<= 2002.08

2002.10 =>

[SEPTEMBER 2002.]

bucko

So a bunch of Irish folk are taking another shot at a Ulysses film. I sure hope it's better than Nora was. They have some production drawings here, including a very naughty Molly.

The comment box has vomited up an excellent pirate glossary.

Me—A piratical way to say "my."
Rope's end—another term for flogging. "Ye'll meet the rope's end for that, me bucko!"
Shiver me timbers!—An expression of surprise or strong emotion.

Apparently September 19 really was National Talk Like a Pirate Day. They mentioned it on NPR, but I wasn't sure if they were serious. Oh well, next year.

 

old ironsides

Pharmacy school is doing things to my sister. The other night she came bounding in with the news that the "Friskies" brand food we feed the local cat is shaped like antibodies.

After Russia's disappointing show in the last Olympics, Putin commanded his nation to get fit. Now that they've gotten over the smoking ban in health clubs, 2002 Moscow is turning into 1982 Los Angeles.

"In Moscow, fashion means everything," said Sokolov, dressed in a suit and seated at a glass table equipped with an oxygen machine. "People like to be surrounded with others who look just like them. We are a fashionable place."

Also, while researching which materials are most popular for hospital floors, I ran across some marvelous found poetry in the form of Slavic hospital architecture:

On every floor there is a nurse information desk for total information again fully automated. The synthesis between the interior architectural project of arch. Bojana Hejistoyanova and arch. Beljan Belchev and the authentic creations of the sculptors Momchil Cvetkov and Marian Chankov provide a very effective result. The entire realization has been executed under the constant supervision of the architects... They support entirely the overall implication of a self-sufficient lifestyle and a desire for life. The pyramid at the base of the inner yard space is an element, which synthesizes the positive bio-energy. The sculpture going round between its transparent walls symbolizes by its spiral part DNA, fire and life. In the very sculpture has been built in the eternal calendar of the Mai. The relief pane on the last level is made of metal and represents a copy of the “Creation of Adam” by MIchaelangelo, thus pointing to the fact that in this hospital is given second life to the patients.

 

if you had an acoustic guitar

I sure am getting a lot of spam in Portuguese.

Last night I figured out how Song of Roland needs to end. It's an utter downer, as if the book up to this point has been anything else. Aesthetically, it's clearly the right ending—it "comes shut with a click, like a closing box," as Yeats said (or words to that effect). But Lord, I honestly didn't think my view of life was quite this bleak. The thing is that it pretty well articulates April's long post on the insufficiency of love (romantic, familial, what have you), which basically comes to:

I. Damaged people cannot properly love.
II. We're all damaged.
III. We need it anyway.

Toss in the characters dying of cancer left and right, and it's a regular pity party. I asked Marlowe if he thought that a miserable ending completely ruins a book's hope of success, and he replied, "No, Paul. It jacks up your street cred. Think Shakespeare. We're all going to die." I guess that is what King Lear reduces to, in a sense.

After that I happened to pick Sons and Lovers off the shelf, and it happened to fall open to what is obviously the right epigraph:

And he did not kiss her, for fear she should be cold and strange to him.

If you insist on causal logic, you could always say it did that because I've perused that death scene so many times, but all the same.

"I can smile about it now," says the comments box, "but at the time it was terrible—"

Also, we have all these new species of tiny octopuses (not "octopi," mind you, which is a false plural form, based on the inaccurate assumption that "octopus" is a Latin rather than a Greek word).

 

a very ass

I swear to God that even if I were a brain in a tank, with nothing to do all day but float while electrodes continually stimulated my pleasure center, I would still spend all my time fretting. Remember that this apartment complex has a heated pool which is ideal for midnight swims when no one is around; that today was spent revising the book in coffeehouses that are not Starbucks; that there is pineapple curry to be attempted tonight. The teleological view will just kill you, and is humiliating to boot.

 

soylent pynchon

The comments box declaims:

Mason & Dixon!! It's made of PEOPLE!!!

and this is quite possible. It certainly does weigh enough.

The Beastie Boys are being sued over that flute sample in "Pass the Mic."

Either way, "Pass the Mic" remains a Beastie Boys favorite, popping up in their remixes, their live performances and a recent DVD release. All of it infuriates Newton who also has to swallow the fact that his "Choir"—which he composed as an ode to the spiritual music that inspired him as a youngster—has also made a cameo in the puerile "Beavis & Butthead" television series thanks to the show's use of "Pass the Mic."

"This is a work that celebrates God's place in the African American struggle for freedom in this country," Newton said. "And, for me, this has become a nightmare."

Ever since Eric found the official site for Naqoyqatsi, he's been hounding me with director Godfrey Reggio's assertion that language no longer describes our world. For predictable reasons, I took umbrage at this and used the enclosed machinery to respond.

 

another man's poison

I have Keith to thank for the news that semen is an antidepressant.

In 1996, just after I turned 18, Stanford had me write a letter to my future self. I don't remember doing this at all, but they sent it back to me the other day. I had forgotten how much thought I used to devote to my own unhappiness, and the monitoring of that unhappiness—in the letter I give myself high marks because I haven't had a suicidal fit in months. The desire to be a writer saturates the whole thing, though I never come right out and say it—I guess that to admit this dream to anyone, even my future self, might have jinxed it. At the end, I give myself the benediction: "Here's hoping you don't fuck up."

Probably we've all played the game where you view your current life through the eyes of your previous self, and try to determine whether that self would approve. I think the naïve teenager drunk on his own misery would probably be amazed at how far I have come. But there is much farther to go.

 

the learnéd english dog

Sign at the local Starbucks: "BRRR! It's only 95 degrees! Slip on your mittens and try some apple cider!" I thought it was cute.

Started reading Mason & Dixon there. I wasn't sure how it would work out, but there's already a talking dog on page 20, so I have high hopes.

 

the new adventures of positron

Yeah, so there's this neck-and-neck Senate race in Minnesota, and yeah, there's a Green Party candidate whose tiny percentage of the vote might be enough to swing the election and possibly the balance of the whole Senate, given how close things are. One can email the Minnesota Green Party and ask him nicely to drop out. (Apparently the Democratic candidate, Paul Wellstone, is as progressive as they come—Winona LaDuke urged his endorsement.)

They made antihydrogren. And extremely vivid out-of-body experiences have been triggered by stimulating the right angular gyrus. Is it just me, or did we learn everything we know about the brain by giving electric shocks to epileptics?

I have been browsing interactive fiction here and there. So far Photopia is the standout; it's one of the only games with prose that wouldn't cause Frank Conroy to lose his lunch, and the premise and execution of the story are rather neat. There's even a bit of bona fide character development. The tradeoff seems to be that there's less of a game aspect to it; everything has to come in a certain order, and there's not too much variation in what you can do at any given point. This essay on the nature of interactive fiction by one of its better-known practitioners inveighs against puzzles for the sake of puzzles. More thought is required.

Yes, I'm still writing what I'm supposed to be writing—but Song of Roland has reached a stopping point until I get back from next week's research trip to Seattle, woo woo. Right now it's the fun game where you put stories in manila envelopes and put the manila envelopes in your mailbox. Everyone loves this game.

 

out of balance

Weird weather here—breezes and thick lumps of cloud. Apparently we're catching the tail end of a hurricane somewhere or other. And I just got hit by a repressed memory from one of the science books I read as a kid: there was an article explaining how the hydrogen (or thermonuclear) bomb actually contained a smaller atomic bomb, because the atomic bomb's energy was necessary to initiate the hydrogen bomb's fusion reaction. Illustrating this was a cartoon in which a large, anthropomorphic hydrogen bomb gazed lovingly at a smaller, female atomic bomb and said, "I'm nothing without you." Both bombs seemed quite happy.

"The longer we wait, the more deadly his regime becomes," the secretary said.

Three protesters, chanting "Inspections, not war!" briefly interrupted his testimony. A police officer escorted the women out of the hearing room.

"As I listened to those comments, it struck me what a wonderful thing free speech is," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans.

—Hopi prophecy, quoted in

Koyaanisqatsi (1983). I'm pretty late to the party on this, but it doesn't seem at all dated. Non-narrative cinema is tricky; it's awfully hard to dispense with plot and character without becoming boring and banal. Koyaanisqatsi manages to sidestep these limitations rather spectacularly, since its avowed purpose is to show the familiar and make it strange. The idea is that technology has become the very air we breathe, completely mediating our experience, and we no longer think about what it looks like. This film aims to show us through jarring techniques such as time-lapse photography, aerial views, and of course that Philip Glass music. Sped up fifty times, the New York subway system starts to look a lot like Hell; the same goes for the weird urban dance of pedestrians and cars and the Oscar Meyer wiener factory. The drawn-out slow-motion gazes of homeless people are terrifying, as is the anonymous withered hand reaching up from a hospital bed. There is a section on the technology of war, but it's not nearly as strident as it could have been—a few explosions are sufficient to make the point, and a single long shot of a mushroom cloud in the desert whose black smoke rises, curling on itself, until it truly begins to look like an awakened demon.

Powaqqatsi (1988), which depicts Third World societies rather than our own, is not nearly as good. In the attached interview, director Godfrey Reggio fends off charges that he was romanticizing poverty and oppression—he just wanted to show that there were other ways of life. The problem is that we don't know much about these other ways, so that instead of making the familiar strange, the film shows us images that are completely strange and doesn't bother to elaborate on them. A lot of the movie turns into a guessing game about what country we're currently in: Mexico? Syria? Oh, this must be Tibet. Well, there's some sort of ritual happening here. The format of the film doesn't allow for any explanation, so we get no more than a tourist view of these parts of the world—interesting images, whose significance we completely fail to comprehend. A handful of the shots are gorgeous, but many are surprisingly uninteresting, and the music doesn't help at all. Though Glass has done well with world music in the past, this time around he seems content to program some generic drumbeats and top them off with idiotically happy synthesizer lines. The effect is that of those multicultural IBM commercials from a few years back. Reggio's well-spoken interview convinced me that his intentions were sincere, though he gets points off for saying "co-equal" and referring to the number three as "the matrix of my deliberation." His format just doesn't do this particular subject matter any justice.

Naqoyqatsi comes out in a few weeks. The trailer makes it look like it'll be much closer to Koyaanisqatsi in spirit. Its avowed subject is war as a way of life.

 

the shade of swords

They're interviewing M.J. Akbar on NPR; they just asked him what he wouldn't be able to do as a Muslim in Pakistan. "Well, I wouldn't be able to vote freely," he says. "I also wouldn't be able to have a drink, which I can do as an Indian Muslim. A lot of people will be upset to hear this, but I am a believer, and I do believe that Allah is merciful, and so I ought to give him a reason to be merciful to me later on." He laughs. "You think I am being facetious, but no, I am serious."

The sage does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone; and I have fallen into the exact opposite. I have nothing but time and no time to do anything. Possibly this is because I have been sleeping too much. Possibly this is because I hate my book. It's ludicrous to discover you've tied your entire sense of self to a 341-kilobyte Microsoft Word file; even worse to make said file the litmus test for whether you will be able to live the only life that seems bearable, just because an earlier draft prompted someone to throw you some money. No, it's not very good. It's just a story, and a really sad story, and rather tedious in many parts. I don't know that the world needs it—but of course I'll keep at it. What else is there?

Well, there's the university police beat:

They noticed that two of the women were stumbling and one man was using a wall to keep balance, reports stated. The three students, all under 21 years old, had an odor of alcohol coming from them. “This is just the way I walk,” one student said after denying stumbling, reports stated.

The three students admitted to drinking alcohol. One female student repeatedly gave police a fake phone number. One of the fake numbers she gave had 12 digits, reports stated.

And Amber reports from the front lines of the Iowa City Public Library:

Middlesex SORT of kicks ass. I'm finding it a little loosely written. The New Yorker seems to edit the fuck out of their excerpts. Remember the one from Eggers' A Staggering Work...? It was yards better than the real book. They did the same with Mary Karr's Cherry (which I'm horribly embarrassed to admit I read, but the impulse was based solely on the New Yorker's endorsement), the excessive dross of which was somehow arranged, by the pen of a clever excerpt editor, into a minor symphony. They're propelling me to the library quite without just cause, the bastards.

 

song of ronald

From misterpants, a link too good not to pass on: the first-ever Ronald McDonald television commercials, starring Willard Scott. They're really fucked up—I think that's a Dixie cup tied to his nose.

He's Ronald McDonald
the hamburger-happy clown,
A McDonald's drive-in restaurant
is his favorite place in town.

Meanwhile, our latest project is up at piratepenguin.com.

 

no face

It always puts a bit of fear in you to see someone in their fifties still hopelessly searching for love, and it's even weirder when it's Billy Joel.

Since he sold his East Hampton mansion to Jerry Seinfeld, Joel has been living in a modest rented house nearby. But he tells me that he is trying to rent an apartment in Manhattan for the sole purpose of meeting women. ''I'm not going to meet anyone out here,'' he says. ''The happiest times in my life were when my relationships were going well—when I was in love with someone, and someone was loving me. But in my whole life, I haven't met the person I can sustain a relationship with yet. So I'm discontented about that. I'm angry with myself. I have regrets.''

Our conversation continues in this vein for most of the afternoon, and after a while I find myself in the peculiar position of trying to make Billy Joel feel better.

Kamala and Amala were discovered in a wolf lair by the Reverend J.A.L. Singh in 1920, and seem to be the inspiration for many stories of children raised by wolves. Amala died from dysentery after a year; Kamala survived several years longer and developed an idiosyncratic vocabulary of about thirty words that had little to do with English or Bengali.

Spirited Away (2001). This is the latest from Hayao Miyazaki, who previously brought us Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro, among many other animated films that we may never see, as they're impossible to find in the US. Nik somehow got hold of a Cantonese DVD with English subtitles and we watched that, as the film isn't due to hit theaters here for another week or two. Apparently there was this complicated lawsuit where Disney stole one of Miyazaki's plots for The Lion King, so now they're contractually obligated to distribute his films here, but they do a really half-assed job of it. At any rate, this one is wonderful—better than Mononoke. There are plenty of bits where you don't know whether to laugh or shiver, and a couple of moments that I found genuinely terrifying. I don't know that I've ever seen a better collection of oddball magical creatures, and the dragon is beyond beautiful. If it comes to your town, see it; if not, I have a VHS that I can lend to people via mail.

 

bookworld

If that New Yorker excerpt was any indication, Middlesex is going to kick ass.

Ian McEwan, Amsterdam. I was so giddy over Atonement that I immediately ran out and bought a couple of older McEwan novels, and this one is... mixed. It seems to take a few cues too many from McEwan's pal Martin Amis, whose work I dislike. There are flashes of the expansive sympathy and understanding that animate Atonement, but a lot of it is rather nasty, and that nastiness isn't helped by the contortions that the characters must undergo to fit the forced symmetry of the plot. Such symmetry is particularly glaring in a 190-page book with a large typeface; there just isn't enough room to pad it out and make it seem believable. The prose is unimpeachable, and his descriptions of composing music certainly kick the shit out of some similar descriptions I've been trying to write, but after a strong start the book falls into a peculiar lifelessness.

 

the budget dragon

With an eye to the Olympics, Beijing is taking down its ugly sculptures.

A fat mermaid and timid-looking tigers are among more than 100 ugly sculptures which are being pulled down in a bid to beautify Beijing. A study carried out by the authorities found that up to 40% of sculptures in the Chinese capital are substandard. Many were produced by amateurs in the early 1980s.

The Beijing Youth Daily reports that some will be replaced by pieces done by professional sculptors. A professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts told the paper that some sculptures of humans found in the streets were grossly disproportional, while a large number of animal sculptures looked dull and rigid. In one example, the head and legs of a boy appeared too large for the body, while in another, a gold-coated ox looked more like a lamb.

Public pressure has since prompted the removal of at least one street sculpture this year. The piece, called The Fat Mermaid, was placed on Jingsong Street during an upgrading exercise. It was immediately criticised for being disproportionate, plump and ugly. The local authorities agreed to remove it in June.

Salman Rushdie is looking kind of old and gaunt these days, and they say his new book is a mixed bag. I do like his admonition: "Beware the writer who sets himself or herself up as the voice of a nation. This includes nations of race, gender, sexual orientation, elective affinity. The New Behalfism demands uplift, accentuates the positive, offers stirring moral instruction. It abhors the tragic sense of life. Seeing literature as inescapably political, it substitutes political values for literary ones. It is the murderer of thought."

 

the northern range

Yesterday we drove up the mountain into the pine forests and hiked to the top of Lizard Rock. The bare white stone at the top of the peak stretches lengthwise for several hundred feet; from certain angles it is supposed to resemble a reclining lizard. We stopped on the crown of its head and sat and read for a time—Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (Eric's) and Tobias Wolff, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (mine). To our north was the tree-covered back range of the Catalinas, with the red and white needles of the radio towers rising from the peak of Mt. Lemmon. To the south was a deep green bowl of forest, across which the dark shadows of cumulus clouds crawled, then the lower front range screening off most of the Tucson basin. The east and south sides of the city, and just part of downtown, stretched far enough to be visible. Eric had some pastels and we drew pictures of supernatural creatures landing on the mountain; then we tore up plastic bags and tied them into a long string for a stick-and-paper kite—on the bare rock, with dropoffs of several hundred feet in all directions, the wind was nearly constant. Once we had attached a stick for a tail our kite flew surprisingly well, though it tended to go into a rapid clockwise spin. We stayed on the rock until sunset and got mildly sunburned, and our peace was tempered only by the knowledge that if something awful had happened, we would have no way of knowing.

Eric also told me about the hikes that Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir had taken together in Yosemite. I had no idea.

 

 

felicitaciones

Today I am 24 and we are going to make ice cream and cook the world's best curry. We also found a board game at Bookman's where you play the last surviving members of the human race. They have names like Captain Dionysus and Captain Eros, and apparently they restore the Earth by answering trivia questions or something. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the past year I:
visited New York City and the House on the Rock,
acquiesced to religion,
had a brief affair,
took up painting,
got that graduate degree,
almost died in a car wreck,
—received a shockingly generous postgraduate fellowship,
visited Europe,
moved to Arizona, and
joined a rock band.

This year I shall:
—finish the manuscript of Song of Roland,
—write a novel-length draft of In the Twilight of the Third Age,
—record an album with the band,
—write an interactive text adventure,
—shoot an hour-plus movie with Nik and Eric involving stuffed animals,
—paint several pictures,
—start exercising as soon as the damned heat permits,
—get involved with the local Zen center, and
—try my damnedest to sell at least one manuscript and continue this... career? Can I call it a career yet?

Metameat one year ago, right before everything went to hell.

 

cassandra

The other day my father, who needs to assert his place in the world, bought a shiny black BMW and unloaded his ancient Honda onto me. At long last after May's debacle, I once more have a working car—excepting the nonfunctional tape deck and the weird complaining whine of the radio.

Chorus
But he who inherits his father's
1984 Honda Prelude
inherits the strife of generations,
holding the Scythian bow
backbent in his hands,
washing away the death stain accursed.

—Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers

It says something that we had to wait for the New York Times to give a cogent analysis of what this election means for Arizona. It certainly would be nice to swing this one away from rampant conservatism; when I was growing up, Tucson was the one little liberal outpost in this state. These days it seems much less so.

Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion. I stayed up until three to finish this one, and I don't know what higher approbation there is. For the first fifty pages or so I wasn't at all sure about it—my old-maid Workshop hackles rose against the irresponsible mixing of person and tense, the page-long parentheticals, the rampant italics and ellipses, the pausing of action to say portentous things like "Reality is greater than the sum of its parts, also a damn sight holier." I would have written the whole thing off as Beat excess, but for the real people who were undeniably taking shape on the page—this wasn't your typical Beat solipsism at all. And then Kesey's actual inspiration became very clear; he's taking after Grandaddy Faulkner. The mythic family rivalries, the deep extraction of a small town's soul, the narrative tricks that are avant-garde but always in the service of character: they're all there. And Lee Stamper out-Quentins Quentin Compson. Note that I'm not slamming Kesey for being derivative; a good homage to Faulkner is far better than anything most of us are ever likely to do. No question Oregon needed this.

The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. These folks have been in a rare aerie at least since Clouds Taste Metallic. This album is a more direct take on the strategy they've been employing for some time, which is to address science-fiction clichés so earnestly that they completely bypass camp and become downright affecting. At first it's merely cute when Wayne Coyne sings about the robot who tries to learn love or the black-belt karate girl who is going to save the city, but by the time he comes around to asking point-blank "Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?" the music-box melodies and keyboard bloops start to seem a lot less silly and a lot more solemn than you first thought. This sort of thing is damned hard to pull off; I can think of some Japanese animation that achieves a similar effect, but that's about it.

 

c'est moderne

Mon Oncle (1958). This is one of the Hulot films by Jacques Tati and well, it is just so French. Imagine a film halfway along the evolutionary timeline between Renoir's La Règle du Jeu and Buñuel's Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie, though it's less concerned with plot than the former and less, well, surreal than the latter. It's all about the whimsical setup, the parodies of social mores, the elaborate Buster Keaton-ish sight gags, the infectious little banjo/accordion theme that runs through almost the entire film. Jean-Pierre Jeunet certainly took a page or two from this book. I'm not sure exactly when the Marshall Plan finished up with France, but that reconstruction and the attendant social change must have weighed heavily on Tati's mind. The film divides its time between two utterly distinct worlds: on the one hand, a quaint pre-industrial France of cafés and crullers and bands of itinerant children; on the other, a sterile modern France of white plastic, brushed aluminum, choreographed cars, and hideous home accessories of all sorts. Hulot, with his ever-present pipe and bicycle and umbrella, is the familiar spirit of the old France and much of the film's humor lies in his inability to negotiate the new; he unsuccessfully battles the automatic doors of the kitchen cabinet, breaks the ludicrous modernist fish fountain, and accidentally sets his brother-in-law's plastic hose factory to spewing out plastic sausage links. There are also many funny scenes involving dogs.

 

the sex and drugs issue

Marlowe reports a salacious rumor about Britney Spears and Jenna Jameson that I really don't think is true, but that's okay as it affords him a couple of reflective pages on sexual identity, or whatever passes for it in the confused culture. "William S. Burroughs often said that a person can be conditioned to orgasm at the sight of an old boot, and probably ought to be, as it would avoid the problem of intimacy."

In a ballot measure known as Question 9, Nevadans will decide whether to allow adults 21 and older to possess and smoke as much as three ounces of marijuana, simply because they feel like it, with no threat of criminal penalty. Under current state law, anyone caught with that much marijuana -- which authorities say makes roughly 100 joints -- could face four years in prison.

OTTAWA, September 4, 2002 - The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs today released its final report on cannabis. In an exhaustive and comprehensive two-year study of public policy related to marijuana, the Special Committee found that the drug should be legalized. The 600 plus page Senate report is a result of rigorous research, analysis and extensive public hearings in Ottawa and communities throughout Canada with experts and citizens.

"Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue," said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, Chair of the Special Committee, in a news conference today in Ottawa. "Indeed, domestic and international experts and Canadians from every walk of life told us loud and clear that we should not be imposing criminal records on users or unduly prohibiting personal use of cannabis. At the same time, make no mistake, we are not endorsing cannabis use for recreational consumption. Whether or not an individual uses marijuana should be a personal choice that is not subject to criminal penalties. But we have come to the conclusion that, as a drug, it should be regulated by the State much as we do for wine and beer, hence our preference for legalization over decriminalization."

 

eight-legged freaks

Last night we found a tarantula in the living room. I dispatched it out the front door with a mighty fling of the mop. Empowering!

Those who are still in Iowa probably know this already, but someone is burning down the bridges of Madison County. There's something incredibly Iowan about the state's response:

State investigators enlisted the aid of Sax, a black Labrador retriever from Mount Pleasant, the state's only arson-investigation dog. It wasn't immediately known whether the dog helped spot the fuel used to set the fire, but Sgt. Robert Hansen, spokesman for the fire marshal's office, said Sax had an exemplary record of sniffing accelerants.

Damn it, I remember trying to build a computer from Tinkertoys in the fourth grade or so. It was going to be a binary adding machine involving marbles but it didn't work at all; and it wasn't nearly as impressive-looking as this model, which plays tic-tac-toe.

German authorities have denied a Turkish couple's request to name their newborn son Osama bin Laden, a court spokeswoman said Thursday. German laws make it illegal for parents to give their children names that might dishonor them or harm their dignity. "That could be the case with this name," Birgit Neepmann, a spokeswoman for the district court in Cologne, said of the parents' wish to name the boy for the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Another girl who seems about 10, with a serious face and haunted eyes, says, "I looked at the twin towers, and I saw, like, people falling out and stuff." A school psychologist says that children in the area reported seeing an unusual number of birds in the sky that day, or "birds on fire." What they saw, he says, was bodies falling.

 

history is a nightmare etc.

Often it's easy for me to forget that the other America exists—the America that lives outside urban centers, has never heard of secular humanism, attends evangelical revival meetings, watches NASCAR, is the reason that country music is actually the nation's most popular genre... and so on. When we were driving between Reno and Tucson a couple of months ago, there were long stretches of road where you couldn't pick up anything but country. This was our introduction to the Toby Keith song "The Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue)," which I guess has been burning up the charts this year.

Hey, Uncle Sam put your name
At the top of his list
And the Statue of Liberty
Started shaking her fist
And the eagle will fly
And it's going to be hell
When you hear Mother Freedom
Start ringing her bell
And it will feel like the whole wide world
Is raining down on you
Brought to you courtesy
Of the Red, White and Blue

Oh, justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
You'll be sorry that you messed
With the U.S. of A.
Cause we'll put a boot in your ass
It's the American way

My father thought he was saying "Buddha up your ass"—but no. I just want to know: is there really no way to have an us without a them? Yesterday I belatedly picked up Tanya Donelly's Beautysleep, and tucked away in the liner notes is the legend "dona nobis pacem 9:11:01." I plan to spend the upcoming anniversary in the mountains—probably by myself, since everybody else has things to do on Wednesdays.

Later during that car trip, I lost most of the vision in my right eye for a period of about fifteen minutes. I could still make out colors but had lost the ability to process shapes; everything just shimmered. While it lasted it was terrifying.

 

ypres

Marlowe, whose prognostication for American military action in the coming year sure does unsettle me, writes in email:

Where God promised not to destroy with water, he damn near promised to do it the next time with fire. See Jeremiah & Revelation. Seems pretty fucking plausible, doesn't it?

I wish we could blame this one on God.

Paul Nash
We Are Making a New World, 1918
Oil on canvas, 91 cm x 71 cm
Imperial War Museum, London

But at the very least I discovered vanilla ice cream with honey last night. I don't know why that particular combination had never occurred to me before. It will lead to hell, but what won't? Also delectable: my Sweet Tooth CD from Lauren/Proleptic is here.

Nik sends articles: Ireland's seminaries are dropping like flies and the Greek government has outlawed all computer games.

This afternoon, in the name of research, Megan is kindly going to take me around the Arizona Cancer Center. The idea is to correct everything I misremember from working there seven years ago, and also to see whether my idea for the fictional laboratory project makes any sense. Inhibitors of kinase proteins, yield to me.

 

the last days

And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, and I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.

—Genesis 8:9-15

I would like a new kind of rainbow now; I would like it to promise that there will never be a nuclear war.

 

do not look in the furnace

Even in my adolescent years of high dorkdom, I was never able to understand the appeal of Dungeons & Dragons. I had read enough Tolkien that the D&D universe seemed like a cheap knockoff, and the basic goals of fighting and acquiring treasure felt awfully pedestrian—they were far too close to what we all have to do in the real world. It wasn't escapism of a satisfying sort.

These Call of Cthulhu roleplaying games, however, cannot be so easily dismissed. Their advantages are many: you inhabit 1920s America, which is much more exciting than an ersatz Middle-Earth; you play real people rather than elves or whatever, which allows for character creation of some interest (currently I'm a giant immigrant rabbi from Prague); and as Nik pointed out, there's enough problem-solving involved that gameplay becomes something like an Infocom text adventure, with the Gamekeeper acting as a really good parser. The adventures stay faithful to Lovecraft's methodology—you spend relatively little time fighting anything and a lot of time in libraries, trying to figure out what sort of alien horror is living over in the abandoned house and how you can look at it without going insane. Inhabiting the Lovecraft universe is the game's real appeal, given that said universe is the only reason anyone cares about the guy—his prose was inexpert, to put it charitably. (And for Christ's sake steer clear of the poetry, which sounds like it came from a seventh-grader who had read too much Poe.) But the idea of our familiar world as a veneer over something much deeper and darker and utterly inhuman—this resonates, and it's able to make even something as inherently silly as a role-playing adventure quite creepy, if the mood is right. (I suspect it was also an inspiration, conscious or not, for the premise of The Matrix.) So yes, we're being impossibly nerdy and rolling the dodecahedral dice, but that's all right. We seem to be past the point of trying to impress anyone socially.

There are now dozens of firms advertising the service—wakaresase-ya, or "business to force breakup of a couple" in Japanese—on the Internet and in more restricted terms in the yellow pages. Their fees are not cheap, starting at $100 an hour for the preliminary investigation. A full-scale operation typically costs $5,000 to $20,000; a complex case, at outfits that claim political figures and actors among their clients, can run hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Their strategies are sometimes clever and intricate. Just the right rumor planted in a neighborhood or business can frighten a wayward husband into good behavior, for example. Other strategies are tried and true: a videotape of a straying wife entering a hotel room with her lover usually is all that is needed to force a breakup of the marriage or the relationship, say the owners of the firms.

But increasingly, these firms employ a version of bait-and-switch. A husband who wants to dump his wife will hire a couple-busters firm to engineer an "accidental" meeting between his wife and a good-looking, attentive man who is secretly an agent. Soon, the wife is in an affair with him, and willingly grants her husband a divorce. The agent then fades away, his cell phone turned off, the address he gave her vacant, his workplace number a fake.

 

month of atonement

He loves fish, and catches them himself. No effete flyfishing for this madman. He goes grenade fishing, pre-filleting his catch. There is strange film of Saddam, wearing a long coat and beret, lobbing a grenade, underhanded, into the water. Aides in scuba gear retrieve the catch.

Naxos is fifteen years old, and bless them; back in those impecunious high school years, they brought me Beethoven's Ninth, the string quartets of Dvorák, the Smetana quartet that I was listening to in my car on graduation night before three police cars showed up to harass me.

Better than Yaddo, it's therapy fellowships!

But for those tortured souls whose highest-priority creative opus is not so much their writing as themselves, the Lucy Daniels Foundation here has created a different kind of refuge. A handful of lucky or not-so-lucky local writers (depending on how you analyze it), who were deemed both professionally successful and neurotic but treatable, were chosen to participate in a program that provides subsidized psychoanalysis for an unlimited time. It is a sort of writers' colony for the mind.

[...]

Each patient was assigned to a therapist in the Raleigh-Durham area and has two or four sessions a week at $5 to $12.50 each. The foundation pays the rest. "I was a poor artist and therapy costs money, and it looked like an easy way to get what I needed," one said.

 

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