<= 2002.03

2002.05 =>

[APRIL 2002.]

big ideas

Online apartment hunting is promising, for I demand ultimate comfort, convenience and style! My sister says, "We need to figure out the stereo situation, because there will be those days when you want to listen to opera and I want to listen to Britney Spears."

My career-counselor mother, who works a lot with the Myers-Briggs and is consequently tolerant of people's personality quirks, excuses my tendency to start things but not finish them. "That's because you and I are INFPs," she says. "After we start things, we need other people to handle the details. Some people like doing that."

Song of Roland. This is currently at 35,000 words and needs around 20,000 more. The Roland/Anna relationship is pretty well cemented, except for a rushed ending, but the Roland/parent relationships are still fuzzy and confused. Of course the answer is to bite the bullet and write backstory, which should happen once I get moved—August to October, roughly. I wrote all the Tucson scenes in Iowa, so it's only natural that I should write all the Seattle scenes in Tucson. Then I get to try and sell someone the manuscript.

In the Twilight of the Third Age. This weighs in at a paltry 15,000 words and needs to be about five times that. We need more scenes, more characters, more viewpoints, more of that elegant yet sleazy intrigue one expects from the high-rolling world of 1960s Reno. The sense of time passing is not yet organic to the narrative, and the protagonist is still something of a cipher. I'll be wrestling this for most of 2003, I think, unless I'm rewriting the other book at someone's behest.

Approaching Zero. The most recent draft of this got to 55,000 words before it ran out of steam and collapsed under its own portentousness last July. I can't write the next draft until I go to Guatemala (summer 2003, hopefully?), nor can I write it until I finish the books listed above. It's possible that nobody will be interested in those two, but I think this one has more of a built-in hook. It needs to be rebuilt from scratch, of course, but that's okay. We learn things from blind alleys, even if it means that our friends are in possession of early drafts that have become sources of great embarrassment.

Let The Day Perish (working title). This might be a memoir, or it might be one of those works of fiction that merely flirts with being a memoir. It might also be a collection of linked stories—I don't really know. Its germ lies in the only two successful stories I've written ("Javelinas" and "Let the Day Perish"), but those need much more time in the holding tank before their larger form becomes manifest.

Untitled comparative study of Beckett and Joyce. I've been wanting to write a book like this for a while, and I did get a lot of the Joyce material written in California, but academic deadlines intervened. Later I tried to work some of the theory into Approaching Zero, but that resulted in these agonizing scenes where college students were sitting around the table talking about narrative in Molloy, and it just did not work at all. The material needs its own forum, hopefully not cluttered with so much academic gobbledygook that the general reader finds it impenetrable. I could do this since I'm not trying to get tenure anywhere.

The Dance of Death. Oil painting, should be done in the next few days. This is just for fun.

Sonata in D Minor for Electric Bass and Electric Guitar With Effects. Also just for fun. I have most of the first movement figured out and will probably write the others this summer. I may enlist Nik's help in recording it this fall, as he does have the nice equipment.

Textual Mix Tape. A whim I had the other day while reading Benjamin's Illuminations. I'll put it together some weekend.

Owl Farm. I did just post my MFA exam there, but that's only because Marlowe is listing the site on job applications and wants it to look as though it was updated recently. I think we just ran out of time and energy for this one. The Afronaut article on the farmlog is pretty good, though.

Arizona Test Prep. Theoretically, this is where my daily bread is going to come from. I've been trying to write course materials, but it's hard to embark on a project just as one is about to leave a place. I think most of the work will have to be done this summer.

Yeah. So see if I can just finish one of these, why don't I.


the violations or the alleged violations

The Israeli Ha'aretz Daily refers to "brutal" American pressure. What did Bush tell Sharon?

There once was a thing called a V-2,
To pilot which you did not need to—
You just pushed a button,
And it would leave nuttin'
But stiffs and big holes and debris, too.


vote dukakis

Assorted digital camera snapshots here. I was going to crop and organize them and so on, but I am lazy and working over a prohibitively slow connection. Most of them are from January's RV trip through Nevada and Utah, but there are also a few from Brooklyn (comedy/tragedy) and San Francisco, as well as some pictures of Workshop people in my apartment doing things they shouldn't (exhibit A/exhibit B/exhibit C). Also, here are the sister and the cat who I'll be moving in with come August.

Last night we watched Donnie Darko, and everyone needs to see this pronto so we can get a conversation going. The fact that IMDB can't decide whether to file it under mystery, fantasy, drama, romance, or sci-fi should tell you something right away. I don't know that it's quite an unqualified success, but a few lingering questions can't obscure the importance of what this film does. I really dislike most of the eighties brat-pack movies because they present a nostalgic and whitewashed version of high school; maybe it was different for other people, but my four years were not like that at all. A lot of us spent adolescence fighting demons, and even when a movie like The Breakfast Club tries to take that darkness on, it comes out tame and sanitized. There is nothing tame or sanitized about Donnie Darko. They absolutely nailed how it feels to be fifteen and at the end of your rope.

Oh yeah, and there are the time warps and everything, but in a way those are distinctly secondary. The film needed a framework that would allow it to talk about the end of the world (which of course is no more than the death of the self, subjectively), and those fit the bill. I'm still not certain that it all adds up logically, but I don't know that it needs to. A year ago I would not be content with this sort of movie until I had sorted out all the causality, or alternatively figured out what was "real" and what was "hallucination," or whatever. People still try to do this sort of thing in workshop when confronted with an unusual piece. But of course that's a limited and limiting response. Relevant is Hugh Kenner's discussion of why James Joyce deliberately salted Ulysses with unsolveable mysteries:

...we may glimpse a Joyce who commenced by flexing the powers of auctorial omniscience, decreeing Bloomsday's very clouds and winds, and came to perceive as he worked the dangers of hermetic closure, of fastening the last rivet in what he seemed to be achieving, the ultimate late-nineteenth-century novel in which everything pertinent seems known and accounted for; perceived the exclusion from such an Analytical Engine of any invited response save a Cheshire Cat's irony; glimpsed its truly terrible knowingness, and the reductiveness of that. Temperament would have aided this perception, for though he loved closed systems he was attracted even more—had been at least since Exiles—to a mental cosmos founded, as Stephen tells us the church is founded, on mystery, 'and founded irremovably because founded, like the world, macro and microcosm, upon the void. Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood' (9.841). Micro- and macrocosm, Ulysses, the empirical world. That sentence comes not long before the contrived incertitudes of 'Wandering Rocks,' where our empiricism receives many checks, and Joyce surely had moods in which he knocked a few holes in his fabric, to promote a little healthy incertitude.


But Einstein (1905) in effect denied an ideal simultaneity—'what really happens'—on which we get our imperfect fixes, and Kurt Gödel (1930) proved closure also impossible to deductive thought: always a hole at the bottom of the well-wrought bag. And Picasso (1909 ff.) ended the ideal separation of subject from painting, and Joyce (1922) the ideal separation of story from the book of words. All four, and others, terminate a dualism between the art or science and its materials.

Furthermore, the film does invite us to entertain the premise that there's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.



that won't keep you warm at night

Writing out yesterday's itinerary allowed me to see that it would drive me batty. Accordingly, Guatemala is off for this summer (hopefully postponed to the next). If I am serious about starting a business in August, I'll need the time and money for that, and matters are arranged so that I have two books to finish before I start to write about Central America again. As I am still going to Italy, I can't complain.

A few years ago, before I completely gave up on Spin and its ilk, I was reading an article in that magazine about Pavement. "Witnessing their recent attempts to rock out can be a lot like watching grad students dance," the article noted. But after attending the Graduate Students' Ball last night, I can assert this is false; Pavement had much more detachment and aplomb. Last night's event was just ill-conceived. It was worth attending for the scenery, but still.

DJ: Are there any urban studies majors in the house?
DJ: This one is just for you guys!
["We Built This City" is played. The grad students stand on the dance floor and self-consciously nod in time.]

Most of the evening was a variation on this. I bopped around, drunk, in my red shirt, and got people to pin their nametags on me.

Shockingly, this failed to alleviate the existential loneliness.


taking myself apart

Metameat Dot Net World Tour :: Summer 2002

19 May: Iowa City --> Chicago
20 May: Chicago --> Iowa City
21-23 May: Iowa City --> Reno
4 June: Reno --> San Francisco --> London
7 June: London --> Rome
8-15 June: Rome --> Florence --> Venice --> Rome
16 June: Rome --> London --> Cambridge
19 June: Cambridge --> London --> San Francisco --> Reno
26 June: Reno --> Tucson
30 June: Tucson --> Reno
21 June: Reno --> San Francisco
22 June: San Francisco --> Guatemala City --> Quetzaltenango
13 July: Quetzaltenango --> Guatemala City
14 July: Guatemala City --> San Francisco
16[?] July: San Francisco --> Reno

27-28 July: Reno --> Tucson
2 August: Tucson --> Phoenix --> NYC --> Long Island
4 August: Long Island --> NYC --> Phoenix --> Tucson

By this point any vestigial sense of place ought to be thoroughly eroded.


starship troopers

Le Pen's National Front takes Joan of Arc as its mascot.

The French often describe Le Pen's nativist crusade with the peculiarly Anglo-Saxon word folklorique, and pure, defiant, uncorruptible, demonized, God-and-country Joan is the supreme totem of indigenous folk heroism—much older and more sacred than the tricolor. The only glitch in the legend as it relates to Le Pen's purposes is that Joan went to the stake a virgin, and the Front wants Frenchwomen to breed.


Still, I was surprised that Le Pen felt misunderstood. He makes himself so clear. At one point, he asked me, "What do I have to do to not be racist? Marry a black woman?" Then he smiled, and added, "With AIDS, if possible?"


spinning wheels

I appreciate the concision and candor of the postmodernism drinking game.

RULE ONE: If *anyone*, at any *time*, for any *reason*, believes in, supports, or likes a person, place, or idea, it's only because they haven't uncovered the fundamental contradictions underlying it and you are allowed to laugh at them because they are Less Jaded than you.

Dateline Tucson: Ed Norton as McCain? Huh. Perhaps John has decided he'd rather be an icon than a president.

It's a Tim Burton sort of day here. The trees are tossing hither and thither, and the sky is like soot.


run for your life

And now, I suppose as retaliation for Sunday's entry, I am getting multiple emails from an Internet crush site. It won't work, Internet crush site; per my eighteen-month cycle, I am monastic until February 2003.

From Subcomandante Marcos via bhikku, Waste Land limericks!

The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
Tiresias fancies a peep--
A typist is laid,
A record is played--
Wei la la. After this it gets deep.

Quoting frequently from the Koran, Mr. Moussaoui framed his trial as a struggle between a devout Muslim willing to die for his religious beliefs and a group of "pagans, Jews, Christians and hypocrites." He described himself repeatedly as a "slave of Allah."

Still, Mr. Moussaoui made clear that he stood by his not-guilty plea and said that he wanted "to defend my life." He reminded the court, "I am innocent until proven guilty," and he said he had been repeatedly rebuffed in his efforts since to hire capable Muslim lawyers.

Prosecutors offered no objection to Mr. Moussaoui's request to defend himself. Justice Department officials in Washington said they were perplexed by the request, although one senior official said Mr. Moussaoui "may believe, incorrectly, that he can avoid the death penalty if he creates the appearance of some sort of anti-Muslim prejudice within the government."

I have to say, it strikes me as pretty myopic to assume that Moussaoui wants to avoid the death penalty. If in fact he was originally supposed to be martyred in September but the planning went awry, then what better way (in his worldview) to die now than to be put to death by the Godless state after condemning it at length, with great publicity, in orthodox Muslim fashion? I'm sure that counts as death during jihad, meaning a backstage pass to Paradise and so on. And—as Moussaui has already noted—we'll play right along, because we are the country that gasses people.


blood and choler

Predictably, yesterday's trough has produced a crest in its turn. For one thing, Ambassador Satch showed up. Sure, why not go out and love, if that's your thing? It's either that or wait for death.

Though I will admit that Earth Day is one of those gestures that make me incredibly sad. Bush goes hiking with a hammer? What the fuck? It's like seeing Emperor Diocletian celebrate Christmas. Anything to chase it away. The hot water at ten. And if it rains, a closed car at four. Or go buy pirate merchandise!

I don't like this upswing of the European far right one bit either. A backlash against globalization? The developed world's last xenophobic stand against encroachment by the developing world? How bad can it get? And then we all go sit in a room and talk about whether the epiphany that Character X had in his car is believable, and I tell you I just feel sick sometimes.

Nobody gets by without desires, sure, but I have to scale them down. At the moment, all I really desire is this. If it never rains, I will never die.


of love and other demons

Someone (I suspect Ethan or the mysterious chili) pointed out the gross solecism in yesterday's Michael Frayn quote. The error is mine and not Frayn's, of course. I have emended it.

The prevailing wisdom on divorce—and specifically the nature of its effect on children—has, like other cultural attitudes, changed along with the times. Do divorced-but-happier parents make for happier children, as was once thought, or is even a contentious but intact marriage better for children, as the most recent line of thinking has it? As the research has piled up over the past several decades, with recantations and modifications following each new finding, one senses that divorce has come to be a leading cultural indicator, the locus for a whole cluster of our anxieties about everything from sex to death.

Or it may be that I am hopelessly dating myself by the intensity with which I approach the subject: perhaps, for the generation coming up, it will be just another rite of passage to be navigated, like getting one's first job. I am referring to the marital micro-trend known as "starter marriages." Such blitzkrieg unions are, their enthusiasts tell us, all the rage; they last five years at most, are childless, and are usually over and done with before either partner reaches thirty. In a book called "The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony" (Villard; $24.95), Pamela Paul predicts that these speeded-up scenarios are the wavelet of the immediate future. "People will slide wedding bands on and off," she reports, "with the same ease with which they whip out updated resumes." Paul bases her far-reaching conclusions on the slimmest of demographic bases (she interviewed sixty young divorced people around the country) and has compiled her book largely by stringing together quotes from a smorgasboard of books and articles (ranging from Cosmopolitan to Gertrude Himmelfarb's "One Nation, Two Cultures"). But there is no doubt that she is on to something marketable: herself a "starter marriage" survivor—in the glittering company of Drew Barrymore, Uma Thurman, and Angelina Jolie—Paul has already appeared on the "Today" show. She insists that this kind of marriage is entered into with expectations of permanence. All the same, a starter marriage sounds suspiciously like a starter apartment: a provisional arrangement, a necessary first step on the road to a more gratifying marital habitation—one with a top-of-the-line kitchen and a river view.

—Daphne Merkin, from The New Yorker, 22/29 April 2002

If you want my opinion (which I guess you do, or you wouldn't be reading this) as someone who has seen several marriages, including that of my parents, disintegrate at close range (and who hasn't, nowadays?) the whole goddamn institution is bankrupt. Cohabitation seems to be practically the norm in Europe, at least among certain classes. Now that childbirth is less common, the pressing need for social sanction is on the decline. I don't know if it's better to have everyone ending their marriages once they grow tired of them, as opposed to enduring unhappy marriages their entire lives. It would be fine if it weren't for the kids. If the impulsive, selfish choices one makes about one's life were not visited upon others. I can't fathom anyone accepting that kind of commitment and contract when you know damn well that your identity is not static, that devotion is something you will never be able to guarantee, that any morning you may wake up and realize that you've dug yourself into a pit. It's raining outside.

'What will survive of us is love.' This is the cautiously approached conclusion of Philip Larkin's poem 'An Arundel Tomb'. The line surprises us, for much of the poet's work was a squeezed flannel of disenchantment. We are ready to be cheered; but we should first give a prosey scowl and ask of this poetic flourish, Is it true? Is love what will survive of us? It would be nice to think so. It would be comforting if love were an energy source which continued to glow after our deaths. Early television sets, when you turned them off, used to leave a blob of light in the middle of the screen, which slowly diminished from the size of a florin to an expiring speck. As I boy I would watch this process each evening, wanting vaguely to hold it back (and seeing it, with adolescent melancholy, as the pinpoint of human existence fading inexorably in a black universe). Is love meant to glow on like this for a while after the set has been switched off? I can't see it myself. When the survivor of a loving couple dies, love dies too. If anything survives of us it will probably be something else. What will survive of Larkin is not his love but his poetry: that's obvious. And whenever I read the end of 'An Arundel Tomb' I'm reminded of William Huskisson. He was a politician and a financier, well-known in his time; but we remember him today because on the 15th of September 1830, at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, he became the first person to be run down and killed by a train (that's what he became, was turned into). And did William Huskisson love? And did his love last? We don't know. All that has survived of him is his moment of final carelessness; death froze him as an instructive cameo about the nature of progress.


Let's start at the beginning. Love makes you happy? No. Love makes the person you love happy? No. Love makes everything all right? Indeed no. I used to believe all this, of course. Who hasn't (who doesn't still, somewhere below decks in the psyche)? It's in all our books, our films; it's the sunset of a thousand stories. What would love be for if it didn't solve everything? Surely we can deduce from the very strength of our aspiration that love, once achieved, eases the daily ache, works some effortless analgesia?

A couple love one another, but they aren't happy. What do we conclude? That one of them doesn't really love the other; that they love one another a certain amount but not enough? I dispute that really; I dispute that enough. I've loved twice in my life (which seems quite a lot to me), once happily, once unhappily. It was the unhappy love that taught me most about love's nature—though not at the time, not until years later. Dates and details—fill them in as you like. But I was in love, and loved, for a long time, many years. At first I was brazenly happy, bullish with solipsistic joy; yet most of the time I was puzzlingly, naggingly unhappy. Didn't I love her enough? I knew I did—and put off half my future for her. Didn't she love me enough? I know she did—and gave up half her past for me. We lived side by side for many years, fretting at what was wrong with the equation we had invented. Mutual love did not add up to happiness. Stubbornly, we insisted that it did.

And later I decided what it was I believed about love. We think of it as an active force. My love makes her happy; her love makes me happy: how could this be wrong? It is wrong; it evokes a false conceptual model. It implies that love is a transforming wand, one that unlooses the ravelled knot, fills the top hat with handkerchiefs, sprays the air with doves. But the model isn't from magic but particle physics. My love does not, cannot make her happy; my love can only release in her the capacity to be happy. And now things seem more understandable. How come I can't make her happy, how come she can't make me happy? Simple: the atomic reaction you expect isn't taking place, the beam with which you are bombarding the particles is on the wrong wavelength.

—Julian Barnes, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

Some months ago a question was circulating online: what is the Greatest Love Story of All Time? I was not in a fine mood that day and my first instinct was to make a brief, splenetic reply: Evil Dead II, say, or Beckett's Molloy. ("Perhaps after all she put me in her rectum. A matter of complete indifference to me, I needn't tell you. But is it true love, in the rectum? That's what bothers me sometimes. Have I never known true love, after all?") But in the end nobler sentiments prevailed and I went with Tristan und Isolde, which I do love for the music, even apart from the story.

About that story. It's understood that the vast majority of love stories considered great—of all narrative works considered great—are tragedies rather than comedies. The Elizabethan dramatic convention, that comedies end in marriage and tragedies end in death, still holds in essence; these form our twin narrative termini. To understand the truth of this, it's best not to examine a field such as literary fiction, which prides itself on innovation, sophistication, and freedom from precedent. Instead turn to the more demotic form of the movies, where even a deliberate thwarting of convention (such as the end of The Graduate) must define itself against the expectation of a final scene at the altar.

But given that, why must a love story, in order to qualify for greatness, move toward death rather than union? I suspect that the answer lies in the sheer scale of emotion required. A story that ends in a wedding is fundamentally a story about society—ritual is followed; propriety is maintained; families are allied; the union is sanctioned by church, state, and community. Isn't there something anticlimactic, something depressingly bourgeois, about a love story that closes in this way? It suffices for a comedy of manners, certainly, but we want our great lovers to oppose society in some way. A pox on both your houses, is the lover's cry; to hell with king and country; go fuck yourself with the atom bomb. We associate passion with the grand individual gesture, and we expect romance to be as thrillingly subversive as political or ideological furor.

If love could be truly individualistic—if one could go off to a hermitage in the woods and practice it in solitude—that would be one thing. But of course it is based upon interrelationships. And it necessarily carries the seeds of the society it would like to oppose; carnal knowledge begets children, after all, and families are societies in miniature. And nobody wants to watch Tristan take a job with the Department of the Interior (for those great government benefits!) while Isolde stays home and takes her folic acid. The only narrative solution is to start turning the horrible blind cogs of society until they churn out a war, a feud, any situation that will pit the lovers against the rest of the observable world and leave one, or preferably both, of them dead. They adhered to their ideal until the end, and it is the world's function to crush ideals; therefore we may easily shed tears for them and for the improbable concept to which they sacrificed themselves, after which we may peaceably return to our own compromised love lives, assuming that we have any.

Love as a solitary emotion is solipsistic; love as a communal emotion is imperfectly shared. Wagner understood the yearning of the two to become one, and he understood the tragic impossibility of such a union. Despite his reprehensible, philandering personal habits, his artistic eye was perfectly clear, and he made this cruel bind the philosophic heart of his libretto. "Tristan you, Isolde I," sings Tristan; he yearns to shed his identity under the concealment of night, where all boundaries are invisible, and merge with his beloved. The music is all about impossible yearning. The opening motif, in simplified transcription, looks like this:

The chord beginning the second full bar is an augmented sixth, a notoriously ambiguous construction that can resolve in a number of different ways. Here it goes to an E7 chord, which would very much like to resolve to an A, but it doesn't; the music simply cuts out. (When it begins again, the same unfinished sequence is repeated in a different key.) Note the contrary chromatic lines, one ascending (G#, A, A#, B) and one descending (F, E, D#, D), both without reference to any scale, without any hint of a final resting place. This construction will return throughout the opera at the moments of greatest passion; when Tristan sings about becoming one with Isolde, she responds in kind and the short theme begins to repeat under the ensuing duet, circular and accelerating in a rhythm that, yes, is unmistakably the rhythm of coitus, and just as it seems about to climax, just as the E7 will finally resolve to its A and the lovers will finally merge, King Mark's soldiers burst onto the scene and the pair are discovered. Melot turns on the lights, destroying the illusory union of darkness, and Tristan is banished to his castle across the sea.

If there is a Fall in our history, it happened about fifteen billion years ago, when this temporal universe got started. For a moment all was a single loop of string, vibrating at such intensity that it would destroy the entire present cosmos, but then its inherent nature caused it to push outward. Since then we have been growing farther apart. Love offers few choices; no matter how many times it has failed us, we willingly reenter the pit. We need to. Eliot said that hell is oneself and Sartre said that hell is other people, but it would seem that we perceive solitude to be the worse horror. It doesn't even matter that this solitude can never be assuaged. We spend our whole lives clawing at our prison walls, desperate for the unity that we insist we once had, that we insist we might have again, and then we have the audacity to be perplexed when it doesn't materialize. Or failing that, we pick up pen and paper and sit down to document, in rhapsodic, excruciating detail, the nature of our bars.


look homeward, angel

Michael Frayn, acclaimed-and-so-on author of Noises Off and Copenhagen, among many others, was in town yesterday to promote his new novel Spies. He is in his late sixties and is an incredibly charming specimen of the British '40s-'50s generation. He uses words like "insouciantly" without warning. A fine crosshatching of wrinkles is etched into his forehead.

He has not been doing any reading on his book tour. "I can't stand the sound of authors reading," he explained, "and the author whose voice I detest the most is myself." Earlier in the day he had done a radio interview, and the interviewer had been forced to read an excerpt himself. "So I think I will forgo the reading tonight," he said, "and instead talk about the book for twenty minutes or so." Which he did, displaying copious wit and self-deprecation throughout the talk (which gave the appearance of being extemporaneous, though it was obviously rehearsed) and throughout the subsequent mostly-stupid audience questions. A typical bit of prime British humility, on his translations of Chekhov: "It seemed that I was the only working playwright in Britain with a reading knowledge of Russian. Obviously there are many better Russian scholars than me, and many better playwrights than me, but I was the only person where the two skills happened to intersect."

Reading A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters right now, because I wanted something light and fun. Ha ha. The Noah's ark (beetle POV) chapter was all well and good, but then there was the Palestinian terrorist chapter, and now there is the nuclear war chapter, and I'm only a third of the way through the damn book. I will retaliate by painting more.

The Times presents: At Home With Chris Offutt.

The furniture is used, exclusively. "Everything is secondhand beat up," Mr. Offutt said. "In my case, a little battered. I like having stuff that's used, because it's like me in a way. It's already been through something. It comes to me with its own history."

Indeed. He bought that television I was selling in October, whose history mostly consists of Kieslowski and The Simpsons—not to mention the gay pirate penguin movie, which I think is playing tonight at that tiny film festival behind the sandwich shop in Tucson. Nik is in Amsterdam right now, so I don't know whether we'll hear anything about it.


irëme serë

Anonymous, in the comments box:

how do you know matt shears?

Well, he's in the program here. And he's dating my next-door neighbor, so I hear him going up and down the stairs a lot. Sometimes I go next door and we all drink cheap wine.

The military, the State Department, and all high-level executives at Fortune 500 companies need to learn the Surinamese language of Trio (via Bellona Times) immediately, and use it henceforth in all reports, briefings, memoranda, etc.

For example, the Trio language contains a so-called frustrative ending. This ending expresses an expectation which has not been met. For example, a civil servant says in Dutch: "I told you that we are going to build a school but it has now transpired that we do not have any money for this." An interpreter translated this into the Trio language but omitted the frustrative ending to the word told. The sentence then gave the impression that when the civil servant made the promise, he already knew that the school would never materialise. Trio leaves no room for doubt. Whoever says: "The man has gone to town," must indicate in the form of the verb whether or not he saw the man going to town. If the speaker was not an eyewitness, he also needs to indicate whether he has understood this to be the case or whether he has indirect evidence.

It's such a bizarre and wonderful idea that on first reading I suspected it was a hoax; it reads like one of the Geegaw lies. But here is the Lord's Prayer in Trio, and these days I think the frustrative might well be appropriate.


scattered strong storms

Something awful is happening in Milan and the weather here is hot, gray and thick. I don't trust any of it, and my head is starting to hurt from making up these fake SAT problems. It's no good, this daily bread. Today might have to be a painting day.

They might rebuild the Afghan Buddhas, though.


world's largest casino

The radiator is off. I win!

They're going to let me graduate. I win again! Peyton was threatening to make me wear a dunce cap in the corner during the ceremony.

To: [Joshua McColough]
From: [Paul Kerschen]
Subject: RE: !hotel!

> Finally: a question for you: Can moles
> swim? This is key to my manuscript,
> and I can't seem to find an answer.

Yes, depending on the species. Encyclopedia sez:

"The five toes of the forefoot are broad clawed, making a shovel for digging or a paddle for swimming. The fur is velvety and brushes in any direction without resistance....

"The American shrew mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii) is a long-snouted species of the coastal forests of northwestern North America; at 10.5 cm, including its 3-cm tail (minimum measurements), it is the smallest North American mole. It swims and climbs....

"The star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata) of northeastern North America has 22 pink, tentacle-like touch organs set radially on its nose. It often leaves its burrow, and it swims well."

No mention of swimming ability in the North American common, or eastern, mole (Scalopus aquaticus), but given its scientific name seems it would have to swim. There are also some semi-aquatic European mammals of the mole family, called desmans.


bolgia nine—the sowers of discord

My octogenarian landlord has skipped town without turning off the furnace, so my radiator is still going full blast despite the fact that we're having record highs around here. It's 85 degrees in my apartment with the AC and fan cranked to the maximum, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it, other than not wearing clothes. It's hard to drink coffee.

Thanks to Justin for helping this site maintain its position as the weblog community's leader in hermaphrodite frog news.

The Environmental Protection Agency permits up to 3 parts per billion of atrazine in drinking water. But Hayes' team found it affected frogs at doses as small as 0.1 part per billion...

Asked if atrazine might also be a threat to people at low levels, Hayes said he did not know, adding that, unlike frogs, "we're not in the water all the time. I'm not saying it's safe for humans. I'm not saying it's unsafe for humans. All I'm saying is that it makes hermaphrodites of frogs."

You like to listen to KRUI online. And odds are you will be desperate to listen to KRUI online once you've moved away from Iowa, because most commercial and college stations are unlistenable (for opposite reasons) and Internet radio will be your only way to get that fix of broadcast Frank Black and Elvis Costello and Modest Mouse and Throwing Muses and Miles Davis and happy bleep-bleep electronica. So go save Internet radio before they take it away.


janus-faced tax day (the american dream)

Dropped off the Michener application. That's it. So far as academic obligations go, I never have to write anything more, ever.

I hope this means that, eventually, I will start to enjoy it again.

The winter here is one thing—but the summer, which dropped in from nowhere yesterday, is like being inside someone's mouth. All the same, I will not argue with the sunlight. The little machine in my hindbrain that converts vitamin D into serotonin is going at full throttle, and my sweltering apartment is full of hope and promise. In one month I am out of here. I have decided that east of the Rockies, this continent is bullshit. The summers are too hot and the winters are too cold and everywhere you go is either a city or a farm. You might as well be living in Europe, only you don't get the welfare state.

In August, once I get settled in Arizona, I am going to start a business. It seems like the American thing to do; I am so tired of feeling beholden to institutions. Plus I'm young enough that, if it completely tanks, I can always move in with my dad and not be totally ashamed. He could probably use the company. This impending business will provide standardized test preparation and academic tutoring for high school students, because (sadly) this is still my most marketable skill, and because I like the idea of a job that will leave me alone on weekdays until 3 p.m. I have registered a domain name and I am drawing up course materials this month. It ought to be tried.


war and war's alarms

In Chicago we drove past a Palestinian protest and an Israeli counter-protest across the street. Both groups had their flags and slogans, made as pithy and telegenic as possible. (Left corner: "The Real Axis of Evil: Saddam / bin Laden / Arafat." Right corner: "LET MY PEOPLE GO." "[star of David] = [swastika].") On the scene were a television reporter and lots of cops on horseback, keeping an eye on the proceedings but not looking unduly concerned. Demonstrators don't throw rocks in America, not yet.

Francine Prose loves this Jonathan Safran Foer book; I beg to differ. I read that excerpt they published in the New Yorker summer fiction issue under the title "The Very Rigid Journey"—or rather, I read half of it before giving up in frustration. The premise of the book, which is that it's being written by a Russian with minimal English skills and a thesaurus, was very funny for about four paragraphs, mildly funny for the next two pages, and infuriating thereafter.

I have a miniature brother who dubs me Alli. I do not dig this name very much, but I dig him very much, so O.K., I permit him to dub me Alli. As for his name, it is Little Igor, but Father dubs him Clumsy One, because he is always promenading into things. It was only four days previous that he made his eye blue from a mismanagement with a brick wall.

It's a cute idea, but barely sustainable for the length of a short story, let alone a novel. And the comparison to Burgess is ridiculous, particularly from Prose, who is after all a very smart woman (no matter what you thought of Blue Angel).

If you caught any broadcast clips from Gore's maiden post-election speech, you'll note that he tried to spice up his awkward oratory with Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." As I get older it becomes easier to understand how tempting it was, at any given point in history, to believe that the world was about to end. "It's never been this bad," you say to your neighbor, clutching the sleeve of his coat. "Has it?"



I've been at a bachelor party in Chicago. I really can't talk about it right now. After I crawled into bed half of our party returned from a bar, with the bartender in tow, and stripped off my sheets and chased me around the room in my unmentionables.


my friend the dwarf star

The new strange quark star (from Marlowe) gives me yet another excuse to post about quarks. Huzzah! The star in question is "small, cold and exotic," like Björk, and might be composed of quarks not bound into baryons. They don't say why the quarks in question have to be strange, rather than the more pedestrian up and down varieties, but I'm sure they have their reasons.

Michael Bloomberg on smoking marijuana: "You bet I did. And I enjoyed it." Apparently it was an off-the-cuff remark during the New York mayoral race, but unsurprisingly, NORML has seized on it and built it into an entire ad campaign. "I'm not thrilled they're using my name," says Bloomberg. "I suppose there's that First Amendment that gets in the way of me stopping it." (From Justin.)

Out of coffee. Headache.



Spring is here! Yesterday I took my car to the park and sat there for an hour and a half, writing, with the windows rolled down and the radio on. It's underrated, writing in cars. As a general rule they have far fewer distractions than houses. Then I took a walk and wouldn't you know it, a red red robin came bob bob bobbing across the path. I need the Louis Armstrong CD with that song right away; Amazon's reviewers are a little fussy about Ambassador Satch, but I don't want absolute masterpieces, I want the red red robin. If the day is begun with that song everything will be all right.

A close second: any of the happy Frank Black songs about space travel, especially the last song on Teenager of the Year, where he exhorts you to "get out of your seat and do a little dance," because the sun is only eight minutes away by photon power.

Every month or so we have to bring up sloths in conversation, because we still can't believe that time where Ethan claimed the word was pronounced "sloath," with a long o, and the dictionary backed him up. It was kind of an old dictionary, but still. Cristina mentioned the sloths of Panama City, which apparently are known as "monos peligrosos" (dangerous monkeys), and they actually are dangerous—sometimes they will wander into the city and get confused and lie in the middle of the street. If you get too close they'll take a swipe at you. Sadly I was unable to find any further information via Google, so that's all: my little unique contribution to our knowledge fund. I did find them referred to as "monos perezosos" (lazy monkeys), like on this Costa Rica tourism page where a kid and a sloth check each other out.

After the park I kept wandering and ended up in the cemetery, where generations of Iowa City's dead have turned into trees. Their roots grip the earth and their branches shade the slopes. It's a different and much slower life, being a tree, but I imagine they enjoy it.


perros de mierda

Because I know you all want to smile, I have dug up that old chestnut where Tom Waits and Roberto Benigni interview each other.

TOM WAITS: They say that if you tap on a watermelon and it has a certain sound, it's a red watermelon.

ROBERTO BENIGNI: Hah! I tap the camera. This sounds very good, yes.

TOM WAITS:Yeah, it's red. But not always. Sometimes it's rotten. With insects living inside of it.


TOM WAITS: I think that's a good metaphor, the watermelon.

Waits also talks to Elvis Costello, and it's a little more subdued but still all over the place.

ELVIS: I'd be very suspicious of anybody that seems to have to move to the next level of expression. I distrust that: now I'm writing a book, now I'm being an actor. It should be a natural thing. I think it's a natural thing for you to act. But I think that people that feel that, because they've written one maybe quite beautiful love song that equips them to play Romeo, is probably misguided. I don't think that necessarily follows at all, it's an uneven equation.

TOM: You would trust that type of a diversion from somebody with more discipline than you would from somebody who has a complete lack of discipline, has gone into those worlds without a ticket or a passport.

Marlowe has a theory that we all need an anti-art, some method of expression other than our primary one that we can indulge in without pressure, just for the hell of it. Seems reasonable to me. I might need four or five anti-arts. Everyone else gets to have hobbies.



Frank (and Gracie the large, benevolent dog) are in the Times today. He talks about working the language, but sadly you don't get to see the great hand gesture he usually makes when that topic comes up.

Happy birthday to Jen and Buddha (Japanese tradition). Outside it is gray and wet as you please. Weather.com says it will get seriously nice in a couple of days, but it has been saying that for the past month. It lies like a knave.


extremely uninformed debate

So yesterday I'm at Marlowe's, taking photos for an art project, and he pulls up this site. "Antibiotics? Penguins? Who cares?" he exclaims. Now he sends me the new liberal imperialism, which is getting all the left-wing Brits riled:

The challenge to the postmodern world is to get used to the idea of double standards. Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era—force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle.

There are two blatant punctuation errors in that paragraph. The thesis sounds shocking, but the article doesn't go deeply into specifics and for the most part it reads like an apologia for the methods that the United States & friends have already been employing for the past half-century. We may be a little kinder and gentler now than in the Kissinger era, but when a perceived threat pops up we're quick to knock it on its ass. Always have been. I don't know that it's realistic to imagine any alternative.

The article also claims that "the world's grown honest," at least the Western world, in the sense that its constituent countries no longer care to invade one another, and that therefore "imperialism in the traditional sense is dead." This overlooks economics pretty blatantly. The World Bank/IMF gets mentioned at the end, but only in the PR sense of a tool toward progress, and hoo boy. I am so sick of the residual guilt that comes from living in the nation (albeit a relatively enlightened nation) that wears Sauron's ring on its finger.

Our theses are due on Thursday. What am I doing? Preliminary sketches for an oil painting. It will be called The Dance of Death.


creche stage

I don't know, maybe I shouldn't post about factory farming so much, because given the title of this site and everything, people who come by and read these entries will assume that this site exists solely for the propagation and discussion of news items about meat. That is false. This site exists for the propagation and discussion of news items about meat and bulletins about my self-involved life. Also, you can learn things you never wanted to know, like the economic importance of the South African jackass penguin.

Penguins are a good source of guano. Guano is excavated from the shores, processed, and made in to fertilizer, which is then sold around the world. Another economic use people have for penguins is with their skins, which are used as gloves and other leather goods.

There are no real negative economic effects of the Jackass Penguin. Due to their small numbers and size, penguins do not eat enough fish to be detrimental to that industry.

Thomas Friedman and Robert Kaplan fight it out over globalization, though it's really just an excuse for them to talk about whatever interests them, since "globalization" is so ill-defined that you can connect it to any major economic or political trend of the past decade. Interesting reading nonetheless.

Oh God, Oprah, don't stop the gravy train yet! I haven't had a chance to board! Hell, I haven't even left for the station.


speedy marie

What strikes me is that we are concerned about antibiotics in meat, and we are overwhelmed with oversupplies of grain and the government spends massive amounts of money trying to keep family farms in business. If antibiotics in meat were forbidden, all of those problems would go away. Surpluses would disappear because feed efficiency would drop by about 10% and family farms would prosper because you cannot raise animals in total confinement without the use of antibiotics in their feed.

The problem is that the pharmaceutical companies would go berserk and so would consumer groups because food would be more expensive.

Still, it is the right thing to do and would fix three serious problems. It's just sad that politics won't permit it.

Genetic researcher Gane Ka-Shu Wong: "I'm sort of a human chauvinist pig and I want to believe that I'm superior to rice. But it seems to have more genes than me." (From Justin.)


eyeless in gaza

I am retraining my body to accept solid food. This is slow going.


the lichen were confused

March came in like a lion and went out like a lion in lamb's clothing. You would look out the window and the sunshine would cheer you, until you actually stepped outside and realized that it was still 40 degrees.

Not today, though. Today it is snowing, blatantly, as if yesterday's pagan spring ritual never happened. This state is doing everything in its power to drive me away.

Fortunately, today I have just what everyone needs: an update to the Happycat Ranch page at Nik's site. Most of these films have involved both Nik and me in some capacity, though the definitions often get pretty nebulous. Nik's explanation is probably the best:

Started with a bottle of brandy in 1996, HCR serves more as a philosophy than a production company. Maybe it's a game... I'm not exactly sure. If it is a game then here are the rules:

1) Your script has to come fast. Fast as in: quick. Really, really quick. Less than half an hour is good. Five minutes is excellent. No script is even better.

2) Your budget has to be low. Thirty dollars is good, ten dollars is better and a bottle of gin is best.

3) You produce your film quickly. An evening or an hour is pretty admirable. Our record is currently fifteen minutes.

The occasion for the update is that Roommatey Again: The Strange Case of the Gay Pirate Penguin (Windows Media Video; 6.37 MB) and Nik's Closet Theatre (Windows Media Video; 6.08 MB) will be shown later this month at some small Tucson film festival behind a sandwich shop.

We shot Roommatey Again over one evening in July 1999 at my Reno apartment fifty feet from the Pub n' Sub, which has the best beer garden ever. This film involved a gay pirate penguin because penguins are funny, and Nik and I have a bad restaurant habit of using pirate talk to describe our food, and because... well, the penguin was just gay. Nik wrote the first page of the script, then I took over, then we shot the film in a couple of hours using an on-loan Pixelvision camera connected to my television through an aggregate of cheap cables and adaptors manufactured in Asia and purchased at the local Radio Shack, where Connie behind the counter was very nice to us.

I did Nik's Closet Theatre by myself in May 2001. Nik and I were drinking whisky and I pointed him to the Thai Elephant Orchestra (found via Geegaw, 4-3-01), and Nik was so taken with the music that he decided to edit it into a scene from an in-progress film. This left me with nothing to do for a half hour, so I took a digital video camera into his closet and made a short film entirely within its bounds. Fortunately it is a large, well-lit closet stocked with many interesting items, most of which came into play at some point—it's sort of a whisky-addled assault on all the conventions of narrative cinema.

This is no April Fool's joke. Cheers.


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