Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween

Bush has nothing to lose at this point. He can still sink further in the polls, but what does he care? History has already made W. irrevelent, as his demonic PR and media spin machines have failed to prop up that empty suit even one year into a second term. His Administration will be remembered for catastrophes, failed responses to them, and for disturbing moral lapses.

So now he's nominated Satan to the bench. We knew it was coming, and were surprised when it didn't happen last time. All is not lost, however--if all 44 Democrats can stick together with Jeffords, and if Specter, Snowe, Collins, Voinovich, DeWine, and Chafee join them, the "nuclear option" might yet be averted. How likely is this? We'll see The Rapture first, I warrant.

Woe is us, Brothers and Sisters! The Four Horsemen (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito) shall ride roughshod over every progressive gain of the 20th century. Nothing can stop it now.

A Pointless Post

After nearly an entire month spent sidelined with a back injury and a sinus/lung complaint, I ran 2.5 miles today before work. This summer past I'd managed to average 20 miles per week, which isn't bad for an old dude. Now my legs hurt and I feel bone-weary, like I'd never run before. One has to [re]start somewhere.

Last night after work I went over the Earthdragon/Damnyelli's joint for a Halloween shindig. We played two games of Scrabble at once, and Earthdragon and I won both. Shelly and Cha and Raj and Poptart were the other teams, and Damnyelli played alone (unless one counts the unborn). I ate many pumpkin seeds and candy corns.

On my dinner break this evening I watched

and I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Damn, Paulette Goddard was HOT!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The fat lady ain't even in costume yet.

Perfect for Halloween

Considering that this is a book concerning magic and magicians shortly after the turn of the 19th century in England, I was not surprised to find it full of events of a miraculous nature. Any work dealing with wizardry and dusty old grimoires and the land of faerie must consist at least in part of such happenings as are a-typical in the materialistic realm of post-Enlightenment European civilization.

And yet the most significant miracle of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is the novel itself. I have just read a book of extraordinary cleverness, a book Mr. Dickens or Miss Austen would have had great trouble matching for its wit, authorial confidence, or scale, a book marshalling dozens of wholly realized characters and historical figures ranging from King George to Wellington to Lord Byron in a historical novel whose alternate reality is only slightly askew from that presented in the standard history tomes, and askew in merely the most delicious of manners. This is no mere fantasy novel, but a lavish entertainment I took great pleasure in lingering over for a full week. Who is this Susanna Clarke? How wonderful she must be! Does she have a faerie assistant who assists her magically in the crafting of something so special? The jacket of her book purports this to be a first novel. I expect amazing things from her in future.

I'd read a review wherein the critic categorized Strange and Norrell as a bore the weight of a toddler with turgid interruptions by footnote scattered haphazardly and unprofessionally throughout. As a result I didn't read it, and denied myself a peculiarly satisfying pleasure until Faulty Landscape righted this wrong by describing it via electronic missive as the "best book [he'd] read in years." I'll not go quite so far, but this is certainly one of the finest novels I've read in recent memory. That forgotten reviewer who lead me so badly astray is, I hope, wandering cold stone halls at night in search of the source of hypnotic flute music, wistfully hoping her eternal quest will end; she deserves such a sad fate because she wouldn't know a pleasurable read or a finely crafted work were one to leap up and bite her.

Do yourself a favor and read this. Clarke has great skill and deserves a wide audience. By turns Strange and Norrell is hilarious, weird, sad, and creepy; Clarke builds each atmosphere with marked maturity. I was disappointed by Harry Potter to the degree I couldn't finish the first book--Clarke has written one for me. [No disrespect intended to Ms. Rowling, nor to her books, nor to her legions of fans. Taste is subjective and her first book was no where near to my preferences--and yet I'm sure she cares not as she likely employs 50 folk at a higher salary than mine who do naught but cash checks for her. And she deserves her fame and fortune and seems like a wonderful person. As do many of her fans. In fact, I'm sure Ms. Rowling would love Ms. Clarke's book]. I hope Ms. Clarke also makes a billion dollars--that is the basis of my comparison, and that alone. And no, you can't borrow mine. I shall need it to re-visit over the years.

Lazy Weekend

Not much to report this weekend. We had invites to three fabulous Halloween parties Saturday and went to none of them. Instead we witnessed the paper lantern parade at Patterson Park, which was actually really cool with its pagan overtones and mysterious glowing effigies snaking through the trees. I was quite surprised at the amount of money and restoration apparent in that part of town, which was rather grim as recently as a couple years back. The pagoda was well-lit and fixed up, the fountains were lit and functioning and clean, most of the surrounding townhomes have been restored and are selling for ridiculous sums. An interesting evening. Why didn't we go party? There was actually no consensus. Cha wanted to party, but I didn't--the entire point of not having a Halloween shindig this year was to get back my favorite holiday; I like reading scary stories and watching horror films and visiting isolated graveyards. After hosting 8 big parties the last 8 years, and after a week of brutal attic work, I was ready to take a break.

Yes, I'm all the things she called me: curmudgeon, hermit, party-pooper. But she slept 14 hours Friday night, took a three-hour nap Saturday afternoon, and fell asleep at 10pm Saturday after saying she was ready to boogie. I stayed up and watched Bergman:

Through a Glass Darkly is thematically similar to Cocteau's Blood of a Poet; artists can be true amoral bastards who sacrifice loved ones to their craft. I think Bergman would agree with Cocteau that such painful excavations not only result in better art, but that they are the duty of an artist, who must be willing to expose not only her/his own most painful and reprehensible facets, but also those of close compatriots. Otherwise, Truth and Beauty will remain false ideals.

Bergman demonstrates the sleazy opportunistism of a shallow artistic practitioner (Gunnar Björnstrand). David mines his family's closet skeletons which provide key material for his successful novels, but he refuses to focus on his own problems in the public eye. Suicidal and distraught at his moral failings, David gets caught planning a book about his daughter's incurable madness with horrid and shameful consequences for all concerned. Harriet Anderson, who plays the schizophrenic Karin, is masterful.

Through a Glass Darkly is short, sparse, and deeply troubling. Part of Bergman's "Trilogy of Faith," there is only a tepid discussion of God and spirituality near the end that mirrors the shallow artistic endeavors of the father. But Karin's hallucinations involve preparations for the physical revelation of God, and the culmination of these episodes is monstrous. I can't wait for the others in the trilogy, but fear if I keep watching Bergman's stuff I'm going to end up needing the University counseling center's help.

K'wali and Klezma dropped by Friday and we watched this. AVOID AT ALL COSTS. It's shite of the highest odiferousness. Much better despite the low budget and dated effects is the original BBC TV production:

The best thing about the movie version are the cameos by castmembers from the BBC teleplay, including Simon Jones (the original Arthur Dent) and the great old-school plastic Marvin the robot.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Happy Halloween!

I enjoyed Little Caeser, but everything about it is dated, including the overly theatrical posturings of the actors. Edward G. is intense, particularly at the end after he washes out and becomes a drunk (sorry for the spoiler), and shows the depth that will make him a true Hollywood great.

What struck me most while watching this is how, barely a year later, a much better and more timeless film of the same genre came along (I'm sure that without Little Caeser there would have been no The Public Enemy).

Holy mother of God! Could this be the end of Rico?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


So everyone is in a state of apprehension--Administration supporters fear that major players on their team are going down for real crimes (as opposed to blowjobs), and Administration opponents gleefully hope it's true. We're all tense because nobody knows what's going to happen and it's driving us crazy with anticipation.

A patron was just telling me he hopes Fitzgerald doesn't announce indictments this week. "I want him to ask for an extension and really go after the motherfuckers," he said.

Yeah, that would be great--but I'd die from nervous exhaustion. I want indictments this week and an extension!

Billmon is a skeptical soul, but his post today piqued my interest.

"When the dead walk the Earth, the word trouble loses much of its meaning."

Just in time for Halloween, George A. Romero's Gotterdammerung arrived from Netflix. I've waited 20 years, and must say that it's good, but not as good as Dawn or Day. Land of the Dead sums up the sociopolitical themes of the previous three installments, but while it is bitingly funny (no pun intended) like the others, and serves up astute satire, the film feels like a let-down even though I enjoyed it a great deal.

I can't explain this. Perhaps it's the fact that Romero has actors like Dennis Hopper and John Lequizamo hamming it up with his shambling extras instead of the typical Romero leads who are...well, only moderately better than the shambling extras. Perhaps it's the techno-metal score and the CGI. None of this is bad, or poorly done--quite the contrary. But I have a soft spot for the Tom Savini days (he does have a cameo as a machete-wielding zombie, which is great); this film is slick and polished, whereas much of the charm of the initial trilogy lay in its rough edges. While hitting the right notes, it doesn't feel like Romero's classics--I never got that awful apocalyptic dread I associate with his others. Could be I'm jaded, or was expecting too much.

But here's why it's good: Pittsburgh has become a zombie-free oasis where a single secured high-rise provides upscale living for the rich. Outside the high-rise are the masses who live hand-to-mouth, scrabbling for what they can get. Amongst these are some people who go outside the city and search for food in heavily armed gangs. They're lavishly paid by Mr. Kaufman (Hopper) for their services, but nightly some of them get eaten. Kaufman and his cronies get the best stuff from these raids, the crumbs go to the masses, and it isn't until one of these toughs tries to use his money to move into Kaufman's tower that we find out how strict the class structure is; he turns "terrorist" and the shiznet hits the fan. All of this is typical Romero--he's used zombies for critical analysis before, and nothing about modern America (the class system, terrorism, evolution, race, civil rights) is ignored in film number four. This time there's a twist, however. The zombies are starting to learn. They "remember" how to use tools (one zombie in Day hinted at things to come), they begin to communicate, and they start acting together, with awful results for Kaufman's last bastion of civilization.

If the previous films were Romero's Grundrisse and Das Kapital, then this is his Mutual Aid.

Warning: Despite the humor and intelligence behind this horror flick, this is still a Romero zombie film. There are the requisite feeding scenes, and while the camera does not linger as it once did, they are hard-core! Not for the squeamish.

Home Improvement, II

Another day spent in the attic inhaling asbestos, soot, dust, lead paint, and fiberglass. But I've cleared out the old sheet rock and re-insulated about one third of the space. Hopefully I can get the rest insulated Friday and then sometime over the winter work on walls and flooring.

No matter how well I bundle up, with mask and goggles and gloves, I still end up itchy and coughing up gunk. I looked like a coalminer before showering this afternoon.

Now I'm back at work, and Emily is preparing to slaughter me at online Scrabble, just as Yahtzee and T. butchered me at Risk last Saturday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Home Improvement

Today I took a half-day and spent the afternoon ripping decaying sheetrock out of our attic. My intention is to re-insulate up there and then perhaps turn what's been a god-awful mess since we moved in into a nicely finished studio or meditation space.

Since the house was built in 1920 there's not much in the way of wiring up there--only a single outlet and a bare bulb fixture in the ceiling--so unless I have some re-wiring done it won't be particularly luxurious, but a pellet stove and a small air conditioner might make it liveable. Also new sheetrock, paint, and a nice tile floor. There's a small window that opens into the skylight over our shower, so there is a bit of natural light (and an occasional scandalous view).

I startled a good many spiders with my punching, pulling, and nail-yanking, and kept running downstairs every few minutes to turn on the TV and check for indictments. Alas, there were none. I also became filthy dirty--we had a chimney leak about five years ago and there's still a nice coating of soot hanging around--this made for a quality adhesive for the plaster dust I stirred up, and took a vigorous application of Lava soap to remove.

Tomorrow I have to go to Home Depot for those big cotton-candy rolls of pink papered fiberglass. Itchy! Installing that shit is easy and should go quickly. What I'm dreading most is cleaning up the mess I made today, and disposing of the bags of debris, which weigh a ton.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Game, Set, Match

The Dark Lord is going down.

Promethea III

This time our heroine leaves the material world behind in order to find her dead friend and previous incarnation. She explores a few more sephira along the way, and enccounters some interesting characters. The art in this series is off-the-fucking-hook, and this edition was even more off-the-fucking-hook than the other two.

Speaking of the Devil, even those entirely uninterested in the occult might enjoy Crowley's crazy memoirs:

There are few people so engaging as amoral ingenius schuysters, and Crowley was particularly good at his job.

The Summit of the Depths

I'd read multiple times that Bergman outdid himself with Fanny and Alexander; critics often refer to it as Bergman's crowning achievement, as his most devestatingly honest work. Before seeing this five-hour masterpiece I must admit to having felt some heavy skepticism about such claims. I mean, c'mon, could he really top Scenes from a Marriage? Or Persona? Or The Seventh Seal?

The answer is yes. Bergman's sharp genius for plumbing the monstrous depths of ordinary souls has never been so keen. You want twisted, sick, despicable and hateful action? You get it. You want violence, hate, hypocrisy, and malignant bile-barfing ghosts? Yep, in spades. And yet Fanny and Alexander is mostly about hope, and about the liberating power of art and imagination, and about beauty and how the power to create and appreciate beauty is tied to suffering--this theme hovers above all else. The sets, the cast, the cinematography--exquisite. Bertil Guve as Alexander will break your heart, and he's only one of several very fine actors.

See it now.


"I think that the 'perjury is not serious' line is a canary in the mine that's not coming out again."

Chris Matthews to Andrea Mitchell not twenty minutes ago. A good job of poking holes in (and making fun of) the latest Repugnant spin (ie: K.B. Hutchinson and other enthusiastic Clinton-impeachers now singing a different tune about lying to grand juries and obstructing justice).

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Ravi Shankar's concert at the Meyerhoff was delayed 45 minutes because of the enormous crowd and the fact that there were only two staffers working the Will Call booth, and hundreds of people were trying to pick up last-minute tickets. The first set was announced as Anoushka and her band sans the old man--I was initially apprehensive when they took the stage because I thought we were in for some New Age jam as opposed to Indian classical/folk music, but they did traditional stuff I'd heard before with remarkable skill and verve, only going New Age for one tune--an extended 20-minute bit featuring solos on sitar and tabula and violin and flute and shanhai and vocals--which was sufficiently intricate and which had enough surprising time-signature changes to keep me entertained.

Then, Ravi came out and played two ragas with the tabula player and Anoushka accompanying. This is an adored 85-year-old musician of unparalleled international fame, and when he walked onto the stage he received an instant standing ovation and was obviously touched. He looks so fragile with his wispy hair and Yoda shuffle, but he sat down, took his sitar from a student who'd tuned it, picked up a mike and said with his typically humble didacticism: "Friends. Now we will play an evening raga, the first movement featuring only the sitars, then during the jyot the tabula will accompany us. This part will be played in a time signature with seven beats divided 3, 2, 2." (Cha and I had wondered before he came out if he'd do a little World Music Teacher intro, because we have a few discs of concerts where he did so. Her favorite is "And now we will play the most beautiful raga of the late afternoon, the Bhimpalasi...") He put down his mike, draped a towel over the body of his sitar, and we were off on one of the greatest musical experiences of my life.

Our seats were excellent Grand Tier box seats, just to stage left. I had a clear view of Ravi's every move and each smile and grimace. The raga began slowly, with deep resonant strikes that he bent and warbled to full effect, swaying his body and spreading the throaty metallic groans of that fabulous sitar. This music is to many Westerners deeply disturbing and wholly unlistenable; I first heard it more than 20 years ago and was immediately drawn to the exoticism, the subtle complexities, and the fact I could truly shut down my inner dialogue and find some deep inner source while listening. The raga swelled and our tier box became a lounge chair somewhere above the Crab Nebula. My pituitary thrummed gleefully, kundalini rising. Anoushka added quiet accents, that deep mysterious questioning twang, that spiraling insistent call like wind and wave and sifting sand, that cyclic return.

Everyone applauded the first movement, which is annoying because it interrupted not only my mind trip but the building emotion of the raga, but this is understandable (I've been at the Meyerhoff when the audience applauded the first movement of a symphony). The tabula accompanied the rest of the show which was extraordinarily vigorous--Ravi is incredibly fast and precise even in his dotage, and in the final free-form jam I could see Anoushka struggling to follow him at times, but admirably working out the themes he threw at her--she's improved a lot since her first album, and still is a bit heavy-handed but is certainly no slouch, playing some extremely rapid scales in unison with the old man, the tabula player's fat spider hands going to town.

I consider it a deep privilege to have seen one of my heros during what may well be his final tour, and to have seen such a grand performance. There were people weeping during the final ovation, and the many Indians in attendence were uniform in their praise of Ravi (tho some condemned Anoushka's first set without the old man--I heard one young woman in a sari saying Anoushka had a makeover to compete with her sister Nora Jones, and she should stick to the piano like Nora). None of them condemned her accompaniment of her Bapi however, because Ravi was so obviously overjoyed when she'd understand what he was doing, what melody he was inserting, and she'd tentatively respond, then catch up, and the tabula player would laugh and shake his head and play along as Ravi rocked back with a huge smile on his face, eyes closed in rapture.

Shankar received a long enthusiastic ovation and bowed and blessed the audience again and again, kissing his daughter on the head--saying goodbye perhaps, for the final time?

Friday in DC

This engaging little Cranach is one of three of that master's works I got to look at up-close and personal in Friday's tour of the National Gallery conservator's lab (the other two were magnificently intimate portraits of young girls in red dresses--very demonic young girls!). I love the lunar landscape of Golgotha, the strange portent of the pastel sunset, and that bizarre celebratory knight on his curiously jaunty horse. I saw it with the varnish off and some flecks of paint removed down to the canvas and awaiting repair. Julio got me into the lab and his friend and Winterture classmate P. toured us around. We saw a large Van Dyck portrait of a woman in a black and green dress. X-rays revealed that a layer of black paint was hiding details of a castle keep in the upper left of the frame, and restorers were busy removing the paint to uncover what was thought to be the residence of a sponsor or donor who later fell out of favor for some reason. The possessor of the work a few centuries ago had inked out any indication of that family. The restorer had also re-painted nearly the entire dress because of materials problems. I also saw a frivolous little Dutch oil on panel that had been broken by a careless catalog photographer, a Lieberman canvas marred by blue-painted packing crates rubbed on the work by bumbling movers, a Rothko surrealist daub, several Monets and a Manet, and a strange Rousseau idyll featuring a soldier and his lady in a verdant confusion of trees and vines. It was fun to witness Julio in his professional element--everyone knew him or had heard of him, everyone knew his reputation as an artist and as a restorer/conservator. We got to see a lot of P.'s research on her current project (a bathing beauty with exposed bosoms in a tub with a young boy reaching for an apple near the water, a maid nursing an infant crammed into the perspective--P. had discovered several dozen variants of the theme and figures in other collections, and we saw her X-rays and spectral analyses as well). Julio told a story about nearly vomiting on a painting of Salome holding the head of the Baptist because of eating ravioli and doing too much Yoga before sitting down to work--and I heard from other restorers about disasters with coffee cups and spilled varnish.

Walking around the galleries with Julio was an enormous pleasure--we showed each other favorite stuff and I had access to his truly encyclopedic knowledge of art history and technique. A pleasure despite the awful weather, the rude DC police and their suspicious cars and pushy "road closed!" behavior, and my constant desire to run over to the Courthouse and see if I could touch the garments of St. Patrick Fitzgerald. We hooked up with Yo! Adrienne for the train ride home and had dinner later at Khumari.

Note to self--Julio's Stupid Hot Habenero Jelly is not to be taken lightly.

He's only resting...

"Most likely he's pining for the fjords..."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Former Student Does Good

Pat Nagle took my Writing for Business and Industry class the last time I taught it. Now he's the CEO of his own company,, and has just bought according to the Towerlight.

Strangely, the group of students I had in that section of ENGL317 was about the best of my teaching career. Normally I hated doing that course, but something clicked with my MWF 8am crew of type A personalities, and I was sorry not to teach it again. [for about ten minutes] The Dept. Head let me teach Tradition and Form in Short Fiction instead, which was more up my alley.

My one request of Patrick--please don't screw with my ratings! I think I'm the only TU prof listed as a "Toker." Even though I'm not currently teaching, I might pick up a class again at some point down the line.

Some Current Musical Obsessions

The Earl of Pembroke and Jeeves teamed up to turn me on to Vaughan Williams about five years ago. His symphonies are of course masterworks and I've been nuts over them ever since, but now the above disc (from Naxos' English Song Series) is killing me softly. How lovely these tunes, some of which are settings for well-know poetry. My absolute favorite moment? A glorious ectoplasmic suspension constructed of ethereal piano chords and strings, the text from Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

Deep in the sun-search'd growths the dragonfly
Hangs like a blue thread loosen'd from the sky:
So this wing'd hour is dropt to us from above

I get chills each time I play it!

Another shout out to Naxos for

Others more knowledgeable might find this performance sub-par, but I'm transfixed by this CD, which reminds me of Shostakovich's magnificent preludes and etudes; and Naxos is so affordable!

I've had Vol. 3 forever, and finally got around to picking this one up. Excellent stuff. Love "Why, Oh Why?" and "Lindbergh" and "Talking Fishing Blues"--not a dud on the CD.

This is simply one of two dozen great Shankar CDs I could push, but in preparation for tonight's gig at the Meyerhoff I've been giving it a whirl.

Also--Handel's string quartets and symphonies, late Coltrane, and Dylan's bootlegs!


We've suspected Cheney's evil all along; having it confirmed by the scandalous tidbits leaking out of the Fitzgerald probe--and now by former Administration officials--is most edifying.

I'll have to watch...

When John shopped at Borders, he'd hang out for hours in the True Crime section. He also loved attending trials like that of the Menendez Boys. Now he's got his own show on Court TV!?

Promethea II

Promethea--Moore's imaginative faculty incarnated as Superheroine--begins breaking the rules her predecessors have established, and quickly kicks demonic ass. Now she's on a quest to learn Magic, and encounters Tantric mysticism, the Kabbalah, and Tarot along the way.

I've not seen a more evocative tour through Tarot symbolism--nowhere in Mathers or Crowley or Fortune, nowhere in the Alchemical literature or Eliphas Levi. Great fun! And enlightening, to boot.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"Any relic, false or no, can save a man."

On its surface a light medieval farce, a Romance of the Graal, a bit of adventure set nearly a millenium ago--Baudolino is actually a densely philosophical treatise on the power of narrative, memory, and language. How much of our lives springs artificially from our beliefs, our limited knowledge, our perceptions and preconceived notions? How much of our experience is Real, how much fantasy? Can lies lead to Truth? Can the Truth be false? Baudolino is a renowned liar and peasant savant who can learn languages immediately. One day by sheer chance he meets Frederick the Great in a Tuscan wood and becomes a player at Court--his life will never be the same. The hero narrates his tale during the sack of Constantinople to a fleeing luminary who doubts most of what he hears--Baudolino's adventures and apparent involvement in all the major events of his time surely cannot be true?

Eco's character not only participates in the hunt for the Graal, the quest for Prester John, the rituals of Courtly Love--he may in fact have helped create these myths and traditions and the truths they represent in their falsity.

I'd initially thought Baudolino shallow in comparison to Eco's other fictions; this is not the case, but he's more successfully made the abstract accessible here. As fun as Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose were, they could be punishing. Baudolino is not at all punishing, but is as complex as the others, and it's often laugh-out-loud funny.

I wish we had PhotoShop at work


The Rude Pundit offers a tantalizing tidbit about St. Patrick, who is preparing to drive the serpents out of DC.

I had a Jesuit professor at Loyola--Father Fitzgerald taught me Latin and Art History, and he was one amazing sumbitch, having been president of St. Louis University at one point and a big wig at Georgetown before "retiring" to Baltimore to teach. He was good friends with the King of Jordan and his Yank wife. One day Fr. Fitzgerald was waiting for Buf, Sluggo and me out in the cold snowy commuter parking lot when I pulled up at 7am because he'd heard a dozen people were killed on I-83 by a tractor trailer jumping the median. "I just wanted to make sure my boys from PA were OK," he said. Fr. Fitz, despite his fervent faith, was no sucka for Orthodoxy, often turning his Jesuit analytic skills on his own Church. He blasted John Paul II's policies routinely in class, he was critical of the hierarchy at Loyola College, and said often that the school should hand out condoms and beer to the students. "Kids have always had sex and gotten drunk. They did so long before Christ and they continue to do so now. We should act in ways to minimize the negative consequences of their decisions, and if people are dying from AIDS and drunk driving, then we're sinning if we don't find ways to keep them alive--even if those ways are contrary to Church doctrine." He was never afraid to choose his own view of right vs. wrong over what his superiors told him should be his view. He also not only tolerated my obstinant athiesm, but at times cultivated it.

I'm counting on Pat Fitzgerald to live up to that fiercely independent legacy.


For years I've had a stale taste in my mouth because of those curiously popular Burton Batman films--I found them completely insipid but must admit I'm in the minority. People said "Oh, they're so dark," I found them goofy at best. People said Nicholson was great, I thought he was simply hamming it up, doing a caricature of himself, and to a lame tune by The Artist Formerly Known As Good, no less. Fuck those movies. I never saw the rest of that franchise, with Clooney and whoever else played the Caped Crusader.

But now we have Batman Begins to wipe the slate clean, to refresh my palate like a blast of Listerine. The first hour of this film is simply ass-kickingly good; it's so good that the second half--which is great--pales in comparison. The cast? Awesome! Liam Neeson fucks shit up, Michael Caine is the best Alfred yet, Morgan Freeman, Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Rutger Hauer, Tom Wilkinson, Cillian Murphy--all excellent, with one notable dullard (Katie Holmes) who's adequate but not up-to-snuff with this crew. I thoroughly enjoyed Batman Begins.

An old couple take their precious Gabbeh carpet to wash in a stream, and the spirit of the story commemorated in its woven pictures comes to life. As gabbeh shares her sad tale it merges with that of the couple and eventually with all history and time in a lovely meditation on the permanence of impermanence. Reminiscent of Zhang Yimou's early stuff. This is my second foray into Persian/Iranian cinema, and I'm even more intrigued to continue this quest.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Looks like one of my uncles

The Stones

I've been around long enough to have had favorite bands that I listened to so goddam much that hearing them actually made me physically ill. I'm talking Led Zep, The Beatles, The Stones. I listened to The Beatles daily for years--after a decade off I'm now able to hear some of their albums again without puking. Led Zep I can handle now and again after a similar hiatus, but I proceed with caution. The Stones I started craving about six months ago, but all I have is on vinyl and I have no working turntable. I'd not really listened to them since I saw the Steel Wheels tour at RFK--after Keith came out and blew the soundsystem with the opening chord of Start Me Up there was a two-hour delay before the World's Largest Sing-along; once the concert ended I was just done with the Stones, and I was done with them for fifteen years. I wore that shit out. So which album does one buy on CD to get a little Glimmer Twins groove on after time off? There's so many tasty choices.

It may piss off the purists, but I decided on Some Girls. I mean, come on, this album has it all--the slithering sexy disco of Miss You, the irresistably rough cover of Imagination, the countrified corn of Far Away Eyes, my favorite Keith tune Before They Make Me Run, the awesome soul ballad Beast of Burden--and topping things off is the tune that really paved the way for rap in the Top 40 (sorry, Blondie--Mick was into the street music in NYC long before your name-dropping Rapture hit the charts)-- Shattered.

I love this album. I rocked out to it all afternoon while cataloging economics texts.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Pins and Needles

I have a marvelous feeling that Pat Fitzgerald, The Quiet American par excellence, is about to roar quite loudly...

No Mercy

Of course one must be suspicious whenever an hour into an Ingmar Bergman film things are joyful and celebratory. Watching uppercrust youths cavort in gleeful Yule regalia has to alert one that eventually the Earth will crack and miasmic vapours will cause dismay for all.

I'm only half-way through this 6-hour miniseries, and my personal Despondency Meter has gone off the charts. Fantastic stuff, tho. Young Alexander has a vision early on of Death dragging a scythe through his grandmother's luxurious apartments. When the scythe descends his blissfully imaginative world is turned into Calvinist Hell.

Ooooh, the Agnewy

Sunday, October 16, 2005


"If you want to become a man of letters and perhaps write some Histories one day, you must also lie and invent tales, otherwise your History would become monotonous. But you must act with restraint. The world condemns liars who do nothing but lie, even about the most trivial things, and it rewards poets, who lie only about the greatest things."

Umberto Eco, Baudolino.

Ravi Oli

Julio called Friday because he'd scored an extra ticket to see one of my heroes at the Meyerhoff. Of course I have to work. I'm hoping tonight that I can get my graduate assistant to cover Thursday night--in exchange I'll work her shift Sunday (resulting in a 12-hour day, but it would be worth it). If Yu-Chen can't cover perhaps an Aunty will step up?

I have probably 12 Shankar CDs, including one of Anoushka's (I played the hell out of West Meets East on vinyl as well). Her gifts are extraordinary, on perhaps a par with papa's when he was a student--she's the more talented daughter, after all (sorry, Ms. Jones). This is the music of the galactic, the sound of equinoctical procession, eternity made manifest. I hope I can go!

[Image courtesy BBC]


I used to fantasize about Time Alone when I didn't have any. How I'd spend hours reading, studying Latin verb forms, meditating, teaching myself astrology and music theory; how I'd get to watch obscure foreign films and listen to music no one else liked to my heart's content. How I could play guitar and experiment with fingerstyle with no one asking to hold my axe or if they could show me something they'd learned. All the stuff my busy social schedule never allowed as I made time for single and coupled friends and family and parties would one day be possible...

Now I've nearly achieved The Isolation and it's a big adjustment. Cha and I go out together with friends perhaps once a month. I see friends outside of that perhaps twice a month, maybe less. I see my family as rarely as possible. The majority of our weekends are spent together alone, and because of her normal work schedule and my abnormal one, our "weekends" are only Friday night and Saturday. I stay up until 3am and get up at 10, she goes to bed at 11 and gets up at 7. She has work friends to hang out with, I don't.

I'm not complaining. All through my 20s I was an inveterate barfly. Well into my 30s we were busy juggling social obligations. I've had enough of a social life to satisfy most folks. It's a financial drag and takes away from other priorities. But it's still an adjustment. Almost everyone we know has babies. Our friends have been great about continuing to include us in their lives despite this fact, but not having children isolates us from those who do. We of course have friends who don't have kids, but they're talking about broods as an inevitability now. I know childless couples in their 40s and 50s--but only a few. ALL of them are fucking cooky. I wonder at the cause of the cookiness? Is it that childlessness isolates them and this isolation leads them down the road to Oz? Or is this merely latent cookiness that pre-exists the decision not to have kids which continues to emerge through the years? (Cha and I have such cookiness in spades.)

Ironically, social isolation causes me to avoid opportunities to escape it. If someone calls and wants to go to karaoke or to NYC or to DC for the day, I'm apt to think "I really want to finish that Umberto Eco novel" and beg off. I cherish the isolation--I can watch 6-hour Bergman TV series from Netflix between midnight and 3am, but not if I'm out drinking beer or playing boardgames. I'm content to send emails or talk on the phone or leave 'blog comments now. Actually being around people has become a chore.

Even at work I'm isolated (by choice)--but at least three times a week I get cornered by Aunty Clod or Eskimo, who will stop at my desk and bore me to tears for long stretches, both of whom are perhaps synchronistically sent as warnings, because both of these people are emblematic of The Isolationist in full flower. One is almost completely socially inept and unaware to the point of gracelessness. The other is mean-spirited and self-absorbed to the point of grotesqueness. Each is tragically lonely. I'm fascinated by them in the way a heavy drinker is fascinated by a drunk who has bottomed out. There but for the grace of...

I could with a phone call per week end The Isolation. We could have dinner with any number of friends at any time. I could be at the bar with a gang every Saturday, or at someone's house.

But why?

Update: I'm here at the Liberry with no student assistant today and the phone just rang. A high-pitched voice asked in bad English accent if I had 30 Days in the Samarkind Desert with the Duchess of Kent by A.E.J. Eliot, O.B.E.. Of course it was Julio, and of course we're off to dine with him and Yo! Adrienne at Bangkok Place shortly after I get off work this eve. And Friday it appears we're off to DC; Julio has a friend who does restoration work at The National Gallery and we're going into the belly of the beast to snoop around. He took me into the San Fran museum similarly in 2000, saying I was his "colleague from back East." I was able to apply a delicate brushstroke to a large Rennaissance canvas by a student of DaVinci's before the varnish was replaced.

Friday, October 14, 2005


Ha. Every time I see a fucking protest in the media I see Virginia Monologues. I've seen her on CSPAN, on the cover of the New York Times, and today I saw her on Countdown dressed as a giant condom and chanting "Stop the Leaks" at Rove's grand jury site. She was speaking for United for Peace and Justice in DC on the main stage when Silenus and I arrived for the 9/24 protest.

Atrios has a pic of today's event, and of course it's of her.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

With so many DC elites under investigation or indictment, the annual Bohemian Grove meeting next summer might be less than festive. Will anyone be around to light the offerings to Mammon or Pazuzu or whatever deity it is they sanctify at this secret retreat for the rich? What will all those gay prostitutes do for work if all the powerful players end up getting it for free in the federal pen?

NIXON: But it's not just the ratty part of town. The upper class in San Francisco is that way. The Bohemian Grove, which I attend from time to time--it is the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine, with that San Francisco crowd. I can't shake hands with anybody from San Francisco.

Decorators. They got to do something. But we don't have to glorify it. You know one of the reasons fashions have made women look so terrible is because the goddamned designers hate women. Designers taking it out on the women. Now they're trying to get some more sexy things coming on again.

EHRLICHMAN: Hot pants.

NIXON: Jesus Christ.

ALL of his events are!

Like this is news to anyone with an IQ over 50.

At least now the MSM are pointing it out instead of playing along.


God Bless Olbermann for at least drawing up a list and making it OK for the media to look at this. Many have suspected these terror alerts were politically motivated since they began; I'd add to the list the letter suddenly discovered which has Bin-Laden's #2 guy writing to Al-Qaeda in Iraq saying "We're weak, we're demoralized, we're out of money, the US is killing us--and you're bad for killing Muslims!" [edit: I'm not alone on this one!] Not to mention last week's NY bomb scare, which benefitted Bloomberg a great deal.

Too convenient.

Asking Questions--at last!

I couldn't resist watching Bush's live conference call with soldiers in Tikrit. Even during a carefully scripted event, speaking to soldiers whose answers were obviously coached and practised, W. still came across as fumbly and un-natural as a Texas Baptist at a Greek Orthodox service. The first segment included a painfully wooden and didactic Bush lecturing the troops with the standard 9/11 fight against terror root out and kill the terrorists stay the road litany. My favorite moment? His earpiece falling out and Bush saying "Ooops" and trying to pretend it wasn't there.

But there's one change after these events: the talking heads on MSNBC, after initially gushing about its "charm," immediately began discussing how obviously scripted it was with Jim Vandahei of the Post, and then went through a laundry list of negatives for the preznit, including the fact that many Americans might find these charades hard to swallow after experiencing them again and again.

Of course one of the soldiers happened to have been at Ground Zero with the prez after 9/11, and of course one was an Iraqi who said "I like youze!"

Polls in the 20s soon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Wasting Time at Work

Freudian Inventory Results
Oral (30%) you appear to be stubbornly and irrationally against receiving help even when it might be the more intelligent option.
Anal (70%) you appear to be overly self controlled, organized, and possibly subservient to authority, this effectively narrows your exposure to a wider set of options and ideas lowering the odds that you will make the best decisions in life.
Phallic (76%) you appear to have issues with controlling your sexual desires and possibly fidelity.
Latency (56%) you appear to have a good balance of abstract knowledge seeking and practicality, dealing with real world responsibilities while still cultivating your abstract and creative faculties and interests.
Genital (90%) you appear to have a progressive and openminded outlook on life unbeholden to regressive forces like traditional authority and convention.
Take Free Freudian Inventory Test
personality tests by

I stole this from Silenus. Please note that the results are contradictory, ie I'm "subservient to authority" and "unbeholden to regressive forces like traditional authority."

Los Sapos

Due to insomnia I was watching of all things the NASA channel on Comcast early this morning. A group of environmentalists and archeologists were extolling the virtues of their newly cooperative investigations with the space agency. An archeologist went into great detail about the impressive find in Guatemala of the Mayan site at San Bartolo, and how estimates about the age and sophistication of Mayan culture and its artistic and technical peak had been pushed back several hundred years in 2001 due to the discovery. Then he described numerous other sites found via NASA surveys of the jungle canopy in Central America--apparently the Mayan use of zinc plaster so affected the natural environment that trees which have grown over their cities and temples 2500 years later are chemically different, and this chemical difference is visible from space. Environmentalist were very interested in this evidence of lingering impact long after human settlement ended. They were also happy because they could take space shots of environmental degradation and deforestation to the locals in Central America and say "look at the effects." NASA had developed teams to work on similar projects elsewhere.

Last winter in Honduras we were amazed by the excavations at Copan, but most amazing to me were the thousands of un-excavated sites. Walking through the forest on the other side of the river from Copan to visit Las Sapos (a small group of frog carvings--one pictured above--renowned by the locals as a fertility shrine) we passed dozens of large and small mounds which were obviously structures that hadn't been excavated. Some of these were as high as four-story buildings, others were barely to my waist. Most had trees on them, many had been dug by looters. One member of our party knelt at one, dug for a matter of seconds, and unearthed a beautiful stone grotesque head.

I could spend a few years digging down does one get such a gig without another six years of school?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Promethea Unbound

I'm not a big comics guy--not because I think they suck, but because I simply never caught the bug. I read lots of Family Circus and Peanuts as a kid, and my Grandmother Godfrey always gave me her hand-me-down issues of Mad Magazine, which I adored. I also managed some EC Horror comics when I could smuggle them past my Evangelical relatives, but I'd until recently only ever read a single comic, which I received as a Xmas gift from someone who didn't know any better: The Dark Knight Returns.

Faulty Landscape has been pushing Alan Moore for a while now, and K'wali added his two cents when he saw I was reading books on the Qabbalah, and said I should give Promethea a try. I did, and I liked it fine. The layered narrative, the mythic background story, Moore's interesting use of the Western esoteric tradition (including the Tarot and Qabbalah and astrology and Madame Blavatsky etc) all add up to an interesting superheroine. Moore's got a sly sense of humor, and pokes fun at things I hate, like Ally McBeal, which adds to the enjoyment. The artwork engaged me as well--I used to like looking at every detail in Mad Magazine, and Promethea brought that pleasure back--without the Sergio Aragones marginal doodles, alas.

I've only read Book I, which contains the first six comics. More on the way from Amazon...

The Bird Flu

Have you prepared?

Scooter and Judith

You went into jail in the summer. It is fall now. You will have stories to cover--Iraqi elections and suicide bombers, biological threats and the Iranian nuclear program. Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them. Come back to work--and life. Until then, you will remain in my thoughts and prayers.

With admiration,

Scooter Libby.

Emphases mine--any doubt that he's warning her, or communicating in code?

(image via Muse Gallery, text of letter via Editor and Publisher)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Dobson on Miers

"When you know some of the things that I know - that I probably shouldn't know - you will understand why I have said, with fear and trepidation, that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice."


The Abbé spent the rest of his days going back and forth between prison and monastery in continual acts of abjuration, until he died, after an entire life dedicated to the faith, without ever knowing what he believed in, but trying to believe firmly until the last.

How can you not love a book with paragraphs like this?

But that restless creature, our sister Battista, used to spend the nights wandering around the house in search of mice, holding a candelabra, with a musket under her arm. That night she went down into the cellar, and the candlelight shone on a lost snail on the ceiling, with its trail of silvery slime. A shot rang out. We all started in our beds, but soon dropped our heads back onto the pillows, used as we were to the night hunts of our resident nun. But Battista, having destroyed the snail and brought down a hunk of plaster with her instinctive shot, now began to shout in that strident voice of hers: "Help! They're all escaping! Help!" Half-dressed servants hurried to her, our father came armed with a saber, the Abbé without his wig; the Cavalier did not even find out what was happening, but ran off into the woods to avoid the fuss and went to sleep in a haystack.

This is the third Calvino I've gone mad for. Also excellent:

My favorite story features an astronomer who, while looking at a planet in the deep vastness of space, sees a sign that says "I know what you did."

Sunday, October 09, 2005

On a Tear

The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides...

Philip Roth has been arguably the best novelist working in English the past 40 years. I say that with an admittedly narrow knowledge of contemporary novelists, but the critics seem to agree that if he's not the best, he's certainly one of the best. And The Plot Against America only increases my already deep respect for this guy's work (note that I didn't say "for this guy"--apparently he used to torture Claire Bloom, so maybe he's a dickhead as well as a genius writer--not an unusual combo, that). But he writes damnably interesting novels, and his past five or six are spectacularly good.

The alternate history genre typically falls under Fantasy/Sci-Fi in the bookshops, and others have tackled the What If the Fascists won WW2? scenario. What sets Roth's book apart is its exquisite dual existence in a fictional past and in the here-and-now. Sure, the novel is about Charles Lindbergh the American hero and anti-Semitic Fascist flunky beating FDR for the presidency in '40 and keeping the US out of WW2. And Roth spares no detail in creating vivid characters and settings and realistic events--one believes his alternate history, one becomes involved in the fates of his Jewish characters as things get scarier and scarier in a changing America.

But his novel is not really about a potential America 60 years ago. It's about America right now, and the potential America looming just over the horizon. Roth takes the fun and politically admirable but woefully executed It Can't Happen Here and mixes in a bit of Kafka and Orwell to not only portray the ugly underbelly of right-wing "values" as they are celebrated by far too many current Americans, but to warn us of the dire urgency we should feel about our likely un-democratic future. When Lindbergh is challenged by bad polls or crises, he flies around in his own high-tech plane in full aviator regalia and makes speeches about security and might to an adulatory media (sound familiar?). Only Walter Winchell speaks out, and he's lambasted as a Jew hired by the Brits to propagandize on their behalf--instead of the "liberal" media, we have the "Jewish" media.

The novel's first half focuses on the way families and communities struggle to cope with what they regard as the hi-jacking of their country by a Fascist sympathizer. Some Jews flee to Canada, some enlist to fight for England, many cozy up to the new Administration and get rich. Families fragment as some children think Lindbergh is great and join his special Jewish educational corps. Others suspect the worst--then the worst begins to happen and the novel shifts from micro to the macro. Winchell criticizes the president one to many times and is finally kicked off the air. Von Ribbentropp dines at the White House, Jews are relocated to midwestern towns to be "Americanized," and things take a disastrous but expected turn.

I became so involved I polished this off in two days--heartily recommended. Eerie, creepy, sardonic as always and yet surprisingly optimistic, this is another masterpiece for Roth.

Top Notch

Re: The Wire


I got the first three discs from Netflix on Thursday, and watched the last of those 8 hours last night. An excellent show--not once did I know where it was going, not once was I bored or sneering at cop show cliches. We follow all sides in Baltimore's complex War on Drugs, including the corrupt political machinations that hamper good police work.

It's fun to see actual "hard life" locals mix it up with Center Stage veterans (a few of the actors were driving me nuts, including the one who plays Orlando. I'm like "I know that guy, who the fuck is he?" Then I rememered him from several Shakespeare and August Wilson roles). All the leads are very appealing and very real.

Also outstanding! This time Mr. Parks takes on classic horror films from The Were-Wolf to King Kong. Pitch-perfect humor, endearing characters, mind-blowing animation--and saucy double-entendres to boot! Twice as good as Chicken Run.

Beware, however, the penguin short leading in. It sucks; I watched three Tex Avery Droopy Dog cartoons Saturday on TCM--perhaps that jaded me against this pixelated rubbish.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Dear Santa

All I want for Xmas are major indictments:

In coming days, Mr. Fitzgerald is likely to request that several White House officials return to the grand jury to testify about their actions in the case - appearances that are believed to be decisive as the prosecutor proceeds toward a decision on whether to file charges.

Must See TV

Tomorrow at 12:45pm EST, Jane Hamsher of firedoglake (and HuffPo) will be on MSNBC's Connected Coast to Coast. Her 'blog has blown up of late, and deservedly so.

She's been most kind to me since leaving a comment on a movie blurb I wrote about Jean Cocteau a ways back. If you get the chance to tune in, check her out. She's been all over Plamegate like Karl Rove on a Bob's Big Boy breakfast bar, and now she not only owns the big dogs, but runs with them too.


Back in '04 I wrote:

Monday, April 26, 2004

Every time I've watched Bush speak of late, I've noted he's developed a curious tic around his mouth--his jaw clenches and he bites compulsively several times during his pauses. Perhaps this is the cause?

Posted by: geo / 3:21 PM

Today, America Blog picks up the same thing, which has definitely become more pronounced again. One of these strange jaw seizures affected Bush's speech this morning.

I like Stephen Dixon's stuff a lot. I remember the first thing I read was Frog, or maybe a collection of the short stories, but Frog was stupendous, like it's the first book of that length (over 700 pages) that I finished in like three days. When I met Dixon the first time when we had a signing for Interstate--or maybe Gould?--fuck it, we had signings for each at one time or another, well, at specific times obviously, but the vagueness is all memory. Mine, that is. But at any rate, I remember the first time I met him and helped him at a signing and I brought out my copy of Frog along with my copy of Gould or Interstate and asked him if he'd mind signing that as well? He smiled and flipped through to page 284 (of course I don't remember if that's the page, but it was something near there, some number like that with three different digits, sort of random, but maybe more in the 400s?) and fixed a typo in blue pen before scrawling a little note and signing his name. He had I think one or both of his beautiful blonde daughters with him; I think the oldest was perhaps almost a teen or had just recently become a teen at the time. "I hope you win," I said, and he wasn't sure what I meant, but I pointed to the National Book Award Nominee medalion on whatever book it was--must've been Interstate--and repeated "I hope you win." "Oh, yes, well, of course me too," he replied, but with modesty, or at least what I thought was modesty--could've been false, though. I mean, isn't someone so anal as to hand-correct typos in paperback editions of their own novels a bit arrogant? Perhaps not. But I thought Frog deserved to have won the NBA for which it was nominated, even though I have no idea now what won over it, and perhaps then I knew and hadn't read the winning title, but Frog engaged me like few books have. But over the years we spoke at three or four booksignings, and he used to recognize me in the store when he saw me--probably thought of me as many do or did then--as That Borders Guy. But I believe he called me by name near the end of the last times I saw him, as though it had sunk in after four or five booksignings I'd run for him, and after having written four or five or six inscriptions to me. But he might have only come close to my name rather than knowing it, like saying "Greg" or "George" with a quizzical, apprehensive face, not sure...I may have had to prompt him with my actual name. But I don't really care about that stuff much anyway. I like to leave celebrities alone when I see them, even when I regard them as personal heroes, the way I look at Dixon, who of course is not really a celebrity outside of those who read what is often regarded by critics as literary or academic or whatever label you have for it fiction.

But I like Dixon a great deal because his stuff is not autobiographical the way other fiction writers' stuff is--Dixon of course writes from his life like everyone else mostly does, but he's more willing to blur the distinctions between fiction and memoir and autobiography than others, and to paint himself less as an upstanding and heroic figure and more as just an average Joe (Stephen) who can be foolish, hateful, moronic, sensitive, helpless, hopeful, loving, moral, despicable, neurotic--at times all at once and at others by degree and in sequence. I mean just take this book I. for example. I hadn't even known about I. until I looked on Amazon and saw it there and was excited to death to know there was a new Dixon but realized it was new three years ago and I'd somehow missed it. But I got it yesterday in the mail and read it today, which should indicate my opinion of it. Yes, after a slow few months of not reading much at all I've been clipping along like mad lately--I've read four books in six days--but reading a 300-plus pager in one day is pretty fast even for me now. But I. has a great cover. It's a hardbound with the letter I and a period cut out, and the inside page has a drawing of Dixon so that he's kind of sheepishly peeping out of the I. on the cover. And you open the cover and there's this cool sketch of Dixon in blue ink, sort of like an elegant Mad Magazine kind of drawing, and I like it a great deal, though it looks more like the Professor from Gilligan's Island than it does Dixon in my opinion, and Dixon's resemblance to the Professor is less physical than it is...[think of a word for professorial or magesterial but not either of those and not spiritual either and put it here later]. But I mean come on--calling the protagonist of your book I. much like Kafka called his K. is a dead give-away that this is heavily auto-biographical. At one point the narrative even argues with itself about using the first person after starting in the third and then switching back to the third because it doesn't feel right and then the next chapter the protagonist is now I. instead of "he" or "I" or "me." You get the point. A lot of the writing is painful and sad and very touching, but Dixon is also very funny. I think I find him so engaging because I imagine from his stuff that he thinks of writing the way I think it should happen were I to ever do some. IE, that the stuff continuously going on in our heads--revisions of what we just thought and felt and what we should have said or not said or done or not done yesterday at dinner or on the phone with our mother or how we should have perhaps interacted with our boss in a slightly different way that time--that all of that is what writing actually IS, and that doing that honestly and openly is the key to good writing, and Dixon is the most honest of them all, because he lets it all hang out. There's a chapter in I. which is very painful and heartrending because it's about Dixon and his wife, who is ill, and how he takes care of her, but often loses his temper at the responsibility and then feels guilt about it, but he imagines himself in her place and her taking care of him and the way he resents how she treats him when she resents having to take care of him, and it goes on and on and is simply beautiful. He's written about this exact stuff before in Frog and in Gould and in 30 Pieces of a Novel but in I. it's the rawest and most intimate yet.

I forget the name of the short story but he's got a short story somewhere about an explosion at a planetarium, and how a bunch of schoolchildren and cafeteria ladies are trapped in the rubble with an adult male who refuses to hand the children up to rescuers until they make the hole big enough for him to get out because he thinks they'll take the kids and say to hell with the adults. It sounds awful, and it is, but it is fucking hilarious because it's real and like all his fiction it makes us think about how we make ourselves out to be much more noble than we ever have been or probably ever will be, and how we are most likely cowards and would act like jerks in such a situation. Anything that can cause such consternation, such self-examination, and so many "A-HA! I've done or felt or acted that way..." moments is ART damn you and don't try and tell me otherhow.

The Heat is On

FOX NEWS just reported that Rove will provide additional testimony to Fitzgerald, and that Fitzgerald's office has said they will not guarantee that this extra testimony will prevent a potential indictment of Rove or others.

Note to Self

When playing Reverend Emily at online Scrabble, make sure to forfeit immediately if she swaps tiles. After doing so she played FLUTIER for big money, and killed me like 400-250.

I don't think she scored less than 25 points on more than a handful of turns. Meanwhile, I played words like GEEK and DORK and MAN.

On top of this, Yahtzee clobbered me at pool on Monday. We played at Angel's Grotto, which is now L'il Dickie's. Unsurprisingly, there was nobody there--it was so dead, in fact, that the new barkeep let us play for free all night. We raised a glass--well, actually a plastic cup--to dearly departed Charlie, who'd been serving me stale Bass Ale and staler popcorn for 16 years. The Surliest Barkeep Ever has finally been canned.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Oh, how the mighty will have fallen...

The internets are abuzz with rumors that the mighty Rovean machine is about to come crashing down.

I wonder if the espionage cases suddenly springing up are part of the counter-spin? Such stories can give Bush the national security cover he'll desperately need if the Administration is rocked by Pat Fitzgerald's mighty lightning bolt.

Then he can declare martial law.

Where there's a Will...

I can see 30 Democrats and 15 Republicans joining in a filibuster on this one, or a coalition of both blocking the Miers nomination. Most interesting!

What are the Roveans up to?

[link via Kos]

"To destroy the horror of the bourgeoisie, you need even more horror."

A wise man by the name of Bashi recommended this film to me six years ago--I've been waiting for the DVD since. "It's pretty damn cool," Bashi told me. He was reading Emerson at the time, and paused to mention Godard. Let's say that "pretty damn cool" is most understated praise for a film as good as a Pan-galactic Garbleblaster.

Jean Luc Godard takes the rotten corpse of cinema, fucks it, eats it, and re-animates it. Wow. I don't know that Kubrick saw this, but he must have--A Clockwork Orange borrows heavily. I know undoubtedly that Gaspar Noe saw this, because a lot of what I found innovative and interesting in his stuff is in Weekend 25 years earlier. That said, this isn't as heavy as Noe's stuff, because Godard's film is a laugh riot--the only humor in Noe is that manufactured by the viewer in an attempt to distance himself from the abyss. Sort of like the old whistlin' past the graveyard bit. But Weekend's funny bits come at a price, too. Cannibalism, violence, dismay, disintegration, apathy, waste, rape. It's all here, beneath the glittery veneer of post-Enlightenment "democracy" and "progress." Two detestable bourgeois Parisiens leave the barely civilized city and head off into unimaginable chaos. Accidents, senseless traffic jams, radicals, revolutionaries, corpses--they encounter nothing but dismay and misery on their mission to try and get millions from the heroine's dying father before he can write them out of his will. Things go from bad to worse when they're involved in a car accident--as flaming corpses roll out of the rubble the wife screeches in horror over the loss of her Hermes handbag. Then we encounter a pianist who discourses on Mozart in terms of the class struggle during a pastoral idyll, an accident between a rich whore and a Communist farmer, a black African nationalist garbageman, an Algerian Arab nationalist garbageman--both of whom spout Fanon and Marx, a bit of Freud pops up, Emily Bronte wanders by, asks troubling questions, and is turned by the hero into an auto de feu. While the wife is raped randomly, her husband flags down an approaching car and asks for a lift. The lady in the car's back seat asks "Would you rather be fucked by Johnson or Mao?" When he says "Johnson, of course," she tells her driver "He's a Fascist, drive on!"

Weekend is quite an adventure!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Dylan on the Brain

I'm barely in Chronicles Volume One and the writing is so marvelous I keep re-reading it, partly out of admiration, mostly out of jealousy.

With Roy, you didn't know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes. With him, it was all about fat and blood. He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop and he meant business...He sang like a professional criminal. Typically, he'd start out in some low, barely audible range, stay there a while and then astonishingly slip into histrionics. His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, "Man, I don't believe it." His songs had songs within songs. The shifted from major to minor key without any logic. Orbison was deadly serious--no pollywog and no fledgling juvenile. There wasn't anything else on the radio like him. I'd listen and wait for another song, but next to Roy the playlist was strictly dullsville...gutless and flabby. It all came at you like you didn't have a brain.

This is a memoir in a class with Casanova's, a memoir for the ages.

Whatever the case, it wasn't that I was anti-popular culture or anything and I had no ambitions to stir things up. I just thought mainstream culture was lame as hell and a trick. It was like the unbroken sea of frost outside the window and you had to have awkward footgear to walk on it. I didn't know what age of history we were in nor what the truth of it was...As for what time it was, it was always just beginning to be daylight and I knew a little bit about history, too--the history of a few nation states--and it was always the same pattern. Some early archaic period where society grows and develops and thrives, then some classical period where the society reaches its maturation point and then a slacking off period where decadence makes things fall apart. I had no idea which one of these stages America was in. There was nobody to check with. A certain rude rhythm was making it all sway, though. It was pointless to think about it. Whatever you were thinking could be dead wrong.

There's a passage about Dylan's discovery of a library in a flat where he's crashing that I've read five times consecutively. I can't bear it!

Thucydides' The Athenian General--a narrative which would give you chills. It was written four hundred years before Christ and talks about how human nature is always the enemy of anything superior. Thucydides writes about how words in his time have changed from their ordinary meaning, how actions and opinions can be altered in the blink of an eye. It's like nothing has changed from his time to mine...There was a book there on Joseph Smith, the authentic American prophet who identifies himself with Enoch in the Bible and says that Adam was the first man-god. This stuff pales in comparison to Thucydides. The books make the room vibrate in a nauseating and forceful way. The words of "La Vita Solitaria" by Leopardi seemed to come out of the trunk of a tree, hopeless, uncrushable sentiments.
[p. 36-37]

Before starting this, I'd had a fear that Chronicles made so many "Best Book of the Year" Lists last year because newsrooms are staffed by creaky old hippies pining for their idealized college days, when they had a tab of Goofy on the tongue and were mystified for days on end by Blood on the Tracks. It never occured to me that Dylan had written something appealing to those outside his fan base--had, in fact, written a damned interesting and damnably good book. Who else could sum up Balzac so simply?

Balzac was pretty funny. His philosophy is plain and simple, says bascially that pure materialism is a recipe for madness. The only true knowledge for Balzac seems to be in superstition. Everything is subject to analysis. Horde your energy. That's the secret of life. You can learn a lot from Mr. B. It's funny to have him as a companion. He wears a monk's robe and drinks endless cups of coffee. Too much sleep clogs his mind. One of his teeth falls out, and he says, "What does this mean?" He questions everything. His clothes catch fire on a candle. He wonders if fire is a good sign. Balzac is hilarious.


I read this at "work" last night, in about two hours. These Chomsky/Barsamian interview collections are easily digestible--you don't feel like reading Noam's diligent analysis in the more heavyweight tomes? Pick up Imperial Ambitions, or Chronicles of Dissent.

There's not much new here for the veteran Chomsky reader, but I was interested in his amazement at the failures of US policy and planning in Iraq. He claims he'd believed the invasion and occupation would be a cakewalk, and implies the level of incompetence by these neo-cons must be off the charts. He's also extremely hopeful about the current situation, and provides very simple reasons we should find some good amidst all the awful news.