Sunday, December 31, 2006


A recurring theme in the recently-become-late Frederick Busch's collection of short fiction is the story of Hansel and Gretel (hence the title). The protagonists are rarely children, but confront a dark, mysterious world gone a bit off the rails. As I approach middle age I appreciate Busch's work, because the world confuses me more now than it did when I was a wee lad. The more we learn, the less capable we become of understanding the ways things work.

And now, off to debauchery downtown.

Happy New Year y'all.


The Poet's latest, The Filaments, deserves a more attentive second reading. Much is familiar from his earlier books: birds, bees, landscapes precisely captured in the filaments of mood and imagination and context:

Today, to neighbors, I was just
some guy
mowing the lawn. People
have living rooms larger
to run a vacuum over.
And I can't say for sure
if the plum tree is recovered
after years of drought and neglect.


You can tell the birds know
someone is listening
even if we don't know
whether they believe
the sound is understood.

And every time you get too close they stop.

And if they ever stopped for good
a listener may guess
the sound maker at dawn
by the river
is the same bird heard here
every year.

The same birds, lucid and confident,
heard here every year
while traffic speeds or stalls
and the building lights are dulled
in the towering glass down river
and triple-deckers across the street.
"lucid and confident" indeed! Someone is listening.


When K'wali gave me Jimmy Corrigan The Smartest Kid on Earth as a Chanamus gift he said "you can read it in a couple hours." Um, no. This is the Tristram Shandy or Ulysees of graphic novels (this judgment based on admittedly limited experience of the form). I took my time with the book, and savored it down to the tiniest detail. A book about scars, and the effects across generations of ancient errors, and the painful loneliness of its awkward infantile protagonist. A bleak but rewarding read to round out the year.

Friday, December 29, 2006


According to Frances Fragos Townsend, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Terrorism, the fact that Bin Laden remains at large is not a failure of Bush's White House, but is rather a "succes that hasn't occured yet."

What failure isn't a success under this bold new definition? I haven't failed to earn a PhD--it's a success that hasn't occured yet! I haven't failed to achieve nirvana, nor have I failed to run a 4-minute-mile. This Administration hasn't failed to prevent sectarian chaos and bloodshed in Iraq--it's a success waiting to happen someday, after all. American forces haven't failed to find WMD or to be pelted by candy and roses instead of IEDs...

Ho ho ho

The holidays are a killer, and not simply because of the hectic schedule and the family drama and the overeating. My big problem this time of year is the booze, and this year my big problem is particularly immense. I've cut way back on non-holiday wine and beer consumption over the past couple of years, dipping from heroic guzzling to a more staid and gentlemanly gulp now and again. But between Thanksgiving and New Years' Eve the self-imposed curbs on my enthusiasm for fermented fruits and grains seem to vanish mysteriously.

I've had several drinks now daily for many consecutive days. My brain hurts. My liver and kidneys dislike me. Last night I had a 22-ounce Sapporo* with dinner at Sushi Hana, and I couldn't remember my age when Big Red asked me. I thought I was 38, then 39. I tried to do the math and failed. (I'm 37.) That used to happen when I was in my late 20s. I could never remember if I was 26, 27, 28. What's the difference? I'd think. Of course that was during a period of most heroic drinking as well. Imagine: Four nights a week at Angel's Grotto! After last night's Sapporo I had numerous Smithwick's over pool with Yahtzee. Mmmmmmm, Smithwick's, aaarrrrgghggg.

There's light at the end of the bottle neck. Tonight--the Austin Grill, live music, beer, food with Leesha and Big Red. Saturday I get a reprieve because we're doing something with my parents (a reprieve means some drinks as opposed to several). Sunday, of course, all bets are off, as I typically start off the New Year embalmed with good spirits.

Monday starts the drying out. I don't usually make resolutions, but I'm taking a break from the booze. Unless of course we get invited to parties or a big dinner with friends....

* When the beers arrived, Big Red quipped that if Coors is the 'silver bullet,' then the 22-ounce Sapporo is an artillery shell.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Say it ain't so

Looks like those of us who thirst for superior political blogging--blogging that often achieves the level of Harper's mag or NYRB essays--will be a bit parched in future. If Billmon has indeed shuttered his Whiskey Bar, then the blogosphere has lost one of its most prescient, insightful, and erudite practitioners. We can slake our thirst elsewhere, of course, but losing a favorite watering hole always sucks.


Tonight we're signing papers to officially put the old homestead on the market. I hate doing it. I walk to work, my in-laws live across the alley, I love the convenience of Towson. We've been very happy for 8.5 of the 10.5 years we've lived in the house, which is comfy and just the right size and is not without charm.

There are a million reasons moving is impractical. We're ignoring them all and putting our abode on the market in hopes we'll get an offer sufficiently juicy for us to go after some dream houses we've got our eyes on. We figure if we have a contract on our place we'll get more leverage for negotiating a buy, and we'll have a better idea what we'll be able to afford in this suddenly confusing housing market.

Last year a For Sale sign on a house in Towson guaranteed a sale within three days regardless of the asking price. Often contracts would roll in before the sign was even put up. Now, I've watched houses sit for months, and prices have begun to reflect that reality. Fortunately we don't have to sell. We're willing to sit and wait for our price. If we don't get it, we won't sell--frat boys be damned.

Anyone in the market for a four-bedroom place in walking distance to Trader Joe's, B&N, two dozen good restaurants, Towson Town Center, Towson University, etc? A little TLC* and this place could be treasure.

*"TLC" would of course include sound-proofing.


I have tremendous respect for John Hawkes' novel, but this film version? For the first time since joining Netflix I turned off a DVD in the middle and put it back in its sleeve unfinished. I couldn't bear it. An embarrassment. Sheryl Lee is ridiculously bad--she should stick to playing dead women in TV shows.

Were I fond of ranking films using stars, this would merit zero--a rare achievement.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Le Weekend

Four days off, back at work. Where does the time go?

Friday we had dinner at the new Indian joint in Towson--Cafe Spice. I like. It's been open two weeks and I've been there three times. K'wali and Klezma joined us, and we discussed plans for a ski trip in January. I don't ski.

Saturday was Xmas with Cha's family. We gorged on food and opened loot all day. This year the party was at Ma's house instead of ours, which was a nice change. The New York and North Carolina crews were in town and it was good to have everybody under one roof again.

Sunday we chilled. We went to see The Good Shepard, which is an interesting film but a bit empty somehow. After, we drove through the sublimely ridiculous Miracle on 34th Street. We ate leftovers and then had our own private Xmas. There was a message from Julio but when I called him back he and Yo! Adrienne were at the movies, so we missed them.

Early Xmas day Bibs and Jacko brought back some goodies from his mother's house in New York. She passed away recently and Jacko kindly thought of us as he went through her large collection of knick-knacks. They left for NC and we left for Xmas at my folks' house in PA. I was confronted immediately with the York Dispatch newspaper upon arrival. On the cover of the Local section was my niece Danie and beneath her photo was a shot of my biological father enjoying a breakfast for homeless winos. The last time we spoke was when he became homeless--I tried to help him out by buying him a few weeks in a hotel, and he stole my credit card number off the hotel receipt and paid his old debts. He's a bastard. But Xmas was nice, with only the usual amount of family drama. We gorged all day and opened loot again.

Santa brought me the things I asked for: a digital camera, and some software to help me learn Tagalog (Tamatalon ang batang babae). He didn't, however, come through on the World Peace request. I got lots of bonus goodies I didn't anticipate--thanks everybody.

New Years' Eve looms and we haven't made plans yet. I'm sure we'll find a way to blow $300.


Imagine a fabulist the caliber of Garcia Marquez writing a novel using such disparate source material as Shakespeare, de Sade, Swift, and Wilhelm Reich; even plumbing the combined catalogs of these heavyweights you'd be hard-pressed to posit something as wonderful as Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman. How is it I'd not heard of her? This is heady stuff, like Iris Murdoch on mescaline.

Desiderio is enlisted on the side of rationalism to assassinate Dr. Hoffman, who uses machines powered by erotic energy to attack reality with hallucinatory imaginings made corporeal. Desiderio's adventures are to say the least surreal. Simply marvelous stuff.

Monday, December 25, 2006


I wasn't going to post today--but shit. James Brown should be carved onto Mount Rushmore as far as I'm concerned.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Xmas


Like male sexuality itself, They Whisper is occasionally sublime, at times confused, from time-to-time powerfully animalistic to the point of dangerousness, regularly pathetic, and more often than not a bit ridiculous. Butler has written a disarmingly honest book--sometimes painfully so--about male sexual fantasies, and about the failure of males to understand female sexuality. Ira Holloway is his 40-year-old protagonist, and Ira is a sensitive new age guy. He's no "player," but he's had many women. When he finally settles down and gets married, his wife turns out to have been sexually molested by her father, and this dark secret life drives her to a morbid Catholicism and eventual insanity.* The 'they' of Butler's title are Holloway's numerous past lovers, who exist within, and who present themselves continually in his current sexual encounters despite Ira's love for his wife. When she demands he respond only to her and to her physicality without resorting to internal images, memories, or ideals, Ira finds himself sexually paralyzed for the first time.

This is not a novel to breeze through at the beach. There's a lot of sex, some of it rendered erotically, and some of it hateful and disturbing. What most surprised me is the complete and utter absence of humor in the book. Sex is also funny, after all. Or it should be.

Above I used the possessive verb "had" to describe Ira's experience of women, and part of what Butler explores is the idea of sexual possession. One "takes," one "has" lovers--but is that really the case? Does one possess another, or merely an internalized ideal of the other? Ira fantasizes he can hear women's 'secret voices' when he fucks them, and there are pages and pages of these women's interior monologues that are, of course, actually Ira's imaginings of their interior monologues. I think this is an ingenious portrayal of the often interior nature of sexual intimacy (what we think of as shared intimacy is usually anything but). Many people--perhaps most--fantasize during sex, thus relegating their partners to a second-fiddle status in the actual sexual act. Ira creates elaborate narratives in his head, involving women he's had in the past, women he's only seen and desired in the briefest of moments, about the woman he's with in more ideal circumstances. All of this strikes me as interesting, as Butler is relating sex to the imaginative act of writing or creating art. Stephen Stills once sang about loving 'the one you're with' if you can't be with the Ideal who may or may not exist elsewhere; Butler's on the same track. Butler also explores sexuality using religion and incest and colonialism and the Viet Nam war metaphorically, with mixed results.

A difficult book, and perhaps an elaborate and interesting failure, but thought-provoking and at times sexy. ANY book tackling the fucked-up substance of male sexuality (which is far too often thought of in overly simplistic terms) is perhaps doomed to failure. Kudos to Butler for giving it a shot.

*The reader must bear in mind, of course, that Ira only understands his wife's sexual abuse through her "inner voice." We have no independent verification outside of Ira's internal monologue that it ever in fact happened at all.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Haint that a shame, part III

When we first moved in my mother-in-law had a Catholic priest bless our house, over my atheistic objections. He was a tiny Filipino with a giant cross and a sprinkler full of holy water. He took us from room to room, splashing and murmuring in Tagalog. My mother-in-law and wife carried candles. When Father Geuder got up to the attic door he splashed a bit of water but refused to go up the stairs. His eyes were suddenly huge there, at the foot of the stair, where that odd attic smell begins and the temperature is always way too hot or way too cool for whatever season it happens to be. He looked even smaller in those bright white pullover vestements, outlined before us against the dark of the staircase.

I don't buy that blessing or exorcising shit, and not for the same reasons I used to not. Hell, I used to think ghosts and spirits were hooey. Mr. Splitfoot--that's my name for our unwanted incorporeal houseguest--has rained on that parade. The reason I currently don't buy that blessing or exorcising shit is because it didn't work. Last night I was doing research for a big paper on Michel Leiris so I can finish a degree in French Lit--I had Post-Its and bookmarks in a couple dozen books and photocopied articles, many in French--and I foolishly left them unattended on the coffee table and got up to make some tea. Not three minutes later the books were gone. Let's just say that fright was the last thing I felt--frustration, surprise, and confusion were primary. I found the books under the sofa and the bookmarks and Post-Its in a fan arrangement poking from a nearby Kleenex box.

It's true that frustration, surprise, and confusion can mask fear momentarily, but once they fade one is left with simple dread. Instead of hanging around alone in the house to finish my essay, I chose to do some unexpected Xmas shopping at B&N up the street. The paper could wait until I was not by myself in the suddenly less cozy house. Later, it took me a good two hours to get everything back in place so I could finish my draft.

You can scoff. I would in your shoes. But this atheist is becoming a bit unsure of his worldview. When Leesha and Big Red came in for Xmas, I was quick to suggest we go across the alley for dinner at my mother-in-law's place.

Up in our attic is a small cubby hole I've only been in once. Something moved in there when I went in just under ten years ago, and the only light was from a slim crack along the vented eaves. I was tracking an electric line from the basement and trying to figure out where the circuit went. Whatever moved was stealthy, but loud enough for me to get that tingly sensation on the back of the neck. I thought it was maybe a raccoon I'd seen, or a very long and big-eyed cat. Perhaps I try to convince myself that's what it was, because the attic cubby is the only part of the house Father Geuder didn't bless, and when I was in there I must admit I had little desire to hang around and figure things out. I wonder if Mr. Splitfoot hid in there during the sprinkling and that's how he's able to continue tormenting us? We've had no problems of this sort until recently, when I tore out the drywall in the attic to re-insulate, and started painting in anticipation of selling the house.

I remember Nancy next door telling me when we moved in that she'd seen the deceased previous owner of our house at the window, smiling down at her after we moved in. "He likes you guys," she said. "He's a warm soul." I chalked her little speech up to lunacy, and she has since gone a bit batty, abandoning her house two years ago for parts unknown. Now I wonder if she was crazy after all.

For the Techies

It's been another banner year for Big Red. He went to Sundance with American Hardcore, he did animations for Roger Waters' tour. Now you can learn some of his clever inside tricks--the same stuff he teaches his Cooper Union students. And it's free!

Just click.

The Spaceship of the Imagination

Billions of years ago I was a huge public TV nerd. The local PBS station ran my favorite shows: old Twilight Zone episodes, the BBC's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Ascent of Man, and of course Cosmos 24/7. I carried a worn copy of the book version of Cosmos to school with me and I'd leaf through it during class in 7th grade. I even have a worn LP of the Cosmos soundtrack, with those eerie Vangelis janglings and several good classical pieces mixed in.

Carl's been dead for a decade now, long reverted to star stuff. But I still remember reading Broca's Brain on a 13-hour car trip to Maine when I was 13, and The Dragons of Eden. I still have the book Murmers of Earth with its catalog of all the nifty loot Dr. Sagan wanted loaded on the Voyager spacecraft, just in case someone found humanity's calling card in deep space. He inspired my teenage Astronomy magazine subscription, and the little telescope I had that I would cart out through the woods and into a cornfield was a gift prompted by incessant nagging during that phase of my life. Couldn't see much beyond Venus's milky surface with it, but the first time I saw sunspots through a filter, and noticed the mountains on the edge of the moon, I was thunderstruck. When Sagan was at his peak, there were nearly as many Astronomy books as there were Astrology ones at our local Little Professor Bookshop--quite an achievement.

I adored Carl Sagan's quirky sense of humor (sliding down a black hole with his hands in the air), his goofy blazer and turtleneck combo, and that strange elegant manner of speech, so reserved and yet bursting with enthusiastic flourishes at appropriate times. His public atheism allowed my own to flourish without shame and despite fear of reprisal. He was a devoted humanist, and a passionate critic of the nuclear arms race when Reagan's itchy finger was on the trigger. He believed animals were intelligent and disliked cruel treatment of monkeys and other beasts in labs. Overall, he made sure that the immensity of space didn't diminish humanity a bit. It was our quest to understand the universe that made us big enough to inhabit it, lending all his works a positive slant. But tempering this happy tone were his nagging worries that we would destroy ourselves some day. We need a spokesman of his caliber to talk about the disappearance of the northern ice cap on late-night TV and before Congress, to counter logically the rise of Intelligent Design with a vigorous defense of post-Enlightenment intellectual secularism. At a time of diminishing curiosity about the world and the way it works, Sagan would fill a vacuum in the public sphere. He made it cool to be curious. Now it's cool to be an ignoramus. Imagine Carl Sagan demolishing Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity--I'd happily dial in to watch Fox for that.

Carl Sagan died ten years ago yesterday of some bone-marrow ailment. I bailed on the astronmy and physics nearly 20 years ago, but have to acknowledge old Carl as quite an influence during my formative years. He left us too soon. I wish he were still around.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I'd pledged not to buy any more DVDs, but then I got a Target gift card from work for the exact amount of The Simpsons season nine set. In order to avoid actually looking around in Target the week before Xmas, I grabbed it off the display and high-tailed it out the door (after paying, of course).

Season nine is great, and includes my favorite all-time Ralph Wiggum line: "It tastes like burning."

The Simpson's take on Lord of the Flies? C'mon, it's a classic. As is the Halloween special. Homer vs. New York, The Cartridge Family, Lisa the Skeptic, The Joy of Sect, The Trouble With Trillions, Trash of the Titans, and Natural Born Kissers--these are all superior episodes. Yes, there are more duds this year than in previous seasons, but what the hell?

Pack Rat

I keep finding stashes of promo CDs from the old Borders days squirreled away in various parts of the house for lack of storage rack space. Some of what I've found is trash, but but there were some goodies in the most recent trove:

I've been listening to these at work the last couple days, and wonder what other good stuff I'll find as we continue cleaning up/out the house. Some people don't know what they have until they lose it. I don't know what I have until I find it. I doubt I'd ever even listened to some of these after their in-store play days.

Heebie jeebies

This story gave me them.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

An obsession

Browsing real estate online has become an obsession. The amount of time I spend looking at property listings surpassed the combined total of the amount of time I spend browsing pronography and political blogs and book and music stores weeks ago.

I noticed today on Craig's List that Billie Holiday's childhood home is up for sale in Fell's Point.

DHL Sucks

Typically when I order loot from Amazon I get it within two or three days, either via UPS or USPS, and that's true when I use the free shipping option as well.

I've been waiting for some books from them for a week, and decided to track the package. Amazon sent it via DHL.

Until Seth posted about it I was unaware Amazon had signed those losers as a carrier. He apparently struck a nerve with an earlier DHL post, given the epic comments thread. Somebody should email that page to DHL's CEO--and Amazon's.

UPDATE: According to tracking my package was put on the DHL truck for delivery today about five miles from my house at 7am. At noon it was returned to the DHL facility for some unknown reason.

Haint that a shame, Part II

I'd had an attack of insomnia Sunday night and had moved furniture and painted the master bedroom after work Monday and so was rather pooped at 11:30 when I retired for the night. The Mrs. stayed up wrapping gifts and listening to Xmas CDs. I put in earplugs and settled in and fell asleep almost immediately.

Not fifteen minutes later Cha turned on her bedside lamp. She knows I'm a light sleeper, she knew I was asleep, so this awakening was intentional and made me a bit grumpy. I took out the earplugs and released a kind of exasperated grunt. Her response: "Ma just called me and told me something scary."

I have been concerned about my mother-in-law's health of late and became immediately alert. "What's wrong?"

"She called and asked me who was our guest. I told her we didn't have a guest and she said 'I see him by the door. Daddy told me he saw him in your house behind you and now he is inside the back door. Who is the man?'"

My in-laws live across the alley behind us, and can easily see our place from theirs. When Ma told her this, Cha of course immediately turned on every light on the first floor, including the exterior spots. Nobody--no thing--was visible. The lights were still on when I came down this morning for coffee.

Cha snuggled up closer than usual last night when we went to sleep. I didn't bother checking anything downstairs before drifting off again. I knew who it was--our unwanted incorporeal houseguest.


I'd seen The Last Picture Show many times but for some reason or other had failed to explore other Bogdanovich films. Paper Moon doesn't disappoint. Ryan O'Neal is flawless as an oily grifter, and Tatum deserved that Oscar unquestionably; some of the subtle changes in the mood of her expression show remarkable subtlety for an actor of any age, let alone one who was 8 years old. I love the extended scenes of the two O'Neals interacting (extremely refreshing in an age of furious fast-cuts, CGI, and close-ups that show one actor at a time)--in particular an argument in the car which lasts nearly four minutes, and which, according to the DVD extras, took more than 35 takes to get.

Paper Moon is a near pitch-perfect blend of funny and sad, delivered with great craft. The photography is beautiful, the manner of constructing shots (check out the framing during the train ticket sequence) is exquisite, the performances are universally wonderful (Jonathan Hillerman and Randy Quaid and Madeline Kahn support), and in nearly an hour of extras Bogdanovich only name-drops Orson Welles 87 times.

I also enjoyed Out of Africa, which allows the natural backdrop of its setting to become a primary character. There's nothing like a good movie in no hurry to get anywhere. Sydney Pollack allows his actors and his script time to meander and build to the tragic end point. I've never particularly been a fan of Meryl Streep, but I "get" it now. Anyone who can act herself into sexiness is a special talent. The scene where Redford washes her hair by the river? That's good stuff.

The film brings many complications to its romance story: colonialism, feminism, patriarchy, war and duty, dependence and liberty. But one is never bludgeoned inelegantly with its themes, which arise naturally as the story progresses.

I used to teach a complicated Dineson story called "The Sorrow Acre." Almost universally my students would fail to penetrate that one.

Note to self: read more Dineson.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Over the last fifteen years I've gone from fanatical Orioles fan to anti-MLB curmudgeon. I find the sport in its current state unwatchable. And no, my lack of interest has nothing to do with the anemic Orioles; my most fanatical baseball years included the late 80s, wherein Baltimore achieved abysmal lows uknown in their previously storied history.

But despite my detestation of the game, I was horrified to read in the Baltimore Sun yesterday about the plight of Sammy Stewart, who was one of my favorite players back when the Orioles were loaded with strange-looking and loveable characters who could just fucking play. Half the time the team looked like roadies for the Allman Brothers. Reading about Stewart brought a lot of that joy back, and I felt the first nostalgia for baseball I'd felt in a decade. Screw the polished Camden Yards, with its comped seating for execs who like Toronto, Boston, and New York better than the Birds. I'll take the cheap seats at Memorial Stadium any time.

And Sammy-I hope you can pick yourself up, man. Every time I see Wild Bill Hagy drive around Towson in his Jimmy's Cab I think of you and that hair do and that ass-kicking slider.


We had a great weekend full of parties and friends and good eats and drinks. But coloring the weekend was a disturbing story I heard from K'wali at his place Saturday night.

A bit of context: K'wali is an American citizen of Persian descent. He and his wife Klezma have purchased a nice townhome in the nice neighborhood of Rodgers Forge. K'wali is an engineer for Verizon, and is getting his MS in some mathematical tomfoolery too complex for me to remember the name of. Perhaps the worst thing he has done in his entire life is singing Samantha Fox at karaoke.

On his way home from work recently, K'wali performed what he calls an 'inventive' interpretation of the stop sign at an intersection near his house. This maneuver is commonly known as the California Stop. Unfortunately for our hero, a Towson Precinct cruiser was there and pulled him over. As the intrepid officer ran K'wali's info, two more cruisers arrived. As a pedestrian in Towson I've witnessed this many times; when white people are pulled over for traffic infractions, there is only one officer necessary to complete the transaction. But when I see Hispanics, African-Americans, or other people of a more dusky complexion on the side of the road, there is always more than one responding police car. I have never seen an Asian pulled over (though K'wali qualifies as Asian given that Iran is in that part of the world).

But back to the story. K'wali was informed that there was a warrant out for his arrest. A ten-year-old warrant. He was cuffed and put into the back of a cruiser as his wife and entire neighborhood looked on. Klezma was appalled. She didn't know her husband ten years ago, after all, and the officers didn't tell her what the arrest was for. They simply said "He'll get a phone call." K'wali was taken to a police facility, was cuffed to a table at one point, and was held in a holding cell with thieves and junkies for three hours. Meanwhile poor Klezma had to call her parents and K'wali's to figure out what to do.

For what dire offense was K'wali detained? For what loathsome act committed ten years previously was he humiliated publicly in front of his neighbors? For what crime so odious that an officer pulling someone over after a traffic citation would choose to ignore the statue of limitations? For riding the Light Rail without a ticket. Ten years ago. K'wali has hardly been on the lam the last decade. He's bought a house, been hired by major corporations, renewed drivers' licenses.

I regard this as plain and simple harassment, and told K'wali he should shout it from the rooftops. Call the local media, get a lawyer, raise hell. No, he insists. That would make more trouble. Sure, he was arrested on a pretext, because his family name has more syllables and includes a Z and an H. But so what?

Unfortunately people say "so what?" too often. Some folks in K'wali's position have ended up whisked off to Kazakhstan or Syria on private jets, only to resurface years later with horror stories about their treatment. K'wali chose to plead guilty to the aged infraction without asking for representation. "I did it," he said. But this petty crime would have been expunged by any lawyer worth his or her salt I'm sure. I also can't imagine that if I were pulled over in Rodgers Forge and found to have done something similar in my youth that the officer would have failed to ignore a charge so outdated. Unless of course I had anti-Bush stickers on my car.

Ladies and gentlemen, your tax dollars at work. Meanwhile, armed robberies and rapes happen more frequently than ever in the seat of the Baltimore County Government. I suppose the Towson Precinct has no more pressing concerns than to pester citizens whose ethnicity they regard as immediately suspect.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


A mottled bruise, a slowly seeping internal wound of a book. Michael Barnes hooks up with a gang of petty hoodlums to rig a big annual horse race, not realizing that the beast they steal has cyclical needs for bloody sacrifice. As bigger players in London's seedy underworld try to chisel in, hapless Barnes will lose everything.

That's merely the surface of The Lime Twig; its great brooding icy mass functions invisibly, chilling the reader beneath the surface, in the twilit realm of hypnagogic imaginings. The obscure title's significance resides in the deceitful promise of the chief gangster to his mistress that he is soon out of the game and willing to take her on a retirement voyage--a mixed image of deceit and hope uttered during the clean-up following a foul atrocity. It was Hawkes' alarming gift to render the heinous and brutal in beautiful erotic prose.

I went through a big Hawkes phase in my 20s. Good one to revisit.

Friday, December 15, 2006

An Apology

I had un-published comments built up for a couple weeks or so after changing some Blogger settings--I apologize for the oversight (hat-tip to Seth, who alerted me last time I screwed up similarly).

I wanted to prevent spam comments, and ended up blocking all comments. All have now been liberated from their digital corral, and responded to as well.

Paranoia will destroy ya (but it will help your Google PageRank)

I got a big traffic boost yesterday after Protein Wisdom linked my half-assed conspiracy post.

Having a paranoid conspiratorial reaction is fundamental to my character; I don't actually believe Karl Rove is trying to kill Democratic senators, any more than I actually believe that the Masons planned out Bush and Kerry's presidential race at Skull and Crossbones 40 years ago. I do believe conspiracy theories are fun, however, and support everyone's right to believe whatever the fuck they want.

I enjoyed reading the comments on the post over at Protein Wisdom, where everyone sneered at Lefties and their crazy conspiracy theories, as though the Wingnuts on the Right never engage in such behavior:

Let's see:

1. Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster murdered.

2. Bill Clinton was using National Guard C-130s to fly cocaine into Arkansas.

3. Clinton launched cruise missiles at Osama bin Laden to deflect attention from a semen-stained dress, not becuase Osama was actually a worthy target.

4. The ACLU is out to destroy Christmas.

5. The massacre of civilians at Qada was an inside job.

6. My latest fave: Soy makes you gay.

7. My all-time fave: The media are a liberal conspiracy to turn everyone into secular humanists who drive Volvos and support Dennis Kucinich for president (or, for example: recently 'the media' have been conspiring to make Iraq look like a failure, when it's obviously a smashing success).

I could go on, but you get the point.

Americans at all points of the political spectrum engage in conspiratorial thinking, typically accepting ridiculous theories of those with whom they are ideologically aligned without any skepticism whatsoever, while bringing an intensely skeptical point of view to bear upon the conspiracy theories of their ideological opponents.

I don't mean to disparage conspiracy theories by any means--or to suggest all of them are false. Many are likely true, even if they are not.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


December 14th, and it's 65 degrees. That's in the neighborhood of twenty degrees above average for Baltimore.

At this rate my contributions to the Saudis, the Venezuelans, the Nigerians, and the Big Oil conglomerates will be a record low this holiday season. Typically by this point I'd have shelled out $400 bucks to the C. Hoffberger Oil Co., Inc. for home heating oil. The delivery dude dropped by last week to refill our tank and couldn't fit a gallon in. Ha! Some poor prince in the House of Saud might not be able to afford another Filipina guest worker unless there's a deep freeze 'round these parts soon.

Perhaps instead of buying a house in Baltimore we should consider a lot in Nova Scotia (but well inland). Potential beachfront property up there might turn out to be a good investment.

My inner conspiracist stirs

I hope Senator Tim Johnson pulls through--and not of course merely for political reasons.

Otherwise: Oh, man. Here we go again.

Update: Damn, they also whacked Peter Boyle.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Rumor has it that Kurt Vonnegut,in Breakfast of Champions, based the pornographic hack writer Kilgore Trout on Theodore Sturgeon. One need look no further than Godbody for proof that Vonnegut was unjust.

Why did I read it again after 25 years? I was packing up the library, I saw it, I'd been considering buying the short stories (which Faulty Landscape recommends). I remembered at age 13 how I'd been struggling to free myself from the ugly Christianity of my youth, and how Sturgeon's little book helped liberate me from snake-handling original sin afficionados.

Sure, Godbody reeks of hippie theology, with its nudism and its free love. But this is no mere fuck-book, my friends (though it is a quality fuck-book). This is a gospel, a sophisticated take on the true meaning of Christ and his sacrifice. Joe Campbell could have done an hour with Bill Moyers on this shit.

I rank it with Robert Graves' King Jesus, with Jim Grace's Quarantine, with Hesse's Sidhartta. Read it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I'll give Palahniuk the initial story in Haunted. "Guts" is great fun, a hallmark of liberated and exhilerating trash. Nothing else in this turgid clunky book comes close to its frenetic and gleeful grotesquerie.

Save yourself 390 pages of awful-to-beneath average short stories and what likely ranks as the worst poetry ever perpetrated outside the planet Vogon. Read "Guts" at the shelf in your local chain bookshop and put Haunted back without buying it.

Sorry, Chuck. That's two strikes. Yer out!


Found some images of Julio's stuff online--at an auction website.

We were privileged to have the painting at left hanging in our dining room for over a year while he was living in Rome. Currently I have one of his paintings that is very similar thematically to this one. I shall speak no more about the Jacksonville Nike Missile Base, however.

Today's Typing Music

Dear Pronography Websites

Very little disgusts or disturbs me. I'm a jaded old perv who's seen it all.

But please, stop linking to photos of Britney Spears sans panties. I've got some standards.


I'd not read Ford before, and I'd had preconceived notions about what his writing would be like. None of them were correct.

The Sportswriter is about almost everything but sports writing. Frank Bascombe is the 38-year-old protagonist. He had a smashing success with a book of short fiction as a young man, then failed at a novel and turned to writing for a glossy sports weekly. Frank doesn't particularly like sports, but the work satisfies and pays well. We meet Frank after his marriage has collapsed. He lives in a house in suburban New Jersey. His wife and their two remaining children (one has died) live nearby.

I find Frank a troubling narrator, but in an interesting way. He's very sensitive and savvy, but like many males he bottles up all emotions. His deteriorating situation is Ray Carver-esque, but without the doom and gloom. Frank considers himself an optimist and simply plugs away at life without getting too worked up about it. Near the end of the book this strategy appears to be failing. In effect Frank has stopped writing books and has begun writing his own life. He has certain ideas about character and how a man should act and how the world should work, and lives his life in a very surface manner. That's not to say he has no depth; Frank could stroll into late-phase Henry James--say a parlour scene in The Awkward Age--and be completely at home smoking cigars and chatting with the lord of the manor, one elbow perched on the mantel. But like many James protagonists Ford is locked in a hermetically sealed persona nothing can touch. His life passes him by and even when he is least satisfied he asserts his satisfaction. He thinks a bland suburban life is best. He loves writing about a topic he really doesn't enjoy a bit. He wants to marry his short-term girlfriend though they have nothing in common, because he is sure he can make things work with her. If he can't, he wants to re-marry his wife. Frank is in agony but refuses to acknowledge it. He is determined if his system is unrealistic to bend reality to his will. Several small catastrophes nearly derail his serene worldview, but at its most bleak point the plot fails to penetrate Frank's bubble. By the end of the book Frank claims to have changed but he is exactly the same guy, forging ahead without too much concern.

I suppose Ford is attempting a portrait of the American male in the late 20th century. There's an awkward New Age sensitivity, an identification with the feminine side, an acknowledgement that emotions are important, but an inability to escape the traditional societal expectations of a man. Frank joins a support group for divorced men, and they don't really support each other so much as do the typical reserved guy things: drink beer, go fishing, watch sports. One member of the group attempts a connection at a deeper level, and Frank tries to be available emotionally, but risks puncturing his self-satisfied view of reality. The world nearly drops from beneath him, and Frank rapidly retreats into his old sure habits to rebuild a safe place to inhabit. Henry James would have dramatized Frank reeling over missed opportunities in his dotage. I wonder how Ford will finish Frank off?

There are two more in the series: Independence Day and The Lay of the Land. I'll get to them at some point, to see how Frank is holding up.

Monday, December 11, 2006

haint that a shame

The Mrs. and I spent 10 hours yesterday moving furniture and knick-knacks, patching, sanding, taping, and painting the living room. We finished around 7:30 and I took a shower and cuddled up in a fetal ball with a book upstairs. Because she was playing the Peanuts Xmas CD I put on headphones and the Codex Faenza disc from Naxos. After a dozen or more holiday seasons in retail I can't abide the Peanuts Xmas music.

After a few minutes I heard Cha yell "What?" downstairs. She must have yelled loudly for me to hear it through the headphones.Then something thumped and I heard her yell something else. I took off the headset just as she came quickly bounding up the stairs and into the room where she sat on my lap and put her arms around my neck. "I thought I heard you call me. I was in the room between the rooms* and I swore I heard you call me right in my ear. I said 'what' and then I heard it again, louder. Nobody was there. It was very creepy."

"Old Will is upset about something," I said. Will was the previous owner of the house. He was married to the daughter of the architect who built our home in the 1920s, and we're the first outside the family to inhabit it. When we first looked at the place more than 10 years ago I knew immediately someone had died there, and this was later confirmed by our neighbors. Don't ask me how I knew. A maternal great-grandfather was a hex healer--maybe the juju is genetic? Will was an aeronautical engineer and wood-working hobbyist who flew stunt planes well into his eighties. He lived alone for a long time, and died alone.

"He doesn't like our paint job," Cha surmised.

"Or the fact we're listing the house for sale," I suggested. She refused to go back downstairs where she'd been decorating a small live tree. I went down there and it was horribly cold. I turned on the wall sconce light fixtures and both bulbs blew. Something rattled around over by the hearth. The dove, usually asleep after dark, was agitated and jumping around his cage. The closet in the room between the rooms was open and all the shoes from Cha's shoe tree were out on the floor. I put them away and went back upstairs as quickly as I could. Cha denied doing anything to the shoes.

*Her name for a small alcove off the living room and kitchen which houses a ceiling lamp all its own and a closet. It's about 3X4 square feet in area.


Each year twenty at-risk students are taken from Baltimore's catastrophic public school system and sent to rural Kenya where they get vigorous academic attention and rigorous discipline. The program works, turning the kids into hopeful, serious young men. Civil war, terrorism, and shaky Kenyan politics shut the program down after the featured line-up finish only their first year. How will they cope when they are plunged back into the mean streets?

Heard about this because the Mrs. works with Devon, one of the featured students, at a local school called ACCE. Straightforward, without artifice, The Boys of Baraka allows its subjects unscripted center stage. I'd recently sent a resume to Baltimore City Schools for a teaching job in their juvenile detention facilities. After seeing during this film what goes on in the classrooms of the non-secure public schools, however, I'm less certain I could deal with that mess. At the same time, I wish there was something I could do.

One question: Why are the kids' spoken parts captioned with subtitles? Their vernacular isn't that hard to follow.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Dick gets his due

I was pleased no end when the Library of America (whose volumes I collect slowly) decided to enshrine Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, Cthulu, and Shub-Niggurath in a splendid edition edited by Pete Straub. I didn't buy the tome, however, because I've got the complete Arkham House edition of HPL, and a dozen paperback editions to boot. And, well, frankly--how often do I read that stuff any more? Once every couple of years I'll bust out The Case of Charles Dexter Ward or The Outsider, but I don't often revisit Lovecraft.

It wasn't the first time my favorite pulp writer achieved Library of Americification. A couple of his poems were included in the American Poetry of the 20th Century, Volume I collection (through what I'm sure was an editorial oversight, HPL's glorious epic Fungi from Yuggoth escaped inclusion).

Now the Library of America has decided to release a collection of Phil Dick novels. That's cool too, but while the Library is messing around releasing trendy volumes they are ignoring their proposed Complete Henry James edition. Still lacking are the final late phase novels and James's three-volume autobiography. My patience wears thin!

Note: When you click on the Amazon link to purchase the entire Library of America catalog, their 'Better Together' software recommends Nacho Libre on DVD as a quality accompaniment.

[Hat tip to Steven Hart]

Apocalypto opens Friday

I saw The Passion of the Christ uncut on a Philippine Air flight from Vancouver to Manila, and then borrowed it from Netflix a couple years later and watched it again. Overall, I agree with The Dazzling Urbanite's assessment:

If this film had washed ashore into art houses, directed by an unknown italian director, the reviews would be rapturous.
I am one of the four or five people on Earth who hated Braveheart, and I dislike intensely the Lethal Weapon franchise. But Gibson has acted well in some good films, and love it or hate it his Passion is not without arresting moments of aesthetic genius, primitive theology and less-than-subtle anti-Semitism aside. One just has to wade through the snuff-film elements to find those brilliant moments.

I'm interested in seeing Gibson's Apocalypto as well, and this review from the New York Times makes me want to see it even more.

Yes, Gibson's personal behavior is puzzling and distasteful (and pitiable to a degree), and his reactionary Catholicism I find personally repugnant. But I don't avoid David Lynch's films because Lynch is a raving right-winger, just as I don't ditch my old Public Enemy CDs because Flava Flav has degenerated from a gifted hip-hop innovator into some awful reality show caricature. One must separate the product from the one who fashions it. If we denied ourselves all the art, music, and books created by distasteful human beings, I'm afraid there would be little left to savor.

I miss having a dog

The only thing my dog ever found and dropped on my foot was some horse dung he picked up off the road. This guy is lucky.

[link via the Fortean Times]


Rode the bus down York Road from Towson to Baltimore yesterday afternoon. I was jammed in with about 80 people, half of whom were standing, most of whom I'm sure endure this ride every day. A junky got on at one point, struggled with his pockets for a couple stops pretending to look for fare, and was finally warned by the driver that he was off the bus in one more stop if he couldn't find some coin. The junky pissed himself at that point, eliciting hoots of derision. An old lady next to me shook her head sadly as the driver hollered a blue streak in front of several very young children who found it funny. I've used mass transit all over Europe, in Asia, in New York, DC, Philly, San Fran--but this was the first time I ever used it in Baltimore (excepting the Light Rail or the MARC train to DC). What an experience I've been denying myself.

We left the suburbs and entered a part of town similar to the sets of The Wire. Greenmount Avenue itself has thriving spots and some beautiful architecture, but once you get south of the fantastic Greenmount Cemetery blue-lit police cameras mounted on posts blink on every corner, and boarded-up houses outnumber those (legally) occupied by a margin of about 3 to 1. We passed a guy with a pit bull on a leash who was letting it menace two golden retrievers in a fenced yard. The dog was lathered with thick spit down to its neck, and several passangers behind me were enthusiastically rooting for the pit to "kill those pussy dogs. Kill 'em! Let 'em go! Sic those bastards."

Rather than ride the number 8 further downtown in order to take the 11 back up to Mount Vernon, I got off at Biddle and Greenmount and decided to walk around the 'hood a bit. Mostly it made me sad to see some blocks with one well-tended house, an optimistic garland of Christmas lights in a shuttered window or hanging from a rusted aluminum awning, situated amidst completely gutted and once magnificent rowhomes. This part of town is only three or four blocks from Mount Vernon, where the rich and the artsy live and hang out. Unfortunately the Mrs. had our camera or I'd have gotten some good shots. I found the accompanying image online--someone has been hanging art work on the boarded up houses in an attempted community beautification. The art on such a desolate backdrop made me angry instead of hopeful. So much of the City has been revitalized, and here was a desperate pocket just over the highway from the glitziest part of town. I passed the lovely Saint Frances Academy just as some students were leaving the walled campus. They walked back into the neighborhood I was leaving, passing couches on street corners, fumbling junkies, crumbling houses, the blinking blue camera lights growing bright against a darkening sky.

And then I was at the Walters, sipping hot cider and looking at illuminated manuscripts. A fun time was had by all who can safely venture out at night.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Big Nite on the Town

It's good to no longer work weeknights and Sundays. This evening I'm meeting Cha in Mt. Vernon for the annual lighting of the Washington Monument. The City puts on a pretty raucous fireworks display before turning on the holiday lights--not particularly Christmas-y, but fun nonetheless.

We had an invite to a big soirée planned by some premiere Baltimore event planners, but I'm begging off. That's more Cha's scene than mine--she's taking a co-worker in my place, while I go to the Peabody Conservatory for their annual Christmas concert, which features Renaissance and Medieval holiday music, which I adore.

If I get down there soon enough I can stroll through the Walters Museum show of medieval missals. They also do a wassail--free eats!


I never saw the Comedy Central show; therefore I can't comment on others' criticism that this movie version of Strangers with Candy is largely re-worked series material. I didn't care, and laughed several times. Some mad geneticist cooked up Amy Sedaris* in a laboratory, creating a John Waters/Tracy Ullman hybrid. Stephen Colbert steals the show.

*She's funnier than brother David.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


At a running time of 2 hours and 34 minutes, Superman Returns would have benefited from some additional editing. About 2 hours and 34 minutes of cuts would suffice to render it palatable.

Dreck of the first order. Even worse than that Hulk movie.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Worst President Ever

Everyone is on the "Bush is the worst president ever" bandwagon now. Everyone outside the lunatic fringe, that is--which includes the unwatchable Glenn Beck and the Fox News legions of shambling undead. Funny how long it took for Chris Matthews to come around, and how completely his opinion has shifted with the winds of prevailing wisdom from "only wackos don't like Bush" to the current CW tack he's taking. I think Matthews had a change of heart after seeing Olberman's ratings ratchet up dramatically to the point where the upstart former sports guy was sharing the campaign coverage desk with Tweety. Shows how principled Matthews is.

Much as I'm leery of Barak Obama as a presidential candidate--I worry about his lack of executive experience and think his stardom is a bit undeserved--I will give him kudos for being forthright about his experiences with the Sweet Leaf. When asked by Jay Leno if he had inhaled, Obama replied: "That was the point." Preach on! Also, my mother--who has never pulled the lever for a Democrat in her life--really likes Obama after his appearance on Oprah. She thinks he's a serious thinker and that he's honest and appealing. My response to that: if those were her criteria for a president, how could she vote for Bush twice?

How about Obama/Clinton or Obama/Edwards as potential tickets? The former is likely more marketable--two Democrat celebrities, an African American candidate with a liberal track record and a woman on the same ticket who is a pro-business centrist--but would HRC submit to the VP slot? Only if Obama beat her soundly in some key primaries. Obama/Edwards (or Edwards/Obama) would be more ideologically palatable to me, but perhaps too left for red state America (though any ticket with HRC would be completely unpalatable to red state America). With Feingold out I don't have anyone to support enthusiastically, unless I turn to Cobb on the Green ticket, who stayed at our house in '04 and permanently 'borrowed' one of my Philip K. Dick paperbacks (and walked around with his shirt off). Perhaps Richardson/Obama, Vilsek/Obama? I don't know.

Monday, December 04, 2006

C'est fini!

Wednesday I have to do a presentation in French on the pros and cons of Turkish membership in the EU. As is usually the case, I'm blowing off all preparations, which is a mistake. I only get to speak French for an hour a week, leaving those skills a bit fragile to say the least. But I can't help feeling cocky given this is my last class. How strange that those language classes I took on a whim over the past few years have actually added up to a degree.

As for Turkey in the EU? Sign them up now. The Europeans must recognize that their border already joins them geographically to the Middle East, and adding a powerful NATO member as a substantial geographical buffer will not only prove practical for European security interests, but will also prove a resounding propaganda success with a disenchanted Muslim population in the Netherlands, Great Britain, and France. The Madrid train bombings already proved a carload of terrorists can drive from Iraq to Spain--keeping Turkey out of the EU won't prevent that happening again. Of course there will be problems if membership is granted, not least of which will be a flood of Turks moving to Germany and Scandinavia looking for work. But the Turks have just as much of a case to join the EU as Romania or other formerly dastardly East European countries. Sign 'em up!

Bored at work

Yesterday we looked at houses in Hampden, hon! A couple of them were very cute and had been remodelled exquisitely. The only problem? TINY. I've never seen a master suite with a jet tub and seperate shower and walk-in closet that had insufficient space for a double bed. One Formstone-coated end unit was small but not tiny. It needs work but remains a possibilty because at the price it's a steal. It was equidistant between the Avenue and the Miracle on 34th Street (which is already in full effect). The Mayor's Parade was happening, and it was a bit difficult to get around town yesterday.

I think we're done looking for now. We've looked at 40 houses this year, and it's become a chore. Meanwhile I continue patching and painting to list our place.

Last night we had the President of the Community Association and another member over. They presented a Manifesto of Community Expectations to the dude next door. He was a bit uncomfortable getting lectured but definitely wants to avoid the threatened reprisals. He pledged to move his home stereo subwoofer and speakers to the other side of his house, and assured the President that he would no longer host loud parties. I asked him to come to the Community Association meetings so we could get his POV instead of simply conniving behind his back. Noam: "One does not believe wholly in freedom of speech unless one supports freedom of speech for one's enemies."

Friday, December 01, 2006


You know, I was prepared to be disappointed by Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but that expectation was itself disappointed. This is a well-crafted, well-acted film. Sure, the tragic clown is an age-old cliche, but somehow this time around that tired old saw wasn't so toothless. George Clooney could not have made Good Night and Good Luck without tackling this ambitious project first, and I was surprised to note that Confessions is at the same level of clever construction. Sure, it's a bit too frenetic at times, but that matches the subject matter. Sam Rockwell is great as Chuck Barris, Clooney is great as a cool CIA wet jobber, Drew Barrymore is tolerable, Julia Roberts is her usual bland self--and there are many clever cameos and in-jokes. This may be Charlie Kaufman's least annoying screenplay to boot (after watching the deleted scenes makes me think Kaufman was as annoying as usual, but Clooney had the wisdom to cut much of the cloying self-indulgence).

I recall watching The Gong Show as a kid, and believe it was on after The Muppet Show when I was eight or nine years old. What a great hour of TV.

The deleted Gong Show sequence called The Baby Lady is worth the disc rental in and of itself. David Lynch's wet dream!

Brandon Bird

I don't know anything about Brandon Bird, but anyone who paints Abe Lincoln as a cage fighter, who sketches a cartoon Ed Norton into a Zen landscape, or who posits Noam Chomsky as owning a hip 70's Econoline van--well, I don't know what to say. Except that I laughed.

There's something about the nostalgia for pop culture of Gen Xers--some twisted devotion to the crummy garbage we were raised on--that Bird has tapped into. He at once mocks and celebrates this nostalgia. I recall a similar artist who did a show at the Towson Borders--she recreated Biblical scenes using Smurfs, My Pretty Pony figures, and Star Wars characters. I loved those paintings, but unfortunately have forgotten her name.


At the end of Brad Bird's completely adorable The Incredibles, a neighborhood kid says "That was like totally awesome!"

Nothing I could say would improve on that assessment.

War Ensemble

I warned the punk ass bastards who live next door to me that I had tired of trying to treat them like adults. I told them the next time they disturbed me with loud music or noise, that they'd hear my stereo. Since that warning, I've: had guests driven from my home by thumping Xbox noise through the wall Sunday evening; been disturbed by a loud screaming argument that lasted an hour Monday between 11pm and midnight; been awakened at 2:30 am Wednesday by Michael Jackson's Thriller at an unwholesome volume. Last night there was music thumping through the wall from 4 until 7pm. Their cacaphony only stopped at 7pm because I made good on my promised revenge. I have a Peavey sound system from the old garage band days. I placed the speakers facing against the wall adjoining the bedroom of my naughtiest noisy neighbor, the room from whence his stereo daily plagues us, turned the volume to 11, and inserted the above LP of light ballads by Slayer.

I used this tactic with the previous residents next door. After a week of such Pavlovian training all noise ceased, and they actually moved out. Last evening, after ten minutes of Dave Lombardo's thunderous double-bass drum kicking the stereo next door was off and the two roomies and their guests had left the house. I hope their plaster ceilings came down.

Yes, this is asinine behavior. I've become what I despise. But if I hear their stereo again I'll do the same. And if they wake me up one more time I'm going to start using my secret weapon at 6am when I get up for work. I'll continue using it during exam week.

Next selection? Pantera. Then perhaps Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.


The alchemical revival in France at the turning of the nineteenth into the twentieth century involved many colorful figures. Although some were far-out literary geniuses (Rimbaud, Breton, Irène Hillel-Erlanger, Raymond Roussel--the cats behind Surrealism and Dada) who achieved a literary fame, none were so well-known as Fulcanelli, the Master who penetrated the Great Work in the 20th century and revived a lost Art. Of course the irony is that Fulcanelli's fame is attached solely to this evocative pseudonym--his true identity is unknown to history. Those who knew him personally, like Schwaller de Lubicz, Jean-Julien Champagne, or Eugene Canseliet, refused to divulge his identity. This hasn't prevented a slew of books purporting to have solved the mystery, of which Riviere's is the latest.

I won't comment on his argument as to Fulcanelli's true identity, which is interesting. I will say, however, that his book badly needs better editing. I suspect the translator is responsible for the clunky text, including strange grammar faults and often haphazard punctuation. Whoever is to blame, the text approaches unreadability at numerous points. Alchemists and theorists of the Art write prose that is sufficiently difficult to penetrate without such clumsy finishing for publication.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Greek to me

Pretty damn cool.
Also damn cool.

Under the Sea

Last night we were watching some cool deep sea beasties on David Attenborough's The Blue Planet. These are the beasties which will one day have to evolve and re-populate the Earth after everything goes to shit later this century.

I wonder what the next self-aware critters who come to dominate Earth will look like? Will they bioluminesce?

Cha and I have different plans for the upcoming environmental catastrophe. Her plan is for us to join hands and walk into the sea. My plan? Stockpile refried beans and bottled water and books on a mountain top so we can watch the end in comfort.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari the other night and didn't much like it. Seeing cinema in the equivalent of its toddler stage has some charms but aside from the Expressionist sets I wasn't particularly interested.

Pandora's Box, on the other hand, is magnificent. If the silent film from last week was a toddler, this is a post-pubescent experimenting with its raw sexuality. Of course Pandora's box and Eve's apple are euphemisms for the extraordinary power of female sexuality--and men's helplessness to resist it--and in this film dancer Lulu opens her own box (ahem) and unleashes its awesome power to the detriment of quite a few testosterone-laden dunderheads. Weimar Berlin provides numerous targets, including a besotted young woman whose Sapphic crush goes unrequited. Unfortunately, like her mythic and Biblical predecessors Lulu must pay for her hotness.

Louise Brooks scintillates in the lead role. I could watch 2 hours of footage of Louise brushing her teeth and be perfectly contented; she is fine. The sets and the obvious improvements in the craft of cinema between Caligari and Pandora's Box--less than a decade apart--are extraordinary. Loved Pabst's work with mirrors and moody angles and smoke and strange sculptural backdrops. Luscious.


Noam Chomsky has long discussed Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories in terms of apartheid South Africa--Chomsky has used the term bantustan to describe how the IDF divvies up enclaves of oppressed Palestinians and subjects them to dehumanizing treatment.

I watched Jimmy Carter on Wolf Bliter's show, then on Hardball with David Schuster, and finally on the News Hour tonight. The former President is plugging his new book on the Middle East conflict, and his three appearances marked perhaps the first three times I remember anyone telling the truth about the situation on American television. I think Jimmy's been reading Noam's stuff, because Carter has adapted the language of apartheid to describe Israel's actions. Just check out his title:

Carter didn't tell Wolf Blitzer that Clinton was lying about Arafat at Camp David, but he inferred strongly that Bill wasn't being truthful about what went on. All three anchors tried to press him about his facts but Carter said basically: "This stuff is in the public record. Nobody talks about it here, but it's true. The Israelis refused the offer we accuse Arafat of refusing. The Israelis have a debate within their society about this conflict and we uncritically report one side of it to our population. A small minority in Israel wants to steal land and control it and will use any means to ensure they can steal it. Most Israelis disagree with this policy, and Americans don't hear the full story."

Certain powerful lobbies are not going to be pleased by this media blitz of our most successful X-Pres. Many Democratic congresspeople will likely find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to disavow or distance themselves from Carter in order to hang on to the support of said lobbyists.


In clear, simple French (this is the first book I've read in that language without once having to thumb through a dictionary), Laurence Wyle and Jean-François Brière discuss French behavior and institutions in a historical context. Their goal is to give Ugly Americans a deeper understanding of their least favorite Europeans, beyond the lame "surrender monkeys" and Jerry-Lewis-fans stereotypes. Much of the book compares and contrasts American and French behavior and beliefs--our different views of democracy and education and capitalism in particular are emphasised. The comparisons are rewarding and the discussion of the separation of church and state in France vs. the US was very illuminating.

There are also excellent text features, including many cartoons. One night I was reading it at the Liberry and a French exchange student asked me if the book was 'fair' to her people. "Awl ze Americane bookz, zey ate ze Franch peoble," she said. Not this one.

Monday, November 27, 2006


I learned nothing new from Al Gore's mildly wonky documentary, but his slide presentation was effective and alarming. Gore finishes on an optimistic note, but I'm going to bed thoroughly depressed and further convinced the end is nigh.

One inconvenient truth Al conveniently forgot to mention: he and Bill Clinton allowed the SUV exemption and the deterioration of fuel efficiency standards in the US in order to bail out struggling auto manufacturers and to reward union supporters. All Al's talk about saving the environment being good for the economy if only we had the political will was therefore nothing more than air pollution coming from him. Of course he doesn't have to give these speeches; I respect Al Gore much more now than ever before, and suspect he's actually changed stripes since the Florida recount. Those pre-war MoveOn speeches were excellent, as were his passionate critiques of torture and wiretaps and other Cheney Admin forays into illegality. But, nevertheless:

Whistler's Mother in absentia

Snapped this of one of Julio's most recent paintings while over their place for dinner. Typically he's much more allegorical. Much as I love those densely significant paintings, this one has a purity I admire. Don't know the title, I'm afraid.

I'll have to take more snaps of his stuff when I get the chance. It sells too quickly!

Sheer Gluttony

The amount of food we have leftover from the holidays is beyond ridiculous. There are only two people in our household. Two people and a dove and some fish. Some plants, too. We can't possibly eat all of this food. I, in fact, have no desire to eat any food now. I feel like fasting for a week.

Thursday we went to my folks and had a nice day despite some atypical family drama resulting in the absence of one brother and one bit of sad health news. We brought home turkey, stuffing, mashed and sweet taties, sour kraut, gravy.

Friday we went to my in-laws' and had a nice day despite some atypical family drama resulting in the absence of one brother. Again, it was a long day of gorging and we brought home a variety of Philippino leftovers.

Saturday we had a pleasant dinner at Julio and Yo! Adrienne's, and fortunately they didn't give us any food to bring home.

Sunday we had Cha's family over again, this time to our place, to try and eliminate some more food. We got through a good chunk of the leftover goodies, but more cake and pie was added to the stockpile, alas.

All in all a good weekend. From Wednesday night until last night at 10 pm there were no students in the neighborhood--they all went home to torment their parents. Then, at precisely 10:04 last evening the ominous thump of the bass from next door resumed.

I got a lot of painting done this weekend. Only five more rooms to go and we'll be ready to list the house.