Tuesday, February 28, 2006

George Dubyai Bush

I've not mentioned the ports deal because I think it's mostly bullshit. The Democrats are rightly chewing it like a piece of red meat because they can score political points--doing so, however, is aligning them with the ugliest of rabid isolationists and Xenophobes on the Right.

That's not to say there aren't genuine concerns behind the deal. I think Administration officials and their connections to Dubai need closer scrutiny, as does port security in general. Now people are talking about the lack of scrutiny most incoming containers receive, which is good. Also in need of scrutiny is the priority given to corporate profits over every other aspect of society. But mostly this is much ado about nothing, particularly in comparison to the other scandals of the Dubyai Administration.

Not-so-frivilous lawsuits

I've been thinking about the Baigent/Leigh lawsuit against Dan Brown over plagiarism in The DaVinci Code; a lot of media talking heads are pooh-poohing this as a frivilous suit for more money. I saw Jeff Toobin last night on CNN saying it was ridiculous for them to sue because Brown used their idea that "Jesus married Mary Magdeleine"; that was an old idea, after all, and "they didn't originate it."

The problem with this argument is that it diminishes the amount of stuff Brown took from Baigent and Leigh (and other works of suspect scholarship like The Templar Revelation)--the entire idea that DaVinci's and Poussin's paintings are encoded knowledge pointing to the sacred blood line, and that Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland is encoded with Grail knowledge, and that the Priory of Sion was tied to the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau, and that the French nobility were descendents of Christ: ALL of this stuff is born from Baigent and Leigh's brains. Whether or not one thinks they hit the nail on the head, their narrative explanation tying all these mysteries together was absolutely original, and was a minor bestseller before Brown came along. Yes, their books have experienced renewed interest since Brown's novel (which I admit I have not read, but I've seen the History Channel refutation), but to say they're unjustified in crying foul is presumptious. Let the courts decide, because their entire narrative framework--not just an outline--was taken, including their research (suspect as it was), their speculative leaps, their interviews and imaginings, and even their suspects and main players. When I read the jacket of the book upon its release I was telling Borders customers it looked like a complete rip-off to me.

I hope Baigent and Leigh win a zillion dollars for one reason: Brown wrote a novel I wanted to write, dammit--he should be punished for stealing MY idea. And from what I understand from people whose taste I trust, it's a piece of shite. Though I am glad it has a lot of Christians asking questions about their faith--including my suddenly heretical mother.

How do I know so much about all this esoteric bullshit? My 'trash' pleasure reading has for a long time been conspiracy theories, alien books, alternate histories about Atlantis and the intergalactic origins of man, etc. I have a soft spot in my heart for Holy Blood/Holy Grail.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Watching Nanook hunt seals and foxes, watching his adorable children and beautiful wife, watching them scratch a frail subsistence out the world's harshest environment--all of this was thoroughly engaging. Trying to imagine how amazing this film must have been in the 20's was even more engaging. I've been after all jaded by years of Jacques Cousteau and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, Marty Stouffer, David Attenborough, etc. I can watch arctic animals on TV daily. Footage of walruses 85 years ago must have been like footage of aliens would be today.

Nanook's awful fate, disclosed at the beginning of the film, made everything more poignant. The final scenes of his dogs enduring a miserable storm are awe-inspiring. Sure, there's more than a bit of what we'd regard these days as anthropological ignorance behind the lens, but far less than expected (chief among these sins is using actors and staging a sort of narrative in order to capture Eskimo culture). Still recommended, and still an important film.


I just spoke to the Mrs. She's in Kansas City awaiting her connection to BWI, where I will be picking her up at 10:50pm. Five days without Cha is bad for me. I turn more hermit-y and curmudgeon-y than usual.

An example: Saturday night when I got home from Yahtzee's I found some dude leaving the party next door kicking cans and empty cups into my yard. I leapt the fence between our yards and chased him down the alley. For some reason he started screaming "NIGEL! NIGEL!" and he fled across Burke Ave. into the darkness. I don't know what I would have done had I caught him--perhaps put my shoe up his ass while saying "Nigel can't help you now." I returned to my yard to find Greg from next door looking out his kitchen window at the yard. I picked up the cans and the cups and threw them back over the fence, glaring at my young nemesis, who wisely remained indoors. Two days earlier I'd found a smashed forty ouncer in my flower bed--my tolerance is wearing thin. Only I am permitted to dispose of forty ounce bottles in this manner!

three hours to Cha

Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum

Dude, Tiny Drum is the worst regular patron I've encountered in years of restaurant/retail/library experience. He's driving me batshit. A forty-something PhD candidate who hits on women less than half his age routinely and publicly, and who is not in the least discouraged by continual failures in this department, Tiny Drum reminds me of my erstwhile friend The Hulk, who fails abysmally with women and always claims that he's the one who turned the other party down.

Tiny Drum lacks wit, manners, and sophistication. He bores me to tears with weekly plot synopses of Smallville. If I wanted to know what was happening on Smallville, I would watch it, jerkass! He bores me to tears with continual and nonsensical stories about imagined plots amongst the PhD faculty in the Education Department to discredit him. Tiny Drum needs no help in this area, given that every time he opens his mouth his PhD candidacy is instantly discredited. He asked me once to edit something and I was foolish enough to agree; I routinely edit stuff for the student employees here, after all. Now every piece of paper he submits crosses my desk beforehand, including emails to his advisors.

Tiny Drum writes like an Honors English high school sophomore. He worries more about word choice and juggling high-fallutin' jargon than about content and organization. Tiny Drum should worry more about the fact that his sentence-level grammar is adolescent, that he can't quite grasp subject/verb agreement, that he has no idea what a tense is, and further that he is unable to spell even with autocheck on. The student employees--most of whom are Korean--write more eloquent English than Tiny Drum.

Tiny Drum was asked to write an analytical summary of a scholarly article. He had no idea what a summary was, so I had to explain it to him. Then he tried to use an article about literary criticism as a model. When I pointed out to him that literary analysis techniques would not help him analyze a scholarly article about Haptic Technology, I had to explain: analysis, the difference between literature and scholarly articles from technical journals, the difference between fiction and non-fiction, the difference between fact and fiction, the difference between morons and people who belong in PhD programs, and the difference between an offer to help edit a single page and a full-time job as an editor/ghostwriter. Tiny Drum wanted to argue about the difference between fiction and non-fiction, because he hates to appear ignorant. I showed him his sample article (which was about Their Eyes Were Watching God) and asked if he thought there would be much character motivation to discuss in Towards a Technologically Proficient School System--then I pointed out he'd be unlikely to find many symbols either. It sunk in eventually.

Tiny Drum demanded I come to campus Friday to edit his summary. I told him no. He got angry, and then said he would treat me to lunch. I said "I don't come to campus on my days off. You'd have to pay me $100." Then he emailed it to me at my work address (which is published on the Liberry website) and kept bugging me about it. The summary was awful, full of redundancies as a Bush speech on Terror, and had little in common with any summary I've read that wasn't penned by a 3rd grader (See Dick use Haptic Technology). Instead of dealing with it I told him to scrap the document because it was hopeless. He asked me how to fix it, and I said "you can't fix this. Pick five points the authors make in their article, write them down, and state whether you agree or not and why. Throw this one away--you're spinning your wheels." He'd spent hours composing this rubbish. I was overjoyed to tell him it sucked.

Now, as I type this, he keeps bugging me to check another revision he emailed me: "I'm sorry," I said. "I'm doing something now that needs attention. When I have some free time I'll look at your summary for the umpteenth time. By the way--do you know about the Writing Lab, where people actually get paid to do this?"

I'd like to beat Tiny Drum--he wears a small drum around his neck on a leather thong. He's an ass.

And speaking of perpetually annoying patrons: Gimpy Bill from Borders has started attending my Arabic class a month into the semester. Fucking jerk. I have to rush out of class now every day so he can't talk to me.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Man, for the first time I came up short at Yahtzee's semi-annual poker fest. I raked in two fat pots at the outset before Lady T showed up and won all of our money, the shirt off my back, my shoes, my watch, three fillings, and Yahtzee's dignity. He lost all his money and stopped--I was down from $10 to .30 cents before a rash of wins brought me up to between $5 and $6. A strange night because Chief Engineer was up $3, as was notoriously woeful B-Yatch, while Big Fist and I, who usually do well, lost out (though me more than he).

Lady T has two crowns now: she's the current Risk champion and has assumed the purple mantle of champion poker face to boot. What will she do with her titles? "World Peace."

Beyond the beyond

I used s. divinorum again this weekend...on Friday, instead of sitting on the meditation cushion I lay reclined in bed in near total darkness. As I exhaled I tried to hold on somehow, to see if I could distinguish between 'this side' and 'that side,' to note the moment of transition. But like the experience of undergoing aneasthesia, that moment was past after I'd already lost focus on my mission.

A particularly powerful experience, with much buffeting of the body by jangly electric sensations. I was beset by a ring of force that commenced at my feet and began climbing my body with probing and insistent fingers. I could see lines of bright energy like Hephaestus' booby trap harness projecting out and down towards the top of my head (my eyes were closed), and as the ring climbed my body I began to resist, because on the other side of the force lines and through some glittering aperture I became nought but diffuse blue sparks. I gave up resistance and burst through to find that the blue sparks were underlying everything--somehow this blue goo was the benign undergirding of sentience in the Universe, diverse with multitudinous pinhead dancing angels like wee members of the Blue Man Group. I had a good laugh with some old acquaintances before realizing I'd just re-lived my physical birth in reverse.

Saturday afternoon in the same setting I tried it again, but with a bit more light in the room peeping around the dark blue curtains. I was in a shallow grave under a piece of tin and some men were trying to bury me by stomping on the tin and shoveling more dirt on top. Not pleasant. After a few minutes I realized the men were some constrution workers in the yard next door gathering tools together at the end of their day. What significance those tiny clinking sounds they made had for my salvia journey! The faint and diminishing light I'd seen around the tin as it was pushed down was actually the deepening twilight of the early evening.

I re-read Huxley's

and for some reason found it quaint, naive, and aggravating. His arrogance about Art, his contemptuous treatment of it and assumptions about its value to users of entheogens frustrated me.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


It's hard enough watching an old Italian pensioner descend through increasingly desperate circumstances into poverty and suicidal thoughts, but when he's got an adorable little terrier with him, the pathos increases exponentially.

A beautiful film, made with tender art (I could write reams about the elegant symbolic use of stairs and vantage points but will spare you)--and only 90 minutes long! Watch it with The Bicycle Thief and call out sick from work for three days.


Culla Holmes knocks up his sister Rinthy. After she births their son in a wildnerness cabin he leaves it on a mossy plateau in the woods and tells her it died. The truth comes out, however, and Rinthy sets off on a quest to find her "little chap." Culla sets out in search of work, meanwhile, and the two encounter many woes on their alternate quests in this mysterious, bleak fable. Three Hell-spawn killers inhabit the landscape, and their crimes are blamed on indigents who are hung in trees as warnings--Culla of course becomes a suspect and while fleeing the authorities runs into the monstrous trio.

I've read Blood Meridian and Child of God and liked them as well--most folk exlcaim over the violence of McCarthy's work, or his brooding evocative prose. I like that stuff fine, but think his books are outright hilarious above all else. Man is a ridiculous beast beset by elements beyond his Will; in imagining otherwise he dooms hisself to repeated comic tragedies.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tout Seul

The worse album cover ever...? But thematically apropos.

The Mrs. is off to Seattle tonight for five days; her best friend from high school has got himself into a rotten mess and he's having a big party before going up the river awhile. Another weekend sad and lonely for me.

My mother-in-law was complaining about Cha doing so much traveling without me. "It's not good for a wife to fly or drive without her husband! She should never get into a car with anyone else!" I said "Ma, I used to fly for business all the time too--most of her traveling is for work." Of course men can do as they please.

I'm amazed when the old-school Filipina Catholic conservatism comes out. Here's a woman whose husband had a daughter out of wedlock with an American in Manila...oh, never mind. I can't figure out her politics at all either. She escaped from Marcos by the skin of her teeth, came to America, built a life for her family, and votes for the friends of Marcos here. I don't need to understand her politics or her morals, so long as she cooks for me!


She comes to Hiroshima from Paris 14 years after the bomb in order to work on a film about peace. He lives in Hiroshima and speaks French because he's in international relations. They do the deed, and discuss horror and memory and love and death, their entwined bodies interspersed with footage of nuclear mutants, dessicated corpses, women losing their hair in clumps, charred buildings...

She is able to tell her story for the first time because in Hiroshima--a place completely obliterated and begun anew--memory is paramount, and having a love affair with a stranger frees her spirit and her repression falls away. Her story is awful, full of forbidden love and misery and horrid revenge. Like the world. I shan't spoil it for you.

He wants her to stay, but she has to return. They each have spouses and "real" lives.

Even in war and misery, amongst bitter regret and profound atrocity--love blooms, like those mutated blossoms erupting around Hiroshima after the cataclysm.

I liked it a lot, even more than the other excellent Alain Resnais film:

The screenplay, penned by Marguerite Duras, is very reminiscent of her novel-memoirs, with the past/present continuously intruding upon each other in a melange. This non-linearity is essential if one hopes to create a more exact representation of human experience. Very few of us live now--most of us live years ago or in some hoped-for imagined future, and Resnais' New Wave style is up to the task of filming such a jumbled narrative. I can see Wong Kar Wai evolving out of Hiroshima mon Amour.

I have some issues with the editing and pacing of this documentary about Henry Darger, but with such bizarre source material one can't help but be engaged. Darger's curious lifework is presented mostly in animations based on his drawings and collages--after a while these animations and the fervent voiceovers of his writings began to wear thin, but the curious subject of the film rises above its faults in presentation. Worth a peep if you like outsider art/psychoanalytic theory/crazy people.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Too Much of a Good Thing

I've read his essays and many of his novels (some of which were life-changingly good), but had missed the short fiction somehow.

This collection, however, isn't working for me. It's not that the stories are bad--by no means!-- Sorrentino wields a precise scalpel and dissects for our amusement the bloated corpse of artsy pretense amongst the New York literati, while deflating consumer culture and corporate homogeneity along the way. There are some multi-faceted gems in this book, the tales often brutally funny and scintillating.

My problem is that these stories dissect the same bloated dead equine again and again without sufficient difference in style or construction or narrative or character. I never should have read them straight through. A couple here, a couple there, with a break to read some Updike or John Gardiner or some similar comfortable pap in between and I would have enjoyed The Moon in its Flight much more fully. Recommended, but in digestable doses.

Pet Update

According to the Mayan calendar, the world as we know it will end on 2012. For four of our five hatchet fish, the world has already ended--only one of the poor little guys remains, the others having all leapt to their deaths through the small opening around the heater power cord. One-by-one I've found their crispy little bodies on the wood floor.

We've had the two aquariums for about six months now, and I'm very happy despite these small tragedies. I do the routine maintenance as suggested, balancing the chemical levels, changing the filters, scrubbing stuff down, replacing 25% of the water biweekly, and in the tropical fish tank we've had no problems outside of a mysterious John Carpenter-ish Fog that inexplicably moves in once in a while and disappears of its own accord. Our goldfish tank has been a bit more troublesome: Leviathan had a fungal disorder requiring a week-long treatment with medicines and water changes; Ophelia has had ick three times and a disgusting parasite problem twice; Einstein has had ick and fungal difficulties. But now they all look healthy and chew gravel and burrow into the plants as usual. I anticipate next year replacing our 30-gallon tropical tank with a 75-gallon tank and moving our tropical fish to larger digs: already the gurami and the blood parrot have doubled in size, and our two pleckos have exploded from barely 2 inches in length to almost 6!

I really enjoy the fish. They relax me as nothing else has since my HO railroad set as a child. The color and movements affix me with an aesthetic arrest like that of an infant confronted by a mobile. Each fish has a personality, too, and a rather complex society has developed in the big tank, with Polly the Parrot fish as peacemaker, Jelly Bean the enforcer, Kodos the Thug, and the others mere civilians trying to go about their business. Are the fish as much fun as sock tug-of-war with a dog? No, but with the dander allergies of the Mrs. I have few options. The fish do at least dance ecstatically when you approach the tank, begging for flakes--so there's some interaction.


Each of the past three nights I've awakened myself by grinding my teeth so hard during sleep that it hurts. My teeth ache miserably today.

Is there any wonder?

Perhaps this is a residual habit picked up after my recent extractions. I know I was clenching my jaws a great deal during the day for a few weeks back in December.

I woke during a strange dream last night--Cha and I were watching a man suspected of stealing gold bars from a jeweler's. Because he had an enormous golden cane Cha said it didn't make sense that he was stealing them, as he was already obviously rich; I pointed out that every day his cane was longer and heavier.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The New Supremes

Excellent news!

I've formed my own religion--services daily in my den. Today at church s. divinorum turned me into a lime green slinky spiraling around an existential event horizon. I cascaded through some sort of sphinctral vortex and emerged minty fresh. Preach on, my brothers! Next up...?

Meanwhile, Dale Pendell's chapters on coffee, tea, and chocolate had me craving much of each the last couple days--so much so that I ordered a mocha latte at Starbuck's. Typically I avoid Starbuck's like the plague, but now that there are 9 in a two-mile radius around my house (and soon to be one upstairs here in the Liberry)* I can't get a fancy coffee drink elsewhere with such ease. Pendell's book was fucking great--it's a classic in a completely unique vein (I've read books by Wendy Doniger, Freud, Noam Chomsky, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Goethe--but never one that cited them all and many other luminaries from a bazzillion fields of expertise), and I'm going to read his others. Pharmako/Dynamis is reminiscent of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholyin that Pendell writes elegant prose with fluid interruptions from other elegant writers interspersed in a perfect whole you can pick up at any place and peruse without losing the thread. He seems to know everything, but like a bodhisvatta, remains humble enough to entertain and enlighten the rest of us.
*one of Pendell's many interesting points is that we're so accustomed to buzzing on caffeine we don't even realize why it used to be considered a sacred substance.

What is your dream?

Cha asked me this last night. We're lying in bed, it's late, I'm reading, she's falling asleep. "What is your dream?" This is one of those questions I can't answer, like "What is your favorite book?" But she was serious, I could tell. She's been thinking deeply about asking me this for a few nights. I told her it was to sit on my ass bored to death for 40 hours a week at a mid-level university library reading 'blogs; this, mostly because I retreat into smart-assification when trying to hide the simple fact that I have no ambition in life.

I don't have a "dream," because I don't know what I want, or how to find out what I want, or what I "should" be doing. I remember having such ideas as a pre-teen: a fervent desire to be Carl Sagan, or JRR Tolkien, or SRV. All of that is vague now as I start middle-agedness still unsure of what I want to be when I grow up. This at times has precipitated great crises of confidence during my adulthood. Now I simply accept it as a major part of what I am. I'm sure family members and friends from way back think I'm floundering somehow--so what? I don't care what others think. (I'm going to distinguish "dream" in this connotation from "fantasy"; I might not have a clue as to an ideal personal future circumstance, but I do have fantasies, including one that involves seeing Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and George W. grabbed up by that robotic monster on the cover of Queen's News of the World and killed by its brutish jabbing finger).

Mostly, so long as I'm married to Cha, living in a decent house, with a steady income, liesure time to travel, wine to drink, books to read, time to write and play guitar, I'm pretty content. Sometimes I think I should start a "career," or focus on some writing that's more than simply 'blogging or journaling--but I have no strong passion to do that now. I'd rather draw or learn a Dylan song or watch something from Netflix.

I know Cha has dreams--she's known for 20 years what she's wanted to do/be as a professional, and like my baby sister (who knew as well) she's gone out and grabbed her field by the balls and had a lot of success. Sometimes I wish my life had unfurled that way--but what if I'd gone through with the astrophysics degree and sat crunching data from a probe every night? Would I have read and experienced all the craziness I've got under my belt already? Cha gets herself worked up because she thinks I'd be a great novelist or a musician if she weren't somehow "holding me back," which is what she said again last night. Ha!

If it weren't for her, I'd be a drunk working retail somewhere--a drunk with literary pretentions, assuredly, but I'd be far worse off. The idea that she holds me back from anything is rubbish. Perhaps I would've gone straight through to a PhD if we hadn't met--perhaps I would have gone to a better school farther away for graduate school without the need to be close to her in Baltimore. But I doubt it. And even if I had, I'd be far more miserable without her. And a PhD in literature guarantees a career in retail these days...

I do have half-formed dreams of living in Europe or Mexico on a chunk of land with some goats and chickens and taters and corn, trying to exist off the grid and without bills and paychecks and all that other bullshit that molests me daily. Ok, I admit it, Cha holds me back from my dream of being a dirty hermit somewhere. She's awful.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Finally, benevolent hegemony presumed that the hegemon was not only well intentioned but competent as well. Much of the criticism of the Iraq intervention from Europeans and others was not based on a normative case that the United States was not getting authorization from the United Nations Security Council, but rather on the belief that it had not made an adequate case for invading Iraq in the first place and didn't know what it was doing in trying to democratize Iraq. In this, the critics were unfortunately quite prescient.
Former neo-conservative Francis Fukuyama sounds the death knell of Neo-conservatism (a strange melange of Leninism and Wilsonian Idealism).


Ok, it was creepy enough when I first read about DickBot--now that DickBot is missing, I'm really worried.

He kind of looks like my new mailman...


I don't understand a culture that puts so much stock in blood over morality that anything perpetrated by kin must be forgiven. Rocco is described by one of his brothers as a "saint"; there's no doubt this is accurate. He's also a bit of a holy fool--he needs to ditch Simone's worthless ass instead of continuing to enable him.
Of course, I've got the benefit of having shelved many self-help books. Rocco missed this opportunity working as a dry cleaning delivery boy and a boxer.

I've also got the benefit of having a worthless father, a being beneath contempt. I learned at a young age not to regard blood ties as more significant than any other relationship. Rocco had great parents, but when his father dies and he and his family have to look for work in Milan, things get tricky.

Despite my disagreements with Rocco, I loved this film. Painfully beautiful, full of hope and despair. Without the differing characters of the brothers we'd loose not only the Biblical references, but the Marxist as well. 3 hours have never gone by so quickly. I can see why Martin Scorsese loves it so much, and how it influenced his work, particularly Raging Bull.

Mick O'Shea's Friday

Earthdragon's Fantasy: Cha and Virginia Monologues

The Result of too many Guinnesses

Sunday, February 19, 2006


A couple of strange dreams recently, after a long hiatus:

Dream #1

I return home from the grocery store to find the wooden table upon which our 30-gallon aquarium rests has been pulled out from its niche by the fireplace and left in the middle of the living room floor. Instead of being centered on the table, the aquarium has been pushed far to the edge where it rests precariously. "What are you doing?" I ask Cha. "That's not stable!" She laughs. I can't imagine how she moved the table out, let alone the aquarium. She begins pushing at it in order to try to move it back. The glass cracks and the table collapses. Cha runs to get a container of some sort, and I'm screaming "Oh my little guys!" and trying to scoop up 20+ tropical fish, but there are only fragments of fish remaining. I wake up sobbing. [I had this dream during an afternoon nap. Earlier that day I'd found a dried hatchet fish on the floor--the third one to somehow commit suicide with the lid closed!]

Dream #2

I'm in a tunnel somewhere along I-95. It's dark, and I saw something strange, so I get out of my car with a flashlight. I shine the light on a towering figure moving slowly past me, and it's a Sasquatch. I'm amazed, and not afraid. He looks at me, sniffs, and continues on his way. Suddenly I'm in my maternal grandparents' house. My brother-in-law is there in white robes, studying ancient Chinese texts. He leaves me alone in the house and I have no car and no books and I'm bored. [my brother-in-law in real life is a black belt, an accomplished classical guitarist and cellist, a surgeon, an expert at Tai-Chi, rich, and I'd never dreamed about him before]


Sorry, Ingmar--I'm not buying this one. Shame covered this territory in far more interesting ways. The little po-mo trick of pausing the film from time to time and allowing the actors to comment on their characters? Um, no. Sorry. Doesn't rescue this mess. Yeah, there are some interesting moments (good old Max von Sydow going apeshit with an axe), but The Passion of Anna is mostly a confused hash of insanity, inanity, and animal cruelty.

Much as I love Sven Norquist, I don't think his work in color is up to snuff; the film seems drained, blurry, and tired compared to those great B&W classics. Skip it.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Worth a Look

This novel takes its title and central theme from William Empson's classic textabout ambiguity in poetic language. Watered down, Empson believed that ambiguity--the possibility for differing interpretations of an openly structured text--was a mark of literary value, and Elliot Perlman applies this idea of ambiguity to human relationships.

The most central of the 7 central characters is Simon, who ranks with Dostoevsky's Prince Myshkin as one of the great morally admirable, intellectually brilliant, and yet pitiably naive fools in literature. Simon idealizes an ex-girlfriend so much that he becomes obsessed over her and descends into madness, eventually kidnapping her son in an attempt to renew their relationship. We get inside views of these events not only from Simon, but from his psychiatrist, his prostitute girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend, his ex-girlfriend's current husband, his ex-girlfriend's current husband's business associate, and finally from the daughter of his psychiatrist looking back on the events from much later.

The result is a challenging and interesting look at the workings of relationships between people and how expectations and subjectivity can cloud and distort reality. Are all relationships commercial? Are they more than just practical bonds? Is the whore/client relationship the purest of all? Is there a difference between such relationships and lawyer/client doctor/patient--even husband/wife bonds? There's lots to digest here in 600+ pages, and at times the characters lose their individual voices and become mouthpieces for the author's opinions about politics, academe, and other writers. But these are minor faults--despite its failings Seven Types of Ambiguity is worth the time, and perhaps deserves re-reading. Interesting stuff.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Artsy Bunker

It's a bit disconcerting to enthusiastically recommend a film whose most sympathetic character is Albert Speer, but Downfall is magnificent. Those final days in Berlin--spent underground as the mighty Thousand-Year Reich collapsed around Hitler and his loyalists--are here recreated as a surreal, dizzying, claustrophobic nightmare of booze, dancing, bombs, and cyanide pellets. Many complained that this film 'humanized' Hitler and the Nazis; I disagree. Instead Downfall emphasizes the brutal sadism and the absurd fantasmagoric fanaticism of these nutjobs. A painfully intimate scene involves the murder of her children by Frau Goebbels--dark, appalling, and moving. These beautiful blond Fascist babies are the anti-Von Trapp singers, and watching them doped and then poisoned and knowing that actually happened...brrr!

There is an odd tension in Downfall created by the lack of empathy for its protaganists. One sees these monstrous people suffering and all our cinematic experience says we should feel sorry for them; of course we can't, and the film continuously reminds us why. I don't think I've ever rooted so enthusiastically for the deaths of an entire cast.

All the leads are excellent. Recommended.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Une pièce de théâtre délicatement équilibré, beaucoup plus nuanced que "Les Mains Sales," dans quel Camus présente soigneusement toutes les justifications pour la violence politique, toutes les objections possibles à ladite violence, et appels tout le raisonnement au sujet de tout le lui dans la question.

Étant donné que mes propres vues au sujet de violence politique sont étées en conflit (je tendez vers le pacifisme et la résistance non-violente, mais admirez le John Brown et d'autres agitateurs contre l'injustice), j'ai apprécié "Les Justes" immensément. Kaliayev est un poèt -- un intellectuel de tour d'ivoire avec peu d'expérience mondaine qui a décidé qu'il doit agir contre la tyrannie ou perdent son humanité. Il pense que tuer pour ses buts est acceptable, mais doit tourner tout à une abstraction au lieu de faire face à la mort du grand-duc qu'il souffle aux morceaux. Kaliayev obtient son souhait final, ce qui doit mourir pour sa cause, mais pas avant d'être confronté à la duchesse grande avec l'humanité de sa victime, et ses similitudes à Kaliayev!

En attendant, Stepan critique Kalieyav -- il est souffert le fouet, il est emprisonné et torturé -- il est matrice vue d'enfants de famine. La violence politique est naturellement nécessaire dans sa vue, parce que le système courant en Russie permet à des enfants de mourir de faim à la mort, et l'état n'hésite pas à employer la violence pour atteindre ses buts. Mais derrière les mensonges du raisonnement de Stepan une tyrannie bien plus mauvaise que cela du Tsar...

D'abord j'ai pensée que Kaliayev et Stepan étaient comme MLK et Malcolm X, mais MLK ne suggérerait jamais jeter une bombe à un noble. Je pense ils sont plus comme Trotsky et Stalin -- on pense qu'il y a des limites à la violence politique, l'autre pas. Camus était un type futé !

Phone Call to National Insurance Chain

Re: Car Accident two weeks ago.

Me: Yes, I'm calling about claim number &^%*%$?

He: Oh, hi Geoff. Yes, I've got good news for you. I've seen the police report, I've spoken to the witnesses, I've seen the vehicles...and my instinct is that MAIF (the other insurer) is going to pay for your car.

Me: Really? That's great.

He: Yes. The witness who was behind you was very coherent and respectable and made a statement that the other driver was at fault, and said she would testify to that effect. Another witness on the police report was, well, how should I say it, a bit rough around the edges. She was all like (mimicking a Martin-Lawrence-esque caricature of an African American woman) "Yo whitey like smacked into her BOOM. Gotta go visit my baby daddy, beyatch, can't answer any more fool questions." *laughter on his end of the line* So I think your witness is much more reliable and is far more credible.

Me: I'm sorry? There's another witness who thinks I was at fault?

He: Yes, but she's not credible.

Me: Why?

He: Well, she speaks in a degraded manner and was unable to provide details and seems unlikely to testify. I suspect she's a friend of the other driver.

Me: So "credibility" rests upon the fact the other driver was black, and her witness was black, and I'm white, and my witness was white? Is that what you're telling me?

He: Of course not.

Me: Well, what leads you to suspect the other witness knows the other driver? Why not make the same assumption on my part? Is it the manner of speech of this other witness that makes her less credible?

He: We're only looking out for your interests.

Me: Hmmmm. What did the police report say?

He: Oh, that you were at fault.

Me: WHAT?!

He: Don't worry--it's only circumstantial. They make a determination based on the positions of the vehicles after the accident. They didn't actually see it happen. Your car had encroached the yellow line, but did not cross it. She was going at a high rate of speed. Your cars collided. It's possible she was on your side of the line and the impact pushed your car onto the dividing line--that's what your witness said.

Me: But the other witness contradicts that?

He: Yes, but she's less credible.

Me: Because she's black?

He: Of course not!

Me: Because she's poor?

He: Your witness isn't exactly wealthy.

Me: Neither am I, and I suspect you aren't either.

He: We're only looking out for your interests.

Me: Any other news?

He: Yes, the other driver has retained an attorney. My instinct says she knows she's at fault and is likely worried about dollar signs.

Me: What? She was injured--maybe she's worried she'll get screwed by the system and is only doing for herself what you're doing for me--looking out for my interests!

He: I've been doing this a long time. You're educated, you're employed, you're articulate...

Me: Does any of that make me a good driver?

He: You have no accidents or citations on your record, no points, no violations...

Me: And she?

He: Has a history of speeding and car accidents.

Me: So what happens here might depend more on past activity than on what actually happened two weeks ago?

He: Yes. This is likely not worth fighting for them.

Me: Because I'm white and "articulate."

He: Of course not.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Upland Game Bird Stamp? We don't need no stinkin' Upland Game Bird Stamp!


If I have to be an insomniac, why can't I be one like this guy?

Ia! Cthulu zi kur...

Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth's fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread.

H. P. Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror"

V.D. Insomnia

Last evening I arrived home to a hot meal of broasted chicken and mashed taties--delicious! And payback, presumably, for the bouquet delivered to her work yesterday, which was much less edible. I'm not gungho for the Valentine's thing, but it's an important day for us, given we started dating around this time 16 years ago.

After dinner there was a game of [CENSORED] with some strawberries, an incident of shocking [CENSORED] involving the digital camera and a quart of intimate gel, and finally the usual extended bouts of [CENSORED], [PROHIBITED], and [NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES].

Then, I played a naughty game of hide-and-seek with Sleep. Sleep graced me with her presence for about an hour, then slithered off into the attic, thence to the eaves, thence down the drainspout into the sewer. "Ollie ollie oxenfree!" she shouted, and I was awake all night, dry-eyed and petulant, dreading the 8am Arabic class more than ever. It's hard enough rolling one's R's at any given time; try doing it with a mouth gluey due to unattained rest. Sleep crept close a few times, teasingly, only to escape, tailess chameleon, into the gloom of the waning gibbous moon, vexer of REM, bane of Hypnos.

A Beavis Moment

No lie--I just cataloged a book by Dong Wang.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Say Hello to my Little Friend

[with a nod to Silenus]

I dub it

The Texas Cheney-Saw-A-Quail Massacre.

The fact Dick has yet to make a public appearance simply astounds. Who the fuck does this guy think he is that he can't make a public statement of personal remorse? He's above the law, he's above reproach, he's above guilt. He's the Tsar, for Christ's sake.
It must be a message to Scooter Libby: STOP SHOOTING YOUR MOUTH OFF. Much less subtle than the aspens are turning, etc

Monday, February 13, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day

Snow Day

Did something this morning I hadn't done in 20 years--went sledding. Cha and I took an inflatable two-seat float for pulling behind a boat and had a blast flying down a hill hard and slick as glass over and over. Young kids thought we were wild old farts, what with her clutching my shoulders and screaming, lying on my back as I lay face-down trying to steer the damn thing.

Cha had never been sledding. That's just wrong for a 34-year-old woman. I guess being the child of Filipinos who'd never seen snow until they came to Baltimore to start a family limited her exposure to such fun!

She had a snow day because her office closes on days the Baltimore County Schools close. I had to work at 1pm, much to my chagrin.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Further Evidence of Incompetence

Dead-Eye Dick.

Who's to blame for this gaff, Dick? The media? Terrorists? Leakers? Nothing's ever your fault, after all...

Is Cheney only the 2nd VP to shoot somebody? I bet he was drunk on Schlitz.

The Virgin and the Gipsy

Aside from perhaps Women in Loveand Lady Chatterly, Lawrence's novels are just not worth the effort unless you're a big fan or a Literature grad student with a need to know the stuff. They're the very embodiment of "loose baggy monsters," with a wealth of potent thematic and symbolic material stewed in an artless and clumsy chowder.

His short fiction, however, is elegantly contstructed, often as sharp in form and structure as anything by Fitzgerald, especially when compared to Lawrence's clunky novels. The Virgin and the Gipsy, as a novella, stands between the two forms in length, but fortunately takes its lustre from the former as opposed to the latter. This is the sharpest delineation of Lawrence's ideas about blood and sex and class I've read, and one of the more entertaining. Young Yvette's mother hit the road with her lover, ditching her daughters and their uptight rector father when they were small children. Now coming into womanhood, they live in the rectory with a spinster aunt who needs an orgasm badly, their father, an uncle, and a ninety-something crone granny who represents the repressing curse of civilization. The father is one of Lawrence's favorite types: a guy completely befuddled by Woman and Nature and Desire, whose existence is all surface, who rejects as sordid the urges of the blood and heart. Yvette meets a Gipsy by chance and immediately her blood awakens to the falsity of "love" and "marriage" as understood by the Victorians (funny how Lawrence's plots, when boiled down, can sound so Harlequin Romance-y). This is a longer meditation on the riff Lawrence played in "The Horse-Dealer's Daughter," with many of the same symbols; the one variant, of course, is the interracial attraction. Read it.


Cha was due in last night at 9pm, but chose to wait out the storm and fly back today. She could have made it, because things didn't get bad here until a bit later. At 11:30 I heard Norm Lewis pooh-poohing the storm, and he claimed the 6 inches we had was about all we'd get. I shoveled before bed, woke up this morning to another foot of snow, and started shoveling anew. I hope Cha can get home today--snow storms without her are no fun!

I did have a good Netflix day, and I have a rare Sunday off as a result of the late-season storm. There was a fantastic lightning/thunder display around 2am...

My new favorite Kurosawa! An amazing technical masterpiece, with unbelievable sets and action sequences and great natural beauty as backdrop. Hidden Fortress follows two hapless peasants who find a bit of gold hidden in a log; soon they're teamed up with a princess and her champion as they try to escape the annhilation of their clan. A meditation on greed and loyalty that proves "art" films can be great fun. All the leads are exceptional, especially the two villainous heroes!

Yawn. A good cast and three great directors doesn't always add up to a good film. In the best chapter Gong Li gives her tailor a handjob and says "remember this feeling and you'll make me beautiful clothes." He does, and pines for another handjob for years. Even Wong Kar Wai can't do much with such weak material (no pun intended). I must admit to fast-forwarding through parts of Soderbergh's and Antonioni's bits. I think the intended audience was an arthouse crowd intellectually superior to the idea of watching actual porn. I've seen a few pornos with better writing.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Great Stuff

There are problems with this short novel about MLK. Not every low-level civil rights volunteer working around King was a hyperintellectual with wide knowledge of Biblical hermeneutics, Eastern theology, economic theory, Husserl, Nietzsche, and the most esoteric details of Western art. Charles Johnson--one of the most intimidating intellects I've encountered, though engagingly humble as well--can't write dumb or uneducated folks; he can't, in fact, write regular folks. Everyone with a speaking part is a polymath genius. The narrator Matthew--a young poor Black kid in the '60s who volunteers to work for King--knows everything Charles Johnson knows. Not impossible, I suppose, but highly unlikely for a young kid with no money and limited educational opportunities. Matthew knows things, in fact, that he could not possibly know--such as detailed information about Hoover and Kennedy and Roy Wilkins and LBJ and their various machinations against King--this stuff didn't (at least to my knowledge) become public until the Church hearings in the '70s.

But forget those problems, because they're not actually faults--Charles Johnson knows exactly what the fuck he's doing. He put a reference to Piltdown Man in Middle Passage, after all--and how an early-nineteenth century sailor could read into the future like that was mysterious to me until Johnson explained the thematic reasoning behind it to our grad class at Temple University. (Middle Passage, by the way, is an excellent fucking novel. You need to read it tomoorow.)

Dreamer is marvelous work--seamless, elegant, and challenging without being difficult. To capture King, his motivations, his mission, and his legacy, Johnson busts out the old trope of the doppleganger: a dude who looks exactly like MLK, whose intellect is as keen, but whose motives are less clear. Chaym Smith has had trouble because King is stirring shit up--blacks and whites are sick of King and his rabble-rousing in rioting Chicage, and Smith is bearing the brunt because he's often mistaken for the minister. Chaym has a past that includes war wounds, whores, drugs, zazen temples, Indian scriptures, a failed career as preacher, arson, and perhaps several homicides. When he meets King and offers his services as a security double, the novel takes off in two directions, with dichotomies springing all over the place (Cain and Abel, Jesus the lamb and Christ the Avenger, etc). It is in these elegant oppostions and comparisons that we can come to understand--and perhaps briefly to inhabit--a figure so immense and complex as King.

I loved it, and not only for its implication that there are many potential MLKs who never have an opportunity to take on a similar mission, but also for its powerful evocation of the hardships King dealt with daily for more than a decade. Powerful and vividly realized.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Temporary Bachelor

So the Mrs. is en route to Houston now, flying out to some conference with her boss and a crew of Baltimore City and Howard County teachers. In another couple weeks she'll be in Seattle visiting a friend for four days, then she's off to Milan for a week in April for a Maryland Art Teachers Institute conference, and then to Miami after that for work.

I myself don't miss business travel a bit, but must admit I'm jealous about Milan! I haven't been to Europe since '02 and I'm missing it badly.

I'll be missing the Mrs. badly too, sigh.

Looks like I'll be a bachelor briefly several times in upcoming months, however, and one must muddle on: Beer. Pornography. Maybe some ayahuasca*. Lots of Netflix. Pillow hugging. Poker nights. Red wine.

*Of course I'm joking, Mr. and Mrs. NSA net-snooper!

Most Excellent

Only recently I was bemoaning the fact that I've seen all but a couple of the Bergman films available on Netflix. Then I thought "That's ok. I think I know what he's about by now. Much as I love his stuff, I can do without."

Then I got Virgin Spring, and was completely floored. A brilliant, troubling, beautiful film with a punch equal to greats like Persona and Fanny and Alexander. Max von Sydow is John Brown terrible-swift-sword righteous in this one (see photo below). By the time he went all Odysseus-slays-the-suitors on his villainous manor house guests I was completely engaged in the magic of this re-created world; von Sydow's never been better, and when you think of his performances in Winter Light and The Seventh Seal and Shame? Tough to top! Technically and cinematically a masterpiece, filled with great natural beauty and shocking violence. The DVD transfer is a gem, and has an intro by Ang Lee; Ang claims Virgin Spring is the first "art" film he ever saw, and says he was so flabbergasted he still uses certain images and techiniques copped from it to this day.

What else you got in store for me Ingmar? Jesus.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Enemy of My Enemy is...

James Senselessbrenner (R-WI) is one of the most loathesome partisan hacks in the Congress; I detest his politics and can't abide his bullying tactics; whenever I see him puffing rude and pointless invective out his abysmal blowhole on C-SPAN I get out the Pepto Bismo.

And yet I give my man props for handing Alberto Gongshowlaz a list of tough questions re: the Administration's 'rationale' for domestic spying. This is especially significant after Karl Rove issued a blanket threat to Republicans that if they didn't play nice they'd get no White House support in future elections.

Some Repubs (Graham is a wanker even if he does cry foul for the right reasons from time to time) see the writing on the wall and are trying to distance themselves from Bush before he gets impeached. And we're not going to win on these issues without conservatives--palatable or no--joining the cause.

Read This Guy

Another tour through the remarkable imagination of Stanley Elkin; this time we visit with Mrs. Ted Bliss, recently widowed, and what she must endure at a condo complex in Miami filled with retirees. Somehow she becomes entangled with a Colombian drug lord, a gambler who fixes jai-lai matches, and an old business partner of her husband's who hatches ridiculous get-rich-quick schemes by the minute. Mrs. Bliss and her brood and their broods and their entire family histories are revealed through backstory and reminiscences and crazy dialogues. Laugh-out-loud funny, absurd, and often dark--typical Elkin.

Mrs. Ted Bliss is just ok compared to the brilliant The Magic Kingdomand The Dick Gibson Show; an ok Stanley Elkin, however, is still excellent.

Too old for this shit

The strangest thing happened last night. I helped a Bridget-Jonesish patron with her résumé, and thought vaguely that she was flirting with me as I helped her scan it. Then she asked if she should include some photos with her résumé that a friend had taken because they were "edgy" and akin to the ad work done at the agency to which she was applying. I gave her the standard former-technical-writing-instructor responses, and then she showed me two racy pictures of herself writhing on a sofa and clutching her bosoms in ecstacy.

"We choreographed these ourselves. D'you think I should include them? Or might I be sending the wrong message?"

"Well, what exactly is your intention in sending these glamour shots? Are you hoping for a job or for a date?"

"That's really funny you would call them glamour shots. I suppose it is a bit cheeky..."

This went on interminably--like 45 minutes of not-so-witty back-and-forth. We spoke of London and her background and she leaned on the counter and chewed her hair. I showed her some of Big Red's advertising work, she showed me her campaigns for Eisner Underground, and then I wished her luck with her job search and off she went, only to return ten minutes later and say she'd lost her glove. I think she wanted me to ask her out, but I've not been single in, oh--16 years?--so my interpretation could be skewed. Sorry, Bridget. I'm long out of the game.

The "lost glove" trick though--the second-chance-to-ask-me-out routine?--I've seen that one before.

Silenus was amused, and told me that Bridget was an annoying former student in the Philosophy Department with a bit of a sad past. At one point I'd shamelessly tried to foist her off on him. She mentioned that she often had crushes on English professors, and then said "and at least one Philosophy professor." At that point I brought up Silenus and his association with that particular department, but he knew Brigette and wasn't about to be suckered in.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Top Ten Cities for Food

10) Baltimore You laugh, do you? I include it primarily out of familiarity, but there are some excellent little corridors with excellent little bistros at excellent prices. I'm thinking Towson with some very fine Asian joints (Thai One On, Saigon Remembered, Bangkok Place) and Pizza places (Pasta Mista!), Mt. Vernon with an assortment of great eateries (in particular Thai Landing, Kumari, Mughal Garden, The Helmand, The Viet Cafe), Federal Hill with some quirky bistros and at least one excellent sushi restaurant. There are also hidden delights like Thai Restaurant on Greenmount Ave. and Los Amigos and The Yaba Pot sprinkled all over town.

9) San Francisco The Thai and Chinese restaurants are simply excellent--walk around, find a place packed with locals, and you can't miss. The sushi? Best I've ever had!

8) Amsterdam Yeah, I was baked most of the time, and a bag of Cheetos would have seemed the greatest thing in the world, but the Indonesian joints in Amsterdam are off-the-hook. Again, great seafood.

7) Paris Avoid the high-tourist areas or you'll get raped! Cha paid $13 for a mug of lemonade...But if you get into the neighborhoods you'll find simply the greatest eats at reasonable prices. I'm not a huge fan of French cuisine, which is heavy on the meats and sauces, but there are a billion options to choose from. The breads and cheeses are of course superior to anywhere else in the world, and the table wine in a $2 carafe can best most $19 bottles available here. Recommended: build-your-own lunches! Get fresh bread at the boulangerie, get some fresh cheese at the fromagerie, get some meat or fish and some salad and fruit--cheaper and faster than table service and you can eat wherever the fuck you want.

6) Brussels Mussels and french fries and beers like nobody's business. I don't have to say anything else.

5) Manila Don't let the 3rd-world shit fool you--there are world-class restaurants in Manila, and you can eat at a five-star joint for 2-star prices. I found many great eateries around Manila Bay. Filipino cuisine is great but they also have excellent Malay/Indian/Spanish eateries scattered about town. Get some chicken adobo and pansit and guzzle with five or six San Miguels.

4) London England is known for shitty cuisine, but you never have to eat the home-grown stuff in this cosmopolitan capital. Two of the greatest meals I ever had were in London, one at an Indian restaurant, another at a French restaurant. And I love cheap and fresh fish and chips to boot.

3) New York I'm always tempted when I go to NYC simply to eat the entire time. Some of my favorite Korean/Indian/Afghani joints in the world were discovered while touring around Soho or Manhattan at random. The pizza? Oh my God.

2) Singapore I'm a huge fan of Indian food, and the Indian meals I had in Singapore were the best I've had anywhere. Also excellent Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese/Malaysian/Middle Eastern stuff--even the subterranean mall food court near Orchard lane was outstanding. One of the proprieters of an Indian restaurant in Singapore had a silk suit made for me while I ate, for like $60. Get yourself to the Quay and gnosh some seafood at the waterside. Please note: I was in Singapore for 3 weeks on a business trip and could expense everything, otherwise I couldn't have afforded a cup of coffee. This is the most expensive place I've been by far.

1) Rome There is no better food on the planet. I remember walking across the Tiber at random, sitting down at some crumbly outdoor cafe, and eating an amazing meal of salmon ravioli in cream sauce for like $1.80. I didn't have a bad (or even ok) meal the entire time we were there, and I think in 7 days we probably spent $50 total on food, eating at restaurants twice a day. Great seafood, pizza that will explode your head with deliciousness, wonderful table wines. And you can sit outside in front of the Pantheon while eating at night. Even the complimentary breakfast in our hotel was excellent. Coffee? Shazzam.

Special Mention: New Orleans I was fortunate enough to spend a week there before the catastrophe, and ate like a king. Some of the much-vaunted restaurants on Bourbon Street were glorified gumbified Applebee's, but if you avoided the tourist traps there were divine meals to be had. Here's hoping the Big Easy comes back strong!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Hrabal Rousing

I'd read Too Loud a Solitude previously and found it enchanting--The Little Town Where Time Stood Still is equally brilliant and ranks as one of the most fun novels I've run across; actually there are two novellas combined into one book, the first told from the POV of Mary, the second by her young son. Mary's one of the most singularly bizarre narrators ever, and her whimsical tale reads like a fable tinged with eroticism and joy. She and her husband's brother Pepin (another amazing character) get into all kinds of trouble due to soft-headedness and restlessness and an ingenuity for chaotic behavior. Mary's husband Francin tries to hold the world together, and her father smashes furniture in repeated rages, and her son gets a tattoo at a tender age and various pets are hurt or killed while Germany invades, occupies, and then the Iron Curtain descends and yet things somehow remain ridiculous. Underneath it all run political critiques of fascism and Stalinism which are as entertaining as they are enlightening. I situate Hrabal somewhere between Garcia-Marquez, Borges, and Bruno Schultz. Great, great stuff.


In between crashing cars and going to tow lots and speaking with insurance company reps, I had time for a couple films this weekend:

Emmi is an aged and corpulent cleaning lady whose loneliness drives her into a bar frequented by Arab guest workers in an un-named German city. She meets a man called "Ali" for convenience (his name is too long for co-workers to remember), dances with him, and after he offers to walk her home, she invites him up. Despite the fact that Ali is 20 years her junior, they do the nasty and Emmi falls in love.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder often frames his characters through doorways and stair railings and windows, accenting the limited perceptual scope of the characters around Emmi and Ali, who get married and attempt a comfortable life. The grocer, the neighboring tenants, Emmi's co-workers, her children, and even the patrons at the local pub--almost nobody accepts the relationship because of either its interracial or autumn/spring aspect or both. Intolerance manifests itself harshly and suddenly Emmi and Ali find themselves almost more alone than before. Will their love survive or will it fall victim to their own subtle prejudices?

Interesting work, and far superior to:

I'd avoided this film since its release in 1989 because my 'spider sense' about movies that suck was jangling like William S. Burroughs' nerves after a couple days with no score. And yet over the years people have told me how edgy, ground-breaking, and well-acted it was--how that guy from Homicide (Max Perlich) was great, how good Heather Graham was, and Matt Dillon's performance was beyond reproach...how interesting and quirky the script was, etc.

Bullshit. This movie is a giant turd. It's not nearly as clever, as hip, or as interesting as it thinks. The acting is shite--Dillon looks good, but his performance is akin to those in my sophomore Theater Class at best. Kelly Lynch outright sucks; this is acting right out of those 30-minute anti-drug reels they used to show us in the '70s at school. Perlich is ridiculously bad, and Graham was even more amateurish back then than she is now. No wonder she so enthusiastically disrobed in Boogie Nights--it's the only way she can get roles.

Um, junkies are not healthy-looking, robust individuals. All of the main characters in this movie are played by athletic attractive people--where's the waxy sheen, the pallor, the shakes? All arrive in the figure of Burroughs himself, who has a semi-interesting cameo as Father Tom, but even his junky cred can't save this bit of carnival fluff.

Perhaps I'm being unfair--this might have been a radically interesting and challenging film in the late '80s, before Trainspotting and Shallow Grave et al forever changed our sensibilities.

Nah, it sucked back then too.

Friday, February 03, 2006



"Today is going to be a great day," I thought, running through the standard 3.5 mile course around Towson. The sun was out, it was warm, my Arabic class was over. Cha and I were going to look at a house on Patterson Park and have lunch at the Kumari buffet, I was going to drink wine at Yahtzee's and show him Mexico pics...

On the way from Cha's office to the house we were involved in a serious car accident. Neither of us was hurt, but the driver of the other car was pretty banged up and was taken away in an ambulance. We were heading East on Orleans, preparing to make a left on Luzerne...I remember turning my wheels and waiting, seeing two cars and a truck in the far oncoming lane, and then I heard a horn and a car I hadn't even seen smashed into the driver's side front quarter panel. There was a powerful impact, Cha asked in surprise "What happened?" I tried to start the car but nothing would happen, then realized how serious it was and jumped out and ran to check on the other driver. Her car was a block away off to the side, and her engine was on the road and she was jammed in by a crumpled door and her airbag, wailing through the open window. A police officer was already assisting her, and asked me to step back when I tried to help him pull open her door.

The standard chaos followed of EMTs asking if we were ok, and cops asking us what happened, and a witness saying "that woman was flying--I was behind you and saw it." I remembered being completely surprised by the impact; I didn't really realize what had happened for a few seconds. Cha thought we'd hit a ditch. My Accord is toast--I saw the windshield wiper fluid box five meters away from the impact scene. I never got to speak to the other driver. It took them some time to get her out of the car, and the police said she had some bruises but was mostly just shook up. They didn't hand out any citations but told Cha the other woman must have been going very fast. I don't care what happens as long as she's ok.

Then, towing, insurance--all robotic, rote. Not three months ago I'd dropped collision on the Accord because I drive it once a month. Now we're down to one car again and it's a good thing I walk to work.

Holy fuck--if I'd started to turn instead of pausing there would have been fatalities. Just last week I was thinking "Wow, I haven't been in a car accident since I was a teenager," and then there was that uncomfortable 'knock wood' feeling.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Still Potent

The Sorrow and the Pity gets me every time. The footage of Hitler touring Notre-Dame de Paris, the footage of Hitler and Speer surveying the Eiffel Tower--such images arrest one with a sick fascination. Imagine Paris in the hands of those beasts, and it escaped unscathed! Think of Rouen, where I stayed for six weeks in 2002, or Caen--both nearly totally destroyed during the war. The Nazi propaganda footage of surrendering French colonial troops (from Cameroon, Lebanon, Morrocco) with the sneering racial contempt(voiceover in German: "The French claim to be fighting for the survival of civilization against a barbarian hoard!" Images of an African in a French uniform, of Africans dancing. "Well here are the defenders of civilization!" Then cut to lines of blond, strutting Nazis in full regalia. "And here are the barbarians!"). My blood boils each time I see it. The monarchists and the bourgeois accepted Hitler and National Socialism as an improvement over the Socialist presidency of Leon Blum, and Marechal Petain, the Hero of Verdun, moved into power and not only capitulated, but began the shameful collaboration that Marcel Orphuls documents so powerfully.

Paris may have escaped unscathed, but certainly not the French themselves. Orphul's film was a painful revelation, exposing many comfortable myths about the Occupation. But aside from the monarchists and the capitalists chumming with the Nazis, there were the poor, the laborers, the farmers, the Communists who fought continuously using sabotage and assassinations. Orphuls interviews them all, and talks to Germans, English ministers, and French politicians to boot. Often he skillfully contradicts what interviewees say with film clips shown during their responses. We get several perspectives on the awful Mers-el-Kebir incident and interpretations of its repurcussions from all the strata of French society.

A lot of Yanks have contempt for the French because of their defeat in WW2. The French fought for six weeks and lost a quarter of a million men--they had no choice but to stop fighting, especially considering the machinations of Petain and other right-wingers within the military and government who liked Hitler more than Blum. This was a debacle. Had the French continued to fight outright against a country with twice the population and a technically superior force they would have been annhilated. Keep in mind: England would have fallen as quickly without the English Channel to protect her. General Patton said that he'd trade six of his infantrymen for one member of the French resistance. Stop calling the French cowards, s'il vous plait.

But then there were the French (mostly aristocrats and industrialists) who fought with the SS...read Boule de Suif by the remarkably prescient Guy de Maupassant!

A brilliant work, but at more than 4hours one must be prepared.


So Yo! Adrienne started a blog; now you can see pictures of their house and all the work she and Julio have done! It's really a great place, and the market in that neighborhood is off the hook.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Hitting the books

It's weird, but I'm kind of enjoying doing homework again. There's that slight kick into the future, that deadline anticipation; I've been lacking a bit of the temporal lash, lounging too much in the here and now. Give me a month and I might be dreading these assignments...

I've read a good chunk of

tonight and it's reminding me a great deal of

which I should re-read someday.

Kaliayev and Stepan are obviously coming at the Revolution from different angles--the former out of LOVE and BEAUTY and an idealism based upon his belief that le poésie est révolutionaire, the latter thinking only of his hate for tyranny and hate of imprisonment, and frankly, his hate of idealists like Kaliayev. I think Sartre's play came a bit earlier--perhaps I'll contrast the two for Dr. S. Her class is likely to be fun because we're reading interesting stuff, like

[written as a Muslim response to the attacks of 9/11].

Meanwhile I've learned another two letters of Arabic script. I don't think we'll learn any vocabularly or grammar until after the midterm.

You should read this guy

In the first sentence Stu gets a phone call with shocking news about his brother Dan; as often happens in Dixon's work, we see revisions of this initial scene, replays, re-imaginings (Dixon is not shy about allowing a glimpse of the writerly mind at work). Then a series of reminiscences and phone calls over decades of the brothers' lives acquaint us with them, their unusually tragic family, and post-WW2 America as macrocosm. I love Dixon's voice, I love his quirky and intimate style, and his final chapter brought me to the brink of bawling (I can't remember the last novel that affected me in this way). Funny, touching--intricately wrought as Bellow or Roth but much less demanding.

You get a cool jacket illustration of the author by the author to boot. Stephen Dixon is perhaps my favorite living writer, what with John Hawkes dead. Is Gilbert Sorrentino still around?