<= 2001.12

2002.02 =>

[JANUARY 2002.]

eel gnat universe

Yeah, you think the snowfall is pretty, and then it blows into your eyes. It's sharp.

Justin sends in the most egregious conflation of church and state in some time, in the form of a town proclamation from Inglis, Florida:

Satan, ruler of darkness, giver of evil, destroyer of what is good and just, is not now, nor ever again will be, a part of this town of Inglis.

And so on. Apparently some of the good people of Inglis need to repent.

I've been reading this journal, whose name I'm not sure about (Aphasia? Now Brown Cow? Both?), off and on for some time. The December 31st entry reminds me of Beckett's Molloy, with the obvious caveat that Beckett didn't write about pigs—not in the literal sense, anyway. There was that character named Hamm.

My paperwork came back from the Guatemala language school. We're ready to roll.


whom the gods destroy

The other day I got an announcement from the old Stanford creative-writing email list:

Exploring European-American Identity through creative writing and spokenword - led by Aya de Leon
Tuesdays, 5:45-7:15pm
Jan.22 - Feb. 26
Harmony House, 561 Lomita Drive (at Santa Teresa)
FREE and OPEN to anyone of European-American heritage (students, faculty,staff, local community members)

I suppose it was only a matter of time before this happened.

In college we spent a lot of time wondering why the slogan on the Lipton teabags was "The 'BRISK' Tea," with quote marks. My theory was that it was ironic, as in "Oh, 'Lipton.' That's pretty 'brisk.'" Mr. Cameron Shelton offered the competing theory that someone had said "brisk" at some point, and suggested as a likely candidate the mustached ship captain who also appears on the teabag.

I see that our chief executive has declared a War on Recession. We must be fighting five or six different wars on abstract concepts at this point. In the spirit of matching funds, I hereby declare:
1) War on Itchy Shirts;
2) War on Teen Pop;
3) War on Flavorless Polenta From the HyVee;
4) War on the Inability to Distinguish Between "Its" and "It's";
5) War on Leaving the House.

God is with us.


is it getting better

in the winter it fills with rain


a mollusc on a cruise

Still sick, and temporarily burnt out on fiction. It suddenly feels stifling. All I want to read about is Buddhism and physics. So I have been drinking honey/lemon/tea and going after The Elegant Universe, which is already an absolute mindfuck, and I haven't even reached the string theory part—it's still relativity/quantum land. All objects in the universe are moving through spacetime at light speed, all the time? I was going to stay home today and go deeper, drinking more tea and taking frequent naps, but there's a class to see about. I need to beat this illness pronto in order to finish my damn novella by 13 February.

Free-roaming organic chickens are diseased too—three times as likely to be contaminated, in fact.


Marjan the lion, who was blinded by a grenade in the mid-1990s and came to symbolize Afghanistan's suffering during 23 years of war, was buried at Kabul's zoo. He was found dead of apparent old age in his cage on Saturday.


air can hurt you too


I'm sick. I shall have to spend the sunny day inside, sucking on throat lozenges.

"Were Hogarth to paint a still life in a 21st century British pantry, a jar of Marmite would have to figure in it." The spread of indeterminate origin marks its centennial.

Er, Japanese spinach pigs are good for you. I don't know. Now if they made a mammoth, that would be something.


the new seriousness

Don't talk to me about being alone.

I X Love signifies both "my ex-love" and also "a love which I ended, which I x-x-x-ed out." The song is an updating of Nouroog from the Mingus repertory. The girl being described was a most sensual being, and accordingly, the song and its performance reflect the emotions that such a young lady evokes in retrospect.
Celia is a portrait of a former wife of Mingus. She was—and is—a woman of wit, sensibility and resiliency. Mingus's use of The Lady in Red as a secondary theme reflects the fact that she has red hair. Like the preceding track, Celia re-emphasizes the gentleness and capacity for loving which are at the core of the complicated phenomenon which is Charles Mingus. In both, the alto saxophone is Charlie Mariano. In sections, Celia is more turbulent than I X Love since its basic emotional theme may well be the difficulty of getting to know oneself well enough to begin to get to know anyone else.
—Nat Hentoff, liner notes for Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, 1954

And King Herod died from kidney disease plus genital gangrene. Divine justice was more efficient back then.


fruity organ

The first drafts of our theses are due 13 February. None of us realized this until yesterday. I'm going to have to return to the 1000-word-per-day workout and, man, I was just getting into sloth (which yes, some people pronounce "sloath").

Well, this certainly is depressing. Two thousand years trying to think our way out of the same box.

How can otherwise intelligent people be attracted to forms of politics that are patently tyrannical?
Heidegger's rejection of traditional Western notions of an essentially rational human nature... imply support for schemes of national regeneration unfettered by any concern for human rights... In 1933 he joined the Nazi Party...
Schmitt has become attractive to some theorists on the political Left critical of liberal constitutional and legal restraints on democratic processes... a dark theological view: liberalism is not merely mistaken but sinful in its evasion of God's command to 'Fight thy enemy...'
...Benjamin's early and continuing interest in the apocalyptic strain in traditional Jewish theology... translates into a messianic vision, according to which political and social problems are fated to be resolved by a sudden act of divinely sanctioned violence, transforming human life from its unsatisfactory present condition (shallow, materialist and legalist) into a redemptive and perfected future.
Kojève's version of the apocalypse was his notion of 'the end of history,' derived from a reading of Hegel... Challenged by the conservative philosopher Leo Strauss to explain how this consummation would be possible without tyranny, Kojève replied that tyranny may have its uses, for the right purpose, in the right hands.
As for Derrida... his deconstructionist philosophy, according to which no text or term can have a stable meaning, has left him with nothing to say politically... Derrida's recent turn to a notion of 'justice' which eludes any definition is rightly dismissed as bearing 'all the signs of intellectual desperation.'
Are we to conclude, then, that (contrary to Plato's apparent advice in The Republic) efforts to think philosophically about politics are always either dangerous or (at best) futile, that philosophers should stay out of politics altogether and political leaders out of philosophy?

The article shies away from this stark-seeming conclusion, but I would venture that the answer is yes. The only reliable rudder for politics is intuition and pragmatism. I think that the examples above sufficiently demonstrate what happens when you try to construct a completely rationalist government from first principles: corpses, corpses, corpses. You cannot get a complete view of the system from inside the system, and that principle holds whether you're talking about set theory, the human mind, or liberal democracy. The Western model, riddled as it is with flaws, works because it works—deeper questioning only leads to tail-chasing, and this is incredibly dangerous. It is the height of narcissism for someone like Foucault to interpret society through the lens of his personal obsession with violence, and the height of irresponsibility for him to proclaim the interpretation that our society is a network of prisons when quite obviously it isn't—show me the government-engineered death of millions by famine over here. These philosophies are so removed from the actual world that they can completely ignore the obvious, and once you cross that barrier anything goes. And then we're in trouble.


king and country

And what about this op-ed on China from a couple of days ago?

The Chinese government's continuing suggestions that we deliberately bombed its embassy, or that the spy plane's recklessness led to the crash, needlessly inflame public opinion. Paradoxically, we're also hurt by a freer Chinese press: some quasi-private Chinese tabloids have the capitalist instinct, and because of the fervor to sell papers they are the ones with the most jingoistic stories.

"Paradoxically" is the word to note here, as it exposes an assumption rampant in this country: that the establishment of democratic institutions in other countries is always good for America. Quite obviously it isn't. We need to prop up authoritarian governments in much of the Arab world (f'rinstance) because any serious democratic reform would result in electoral victories for the Islamists and a rapid attrition of U.S. influence in the region. I'm not claiming that this is a groundbreaking view—it's obvious after even a cursory look at the issues—but pieces of journalism like the above show how dearly we would like to believe otherwise.

Justin would like everyone to know that counting sheep is some bullshit. Also, don't think about polar bears.


defvnctvs est

Al Qaeda's new hidedout: not Somalia but Indonesia. Now we will all learn about Indonesia. This is getting more Carmen Sandiego by the minute.

This final semester it's Destination: Marilynne. (Cf. the Idaho Statesman article with pictures of José and Reza.) We had our first workshop yesterday, of sorts—she spoke very eloquently about the purpose of art for ten minutes, then we had a brief moment of awkwardness over who would submit stories for next week, then we left. I helped to relieve said moment of awkwardness by volunteering myself for the chopping block, despite the fact that I have nothing but excerpts from a half-completed novel draft. I wrote them nearly a year ago and they're not good, but I thought I should get it over with since the situation isn't likely to improve. I do feel bad about submitting something which I know to be substandard, especially since Marilynne was all inspiring yesterday, but nobody else was volunteering. I've been telling myself and everyone else that I really no longer care what happens in workshop—now we find out whether I meant it.

The unseasonably warm weather here, surely our last gasp before the planet enters thirty thousand years of ice, means that the storm windows my landlord installed are useless. I have had to prop them open with a coaster, and the only coaster I have is from England and reproduces the scene from the Bayeux Tapestry where Edward the Confessor dies.


On Monday, Uncle Zach helped the Olympic torch on its way to Salt Lake by carrying it through Reno. He handles the pressures of celebrity well.



on ascesis

Nuns fret not at their convent's narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, 'twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet's scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for some there must needs be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.
—W. Wordsworth


welfare as we know it

My word, an Iron Chef drinking game. (Though note, this link comes from Geegaw, which also links the deleterious effect of even moderate drinking on women's health. I don't know; I'm very confused as to how I feel about intoxicants right now.) But surely the premise is sound:

One drink whenever someone says, "I think he may steam that."

One drink when Kaga bites into something and looks pensive, such as the bell pepper during the opening credits (and yes, this one counts too!). Anyone who laughs when he does it takes an additional drink.

Three drinks if your chef is using bird's nest as an ingredient. Take one additional drink if it's red bird's nest.

This is hosted on a site called lemurlove.com, and now you know as much as I do.


fun with teeth

"I don't know about seeing Black Hawk Down. I hear all the bad guys are black."
"Of course they're all black. It's Somalia."
"But you have to have at least one bad white guy. It's the law."

We saw it. I can understand why the press has felt obliged to give it positive reviews, given that it doesn't pull too much sentimental bullshit about people shooting people, but it sure did feel about seven hours long. I guess I'm just not wired for the single-long-action-sequence sort of film. When I got home I got on IMDB to find out where it was filmed, since you really can't take a camera crew to Mogadishu (answer: Morocco), and was told "If you enjoyed this movie, we recommend Operation Dumbo Drop."

Long-haired Mitsu at Synthetic Zero links the first direct evidence of quantum gravity. Bouncing neutrons, hot damn. In other gravity news, a project to measure the distance to the moon within the millimeter may settle a couple of longstanding questions, including Einstein's equivalence principle and whether gravity is altering with the expansion of the universe.

I seem to have developed a touch of myokymia in my left eyelid. I'll have to get more exercise or something. Not in the mood for a botox injection.


the meaning of the blues

Here are some rules from the Theravada Sangha, which I assume must have been instituted because these situations kept coming up.

Here are... offences which deserve suspension, and which should every fortnight be recited. These forbid a monk:
1. Intentionally to emit his semen, except in a dream.
2. With a mind excited and perverted by passion to come into bodily contact with a woman; he must not hold her hand or arm, touch her hair or any other part of her body, above or below, or rub or caress it.
3. With a mind excited and perverted by passion to persuade a woman to sexual intercourse, speaking wicked, evil, and vulgar words, as young men use to their girls.
4. With a mind excited and perverted by passion, in the presence of a woman to speak highly of the merit of the gift of her own body, saying: 'That is the supreme gift, dear sister, to offer intercourse to monks like us, who have been observing strict morality, have abstained from intercourse and lived lonely lives!'
5. To act as a go-between between women and men, arranging marriage, adultery, or even a brief meeting.
The offending monk will first be put on probation, then for six days and nights he must do penance, and thereafter he must undergo a special ceremony before he can be rehabilitated. But he can be reinstated only by a community which number at least twenty monks, not less.

It's a doozy, that libido. But I suppose it augurs well that synchronicities are showing up between my fiction and other people's weblogs... Jen confirms the existence of socially awkward men named Roland, and Lauren links a Pixies lyrics page which reveals that "Havalina" (last song on Bossanova) was recorded after a javelina (variant spelling) chased Black Francis and his girlfriend in Arizona. And there was that big old javelina head in The Royal Tenenbaums, too. Kim Deal sez:

So he decided to write a real pretty love song. I've been thinking about this... I don't think there's anything innately erotic about pigs. But generally they are sweet, shy, mysterious creatures. Especially the little ones. When they get big, they get kinda gross.



Ooh, creepy American Scientology-type cult in Germany.

Celebrities like the German golfer Bernhard Langer, the Bayern Munich soccer star Paulo Sergio and the ageless British pop singer Cliff Richard are promoting the campaign on billboards. Germans are urged to call a number (not toll-free) to get a free copy of a book that, the celebrities say, changed their lives. But the ads provide no clue to the sponsor of the campaign or the book.

The book, "Power for Living," is an evangelical Christian text that opposes smoking, homosexuality and abortion. Written nearly 20 years ago, it provides a primer for individual conversion, based on such principles as "God loves you," "Mankind is sinful," and "Everyone must accept Christ personally." Bible-reading is encouraged.

Young politicos hold a conference in New York and try to get dates on the side. The libertarians don't do so well:

Later, at a bar, I strike up a conversation with a libertarian student dressed all in black, reminiscent of a goth club kid who hasn't quite outgrown his wardrobe. He's written a novel but is having trouble finding an agent.

"It's called The Gospels of Lucifer," he explains.

"That's a good title," I say before asking if the book is what it sounds like. "The Gospels of Lucifer—as if he had written them?"

"She," he corrects me.


bury my heart in sabino canyon

These days, they just keep getting faster. I'm sitting here typing today's entry and it's like, I was just doing this. Hard to avoid thoughts of mortality sometimes.

Today the Times presents a travel guide to Tucson. It's nice that they're trying to play it up, but the sad truth is that the city itself has precious little to offer—if you go, it's because you love the surrounding desert. When my family first moved there in 1981, it was about half its present size and beautiful; but since then it has undergone the painful metamophosis into a second Phoenix. There's smog, there's traffic, there's an infinite loop of Wal-Marts and Arby's along any main street, and every year there are more Californians. (I am fine with Californians, generally. I lived among them for four years. But everyone else west of the Rockies hates them because they go tearing around with their SUVs and boom boxes and ignorance of local traffic laws.) The Times does play up the Gem and Mineral show, which is pretty cool if you're into that sort of thing, and I guess the same goes for the rodeo. Not that I've ever been. Every February we got a four-day rodeo weekend and went to Disneyland. Anyway, my point is that my hometown has all but disappeared, which I guess happens to everyone past a certain age. But how I miss the land.

This article about China is not all that illuminating, but it does contain one of those great pitch-black Soviet jokes:

Once there was an emperor who was very evil and very fierce. He said two plus two equals six. All the people were afraid of him and agreed that two plus two equals six.

When the emperor died the next emperor was less evil and less fierce. He said two plus two equals five. All the people asked themselves, "How could we have been so stupid as to believe that two plus two equals six?"

A young mathematician thought for a long time. He concluded two plus two equals four. He wrote a book to prove his theory. He decided to take it to the publisher, but on the way, two strangers approached him. "Comrade," they asked, "what are you doing? Do you really want to go back to the days when two and two were six?"


listen, the snow is falling

It finally got us. I don't mind. It's about time we had a winter wonderland out here, as opposed to the coldwetgray status quo.

9/11 has left the West Coast in a "fugue state", says Sean Daniel, who gave us Mallrats and those damn Mummy movies. The article uses "relevancy," which should not be a word, three times. As far as how NYC really is, I'm going there in six weeks to see the Magnetic Fields, and then I guess I will have a look myself.


herbie hancock & chick corea

My modem lives, but for some inscrutable reason it will only connect at 9600 bps. Hold onto your hats, ladies, it's 1993. Also there is no Utah travelogue yet, because when I hook the camera up to the computer I get a FATAL EXCEPTION 0E AT 0028:C184623A IN VXD APIX(02) + 0000277A. I am coming to suspect that the capricious and draconian Old Testament God was actually a PC running Windows 98.

Why do people buy books they don't get? (Really, I'll finish Finnegans Wake when I'm forty and know ten times as much about Western civilization and Irish bars.) But this article suggests that Stephen Hawking is filling the function of prophet for us.

In tribal societies seers were often physically marked—they might be blind, deaf, epileptic, or crippled. Though his language is mathematics, Hawking is the archetypal crippled seer—his body may be hobbled to a wheelchair, but his mind is unbounded, soaring beyond the mundane terrestrial world to the far reaches of the cosmos, there to engage with vast and mysterious supernatural powers. Black holes of unimaginable strength able to gobble entire galaxies into their maws; tunnels through spacetime that would take us back into the past; and wormholes to other exotic universes—these are the mythological "creatures" of the age of science.

Woo, little virtual om mani padme hum prayer wheels. I like these.



I'm back in Iowa. My God but you should have seen Chicago yesterday—I flew in precisely at sunset and beneath a thin cloud cover the entire city was glowing pink. For the next couple of days, until I get my registration worked out, I will only have internet access by dialing Reno long-distance. So I will be offline unless it's an emergency, in which case I can send the Metameat Goon Squad to take care of things.


hi-fi analog

Robb sez:

I know paul is smart and all that, but his site is just down right lame (I know there's a better word, but here's my point). He uses the most esoteric jargon throughout, whether or not it is the "right word" it's damn frustrating. I am, from now on, boycotting his site until he gets past this high school senior boning up on his SAT vocabulary phase. I suggest you do the same. Unless of course he really is that deep, intellectual and interesting that every mundane thought and detail deserves a word beyond the common vernacular that has properties beyond first reading (such as texture, eloquence, etc...) nah, screw it, he's just trying to confuse me, F#@! him!



dudley's world

As far as The Royal Tenenbaums (which I keep trying to spell Tannenbaums), I think Wes Anderson is doing something important in keeping the performances and mise-en-scène highly stylized. The strength of film is its ability for rich and complicated mimesis, and by giving that mimesis a lot to work with Anderson skirts the medium's weaknesses for storytelling, as compared to narrative prose: 1) a short amount of subjective time; and 2) the inability to convey interior states, other than by clumsy devices such as the voiceover.

Of course, the problem is that Anderson's particular tricks lend themselves more easily to wit than pathos—so that while I thought a couple of scenes were genuinely moving, as a whole the film suffered from a dilution of heart. I don't know what to do with movies any more. The medium is 95 percent moribund and 5 percent confused, and I've lost any sense of how to approach it. So I'm removing the film section from the canon bar to the left, at least for now.

James Boswell, what's to be done with ye?

I drank too much. We had whist after dinner. When I returned to town, I was a good deal intoxicated, ranged the streets, and having met with a comely, fresh-looking girl, madly ventured to lie with her on the north brae of the castle hill. I told my dear wife immediately.


that shack and that mountain

Without covetousness, without deceit, without craving, without detraction, having got rid of passion and folly, being free from desire in all the world, let one wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Having left son and wife, father and mother, wealth and corn and relatives, the different objects of desire, let one wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Wishing for the destruction of desire, being careful, no fool, learned, strenuous, considerate, restrained, energetic, let one wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Like a lion not trembling at noises, like the wind not caught in a net, like the lotus not stained by water, let one wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Hard to get back into the swing of things. Hard to write again. I got all of one paragraph out yesterday.

By age seventeen I had independently determined that desire led to suffering—at that age I was mostly thinking about sexual desire, but all the same. I spent a couple of years in college actively trying to transcend corporeality through eating as little as possible. By the end of college I had revised that viewpoint, but now I'm no longer sure. Back then I was trying to get rid of my body perversely, for the hell of it—now, having discovered a value system that aims in all seriousness for that ideal, I really don't know what to do. What can be renounced. What makes for a tenable life.

I should probably cut down on the first person, anyway.


life is like a mountain railroad

"I may be bad, but I feel... good."

Most recently I've been in San Francisco, guestblogging for kidchamp. On the Amtrak there & back I read Blood Meridian, and is it ever overrated. I won't deny that McCarthy gets some nice description in there, and a handful of memorable scenes. I also understand the value of writing an amoral antidote to all the sentimental cowboy fiction out there, and for this I would almost forgive the complete lack of psychological insight or narrative progression other than someone dying in a nasty way every other page, were it not for the style. The style is extremely mannered and not at all difficult to imitate. The style consists of not using commas and using conjunctions instead of commas to link phrases and also linking ideas by repeating words several times in one sentence because there are no commas save for attribution of dialogue. Also obsolete words are used from a quondam age and adjectives are placed after nouns for an effect archaic and portentous. At times sentence fragments to convey immediacy. And whenever something occurs that McCarthy deems significant the sentences will become very long indeed and it will often become nearly impossible to determine what is happening because these long sentences are slight on physical description and heavy on sesquipedalian words which summon an effect of majesty and terror but get in the way of figuring out exactly what is happening in the battle scene although sometimes it is not a battle scene because McCarthy can be relied upon to summon his Style of Very Long Sentences at any time without warning for he seems to fancy himself Faulkner but he is no Faulkner and the reader quickly loses track of all the ands and the reader begins to read much more quickly so as to get through the sentence which is telling her very little and the violence is so constant and repetitive that it loses its shock value after page seventy so that while Blood Meridian did a few things well it became a chore to finish not because of the horror but because of the tedium.

But all is not lost! At American Rag I found a superfly red Dacron shirt, and at Acorn Books I found a pristine paperback of Denis Johnson's first novel Angels and a 1928 first edition of J.B. Pratt's The Pilgrimage of Buddhism, both way out of print, so that even though later that evening the AMC theater dicked us and stuck us in the second row for The Royal Tenenbaums, the day came out with a positive balance.

There is ever so much more, like the 5-day RV trip in Utah, but most of that will have to wait until I return to Iowa, where there is a USB port for my camera. And I will spare you the play-by-play on what the cats are doing.


<= 2001.12

2002.02 =>

up (archive)