<= 2002.04

2002.06 =>

[MAY 2002.]

wrack and ruin

Wednesday afternoon, outside Battle Mountain NV, I totaled my car.

It was brave.

I'm now at the family home in Reno, unhurt except for a slightly sore neck, still a bit rattled, glad to be alive. When I got into the accident I had been driving by myself for ten or eleven hours—I left Cheyenne at seven that morning—and at some point the hypnosis of the road took over. The road curved, I failed to curve with it, and my left tire slipped off the shoulder. I jerked the wheel hard to the right and went into a skid, completely out of control, traveling at 80 mph. Fortunately no other cars were nearby. I wasn't thinking "I am going to die" or anything as coherent as that; the best I could muster was "This is a skid. I am in a skid." That word was sufficiently terrifying on its own. I was trying to remember the driver's-ed maxim about whether you turn into or away from a skid, but it didn't really matter; after a couple of seconds I was so out of control that I had turned completely around and went off the right shoulder of the road, going backward. The passenger window exploded (I learned later that it shattered upon hitting a reflector post) and then a mass of dirt flew up and obscured everything. I was still moving far too fast, sliding backward through the dirt, my foot pressing the brake. I didn't appear to be slowing down. "This is real," I told myself. It seemed very important to understand that it was real because the sense of completely losing control was identical to that found in nightmares, and it would have been incredibly easy to mistake the entire situation, all six or seven seconds that had elapsed so far, as the panicked final moments of dream that immediately precede the instant where you sit upright in bed, terrified, and only after a few seconds recover your identity, the memory of your life, the understanding that the burst of mortal terror was manufactured entirely in your mind.

After sliding backward three or four hundred feet, I hit a post that was holding up a road sign and stopped. By then I was only moving at 20 mph or so; my head slammed back into the headrest (hence the sore neck) but there was no serious impact involving my body. The dust was starting to settle around me. I got my seatbelt off and stepped out of the car, shaking, just as an approaching red sedan slowed and pulled onto the shoulder of the road.

"I'm fine," I called. It seemed very important that the people in the sedan not be under any misapprehension. "It was just me in the car. I'm fine."

The sedan held a middle-aged man and his teenage daughter. Once we had established that I really was fine, I leaned back against my car and explained the mechanics of the accident to him. We looked over the car; the trunk and passenger door were dented, and the right rear tire had been knocked off its rim. By then cars from the Lander County Sheriff's Department were on their way, sirens flashing.

"I think your engine is still running," said the man in the sedan. His daughter looked at me, then at the car, but I couldn't tell what she was thinking. I turned off the engine and spent a few minutes talking to the sheriff's department. I showed them my license and registration. I filled out a clipboard with relevant information (my narrative of the accident was bad, full of misplaced modifiers, but I couldn't summon the concentration to fix it). The paramedics came and poked my neck and shoulders to make sure nothing had been damaged, then had me sign a release form. A bunch of eight-year-olds appeared in the distance, on the other side of the fence, and started to run toward me. Apparently there was an elementary school on the other side of the fence.

"Wow," the eight-year-olds said when they saw the car. One of them asked, "You okay, mister?"

"Fine," I said. "Yes. Fine. Hi, kids."

A large, blond, extremely polite man from the Nevada Highway Patrol showed up and walked back along the path that my Honda had carved into the dirt. He returned holding a stack of CDs and a teddy bear. "These yours?" he asked.

"You found the CDs and the teddy bear," I said. There was nothing else to say. "Bless you."

I was cited for "failure to maintain lane" (pretty lenient, all things considered) and fined $55. As the highway patrolman pointed out, I was incredibly lucky for any number of reasons: that dirt had been piled beside the road, so that I didn't hit the fence and plow into the school; that I hit the post going backward, so that I slammed into the headrest rather than the steering wheel; that my car was so loaded down with possessions, as otherwise it probably would have rolled. A couple of teenagers from the town's emergency response team dropped by to see if everything was all right. They were in training to be firefighters, so we chatted about firefighting for a while, then they asked me if a tow truck was coming.

"Yes," I said. "That's what the highway patrol told me."

"Is it Atlas Towing?" one of the teenagers asked me.

"I think so."

"Probably Bill driving it," one said to the other. "Isn't Bill out today?"

The tow truck arrived shortly thereafter, driven by Bill, and the three of them jacked up the Honda and got the loose tire back on its rim. I had come to a stop barely fifty feet from the highway exit, so I got back in the car and made a short, wary drive to the Super 8 Motel. Maybe two thousand souls call Battle Mountain home, and within a couple of hours everyone in town seemed to know me as the college kid who'd had an accident. I called my parents and gave them the news, then went to the local grocery store and bought some peanut butter and jelly. The man from the sedan was in line behind me.

"Staying in town tonight, are you?" he asked.

"You need to get some sleep," the lady at the motel's front desk told me. "And call your mother. She needs to get hold of you."

The next morning I drove to Winnemucca, where I met my family, and we caravaned back to Reno. The engine and assorted parts that make the car go are still in working order, but the trunk won't close and most of the doors won't open. Amazingly, almost none of my possessions were damaged. Even the martini glasses in the trunk survived intact. One of the bodhisattva statues lost an arm, but bodhisattvas like Krazy Glue, and the same goes for the amphora I had been keeping spare change in. The CDs that flew out the window are not in great shape either, but everything else is fine. The guitars didn't even go out of tune.

I suppose I'll need to find another car at some point, and there will be insurance premiums to deal with and so on, but this is all right. I am home and alive, and there has been an Event to mark the end of my student days. I have a few days to sit around and pet the cats and breathe.

 

a horse with no name

The day has come: Radio Free Iowa is packing up its antenna and moving away. This is the last one.

I'm not really sure what's going to happen next. I thought maybe I would post from motels, but I can't get a free dialup that works with my OS and has nationwide coverage, so nothing for a few days at least. I will post things this summer, but because I'm moving around so much they may not be in orthodox weblog format. They probably won't be quite as frequent, anyway.

At the very least, there will be: a heads up from Reno, a travelogue from Italy/United Kingdom somewhat later, and other entertaining things in July, though I don't yet know what they will be. Nor do I know what will happen to this site once I settle in Tucson (29 July)—there are good things about refusing to take office jobs, but I won't be able to post on any company's time. It depends on how much time of my own remains after writing and freelance work. How much I need to keep my head above water.

I cannot thank my readers enough.

I cannot thank my readers enough. You all have given me a reason to do this.

Watch this space.

 

everything must go!

This is the idea.

Tuesday: Iowa City IA --> Cheyenne WY (742 miles). This will be the long haul. Most of it is through Nebraska, which sucks (ask Jen), but that's the price we pay to get out of the Midwest as rapidly as possible.

Wednesday: Cheyenne WY --> Salt Lake City UT (439 miles), or, if we're feeling bold and the Honda is okay with mountains, maybe Cheyenne WY --> Elko NV (668 miles).

Thursday: Salt Lake City UT --> Reno NV (518 miles) or Elko NV --> Reno NV (290 miles), as the case may be. Lie on parents' air-conditioned couch. Drink Gatorade.

This trip takes place entirely on Interstate 80.

 

about cactus monsters

Signs: all of the U-Hauls driving around Iowa City suddenly have saguaros on them. And Pravda is interested too.

Impossibly huge cactuses are in harmony with boundless deserted spaces of Arizona. In these lands, cactus is a symbol of local cities, often presented in T-shirts. In some photographs it could be seen how a huge cactus broke through a car. It is obvious that such a giantism could be caused not only by the 300-day-a-year sunshine. The issue of mutation was raised by Moscow State Darvin Museum, where The Cristate and Monstrous exhibition was opened, RIA ‘Novosti’ reports. In the exhibition, there are no round, accurate small cactuses old women like so much, here you could see only real monsters.

Here is the poster they were carrying through Berlin during the Bush visit: Hitler in front of the burning Reichstag and Bush in front of the Twin Towers. Can't really make out the text and anyway it's in German, but one imagines something similar to Hitler's infuriated oration at the fire: "There will be no mercy now. Anyone who stands in our way will be cut down. The German people will not tolerate leniency. Every Communist official will be shot where he is found. Everybody in league with the Communists must be arrested. There will also no longer be leniency for social democrats."

L'Effroyable Imposture (The Horrifying Fraud) has been a runaway bestseller in France. It claims that the September attacks were carried out by the American government and military as an excuse to launch war on the Muslim world.

The terminally serious Meyssan, 44, launched the book on one of France's flashiest, trashiest talk shows, and he followed up with a string of controversy-churning TV appearances that further piqued public curiosity. The print press denounced the volume in turn—Libération retitled it The Horrible Swindle—but that too helped fuel purchases. The book now has the distinction of breaking the French publishing record for first-month sales previously held by Madonna's Sex.

 

<i>i</i>

I only just got around to opening that Workshop newsletter they send around sometimes, and there's something rather good: Susan interviewed Robert Hass back in March.

S.M.: It seems to me that another one of the places you're rooted in is Haiku. Could you speak a little about your attraction to that form?

R.H.: That's another interesting part of the thing you were saying about going either through the self or the negation of the self, because though there's an imaginary perceiver in every haiku, it's axiomatic that they're not first person lyrical poems. That is, a Japanese reader coming to them doesn't necessarily expect a poem by Basho to have as its point of view, Basho. It's part of the reading of the poem to discover "Oh, this must be a woodsman, or this must be a woman getting water from the well who's noticing the fish in the well." If you read through the history of haiku interpretations, and there are a couple of English books of commentary, you find that people are all over the place about it, including about who the speaker is. So there's that formal level at which the I in the poem (it would be very unusual in a poem that the first person pronoun would be used in the first place) would signal the very strong presence of the I position but not necessarily the autobiographical poet's I. At the core of Buddhist thought, and it's really the antithesis of a certain kind of Christianity, there's nobody there. There is no self to have that experience, in more or less the way Stevens came to it at the end of "The Snow Man." "Nothing himself beholds / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is...." That "nothing himself" gesture, which is a gesture toward panic and the void in the European imagination, is a gesture toward releasing the soul from the self in the Asian tradition.

S.M.: And not a gesture that would necessarily engender panic?

R.H.: No. If one actually experienced it, not the literary experience of it, it might well engender panic and no serious writing in that tradition pretends that non-attachment is easy. The annoying feeling of moral purity that certain Zen students, American Zen students, give off has to do with having given up the self without a struggle. You sense in the writing of people who have actually been there that of course it's terrifying, and it would be terrifying to all these postmodernists to be stripped of their wallets and driver's licenses, which prove they're a person with an address. To spiritually let go of that, as a matter of fact, is either going to be anguishing or scary. In the great poets of that tradition, like Tu Fu and Basho, you can point to places where even the anguished person who's letting go of that stuff knows that it's not the person that's letting go. There's one step back from that. Basho has a poem that goes, "Teeth sensitive to the grit of sand in lettuce, I'm getting old." Somebody is looking at that guy saying that, something is looking at that guy and letting it go. Toward the end of his life, Basho felt that he should give up poetry and turn toward spiritual things, but he couldn't do it. His last poem, written when he was sick and on the road, goes "As for dream, it wanders the withered fields." Dream here stands for the unconscious, the imagination hunting out meaning, pleasure, what's sexy and transforming at the same time, whatever that voice is in you that stirs up the poem. I'm told "wander" in the Japanese doesn't translate as "wanders aimlessly," but more as "roams." There's a sense of purpose but a shrug in it too. It's the nature of what we are to be out hungrily doing that, though there's something in us that isn't that, that notices that. There's another version of this in Surrealism, of letting accident and collage do a similar kind of work with detachment. The connection between language and the self is very powerful, so there's a natural connection between getting rid of the self and getting rid of language, which is a problem for poetry. Beckett is the great teacher of this riddle. If you really want to get rid of the self, why do you keep saying so? As in, if the aim of my poetry is to purge itself of referentiality, a good way to do that would be to shut up. Then we could give MFAs in silence.

 

wayfaring

Packed: fiction and poetry, philosophy and criticism, history and sociology, some physics; four-track mixer and attendant tape collection; computer wires & cables; ties, belts, lots of obscure shirts and sweaters that I rarely wear.

To pack: encyclopedias, art books, remaining science books; drafts & manuscripts of work in progress; stereo, CDs, vinyl; kitchenware; musical instruments, art supplies; scanner/printer/fax; typewriter; wall decorations, knickknacks; the clothes I do wear; the sundries in my closet.

To donate or sell or recycle: superfluous books, CDs, shirts; back issues of the New Yorker; larger items mentioned yesterday.

Goodbyes are awful.

 

distance has no way

For sale, cheap: two large bookcases, one TV stand/stereo cart on wheels, one large black executive chair that turns you into a Real Writer when you sit in it, one smallish endtable with a lower shelf good for storing magazines, one small file cabinet, one microwave oven.

If you have not seen Chelsey's site, it is full of goodies including Iowa shirts and this year's prom pictures.

The Michener fellowships may be announced at any point. We wait.

My family in Nevada is busy.

 

isle of anhedonia

Josh and Heidi are married. We wish them well.

Yesterday a four-hour drive back to Iowa City from Chicago, along Interstate 80, continued the westward Candlemas funeral procession. After returning home I spent a long time lying on the carpet and waiting to vomit. It was nerves, I think, but the attacks haven't been this bad in some time. Eventually I was able to get up and eat some soup and crackers.

Should we envision entire worlds trapped and nearing annihilation by one of those spectacular cosmic blasts? Will the screen savers that blip with life then begin flatlining as our telescopes pick up the gamma ray burst that snuffed it all out? Will the screen savers still be cute then?

At a different time, with a different cocktail of neurotransmitters, I would be able to cry at that. I can't just now. I know: it has been so much worse than this. But there's nothing like a wedding to remind you that beneath the affected cynicism we are all such naked romantics, that the things we desire are so simple and small, so impossible—this world is compromised, mediated, ersatz—even to speak of absolutes is the sign of the idiot—I will never, never wash this rust from my hands—

 

the music issue

My God but we need a Zoloft clock for the Workshop building, pronto.

No One Will Ever Love You (mp3, 1.73 mB) is my favorite of the 69 Love Songs—more cleverly constructed than the starkness of its title would suggest. I'm not actually that upset, but a pall of melancholy has coalesced over everything here. We all have our private sadnesses, but beyond that everything is coming to an end, even for those who aren't leaving Iowa right away. To stay and to go are both upsetting, in their own ways.

I. Loneliness.
II. Always, always, always fighting to keep your head above water.

I would like to think that those two, which right now seem like defining factors, might come to an end someday. I suppose that other problems would simply rise up, Loch-Ness-monster-like, to replace them.

The Hives, Veni Vidi Vicious. Okay, we all read the New Yorker article about these guys and the Strokes and the White Stripes, so that now all three bands must forever be mentioned in the same breath. (It's a horrid sign of how dowdy and unhip we've become that this is where we're getting our rock criticism.) The Hives don't have the idiosyncratic personality that I love about the White Stripes—no songs assembled from Citizen Kane lines, no Dutch high-modernist sculpture onstage—but they do turn out entirely reasonable garage punk. I'm going to miss the current tour as a result of flying all over Creation, which is a shame since they must put on a hell of a live show. If you can measure the energy level of a recording by how good it sounds when you're doing the dishes, then this one is off the scale. Especially that song about the metric system, hoo.

Tom Waits, Alice. Reliable as ever. When this man puts out an album, you know what you're getting. Out of his recent work it's the closest to Frank's Wild Years, but with less of a barroom feel. Lots of moody balladry with piano, horns, bass, some light drumming and the signature rough texture (instruments and voice both) that's the auditory equivalent of film grain. "Did you hear the news about Edward? / On the back of his head / He had another face / Was it a woman's face / Or a young girl / They said to remove it would kill him." And who knows what's going on with "Kommienezuspadt": is that German he's singing, or just some kind of idiosyncratic growling?

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Yes and yes again; it deserves all the press it's been getting, and then some. It's still acoustic and tuneful, but the song structures are no longer assembled in the usual ways and layers upon layers of subtle instrumentation underlie the melodies. Radiohead is the obvious point of reference, but this is less frightening than Radiohead's recent work, largely because of a smattering of well-chosen lines that are just epigrammatic enough to serve as refrains: "Jesus don't cry—you can rely on me honey." "Distance has no way of making love understandable." And the least affected, most moving love lyric I've heard in some time: "I've got reservations about so many things—but not about you." The record is saying things about America, at a time when I wasn't sure that such statements were still possible. More listening is required before I can tell you just what they are.

Metameat will be static for a few days because I have this wedding in Chicago to attend. Be back, say, Tuesday the 21st.

 

the dance of death

Here.

 

in sickness and in health

Strapped to the wheel, the gears keep grinding. In other news:

Geegaw vive de nuevo.

Paul Burkhardt calls our attention to "Three Tales," the new Steve Reich/Beryl Korot orchestra/video piece (The Hindenburg! The bomb! It's so cheerful!), and wonders whether symphonies might start using this as a marketing gimmick—the Star Wars theme synched with relevant images, or whatever. I suppose it depends on the symphony. The Boston Pops would be all over that like white on rice.

The truly weird thing about this link (from Justin) is that Springsteen would probably make an entirely reasonable candidate. He'd be better than Ventura, at any rate.

Everyone (* * *) is playing the first/last line game, I have to play too. Juliet already mentioned my absolute favorite beginning (Cien Años de Soledad) and ending (Ulysses), but Gravity's Rainbow is also a strong contender on both ends.

A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.

[...]

Now everybody—

 

the best days

In preparation for a mobile existence, I have got the laptop up and running again. My desktop is free to a good home. It's perfectly functional, if a little slow, and its slowness is due to the ancient Windows installation rather than any inherent hardware problem. If someone felt like wiping the OS and starting over, it would be a useful little fellow.

Also, while going through my pile of unnecessary CDs that need to be sold at the Record Collector (Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, The Man Who) I happened upon the driver software for the digital camera, which had been AWOL for weeks. So here are new photos, all recent shots of Workshop people.

Bright Ideas (Peyton)
Down the Stairs, Darkly (Peyton)
High Society (Justin, Matt)
Lawnmower Men (Marlowe, McColough)
Lux et Veritas (Vu, Emmons)
The Nature of Things (Peyton, Fred)
No Heroes (Marlowe)
Rhythm (Matt, Aimee)
Take It Like a Man (Marlowe, Vu)
The Dialectic (Fred)
The Gaze (Peyton)
Vision of Hamster (Fred)

And Billy Corgan the gay pirate penguin has an exciting night out in Iowa City.

Billy's Night Out (1)
Billy's Night Out (2)
Billy's Night Out (3)
Billy's Night Out (4)

 

a jordanian helicopter

Or what? You'll release the dogs, or the bees, or the dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you?

Scientists have found that it takes less than two hours to use sugar-water rewards to condition a hive of honeybees to eschew flowers and instead hunt for 2,4-dinitrotoluene, or DNT, a residue in TNT and other explosives, in concentrations as tiny as a few thousandths of a part per trillion.

Nice work, boys. Here's some sugar water.

We graduated yesterday, of course, and Peyton is to be commended for setting up the decor (streamers, balloons, inflatable monkey) and for getting everyone settled in the same room at the same time, which is a lot like herding cats. Frank handed out diplomas and made some vaguely smug comments about how he gets to stay around here because he has tenure, whereas we will be ejected into the world. Later, at the farmhouse, Justin got him to play an old Casio keyboard and I sat in for a few rounds of blues in F and "My Funny Valentine," which is the only jazz standard I know.

And I heart the cyclic universe, and God willing, they'll eventually get a coherent model put together so I can sleep better at night. The previous end of the universe (22 Jun 01) was dark and endless and depressed me beyond belief.

 

subject 85a

Inflicted by self. Inflicted by others.
Household implements the most likely method.
Regular communication by mail with the outside.
Choose one of the following options.
A parasitic growth has taken root.
Rubber mouthgrip (prevents biting of tongue).
Nausea, headache or confusion, irritability of the eyes.
Surgical removal of the affected part.
Come back. I haven't said everything.
Serrated forceps (grips subcutaneous fat).
Do you believe that you deserve this?
Kill it. Kill it.

 

lies, damn lies, and statistics

Rain makes the crops grow and protects the family farmer from drought. I am trying to be happy for him.

Prom: dance, drink, you know. About a year ago I came to the perhaps obvious conclusion that all dancing is ironic, at least in the social milieux I frequent. Therefore I no longer have to sit in the corner and scowl at the vanity of the world; instead I can release my inner gay man and shake my ass with the best of them, at least until closing time.

Other patterns of behavior are more resistant to change. I haven't been able to link to much lately; I'm deep in the pit of myself and find it hard to care about who won the PEN award or whatever. How are things up there? That corpse you planted last year in your garden, has it begun to sprout?

 

the will of its inquisitor

One must not let the First Noble Truth obscure the Third, and I feel it would be far too dangerous to admit that the Heart's only possible trajectory is from Pleasure to Excuse to Anodyne (though it rings true, doesn't it?), that the best we could hope for is to die wanting nothing—but I am perverse, and the weeping philosopher is ingrained in me so deeply that I may never get him out.

At one time everything seemed absolute; sadness was epic, inherently unbearable. But no. Time dulls its edge, and you start to realize that sadness, like gravity, is actually woven into the fabric of spacetime, that so long as you regulate your dose and allow yourself only a small amount (arbitrarily small, an epsilon) at any given moment (dx/dt), over time you can ingest a staggering amount and still walk on.

At this point I should talk about last night's Guided by Voices show, which certainly was fun. I had no idea that they were such a Midwestern bar band when playing live, but there was Bob Pollard onstage without an instrument so that at any break in the song, no matter how short, he could behave like the world's most unlikely rock star—swig his beer, get someone in the audience to light his cigarette, twirl his microphone on its cord, pump his fist in the air. I haven't been to a show this raw and this enjoyable in a long time. Crank the power chords! Pass the whiskey! Who's more drunk, the audience or the band? Who cares? It's rock and roll! The set was long, and since the songs only lasted two minutes they must have had thirty or forty all told. For some reason, the one that really got the crowd going was "Cut-Out Witch," and after that it was all over. Of course they played "I am a Scientist." The closer was a loud, loud cover of the Who's "Baba O'Riley," of all things.

These cover recordings I'm posting are from maybe a month ago, when I had some spare time. There are first albums—and Elvis Costello's My Aim is True is one of these—that get their greatness from their remarkable fidelity to the emotions of adolescence, coupled with the sort of fluency that every adolescent wants: an intelligent way to express the id. Mystery Dance (mp3, 1.86 mB) hits it right on.

 

meaningless is a good thing

Again: I am young, and I don't know a damn thing. I'm good with objects—I can tell you all about objects—but I still don't understand the first thing about people.

I liked the Replacements cover idea, but I ended up recording this: Elvis Presley and America (mp3, 5.1 mB). So far as I know, they wrote this song on the spot. Usually the results of such improvised "compositions" from rock bands are insufferable, but 1984 was one of the years in which U2 could do no wrong. They possessed such a capacity for spinning emotional color out of two chords (occasionally adding a third for spice) that Bono didn't need to have any idea what he was singing about. It just turned the song into something more abstract—a piece that seems narrative, and has the sort of soaring climaxes that one would expect from narrative, but doesn't actually do anything with its semantic content. It's language poetry with a delay pedal.

 

a rare rare rare aerie

Sometimes I think that if I ever start a band again I should just not shave and stand onstage in a dirty T-shirt and play nothing except covers of really old Replacements songs, from the era before they figured out things like a steady beat. "Tape's rolling." "Okay, I'm-in-love-with-the-girl-who-works-at-the-store-where-I'm-nothing-but-a-customer!"

The life of the small-town idle aesthete has much to recommend it. I can drive out to Coralville in the middle of the day to buy new ties for upcoming events (black for the wedding, silver for the prom), and when a heartstoppingly lovely Baroque concerto comes on halfway through the drive I can pull into the mall parking lot and sit there for twenty minutes, heart bubbling, waving at the steering wheel in 3/4 time, until the piece ends and the announcer comes on to give the composer and title (Franceso Geminiani, Concerto Grosso in D Minor). And when I get home and discover that Geminiani wrote several concerti in D minor I can call up the nice people at the radio station and get the exact opus number from them (Op.5, No.12, aka the "Follia.") Fertility dance, ha!

Here is a splenetic article from The Spectator that roundly attacks anti-American Europhiles on both sides of the pond. I'm not sure how much of this I agree with (welfare causes terrorism?). But I had no idea that (if the article's stats are reliable) one is six times more likely to be mugged in London than in New York.

For Goran Persson, the Prime Minister of Sweden, the point of the EU is that it can be a counterbalance, a 'moderating' influence on those wacky Americans. But, for a moderating influence, it's remarkably immoderate. If you look at that first round of French presidential voting, between Le Pen, the guy who broke away from Le Pen, the Trot, the other Trot and the rest of the cranks, the zany fringe candidates drew about 45 per cent of the vote. No wonder that big Chirac landslide is looking wobblier by the hour. Suppose Pat Buchanan, never mind David Duke, got Jorg Haider's 29 per cent, or Le Pen's 17 per cent, or the Danish People's party's 12 per cent. Imagine the editorials you'd get from the Continent. You know what Pat got in the 2000 presidential election? 0.42 per cent. Yet the European assumption is always that every American politician is beholden to a vast herd of snarling, knuckle-dragging Calibans: thus, Guantanamo, as the Yorkshire Post saw it, 'must be some sort of crude appeal to redneck, hillbilly America whose voters have to be kept on board'. So Olivier Duhamel, a socialist MEP, says the problem with French politics is that 'we've gone back to a degenerate democracy of the kind you find in the United States, Austria or Italy.' Au contraire, the very real 'destabilising violence in the wings' is distinctively European. By constraining 'respectable' politics to an ever narrower spectrum—the left-of-right-of-left-of-centre Jospin versus the right-of-left-of-right-of-left-of-centre Chirac—the Euro-elites freed up their electorates to frolic on wilder shores, like M. Le Pen's National Front. In the land of the bland, the one-eyed man is king.

 

it has no color of its own

—but it can make you see rainbows.

The FBI tracks Einstein's death ray by monitoring his garbage.

The comments box has likened me to Edna Pontellier, and this has finally motivated me to take The Awakening off the shelf where it has sat untouched for something over a year. I'm about halfway through it now and, yes, very into it.

There were strange, rare odors abroad—a tangle of the sea smell and of weeds and damp, new-plowed earth, mingled with the heady perfume of a field of white blossoms somewhere near. But the night sat lightly upon the sea and the land. There was no weight of darkness; there were no shadows. The white light of the moon had fallen upon the world like the mystery and the softness of sleep.

Most of them walked into the water as though into a native element. The sea was quiet now, and spread lazily in broad billows that melted into one another and did not break except on the beach in little foamy crests that coiled back like slow, white serpents.

Having grown up without bodies of water, I am now utterly fascinated by them. The lake at Stanford was a totemic place for me, especially at night—you could pilot rafts out into the blackness. Here the river fulfills a similar function. Behind my house a gently arcing bridge crosses it, and when stuck on a story I like to stand at its midpoint, facing the wind. There is also the arboretum along the shore, verdant and secluded.

 

roll around heaven

Marlowe explains about the Times:

The NYT has its own phonebook-size style manual which permits such things. They're fully aware that they're fucking the apostrophes in dates up, they just think it's their prerogative as the NYT. They also refuse the journalistic convention of calling people by last name once mentioned, and insist on calling people Mr. Kerschen, or Mr. Fancypants, as the case may be. Humpty Dumpty from Alice in Wonderland is their Chief Copy Editor.

Spiderman = perfectly reasonable superhero movie, except for some excruciating romance scenes that in time will stand as one of the great shames of Western civilization. The webslinging shots were vertiginous as you please, and Willem Dafoe obviously had far too much fun being the Goblin.

Too much going on at the moment to write further, but I would like to state for the record that a) I feel incredibly young, just now, and b) the weather has conspired to aid me. It's one long idyll in the sunshine.

 

voodoo

So it turned out that the Wild Turkey we bought for the mint juleps was actually 101 proof, and that explains a few things. I could not find a decent derby hat anywhere, so I settled for the straw hat and looked vaguely Amish and drew sideways glances from people in the Coralville park.

At this point it seems safe to say that the Hells Angels and suchlike biker gangs are no longer riding Kesey's magic bus.

In 1996, two imaginative Bandidos attacked a Hells Angels clubhouse in Denmark with rocket-propelled grenades stolen from the Swedish Army. A Bandidos leader was injured when he received a grenade under his bed in return.

The Hells Angels have a special hatred for the Mongols, and relations have grown steadily worse over the past year. The Mongols were founded in the early 70's in East Los Angeles, a primarily Chicano gang known for its brashness and for recruiting men from street gangs and prisons.

From the beginning, the Mongols rubbed the Angels' noses in dirt. They drove around the streets of Los Angeles in the Hells Angels colors, red and white. Two men died in the fighting that resulted. In the late 80's there was open war in San Diego, said Mr. Mathews, the Mongols' lawyer, with shootings, stabbings and homicide.

And the awful thing is that amid the reports of death, what stays with me is that even the New York Times has forgotten where you put the apostrophes in the names of decades. I should just walk around in a T-shirt that says "pedant" in giant letters, except some people would probably think that meant "child molester."

 

tiptoe through the

From the comments box:

well sure, as long as he's not using humanity's emotional response as an ethical argument. there's clearly an ethical gap to cross from controlling rodents in this manner to wiring up humans in the same way.

And Paul Burkhardt brings up the disturbing possibility that the remote-controlled rats may acquire an Aibo-like droopy head syndrome.

Yesterday: Pella Tulip Time. This little Iowa town is the sort of deeply Dutch place where all of the landmarks are marked with irresistibly comic names. The eastern gate is "Oost Poort." There is a Kinderwinkel and a Giftwinkel and a Klompenwinkel. And then there was the old guy operating "Goliath," the giant automated calliope that played a rousing version of "The Blue Danube" off the sort of huge cardboard punch cards that ENIAC might have used to store math problems.

They have a big-ass windmill in Pella, and an organized tour of its various floors. The first floor looks much like the second floor, which looks much like the third floor, which looks much like the fourth floor. It was like one of those terrible acid experiences where although you think you are moving, you keep entering the same room. The only thing that changed was the different elderly people explaining aspects of the mill's construction—though we still managed to leave the mill knowing little more about its operation than we had when we entered. Fresh meal was being ground at the top, but you couldn't eat it because it was full of dirt. Marlowe was ready to put a stick through his eye.

The closing parade presented a bewildering array of floats, including this year's Tulip Queen and Tulip Court, the Tulip Queens of Yesteryear (average age: 60), the Tulip Queens of Tomorrow (average age: 6), a great neon sparkly unicorn float with the enigmatic legend "Happy" (we assumed it was the Big Gay Float), a giant Radio Flyer wagon with a giant teddy bear who waved a mechanical arm and had the soulless expression of the Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters, and a giant glowing yellow tulip that actually engulfed a entire carriage in its petals as it passed us. Marlowe couldn't get over the pagan symbolism in that last one, but there was pagan symbolism everywhere you looked. Before the parade, as a sort of coming-of-age rite, all the young man of the town dipped buckets into cisterns and emptied them over the road, and all the young women of the town scrubbed it clean.

Today: mint-julep white-suit Kentucky Derby party. Sadly, Buddha is out of the race.

 

immunity challenge

From my window I drop a nickel
By mistake. With
You I race down to get it
But I find there on
The street instead, a good friend,
X---- N------, who says to me
Kenneth do you have a minute?
And I say yes! I am in my twenties!
I have plenty of time! In you I marry,
In you I first go to France; I make my best friends
In you, and a few enemies. I
Write a lot and am living all the time
And thinking about living.

—Kenneth Koch, "To My Twenties"

 

but finishes badly

I. The New Iowa City Noodle Place.

I have already forgotten the name of this place. You know what I'm talking about, though—it's the new one on Dubuque a few storefronts down from Prairie Lights. Early returns are promising. I had the vegetarian bow-tie pasta, which was tossed around in an extremely light white-wine sauce and was quite tasty except for the broccoli, which I dislike. I gave the broccoli to Peyton, who had the spicy peanut sauce on the thin (egg? rice?) noodles accentuated with carrots. Also good. Aimee and Matt apparently didn't fare so well—Matt ordered the teriyaki bowl and got a few strips of beef and no vegetables to speak of on a rice bed. (At the counter, they told me they had underestimated the lunch rush and were running low on many ingredients.) But assuming they get their logistics figured out, they will make for a salutary addition to the Iowa City "culinary" scene. Whatever their name is. I'm about to leave, of course.

II. Remote Controlled Rats.

From Justin.

Aside from the technological challenges, he said there may be ethical concerns about turning animals into "intelligent robots" serving humans.

"It's one thing to see a rat running around like this, people don't get too emotional about that, but as soon as you get into dogs or work animals, people start getting real excited," he said.

The potential of using such implantable electrodes to control humans—which a Tulane University researcher tried during the 1960s, with unclear results—is something Chapin said he opposes so strongly he believes it should be illegal.

III. Walter Benjamin Anticipates the Weblog—Or Rather, Envisions Something Weblog-Like, but Way More Erudite Than Most Weblogs, Including This One.

At any rate, nothing was more characteristic of him in the thirties than the little notebooks with black covers which he always carried with him and in which he tirelessly entered in the form of quotations what daily living and reading netted him in the way of "pearls" and "coral." On occasion he read from them aloud, showed them around like items from a choice and precious collection. And in this collection, which by then was anything but whimsical, it was easy to find next to an obscure love poem from the eighteenth century the latest newspaper item, next to Goecking's "Der erste Schnee" a report from Vienna dated summer 1939, saying that the local gas company "had stopped supplying gas to Jews. The gas consumption of the Jewish population involved a loss for the gas company, since the biggest consumers were the ones who did not pay their bills. The Jews used the gas especially for committing suicide" (Briefe II, 820).

[...]

From the Goethe essay on, quotations are at the center of every work of Benjamin's. This very fact distinguishes his writings from scholarly works of all kinds in which it is the function of quotations to verify and document opinions, wherefore they can safely be relegated to the Notes. This is out of the question in Benjamin. When he was working on his study of German tragedy, he boasted of a collection of "over 600 quotations very systematically and clearly arranged" (Briefe I, 339); like the later notebooks, this collection was not an accumulation of excerpts intended to facilitate the writing of the study but constituted the main work, with the writing as something secondary. The main work consisted in tearing the fragments out of their context and arranging them afresh in such a way that they illustrated one another and were able to prove their raison d'être in a free-floating state, as it were. It definitely was a sort of surrealistic montage. Benjamin's ideal of producing a work consisting entirely of quotations, one that was mounted so masterfully that it could dispense with any accompanying text, may strike one as whimsical in the extreme and self-destructive to boot, but it was not, any more than were the contemporaneous surrealistic experiments which arose from similar impulses. To the extent that an accompanying text by the author proved unavoidable, it was a matter of fashioning it in such a way as to preserve "the intention of such investigations," namely, "to plumb the depths of language and thought... by drilling rather than excavating" (Briefe I, 329), so as not to ruin everything with explanations that seek to provide a causal or systematic connection.

—Hannah Arendt, introduction to Illuminations

 

up the pole

I knew a father named Yamos who was landlord of the bear gardens at Southwark. Yamos was known to be a principled man and never, never, never ate any of his children no matter how dire the state of his purse. Yet the children, one by one, disappeared.

—Barthelme, "A Manual for Sons"

 

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