Monday, April 30, 2007

Puppy Love

Dog-sitting Shino the pit bull mix was an enormous pleasure. I love getting on the floor with a dog and wrestling, playing tug-of-war, and all those fun activities expressly forbidden by the Monks of Skete because they suggest to a dog that you might be no more than a chew toy. Well, to Shino I was nothing more than a chew toy. One that occasionally dispensed food and provided amusement.

I have wrested Labs, Dobies, German Shepherds, Beagles, Rotties, Danes, Mastiffs, Saint Bernards, and Newfoundlands—none of them came close to the compact power of Shino. During a game of tug-of-war he pulled me around on our wood floors like I was an empty pillow case. He reduced a fifty-yard hemp rope to a pile of bird nesting material in a matter of minutes. I weigh almost three times what Shino weighs, but no matter. In the backyard I was seated on a raised garden bed with Shino on a leash when the dog jumped up and pulled me not only to a standing position but over and down again onto my knees. A powerful beast, and indefatigable. I bless him for his frothing monstrous jaws and furious barking display when anyone approached our front door. Those Jehovah's Witnesses didn’t even bother asking to come in, and stuffed The Watchtower under the welcome matt before fleeing in terror.

There were some difficulties, of course:

During the night Shino barked at every sound, and perched with his front paws on our windowsill to look outside to investigate these noises. Shino can hear dust motes settling on the moons of Mars, so you can imagine how much sleep I got Friday. Our 2nd floor windowsills have great gouges in them from his mighty toenails.

A. said Shino never begs. Despite her assurances, Shino made it clear that any food item I ate was granted me solely by his forbearance. My ham sandwich, for example, was implicitly half his, and any failure to provide the protection percentage meant loss of limbs. When I only gave him a third of a ham sandwich, for example, Shino ate off six of my fingers, leaving me four out of pity. (Thank you to Doctor Steve Friedman for the reattachment surgery at Shock Trauma.)

Shino heeled at the intersection of Druid Park Lake Drive and Madison, sitting obediently as we waited for the light to change. Unfortunately he dropped one of his tennis balls into traffic as we waited, and lunged forward. This is the Worst Case Scenario for a dog-sitter. Fortunately Shino was not injured, but the same cannot be said for the VW Passat that struck him. Let's just say that the owner was lucky to have air bags.

Shino tried to climb the fire escape when some guests went up to explore the roof at our house. He got a third of the way up and then became unsure of himself. Trying to help him turn around without getting gnawed was interesting to say the least.
Everybody in our neighborhood loved Shino. Friends and relatives who dropped by over the weekend loved him. Even other dogs loved him. I miss him already, and didn't even get to snap a photo because the wife had both cameras with her. Sigh.

if you carried all the misery you've seen

It took me forever to finish Rabbit is Rich. Not because the book is bad, but I couldn't settle into it somehow. Updike's third volume takes Harry Angstrom into successful middle age and all that the American Dream entails: a house, a reprobate teenage son, country club golf, wife-swapping, and anal sex.

The soundtrack is disco, the malaise Carter's, the Iranians hold hostages at the American embassy. Rabbit is wealthy beyond his skills or efforts because of his wife's family business, and yet he remains restless, distracted by bourgeois concerns and a battle of wills with his son, whose behavior mirrors Angstrom's own youthful mistakes. Life accelerates beyond all comfortable reckoning.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

another ruined moon-viewing

I read this marvelous tome--a gift from Julio--on a day during which dark purple clouds and golden sun competed to cast great dark swaths of variegated grays and great columns of light over the City. Earlier in the morning I'd taken the dog running for squirrels through a misty pre-dawn forest where vivid shadow made greens greener and earth a ruddy red not visible in daylight. I can appreciate Mr. Tanizaki's points.

He mourns the loss of darkness in a rapidly Westernizing Japan, and attempts to point out the beauty of shadow and its perfection as a necessary component of Japanese aesthetics. Lacquer wood, gold thread, the makeup of Kabuki--none of these crafts functions properly under harsh electric light, in his opinion.

At some point, perhaps sooner than later (and if humanity survives), we will find ourselves returning to an asethetic that appreciates darkness as much as light. Such an aesthetic is not wholly exclusive to the East. The builders of Chartres understood it as well, which is why it is perhaps my very favorite place on Earth.

A clever essay, very interesting.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What's Old is New (Yellow Journalism Edition)

I learned nothing new watching Bill Moyers' special report about the shoddy journalism leading up to the Iraq War, but it is nonetheless worth seeing. I recommend you watch it if you missed it on PBS--you can do so here.

Cave Canem

Yesterday afternoon I met the dog I agreed to babysit this weekend. Shino (pronounced Shee-no) is named after a Japanese pottery glaze. His mommy A. is a ceramicist who works for the arts integration educational non-profit where my wife serves as education director.

Cha asked if I'd be interested in baby-sitting the dog while she and A. were in Cleveland for a conference. "Sure," I said, because I love dogs and rarely get to see them because of Cha's allergies. "The dog is very big," Cha warned. "He weighs 70 pounds."

"That's a good-sized dog," I replied. "But I wouldn't call it very big." I lived in a house with three adult Great Danes, after all. And a Beagle. And I used to house-sit for a couple who had a Rottie, a Doberman, and a Beagle when they toured around Europe. The Rottie and the Doberman never quite got used to me, but I won them over. I figured I could do the same with Shino.

A. brought Shino to meet me yesterday so she could give me tips and make sure I wouldn't be eaten. A. is a nice young woman. Her dog is half-pitbull/half bull dog. He's a monster. Picture Cerebus after having his conjoined heads removed by Ben Carson at JHU. He wears a Hannibal Lechter mask when out of doors, partly to protect the innocent from gnawing, but mostly to prevent bystanders turning to stone. Inside the mask he has three tennis balls in his mouth because his jaws are so powerful he breaks them and needs back-ups. I'd not want to be around if he burst all three and had nothing to chaw.

We walked Shino to the Park and the neighbors who own fierce dogs themselves crossed to the other side of Madison Avenue, many crossing themselves and making the sign of the Evil Eye. The lamposts shook when Shino took a dump. He uprooted a 90-year-old Wye Oak whizzing on it. Every squirrel and bird in the Park moved down to the Mall in DC upon his arrival.

A. said I could let him off the leash if I felt comfortable, and to prove her point she did so. He tore around the entire 750-acre Park in under two minutes, returning with what looked like the bumper of a BWI Shuttle hanging from that dread mask.

"He's a cutie pie," A. said, rubbing Shino's heaving spermwhale flanks as he rolled around on his spine, digging an Ypres-worthy trench in seconds.

I asked A. if there was anything I should worry about. "No. He's a lazy boy. He might get a bit anxious when I drop him off Friday morning. He's a bit skittish when he gets anxious."


Feckin' Brilliant

[Thanks to Poptart]


I've only watched The Great Ecstacy of the Sculptor Steiner so far. Took me right back to ABC's Wide World of Sports and Jim McCay's "the agony of defeat," repeated weekly over footage of a ski-jumper crashing off the end of the ramp. Jim McCay lives in Parkton, near where I went to high school. I used to help him load his groceries when I worked at Graul's Superthrift grocery.

But back to Steiner and Herzog. Steiner effortlessly breaks ramp records wherever he jumps, and despite passing the safety limit and regularly falling he keeps doing so. Herzog ties Steiner's urge to fly to his wood carvings and the pent-up energies the sculptor sees stored within uncut chunks of branch and stump. There is a lot of beautiful footage of athletes soaring in slow-mo, and there are several disturbing crashes. Steiner in flight gapes with his mouth wide open in an obvious state of transcendence. What mysterious force drives people to launch themselves more than 150 meters down a hill? Steiner recites a story about a raven he raised as a child which was eventually tormented by other ravens, but I suspect this might be a Herzog script inserted into the documentary--he's been known to do that. Perhaps not. It seemed too 'perfect' somehow, the way it mirrors Steiner's torments as undisputed master of his craft.

I look forward to the short documentary about my home state of Pennsylvania.

Harper's had an interesting article about Herzog a few months back that I forgot to mention here. I like the way it closes:

...I told Herzog how much I admired him, and how thankful I was that he had agreed to see me. Herzog seemed neither surprised nor pleased by my effulgence. Instead he looked at me for a disarmingly long time--so long, in fact, I began to feel like a character in a Werner Herzog film. Finally, he said: "There is a dormant brother inside of you, and I awaken him, I make him speak, and you are not alone anymore." We shook hands and he was gone. I walked outside, through a curtain of Los Angeles sunshine, to the street's edge, where I stood for a long time, ecstatic and not quite alone.

Tom Bissell, December 2006

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The unkindest cut of all

Not sure how to comment about this devotee of St. Origen. I'm stumped. Wherever he was drinking, they should have cut him off sooner. I'll stop now.


I rarely eat breakfast, but this morning fortified myself with dried mango and Goldfish crackers. I'll need the extra energy because our niece and nephew are staying over tonight. My sister changed jobs and her new gig doesn't participate in Take Your Rugrats to Work Day. My office doesn't participate either, so Aunt Cha is taking the kids around with her as she works with teachers in the Baltimore City Schools. From the Mayberry stretches of rural south central PA to the set of season 4 of The Wire! A big adventure for Danie and Jesse.

It's a busy week. Tomorrow I'm supposed to meet with a co-worker of Cha's who is going with her to a weekend conference in Cleveland. I've agreed to dogsit for said co-worker and am going to meet the beastie. Friday SCAN is at long last delivering our living room furniture, which I fear will be eaten by my canine charge.

We need some rugs, some curtains, and bookcases. LOTS of bookcases. And then we'll be officially moved in. Wow.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Snappy Answers to Stupid Statements

George McGovern launches a perfectly-pitched bitch-slapping at Big Dick Cheney:

It is my firm belief that the Cheney-Bush team has committed offenses that are worse than those that drove Nixon, Vice President Spiro Agnew and Atty. Gen. John Mitchell from office after 1972. Indeed, as their repeated violations of the Constitution and federal statutes, as well as their repudiation of international law, come under increased consideration, I expect to see Cheney and Bush forced to resign their offices before 2008 is over.


Pat Tillman's brother eloquently asks for justice for his family.


The Guardian's Digested Read column tackles the latest abomination perpetrated by Christopher J.R.R.Jr. Tolkien:

"Forsooth," he swore. "Henceforth shall I remain a derivative Wagnerian hero and wander mindlessly through the realms of Middle-Earth on a quasi-symbolic quest and, Children of the Eldar, resolve only to talk in sentences of unspeakable leadenness, punctuated by manifold parentheses."

What's old is new

Occasionally science catches up with the wisdom of the ancients.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Rawlings Conservatory

At the southwestern edge of Druid Hill Park, approximately a quarter-mile from our house, is the Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens. Its Victorian structure was recently restored. Nice orchid room, nice palms, nice cactus collection--including a fine specimen of lophophora williamsii, which I harvested for buttons.* I spent a pleasant 45 minutes there Saturday morning, taking blurry photos.

*[I only kid, of course. Those buttons had already fallen off, I merely picked them up.]

Right Neighborly

We had a Community "greening" event yesterday. Several of us met at the sculpture garden across from our house to bag a pile of mulch and to clean, weed, and mulch the tree wells along Madison Ave. A group of Jewish teens volunteered to help us for their JServe work.

We worked for about two and half hours. I found a syringe with its needle still attached, several razors, and a dozen or more blue-cap vials. Just from the tree wells and the sculpture garden we pulled out more than twenty bags of garbage and weeds.

R., a real estate agent who lives on Madison, suggested we have a cookout later in the day. We all agreed to go buy stuff and Cha volunteered our old grill. Because it was stored in my mother-in-law's shed she had to fetch it from Towson. It was worth it. Here are several people from our block, including the local Matriarch, Mrs. P. She was watching her great-grandkids, saw us cooking, and fetched her hand-carved walking stick to join us.

Several of the kids from the neighborhood dropped by. It was a gorgeous day. After the nor'easter and two weeks of gloomy, chilly weather it was a treat to be outside.

This is Julio's cheeseburger. He claimed it was the Platonic Ideal burger.

No cookout would be complete without a dogfight. I won $10 on the bulldog, Bohdi.

BTW: If you're interested in moving to Reservoir Hill, R. has a listing for a small house. For only $999,999 you can be our neighbors, one block to the east.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Neal over at Leftwich has uncovered a cache of Bob Dylan's XM Theme Time Radio Hour shows. Snatch 'em while you still can.

Our Direct TV subscription includes XM, but I'm either not home or I'm asleep when B-B is on.

How low can you go?

Richard Dawkins will have a field day with this.

Smoke 'em if you gots 'em

I would never *cough* encourage anyone to *cough* participate in something so heinous as *cough* this. The students who referred to me as a "toker" on my professor's ratings were obviously *cough* misguided youths engaged in psychological projection. Including the desk graduate assistant at the Liberry who asked me to a 4:20 party last April. I had *cough* no idea what she was talking about.


I would never engage in such behavior *cough* myself.

AG the soon-to-be-former AG

I listened to a couple hours of Gonzales's abysmal performance yesterday. A remarkable display of ineptitude. The guy can't learn a script, or tell a competent fib; if you can't even lie well, what can you do, Alberto?

I mean aside from trashing the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, etc.

Gotta love this Times editorial:

Mr. Gonzales came across as a dull-witted apparatchik incapable of running one of the most important departments in the executive branch.... He delegated responsibility for purging their ranks to an inexperienced and incompetent assistant who, if that’s possible, was even more of a plodding apparatchik....

Beyond the Walls of Sleep

I'd thought the new house had cured my insomnia; six weeks without an attack is unprecedented indeed. The past few days I've awakened at 4:30 am for no good reason, however, and last night sleep was elusive from the outset. I lay awake for 45 minutes after turning out the light. I changed positions. I moved pillows. I listened to Cha breathing. I listened to the soft splashing of the goldfish as they ate gravel and spat it out. Giving in to the inevitable, I began reading. A book on shamanic practice, Ingmar Bergman's memoirs, African folktales--even Updike's Rabbit is Rich couldn't knock me out. I went down to the kitchen and watched rats at play amongst tires and trash in the alley. The rats are bigger than cats.

Desperate, I popped in a DVD of David Lynch short films from Netflix @ 2am. His The Grandmother brought back fond memories of my own, though I don't recall growing mine from a seed found in the attic. Nor do I recall Grandmother being birthed by a monstrous phallic tree with a vagina dentata amongst its gnarled, moist roots.

Note to self: David Lynch short films are not efficacious in treating insomnia.

Today my eyes feel scraped and raw. We've got sunshine and warm temperatures for the first time in two weeks and the world feels glazed and fake as a Thomas Kincaid landscape. I can't quite get my head around Beverly Cleary, and must use her for a compare/contrast lesson. I can't quite get my head around compare/contrast either.


We were invited last evening to dinner by the executive director/founder of a local charity organization and her boyfriend, who is co-director. They work with at-risk youth in the area and teach them art and documentary filmmaking skills, and built the small sculpture garden/park across from our house. R. is an excellent painter whose canvases cover the walls of their immense home. M. is from Philly and went to U Penn and Wharton Law, and his collection of African art rivals that of the BMA. They're both driven professionals, very focused and committed people, but are relaxed and engaging hosts.

I didn't get the complete tour, but their house is magnificent, and is about 1.5 times the size of our own. It was recently restored by L., another neighbor further up the street. I've seen L. several times in front of his rowhome, seated on a beautifully carved wooden bench in the shape of an elephant, reading the WSJ and the Times. L. and his wife R. (an advertising exec from Nottingham, England) were also at dinner, as were other long-term and new residents. Everyone we've met is big on hugging; I've made the mistake several times now of profering a hand for shaking upon introduction, only to be frowned at and pulled in for a close squeeze and backslap. We met a delightful couple who were excited that The Wire had just filmed in their house; upon meeting them I'd immediately been reminded of Kima and Cheryl from the show. A. and her partner had just purchased a limited edition classic Vespa and were eagerly anticipating its arrival from Europe. We felt immediately welcome and comfortable.

Friendly, successful, fun people. I'm trying to put together the complex threads of neighborhood relations: who likes whom, who dislikes whom, who is excluded and included in which cliques, etc. It's a hobby of mine. I know our next-door neighbor E. is widely known and is widely disliked for a variety of reasons, but is at the same time accepted as an affable neighborhood looney. I saw him this morning when I left for work at 6am. His bulldog Bodhi snarled and burbled happily when I came out, waddling over to be stroked--E. was talking to the rising sun, murmering something about the glorious day. He's gone from calling me "Bubba," which is his generic name for white guys, to "my brutha." E. is organizing a block party to welcome us to the neighborhood in May. At dinner last night we were again referred to as "pioneers" for daring to move in south of Whitelock Ave. The people on the 24th block of Madison regard the 25th and 23rd blocks as "There be dragons here" territory. R. and M. live about 50 meters north of us, but Whitelock remains a frontier of sorts I suppose.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Travelin' Jones

We've been seriously considering a return trip to Europe, but it's not a good time, alas. I think I still have a 50 Euro bill from back when the Euro was worth seventy-nine cents. A tidy return on investment!

I have some pounds sterling too socked away somewhere, but I think the last time I tried to cash them I was told the notes were too old. That was in Belgium, however.

[Racy Euro bills courtesy of MySpaceComedy]

City Life

Went to the local Comm. Ass. meeting last night. The usual stuff: trash, people not cleaning up after their dogs, parking problems.

The unusual stuff: A Catholic priest with a quartz crystal on a leather thong around his neck who talks like Martin Scorsese proposed expanding the community center his diocese currently can't afford to maintain. The Wire blocked off Mad. Ave for filming without notifying residents, then shut down Whitelock Ave, causing headaches. Somebody illegally dumped huge tractor tires in the alley behind our house. These tires were found by local kids who had a grand time demolishing a neighbor's back yard fence and gate with them. A rowhome with a storefront is proposing an Indian restaurant as tenant; said rowhome flushes raw sewage out of a drain pipe regularly throughout the day, and has garbage and uncollared pitbulls in its backyard. The trolley rails last used during World War 1 are poking through the asphalt of Mad. Ave at several points, causing tire and alignment damage. The MTA buses are damaging historic architecture with exhaust and vibrations, including the Park entrance arch dedicated in 1860. The Zoo's attempt to rescue a dying local butterfly will fail unless traffic is banned in the Park. A local dude who plays in a band with the quartz-sporting priest is running for City Council.

Sunday we're doing some 'greening' work in the community; planting trees and flowers, mulching, etc. We were supposed to be digging new tree wells and expanding existing wells, but conflicts between the City, the utility companies, and contractors have severely scaled back this plan.

An aside: I'd hoped to discuss The Last King of Scotland here today but couldn't get the DVD to play. It was a brand new disc from Netflix, so I suspect our 8-year-old DVD player can't keep up with the newer encodings. This happens rather regularly now, alas.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Babel is similar in tone and structure and quality to the recent Crash movie, which I gave a pass on this site because I was still teaching ENGL102. I thought its sledgehammer subtlety in dealing with race and class made it a perfect teaching tool for dimwitted college freshmen.

I'm no longer teaching dimwits, so I can call Babel what it is: manipulative, meandering, and at times egregiously bad. In attempting to make us all feel collective guilt at the unintended consequences of our actions, the filmmakers spread their thin soap opera plot across three continents and 2 and a half hours. Brad Pitt is still a two-trick pony who recites his lines granite-faced or contorts himself into a physical gesture that means rage/hatred/anguish depending on the context; you know Pitt's really trying to emote when he busts out the finger pointing/wagging. Cate Blanchett is a fine actress who phones in her performance here and spends much of the film lying on a carpet.

Babel is not a total loss, however. Rinko Kikuchi is excellent, as are all of the Moroccan, Japanese, and Latin actors. The theme is handled inelegantly, but at least it's handled; as the world grows smaller communication becomes easier and misinterpretation more common and more critical. This may be a belly-flop into the pool rather than a reverse three-and-a-half somersaults with tuck, but at least we get wet.

My favorite parts were silent moments--a Tokyo disco from a deaf-mute perspective. The Tokyo skyline at the end. Dogs eating waste at dawn after a Mexican wedding party. These are beautiful sequences. Perhaps 45 minutes of cuts would have made this a more positive review? Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has talent and grand ambitions; I expect marvelous things from him down the line.

Next up? The Last King of Scotland.

Monday, April 16, 2007


And so:

not many trees
no fish in the seas
and now no bees

Albert Einstein: "If the bees disappeared off the surface of Earth, man would have at most four years to live."

Was Steiner right?


I've not seen a better film about childhood, about the great magical density of the world as seen through the mind of a young child. The Spirit of the Beehive explores the way "growing up" entails limiting our consciousness. The world makes absolutely no sense at all until we learn to ignore much of it and focus narrowly on the banal. Each of us gains functionality in this mini-Fall from Paradise and into the mundane, but the loss is incalculable.

In Fascist Spain, Young Ana lives in an enormous manse with her distant parents. Her mother writes long and passionate letters to an absent lover. Her father takes care of bees and writes in his journal. Otherwise Ana and her older sister are left to their own devices to explore a desiccated countryside and decrepit village where everyone busily goes about their assigned roles.

The children see Frankenstein at a movie house in town. Ana asks her sister why the monster killed the little girl, and why the villagers killed the monster. Her sister says that the monster did not die, and that if she knows how to call him its spirit will come to her. Ana invokes the spirit of Frankenstein's monster with surprising results.

The father writes about perturbances in his beehive; Frankenstein's creature is such a perturbance to the villagers in the film, and so is a wounded resistance fighter Ana befriends. Both meet similar fates. There is an implied critique of Fascism mixed in with the magical reality of Ana's world. Ana's imaginativeness and her individuality make her a potential perturbance as well.

There is little dialogue in The Spirit of the Beehive, which works subtly and powerfully on psychological and political levels. Mysterious moments of eerie resonance move the plot forward to a strange climax.* I watched it bombed out of my gourd and thought it was magnificent. I'll wait a few months and watch it again to double-check, but this may be one of the greatest films I've seen. Definitely an influence on del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. Ana Torrent's performance is hands-down the greatest child's performance I've seen.

*I tried to come up with an example of what I'm talking about here--perhaps Stan Brakhage's Dog Star Man? Or Olivier Messiaen's grand symphonic piece Eclairs sur l'au dela (Illuminations of the Beyond) with its curious nebulous chords pulling the listener along...

Friday, April 13, 2007


I figured when Ravi Shankar played the Meyerhoff in 2005 that it would be my last opportunity to see him.
Guess again! We've got our tickets already.

PS: You can have your Nora Jones, I'll take Anoushka any day.

Who made this salty soup?

Some get the gravy
And some get the gristle
Some get the marrow bone
And some get nothing
Though there's plenty to spare

Joni Mitchell, Banquet

Today's science news.


A cabal of conservative over-priviligeds operate in secret to remove dicks and female orgasms from Hollywood releases. Kirby Dick hires a private dick to find out who these secretive MPAA board members are, using the increasingly tiresome stalking approach of Michael Moore and channeling Morgan Spurlock throughout. Unsurprisingly, Dick's own film garners an NC-17, because he points out that the MPAA is actually a whore of the big studios which targets small independent films with more enthusiasm than necessary. Dick's shocking revelation that Protestant and Catholic clergy are involved in the process is a mere jolt of nine volt caliber.

An interesting doc, but I'd rather Werner Herzog had made it.

Both paths lead nowhere

Seth linked an interesting article about Carlos Castaneda from Salon--you'll have to watch an ad if you're not a subscriber. Sounds like Carlos was part G.I. Gurdjieff, part Charlie Manson:

In 2002, a Taos, N. M., woman, Janice Emery, a Castaneda follower and workshop attendee, jumped to her death in the Rio Grande gorge. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Emery had a head injury brought on by cancer. One of Emery's friends told the newspaper that Emery "wanted to be with Castaneda's people." Said another: "I think she was really thinking she could fly off." A year later, a skeleton was discovered near the site of Partin's abandoned Ford. The Inyo County sheriff's department suspected it was hers. But, due to its desiccated condition, a positive identification couldn't be made until February 2006, when new DNA technology became available.

Wallace recalls how Castaneda had told Partin that "if you ever need to rise to infinity, take your little red car and drive it as fast as you can into the desert and you will ascend." And, Wallace believes, "that's exactly what she did: She took her little red car, drove it into the desert, didn't ascend, got out, wandered around and fainted from dehydration."

Partin's death and the disappearance of the other women isn't Castaneda's entire legacy. He's been acknowledged as an important influence by figures ranging from Deepak Chopra to George Lucas. Without a doubt, Castaneda opened the doors of perception for numerous readers, and many workshop attendees found the experience deeply meaningful. There are those who testify to the benefits of Tensegrity. And even some of those who are critical of Castaneda find his teachings useful. "He was a conduit. I wanted answers to the big questions. He helped me," Geuter said. But for five of his closest companions, his teachings -- and his insistence on their literal truth -- may have cost them their lives.
I loved Castaneda's books as a teen--they were a keystone in the construction of the dissolute seeker I've since become. I'm not a bit surprised by these bizarre revelations. The distinction between sages and carnival hawkers is too often beyond subtle.

[Painting Mescalito came from Mars, literally]

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The urge to surge

Others have noticed the odd silence in the MSM over the fact that April has been a very bloody month for US servicemembers in Iraq. Even Novakula!

"lost" e-mails

A former professor of mine was an acerbic intellectual Parisian who wrote books about Ben Franklin and contemporaries. He often bemoaned the advent of electronic communications: "I can write books about Ben Franklin because I can go to the archives in Paris and in Washington. The letters are there. The documents are there. The receipts and the memoranda and the laws and the budgets are there. What happens in fifty years when somebody wants to write books about important people from our time? There are no archives. There is no paper. There is no history!" This was one of his favorite rants, delivered in shouted French. He'd then start screaming at the students in the class that Americans didn't care about history anyhow.

Dr. Poirier used to also scream at booksellers at the local Borders when his L'Express did not arrive, because he needed the answers to les mots croisés.

The last time I saw him he'd been hit by a car, and then in a drunken rage had attempted to stab himself through the heart and failed. Nothing could kill that miserable bastard. He rules.

Not only does history suffer in an age of electronic communication, but so does law enforcement.


On Monday Julio and Yo! Adrienne rang up and asked what we were doing for dinner. They suggested coming over to their place and eating pizza. We were bemoaning the huge amount of food our mothers had given us--Easter leftovers sufficient to feed an army--when they called, and suggested instead that they come help us eat that stuff.

We ordered pizzas as well. Delivery pizzas. One with pepperoni, one without. While we waited we ate stuffing and leftover mashed taties. Cha and I ate the pizza without pepperoni while they ate the one with. Julio and I put a variety of hot sauces on our slices, and eventually began competing with the Dave's Insanity Sauce. Shortly thereafter Julio started hallucinating. I figured it was due to the chilis, which of course were grown in a Guatemalan insane asylum.

"This pizza slice looks like a meat butterfly," he said. "I think that hot sauce opened something and now I see differently." Next thing we knew he was standing up in obvious discomfort. "I think we need to go," he said to Yo! Adrienne. "I've got work to do."

The next day I was typing curriculum at work when the phone rang. It doesn't often ring, because who needs to call curriculum writers? Nobody. It was Julio. "How ya feelin'?" he asked.

"Fine," I said.

"I'm checking because I was violently ill until five o'clock this morning. Adrienne just called and she's sick at work and is coming home. I think that pepperoni pizza had a free extra topping--fecal matter."

The pepperoni pizza gave them both food poisoning. We should have ordered from a better joint and picked it up. Poor Adrienne rode the Metro home from the Liberry of Congress, barely maintaining her composure, unable to find the toilet on the train. There was of course a 20-minute delay at one point. I can't imagine being that sick and stuck on the Metro for more than an hour.

I've had food poisoning before--three times. It's the fucking worst thing in the entire world. Once I got it from sushi and my temp rose to 106 degrees at 3am. Attempting to cool off, I slathered myself in Flexall and got into a tub full of cold water and ice cubes. Unfortunately the tub soon also filled with bile and chunks of stomach lining. I was sure I was going to die. I barfed every ten minutes for 20 hours, regardless of the existence of stomach contents. The barfing was only mildly more unpleasant than the continuous pooping. I lost 18 pounds in one day.

Yo! Adrienne claims she lost five Tuesday during her stint on the salmonella diet. She looked a bit haggard returning our Twin Peaks DVDs last night. Good to see her up and about, though. She and Julio gave us an extraordinarily nice housewarming gift. We must invite them over and make them ill more often.

Reservoir Hill

Skyline 2, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

I was watching out the window yesterday as the WLC (the Whitelock Crew) played on the local playground. I had a pleasant fantasy about Don Imus or Bernard McGuirk strolling by and talking smack to those kids, and the likely result.

A guy with a visage only a necrophiliac could love poking fun at the way others look? He got what he deserved.

Update: An unfortunate time for a dearth of quality posts here. Natch!

Veni, vidi, vaffanculo

More evidence The Surge is working just fine. Who will take the War Czar job now?

Today's Curriculum-Writing Tunes

Not sure about this one. Like The Dirty South and Blessing and a Curse much better. Perhaps a few more listens before I discard as a "loose, baggy monster."

Silenus hooked me up with this--he saw them in NYC I believe, and said they had five Telecasters going at once. Like it.

B&S are getting under my skin of late. Not sure how to categorize/respond to their stuff, but find their melodies in my head at odd times.

Awesome, awesome, awesome. Very evocative.

"It's later than it seems."

"For a minute there, I lost myself."


"Make me young!"

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What goes around

Man, I was watching that Don Imus show on MSNBC. Sure are a bunch of fucked-up looking crackers, like refugees from a Cormac McCarthy novel. Imus resembles the Crypt Keeper in a cowboy hat. How many bags of plasma does he require to keep going every day? Bernard McGuirk is one pasty-assed piece of weak-looking shit. That cueball haircut is about as becoming as Brittney's shaved snatch, and he looks like Mr. Greenjeans dead three decades and exhumed. Charles could be the villain in a Hong Kong action movie from the 70s. That sports guy Chris Carlin makes the Michelin Man look svelte.

Some of Imus's guests are even wussier than Imus and crew: Tom "Imus is misunderstood" Oliphant looks like H.P. Lovecraft in a bow tie. Howard "you can't say that anymore" Fineman is frumpier than Droopy Dogg, and has girly noodle arms.

I'd like to see the Scarlet Knights women's basketball team beat the shit out of all these fucking losers. THAT would be great television.

"The Surge" is working...

...but only if the goal is to have far bloodier months for US troops. At the current pace April will top the deadliest month of the war so far, which was November 2004, when Fallujah was rubble-ized. 137 US troops were killed that month. We're on pace for nearly 150 this month. Strange that I'm not hearing much about this increase in casualties over the airwaves.


Set in Spain as Franco prepares to install his fascist regime in 1939, Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone features a haunted school for orphaned boys. Young Carlos is the son of a fallen Republican fighter and is left at the school by his tutor. Immediately there is conflict with a bully and a savage caretaker named Jacinto. There is also a confrontation with a mysterious spirit called "the one who sighs." In the courtyard at the school is an unexploded bomb. Del Toro cleverly uses this as a visual symbol, as the opening and closing narration of the film asks the question "What is a ghost?" Like unexploded ordinance, a ghost is arrested between its purpose and dissolution, an unsatiated and dangerous emblem.

The haunting and its resolution are cleverly achieved, and the film works on other levels as well, with a conspiracy to rob the school of its gold, the support by the school of rebels in the hills, and the sometimes nasty struggles amongst the boys rounding out the storyline. There's a one-legged woman running the school, a hot young teacher involved with the caretaker, and a kindly old doctor who spouts poetry to boot. What more can you ask?

Part Ringu, part Lord of the Flies, and entirely delicious.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Totally Awesome

Question: Who would make a film of simulated sex so cheesy as to make one long for the old cut-to-fireworks/train-through-the-tunnel cliches?

Anwer: Bolly would!

Senatus Populusque Romanus

Sometimes friends try to tell me that television sucks now, and that television was much better when we were kids. That's utter bullshit. I grew up on wretchedly bad TV shows like Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, The Dukes of Hazzard, etc. I suffered through a spate of variety shows--including Donny and Marie, Captain and Tennille, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and Sonny & Cher--and still bear the scars. There were good shows when I was a kid, like All in the Family and pre-maudlin M*A*S*H, but those were rare bright spots cancelled out by insufferable pap like I Dream of Genie and Gilligan's Island.

Of course I'm comparing apples and oranges, because my argument that TV is much better now rests firmly on the strength of several HBO series I've watched lately on DVD, including The Wire and Deadwood. I don't know that broadcast TV has better shows than those when I was a kid because I don't watch broadcast channels often enough. But at least one pay channel is cranking out damn good series.

We finished Deadwood's amazing second season and eagerly await the third on DVD. I love the way expectations are foiled, and how calamatous Fate can claim seemingly vital characters without warning. I love this show for its Shakespearean subplots and its operatic intensity.

I watched HBO's Rome after Julio recommended it, and was completely blown away. The subject matter is perfectly honed for our era of executive over-reach and imperial wars. I don't think television had ever before made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, but the finale of the penultimate episode of Rome's first season did just that. Puts that Russel Crowe Gladiator crap to shame. This is really clever television, dramatizing history in an engaging and realistic manner. It's brutal, bloody, and damn sexy to boot. Like, totally awesome.

I need something to watch now while we wait for The Wire season 4, Deadwood season 3, and Rome season 2 to come out on DVD. I suppose Battlestar Galactica is next? Might as well find out what all the fuss is about.

can't stop the dancing chickens

Our pet dove loves its new cage, which is roomier and features built-in cups for food and water. These cups became the object of strange bowing and chirping behavior, with the dove standing to one side and performing mysterious rituals not unlike the gestures of a bishop consecrating a church.

We'd always assumed this bird was male because of the absence of eggs. But the dove, devout follower of Oestre, laid an egg yesterday. In the sacred food dish.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Nobody does it better

Noam hits home on the recent sabre-rattling over Iran.

Aye, that Klein-a not music

Another DC windsock pundit realizes Bush is no longer popular and jumps on the trash W. bandwagon. Rather than singing his praises, Eric Alterman gives Joe Klein a satisfying drubbing for his too-little, too-late switch from cheerleader to critic:

Jeebus Christmas, what was your first clue, Sherlock? The Social Security whipping? The Schiavo circus? Tthe Katrina debacle? The 2006 elections? It plainly wasn't the monumental disaster in Iraq, because you were hoping for the best there up until 30 seconds before you hit "Send" on your very brave column, as best I can tell. There are several things that are important to remember about Joe before his fellow Beltway buffet-grazers start fitting him for a toga. First is that, both online and in the mainstream media, smarter people than Joe Klein have been saying everything that Joe is now bravely saying almost from jump. For their troubles, they got insults, condescension and worse from, among other people, Joe Klein. Well, bollocks. I note for the record that he's still alternatively ignorant and gutless on the subject of the Constitution. You can't impeach a president because he's a self-evident f**k-up-- or for "maladministration," to use a more polite term that the Founders explicitly rejected. Klein -- and, it should be noted, Ann Coulter -- are both wrong about that. And, because he's got such a sweet tooth for Executive power, as long as it's exercised in ways that make him feel safe and warm and make his heart go pitty-pat, he not only minimizes dangers of turning the Department of Justice into a chop-shop, he also declines to address the towering constitutional heresy regarding Executive powers that has allowed this administration to run amuck over the Bill of Rights. And, finally, probably because he doesn't want to be seen as being "soft" on dangerous dark people who are coming to kill him, Klein neglects even to mention that this president already has admitted breaking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on 14 different occasions, and has announced his intention to go on breaking it, based on a preposterous fig-leaf designed by his pet lawyers. Want to impeach the guy? Impeach him for that. Put John Yoo and the "unitary executive" on trial. That's really the kind of issue that the impeachment process is supposed to address anyway.

In case you're keeping score, that makes it Alterman 52, Klein 0 in their little bloggie war.

Happy Easter

Easter always reminds me of eggiwegs.

A bonus classic (the more thematically appropriate "Easter Yeggs" is not to be found online).


I've got a major jones for some traveling. Last time I was out of the country? January 2006. Last time I had time off from work? January 2006. When I quit the Liberry I had more than a month of unused vacation time stored away, now I'm trying to accrue enough at the new gig to take a trip this coming fall. I fear writing multiple-choice questions without a couple weeks off may drive me mad soon.

Where to go? We've had three adventurous trips in a row (the Philippines, Honduras, and Mexico). Perhaps we should head back to Europe--I haven't been over there since France/Holland/Belgium in '02. Good Lord! I need to see some vitraux and stroll museums.

But Peru and India also beckon...

Fair and Balanced

A Fox affiliate distorts its own poll results to protect the President.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

multi-syllabic pidgin

Go here to read Cynthia Ozick spitting vitriol at book reviewers on It's hilarious. I'm not sure if I prefer "unlettered exhibitionists" or "tsunamis of incapacity."

From Harper's Magazine, April 2007.


I adored these two novellas. Morpho Eugenia tells the tale of a destitute young naturalist, shipwrecked after a decade in the Amazon. He's lost his samples and his notebooks, but has been invited by a wealthy patron to catalog a private collection of decaying insects bought from other adventurers. Of course William is besotted by the virginal oldest daughter of his patron, but without means marrying her will prove complicated. He writes a book with the help of a governess in the house about ant colonies, and his book and the governess's quaint romantic vision of the insect world are both sampled in the text. Quite saucy, those nineteenth century Romantics! Until its tawdry end I'd have ranked Morpho Eugenia one of the greatest novellas I've read.

The second novella is The Conjugial Angel, which was less interesting but still quite good. The action centers around a young medium named Sophy, whose ability to channel spirits gets her invited to the home of Emily. In her youth Emily was engaged to Arthur Hallam, a dear friend (and perhaps more than friend) to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. There are long quotes of letters and poems, there are restless spirits and besotted Swedenborgians. There is lots of barely repressed lust.

Byatt writes delicious prose. Her very sensuous characters are authentic to their age, and would be at home in a novel by Forster or James. I took my time luxuriating in this one, which I've had on the shelves for years and never picked up.

Hey, I watched a book and read a movie--perhaps we're settling in at last!


A classic dystopian vision of the future. No human baby has been born in 18 years as a plague of infertility sweeps the globe. In its wake civilization has collapsed everywhere except jolly old England, where the government has assumed extraordinary powers to fight terrorism and illegal immigration. Clive Owen plays a functionary of some sort who barely notices the cages of starving 'fugees at each Tube stop on his way to work every day. Then his life is turned upside down by a terrorist organization, launching the action.

Not much suspension of disbelief is required to fall into this future, alas. It's easily imaginable, and the violence, squalor, and despair in the film are already a reality for much of the globe. I was swept along by the film, by its performances and its grit. A radio DJ at one point announces a song by saying "This one is from 2003, those happy days when people refused to accept that the future was here." The future is here now--REPENT, and buy land in Alaska if you can afford it.

In the extras is an interesting documentary featuring Slavoj Zizek, Naomi Klein, James Lovelock, John Gray and other intellectual heavy-weights who respond to the film's portrayal of the 21st century. Naomi Klein mentions the appearance of fortified 'green pockets' around the globe where wealthy people live in comfort and safety apart from the seething masses of desperate humanity. James Lovelock thinks a few hundred million survivors will gather at the eventually tropical North Pole and will slowly rebuild civilization. Slavoj Zizek thinks we all know what's coming but are paralyzed into inaction by the weight of his enormous intellect. Or something.

Good, bleak cinema.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Better late than

How good of the MSM to start doing the reporting Americans needed four years ago. I remember going to the State Department web site and reading transcripts of Colin Powell and Condi Rice discussing how Iraq was no threat to anyone because of our containment strategy was working, while they were saying the exact opposite publicly. It was rather easy to find qualified debunkers of the nuclear weapons charges Bush and Cheney were making against Saddam as well. All it took was a Google search of the Internet tubes and pipes.

The Post article introduces a grand opportunity for excellent muck-raking journalism in its final paragraph:

It remains unclear who fabricated the documents. Intelligence officials say most likely it was rogue elements in Sismi who wanted to make money selling them.

Gee, I wonder who fabricated those documents? Or who commissioned the forgery? Couldn't have been an asshole like Doug Feith, could it? I can't imagine the Office of Special Plans doing such a thing. At all.

Timing is everything

On Friday at my physical I got a Tetanus booster because it had been ten years since my last. I quipped to Doc H. that I could now safely resume stepping on nails.

Last night I was jogging down the stairs barefoot and stepped on a nail sticking a full two inches out of the wood. The nail was black, as is the painted wood floor on the steps. Fortunately I stomped on the blunt end of the nail, but it was a finishing nail with a narrow head and my foot hurt like fucking hell. No lockjaw for me at least.

The State of Things

An interesting (and sad) article about public libraries becoming de facto shelters for the homeless and mentally disturbed. I've worked in book retail and in a library setting, so this hit home. I think of Dutch Boy pissing on the couch in Borders, or Special Forces claiming he was being followed, or Marxism Man calling me a Communist for banning him after he tore a list of US Presidents out of a reference book. At the bookstore I'd say at least three or four hours a week of manager/supervisor time went to dealing with similar situations. At the Liberry a single schizophrenic or otherwise troubled patron could wreck the operation of the Periodicals section at night, because we had limited staff to assist others while dealing with a paranoid woman who thought the copy machines were recording her movements.

[Link via B12Parnters]


I like John Carpenter, even though I think he's only made one truly excellent film--The Thing. He's clever enough to make lame, weird, or loosely conceptualized material interesting, and I can re-watch stuff like The Fog, They Live, Prince of Darkness, Starman, and Big Trouble in Little China every few years. Halloween? Not so much.

And speaking of lame, weird, and loosely conceptualized--Carpenter's second entry into the SciFi Channel's Masters of Horror series fits the bill. Pro Life tackles the most divisive issue in the culture wars--abortion--in a hilariously stupid but effective manner. Ron Perlman, who always rules, plays a devout pro-lifer whose daughter gets knocked up and ends up in an abortion clinic. Perlman threatens the doctors that if they don't release her they'll be sorry. The staff know his reputation for violence in the name of God, however, and fear the consequences for the girl if they release her to his custody.

After praying for guidance and hearing a voice growl "Protect the child," Perlman's character delusionally believes his daughter is carrying a baby precious to God. He is willing to go to extremes to ensure the baby's safety. Said extremes are quite uncomfortable to watch, but Carpenter balances an epic torture sequence with goofy chuckles. When Perlman finds out his daughter's true baby daddy, things get ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than the culture wars themselves. I enjoyed Pro Life for what it is, and would recommend it only for those who enjoy horror of the B variety, or for Carpenter fans, or for those sophisticated enough to 'get' satire.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Getting Situated

We had guests this weekend--Leesha and Big Red and Chalupa came in from NYC for their co-ed wedding shower, and Bibs came up from NC. Our TV room served temporarily as guest room because the library is a shambles.

With the kind help of our guests we went to Fell's Point and fetched a new old dining room set. It needs some TLC--cleaning, new fabric--but is very sturdy and exactly the size we needed for our dining room. And it was cheap. The dealer called the set "mid-century" but all we know about its provenance is that a Russian immigrant brought it from her Moscow apartment and sold it on consignment. Looks SCAN-ish. The dealer also said it was blond mahagony, which resembles teak.

Next time we have K'wali and Klezma over we'll be able to sit around a table, instead of on coolers and toolboxes and whatnot. Julio and Yo! Adrienne helped us break it in last evening. We had pancit and lumpia and Chinese delivery.

Friday went to Dukem for the first time. Very tasty, and quite reasonable. I had more lamb than I could manage. Initially the dish was disappointingly mild, but there were pockets of chili that made things worthwhile in the end. I also enjoyed the Ethiopian beer, which I believe was called Haras, but I can't find it online. Reminiscent of San Miguel, but strangely sweet.

Felt good to have people in the house. Hopefully in short order we can do so more regularly and more comfortably.