Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Man, whatever happened to T.E.D. Klein? He wrote a crackerjack horror novel,then released the four-novella collection Dark Gods, and for some reason he vanished from the face of the Earth. Both books sold well and received critical acclaim for not only being scary in interesting ways, but also sufficiently literary to please the refined bookish palate, which is typically not the case with books in the genre.

I was packing a bookcase triple-stuffed with old mass markets and found Dark Gods. Seemed like a good book to re-visit after 20 years, given the holiday. The stories still hold up. All Lovecrafty, all subtle, and written in a style not terribly different from that of John Cheever. Often people like to call Pete Straub the most literary of modern American horror masters--those people have missed Klein's short catalog of worthy books.

Why did he stop writing? Perhaps Klein really did find the mythical Tchou-tchou tribe from the Cthulu Mythos; even worse, perhaps they found him.

Must See!

This Friday:

Rob Thorworth
*Band Show*

The Austin Grill
9:30 pm
2400 Boston St.
Baltimore, MD 21224

I highly recommend you check it out. Come drink beer with us!

Sunday, October 29, 2006


If it weren't for restless dreamers mankind would never have escaped the first valley we inhabited on some desolate African plain. Timidity and comfort would have kept everyone in the same place until they croaked. Some far-out adventurous furry Lucy precursor decided to get out of that antediluvian Dodge and forge his or her own path, liberating us from an untimely fate. I imagine those first steps over the horizon as just as frightening as any journey of discovery taken since. I've always admired sinful Eve far more than simpleton Adam. She wanted change and acted; he would have sat in Paradise naming animals forever.

Werner Herzog of course specializes in dreamers in his documentaries and fiction films. Here we have Klaus Kinski as Fitzcarraldo, an Irish-German Enrico Caruso fanatic who wants to build a fortune in order to construct an opera house way the fuck up the Peruvian Amazon. In order to do so he devises an insane scheme to cut through the jungle and lift a steamship over a mountain. Herzog and company actually do so, deforesting a nifty patch along the way, with the participation of the local Jivaros (about whom I've read much of late). Fitzcarraldo gets the important part of his dream, and Kinski as always is excellent at imagining the highs and lows of such a being. A must-see.


My athiest's interest in myth and religion has brought me to shamanism; rather than tackle Eliade's mammoth book book I commenced with Harner. I like the fact that a PhD in anthropology became so involved in his subject as to become a practicing shaman himself, though of course one must throw any hope of an objective account of shamanic ritual out the window. If I were interested now in such an account I'd have turned first to Eliade (whose book, like 60% of my library, now rests crated in the basement in anticipation of moving).

Harner describes intimately the workings of shamanic rites and healing ceremonies, and even provides a gentle how-to manual for those desirous of finding their animal power. No, I did not beat a drum for twenty minutes and descend to the Underworld myself--2 years of living with a certain roommate whose name shall remain unspoken here (Kyle D) prevent me from similarly driving Cha up the wall. But perhaps I'll give the non-hallucinogenic approach to non-ordinary states of consciousness a try some day when zazen ceases to amuse, when s. div. fails to illuminate, when San Pedro's Torch gutters, and when hypnogogic techniques grow stale.

Dinner with K'wali and Klez last night--they've been saying we should move to quiet Rodgers Forge (the swanky southeastern side of Towson) in order to escape frat row, because they want more hipster artsy-fartsy pseudoinallectual neighbors. Well, frat row came to them earlier this week, as a 20-year-old drunken TU student drove his BMW at 90 MPH down their 30 MPH street, careening off of Klez's car (totaling it) and into three others parked across the street. Fortunately said drunken frat boy was unharmed--only several expensive machines were destroyed by his foolishness. No place in Towson is refuge from the growing student population of TU!

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Ramsey Campbell began his writing career re-imagining cosmic horrors in a Lovecraftian vein. In The Height of the Scream he found a comfortable middle ground between the awesome time-bending deities of HPL and the much more subtle ghouls of M.R. James's stories about haunted academics. The writing exhibits marvelous control for a writer of any age, let alone for a young guy who apprenticed himself to an ingenius pulp hack and spent his teens producing volumes of pastiche. Sometimes the hauntings here are so subtle you can finish the story without catching the ghost first time around.

Campbell transforms Lovecraft's favorite theme--the old gods attempting to break through again and conquer the universe--into a sort of urban paranoia. Things are never what they seem as ghosts and mysterious forces intrude into the modern age. His gift for figurative language and sly puns is quite satisfying.

"Ash" and "It's the Words That Count" are particular favorites here, as is "Litter." Campbell creates fully-rounded miserable characters who suffer detachment in a mechanized age, often punishing them for sins by unleashing eldritch animist horrors from beyond time and space. But he does so quietly, with respect for the neighbors--HPL often resorted to a loud thumping finish.

The stories in The Height of the Scream could be read before the parlour fire in an Edwardian manse with string quartet for backdrop. Howard Philips and Montague Rhodes each would approve of this slim chilling volume.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Inspection

Below is a copy of the email I sent our real estate agent this morning. It should give you an adequate idea of how things went. Ugh!

I'm not optimistic after the home inspection. We know that similar houses in poor state are going for more money in the area, but after seeing intimately the amateurish re-fab of those bathrooms and the poor workmanship on a lot of the repairs that made 2434 at least cosmetically superior to others in its price range, I have severe reservations. Some of this stuff could be put off with simple finishing work, but I'd not be comfortable knowing the state of the workmanship underlying those repairs, and those problems would need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

To go forward we'd need the listers to come down substantially on the list price. We're cognizant of the market realities, but expected the work already done was of a certain quality, otherwise we would not have bid on it. After checking out the burner and the water heater and the water pressure, and now suspecting that those sewage lines leading to loose toilets would need to be reset or moved (one toilet is actually embedded in the wall because the sewage pipe is too close to the wall, another has a broken tank lid because it is too close to the wall), I am balking at the substantial work necessary not only to bring the house up to code, but to do so with quality workmanship. We'd likely need more than a hundred thousand dollars to revamp the first two floors to a comfortable (and safe) degree for mere livability (the kitchen, bathrooms, plumbing, wiring, and heat alone would entail major work). Or, barring a heavy investment, we'd need substantial time to complete the work ourselves.

We'd also hoped the existing woodstoves and fireplace were sound, but they're not, and the listing agent says none of those things would be guaranteed under the home warranty. A chimney re-lining of one of those would run $5000-$6000 I'm sure (ours cost $3800 seven years ago, and is less than half the height). And with the burner replacement, detached radiators on the third floor and other likely problems in the heating system (water damage around at least two radiators) we'd need those woodstoves! The oven in the kitchen doesn't even work.

Because I almost fell through a gaping hole in the floor upstairs that was covered over with wall-to-wall carpet, and which I was unable to see, I pulled up the carpet at the back of the house a bit and noted that not only is the third floor completely rotted, but that the visible joists were substantially deteriorated. I pushed the carpet down in that hole and could not even FEEL a joist. The rooms in the front of the third floor are in much better shape, leading me to wonder if the ceiling was down at the back of the house at one point. I suspect that rather than repair the heavy water damage sustained, a decision was taken at some point to simply hide it. The roof is sound now, but I worry about the ceiling of the second floor and how secure the joists are, etc. Of course we'd expect this in an old house, and could live with that damage and save toward eventual repairs, but given the fixes necessary to the first two levels we're not comfortable at this time and at this list price.

Our inspector actually pulled me aside and told me flat-out not to buy the house. He said he wouldn't pay more than $250 for it gutted, and that we'd be better off if it were gutted--I'd already thought the same thing after examining the inept tile work and plumbing in all the baths, the master included. Of course our inspector is hostile toward old homes, which is one of the reasons I hired him, but his point is valid nonetheless. He urged me to hire a plumbing inspector, an electrical inspector, a heating inspector, a mason, and a builder to individually itemize needed repairs. I suspect such an itemized list would easily add up to more than 100k just to meet code requirements, and there's no way we'd get that shaved off the list price; the world's most motivated seller would be foolish given the market realities to drop so far. We know there are people with cash who are willing to pay for the bones of this house and the square footage, and who are able to come in and demolish and start from scratch. We'd have a good chunk of cash available after selling our place in Towson, but the new mortgage would be twice what we're paying now, and the necessity of having to re-do the existing repairs would make this a very unattractive option for us.

What are your thoughts? If you think we could renegotiate substantially (we'd want a price under 290k) downward and get a good response we'd still like to play ball on what we consider a house with a great deal of potential. I think, however, the listing agents would give or take 20 grand at the most, putting it out of our zone of acceptable risk. They'd have market data backing them up to boot. Perhaps we should simply discuss listing our house and continuing to look at other properties to save everyone time? We don't want to delay the owner further if they won't come down that far because we know he needs to sell quickly.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Sick Rove

Oh Rove thou art sick,
The invisible worm
That flies through the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

(apologies to WB)

Tonight's the Night

Started out today writing poems for a 4th grade lesson plan. Finished said lesson plan, then with a careless mouse-click closed it without saving changes. Ended up with a blank template again. Moron. Re-wrote entire ten-page lesson from memory.

Speaking of careless mouse-clicks:

Because Cha brought home a family of mice in a bag of candies when she left Halstead Academy, we've been struggling to rid ourselves of them for over a year. I bought a Ketchall Mousetrap because killing cute gray field mice was keeping me awake nights. Works great! Immediately caught two of the little suckers and freed them elsewhere (was tempted to unleash them next door but figured they'd find a way back into our place). Then, with all the commotion of packing and painting I forgot to check the trap for a couple days. Until it started to reek. Poor little guy. The whole point of this trap is to avoid killing mice, and I let one starve to death in there! Jesus. My conscience is not clear.

This afternoon at 4pm is the home inspection on Madison Ave. My folks are coming and I'm excited to show the place off. Also dreading what we might uncover. If it passes we'll be listing our house immediately.

Must not spend money right now, d'oh:

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Baptiste is a mime and falls for a putain who calls herself Garance. He finds her at a sideshow sitting nude in a tub and regarding herself in a mirror. This is one of her occupations. Another is seduction. Garance has many lovers in Children of Paradise: the great actor Frederick, the muderous thief Lacenaire, and the cool and aloof Count Eduard. She loves none of them, but Baptist fails to take her when he has the chance, and circumstances separate the lovers for si years. Each ends up in a loveless but secure relationship, Garance with Eduard and Baptiste with an actress.

Because of his suffering, Baptiste becomes an enormous star. Secretly Garance attends his shows. They hook up. Lacenaire and Frederick and Eduard are all participants or spectators or victims in a tragedy mirrored often in the public performances of the characters onstage. A complex film and technically superior (especially considering it was shot during WW2). I found it left me cold, however. I could admire its beauty but felt nothing for the characters or their situations.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Chris Matthews treats his guests like Steve Irwin used to treat wild animals. He's the interviewing equivalent of somebody who yanks a dazed mammal out of its lair and starts bullying it and screaming into its ear. Matthews asks a question and then inevitably cuts off the response rudely to interject his own answer, often re-directing the line of thought to his own satisfaction or simply moving on to another panelist and doing the same thing. It drives me batty. Charlie Rose also interrupts his guests, but typically his interjections expand the conversation, and evince an engaged mind thinking aloud. There is no conversation on Hardball--you get Matthews answering his own questions and looking into the camera instead of at his guests.

Last night he asked a question of some cat from Time and some other dude from Salon about Bush's popularity, and then quickly answered it himself: "It's not a question of liking Bush less now, it's a question of moving from disliking the guy to hating him. Nobody likes Bush."

Isn't Matthews the guy who said a few months ago that only whackos and extremists disliked George W. Bush? How the CW has changed.

Matthews reminds me of my 7th grade science teacher at Hereford High School. He was a recovering drunk too and loved to hear himself talk and also formed too much spittle at the sides of his mouth. What the hell was his name? He pronounced Socrates 'soak-raytes'.

Sorry to clobber dead equines here.

Everything's in a whirl, what with the new job and the running around trying to tie down inspections and financing etc. Now we're doing the home inspection and the termite inspection on Madison Ave. Thursday because roping listing agents, buyer's agent, inspectors and owners into a mutually agreeable timeslot has been like herding some specie of animal that refuses to be herded, resulting in two postponements so far. If all goes well we'll be listing our house this week. If not, we're doomed to listen to Keith Urban and trip-hop blasting through the walls next door at 2am for at least a while longer. The frat pack has taken to throwing beer cans in our exterior cellar stairwell, though the owner if he sees them cleans them up right away to avoid having me confront him again. Somebody took a leak on Cha's car while it sat in our garage--she had a yellow drivers' side door one morning last week. Nice.

We found out that the frat house sold last May for about 15 grand less than we'd like to get for ours--but it has one less bedroom. The house two doors down the other direction sold for 30 grand less than that one in June, but was in pretty shabby condition. All of this just increases our anxiety, even though we'll still likely get thrice what we paid ten years ago.

In the meantime I'm somehow finding time to read three books at once, and should start getting back on point here this week. If I'm going to get 100 books read by the end of the year I better get cracking. It's also Halloween and there should be a scary movie recommendation post up or I'll lose all credibility.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Fix is In

By the time journos change headlines like this one to the more appropriate "Electronic Voting Machines Already Have Skewed Elections" it may be too late. Journos may by that time only be writing sycophantic articles about the Dear Leader as decreed by Law(whereas now they do so largely due to odious toadiness).

Bush and Rove are too confident given their circumstances. They know Diebold's got their back.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Nothing is simple

Our agent called tonight to say we had to postpone the scheduled home inspection Monday because the listing agent couldn't be there, and she "had" to be there. I checked with my mother who's a real estate agent, and she says that's very unorthodox, and that listing agents are actually encouraged to stay away during the inspection for liability reasons. Julio said the same thing. Yo! Adrienne went even further to say "You need to demand she NOT be there. She has no business impeding your time to listen to the inspector tell you what could potentially be bargaining information useful in bringing down the price." The temptation is to start wondering if we're being fucked with somehow, but I'm going to let those worries slide for now and call our agent in the morning to see what's going on. Were I to unleash the conspiratorially enthusiastic gnome who lives in my brain, I could concoct a billion scenarios explaining these shenanigans. Better to sleep instead.

In the meantime, we've got boxes and have started tidying up around here a bit. I'm going to do some painting this week.

Coldwell Banker seems to think it's ok to give phone numbers of its customers to all sorts of heinous corporate off-shoots who bombard us with telemarketing calls: title companies, insurance companies, finance companies. NOT cricket. Hey CB--chill that shit out because we are on the NO CALL list.

Wine tasting in Southern PA with the Traveling Joneses today. E. saw the lanyards yuppies use to carry their wineglasses around their necks, and demonstrated his disdain by proving he had his own wineglass carrier:

Friday, October 20, 2006


I've read "Shiloh" perhaps a dozen times and have taught it to a couple hundred undergrads. Don't know why it took me this long to dig into Bobbie Ann Mason's catalog. Nice to note her other stories are on the same parr as her much-anthologized masterwork. Don't let the folksy down-home exterior fool you. There's much complimicated stuff working along beneath these stories of JC Penny's and McDonald's employees. I like writers who can make you laugh and cause you to stop and marvel at a turn of phrase and then break your heart all on one page.

Also read at work

Saw many a kapok up-close and personal in Honduras. See them while you can. Them and hippos.

Dog People vs. Cat People

Noam Chomsky always talks about the necessity of paired historical examples in making rational determinations and judgments. Here we have a cat and dog in the same situation where we can observe and compare their behavior.

Many factors must be taken into account here, but I'm going to simplify the article and distill what I think are the most salient points:

*cat starts fire
*cat leaves one-legged owner to burn to death and runs upstairs
*dog fetches phone for owner to call 911
*dog fetches prosthetic limb for owner to exit the building
*dog notices owner still needs help
*dog assists owner exiting the building
*dog returns to assist cat
*dog dies trying to rescue cat

Judgment: Score one paired example for the dog people!*

*I am more a dog than a cat person, but I certainly don't dislike kitties, nor cat people. Because of Cha's dander allergies I've become more of a fish and bird person than a dog person anyhow, so I can claim some measure of objectivity.

Note to Dems

Karl Rove doesn't need an October Surprise. He's got Diebold.

Sweet b'Jeebus can we trash these machines and sue the manufacturers for fraud already?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Another step closer

We were officially approved for a loan tonight by a couple different finance companies, and decided to work with the same crew who financed our purchase of Ma's house across the alley. Only two pieces of puzzle remain: the home inspection and listing our place. If the Madison Ave (I love the idea of living on Madison Ave) house gets a reasonable bill of health, we'll put ours up for sale.

As I type the clowns next door are throwing a mammoth party.

How the hell did we become such wheelin'-n'-dealin' real estate moguls? We're not exactly dripping with cash, after all. Most of the money I made when I was making decent money was spent on all those international adventures. Won't be many of those for a while. Well, maybe not.

We already have a boarder. Porc Heaven wants to rent two rooms on the third floor. Shit, we'll have the space. Rather have my bro upstairs than some JHU grad student.

Mustn't get too far ahead of ourselves now--this is still not a done deal. I'm trying not to furnish the rooms in my head yet (tho I'm thinking we'll have space for a billiards table). Starting to get all maudlin about stuff here at the current place: last time I'll rake these leaves, soon I won't have to share a bathroom with Cha, etc.

Julio, with his vast experience of the neighborhood and his intimate knowledge of these houses (he's done a great deal of work on his own right next door) has kindly agreed to walk through with us during the inspection. He'll have questions we won't, which will be great.

The Birds

Yesterday the battle of the bugs presented itself outside my fourth-floor window. Today I watched eight blackbirds harrass a cooper's hawk back and forth over the 6th Precinct of the Baltimore County Police. The hawk got fed up and perched atop a light pole here in downtown Towson. The blackbirds took turns diveboming him, but always wheeled away at the last minute. The hawk was unperturbed. At best he was bemused to have somebody all up in his face like this. Whenever a blackbird got too close he'd feint at it with his beak. Eventually they gave up pestering him and took up watch at a tree across the parking lot. This restful phase of the stand-off lasted a good 45 minutes; I cranked out 15 pages of lesson plans in the meantime. The blackbirds sat at the top of the tree, the hawk remained on his pole. The hawk kept his back to them, they kept their eyes on him. Finally, the hawk swooped in a long graceful arc down to and under some azalea bushes by the courthouse parking garage. On the way he was nearly squished by a public works vehicle which braked for what must have been a giant brown and white streak across the driver's field of vision. As soon as the hawk had spread its wings the blackbirds were in hot pursuit, but they didn't follow him to the ground, instead choosing to give up the chase.

Not ten minutes later the hawk emerged from his groundlevel hidey hole and flapped up mightily, startling a gaggle of hot-dog bearing business suit women headed back to the office. I've seen this same bird over at the Towson High track many times, and have seen him fight blackbirds over there too.

If birds be potent omens, what does this portent foretell?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


My third foray into Iranian cinema was the best yet. The protagonist of A Taste of Cherry drives around a desolate desert community looking for someone to do a well-paying menial job. Despite the region's terrible poverty, nobody seems willing to work for Mr. Baddi. Wind-blown dust covers everything, and heavy machinery and mining equipment move tons of earth all around him, compounding Mr. Baddi's desperate circumstance with comic irony. All he wants is for someone to come at 6am and look in a hole he's already dug and to bury him if he's in it. In exchange they get the equivalent of six months' pay.

I love everything about this subtle gem of a film: the intimate manner of shooting in tiny spaces, the dry barren landscapes, the marvelous dark humor of the performances, the resonant visual symbols. I particularly love the way this film takes its time without trying to overstimulate the audience, while allowing a true appreciation of Baddi's torment. There are many very long, very quiet sequences, including a dark screen that lasts just long enough. Very reminiscent of Zhang Ymou's best stuff. The speech about mulberries will change your life. Highly recommended.


Our contract was accepted. Now the fun starts. Will our financial pre-approval translate into actual approval? Will we successfully list and sell our beloved ten-year residence? Will I shell out $500 for an inspection that turns up major structural problems?

If all goes well my readers will be invited to a grand soiree sometime in December at our new minimally furnished but swanky digs.

Stay tuned...

The Pattern

I've been at the new job long enough that I'm falling into a comfortable pattern. I read the kiddie book(s), I agonize for about a half-day over what skill to teach using the text(s), I fill in simple parts of the lesson plan template like the vocabulary charts, and I write some test questions and fart around staring out my window and listening to Ravi Shankar and refusing to start working.

Then, in one day, I'll write two full lesson plans in a burst of crazy incandescent activity. Then, the slow unproductive agonizing begins again, only to be interrupted briefly by a flurry of editing when I get the first drafts back.

I spend a lot of time half-slacking, allowing stuff to churn over in my head. My kind of job.

Today looking out the window has an odd twist. In the last few weeks I've only ever seen blue jays and mourning doves fly by. Today there are hundreds of bugs--lady bugs, lightning bugs, beetles, bees, mosquitos, and even a wasp--crashing into my window over and over. Some are crawling around on the outside of the glass maniacally. I can hear them clacking their mandibles. I guess it's the unusal warmth today after what seemed like the undeniable commencement of perpetual cool weather last week. Or, they want to eat me.

See Dick obfuscate

Dick Cheney: Glass half-full

Jim Baker: Glass half-empty.

I think Baker's proposal to withdraw and allow Iran and Syria to take over security in Iraq is the best idea yet. Certainly that's not an ideal situation, but at least the killing would stop and people could start to rebuild their lives. Had they involved the Iranians immediately it's possible the purge of liberals from their parliament would have never happened, and another Khatami-style progressive might have won the election instead of a bizarre fundamentalist lunatic.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I squish your head!


Major insomnia last night, mostly due to worries about the house: Will we get outbid? Is it wise to take all our equity and dump it into a lavish property in a sketchy (but rejuvenating) part of Baltimore? Am I stupid to put myself in a position where I will have to buy a car when there are perfectly good houses nearby for 70k less? Will we sell our current house in time? Will we get enough cash over the mortgaged amount? How will we furnish all those huge rooms? Will we find a good boarder for the top floor? The answer to none of these questions is clear. In all likelihood the house we bid on is worth a hundred grand or more above its asking price, but the real estate bubble and the local housing market are influenced by mysterious and capricious forces. We're counting on the continued housing boom in Reservoir Hill to double the value of the new house in five years, and living near Druid Hill Park is a positive. Owning two cars again and driving to and from work will be a major drag, as will paying City insurance rates. The last time I commuted in a car daily was June 1994. In those days I put forty thousand miles a year on my car. If we get the new place I'll have a ten minute commute each way.

Managed to fall asleep around 2am when the music started next door; this helped make our decision to sell seem more rational. The volume of the music in Fratland is not the issue, but rather the intensity of their sub-woofer, which vibrates through our house like the drumming of orcs. I keep earplugs next to the bed for noisy nights, but earplugs do not prevent vibrating bedsprings from shaking me awake. Somehow managed to get to sleep again around 4am, after drinking a tea infused with velarian root powder, Wild Lettuce, and Blue Vervain. It tastes like ass, but actually works. Three hours of sleep is sufficient for editing lesson plans I suppose. Strange to have to move from the suburbs to the City to get some peace and quiet.

Tonight we have an appointment to sign the contract. I will hand over a good faith deposit in the amount of 5k at 5pm. Julio and Yo! Adrienne, who would be our next door neighbors if all works out, are very excited. I'll be excited after settling on both houses!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Here we go again!

We're planning to bid on this house tonight. Wish us luck; we may escape Frat Row in Towson.

Update: We're pre-approved for the loan, and didn't require a contingency. In other words, we don't need to rush to sell our house, we can buy, settle, move in, and fix-up and sell. But it would be in our best interest to sell 2 York before January when the new mortgage kicks in.

Mustn't get too antsy--last time we tried to buy one of these regal mansions we got burned by competitive bidding that drove the price up 50K in a weekend.


I liked The Cosmic Serpent enough to immediately get Narby's Intelligence in Nature. He sets out to find scientists who believe animals are intelligent, and finds several studying bees and butterflies and slime molds. Some of these scientists are beginning to think these creatures are not only intelligent but possibly sentient. Even plants and amoeba get similar respect in labs and journals. He reminds us that Darwin himself thought ants were intelligent creatures, and not the mere machines 20th century science would describe. Narby moves around from the Amazon to Scotland to Switzerland to Japan on his quest, but this little book failed to move me as much as his other. Most of it was a re-hash of an old Carl Sagan book I read when I was perhaps 13:

I fear Narby was stung by the lack of attention his previous work achieved in the scientific community. Now he's plodding along far too cautiously. Intelligence in Nature is no where near as enthusiastic as The Cosmic Serpent.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Happy Birthday

Dinner last night with Julio and Yo! Adrienne. Julio turns 38 next week, and we celebrated at Matsui in Federal Hill with the King of the Sea roll, amongst others. After, we retired to their home near Druid Hill Park for tea and pie.

Julio found a solution to Cha's dander allergies. With Ghost Dog and two cats in the house she was having a hard time. We played Scrabble and I emerged victorious.

Saturday, October 14, 2006


I used to teach an essay by Isaac Asimov called "The Eureka Phenonemon." A die-hard atheist--a scientist himself with advanced degrees--dared compare scientific inspiration to visionary mysticism in an essay, and I found this fascinating. Of course Asimov credited subconscious thought for the mysterious workings behind the phenomenon. He would have regarded The Cosmic Serpent as rubbish of the highest order. I'm sure Stephen Jay Gould would have also.

When I taught Asimov's essay I would spend a lot of time doing what I called "back-filling." My freshman English students had no idea what the Enlightenment was, or what mysticism meant. I had to pause and explain these things in some detail so they could 'get' the essay. I would also at the end of my talk ask the students if they could think of other explanations for "The Eureka Phenomenon." Most of those who responded said that God was revealing Truth to Man.

Then I would tell them how I thought the process worked, and I was very interested to see Mr. Narby, PhD, outlining almost exactly my (much less rigorously presented) train of thought. He even uses the exact illustration (entwined serpents as DNA) with which I would torment my class. I would show them PowerPoint slides of: a caduceus, an Indian chakra painting, a diagram of Chinese chi lines, and then ask them to consider how similar these ancient images were to our modern conception of the structure of DNA. I spoke of consciousness as the ground of existence and intuition as simply the ability to read this underlying unified web of connection. The students had trouble accepting that I was also an atheist like Asimov, but I see no contradiction. Narby is blown away by his conclusion--that DNA is conscious, and that shamans actually communicate with DNA under trance states--and describes his awakening as spiritual. His book remains sober and almost cautious in making its claims nonetheless. I read it in a few hours and admired it a great deal. William Blake would approve.

Tongue and tonsil blogging

Friday, October 13, 2006


Terrence and Dennis McKenna take a crew of Merry Pranksters to the Colombian Amazon in order to seek out a possibly mythic hallucinogen used by shamans of the Witoto tribe. In a run-down remote mission town called La Chorrera they find instead a plethora of mushrooms growing from cow-flops, said mushrooms positively drenched in psylocybe. After eating these, smoking hash, and downing baanisterius caapi, Dennis McKenna turns into the Victor Frankenstein of psychonauts, and attempts to immanetize the eschaton by using vocal tonality modulation techniques to merge shroom DNA permanently into his own. After this experiment the McKenna brothers go a bit off the rails. Nora and James Joyce visit in the guise of chickens. UFOs form from clouds, rivers stand frozen, a voice in Terrence's head teaches him the workings of time. Dennis attempts to manifest a blue protoplasmic goo he thinks might be the lapis philosophorum.

In other words, things go a bit haywire.

The McKennas are fascinating cats because they are obviously hyper-educated geniuses, but are also burnt-to-a-crisp wastrels spawned in the '60s. If Terrence is telling the truth and he actually read Jung's Psychology and Alchemy at age 14, well, then his intellectual curiosity must be off the charts, including those charts he describes in this book, the ones which list all possible future and past events as a predictable waveform of novelty injections into the universe.

Many of the experiences Terrence describes I myself wrestled during a brief and lush psylocybe cyclotron ride in my early twenties. I never, however, quite felt manifest the alien intelligence he encounters, which claims galactical omnipresence. Vast neural networks of underground fungal strands never spoke to me personally--and if they exist as McKenna describes them they deemed me worthy only of scintillating light-shows and dripping wood grain patterns, not of messianic missions to usher in the final stage of human evolution. For some reason the idea of an omnipotent fungal entity reminded me of Karl Rove.

Part sci-fi novel, part hippie memoir, part manifesto for the New Shamanism--True Hallucinations is a lot of mind-bending fun crammed into a slim paperback.


Ages since I last watched a Hitch. This one is of course M for Marvelous, M for Magnificent, etc. Hitch at his best with a charming jet-setting killer and a seriously confined setting. And Grace Kelly in a negligee never hurts a film's watchability.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


I just re-wrote my Song of the Trees 4th grade lesson plan for the third time based on another list of comments from my boss. I'm a bit frustrated by this process, and certainly not because my boss's comments are unjust (quite the contrary is true, in fact). I'm frustrated rather because the mistakes I'm making are stupid and asinine: not matching tests on reading passages to what actually happens in those passages, using the passive voice, writing 9th grade questions for 4th graders, etc. Pay attention!

It will take time to get used to this. Basically I've been given templates and texts to fit into them, with little guidance. My boss says relax, it takes a while. I get twice as much deadline space as veteran developers to finish my projects. On top of learning the ropes I'm confronted with the 9-5 thing for the first time ever. I've never sat at a desk in an office before, all day every day. Today I fled up to the Towson Farmers' Market and walked around looking at fruit and people-watching just to clear the clutter out of my skull. Then I had a yummy buffet lunch at the Kathmandu Kitchen. The first time we ate there (during the Grand Opening) it SUCKED, but the lentil saag and chicken tikka masala I had today were The Bomb.

Once my lesson plan gets past my boss the editors take it (gulp), and then the production staff (who've already informed me they will beat me with galley proofs if necessary). I could get it back again, and again, and again. I already hate Song of the Trees, and have re-read it more times than any other book in my entire life (this afternoon it surpassed the previous record-holder The Haunting of Hill House).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Music contra the doldrums

After several glorious warm and sunny days, today is all overcast and gloom. Don't get me wrong--I like gloomy weather, and I particularly love fall weather. But there's a certain sting of inevitability to today's weather like a blow to the face. "Hey, losers," Old Man Winter says. "Those heating bills are coming." Gulp.

But The Boss is out today and I have music playing as I read children's books and squeeze them into lesson plans, so all is OK:

Nasty Boh

Only in B'more would a couple have such a cake at their rehearsal dinner. Congrats to Tim and Jodi on tying the knot.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Tonight Cha and I took a walk, which is something we can do together now that we work similar hours. We walked up to Pasta Mista for a slice, looked at some furniture, saw Silenus,and found a Yoga center we'd not known about. Not two days before we'd been discussing taking some sort of Tai Chi/yoga class together.

Now that I'm not able to run because of bum joints and feet, I need some sort of low-impact physical activity that's also highly demanding. The problem with yoga is that I'm the least flexible human being ever placed on planet Earth. We used to do those Presidential fitness tests in school, right? I'd get 98% on EVERYTHING (well, excepting lay-ups). I could out-pull-up, out-run in the mile, out rope-climb 98% of Americans my age. But when it came to the flexibility test I always was down in the 30s, going all the way back to elementary school. No amount of stretching has ever changed this for the better. Inflexibility in the lower back and hams and calves must run deep into the foggy prehistory of my mongrel ancestry. Once I had a promo copy of a DVD by some cat named Rodney Yee called Beginner's Yoga. Rodney--bathed in a glorious Hawaiian sunrise--sat majestic on a slab of red stone near the beach, and described how his program was designed specifically for the flexibility-challenged beginner. Then he announced the first pose, "right big toe in the left ear," and I ejected the disc in disgust.

But I Do Yoga offers cheap community classes for $7 a pop, and it's only a couple blocks from home. We'll give those a shot, see what happens, and then if I can manage we'll try the bargain couples yoga rate (hubba hubba). It's been two months since I've had a decent cardio workout, and I fear the fall flab if I don't get active ASAP.

A happier palate

After 7 years working at the University and eating lunches at home, it's exciting to be back in downtown Towson with its variety of good eats. One of the coolest things about my new job is the fact I'm only a block away from The Health Concern. Now I can graze on strange foods to my heart's content. Today's lunch? A sprout sandwich on rye, a double side featuring shiitake mushroom jerky and banana chips, and an after of organic fig bars.

Mmmm, mmm.

Cable News

While rushing to get coffee and put on my shoes and feed the fish this morning I had MSNBC playing in the background. Lou Dobbs was on Imus sounding like a liberal blogger: erosion of the middle class, teachers leaving after five years in the classroom, rampant capitalism, corporations owning the political process, corporations writing legislation, both parties corrupt and complicit in the erosion of civil liberties.

Imus's response: "Well that pinhead Ned Lamont knocked off Joe Lieberman in Connecticut in the primary. We'll never fix the system if that kind of thing happens. He looks like John Michael Karr and is as qualified to be a senator as I am. Joe's going to beat him, too."

Moron. Joe Lieberman IS the problem with the system.

Dobbs is an odd sort of hard-edged capitalist with a xenophobic streak who's turned over the past few years into an advocate a French-style system of restraint and protection of civic society from the rampages of the free market. Of course he'd never acknowledge that the French were right about something. Dobbs has got a new book out like everybody else:

The chances I'll read this are next to nil, but the fact that a business-minded conservative is releasing such a book just before the election is evidence of how strange our politics has become.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Last Saturday Yahtzee and I saw Rob Thorworth at The Austin Grill in Canton. If you live in Baltimore you need to go see him soon, and preferably at a *band show*. Now that he's got himself surrounded by good players, he won't be around much longer if there is any justice left in the world.

They blew the lid off the joint. The crowd at the pub was enthusiastic, and an eclectic mix of people were dancing and having a blast. A group of college girls came in and joined all the 40-somethings already on the floor. Lots of booty shaking was going on. I haven't seen such a commanding guitar soloist live since SRV at the Towson Center in '85 (and I've seen B.B. King, Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Adrien Belew, Robert Fripp, David Gilmour, and Jeff Beck since then, to name a few). The addition of a keyboardist who also could rip a harmonica riff made the show that much more special. Rob did a few covers--a spectular rendition of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?," a crunchy electrified take of Neil Young's "Old Man,"* a beautiful "Tangled up in Blue"--with all verses!--that segued nicely into his own song "Shelly," and a version of "All Along the Watchtower" situated elegantly between Dylan's original and Hendrix's re-working. At the end it became a slow reggae jam. He made each song his own with casual and earnest confidence, fitting them to his own vocal style, selling them convincingly.

The rest of the set was primarily from Rob's own album Dig It Up, with some hard-edged blues from his earlier catalog as well. It's interesting to see how far his songwriting has come of late. The Austin Grill has a great new space for live music, I recommend you check it out.

I ended up dancing with a tall blond who kept bugging us to get up throughout the night. She was an attractive woman in her early 50s, and as soon as we got on the dance floor she turned her ass into my groin. Um, sorry. I don't freak dance women who aren't my wife. But I was happy to dance because the music deserved it. Had the wife been with me we'd have been unstoppable.

I first heard Rob Thorworth when Yahtzee gave me a copy of Life is Suffering; and I don't mean a ripped CD copy, I mean an actual shrink-wrapped CD he bought from The Man himself. I was immediately drawn to Thorworth's blues guitar playing. He's got a really sweet touch, good phrasing, and a kick-ass sound. I also like his smokily emotive singing voice.

Dig It Up took a while to grow on me. I listened to it occasionally over a six-month period, but when I 'got' the album I was hooked. I think it's remarkable work by any rock standard, let alone by the "self-produced in my garage" standard.

*"Old Man" was covered recently by Natalie Cole. Ugh.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


I liked the idea behind Chimera more than I actually enjoyed the novel. Same can be said for the other Barth I read, Giles Goat-Boy. I began each book reading with great gusto, only to find my enthusiasm waning along the way. In Chimera I found Barth's ingenious re-telling of Scheherezade with its po-mo twists and turns hilarious, bawdy, and interesting. Unfortunately that chunk of the book is only its beginning one-fifth. I was quickly into the second stage, a less engaging revamp of the Perseus legend, and the narrative tricks and authorial interventions and academic puns became stale. There are moments of fun throughout Chimera, which is extremely ingenious, at times hilarious and sexy, but way too academic and overwrought for my taste. The postmodernists tend toward such excesses, even those I admire. I admire Barth more than I enjoy him. Someday I'll probably still read The Sot-Weed Factor out of obligation to some ideal concerning what those with MAs in English should be have read before dying.

Friday, October 06, 2006


From the NYRB: Happy Halloween, Lovecraftians!


I think I ran across this book over at Seth's--but can't recall. I expected the standard fare: metaphysically curious seeker uses plant friends to anaesthetize himself against the manic neuroses of modern life, describes his drug experiences, says something is obviously missing from the world but still isn't sure what, blah-blah. These expectations weren't disappointed by this addition to the psychedelia genre, and I found Pinchbeck's book in fact near the summit of such literature. He's got the erudition of Huxley without the stodginess, and seems much less naive and New-Agey than many other modern expounders of a return to shamanism. His prose is also exquisite and witty.

There is nevertheless a great deal of New-Aginess in Breaking Open the Head, but Pinchbeck is refreshingly skeptical of his own experiences and beliefs, and is willing to deflate movement icons like Terrence McKenna when necessary (he trashes Timothy Leary, who deserved it). Pinchbeck's also fantastically well-read and marshalls heavyweight intellectuals like Walter Benjamin in this elegant book. I've not read a more accurate description of where I find myself intellectually and spiritually these last few years.

I started Breaking Open the Head randomly while working through Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous, which is a document of his 'work' with G.I. Gurdjieff. Strangely in a chapter about synchronicities in Pinchbeck I found myself reading quotes from Ouspensky's book that I'd read not an hour before. Then, in the mail that day, I received an unsolicited invitation from some Dr. and Mrs. so-and-so to come hear Gurdjieff's music at their Silver Spring home in a couple of weeks. How they got my name and address is beyond me.


Today I read a book by Beverly Cleary called Socks. The family cat is displaced from the affections of his owners by the arrival of their infant son. Socks is indignant at being treated shabbily, and rightly so. Were I him, I'd have clawed the eyes out of that brat. Then I read a book narrated by Meriwether Lewis' newfoundland Seaman. He liked catching squirrels in the Ohio River. Then I read some claptrap about a spined horny toad who climbs down a well to fetch a spoiled cowgirl's hat. Of course he's a prince. There was also a story about a dog in a library, another about the natural wonders of Yosemite, and finally a memoir of a Japanese American grandfather who loved California more than his native Nippon. Next week I get to formulate all of this stuff (and more) into a Social Studies unit called "This Land is Your Land." The subtitle: "How do the diverse regions and peoples of the United States reflect its greatness?"

There are few diverse peoples in these stories--mostly we get talking dogs, toads, ants, bears, and cats. I guess that's diversity, though. The toad does speak Spanish.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mission Accomplished

Remember when Tom Delay and Dennis Hastert seemed invincible? How quickly things fall apart. The centre cannot hold! Neither can the extreme right-wing.

Finished my first five-day lesson plan today, excepting its final test. I'll write that sucker tomorrow morning before moving on to Big Project #2. The first question will be about Lacan's 'gaze' in Mildred B. Taylor's novel Song of the Trees. Or perhaps I'll give them a passage from Gilles Deleuze or Walter Benjamin to mull over in the context of Taylor's sad tale of white capitalist exploitation of the Southern racial underclass. Something like:

Hey kids! Walter Benjamin said capitalism was "a religion of destruction." He wrote that as a system "it was entirely without precedent, in that it is a religion which offers not the reform of existence but its complete destruction. It is the expansion of despair, until despair becomes a religious state of the world in the hope that this will lead to salvation." How do you think Benjamin would have read the final scene, where Papa threatens to blow up his own forest with dynamite rather than let a white man exploit it for pennies on the dollar?

Or not.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Not sure how often or how well I'll be blogging the next couple of weeks. New job, new sleep schedule, more time spent with the spouse--less time potentially for reading and blogging about books, etc. Also, I will no longer spend hours a day at work reading blogs and blogging at will as I could before. I've already got rather large projects spread before me; even if they allow one to blog at work, I'll have little time to do so. Will I blog from home? Eh.

What I can tell you so far: The men's room here smells like KFC. There is exactly one male in my department (but I'm not the only one who uses the men's room, which is for the entire floor, including HR and IT and several other departments). We had a developer's meeting today (9 women plus me) which was full of jargon and mysterious acronyms. Everyone is really nice and many people are extremely hyper, excepting those who work in math and science, who are gloomy. I have an office with a window with a lovely view of West Towson, including the police station.

I'm writing curricula for

which is a fourth-grade text. The trees don't actually sing, so I get to explain Figurative Language to little kids. Or at least prepare the teacher to do so.

Soon I should be finished books 76-78 in the annual countdown to 100. We'll see. I'd also like to comment on Republican family-values types in Congress whose personal lives are sordid and repressed, but that will have to wait.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Richard Gere, his sister, and his lover are itinerant laborers roaming the Midwest looking for work. They end up at a rich farmstead in the Texas panhandle owned by a doomed young man of means. He falls for Gere's ladylove and Gere talks her into trying the Milly Theale scenario. Lots of fantastic camera work and quirky observations by the young girl make this dark Faulknerian vision particularly interesting. When it tends to be overwhelmingly melodramatic, it tends to be so beautifully and without apology.

I've enjoyed all the Malicks I've seen, and have watched Badlands five or six times. But am I ready for:


The preview sucked...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Eyes on the Prize

If you haven't seen it, you should check out The American Experience on PBS--they're broadcasting Eyes on the Prize, which is a stunning documentary every citizen should see. I only wish it were available for purchase when I was still teaching, because I know for a fact my students needed to see it badly.

Hopefully PBS manages to get all the rights to all the footage and photos so they can issue a DVD. For years the film has been held up by legal fights over such rights. Tape it if you can!

Update: It is now available on DVD. Pricey, but worth every penny.

Rehoboth Beach

Open bar (and top shelf!) wedding receptions always lead to mischief. At one point we ended up in a gay and lesbian karaoke bar. Someone tried to pick up my mother-in-law.