Wednesday, January 31, 2007


The Mrs. and I saw Breillat's Romance at the Charles when it came out, and had a few good laughs (though I never saw it again). On a whim I got A Real Young Girl from Netflix. How can I best sum up my response to this picture? P-U!

A Real Young Girl combines the production values of Don't Look in the Basement with masturbation scenes whose degree of erotic interest approaches that of the crucifix sequence from The Exorcist. And it's boring--more boring than church, as Homer Simpson would say. No amount of boobies and fannies could rescue this celluloid train wreck. At times I imagined a John Waters commentary and then the movie got better. Otherwise, blegh.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Prelude d'apres-midi d'un faune

The world of faerie co-exists with our own, and has its own moral measure. What we consider good and evil--events we judge based on our own societal and personal calculi of tolerability--will have an entirely different significance for fauns, nymphs, and faeries, if they have significance at all. Immortal beings of course have a broader context in which to situate the daily news.

Pan's Labyrinth is only briefly about the realm of faerie, at least in a comparative sense. Most of the film is about fascism in Franco's Spain. The narrative features a truly monstrous Captain, a creaking leather sadist, whose task is to destroy a band of Republican guerillas holding out in the hills around an old mill. The Captain brings his pregnant wife and her young daughter by a previous man to the mill. Nearby is the mysterious stone edifice from which the film gets its title. This labyrinth instantly attracts young Ofelia, the heroine of the film, and the one character who inhabits both its worlds.

There's a lot to say about this masterpiece, but without spoilers I'd be hard-pressed to discuss or describe it. Guillermo del Toro does a magnificent job balancing its two plots, and providing the viewer a comparison/contrast between what we'd consider a gruesome realm of fanciful monsters and magic and an even more monstrous reality. Unfortunately the worse of these two worlds is not a bit unbelievable.

One caution. Don't take the kids to this one. Some scenes were too horrid for my poor wife, who squirmed and covered her face. The people next to me were disgusted. There are torture scenes, and a homicide that pays homage to the most horrifying cinematic killing I've ever seen (from Gaspar Noe's Irreversible).

Nevertheless, I was enchanted the entire time. This one goes in the DVD library upon its release.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Straight Talk Express

Finally people are starting to expose McCain for what he is and always has been--a typically cynical and manipulative gasbag politician.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Yo La Tengo is playing Sonar February 9th. Might be a nice break from packing.

[tip of the hat to Silenus, whose status as a newly minted Manhattan urbanite doesn't prevent him from following Charm City happenings.]

Haint that a shame, Part VI

Cha is running an art educator's conference at Towson University this weekend. She has thirty teachers staying at the Burkeshire Hotel across the street from us and I will likely see very little of her the next few days. As she stayed up late ironing out details and preparing materials I read in bed for an hour, and then fell asleep.

How much later I woke I don't know. I was on my right side, feet drawn up to my ass, right hand on the pillow by my head. "Cold," Cha said in my ear, cuddling closer behind me. "Cold." The house is cold. Winter has finally arrived in Baltimore after a two month delay. I stingily keep the thermostat at fifty seven degrees because I already cancelled our contract for home heating oil in anticipation of the move. I refuse to pay three hundred bucks for an oil delivery just as we leave. We have nice down comforters we bought in Frankfurt, however. It could be twenty degrees in the house and I would never notice.

She kept cuddling and rubbing against my back each time I approached sleep. "Cold," she hissed, then feet beyond icy touched my bare ankles and I recoiled. She was making a weird noise like a mewling cat right in my ear. I got aggravated.

"Goddamnit will you stop?" I said. "Some of us are trying to sleep!" The icy cold spread from my ankles straight up my spine as Cha came in the bedroom door, letting in the glare of the landing ceiling fixture.

"Did you say something?" she asked as I jumped out of the bed, kicking blankets everywhere.


Thursday, January 25, 2007


The bourgeois subjects of Buñuel's film are shown symbolically from time to time walking down a road. They appear to be nowhere in particular, heading nowhere in particular, and uninterested in either arriving or not arriving some place. The rest of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is an attempt by these characters to have dinner together. Or perhaps lunch. Or maybe only cocktails. This narrative is disrupted at times by their dreams, and where the dreams end and the reality begins is anyone's guess. The dreams function to deflate the characters' egos, or provide release via revenge fantasies, or to create some meaning or adventure to a bland albeit comfy existence. My favorite scene? The host couple attempt a nooner and are interrupted by their lunch guests. They awkwardly escape their home by climbing down from a window and enjoy a quicky in the garden. Meanwhile their guests leave, fearing the police are coming to raid the house, and the local bishop arrives to discover our disheveled heroes with grass in their hair.

The banality of bourgeois concerns--the quality of cavier, the method of martini mixture, the number of minutes per pound for a lamb roast--is ably lampooned, as is the hypocrisy of the class system. The Church, the police, and the military suffer sound drubbings as well. I laughed a lot. I do prefer Godard's Weekend. But The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie has hotter chicks, and much less cannibalism.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The new house

We had our new house inspected yesterday. Everything went well, with only a few minor points of contention. One is a very tiny water stain in the ceiling of the 2nd floor bath. We definitely want the sellers to verify there is no leak in there, and if there is a leak, to fix it. Otherwise, a clean bill of health! View from the master bedroom toward the northeast (corner of Madison and Whitelock).
From the second floor bedroom looking south.
From the breezeway looking up at our fire escape. We have a million dollar view of downtown from our roof!
The kitchen gets gorgeous afternoon light through five enormous windows.
The listing agent had recently lost her husband and was telling us he was "not at rest." Crazy shit going on in her house! (More later)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

French pop music sucks--literally!

Hubba hubba


I'd have thought that any book attacking faith and organized religion as the deadliest threat to civilization would have been squarely aimed up my alley. While I agree with many of Mr. Harris's conclusions, however, I have to point out that his book is often shoddy, and at times descends from the merely fallacious into the deeply moronic. This is inexecusable in a book by a Smart Guy--and Mr. Harris is obviously one of those, with a Philosophy degree from stanford and PhD work in neuroscience under his belt. Who am I to critique his book? My brain has been choked by clouds of THC, stretched across the searing rack of psilocybin, pushed through the mescalin strainer, and pickled in vodka. But I read the book--and did so upon the recommendation of many minds I admire--and so I must do my best to coagulate a coherent response.

Mr. Harris is the latest in a long line of Smart Guys who criticize Noam Chomsky, and end up looking decidely foolish. Mr. Harris's attempt is so lame I have to believe he only included that chapter in order to garner a laudatory blurb from Alan Dershowitz, who singles out Harris's criticisms of Noam in his recommendation of The End of Faith. Harris also credulously quotes from torture supporter Dershowitz's flawed revisionist history The Case for Israel (which was plagiarised at least in part, as pointed out by Alexander Cockburn and Norman Finkelstein amongst others). But conspiratorial and baseless suppositions of motive aside, let's look at Harris's argument contra Chomsky:

A) Chomsky is right that the US has done horrible things for which it must atone in the Middle East and elsewhere.

B) Chomsky is wrong that a dead Muslim child killed accidentally by the US is equivalent to a dead American child killed by Osama bin Laden.

C) Chomsky fails to take into account that intention matters in these killings. If we kill ten thousand civilians accidentally in the Sudan by mistaking a pharmaceutical plant for a WMD factory and destroying a nation's medical supplies, it doesn't matter because it's a mistake. Bin Laden kills civilians on purpose.

So Noam Chomsky is right to criticize the US for killing civilians, but he is wrong to criticize the US for killing civilians when they have the intention of not doing so. This argument is so poorly reasoned that my ENGL102 students at Towson University could have demolished it betwixt snapping bong hits and guzzling Busch Light. Harris says that Americans were disgusted by My Lai, and that proves we are a more mature civilization than any of those backwards Middle Eastern places where people celebrate atrocity. I wonder why Harris goes so far back? Couldn't he have found more recent atrocities in Guatemala, Nicauragua, Honduras--all perpetrated by the US? How about the massacre of a retreating army during the first Gulf War, in direct contravention of the Geneva Accords? I suppose the Highway of Death doesn't support his argument that intention matters. The US had good intentions, after all, when they supported, condoned, or participated in these slaughters. And most Americans would probably be disgusted by these acts, if they knew about them, so we're obviously better than Muslim countries.

Like many of Chomsky's critics, I have to suspect Harris has not read any of his books. Much of Chomsky's political science work is devoted to deconstructing the stated intentions of US military engagements, and pointing out that the stated intentions are almost always complete bullshit propaganda. Harris's intentions argument, and his entire chapter critiquing Chomsky, belongs in the shitter.

I do agree that we (by 'we' I mean America and Europe) face a dire threat from militant Islam, but I don't agree that militant Islam is a bigger threat than the Russian Federation, Chinese expansionism, George W. Bush, Christian fundamentalism, or global warming. Harris thinks that Islam is an especially disturbing faith, and goes on to argue that Islam is entirely deplorable and that anyone who claims to be a moderate Muslim actually believes that infidels must be put to death according to the tenets of his or her faith. Yes, Harris also criticizes Christianity and Judaism as ludicrous systems of belief that have led to the perpetration of hideous crimes--but he thinks the Judeo-Christian West is now somehow better than the Islamic East, and that the Islamic East is unredeemably barbarous. Militant Islam is going to kill lots of people if we don't stop it by 'winning the war,' whatever that means. Harris devotes a lovely chapter full of elegant condemnation to the past crimes of Christianity, but seems to think these are all in the past. We've somehow gone beyond that behavior in the West. The Islamic East is stuck in the 7th century and therefore we need to confront it and destroy Islam if we can't change it. This argument is at the level of Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter; footnotes referencing Richard Rorty and Stephen Pinker can't dress up such ghastly reasoning.

It would be an enormous undertaking for Islam to achieve anywhere near the level of killing unleashed by Christians throughout their two-millenium reign in the West. Harris warns reasonably against the acquisition of WMD by a militant Islamic nation or organization because there is no belief against killing civilians in that barbarous region of the world. I wonder: would an atomic bomb in the hands of Al Qaeda be any worse than an atomic bomb in the hands of the Aryan Nation? None of these groups should have WMD; that's obvious, and it doesn't require 250 pages to get there. Harris fails to effectively argue that the threat from Islam is worse than the threat from any other group of fanatics, despite his lavish footnotes(I'd suggest he read Bernard Lewis and Fareed Zakaria more carefully--he relies a bit too much on these neo-con intellectual architects of the Iraq war in condemning Islam).

Harris believes that America kills civilians wholesale, but at least we intend not to. The 4 million souls bombed to death in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were 'accidents,' as were the 100,000-500,000 civilian accidents in Iraq so far. America can say 'whoops' and be absolved because we're disgusted by civilian deaths. Muslims are not, so when they kill civilians it's criminal. I think this is rubbish.

But Harris is not entirely wrong, just as Smart Guy Christopher Hitchens is not entirely wrong. We face a terrible enemy, an insidious foe, whose motives and methods are indeed barbarous. The Iraq war and the half-assed Afghan campaign likely made this situation worse rather than better, and Smart Guys like Harris are to blame for whipping the electorate into a gung-ho lather for bloodshed.

There are huge swaths of Harris's book that are worthy. The best part of The End of Faith is the chapter about legislating sin. His argument that victimless crimes like home drug use and sodomy are only crimes because of religious belief is spot-on. Harris is correct that this type of legislation only comes about when religious fanatics worry that people are having fun and decide to stop it. He should expand that into book form.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Haint that a shame, Part V

I lit a fire in the fireplace yesterday for the first time in a year. Until this weekend past it hasn't been cold enough to bother. As sometimes happens, once I got a satisfying blaze started, the smoke detector upstairs went off.

I got up on a wobbly bar stool Cha uses for her drafting table to disable the smoke detector. It hangs from the ceiling in the 2nd floor landing. The four bedrooms and the bathroom open off this landing. All five doors were open. I was perched on my knees on the stool, precariously balanced and fiddling with the battery in the smoke detector. I could see out of the corner of my eye what appeared to be a long thin figure in the dark corner of the guest room. The figure was brightly lit and it was mimicking my movements, raising its arms in the air and swaying in an attempt to remain balanced.

There's a tendency these days to attach significance to any odd happening at 2 York Road. This time, I wasn't having it. The far corner in the guest room is where Cha recently put her full-sized standing mirror. I ignored the wispy mysterious figure taunting me with its waving limbs because of course it was my own reflection. The landing was brightly lit, and the guest room was dark. The reflection in the mirror of course looked odd, gleaming as it did from a dark room. Rationalism wins! I got the battery lose and managed to shut up the irritable electric twirping of the alarm, just as the first-floor smoke detector started wailing.

I leapt down from the stool, a bit aggravated, and promptly saw that Cha's standing full-size mirror was propped in the corner of the landing, at the top of the stairs. What I'd seen hadn't been my reflection at all. I turned to look into the guest room and saw that the door was now closed. Let's just say my confidence in rationalism didn't propel me over to open the door and look inside. I took a second to remove the battery from the other detector, then I closed the glass doors on the hearth and got my coat.

I went for a walk in the snow and freezing rain, thinking I could find something to do until Cha and Ma returned from Mass. The house felt a bit too lonely without them--or, perhaps not lonely enough?

Saturday, January 20, 2007


A delicious meditation on what it means to see, to perceive, to live. When a miniaturist is murdered and thrown into a well, his whole workshop is cast under suspicion. We get bits and pieces from a variety of strange and wonderful narrators, including the victim, a coin, a dog, a tree. Slowly the mystery unravels like a worn prayer rug. A great novel to inhabit for a few days, a masterful portrayal of the manner in which civilizations compete against and influence each other at the same time. I was sad to finish it.

Start building an ark

This is the first time I've seen any ice or snow on the ground this entire winter. And it's January 20th.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Neil and the Damage Done

Vesica Pisces

From a snapshot I took of our fattest goldfish Goliathan. He is so buoyant from over-eating he sleeps floating at the top of the tank. Sometimes he sleeps floating upside-down, causing much alarm.

I'm beginning to fret about having to move the aquariums. That will be a unique pain in the ass on a day already full of them.

Over the Hill

I first met Cha when she was fifteen and I was eighteen. That's an eternity ago--two full decades. When we met neither of us had even been alive for two full decades.

She's 35 today, and I wish her the happiest of birthdays. I also thank her for the crazy life we lead together. It's been a wild ride across fifteen countries and four continents (so far).

The photo is of Cha braving the Ik-kil Cenote, somewhere in the Yucatan.


Persepolis 2 is much less substantial than the first volume. Mostly this go-round is memoir of a particularly tired variety. Apparently Marjane Satrapi--gasp--did drugs and had sex! She felt--gasp--isolated and awkward during her teenage years! She rushed into her first marriage--gasp--and was disappointed. Nothing particularly interesting comes of these revelations, certainly nothing on a par with the first book's surreal portrait of Iran's descent into theocracy.

I will give her credit for honesty. Satrapi is unafraid to portray herself as arrogant, petty, childish, selfish, and at one point despicably fascist (for which she gets bitch-slapped by her grandmother). Otherwise? Yawn.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Cha turns 35 tomorrow. Welcome to the far side of The Hill!

We'll be at the Austin Grill in Canton from about 9-midnight Thursday if anyone can get out on a school night for some beer and live tunes. She leaves early Friday for a conference in Dallas. We'll be celebrating her birthday and our new house.

And there was much rejoicing

After three bids and three counter-offers and three properties we walked away from without much disappointment, we found a place we really liked, one it would have hurt to lose. It's been a long search, but last night they accepted our offer and now, barring catastrophe, we have a new home.

We met some of the neighbors when we looked at the house. They were very friendly and excited to see people who were interested in buying into the neighborhood. One cat told me, however, that we might want to stay inside at night. It'll be just like when I was living in Philly.

Monday, January 15, 2007


I've read dozens of books about mysticism and religion, and this ranks with the very best. Aldous Huxley was particularly refreshing after suffering through C.S. Lewis's tepid nonsenselast year.

Every faith has a piece of the elephant; Huxley knew it, and was the best at demonstrating the tenents of the perennial philosophy clearly through his incisive interpretive gifts. Unfortunately for the Earth and its inhabitants, most practitioners of all faiths miss the point, and never achieve 'unitive thinking' or awareness of the 'divine ground' underlying existence. Huxley uses the writings of mystics from all faiths and ages to batter conventional views of religion and to argue what it truly means to be a Christian or a Hindu or a Moslem. Excellent stuff.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Left Behind

Today on Fox News Dick Cheney had an extended interview with Chris Wallace. At one point he described the reasons Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a danger to the world. Primary on the list:

"He's a radical. He believes in an apocalyptic future and thinks it is immanent."

This is different from Bush how?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Quoth Choketh the Ravens

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly, Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow will he leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Everyone in the office is resplendent in purple regalia. I saw people with painted faces waiting at the bus stop this morning as I strolled by. Watch the only NFL team whose mascot bears a literary provenance (well, aside from the Titans, I suppose) defeat those traitorous Colts tomorrow.

Haint that a shame, Part IV

Things have been quiet at 2 York Road for weeks. Aside from the occasional romp of what sounds like an alarmingly dextrous toddler above the ceiling in our bedroom at 3:19am, we've had no problems with Mr. Splitfoot.

Last night my mother-in-law knocked at the back door. She loves to whack with the brass knocker in a very distinctive manner, and starts shouting my name immediately after the first rap. If I'm upstairs she'll knock and yell five or six times before I can get to the door. She delivered a bowl of chicken adobo and potatoes.

"You know, I don't want you living downtown. There are very many murders there. Dadong says you should buy single house in Towson." I protested that single family homes in Towson are ridiculously expensive, and that we can get more space in certain parts of the City for less money. "Yes but I like to walk to you. I will miss you when you are gone."

Satisfied she'd stung me sufficiently with the guilt javelin, Ma began telling me a funny story about her next door neighbor. The woman is, like many of us, fighting a war against unruly college renters who park illegally on her private property. "Dadong see her at two o'clock in the morning. She walk her little dog, and the dog poop, and she take the poop and she put it on all the cars there. He tells me not to talk to her because she is...OH MY GOD!"

I'd never heard Ma shriek before, and it was horrifying. I thought she was having an attack of some kind, and instinctively I put my hand out to support her. "I think I see an old man! He was there behind you. Ai na koh!"

I turned and saw nothing, of course, but upstairs one of the doors slammed. That always happens when the wind sucks air through the skylight, I thought to myself.

"Maybe it is best you leave here," Ma said.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A brief programming note

Sorry for the spotty posting here. What with packing and house-hunting the book and film consumption have dwindled so far in 2007 to an alarming low.

There are currently four books underway and I hope to get them finished this weekend for comment. Also--perhaps a film or two. Netflix keeps sending DVDs that won't play, however.

I thought about doing a post on Bush's speech, but his credibility is so diminished he's set on auto-parody. Nothing more needs to be said to anyone who sat through that Strangeloveian, Orwellian, Kafka-esque schpiel. Immanetize the Eschaton!

We had a brief back-and-forth over house #1 which ended in a stalemate. Seller refused to come down and we refused to go up--thirteen grand separated our high ceiling from his floor. We moved on to option #2, and have begun looking for options #3 and #4, just in case.

Ho ho ho

I must have been naughty last year because Santa left a Lump of Coal in my refrigerator.

I plan to behave even worse this year in hopes he leaves me a case. Yum.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Tonight we bid on the St. Paul Street house. We toured our top three options again last night just to increase confidence in our choice, but came to the same conclusions after much agonizing and questioning and discussion.

If the owner of St. Paul rejects our bid we will move immediately to option #2 on University Parkway. It's a much smaller home, with less character, but it's been completely remodelled with all the bells and whistles, including a wonderful kitchen and three full baths. My biggest concern is that it might be surrounded by JHU rentals and we'll end up in the same predicament we faced in Towson: frat boys. The house is at the southern edge of Oakenshaw, which is one of the snootiest neighborhoods in town, but it is also on the border of trendy Charles Village within walking distance of all the cool stuff.

We'd be happy in either home. We're hoping one works out because time's a-wasting!

Last night we had a momentary "What the fuck are we doing?" moment where we both sort of realized our house was sold and commenced panicking. The neighbors obliged by returning from the bar at 2:30 am, cranking their music, and having a screaming fight in the bedroom adjoining ours. That's what we're doing.


I dreamt a couple nights ago I was on a river tour boat of the sort I've ridden worldwide. You see them on the canals of Venice or Amsterdam, on the Thames, the Tiber, the Main, the Rhine, the Rhone, the Danube, the Seine, the Hudson, the Potomac, etc. They've got a cabin on the deck with restaurant booths and benches and chairs set up inside, and tourists gape at passing landmarks while picking at baskets of schnitzel and fries, forking waffles lathered in heavy cream and strawberries into their greasy mouths, and sipping glasses of local lager. Typically when I travel in a new city I look at a map carefully and then hop the boat tour to orient myself.

In the dream we were pulling away from whatever city it was we were touring. There were lush cultivated plains on either side of the river, with pockets of trees. In the distance were craggy peaks capped with snow. The countryside looked like southern Germany but could I suppose have been anywhere in central Europe or the American west. I heard a strange booming noise and asked Cha and some other companions what it was. "Thunder," somebody replied.

"That's not thunder," I thought, and left the cabin and started taking photos from the deck. A line of ink-dark clouds had formed above the city behind us and I had never seen the like. Then, intense energy burst out from beneath the city and it was wholly demolished in three or four cataclysmic eruptions of blue and orange light. During the first burst I thought to take a photo but the second burst knocked me on my ass. By the third I was convinced the world was ending and decided to spend the last moments with my wife. These were not volcanic explosions, nor were they atomic or conventional bombs. I knew this fire was judgmental, supernatural damnation. And I awoke.

Such a dream, during large swaths of human history, would have been regarded as a portent, a dire omen indeed. I wonder if it has something to do with the numerous bird kill stories in the media of late?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


I saw The Big Lebowski in the theater when it was released, and promptly forgot it. "These are the guys who made Blood Simple?" I thought, and left it at that.

But in the decade since its release the Coen Brothers' stoner flick has achieved an amazing cult status. Guys about a decade younger than me seem to regard it as the equivalent of (Monty Python and) the Holy Grail, quoting it at length, doing the voices, alluding to it in general conversation. So I watched it again, figuring I'd missed something.

I had the same reaction the second time around. It's quirky, there are some cute performances, and the Busby Berkely bowling alley porno routine is fun, but The Big Lebowski is a minor amusement. At least when the Coen Brothers fail, they fail interestingly. I recommend you watch The Hudsucker Proxy instead.

PS: Wow. Weird to see a Saddam Hussein cameo now that he's been choked by Moqtada al Sadr's inner circle. Especially given that Saddam's a bowling alley employee in the film.

Monday, January 08, 2007


Bush's reckless inclusion of Iran in his Axis of Evil speech came at a particularly bad time. The Iranians were assisting our intelligence agencies in Afghanistan (and were quite possibly torturing people for us at an early date in the War on Terror). Soccer stadiums full of Iranians were chanting pro-American slogans after 9/11. Khatami had for years slowly worked against the Supreme Leader and the Council of Twelve to increase civil liberties and press freedoms. Granted, progress was slow or non-existent, but when Bush labeled Iran he gave the conservatives and fanatics a long-sought reason to clamp down and ban progressive candidates. When he invaded Iraq Bush gave Iranians who were open to progressive politicians a reason to vote for hard-liners in huge numbers. Instead of an opportunity to open Iran up with further and deeper co-operation, Bush wrecked a carefully constructed progressive foundation for change.

Now we have Mad Ahmadinejad and the open pursuit of a nuclear bomb by one of the world's oldest and most savvy civilizations. It astonishes me how little Americans know about Iran (and I don't know much), or Persians, especially considering how many Americans think Iran is going to blow up our cities some day (thanks to morons like Glenn Beck).

Persepolis is a good place to start for those with no knowledge of recent Iranian history. The drawings are like wood-cuts, stark black-and-white images that are appropriately evocative of the emotions in the text. The book is surreal in its balance of horror and humor. I can only imagine Marjane Sartrapi's strange childhood: relatives tortured and killed by the Shah, then by the Revolutionary Guard, Iraq attacking Tehran with scuds, hundreds of thousands of war dead, the smuggling of simple pleasures like ABBA tapes and Iron Maiden posters--all of this in the context of a liberal intellectual household whose members thought "It can't happen here" right up until it was too late.

Le Weekend

We got a lot of packing done already, so we're ahead of the game. Now we just need a place to live!


You know, Sushi Hana in Towson is an excellent joint, but they're off the hook busy now. It took us nearly an hour to get a seat with a reservation, and then another hour for the food. Of course the rolls were smashing and we'll suffer through the tedium again for the privilige of gnoshing them, but Sushi Hana needs a bigger space and a bigger staff, and sooner rather than later.

We went with K'wali and Klezma to celebrate her birthday and it was a most pleasant evening. Unfortunately the long wait ate into our typical board game time.


We saw Julio and Yo! Adrienne for the first time in a month and gave them some loot from Santa's sack. They were doing what most left-leaning urbanite intellectuals do on the weekend, namely watching Jackass 2 with one of Julio's MICA students. Ah, fresh horse semen and testicular leech torture!

Though I was terribly sorry to miss a Rob Thorworth show at the Austin Grill Friday, the return of Move Like Seamus after a two-month hiatus to Mick O'Shea's was more than adequate compensation. They hired a sound man with rather lavish equipment, and I've not heard them sound better. In the first set there were a few problems with disappearing guitars and some awkward mixes on the harmonies, but the second set was arguably the best Seamus has sounded (and I've seen them play one billion times). I'm not talking sound quality alone--their energy level and timing and harmonies were on point. Seamus United don't approve of two-month hiatuses, but we must recognize the band as refreshed after the break. Earthdragon was mad on the fiddle during Dolly Parton's Jolene and his guitar soloing was at a higher level than ever, Ellen Cherry has never been in better voice, Thundergod was laying it down (and for once his vocal harmonies were clearly audible), and though we miss Dr. Rock already newbie Eli proved himself a quality bassist. A good time was had by all, including a large crowd of new enthusiasts who arrived late. There was even a reunion of the All Asian and Pacific Islander Dance Squad.


We'd hoped to have put a contract on a house Sunday, but are awaiting a disclosure on one property which the listing agent seems unable to locate. Not a good sign, frankly. Desperately we dashed around town looking at a few more open houses, but my enthusiasm for the house hunt has waned to the point that I'm ready to move into a studio apartment if we have to. Even a gorgeous Victorian on Calvert Street with a foyer mirror ensconced in mahogany detailings was a chore to tour. I'm done looking at properties.

On the way home we stopped at the Belvedere Square market and loaded up on the good things we'll no longer be able to afford after buying another house. Like Nutella gelato, which is insanely good.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Flood of Buncombe

Given the Bush Interior Department's disdain for geology, this illustration could be from a forthcoming EPA pamphlet.

[Found at my [confined] space, via The Opinion Mill]

Nostalgia is a seductive liar

Until the recent invasion of our neighborhood by out-of-state investors who cram four or five college-aged renters into their properties, we'd achieved a pleasant rhythm at our house. Already nostalgia overwhelms as we pack a bit each evening and talk about what we're going to move, sell, give away, or throw out. For the first time in a decade I'll miss our azaleas blooming, followed in short order by the crocuses, the tulips, the irises, the roses. The birds who drop by every spring to pick through our mulch beds on their route north will perhaps be unappreciated this coming March. It's a delightful cacaphony every year. I think Old Will used to put out a great deal of seed to attract them. I always forget until they arrive, then I throw handfuls of seed out the window onto the patio. Yesterday it dawned on me that the balled blue spruce Xmas tree we bought from Sluggo at Mason Dixon farms our first year in the house is now over 8 feet tall. It's funny how I never really saw that tree until I knew we were leaving, despite looking at it every day. I wish we could dig it up and take it along with us.

We're in a crunch. We have to vacate by the 28th of February, and have yet to even put in a bid on a new house. We might need to load up a storage bin for a few days and live in the in-laws' basement if we encounter trouble buying. It's a tremendously exciting situation, however. Rhythms make for cozy living, and comfortable, familiar digs can't be beat. But nothing is more refreshing than casting off the rusty irons of complacency--that's why I like to travel so much. We're taking a big risk right now, and it makes me want to take even bigger risks, like selling all our shit and spending two years in the Peace Corp with a wad in the bank, or spending two years traveling, or taking our capital gains and dropping them on a roulette table in Vegas.

We have no idea where we'll be in six weeks. Whooo!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

"to lift up my life a trifle."

I'd seen the old animated cartoon as a child, and remember Paul Lynde as the rat's voice. I'd never, however, read the book until now. I needed what we call a Listening Comprehension text for a month-long lesson; something for the teacher to read to the class each day and to use to model analytic and language skills for the students before their independent reading tasks.

When I finished it I had to discreetly close my office door and utilize several sub shop napkins in lieu of a hanky.

It will take the most cynical and worn classroom veteran to get through those last two chapters without snuffling in front of the class. I'm a mess trying to type the damn lesson plan.

Here we go again

Barring unforeseeable catastrophes, it looks like we've sold the old homestead today. We have a great offer and we're going to accept it. We also saw yesterday a lovely house on a wonderful block on St. Paul Street in the oh-so-trendy Charles Village section of Baltimore, near a fabulous market, a new Gucci Giant grocery, a new YMCA, a new B&N that caters to academics, and our favorite Thai restaurant, aptly named Thai Restaurant. Of course if we buy this house we won't be able to afford eating out, unless I pawn my library of books, CDs, and DVDs at Normal's. Also nearby? Johns Hopkins University, The BMA, and Pete's Grille. And, I can hop the number 8 bus to work every day and maintain my joyously carless existence.

The street number of this house combines Cha's and my lucky numbers. Cross your fingers for us anyway!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Commence Bidding Wars

Ice cold real estate market? What ice cold real estate market?

The first two groups to tour our house put in contracts for the asking price. There are three more viewings scheduled for this afternoon.

Of course, we know what can happen with contracts (the inspection, God forbid, could turn up a surprise or two). I'm hoping we start a little bidding war, however, which results in more moolah for a down payment on the next place.

We never expected this kind of quick response. Our agent says the listing is "extremely active." We should have asked for more!

Surge and Accelerate

"To Do"

1. Steal more civil liberties.
2. Invade another soverin sovurein sov evil axis country.
3. Finish Reader's Digest Condensed version of My Pet Goat.
4. Barney's tick bath.
5. Talk to God.
6. Talk to Jesus.
7. Talk to Dad.
8. Use Karl's Mac laptop to put speeded-up Saddam hanging video to Benny Hill music.
9. Ask for the gist of all the reports I didn't read this week.
10. Clear brush.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Cart before the horse

The house was listed officially last Friday, but because of the holiday it has not been entered into any website search engines. We don't even have an official for sale sign up, just some temporary plastic dealie.

And we had two showings tonight, and apparently an offer is pending already. Guess the painting paid off.

Christ, now we have to find a house to buy.

You say you want a resolution

2006, like most years, was a mixed bag. Positives? I escaped the Liberry and evening/weekend work hours. I finished the French Lit degree. I read cover-to-cover 100 books (not counting books by Cleary and Blume and E. B. White and Roald Dahl read for work)--and another dozen or so were left in various states of completion when the ball descended Sunday night (including half of a 1600-page novel). We managed to escape the US once for a week in the Yucatan. We celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. I broke my self-imposed exile from rock music and added hundreds of hours of tunes to my collection.

Negatives? A foot injury in July sidelined me after nearly 20 years as a road runner. Biking, walking, step climbing--all of that is too painful at this time, leaving the wholly impractical swimming option, or a complete lack of cardio. I didn't do any writing outside of what happens here for the first time in years. I spent much of the year mystified about self/world/future, and continued a slide into miserable anti-social curmudgeonhood.

So we come to resolutions. I resolve not to make any.