here so McPherson just wrote in and became a member by mail, and our friends in the white hats have no clue. He seems mightily amused by it, though there's a more serious "know your enemy" undercurrent.


white like frank black is

Good God, Bill Clinton's new life sounds just like mine, only in a bigger house.

Whether he is roaming around his 11-room home in Chappaqua with his dog, Buddy, unpacking 120 boxes and filling bookshelves, learning how to use his A.T.M. cash card and his new Palm Pilot, or venturing out of the wooded confines of northern Westchester for a night in Manhattan, a man who so craves attention and company is described by friends as adrift and often isolated. He has lost much of his White House staff, the counsel of many of the people who have guided him through eight years of intermittent crises, and even the daily companionship of his family. His wife... essentially lives in Washington.

Intelligent design theory is the latest offering from conservatives who want to get around the ban on teaching creationism; it posits that the mechanisms of life are too complex to have evolved by chance, and therefore betray evidence of an intelligent designer. Fine, but the theory doesn't give any details about the process of design, nor is there any empirical way to test it. It's not really a theory so much as a philosophical stance, which is fine, but you can't teach it; there's nothing to teach. This is my favorite part of the article:

At the briefing, Nancy Pearcey quoted the lyrics of a song by the Bloodhound Gang -- "You and me, baby, ain't nothin' but mammals, so let's do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel." This, she warned, is what we can expect if the materialism of the Darwinians persuades us that we are merely mammals, rather than beings elevated above other animals and created in the image of God. She urged the congressmen in her audience to remember that the U.S. legal system is grounded in the belief in a creator as the ultimate source of moral law. Darwinism, by undermining that belief, is morally and legally dangerous.

Naked News: they're naked, they read the news. It took me forever to get RealPlayer working, but I eventually started the show and learned that Matthew Perry is in rehab for his addiction to painkillers. Apparently the program is getting some male anchors soon.



Chris in class yesterday: "All journaling is essentially an indulgence of one's own neuroses." Yup, and add that to exhibitionism and you get this beautiful thing called a weblog.

After class we go to Chris's place to blast a Talking Heads concert from his DVD player and see his file of rejection letters: everybody's got one. The most illuminating are those from C. Michael Curtis at the Atlantic Monthly, which begin as considered multiple-paragraph responses and steadily dwindle over the months until he's just writing "Not for us, thanks." We also play front-yard athletics (frisbee, football, wiffleball) with Chris's sons. Only I was conditioned in junior high to be afraid of spheres and discs and [whatever the hell geometric shape a football is]s flying through the sky, so I stay on the porch, which prompts Chris's older son to ask me if I have ever played Dungeons & Dragons.

"I used to," I say.

"I thought so," Marlowe says from the yard. "You have the aura of that guy who used to play D&D."

"Shut up," I say.

I want to write a scene where an elderly Hungarian mathematician explains set theory using bananas. Can this work? The trick in writing a novel about math is how to have your characters make mathematical discoveries without requiring the author to make those discoveries too: because sure, I get the basics of set theory, but it's not like I'm going to stumble on a revolutionary theorem by accident while writing this book.

Plants are getting hungrier. More carbon! More!

An editorial by Harvey C. Mansfield, the Harvard prof who is protesting grade inflation at Harvard by giving two grades to his students, the official one and the "real" one. Well, yes. I know--and let it be clear that I'm speaking only for myself here--that I didn't entirely earn that ridiculous Stanford GPA. If I had taken more tech classes, I would of course feel differently.

Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, Karl Popper and the red-hot poker: what really happened?


when are the ides again?

We've had two days straight of sun in the sky and liquid water on the ground. This is all good, except I think it's causing the Anxiety Bugs to hatch. I caught another one this morning. Also, I'm hung over.

Zack Exley, the man who created gwbush.com (how dumb is too dumb?) during the campaign, is now in a legal imbroglio with CNN. His CNNdn site ("dn" for "downturn") reported the financial news from one year in the future: financiers were hiring bodyguards, Bush had raised taxes, and failing dotcoms like Yahoo and Google were bought out by Warren Buffett and converted to nonprofits. The site's down now, per a restraining order requested by CNN, who claim trademark infrigement:

[Zack says] I imagined a world full of CNN trademark infringers--all because of my brazen disregard for intellectual property! People wearing unauthorized CNN t-shirts, people with CNN tattoos, parents naming their babies "CNN"--the humanity!

The Pentagon has created a pain beam. They've got a little CG model with the pain dish mounted on a truck. It reminds me of the heat ray in "War of the Worlds" somehow.


the modern lovers

How to generate your own solar power and sell it back to your utility company. If you live in that big state that just ran out of power and don't trust PG&E any more, this might actually make sense.

An editorial by two folks at the Rand corporation points out that a U.S. national missile defense could easily goad China into becoming a nuclear threat.

The only thing that stands between China and a large strategic nuclear arsenal is motivation. And that could be deeply affected by the decisions that the United States makes about national missile defense and perhaps even theater missile defense in Asia.

You don't say. Now will someone please go and explain this to our President, who's currently busy pitching his tax cut, which will save you like $400 a year unless you own a sports team.

Ferdinand Mount, book critic for the Guardian, posits what's wrong with male novelists.

The modern male novelist (henceforth MMN) prizes formal ingenuity, tricksiness, exuberance; flights of fancy and fireworks, that's what his genius specialises in. No doubt as he goes along he hopes to tell us something, whether obliquely or in your face, about the Modern Predicament or the Hell that is America. But MMN expects to be awarded more of his marks for technical merit than for artistic impression; or, rather, it is his technical merit that overwhelmingly creates the artistic impression. The female novelist, by contrast, follows the approach that F R Leavis characterised as the Great Tradition: that is to say, that the novel at its best creates a sort of moral poetry, in that the questions of human choice and of how life is to be lived are intrinsic to it.

Aside from the fact that this is a pretty arbitrary gender distinction and I can think of dozens of counterexamples (A.S. Byatt, Cynthia Ozick, Ethan Canin, Kazuo Ishiguro), I don't really see the artistic superiority of what he calls the "female" tradition. I know the kind of book he's talking about and I love many of them, but fairly often at the end I'll be left... not bored, but with the feeling that I've just had a snack rather than a meal. Maybe that just means I'm the Modern Male Reader, so desensitized by Pynchonesque pyrotechnics that I'm incapable of appreciating the quiet force of moral poetry. But just as earnestness counts for something, you also have to chalk up points for skill and artistry. And anyone who doesn't see moral seriousness or emotional poignancy in Underworld or The Moor's Last Sigh should be kicked in the head.


i am a shear stress diagram

Today's entry is short, as the main event will be taking place over at medianstrip dot blog, where all kinds of ne'er-do-wells, including your humble narrator, are contributing over the course of a 24-hour period.

But first note that Burning Circus is doing things again. Fans of Pokey the Penguin will no doubt enjoy College Rules. I don't know what it is either, but it makes me giggle.


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