<= 2001.01

2001.03 =>

[FEBRUARY 2001.]

the deep oesophagus of night

Clearly, the trick to a good workshop is to go in with unreasonably low expectations. As soon as I found out the story was salvageable, things were all right. Consensus was that I have the right stuff in the wrong order, which I can deal with.

According to this climatology plot, the weather around here should start improving soon. It might even be tolerable by the end of March. Ethan claims it's going to stay arctic until the beginning of May, but then Ethan has also warned us away from Altoids because of mad cow disease, so I don't really know what to say.

Here's an effusive Guardian piece rhapsodizing about the fusion experiments in New Mexico's Sandia Labs, where coincidentally most of my father's family works. (The labs, not the actual fusion reactor.) They use the phrase "oesophageal dark" and refer to Waiting for Godot without shame. (The article, not my family.)

Tell me history isn't a circle. I'd never heard of the Dayaks or the Madurese until a couple days ago, but these pictures are so familiar they're practically burned into my retinae. Since the Enlightenment we've had the idea that eventually we'd reach some sort of collective escape velocity, jolting us out of the cycle so this would never happen again. Right? We've been waiting for a while now.

Though they have just discovered a key pathway in tumor metastasis; it's regulated by chemokines, which help direct the traffic of blood cells. This is one of the first inroads anyone's made into how metastasis works, and theoretically if you could block the action of certain chemokines you might be able to halt metastasis, which is the part that kills most cancer patients. This is all theoretical and they're still in the working-with-cancerous-mice stage, but hey, hope.

 

dies irae

Sick, again, still. Today is my day of reckoning in the workshop. Here's an explanation of the Zen concept of shoshin, or "beginner's mind," which seems a useful attitude to hold in the arts as well. Also, a timely attack on baby boomer Buddhism:

Philosopher George Santayana once observed that "American life is a powerful solvent. It seems to neutralize every intellectual element, however tough and alien it may be, and to fuse it in the native goodwill, complacency, thoughtlessness and optimism." Instead of preserving Buddhism, Americans seem intent on co-opting and commercializing it, dissolving a religion deeply suspicious of the self into an engine of self-absorption.

American Buddhism, the article notes, is also mostly book-based, with the authors of texts like Zen Sex: The Way of Making Love or If The Buddha Dated reaping significant royalties. Which should give pause, seeing that traditionalists like Thanissaro Bhikkhu have their writings available for free.

An interesting review of Demonology, Rick Moody's latest story collection. One more book I can't justify buying, as it's in hardcover. Chris took umbrage at this review in class yesterday: "Short stories are fiction's R&D department?" he asks, incredulously. "How can you be a book reviewer for a major newspaper and carry such a parochial attitude? The guy's an asshole." Yesterday we also explored the idea that most people find escape in entertainment because they don't like their jobs and consequently live miserable lives. Luckily we, as writers, are safe from this temptation. This riled me. I know, who am I to accuse anyone of intellectual elitism, but still.

A longish essay on the ancient art of steganography, or hidden writing: distinct from cryptography in that the latter encodes the message, while the former merely conceals it. In the old days, steganographic messages would be written in invisible ink, or on the wooden backing of wax message tablets, or on a trusted slave's scalp (sent once the hair grew). Nowadays they can be encoded in the white noise of audio or image files, like Osama bin Laden allegedly sending messages to his followers via porn sites. The essay also discusses pirates.

 

dedalusions of grandeur

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul's history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire's center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.
            -Stephen Spender

I am not Jesus, though I have the same initials
I am the man who stays home and does the dishes
            -Pulp

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.
            -Les Brown, reprinted in zillions of cheesy motivational tracts

Cleaning up after spaghetti for one. Seems like I eat nothing else these days.

This was supposed to be my recuperative period after finishing the last story. But I find myself unable to stop thinking about writing, ever. Nearly every waking minute gets filtered through that context. This is fine in one sense but in another I'd like to rest.

I let this site pathologize me (it says I'm okay, mostly). One of the questions was "Do you think a lot about achieving great things or being famous?" It's a sickness to think that way? Here's the trick: I don't think lasting achievement is possible without the internal whipper always flogging you on. But Christ, it's a ridiculous standard to hold yourself to, and it carries an unattractive tint of arrogance. And while you're off chasing the pipe dream, the rest of your life languishes.

Links on the truly great: saving Nabokov from French academia and the making of Dr. Strangelove, including an account of the cut War Room pie-fight scene. Both good, longish articles.

 

sugar among the chickens

The Cyborg Manifesto: stuff like this pisses me off. I recognize that they're deliberately espousing an extreme position in order to generate debate (at least I hope to God that's what they're doing), but I still knew people at Stanford who actually thought this way. The naivete borders on offensiveness in passages like:

Together we will venture beyond the tyranny of genes. We will become more than simple bags of chemicals and cells that begin to decay at the moment of birth. We will find remedies for all our current frailties - wrinkles, obesity, hair loss, sexual dysfunction - and cures for every disease.

Or in their take on digital commerce:

Decisions are largely predetermined by self-replicating global institutions like the IMF and the WTO, whose logic, power and lifespan far exceed even the most elite individuals who serve them. The global economy is now a living machine - an uber-brain stitched by switches and routers, with systems of finance linked to systems of media linked to systems of education linked to systems of employment linked to systems of government linked to systems of protest. The whole is suspended above any real world concerns.

Uh huh. I'll give you that to an extent, maybe, technology can transcend genetics. What it ain't going to transcend is economics. Sure, if you live in the developed world you'll get to take advantage of some new complicated enzyme treatment à la Brazil that will obviate the need for face lifts; but in most parts of the world wrinkles don't rank as the No.1 health concern. And all the science in the world won't do most of its population any good so long as they're at the bottom of the economic ladder. Of course global economics are "suspended above any real world concerns" if you're a goddamn e-trader; you make your paycheck off manipulating symbols, and you could give a flying fuck what those symbols represent. It's a little different if you're sick in a sub-Saharan nation whose annual debt burden exceeds its annual health care budget. Sorry, this stuff tends to bring out the angry liberal in me.

More cheerfully, tonight I read Lewis Nordan's The All-Girl Football Team (out of print, natch), a short collection of semi-linked stories which I can't recommend highly enough. In the first story, the narrator fishes for chickens - as in tries to get them to bite a baited hook - and ends up with an angry rooster on his head, at which point, startlingly enough, it turns lyrical:

And yet my steps were not heavy. My life was not ruined. I could wear this chicken on my head forever. I could bear this pain forever. In a year no one would notice the chicken but myself. Then even I would not notice. My mama had believed that spending your life in the place of your birth, absorbing its small particulars into your blood, was ruination. I looked at my parents beside the gate. My daddy held my mama in his arms as they looked at me. My daddy had got the gate open now but again I held up my hand and stopped him. I knew now what I could give them. It was a picture of myself that I would live the rest of my life to prove true: they watched their son wearing this living crowing rooster like a crown.

Also, The New Yorker, endearingly dowdy as always, appears to have noticed that many other magazines have constructed some kind of website thing, and decided to follow suit. They have David Schickler's "The Smoker" up there, another excellent offbeat story originally published in the summer fiction issue, probably intriguing enough actually to be readable online.

Salon's got a free mp3 of "The Hook," from the new Stephen Malkmus (ex-Pavement) solo album.

 

janky-ass

Untitled Document is Britain's answer to the Onion. From "Dead Pensioner Mistaken for Art":

Stanley Foster, aged 73 from Brixton, tripped and fell outside the Tate Modern gallery on the south bank of the River Thames, yesterday. Initially unconscious from the head injury he sustained, Mr Foster failed to receive any assistance from passers-by as they believed that he was an exhibit.

After some period of time a small group of people amassed around the stricken pensioner and began to comment on his "post-modern stance against the insouciance of popular culture."

They also make fun of Jakob Nielsen.

A collection of Mexican gypsy slang, mostly gloriously obscene (Babelfish version indifferently rendered in English). Tapado is the word for the eternally (until now) victorious PRI presidential candidate, and a zorrero is a cat burglar who steals your clothes and defecates in the place of the theft. PseudoDictionary, a user-contributed lexicon, is also worth a gander. Sample entries:

pseud - Person who pretends to know much more than he/she does, in order to impress an audience (ex. Those philosophy majors are all such pseuds about Wittgenstein and such).

e-shaft - to ignore someone's email... to not reply (ex. I'm bored at work today, so please don't give me the e-shaft. -OR- I've emailed her 3 times this week, and she keeps e-shafting me!)

janky-ass - Something that sucks, or has crappy quality. (ex. Mike has a janky-ass ride.)

The Register has picked up on "All Your Base Are Belong To Us." They have the old Zero Wing intro, the best part of which is the captain's expression when he says "What you say!!" Also, there's a Flash electronica video, which is mostly interesting as an exercise in completely emptying a phrase of any semantic weight.

Via Zeldman, here's a column by someone who claims to have gone to a Martin Amis reading and insulted Salman Rushdie for liking Beckett's prose. "All you need is maximum ugliness and a lot of negatives. ‘Nor it the nothing never is.’ ‘Neither nowhere the nothing is not.’ ‘Non-nothing the never-’"

It's late again. How did this happen?

 

aftermath

Stayed up all night to finish the story, which is now done, and I don't have to think about it until Tuesday, when it might get ripped apart, but I'm trying to think that this would actually be good for me and do something about my failure complex etc. After the story was finished I was encouraged to smoke cigars and drink whiskey, plus NyQuil as a sleep aid, after which I was spirited home and slept for 17 hours.

Look at the world's smallest robot. It's cute!

Who Would Buy That? collects oddities from eBay and suchlike sites. Currently, S&M Barbie:

"Both Barbie's and Ken's clothes are non-removeable except Ken's Gimp Mask. I could not find barbie sized zippers so Ken's mask has glass beads where the zippers would be. His back is scarred from the whipping."

Oh good, more disease in British livestock. This one only rarely transmits to humans, though, and isn't fatal. This article features an appetizing slaughterhouse pic.

U.S. based Discovery Laboratories wants to use premature Latin American babies as test cases for its new version of Sufraxin.

Internal Food and Drug Administration documents say comparing Surfaxin to a placebo in U.S. babies with RDS would be unethical, but that the agency is considering whether to approve a placebo-controlled study in parts of Mexico, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador... The participating Latin American hospitals cannot afford today's $2,200 surfactant treatment, so their preemies get nothing but ventilator care. The proposed study would give hundreds of infants either Surfaxin, the proven competitor Survanta or the "placebo" of standard supportive care. Capetola said cutting out that third comparison would cost an extra year in telling whether Surfaxin works and then selling it for needy babies -- and he pledged to sell Surfaxin at a reduced cost in Latin America.

But then, the study will cause the preventable deaths of at least a dozen infants. It's the old needs of the many/needs of the few dilemma, and I have a headache to beat the band.

 

move 'zig' for great justice

No comment on the Grammys, which I didn't watch, other than to say it's too bad Eminem was so high-profile, considering the funniest part in his video was the "You think I give a damn about a Grammy?" bit where he dressed up like Britney Spears.

Kid A is platinum and Thom Yorke is a dad. He and Bjork are also set to perform their duet from "Dancer in the Dark" at the Oscars.

I'm slow on the uptake on this All Your Base Are Belong To Us phenom. If you missed it too, it's from the intro to the Sega Genesis game Zero Wing, famous as one of the worst video game translations ever:

Captain: What happen?
Mechanic: Someone set up us the bomb
Operator: We get signal
Captain: What!
Operator: Main screen turn on.

Captain: It's you!!
Cats: How are you gentlemen!!
Cats: All your base are belong to us
Cats: You are on the way to destruction

Captain: What you say?
Cats: You have no chance to survive make your time
Cats: Ha ha ha ....
Operator: Captain!!

Captain: Take off every 'ZIG'!!
Captain: Move 'ZIG'.
Captain: For great justice.

And now it's spreading as a "wassup?"-style catch phrase.

The worst thing about staying up late is how, after a certain point, you can just feel your IQ exponentially dropping with each passing minute. Going, going, gone.

 

jet lag, sans jet

So my internal clock is officially fucked. Near as I can tell, I'm set to one of those time zones in the Pacific between Tonga and Tokyo, where there aren't any landmasses. After workshop we went to this new restaurant called Mondo whose mission statement was a page-long tract about globalization (hence the name) and volume (hence giant meals and really high ceilings). Got home from that at 11:30 and fell asleep for precisely one hour, after which I was wide awake. I've been writing since then; it's 5 a.m. now. The same shit used to happen after I pulled all-nighters in college, but hopefully what I'm producing now will be more fun than the Joyce thesis.

This excerpt on the theory of a holographic universe is unreal. At first glance it looks like one of those crackpot tracts you find in weird corners of the Web, but it's based on valid methodology. Basically, in 1982, a team of French physicists led by Alain Aspect performed experiments confirming the existence of the quantum mechanical non-locality predicted in Bell's Theorem, which was an outgrowth of the EPR thought experiment. There are ways to "link" a pair of electrons so that measuring the spin of one electron not only alters that spin (which is inevitable by the uncertainty principle), but also instantly alters the spin of the other electron. This implies faster-than-light communication, and it's one of the things about quantum mechanics that got Einstein in a tizzy.

Physicist David Bohm, using the holographic model, offers the following analogy:

Imagine an aquarium containing a fish. Imagine also that you are unable to see the aquarium directly and your knowledge about it and what it contains comes from two television cameras, one directed at the aquarium's front and the other directed at its side. As you stare at the two television monitors, you might assume that the fish on each of the screens are separate entities. After all, because the cameras are set at different angles, each of the images will be slightly different. But as you continue to watch the two fish, you will eventually become aware that there is a certain relationship between them. When one turns, the other also makes a slightly different but corresponding turn; when one faces the front, the other always faces toward the side. If you remain unaware of the full scope of the situation, you might even conclude that the fish must be instantaneously communicating with one another, but this is clearly not the case. This, says Bohm, is precisely what is going on between the subatomic particles in Aspect's experiment.

The holographic idea was originally developed by Dutch physicist Gerard 't Hooft, who's now a Nobel laureate, and Stanford's Lenny Susskind demonstrated how you can see it as a logical extension of string theory. (Though note: Lenny can't draw and Gerard has a terrible personal page.) Harvard's Juan Maldacena has suggested things called "branes," which are n-dimensional surfaces flapping around in n+1-dimensional space; our universe would thus be a three-dimensional brane, holographically encoding the four dimensions of relativistic space.

There are problems with this. One is that nobody's sure how branes and strings relate: i.e., which is made of which, and in order to keep physicists happy something has to be fundamental. Another problem is that currently this is all just clever math; nobody's come up with a way to experimentally verify any of it, though this article suggests it might be possible with the Large Hadron Collider they're building at CERN. Another problem is that theoretical physicists are dorks. If the Maldacena article is to be believed, they invented this song, to the tune of "Macarena," at the Strings '98 conference:

You start with the brane and the brane is B.P.S.
Then you go near the brane and the space is A.D.S.
Who knows what it means? I don't, I confess
Ehhhh! Maldacena!

However, the holographic theory is plausible to me simply on an aesthetic level, for several reasons. It's one step further in the general scientific trend of the last century, which has consistently flouted notions of common sense and objectivity. Relativity got rid of absolute space and quantum mechanics demonstrated that the observer can't be separated from the observation. This new theory presents space-time itself as an illusory construct projected from a deeper reality that we're unable to access. This goes past what Einstein was willing to accept, but philosophically it's right in line with his famous pronouncement:

In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison.

It's also right in line with the Hindu/Buddhist concept of Maya, the physical world as illusory. Cf. the Buddha's famous pronouncement that "The mind precedes all things, the mind dominates all things, the mind creates all things," illustrated by the parable of the blind men and the elephant, which I know you all have heard. Or this quite lovely example from Hindu literature, which I stole from not a thing:

Once Brahma told the sage Narada to take a dip in a nearby river. When he did so, Narada emerged from the water as a lovely woman of a good family. She was given in marriage by her father and, in time, she had many sons and grandsons. Ultimately a war broke out between her father and her husband, and in the course of the battle both were killed, along with many of her sons. Mourning, she mounted the funeral pyre that had been laid for her husband, and as she began to burn, engulfed in flames, she suddenly felt cool, as if she were in the water. And indeed she, as the sage Narada, was still in the water, taking that dip recommended by the Lord Brahma.

Okay, so have I talked for long enough? My point is really just that I'm very interested in mysticism right now, probably because of spending too much time alone, and it excites me to see possible scientific corroboration. That's all. In the meantime, it's now seven in the morning and our hero is going to sleep.

 

cryptic triptych

My God, what are those dangly things coming off the letters? Yes, as part of the redesign, you've got serif. I was having readability issues, and the problem is that in my opinion all the sans serif fonts look really stupid when blown up to legible size. They have a PBS quality. And because I spend so much time typing stories in Times New Roman, I somehow needed that consistency between media. However, if you disagree with me, do direct your attention to the new "mon metameat" box in the upper right of your screen, and alter the typeface and size to suit your monitor and/or aesthetic idiosyncracies. But you don't get Verdana because I do not fancy Verdana. Something about it reminds me of those scientific exploratoriums where you get to spin in a gyroscope and watch videos about marine life.

I think everything should be working, but if anything seems broken do drop me a line and I'll go after it. It's five in the morning and I have two stories to read and critique for this afternoon's workshop at four-thirty. I'm not in sync with Planet Earth right now.

Story's going, though. It's another one set in Tucson and it's about extraterrestrials and rehab and autistic kids and Spanish swear words and that old warhorse, the racial socioeconomic divide. Seriously. I have 55 hours to finish it. Grumpy Doug yesterday sent me the following useful writing advice:

How about a story that involves a coming of age male who takes lots of drugs and does some things and maybe travels to other places or something and ends up okay? That really needs addressing in today's complicated world of no males who take lots of drugs and other things and travel to other places or something and end up okay.

It's a vision I'm hoping to fulfill.

 

larva on pure float

Still writing, still redesigning. The site's turning into this jury-rigged combination of PHP and JavaScript, like one of those Russian airplanes patched together with different aging components, where they keep goats in the coach section and by any sane standard of physics the contraption just shouldn't fly, yet it does.

This Metafilter thread on the merit or lack thereof of the Blog You! review site pretty much exemplifies the solipsism and self-referentiality of the weblog community, at either its most endearing or most irritating, depending on your bias.

The blog rater raters hadn't blogged yet, and the first blog to blog the blog rater raters was the blog rater blog itself. Which I blogged. I did rate this thread, which blogs the blog rater raters as well as the blog raters themselves, and includes lots of intra-blog discussion about the blogs, their raters, the blog rater raters, and thanks to you the blog rater blog rater rater bloggers - so I'd self-rate my blog-rater blogger blogism pretty highly.

Netdyslexia: this is kind of cool. There's a certain appeal to the third-generation Xerox design. The automatic German-to-English translation is iffy, but I'm not sure if it's really supposed to make sense in any language. They've come up with a Web version of Dogme 95 which involves leaving typos uncorrected. (Parenthetically, that official Dogme 95 site is pretty damn slick considering their aesthetic. It's art, people, and art means artifice. Sorry.)

as long as information is free and important for US we CAN forgive mistakes if they AR NOT larva on pure float for example: if you post office a problem of to, say, a mailing cunning you AR adviced to of DO it without mistakes. if you to who a question nobody wants criticize your spelling as long as you help to solve someone of elses problem.

Stare at it long enough, it turns 3-D, you see the sailboat.

 

la familia es todo

Today my little sister turns twenty. She is also engaged, as of a few days ago. Congrats to her on both counts. We always knew she'd be the one to settle into respectable domesticity far ahead of me. I still have this sort of repressed fear that I'll be sixty and have no companions except my typewriter and a stray cat, whom I've enticed into a grudging friendship by feeding him bits of my hand.

So yeah, I'm up late. I have a story due in five days and I have no clue on it right now. It's getting more difficult to write a workshop story that isn't The Workshop Story, the sort of carefully crafted minimalist realist garden-variety narrative that's splattered all over current literary periodicals, and which is the main reason for that backlash against MFA writing programs. I've seen it circumvented, but it's tricky and risky and I am once again out of my depth. Always learning, though.

Because I believe in balancing right-brain activity with left-brain activity, I've also been learning PHP, in the half-assed way of learning a language just well enough to get it to do what you want. But hoo, is this shit slick. I'm loving it. So a PHP-based small-scale redesign in the next few days, probably.

Well, Mad is running ads now. It was what, them and Ms. who were the only holdouts? It's a principle thing, guys; now we're all one step closer to waking up in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. I really have to sleep.

 

polyptych

Last night my dreams were literally cinematic, as in they consisted of a sequence of shots, closeups on action and so on. They even followed conventions like the 180 degree rule, which was kind of weird. Their content was pretty unremarkable, though. Mostly turtles jumping on top of other turtles.

I think one can make an intelligent case for dropping the SAT as an admissions requirement, which Richard C. Atkinson, the University of California president, is proposing. I worked as an SAT tutor for a while, ministering to the children of Palo Alto's rich and powerful, and it's getting pretty freaky how much emphasis these poor overachieving kids and their parents place on it. They'll plunk down $400 in a second for a thirty-point increase. And the goddamn test isn't even about anything other than itself; the only trick involved is in learning to think like the people who wrote it. It measures one very limited type of aptitude: a narrow thread of analytical thinking which says nothing about intelligence in a more holistic sense, and most importantly says nothing about drive, motivation or any of those other qualities that get lumped under "character." Those latter attributes are (duh) the biggest determinant for success in college and beyond.

Let the kids focus on their classes, where (theoretically) they're actually learning something useful, and it'll come out in the grades without wasting so many resources on these prep courses. Particularly if you come from a background where you don't even have such resources; then you're just screwed. If standardization is a must, one could always reweight the process toward SAT II or AP tests, which are actually about subjects other than their own methodologies. Even the ACT is better.

Getting lost in the Catholic fracas over Renée Cox's "Yo Mama's Last Supper" is that it really is a damn cool piece. Check out how she's playing with the 14th-century triptych style for religious paintings, only with five panels. (Pentaptych? Is that a word?) And the detail here: I don't know anything about photography, but somehow she's given it an oil-type texture. Plus if her personal site is any indication, she's pretty pro-God.

Holy shit, they're transplanting hands now? The sad bit is the story at the end:

The first hand transplant was done in France in 1998. Clint Hallam, 50, who had lost his hand in prison, failed to follow the anti-rejection drug regimen. Last week, the hand was amputated.

It must suck to have that happen twice.

 

anode, cathode

Here we go again. Operation Infinite Loop.

So this is a proud day for your automotively challenged friend; I replaced a car battery without hurting myself, the Honda or any fuzzy animals. I was lucky that there's an import auto parts emporium twenty yards from my apartment. After I bought the new battery the guy behind the counter said "Enjoy your battery," which struck me as a great benediction.

Blog You! is a consumer's guide to weblogs using a rating system. I expect we're about to see a lot of these.

Here's a Salon article pointing out why many capitalists are for keeping the estate tax, making points that Gore inexplicably failed to make during the debates, presumably because he was too busy pointing out 72-year-old Agnes Fairbanks of Berea OH in the audience, who was in danger of losing her prescription drugs; viz., repealing the tax would create an aristocracy of wealth and fly in the face of equal opportunity, not to mention harming the charities to which plutocrats donate as a way of jettisoning their wealth. Not mentioned, but relevant, is the statistic that only 2 percent of deceased folks are even affected by the tax.

Four fables by Eric Dalton.

In the year 0, you'll be able to say: "Two over easy, whiskey down - takes bacon, crisp," and a dog will understand you. In the year 0, the earth's axis will be revealed to be a simple metal rod - no more, no less - with our orb transfix'd upon it. In the year 0, we'll see our true relationship to things - stand before one another as we really are. In the year 0, it will be safe to smell again.

Imelda Marcos visits the shoe museum.

 

significant soil

The workshop went passably yesterday. Consensus was "It'll be great when it's done, but it ain't done yet." Which wasn't really what I wanted to hear, but of course they're right.

Coming up on a month without mammal consumption. What started as a knee-jerk health scare has become more of a philosophical stance. The best explanation I can give is that I've done it simply because a stance needed to be taken; I feel very remote from my pre-Iowa life in many ways and my life needed another delineating factor. Ergo, I delineated it. Part of it is health, of course; and part of it is a feel-good respect-for-life deal, concern with the inconsistency in eating pigs but keeping cats as pets, etc.; but more immediately, I just felt the need for additional stricture. Life without limits is pointless, precisely because those limits serve as reference points, and in choosing one's own limits one does that Nietzsche / Schopenhauer assertion-of-the-will thing, which the existentialists later took up. The key is to take it on gladly; freedom through control. Cf. Eliot on Damyata (Sanskrit: control):

DA
Damyata: The boat responded
Gaily, to the hand expert with sail and oar
The sea was calm, your heart would have responded
Gaily, when invited, beating obedient
To controlling hands

Or Camus quoting Nietzsche:

It clearly seems that the chief thing in heaven and on earth is to obey at length and in a single direction: in the long run there results something for which it is worth the trouble of living on this earth as, for example, virtue, art, music, the dance, the reason, the mind - something that transfigures, something delicate, mad, or divine.

Or David Foster Wallace, from his intellectually recursive novella "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way":

That what unlocks you, even today, is what you want to want. In what you value. And what you value's married to those certain things you just won't do. And here's a cliché that's earned its status as a cliché: whether you're free or locked up depends, all and only, on what you want. What you have matters about as much as the color of your sky. Or your bars.

This is all a little grandiose, I know, for a dietary modification project. But I am quite serious about this shit. It stands in for the deeper stuff.

The other thing I've been heavily reading recently is Buddhist scripture. By and large, it's frankly shocking how much sense it makes. There's a lot to be said for a religion without dogma. Which probably means it's not a religion, precisely; more like a set of practical precepts for managing one's internal weather.

I'm 22. I'm working on this.

 

the jailor's daughter

Approximately 1731 years ago today, a guy was beaten to death with clubs.

Aw, Google's got a bouncing heart. Stuff like this plays on my sentimental side in the worst possible way, and I resent it because it works. Historical recap of this day:

14 February 1997. Freshman year. I get drunk alone, in my room, on vodka. At 4:30 in the morning (so technically the 15th) I call my parents to tell them I love them. "Have you been drinking?" my mother blearily asks. "No," I say, unconvincingly.

14 February 1998. I get drunk with some other people, in my room, on vermouth. There's some dormitory dance whose theme is the recently released Titanic. An ex-girlfriend of mine is running up and down the halls, but this doesn't affect me too much because it was sort of an accident that I dated her at all.

14 February 1999. This was the single show my band ever played off campus, at Club Boomerang in San Francisco. It was a big step up for us because we were actually playing through some sort of mixing board. Here we are: Adam, Chris and myself, left to right. Poor Robb never got in any of the pictures. The disembodied arm on the right in this one is from this girl who came onstage and started dancing next to me, and I didn't know what to do.

14 February 2000. Lyse and I have a nice dinner and try to rent Casablanca, except it's missing from each of the like four video stores we go to. We finally rent Dr. Strangelove instead. Also, the brand of wine we buy at Ernie's Liquors turns out to be undrinkable.

14 February 2001. "Song of Roland," my cheery novella which is mostly about death and thwarted love, goes up in workshop. I'm bringing the whiskey-heavy Dublin Punch to class, because even if nobody else drinks it, I'm going to need it.

According to this, there are movie deals in the works for two classic Onion articles: "Canadian Girlfriend Unsubstantiated" and "Tenth Circle Added to Rapidly Growing Hell." Okay, so they're funny articles, but this does not strike me as a good idea.

Huh, organisms are allowed to evolve in Kansas again.

 

everything is broken

Folks, my goddamn car battery is dead. My headlights are the old kind that flip upward when you turn them on, and I guess some ice got caked underneath them the last time I drove, because one of them didn't flip all the way back down and, I suppose, therefore stayed on all night. I don't know how old the battery is, so add this to the weather and I think the thing gave up the ghost. Next step: find an auto parts store within walking distance. In the meantime I get to do this trek by foot, across campus and beyond to the Workshop building.

I've determined that Chris is an excellent workshop leader, but in seminar (where we theoretically analyze Published Literature) he just enjoys fucking with people. Yesterday we read a chapter from Mildred Haun's The Hawk's Done Gone called "Barshia's Horse He Made, It Flew." I'd never heard of it either. It was a pretty good story, though, told in heavy Appalachian dialect about this guy named Barshia who has a neurological problem with his foot and is fat and mean-tempered and hits people, but also has a sort of artistic sensibility and makes (or causes to be made by his family) nice little sculptures and tables and stuff. At the end he makes this life-size wingéd horse and takes it up on the roof and, well, you decide what happens from there. The problem started when people began to condemn Barshia's character; Chris leapt to his defense and explained that you couldn't be sure because of the narrator's bias.

"But he hit a child on the head with a hammer," someone says. (There was a scar for life, etc.)

Chris suggests you can't be sure that actually happened, because it was the narrator telling us, and could you necessarily trust the narrator, etc.

"But then you don't know if anything in the book actually happened," our intrepid student points out.

"Maybe not," says Chris.

"Then why read?" asks the student.

Chris grins wickedly and spreads his hands. "I don't know why you read," he says. "Why do you read?" The discussion got worse after that because people started trying to apply modern ideas of domestic violence and someone tried to make an unfortunate analogy to slavery. At least nobody brought up Hitler, which seems to happen pretty often whenever someone needs a convenient emblem of evil.

It's not a naked picture of Anna Kournikova; it's a virus. Or technically a worm, I guess.

Lair of the White Worm fan site.

 

the pizza you eat backward

Words I know of which have all the vowels, once, in alphabetical order: abstemious, annelidous, arsenious and facetious. To be truly inclusive, you can add -ly to the first and last and they still work. I guess maybe you could do that with the middle ones too, but usage would be less certain. And I know "w" is occasionally a vowel, but we're out of luck there since it only shows up in Welsh loanwords like cwm, which isn't as dirty as it looks. It means a glacial lake on a mountain slope and you use it in Scrabble.

Last night, in my sleep, I hunt wolves with my father. I lull them to sleep by playing the harmonica in the key of C minor, and my father shoots them. Later I find an uncut diamond the size of a robin's egg at an auto shop.

Eminem and Elton John duet. Weird. They're really stretching to give people a reason to watch the Grammys. Ricky Martin or Mark Anthony? Dear God, the suspense. And speaking of orgies of industry self-congratulation, Microsoft has a Seattle gala coming up to launch Windows XP.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, wants to impeach Clinton again. No comment.

 

belated

Last night in the HyVee I saw some "Joan of Arc" brand beans; they were so startling that I blinked, and then they vanished. I thought God was trying to tell me something, but it turns out that they do exist. Seems to be a Midwest thing.

Joan of Arc was an amazing woman. She lived and died for what she believed in. We, at Joan of Arc®, like to think that we're amazing too! We believe our beans are the best - and they are! Joan of Arc is America's #1 brand of kidney bean!!!

We also saw Sugar & Spice last night. I don't know why, when the other movies in the theater were O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Shadow of the Vampire, but this is what we saw. It had its moments, like when the Betty dolls are joined by the Nixon mask, but overall it couldn't really carry the weight of its own camp; let's just say it was no Bring It On. One of the geeky video-store guys was Dustin Hoffman's son, though.

They're pulling out all the stops in Detroit for National Condom Week. It doesn't explicitly say whether the week is meant to coincide with Valentine's Day, but I guess that's the rationale. My favorite part of the article is the self-righteous 29-year-old dismissing people ten years younger than him as "a knuckleheaded generation."

 

principle of least action

Each day is slightly longer than the preceding. Remember that.

Update on the 809 area code scam, forwarded warnings about which are currently clogging our nation's bandwidth. It's really common sense: don't dial the Dominican Republic unless you know somebody there.

Going kind of stir-crazy in the apartment recently, so I tried to figure out what the numbers from one to one million would look like in alphabetical order. The list would start like this:

eight
eighteen
eighteen thousand
eighteen thousand eight
eighteen thousand eighteen
eighteen thousand eight hundred
eighteen thousand eight hundred eight
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighteen
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighty
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighty-eight
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighty-five
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighty-four
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighty-nine
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighty-one
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighty-seven
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighty-six
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighty-three
eighteen thousand eight hundred eighty-two
eighteen thousand eight hundred eleven
eighteen thousand eight hundred fifteen
eighteen thousand eight hundred fifty
eighteen thousand eight hundred fifty-eight

That was as far as I got before I had to use the bathroom or something. I don't think it's that weird, but some disagree.

 

the weltschmerz express

It's snowing again. I'm running out of food but I don't want to leave the house.

Last night I decided that in order to be the flawlessly cultured bartender I want to be, I had to learn how to make layered drinks. I started with a Southern Belle (brandy, white créme de cacao, and Bénedictine), which tasted pretty good but wasn't visually exciting since it was just different shades of brown. This led to my mistake, which was to try to recreate the French flag with blue curaçao (liberté), white créme de cacao (egalité), and grenadine (fraternité). It looked like the French flag, more or less. It tasted terrible. And suddenly I was hammered in the way that only sugary liqueurs will hammer you, and I ended up unconscious on the couch for two hours, and when I woke I was mightily displeased with everything.

So I revisited Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a man for whom I have great sympathy. To start out as brilliantly as he did, and then to see his poetic power sapped and his star eclipsed by Wordsworth's until he became such a laughingstock that Byron could write in his Dedication to Don Juan:

And Coleridge, too, has lately taken wing,
But like a hawk encumbered with its hood,
Explaining metaphysics to the nation:
I wish he would explain his explanation.

Add to this the poor guy's struggle with opium and his lifelong unrequited love for Sara Hutchinson (a pattern that seems to happen to a lot of writers), and it's no wonder that in 1802 he started having horrific nightmares that made him afraid to fall asleep. He chronicled them in "The Pains of Sleep", the final couplet of which is one of the most pathetic and heartbreaking ever written:

To be beloved is all I need,
And whom I love, I love indeed.

Also read last night: Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Really, everyone who's nuts over Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket ought to read this. Granted, I've never been a soldier, what the hell do I know, but O'Brien's book felt unutterably more real to me. And not just because of his sneaky trick of writing it like a memoir when it emphatically isn't.

Poe78 points out Hats of Meat: because the fashion industry should be obliged to do more.

 

don juan of the cornfields

We had a miniature ice storm last night and it slicked up the sidewalks to the point where you could sort of locomote by sliding. Some undergrads were playing hockey in a parking lot outside my apartment building, using snow shovels for sticks. This is what one does for fun in the winter, I guess.

I got an ad on my door from Serendipity, a local "lifestyle emporium" catering to college students. You can do your laundry and drink coffee or smoothies while watching cult films; they'll also deliver sandwiches, salads, beer, cigarettes, videos and dry cleaning. Their slogan is "Why Deal With It, When We'll Do It?" $25 procures you the Lover's Package:

2 sandwiches or salads, bottle of wine, 1 video, 1 candle, 1 bath salt, 3 condoms.

Via robotwisdom: studies in extinct bird DNA help confirm the Pangaea theory and suggest that we'll never be able to clone live animals from the fossil record. My question is: why is like 97% of animal DNA junk? What's it used for? I imagine a Contact scenario where it proves to be an important message from God, like instructions on how to achieve instant orgasms.

What's really in your Happy Meal. And in a related article, corporate sponsorship sinks its tendrils into underfunded classrooms:

"Whether it's first graders learning to read or teenagers shopping for their first car, we can guarantee an introduction of your product and your company to these students in the traditional setting of the classroom," reads one chilling brochure for a Kids Power Marketing Conference.

96 percent of American children can identify Ronald McDonald.

 

number stumper

I love college radio. Yesterday on 89.7 KRUI there was this song whose vocalist was so incoherent and British that everything he said came out like:

AboisholamaggoshaLOI!
HabashaboggenaggaBOI!

Then there was a break in the song and they started sampling the venerable Texas Instruments Speak & Math, the less successful cousin of the Speak & Spell. You remember this, right? My formative years were suffused in its authoritative, masculine synth voice. Now that I think about it, the Speak & Math may have served as a sort of father figure for a while.

A short primer on the strange and unrelated genre of math rock.

Long, sad article on AIDS in Africa. The inexplicable thing is that a country like Zambia, where life expectancy is 37 and falling, is expected to cough up an annual 35 percent of its budget for debt repayments to the World Bank/IMF. Given the societal strictures discussed in the article it's not like there wouldn't be problems even with an increased health care budget, but honestly.

Now on to the Holy Land Experience.

 

caught from behind

I found another Anxiety Bug on the carpet last night. I don't know the actual name of the insect: it's some sort of black coleopteran with red marks that looks kind of like this one, but with longer antennae. I call them Anxiety Bugs because a bunch of them started infesting my door at the same time that I flipped out in October. I'd come home from class and there would be literally fifty of these bugs crawling around my door and nobody else's. I honestly wasn't sure if they were real for a while. Of course they got inside and I'd see them in the kitchen and bathroom and so on at two in the morning and it was just unsettling. I finally dispatched them with enough insecticide to kill a horse, and I know it's probably befouling the water supply as I type and I do feel bad about that, but honestly, these bugs were horrific. After the weather dropped below freezing they vanished and I hadn't seen any for about three months until last night. Hmm.

Anyway, for lack of any other explanation re: yesterday's missing eggs, I'm theorizing that the Anxiety Bugs took them to feed their larvae.

Astronomers suggest a way to shift Earth's orbit, thus keeping the planet habitable for billions of years into the future as the sun expands, until the inevitable nova. Really, I'd like to believe that the species is going to last that long; but Bush's projected missile defense isn't helping matters. It'll be expensive, it's unlikely to work, and it's making Russia and China livid. Come on, folks; not even Republicans actually want to blow up the planet. Right?

Jon Pylypchuk aka Rudy Bust: here's a visual artist who intrigues me. I have a thing for nasty stick figures. He has an exhibition at New York's Petzel gallery: "in his fearless use of themes and materials, nothing is considered too trivial or pathetic."

 

ceci n'est pas britney

Britney Spears has her own guide to semiconductor physics. Also, the little darling apparently had one of those "is this mike on?" gaffes in Rio:

"Don't tell me they are just letting the audience just fucking stand out there like that...they told me they were gonna do a vamp. Oh shit...I thought they were gonna fucking vamp. This is retarded."

For those of you who remember Enamel's Adam Miller, he's got this whole slick site now at adam-miller.com. First I'd seen it, at least.

There are these eggs at large in my kitchen. I took them out of the fridge two days ago to fry them, except my kitchen is currently in the state where you have to wash stuff off before you can cook or eat anything, and while I was doing the requisite washing the eggs vanished. I really have no idea where they are, and it's been two days now.

TheSpark's Gender Test pegged me as a chick, but I was right in the middle of the continuum so it really could have gone either way. I'm okay with being a mental androgyne, though.

 

songs from a room

New, less brash background green; same great taste.

Yesterday's mystery ballad was, of course, "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert Service. Thanks to those who wrote in.

My four-track is starting to give out, I think. Track bouncing is dicey, so I had to do all kinds of auditory surgery I don't even want to talk about. The acoustic guitar gets kind of lost in the mix and the string part (sampled from the violin solo beginning the third movement of Smetana's "My Life" quartet) somehow accidentally created this accompanying xylophone-type sound, but I kind of like it so it stayed. My neighbors doubtless hate me for the noises at the end.

:: the withoutening stream :: mp3 (4159 kB download) :: lyric popup ::

 

hypoglycemia

So I finally got off my ass to research the giant point of light that appeared in the night sky in December; it's neither Mir nor Jupiter, but the International Space Station. They put giant solar panels on it. Sorry, this is probably really old news, but there were a lot of us who didn't know. NASA's got an applet showing you where it is right now. It moves kind of alarmingly quickly.

Called home last night and my mother was watching Celebrity Deathmatch. She gave me a running commentary. "Now the cast of Friends is on! Oops, there goes Monica's eyeball." The referee was TV's Judge Mills Lane, who (I just found out) was actually a Reno district judge for decades before taking the TV spot. I only just made the connection, but I saw him a few years back at some literacy celebration on the University of Nevada-Reno campus, where to great acclaim he read that one light-verse ballad set in the tundra, where the guy freezes to death and shouts with joy when they cremate him because he's finally warm. You know the one I'm talking about. What the hell is its name? Oh, and Mills Lane also officiated that fight where Mike Tyson bit the guy's ear off.

This is something about Judge Mills Lane I wrote a while back when I was drunk, because as a general rule I don't like TV sober.

...drinking Manhattans and watching Judge Mills Lane because I was eating dinner and I have to something while I eat and, well, that's all there was.

But naturally I think about Judge Mills Lane. It seems to be popular for two reasons. Firstly, it goes along with this whole reality TV kick. "The people are REAL. The cases are REAL," the announcer reminds us. As far as I can tell, reality TV is a backlash against the whole Beautiful People trend common in sitcoms and hourlong dramas. Aristotle basically defines comedy as poking fun at those lower than us, but its force is diluted if everyone on the box is inhumanly attractive: they're ethereal beings, which is important because they fill the empty space in our cultural mythology which used to be occupied by the spiritual or transcendental or whatever, but it makes it harder to mock them. They're deliberately flawless. Whereas on Judge Mills Lane, we see people warts and all: they bite, they fight. These are not attractive human beings. They appear on television only to fulfill the urge to denigrate others.

Which brings me to the second reason the show is popular: we don't identify with the plaintiffs or defendants. We're meant to identify with Judge Mills Lane himself, sitting there in his austere seat, blessed with an objective sight which allows him to dispatch case after case. The theme song has women singing:

He's America's judge
He knows right from wrong
He's America's judge
And we love Judge Mills Lane

Aside from its blanket appeal to whatever withered remnants of a patriotic sense we still retain, the song is interesting because of the "right from wrong" emphasis. The song suggests an objective sense of justice - fifty years of post-structuralist theory has steadily been attacking this notion, and the idea that it might still exist, and might still be accessible to a figure so down-to-earth as Judge Mills Lane, can't help but encourage. JML badgers the claimants ruthlessly; he yells at them, he cuts them off, and we cheer him all the way because a) we're meant to feel contempt for these people - they should be badgered, and b) JML gives the appearance of deciding cases on a common-sense, down-to-earth approach, which Joe/Jane America naturally identifies with, especially if (s)he feels that (s)he's been screwed by the legal system in the past. We're all rooting for JML because he obviously knows What's Right, and if we successfully identify with him, then our own subjective worldviews become equated with What's Right. Essentially, if JML functions the way he's supposed to, we can use him to justify our whole epistemology.

FIN.

 

el día del cerdo de la tierra

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, so six more weeks of winter. That bastard.

Today's A.Word.A.Day is "cancrine," a synonym for "palindromic" which ranks pretty high on the arcane-o-meter since it's not in my three-volume Merriam-Webster. They give "cancer," as in crab, for etymology; I'm guessing this refers to the way crabs can walk in either direction, which is pretty cute. Though I don't know if crabs really do that or if it's just folklore. I've never had the patience to do letter cancrines, but I was into word ones for a while. There were a couple cute ones:

Man is he who questions who he is, man.

Beware, drama major, cause Will Shakespeare will cause major drama. Beware!

I know the last word is kind of cheap in both of those, but interjections work out like that.

Maybe the flipside of the quake is that it will keep India and Pakistan from going to war again. Maybe. I'd like to think so.

Careful, Dubya. I don't care if it is Iraq; you try to destabilize foreign governments, you end up embarrassing yourself and Europe laughs at you. Again. Haven't we learned this by now?

 

rabbit rabbit

Last night, in my sleep, I visit a supermarket with my mother, only in addition to the usual supermarket subdivisions (bakery, pharmacy, etc.) there's a psychiatry clinic. My mother insists on making me an appointment.

"I just came here to buy shaving cream," I say.

The psychiatrist is Richard D. James aka Aphex Twin. The secret is that when he's not being a musician he actually looks like a middle-aged white guy. He says he's looking forward to working with me and shows me a filmstrip, in French, about why dead baby jokes are morally wrong.

Fox refuses to run ads for the spermicide Encare, apparently on moral grounds. The network will accept contraceptive ads, it turns out, only if the product's stated main purpose is disease protection. This from the people who put on "Temptation Island"? What the fuck?

Congo's new president makes noises about democracy and peace, but I'm not too impressed even if Colin Powell is. The elder Kabila was a thug, and at this point Congo's more of a blast zone than a country. Here's a decent primer on central Africa's three-year-old war involving seven nations, which gets next to no coverage except when Ebola breaks out.

A pretty funny slam of The God Part of the Brain, a new book that attempts to explain religion through evolutionary biology. The reviewer compares its bizarre hubris to "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millenium General Assembly" (the giant collage sculpture by the janitor, not the Denis Johnson poems). They also mention Mark Salzman's Lying Awake, which has gotten enough positive press by now that I really need to check it out.

MyCereal.com. No!

 

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