Saturday, April 28, 2007

Todd Needs a Good Date, Bad

Last week, Jane Galt over at Asymmetrical Information linked to this rant against feminism by libertarian Todd Seavey. I'd never read Seavey's work before, but I spent an interesting hour discussing this piece with a feminist friend. It's torturously long (though he claims throughout that it could and probably should be a lot longer), and while reading it I thought it was overheated but occasionally clever. A few minutes after finishing it, I felt like his arguments betrayed a creepy grudge (or series of them). This isn't to say the whole thing is without interest. For instance, I think most guys secretly (or openly) believe this on some level:
Oh, and that raises a side point that I think is worthy of a few books and doctoral theses: far from feminism being the opposite of chivalry, it should by this late juncture in history be obvious that both chivalry and feminism are just systems for getting men to treat women more gently than they treat other men. The difference is that under chivalry, both sexes admitted this was the arrangement and under feminism, we are supposed to pretend women are being held to the same standard even when they aren’t.
But more often than not, his tone makes it clear that there's some unspoken personal history at work here. Take this:
But the tragic thing is that I am perhaps more feminist in one narrow sense than anyone: I want one truly equal (intellectually, emotionally, morally) partner and had assumed since imbibing the feminist messages pervading pop culture in the 70s and 80s that that was a natural, relatively easily-found thing. And while I was in effect being a naive feminist and trying to engage women in respectful conversation about philosophy, women were sleeping with the callous football captain and the even more callous professor (hey, beats dating your equals).
Like Ferris Bueller, I don't subscribe to -isms. The only one I give any credence to is humanism, and I have to assume feminism's goals fall under that rubric, to the degree that those goals are coherent and worthwhile. To the degree that, like most -isms, its goals are improvised and/or regenerated to achieve the supreme goal of simply keeping the -ism alive, I have no use for it.

The Invisible

Another review over at Pajiba:
Well, The Invisible is a stinker, but I won’t lie: If you’re 14 and kind of slow, you might enjoy it. A collage of elements from much better movies, it features good-looking high school kids walking through a non-mystery while every three or four minutes a full-on Snow Patrol video breaks out.

Archive of the Day

"Don't Let Me Explode" by The Hold Steady

He said what about Los Angeles.
She said we never really made it that far west.
We scored big in Denver and we thought it might be best.
To go hang around in the upper midwest.
He said what about New Orleans.
She said I don't think you understand what that means.
All those hangers on.
These girls lifting up their shirts when the cameras come on.
We were trying to stay away from those kind of scenes.
Yeah, we didn't go to Dallas.
'Cause Jackie Onassis said that it ain't safe for Catholics yet.
Think about what they pulled on Kennedy.
And then think about his security.
Then think about what they might try to pull on you and me.

Saint Barbara I'm calling your name.
Don't let me blow up.
We'll hook it all up.
I guess there's fields of speed where there's fields of grain.
Saint Barbara don't let me explode.
I can feel the whole scene starting to corrode when we're fooling around on the frontage roads.

He asked what happened to Charlemagne.
She just smiled all polite-like and said something vague.
She said Charlemagne got caught up in some complicated things.
She wiped at her nose and she winked.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Today in Mascot Awesomeness

Presenting Blowie, the mascot of the Columbia Blowfish:

(Via Deadspin, which offers more great details about Blowie here.)


The Namesake

My latest for Pajiba:
The Namesake is painstakingly human in its concerns. Topping that list of concerns is displacement, both geographical and cultural.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Brief Meditation

Had an interesting, abbreviated experience at the movies last night. Two friends had invited me along to dinner and then a showing of Into Great Silence at Film Forum. If you don't know Into Great Silence, it's a nearly three-hour-long, mostly silent documentary about a Carthusian monastery in the French Alps. If you don't know Film Forum, it's a theater in the West Village where you're still all-too-capable of having an experience like this one:

Being in need of anything resembling peaceful meditation these days, I thought it would be...well, if not fun, then restorative. After a long day, though, I was falling asleep on the train down there, and had to be convinced by my company to give it a shot. Sit for 20 minutes, they said. If you don't like it or you're too tired, leave.

After those 20 minutes, I was too tired to really know if I liked it, so I ducked out. There was another problem besides fatigue. I had read that this was the type of movie you had to see on the big screen. Two issues with that: 1. Film Forum's screen isn't really all that big. 2. Think about it. "Into great silence" isn't exactly synonymous these days with "into a movie theater." The crowd was mostly polite, but the movie is so quiet, so fully based on total concentration, that every innocent shuffle of a foot sounded like the launch of the Space Shuttle. For someone like me, who cringes with each crinkle of a candy bar wrapper, and is generally neurotic and irritable around strangers, this was unacceptable. (I hide that irritation very well, by the way, which might even compound the problem. But let's not turn this into a session on the couch.) I'm fully on board with the idea of purposeful meditation. I've even dabbled ever so lightly in it. But I don't think it's a practice best exercised in the company of a few dozen film snobs.

I'll put it on my Netflix list.

It's Almost Unimaginable That Someone Beat Me To This

I like blogging. I love REM. Therefore, it's a bit difficult for me to believe that someone other than me is doing this. Yep, writing about every REM song -- eventually. (Found through Pop Candy)

Great idea. If someone was doing this with any other band, I'd probably make fun of them. But this, this is solid.

Of course, it also allows me to list my favorite REM songs, which is a very difficult task. I'll limit myself (somehow) to 11: Gardening at Night, Laughing, Sitting Still, So. Central Rain, Driver 8, These Days, Fall On Me, Losing My Religion, Half a World Away, Texarkana, Nightswimming.

And being in a two-birds-with-one-stone kind of mood, it allows me to present your Wednesday song, the first of those listed above, performed live in 1984. Enjoy:

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

AP Headline of the Day

Drunk Man Parks Horse in German Bank

Geeks in Space

Do you ever complete a task and think to yourself: Wow, what a powerfully nerdy waste of time?

Well, cheer up. You could be this guy.

(Tip of the cap to Jason.)

Our Culture's Inner Doll

It's a very old tactic to bemoan the decline of Western Civilization, and normally I think it's a cheap one. First, my view of human nature would dictate that there was plenty of cultural crap in the past, it just got filtered out over the years. Secondly, the explosion of both population and technology is key: there are more people with medicore-to-offensive ideas now, and far more ways they can express them. Thirdly, when many trot out a sign of decline, it's really a thinly veiled way to make a political point (think of the racism expressed in sweeping condemnations of all hip-hop. Yeah, lots of hip-hop sucks. So what? Lots of everything sucks.) But tonight, I unwittingly stumbled upon, and then became transfixed in the glow of, what might represent the undeniable low point of all human endeavor: the final five minutes of the final episode of the reality show designed to choose the next Pussycat Doll.

I know what you're could they threaten to alter their fragile group chemistry by inviting in a newcomer?

If you're unfamiliar with the Dolls, in the wake of last year's Grammy nominations, I described them as "a handful of strippers hired by a record company to prance through videos for songs recorded inside empty garbage cans."

I've since realized that this description was far too kind.

The Dolls make NFL cheerleading squads look like award-winning ballet troupes; make strippers look like girls to take home to mom; make Christina Aguilera look like Billie Holiday.

I innocently chanced upon the proceedings just as the panel of judges was deliberating, while the three finalists -- Asia, Chelsea, and Melissa -- waited nervously off-stage. The panel consists of rapper Lil' Kim, record executive Ron Fair, and Robin Antin, the Dolls' founder and choreographer, who, horrifyingly, looks like Janice Dickinson would if you somehow invented a plastic-surgery procedure that hadn't been performed on her yet and then performed it on her. I'm not even sure "founder" is strong enough a term -- it looks as though the Dolls might have been carved out of her very flesh.

Suffice it to say, the exchange between the panelists was vapid to the point of obscenity. They kept repeating how one girl had "grown into something special, something unique," or how another had -- and this was my favorite -- "really found her inner Doll." The finalists then took the stage, and judging from their hot-pink feather boas and not-so-vaguely sadomasochistic attire, let me say that you probably don't want your daughter finding her inner Doll anytime soon. In fact, maybe go ahead and have her inner Doll euthanized.

You can see why, despite my disgust, I was fascinated by the convergence of awful elements here. This was like a mixmaster for cultural disasters, lowest-common-denominator sexuality merging with false drama merging with utter talentlessness. (No, I don't consider wearing a tiger-striped push-up bra a talent.) Here was a reality TV show (with basement-level production values) designed to choose a new "singer" for what is already a mind-blowingly prefabricated group, overseen by a panel of three judges who got choked up while telling the losers they would have to gyrate elsewhere, and featuring a grand finale in which Asia (who won, by the way) got to perform her first song with the actual Dolls. I'm a macro-optimistic person (on the micro level, I'm pretty damn pessimistic). Despite the continued horrific behavior of humanity on a daily basis, I think most of the larger trends throughout history have improved. If you disagree, perhaps you'd like to live in the 11th century for a while and report back? But purely on the level of conscious human creation, of what, in the broadest possible terms, could be called art, I can only hope we reached the nadir tonight. I mean, there has to be a bottom to this bucket, doesn't there? Is this some kind of magic bucket?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Archive of the Day

From A Death in the Family by James Agee:
How far we all come. How far we all come away from ourselves. So far, so much between, you can never go home again. You can go home, it's good to go home, but you never really get all the way home again in your life. And what's it all for? All I tried to be, all I ever wanted and went away for, what's it all for?

Just one way, you do get back home. You have a boy or a girl of your own and now and then you remember, and you know how they feel, and it's almost the same as if you were your own self again, as young as you could remember.

And God knows he was lucky, so many ways, and God knows he was thankful. Everything was good and better than he could have hoped for, better than he deserved; only, whatever it was and however good it was, it wasn't what you once had been, and had lost, and could never have again, and once in a while, once in a long time, you remembered, and knew how far you were away, and it hit you hard enough, that little while it lasted, to break your heart.

Wedding Weekend 1, My Energy Level 0

I hope that regular(ish) blogging will resume as soon as tomorrow night, but for now I'm still recovering from my vacation. It's a cliché widely circulated among working adults that vacations aren't much good for rejuvenation; they mostly render you even more fatigued when it comes time to land back at the office.

The weeklong trip I just returned from was quite pleasant, but still taxing for two reasons. The first half of the week I was in Dallas, which was home for quite a while, and so was taxing for existential reasons. I'm not good at reconciling the past with the present. Never have been. This failure has been known to make me wistful and melancholic and, frankly, a bit confused and misdirected. I had a good time with my friends and family, but four and a half days just isn't enough time to lose the hum of strangeness that accompanies any return to an old stomping ground. Or, in this case, gently-walking-around ground.

The second half of the week was spent in Houston for a friend's wedding. The existential fog had lifted somewhat on the drive down I-45. Even when I lived in Texas, Houston was a place I would visit only briefly to see this same group of friends, so it felt natural to do it again. And because those friends are such good guides, and my experiences there have all been pleasurable, it's probably my favorite place in Texas. It was still taxing, though, for the usual reasons associated with a wedding. Those reasons being, in no particular order: red wine, whiskey, lack of sleep, a glass of vodka (likely the equivalent of about four shots) that I was ordered by the groom to drink during the reception (long story), watching other people dance, red wine, and lack of sleep.

The best news for me came on Thursday, when I showed up just in time to partake in an afternoon poker tournament that kicked off the bachelor-party festivities and ended up besting about 20 others for the grand prize (the specifics of which prize will remain undisclosed due to various local ordinances; let's just say it was healthy). I had to get ridiculously lucky to win it, of course, but any luck I had was reversed the night of the wedding, when I was ticketed for making an illegal left-hand turn on the way back from the reception (the vodka, luckily, had come many, many hours before). The ticket wasn't big enough to negate the undisclosed poker prize, but it was sufficient to put a dent in the evening's mood -- until, that is, about fifteen minutes later, when my passenger-friend and I had legally made our way to a famous local eatery for the best ham-and-egg breakfast tacos I've ever had.

Why any of you would be interested in all that came above, search me. It's my hope that more universal ideas about weddings and record-buying and oak trees will emerge from the trip and appear more seamlessly on the blog in the coming week or so.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Week That Wasn't

Well, turns out that traveling around Texas makes blogging difficult. And my energy level today isn't what it could be, because I spent most of yesterday at a friend's bachelor party, pretending my liver was 23 again. Ugh.

Things here will be back in full swing after the weekend. See you then.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Five Songs, Chapter Twenty

This feature has been absent for a while, and not one person has asked for its return. I choose to take that silence as your passive-aggressive way of asking for another installment. As you wish:

"How My Heart Behaves" by Feist

The entirety of her latest is worth the price, but this is the one I've been listening to while falling asleep these days. Is that sharing too much?

"Why Should I Cry For You" by Sting

Maybe because it's not always about you, Gordon.

"Til I Hear it From You" by Gin Blossoms

I frequently argue that the Gin Blossoms are one of the more underrated pop bands of the past 15 years or so. I frequently find myself getting looked at with a mixture of pity and horror. The relationship between these two trends is being studied.

"First Night" by The Hold Steady

You should be listening to The Hold Steady as often as possible. I'm going to keep saying this until everyone in America hears me and obeys. Given my current traffic patterns, that should happen sometime around the year 3089. Someone might have to take over this duty for me at some point.

"Amazing Grace" by Aretha Franklin

Off of the double-disc gospel record of the same name, on which Aretha makes hardcore agnostics like myself look really, really silly over and over again. If Aretha sings it, it must be true. Right?

PS -- On a related and developing note, the Starbucks I'm in is currently playing a different Aretha record, and as soon as I finished writing the above, a crazy-ish elderly woman a couple of tables over leaned toward the teenage boy next to her and said, "I hope they turn off that screaming. I like music, but I can't stand that screaming." Heathen!!


New York Detox

Second only to real estate on the New York-conversational-frequency chart is talking about what it would be like not to live in New York. This takes one of two forms, in much the same way that it would if you were talking about the same thing on, say, a tropical island. There's the arrogant way: "Can you imagine what it would be like to have to do without the coconut drinks and the dulcet sound of the tide coming through our window every night?" And there's the beaten-down, wistful way: "If you close your eyes hard enough, can't you just imagine what it would be like to look at something other than sand for a few minutes?" When the New York conversation follows the latter template, my friends and I frequently ask each other what it would be like to unplug from the media maelstrom. And even though we mostly agree it would be a good thing in the long run, we imagine the detox program would be a tough one. In this way, and many others, I don't believe the decision to leave New York could ever be accurately judged until at least a year after doing it, maybe two. Or five.

I've been running one experiment in this vein lately. I'm now more than a week into my Gawker abstinence program, and I feel really good about it. If you didn't see the interview that made the rounds a short while ago, in which Jimmy Kimmel grilled one of the site's editors about Gawker's habit of aiding and abetting casual celebrity stalking, I won't recount it here. It's easy enough to Google. Suffice to say, as hypocritical as Kimmel is to argue about what's tasteful and what's not (he co-hosted The Man Show, for God's sake, which wasn't very different than actively campaigning to repeal the nineteenth amendment), Gawker (through its editor) could not have come off worse. It's not that the site wasn't already a guilty pleasure, but I had convinced myself that its vapid, eye-rolling, trying-to-sound-superior-while-bathing-in-mud tone was a carefully constructed one. Turns out it's just how they are. This isn't surprising, really, but it allowed me to kick the habit and remove the site from my bookmarks, so I'm grateful. Ideally, this will make the transition to Saratoga that much smoother. If it doesn't, I figure the first gin and tonic after hitting a trifecta will do the trick.

By the way, I understand that such hypotheticals are frequent around here, and that they're likely to continue until I retire in Manhattan sometime in my 70s. Just keep indulging me. I ask so little.

Dispatch from Planet America

For the second day in a row, I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Plano, Texas, which place represents the pulse of America far more accurately than my usual surroundings. As you might expect, there are fewer people here than you can find in any cafe in my neighborhood on an average weekday. And the people who are here are quieter and less restless than the Yankees I'm used to. There's a group of well-heeled young teenagers arranged around a table on the patio outside, and they're intimidating me with their youth and vitality, their indifference to their youth and vitality, and their nearly-matching hoodies. And the staff is playing an insufferable Dave Matthews record (I keep forgetting to bring my headphones when I come here), but otherwise, things are jake.

Earlier this afternoon I went to a movie with my dad in an Angelika theater near the northern border of Plano. It's part of a fairly large complex called The Shops at Legacy, which attempts to replicate a few square blocks of a walking city. Apartments line the area, which includes many stores and restaurants in addition to the movie theater. They call the whole thing an "urban lifestyle center." Which, of course, guarantees there's nothing urban about it. It's more like what you would get if you glued one strip mall on top of another, added a residential building by Ikea, threw on a parking garage, and dropped the whole thing in the middle of a cornfield. Build it, and they will shop. Still, it does seem a noble effort when the other option is the incredible sprawl that dominates most of this area.

Plano is consistently ranked among the best "small cities" in which to live, and it's almost always the most populous of those listed. With more than a quarter million residents and growing, Plano is utterly self-sufficient. It feels connected to nearby Dallas in almost no meaningful way. It's the type of convenient, safe, amenities-rich exurb that represents paradise for some and hell for others. Having no children and feeling existentially divorced from the culture of material striving that does more to define this place than anything else, it's definitely not paradise for me. Not quite hell, either, though (not until the summer temps arrive, anyway). At night, it's blissfully quiet. Dead quiet. During the day, I don't have to worry about getting a seat at Starbucks. These are very low standards, I know, but they're standards almost never met at home.

I'm going to write about a few songs in a minute, and I'm still hoping to get a camera before I head down to Houston, so I can post some pictures. Thanks for hanging around during the light week...

Aqua Teen Hunger Force

I guess the accuracy of that last post's headline would depend on your definition of "soon," but I'm not here to quibble. I'm here to direct you to my latest review, with the more-specific promise of additional posts later this afternoon. Is that soon enough for you? Huh??
Several hearty laughs don’t seem enough to justify asking pajama-wearing potheads to pay ten bucks for a product they get in a higher grade at home. But the problem (or blessing) is that the movie is immune to criticism. One could say it’s only good enough to be of interest to die-hards and cultists, but the Aqua Teen fan base is composed entirely of die-hards and cultists.

Friday, April 13, 2007

More Soon, From Another Time Zone

I'm off to the Lone Star State this evening, weather permitting. (This time, there are thunderstorms and tornadoes expected in DFW. Ugh.)

I'll be blogging from there, because I can't seem to stop. No, no, it's because I can't stand to be without all of you. Wait, that's not right either. I'm actually not sure why I'll be blogging from there. But I'll have a new digital camera with me, so God of Technological Prowess willing, I'll have snazzy pics to share.

For now, some frivolity as the weekend begins. Time to make the donuts...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007

I honestly can't remember the last time that a celebrity's passing truly affected me. In 1990, I was a junior in high school. Our English class was assigned, in pairs, to make a further investigation of one of the writers we had studied and then present our findings. My friend Brett and I enjoyed the experimental style and alternately goofy and dark humor of Slaughterhouse-Five, so we chose Kurt Vonnegut.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in the back of my Algebra II class, reading the stories in Welcome to the Monkey House. (I followed my passions and ignored what bored me as a student, and I'm still pretty sure that's not what you're meant to do while a student. Sorry, Algebra II teacher.) The story I had gotten to that day was called "Long Walk to Forever," and in stark contrast to the rest of the collection's sci-fi and social satire, it's a straightforward love story about an AWOL soldier named Newt who comes home to keep a girl he loves from marrying someone else. It ends with the sentence, "She ran to him, put her arms around him, could not speak."

That story didn't make me a sap. I think that was taken care of at birth. But it did increase my desire to become a writer, and my faith that I could do it. Thinking about it now, it was probably directly responsible for some truly terrible stories I wrote in college, full of clipped sentences and unearned sentiment.

Vonnegut wrote this about the story in the book's preface:
In honor of the marriage that worked, I include in this collection a sickeningly slick love story from The Ladies Home Journal, God help us, entitled by them "The Long Walk to Forever." The title I gave it, I think, was "Hell to Get Along With."

It describes an afternoon I spent with my wife-to-be. Shame, shame, to have lived scenes from a woman's magazine.
Shameful, maybe. But certainly less so than a guy getting misty-eyed about it in the back of math class at 16! Reading it now, of course, is an entirely different experience. Still, I'm grateful for the thrill it gave me at the time. And for all the thrills Vonnegut gave me in the ensuing year or two, when I read many of his other books, relating strongly to his distaste for group thinking and his occasional unembarrassed joy in the face of the ridiculous human condition. He also made me laugh harder than any writer had to that point.

I'm sure the obituaries now being printed take Vonnegut very seriously, which he deserves, but while he lived there was always an apologetic air about serious readers who discussed their "Vonnegut phase." I mean this as the highest praise: I think Vonnegut was, ideally, a writer for smart teenagers. He was, and is, a writer for when you're still honest about needing to figure life out, not for when you mistakenly believe you have it knocked.

But, understatement of the century, this isn't about me and my opinions, so I'll finish with another excerpt from that preface:
My only sister, five years older than I, died when she was forty. She was over six feet tall, too, by an angstrom unit or so. She was heavenly to look at, and graceful, both in and out of water. She was a sculptress. She was christened "Alice," but she used to deny that she was really an Alice. I agreed. Everybody agreed. Sometime in a dream maybe I will find out what her real name was.

Her dying words were, "No pain." Those are good dying words. It was cancer that killed her.


I used to be a public relations man for General Electric, and then I became a free-lance writer of so-called "slick fiction," a lot of it science fiction. Whether I improved myself morally by making that change I am not prepared to say. That is one of the questions I mean to ask God on Judgment Day -- along with the one about what my sister's name really was.

That could easily be next Wednesday.

I have already put the question to a college professor, who, climbing down into his Mercedes-Benz 300SL gran turismo, assured me that public relations men and slick writers were equally vile, in that they both buggered truth for money.

I asked him what the very lowest grade of fiction was, and he told me, "Science fiction." I asked where he was bound in such a rush, and learned that he had to catch a Fan-Jet. He was to speak at a meeting of the Modern Language Association in Honolulu the next morning. Honolulu was three thousand miles away.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wednesday's Song

At the risk of opening myself to ridicule, today's song is "Father and Son" by Cat Stevens. I've been listening to it the past few days (on the iPod), and it's really been getting to me (as it usually does). So here's a live version, including a prolonged, thrilling moment of guitar-tuning. Fire away:

Monday, April 09, 2007

"You want anarchy!!"

Holy mama. If you had asked me at the dawn of the millennium to write down a list of cultural events that might happen in the 21st century, one of my predictions would have been, "A fight on a TV talk show will lead to someone's death on air." We almost got lucky with a two-fer here, as Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera do look, at one point, like they are going to simultaneously devour each other. That point is at about the 3:00 mark. Geraldo comes off as, well, sane. (I'm as shocked as you are.) O'Reilly comes off like a mixture of Mussolini and Morton Downey Jr., if that even counts as a "mixture." I know clips of people losing it on air frequently make the rounds, but this is really worth watching. (Via QuizLaw)


Despite what I said below, taking extra time to produce this post ended up seeming like a bad idea. The hours or days it would have taken me to come up with something worthwhile would have gummed up the works, and it's hard to think of what could be more worthwhile than the type of thing that's posted here all the time. Right?


Anyway, this is the thousandth post. I've said it before: Thanks if you've been here for all of them. If you're new, welcome, and I hope you'll stick around.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Click, Click. Click, Click, Click. Click.

I'm going to get a camera soon, I can feel it. It really shouldn't be such a difficult process. The market is out there, just waiting to satisfy my needs.

And when I do, I'm going to try to avoid becoming obsessive about projects, though I'm quite entertained by others and their efforts. It seems increasingly common for people to take a photo of themselves every day and share the results with the world. Like this guy, who's been keeping tabs on himself for seven years, including some recent and very unfortunate facial-hair decisions.

There's a similar idea going on here, with "Noah K. Everyday," and I have to say that I think these projects, while fascinating, would be more palatable if the subjects didn't feel it necessary to consistently adopt an expression that says, "My dog just died." I know it's meant to act as a control, but might a smile not work just as well for that purpose? I really like the side project Noah did backstage at a VH1 awards show, where he posed with a series of celebrities, adopting that identical deadpan look each time.

Less overwhelming, if not much less solipsistic, is this series that a family has taken of itself once a year since 1976.

Lastly (or, second-to-lastly, actually), there's this series by Nicholas Nixon, who annually took a picture of four sisters. A friend and I saw these beautifully displayed at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth about a year ago.

Lastly (for real this time), you can find many more projects of varying interest at the site of the first guy I mentioned above. And with that, we've come full circle.

The next post around here will be a milestone, so I may be slightly delayed in producing it. Don't want to disappoint the fans.

The Hoax

After a few weeks away, I'm back up over at Pajiba:
The lies of a writer like James Frey are essentially of lasting interest only to publishing insiders, if them. He was lying about himself, after all, and if it weren’t for Oprah, very few people would know who he is, much less care if he was covered in vomit and blood exactly when and where he claimed to be covered in vomit and blood. But imagine someone today "co-writing" an entirely fictitious autobiography of Oprah, and you’re closer to what Clifford Irving tried to pull off in 1971, when he sold the memoirs of Howard Hughes.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Archive of the Day

This is from Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James, about his childhood in Australia. It's sadly out of print, but you can find cheap used copies easily enough online, and I suggest you do so. Here, he's writing about being in school at 11 years old. Nelson is an overweight student who has to use two desks pushed together. James was being raised by his mother after his father had died shortly after the end of World War II, in a plane accident on his way home from battle. This passage showcases what I like most about the book's tone, which is its ability to quickly steer between riotously funny and pensive.
The normal curriculum was dealt with in the morning and the afternoon was left free for the development of potentialities. Unfortunately like most educational concepts this idea yielded pretty thin results. No reflection on our teacher, Mr Davis -- who had been a navigator in a Lancaster during the war and could turn a back somersault off the one-metre board -- but learning to recognise aeroplanes is not the same as acquiring knowledge. The inevitable result was that those boys who were receiving some guidance from home flourished while those whose sole stimulus was the school did little more than fool around with 'projects.' Since the choice of project was left to us, the results were hopelessly variable as to quality. One boy with bifocals would be turning an old washing-machine into a particle accelerator while the boy at the next desk would be cutting out pictures of giraffes. I've just remembered the name of the boy at the next desk. His name was Tommy Pillans. He was unhappy at home and committed suicide in his first year with us -- the first premature death in my generation. His desk was empty for only a few days. Then there was a reshuffle. Perhaps part of Nelson moved into it. Anyway, that was Tommy Pillans. Gone without a ripple. Not for the last time, I accommodated myself with ease to the idea of someone vanishing.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

One American Life

I thought this was a terrific piece in the Times, just perfectly indicative of not only the horrors of returning from war (and war itself, of course), but of the particular appeal (not the only appeal) of the military's discipline to a certain type of person ("I mean, man, I was made for war.") and, not least, of a kind of doomed life -- the type of life that doesn't get paid much attention unless it dovetails with a large social issue like the current war.
Sam Ross's childhood was not easy. "Sam's had a rough life from the time he was born," his grandfather, Joseph Frank Ross, said. His parents fought, sometimes with guns, until they separated and his mother moved out of state. Mr. Ross bore some of the brunt of the turmoil.
That last sentence alone is a study in understatement. It's hard to imagine a much sadder story.

Your New Life is in My Peanut Butter! No, Your Peanut Butter is in My New Life!

"The entire food industry -- of the world -- depends on the fact that evolution doesn't happen."

This guy is priceless. Mildly scary? Sure. Developmentally disabled? Probably. But still, priceless. Check out the video at this link.

(Via The Stranger)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wednesday: That Time Again

This feature is getting to annoy me a bit. First off, it's really hard (for me, at least) to quickly find good stuff on YouTube. Secondly, posting something every Wednesday just reminds me of the incredible speed with which time is passing.

Complaints out of the way, here's something pretty joyous...Stevie Wonder performing "Superstition" on Sesame Street. Enjoy:

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

AP Headline of the Day

Keith Richards: 'I Snorted My Father'

"I would urge you to observe some minimum proper conduct and language..."

Orwellian overtones, anyone? This comes via Andrew Sullivan, who picked it up via a seemingly endless chain of other bloggers. It's a speech made to the UN Human Rights Commission by Hillel Neuer, the head of UN Watch, an organization that's clearly needed. If only its sentiments were considered "admissible." As others have pointed out, this is worthy of note not only because of Neuer's statement, but because of the way that statement is, as one blogger smartly put it, "compounded by the response of the chair."

When Chuang Chuang Met Lin Hui

While we're on the subject of animal life, I was struck by this story about the artificial insemination of a giant panda in Thailand. Other bloggers have understandably fixated on the "panda porn" mentioned in the article. That just doesn't seem right.

But what seems even less right to me is...everything else about this. Here's the gist:
The artificial insemination is a last ditch effort to get Lin Hui pregnant, after videos of pandas having sex failed to entice Chuang Chuang into mating with his partner.

"He just didn't want to mate. He was looking at her as a friend," said Sophon Dummui, director general of Thai Zoo Organization of Thailand which oversees the Chiang Mai Zoo.
They just want to be friends, zookeepers! True love waits, y'all!

But seriously, I guess it just hit me today -- partly because it would have to hit me while I was reading about humans teaming up to impregnate a wild animal, and that's not something I do with much frequency -- that this strategy isn't very progressive vis a vis the rights of female pandas. Sure, maybe Lin Hui is ticked off. Maybe she's been on Chuang Chuang for a while about starting a family, and he's always been, "Not now, cupcake; I told you, when we get out of this zoo -- when you and I can both get jobs, and finally see what it means to be living."* And maybe she's been trying to communicate with the zookeepers, trying to say, in her adorable giant-panda way, "Make with the turkey baster, I need some pups."

But for all we know, Lin Hui is perfectly happy with the way things are. Maybe she's afraid of giving birth. Maybe she just doesn't want to be weighed down by the demands of a kid.

Sure, you say, but shouldn't she have to take one for the endangered team? There is that, but cash is clearly a motivating factor here as well:
Thailand rented 6-year-old Chuang Chuang and 5-year-old Lin Hui from China for $250,000 in October 2003 for 10 years. They are expected to generate millions of dollars in tourist revenue.
And it seems the panda porn was only the most recent (and least bizarre, if you can believe it) in a series of magic-moment-inducing schemes:
...(the zoo has) tried everything from putting Chuang Chuang on a special diet to holding a mock wedding before resorting to artificial insemination.
A mock wedding? Are male pandas turned on by the thought of lifelong commitment? Would they not understand why According to Jim is funny? That's chilling.

The problem, as ever, lies in the nature of the beast:
Giant pandas have a very low fertility rate because they are sexually inactive. Female pandas become pregnant only once a year and deliver two cubs at most each time.
So, while I understand that giant pandas are cute, not to mention lucrative, isn't it possible that a group not interested in getting it on should fade away? Well, it's not that easy, of course. It's mostly pandas in captivity that have trouble revving their engines. (Luckily, I don't think humans will ever have this problem, should they be forced to propagate in monitored captivity -- at least judging by the behavior of reality-show participants.) And it's human settlement that has caused most of the decline in the panda population.
"The only hope for the future of the panda is to balance the needs of humans and the needs of the panda," says Elizabeth Kemf of the World Wildlife Fund.
OK, so we're largely responsible for the current state of things. I suppose this means the differing solutions would break people into two camps. Think of the pandas as Iraq in 2003. (Stay with me here.) On the one hand, some argued that the U.S. was once complicit in Hussein's crimes, giving it little moral ground to stand on when justifying an invasion. Others argued (links can be found easily enough, but I'm too bleary from writing this post to find the good ones right now -- this was supposed to be a quick panda joke, for god's sake) that such complicity would only impose a greater obligation on the U.S. to act against the then-current regime. I'm not saying this to start a political debate, about species preservation or Iraq. I'm only saying this in the hopes that some of you are under the influence of marijuana right now, because I think it will really blow your mind.

This is all leaving aside the first issue mentioned above. One has to assume that this porn takes the form of an extra reel of footage from the Discovery Channel archives. The alternative -- that behind a beaded curtain somewhere is something like Panda's Labyrinth -- is just too weird to contemplate.
*"Fast Car" by Tracy Chapman, copyright 1988


While I loved studying large underwater life as a kid, and it still fascinates me, this life-size representation of a blue whale (you can scroll around and a "key whale" in the upper right corner shows you where you're at) kind of scares the living hell out of me. There's just something eerie about it. I don't like it one bit.

To recap: Whales, cool. This whale, creepy.

(Via Inky Circus)

(Update: Here's another point for the cool side of things.)

Atul the Great

I love Atul Gawande's essays in The New Yorker. If you haven't read them, you should. They've been collected here, and now here. In addition to being an accomplished surgeon and a terrific writer, it turns out that Gawande is also a character from a Wes Anderson movie who has stepped off the screen into real life. I offer the following tidbits from this profile of him as definitive proof:
He sent it to the lab, along with a blood sample to see if the parathyroid hormone levels had started to come down, and while waiting for the results he took out a marking pen and drew a game of Hangman on the surgical drapes covering the unconscious patient. His word was "velvet," which stumped everyone.


Pulling out his Blackberry, he said, "It seems like there’s a story in every nook and cranny of medicine," and scrolling down a list of 106 ideas he’d saved, he picked a few. "Itching," he said. "Nobody really understands what it is."

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Days Ahead

It's been a while since I've provided you with an unsolicited, uncared-for, probably wildly inaccurate preview of things that will soon appear in this humble space. So here I am.

Work is binding both my hands right now, and tickling me, and slapping me across the face, and teasing me about where I went to school. Plus, in the coming days, I have every intention of hammering away at the oft-spoken-of and rarely hammered-at "other writing projects." But barring some unforeseen catastrophe (oh, like doing my taxes; damn, forgot about that one), I should be passing the 1,000-post mark sometime around week's end. I have nothing special planned for it. If you have any requests, I'd love to hear them. In the absence of any great ideas, I thought I might just gather us all in a supermarket, drop some confetti, and give away a bundle or two of asparagus. Stay tuned for details.

As for that preview... here are some subjects I've recently been thinking about that might (and more likely, might not) show up sometime before that thousandth post: Weddings, Joan Didion, the midwest, inside jokes, string theory, Joan Didion, "obsessive-photography" projects, Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" feature, and Joan Didion (I can almost guarantee there will be a post about her).

Wanting Things

Opening Day; or, Jason Giambi is on Pace for 486 RBIs

I have an uneasy feeling about this year for the Yankees, but they hit their way to a win over the Devil Rays today. The Yanks once again enter the season with a fearsome lineup and a stable of aging pitchers (so banged up already that Carl Pavano got the Opening Day start). This, as the team has discovered time and again this decade, is a perfect recipe for going 92-70 and then losing the first chance you get in October.

Alas, I shouldn't be so grumpy on Opening Day. The Red Sox lost to the lowly Royals, so 2007 is off to a good start all around. Baseball is the rhythm section in any good summer, and I think we could all use a really good summer. Here we go...

Lyric of the Day

From "New Girl" by The Long Winters:
Twice you burned your life's work
Once to start a new life
And once just to start a fire

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Man Losing His Mind, Set to Music

I've started to feel bad about recently ranting to friends about how much I dislike the broadcasting style of Gus Johnson. I normally like enthusiasm in the world. My main problem is that he's a play-by-play guy. If he were in the other seat, I might be able to take his maniacal approach to things. But either way, this remix of his most heated calls set to music is pretty great. (It repeats a few of the most insane examples, which makes sense. They're like the song's chorus.)

(Via Deadspin)

A Frown for Smiley

One of the many, many reasons I consider myself a liberal in the classical mode, rather than what you might call the Coastal-American mode, is because our coasters so often express their bleeding hearts with such subtle respect for human complexity and vulnerability. Take the opening paragraph of this piece by Jane Smiley on that shining example of level-headed discourse, The Huffington Post:
Back in 2004, when Bush seemed to win the Presidential election for the first time, I made a vow. It was that in future years, if I happened to see an elderly homeless person holding out his hat, I would lean down and ask him who he voted for in 2004. If he said "Bush", I planned to step over him and walk on.