Thursday, December 31, 2009

My New Year's Eve


I'll be taking care of this one tonight. Happy New Year!

A Seminal Moment in my Development

My mother-in-law and I were flipping through the channels the other day and came across the film Pump up the Volume. That movie blew my mind when I was a kid, and really was my introduction to rock music that can't be classified as "classic" (an introduction I didn’t walk away from). Some quick thoughts about the flick:

- The soundtrack rocks. Some songs are a bit dated, if hysterical: Peter Murphy's Miniature Secret Camera. Any soundtrack with Sonic Youth is good IMO, and if the song happens to be Titanium Expose (one of their all-time best), so much the better.
- I had a huge crush on Samantha Mathis. Looking at it now, the fashions still kill me, but she’s got that type that does it for me. Watch the scene at the school after she and Christian Slater get together for the first time - the one where she's laughing while waiting for him to kiss her. Yum.
- While the movie is pure teen-drama, it still has some good messages in it, and can still be quite funny. I'm biased, but still think it's a fun little flick.

It only feels infinite...

Infinite Jest: an endless, infuriating, fascinating, exhaustive book, ultimately done in by its refusal to use one word when 10 sentences would do. And I say this as someone who likes long books! I typically like digressions and following thoughts down fascinating rabbit holes (I am a Steve Kilby fan, after all...)

I'm 500 pages in (only halfway!) and I’ve been alternately impressed, interested, and bored. The book is divided into multiple sections, most of which share continuing story lines, including
1) life in a tennis prep-school academy (boring)
2) a midnight-oil philosophical discussion between a government operative and a double (or is it triple?)-agent in the hills above Tuscon, AZ (interesting)
3) the life of drug addicts and AA members in the Boston-area (impressive)
The setting is the not-so-distant future where some very intriguing events have changed the face of America as you know it, and the description and analysis of these events is insightful and compelling. But all of this is undercut by his verbose prose that keeps circling around upon itself, Ouroboros–like, to repeat itself over and over as he ponderously plods his way towards whatever point he’s making. While at times this approach works, as when he’s detailing the effects of withdrawal, most often, like when describing a supposedly-hysterical game about the end of the world or digressing on tennis, it's just boring. In short, the very definition of hit-or-miss.
DFW actually described the effect of the writing in this book the best when he wrote about a Marijuana-anonymous meeting: "...the social isolation, anxious lassitude, and the hyperself-consciousness that then reinforced the withdrawal and anxiety — the increasing emotional abstraction, poverty of affect, and then total emotional catalepsy – the obsessive analyzing, finally the paralytic stasis that results from the obsessive analysis of all possible implications of both getting up from the couch and not getting up from the couch..." p. 503

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Welcome, Trey

My second son, Trey Alexander Meigs, was born into the world early on 12/23. I've been relaxing with family since then, is the reason for the radio silence. He's a very well-behaved kid so far, sleeping up to 3 hours at a go, which is more sleep then I had dreamed of getting before I met him. Anyways, things should be settling down shortly so look for more action - and perhaps baby pix - shortly.

Trey two minutes after being born

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Quote of the Day

If miracles were....intrusions into this world from another, a kiss of cosmic pool balls...
- Thomas Pynchon

Monday, December 21, 2009

Ray Davies, Still Rocking after all these Years

I went to see Ray Davies perform at the Berklee Performing Arts center a few weeks back. I've been meaning to type up a whole review of the show, but I just haven't found the time, so here's the quick hits:

  • Ray's an old time showman, so he really tries to get the audience to participate and sing along, even if at times this is in detriment to the actual song. It's also a hell of a lot of fun, and I found I had lost my voice by the end of the evening.

  • Ray has two solo albums now and with the notable exception of The Morphine Song chose probably what I would consider to be the weakest tracks off of them to play.

  • He still rocks out. When the band joined him on stage, the concert really kicked into high gear. But...

  • The audience was mainly older folks who, as my buddy Norb put it, "only have a few stand up and sit downs in them," so I found the shows pacing to be odd in its quiet/loud dynamic. He never really got on a tear where people were moving for more than a few songs in a row, which was a shame because...

  • Did I mention that Ray can still rock out?



Setlist:
I need you
Not Like Everybody Else
Apeman
In a Moment
Believe in a God for a New Age
Waterloo
Dedicated Follower of Fashion. (hysterically, he sung part of this like he was Johnny Cash)
Morphine Song
Sunny Afternoon
Celluloid Heroes (halfway through this song, the rest of the band joined him)
All Day and All Through the Night
Where Have All the Good Times Gone
After the Fall
One more Time
Tourist
Victoria
Come Dancing
Moments (from the Percy soundtrack - I'd never heard of it either)
20th century Man
Long way from Home
Getaway
Really Got Me
Low Budget
Starstruck (from VGPS)
Lola

Quote of the Day

I'll never forget the first time I read Wallace Stephens' The Snow Man in Andrew Barnaby's Shakespeare classes at UVM. It didn't make any sense to me for a long time. However, the poem really opened up as I started to learn that reality is different depending on your perspective. If you don't understand something, you can't even begin to relate to it. (Stanisław Lem's brilliant novel Solaris is another excellent depiction of this conundrum.)

Context is everything. And, to quote DFW, never underestimate objects.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
- The Snow Man, by Wallace Stephens

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Small Thing that's Always Bugged Me

I don't understand why some people flush the toilet before they go to the bathroom. Does it help them go to the bathroom, is it a weird cleanliness thing, or do they just like wasting water?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don't Know What to Think

I've stopped paying close attention to the health care debate, because it's been going on way too long and trying to understand all of the different options that are in play is very confusing. However, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

1. Having a government run, single-payer health care system is the best way to lower health care costs. The only reason we're not seeing this happen is that the insurance lobby has too many senators in their pockets.

2. Joe Lieberman is a despicable hypocrite whose only logic for acting like he is - other than perhaps the allure of Hartford insurance money - is that he wants to stick it to liberals. Not the millions of lives that are affected by not being able to afford health insurance.
Ladies and Gentlemen, your government at work!

3. Any health care reform is better than none. As Matt Yglesias puts it in a very astute analysis:
But had the left taken the advice of the wonks and surrendered earlier—in particular, had Harry Reid not included a public option in his merged version of the health care bill—then I think Lieberman et. al. might well have dreamed up something else to oppose. As it stands, the level-playing field public option took a bullet for the team. And consequently, millions of currently uninsured Americans are closer than ever to having insurance and the rest of us are closer than ever to having a sense of security that if our own insurance goes away we won’t be left high and dry.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Quick Thoughts

Some quick thoughts I've had recently but I haven't had the time to write down:

Been meaning to mention that Bella’s leg is as healed as it’s ever going to get. She doesn’t limp anymore and is able to walk and run – and run away from Hunter - without any issues.

People that dismiss Suzanne Vega as the folkie that wrote Luka aren’t paying attention. Her subsequent work is complex, moving and musically adventurous. The Bound and Unbound songs off of the Beauty & Crime album are excellent examples of songs that could also work as poetry, but are accentuated by the wonderful music that accompanies it. And she sings like an earth angel.

I’ve been enjoying some films that revel in ambience more than plot, such as Blade Runner, Eraserhead, and Solaris.

The disposable nature of Birthday and Thank You cards have always bothered me. Why can’t we take care of this stuff online and get rid of all of the physical waste of the cards themselves?

The artwork on the Hellboy series has been taken over by Duncan Fegredo. Duncan’s an excellent artist (and artist he is: he does his own inks like the best of them) but his does not have the sublime, humble simplicity, of creator Mike Mignola’s work. Put pretentiously, Duncan’s the moon shining off of Mignola’s earth: luminous in his own right but overshadowed by the complexity next to him.

I finally picked up DFW's Infinate Jest these days, and it's everything
that I hoped it would be: smart, verbose, entertaining, and it sticks with me after I put it down. Hopefully, I'll have more intelligent stuff to write about it later, but for now i'm just enjoying myself.

Crow Attack!

As I walked Bella around 2:00 today, I saw a large number of crows dive-bombing two Red-tailed Hawks that were perched in the top of an evergreen tree. It looked a lot like this. It was quite a sight. The crows were extremely noisy, but the hawks just waited it out and eventually the crows gave up the physical attack and flew across the street in favor of an endless verbal squalking.
I'm not entirely sure why they were attacking, but it was extremely entertaining.

Shuffle off to Buffalo

Typically, Buffalo only makes the news when it gets one of its infamous lake effect snowstorms that can dump up to three feet of snow at a time. But what most people don't know is that the city, while economically depressed, does have some very nice qualities, as the Dish points out:
Buffalo has elements of beauty dear to a few doughty hearts. These include Olmsted-designed boulevards radiating from an Olmsted central park (Delaware Park); a number of early twentieth-century architectural icons; lots of big, boxy beautiful Victorian houses that can be had for a relative song; a handful of long, graceful commercial and residential avenues that make a vital urban enclave; a surprisingly vibrant arts community; and prices that make it almost like living in another country.

I might add an old school NFL stadium where the tailgates are incredible and you can actually afford seats close to the field. (The quality of the team is another thing these days.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

That Hissing Melody

I’m spinning Echospace: The Coldest Season today, that Deepchord album Innerfuze gave me a while back. It's *very* subtle, so much so that i'm afraid I didn't really "get" it the first time around. However, listening to it today as I slog through lots and lots of documents, I realize that it’s like Orbus Terrarum (my favorite Orb album) in that there's a lot of ambient noises used to create hints of melody that, all taken together, orchestrate a moving mood piece. For instance, the tape hiss that plays in the background undulates like a bit like waves coming into shore, changing the somewhat static keys that are played by the randomness of the interaction between the two. He's using the tape hiss as a kind of melody, which I must admit never occured to me before.

Of course, the beats hold a lot of this together, and I like me some deep house walking bass lines! The strange thing is that there doesn’t seem to be too many complicated beats on the album, with the possible exception of the syncopated keys in Elysian, which had me tapping my foot.

Overall, I like the album, even if it's a bit too subtle for engaging background music, but it rewards active listening with a journey that few albums of this type can take you on.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Singing

One of the most horrible ironies of my life is that while I love to sing - I mean, really love to belt it out - I'm horrible at it. Can't carry a tune with an electrified tune-carrying machine. Not that this stops me in the privacy of my own home or car, but it's there nontheless.

Hunter has reached the point where when I sing he'll just look at me with those wide eyes and say "Daddy, stop singing." And i've not no defense.

However, he will still let me sing a lulliby to him. I sing Taps to him every night I put him down. Amusingly, he's started singing along with me recently but, being a toddler, he quickly tires of the normal words and starts making up words of his own. The closer they are to the word "poopie", the better.

I've Been Busy

As most you probably know, Kelly and I are expecting another son soon. Thus, all of my free time that I would normally spend thinking the big thoughts and spinning them off into pretentious blog posts has been spent planning for and getting ready for the small child that's about to enter our lives. That and taking care of the increasingly demanding child that's already in my life.

Not that i'm complaining. But taking care of "real life" does leave prescious little time to write anything intelligent. But i'll try.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

With Apologies to Thomas Pynchon...

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they're not out to get you.

Follow the link. Yikes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fiscal Responsibility


Ezra Klein points out
one of the big hyprocracies of our current political debates: the unwillingness to raise taxes to pay for our wars while insisting that any health care reform be "deficit neutral".
This is, to put it simply, insane. As Annie Lowrey points out, Obey isn't trying to make the Iraq and Afghanistan wars deficit-neutral. He's not even trying to pay for the total 2010 spending on the two wars. The 1 percent surtax would fund one of the wars, for one year. And even that's proving too much. We're not just unwilling to pay for these wars. We're unwilling to pay for 6 percent of these wars. To put that number in context, the Senate health-care bill pays for 114 percent of itself. And people say that's not enough!

Politicians that really care about the deficit should focus on paying for war.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pulp Domestic Fiction

Alice Monroe's new book Too Much Happiness sounds fascinating. She apparently takes her domestic insights, piercing prose and applies it to more lurid subjects than we're used to seeing from her.

Her writing - short stories, all - is consistently excellent. As the NYTimes puts it:

The Germans must have a term for it. Doppel­gedanken, perhaps: the sensation, when reading, that your own mind is giving birth to the words as they appear on the page. Such is the ego that in these rare instances you wonder, “How could the author have known what I was thinking?” Of course, what has happened isn’t this at all, though it’s no less astonishing. Rather, you’ve been drawn so deftly into another world that you’re breathing with someone else’s rhythms, seeing someone else’s visions as your own.

Super Emo Friends

Hysterical.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stop Me if I've Said This Before

Pat Metheny is an incredibly entertaining musician. While some of his work can melt into the background, or be played without problem on the Weather Channel, his music is consistently entertaining when you really listen to it. We play a lot of his music when we put Hunter to bed, and the Pat Metheny Group's eponymous 1977 debut album has been in heavy rotation recently. Love the chiming reverb in San Lorenzo!

What's Been Lost in Digital Music

I came to the realization the other day that I'm sympathetic to arguments about what we've lost by transisitioning our music to digital. Don't get me wrong: I almost never listen to music off of physical objects anymore. But I miss the artwork, I miss the liner notes, I miss knowing who played on what song and who wrote it, I miss flipping to the X artist appears courtsey of XYZ Corp to figure out the guest stars on an album. There's so much information about a song that's not readily at my fingertips when I listen to something on my iPod or Pandora that, to me, diminishes the entire experience.
But then I realize I can walk down the street with 20 GB of music and it puts it all in perspective. But I still wish we could combine the best of both worlds.

"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers."

I think that Matt Taibbi is one of the better political writers out htere right now because he's entertaining and not afraid to call it how he sees it. In this excellent blog post, he takes on those people that think that Sarah Palin is being picked on by the media by saying that they're right but, as Thomas Pynchon astutely pointed out, they're asking the wrong questions:

The political media has always taken it upon itself to make decisions about who is and who is not qualified to be taken seriously as candidates for higher office. Without even talking about whether they do this more or less to Republicans or Democrats, I can testify that I witnessed this phenomenon over and over again in the primary battles within the Democratic Party. It has always been true that the press corps has drawn upon internalized professional biases, high-school-style groupthink and the urging of insider wonks to separate candidates into "serious" and "unserious" groups before the shots even start to be fired.
...
What the people who are flipping out about the treatment of Palin should be asking themselves is what it means when it’s not just jerks like us but everybody piling on against Palin. For those of you who can’t connect the dots, I’ll tell you what it means. It means she’s been cut loose. It means that all five of the families have given the okay to this hit job, including even the mainstream Republican leaders. You teabaggers are in the process of being marginalized by your own ostensible party leaders in exactly the same way the anti-war crowd was abandoned by the Democratic party elders in the earlier part of this decade. Like the antiwar left, you have been deemed a threat to your own party’s "winnability."


Makes perfect sense.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Health Care: the Big Picture

So I haven't really been following the Health Care Reform debate very much because it's feels like conflicts in the Middle East: it's been going on forever, and I don't really know the underlying issues behind the problem nor do I know the parties involved.

However, Robert Reich has a good summary of the history of the debate and where we stand now, which is that "moderate" Democrats in the Senate are fighting to remove any single-payer feature out of any reform bill (ostensibly to assist their wealthy doners in the insurance industry). He writes:

First there was Medicare for all 300 million of us. But that was a non-starter because private insurers and Big Pharma wouldn't hear of it, and Republicans and "centrists" thought it was too much like what they have up in Canada -- which, by the way, cost Canadians only 10 percent of their GDP and covers every Canadian. (Our current system of private for-profit insurers costs 16 percent of GDP and leaves out 45 million people.)

So the compromise was to give all Americans the option of buying into a "Medicare-like plan" that competed with private insurers. Who could be against freedom of choice? Fully 70 percent of Americans polled supported the idea. Open to all Americans, such a plan would have the scale and authority to negotiate low prices with drug companies and other providers, and force private insurers to provide better service at lower costs. But private insurers and Big Pharma wouldn't hear of it, and Republicans and "centrists" thought it would end up too much like what they have up in Canada.

So the compromise was to give the public option only to Americans who wouldn't be covered either by their employers or by Medicaid. And give them coverage pegged to Medicare rates. But private insurers and ... you know the rest.
...
what more can possibly be compromised? Take away the word "public?" Make it available to only twelve people?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Do You Feel Lucky, Steve?

Steve Kilbey's feeling lucky:
but winners never learn
only losers learn
when i won i never learned one thing
only winning
but losing is a better teacher for ya
coz thats when you find out
when your lucks dribbles away to nothing
go on you cant take a trick
the shop is closed
the line is busy
the phones switched off
the time has expired
the limit has been reached
the sand runs out

Selfishness as a Virtue Debunked

A decade ago when I made the sad yet practical decision to leave New Mexico for the lucrative .com jobs in New England, I was desperate for something to entertain me for what was sure to be a long, lonely drive across the country. I had no money in those days, and was driving a VW Jetta with 160 grand of history and no working CD player. What I did have was a ghetto blaster plugged into the cigarette lighter and sitting in the passenger seat out of which I could play cassettes. Now, I don't know if you've ever driven across the heartland, but it's really flat and long. Beautiful in its own way but also a bit monotonous and as different as it is to my normal, everyday life, there's only so much of it I could take before going a bit stir crazy.
For instance, I think I had listened to Billy Bragg & Wilco's Mermaid Avenue about 30 times before I hit Minnesota, rendering the album unlistenable for me to this day (although I do have fond memories of "California Stars").
Luckily, my NM roommate loaned me a book on tape: an unabridged version of Ayn Rand's Fountainhead, so I found myself listening to the uncompromising architectural misadventures of Mr. Roark as droned on through the corn fields of I-90 through South Dakota. What I heard was fascinating. Through melodramatic, soap-opera prose, Rand painted an absurdly unrealistic picture of morality. I had so many problems with her vision that I stopped and dug out my portable mini-cassette recorder - the one I used to record the people I interviewed when writing freelance journalism - and argued against what I was listening to as the farmlands rushed by outside the window.
It was a bit shocking because I knew a lot of people who had read - and liked! - either this or Atlas Shrugged in high school and college. I have to admit, some of her ideas are seductive, and the portrait of the lone wolf artist standing up for his beliefs against a vulgar and demeaning society is entrancing for those of us who cave beautiful images and ideas in our heads but just can't seem to express them... I took the book seriously for a good long time, but ultimately, Roark's integrity did nothing for me. He even demolishes his buildings all because he can’t stand a few small sacrifices. Guess he’s never heard of “found art”! Regardless, it’s not living in the real world and says nothing to me about my life.
I'm thinking off all of this because Harpers reviews a couple of Rand biographies this month, and Barry Ritholtz points us to a snarky takedown of her work and it's perplexing influence on many of the money makers and power brokers of today. As Barry sez:
The thing that struck me most was the lack of rigor in the arguments — it was more religion than logic, more wishful thinking than reality based observations of how humans actually behave.

Anyways, that’s probably more thought that she deserves. I did my time driving across South Dakota and Minnesota.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nip Watch Ctd.

The results from last Sunday's walk:
- Two nips (vodka)
- Two plastic hip flasks (vodka)
- Beer Can (Coors)
- Juice bottle

Not bad for the day after torrential downpours.

It's Everywhere!

Why is Fox News always playing everywhere? It's on at my gym, it's on at my work (a huge big screen in the cafeteria, no less)... Most TV news is crap, but Fox News is the crappiest of the crappy. It makes me feel stoopid just looking at it as I walk by, or am forced to glance at it while I work out. Make it stop!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In The Machine

Just finished the first section of Michael Cunningham's 2005 novel, Specimen Days. Wow. It's a powerful, taught, perfectly controled narrative leading up to one hell of a climax. Plus, it includes lots of excellent Walt Whitman quotes! I hope to write more about it later, but for now it'll have to suffice that it's dominated my thoughts for the last few days, the hallmark of any good writing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Under the Dome

Stephen King has undergone a rennaisance lately. His last collection of short stories - Just After Sunset - was most excellent (especially N.). Under The Dome sounds like it should be fascinating as well, and you can't beat that it was inspired by The Simpsons!

Excellent Idea

From a TPM reader, taking about the new restrictions on abortion included in the House's new Health Care Reform bill:
What would happen if a few female members of the House put in (or merely proposed) an amendment to the health care bill which stated that men would be barred BY LAW from purchasing health insurance which covered Viagra, all hair-growth medications or procedures or transplants, etc.?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why's There a Tin Can at the End of My Line?

My God:
Light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes, Popsicle sticks and tiny pieces of plastic, each the size of a grain of rice, inhabit the Pacific garbage patch, an area of widely dispersed trash that doubles in size every decade and is now believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas.

Twice the size of Texas! It's almost too disturbing to contemplate.

It's All Very Strange

The best milk I've ever had was fresh from a cow. It was wonderfully warm and creamy and tasted heavenly. It was also illegal.
In a perfect example of a government overreacting, you're not allowed to consume or sell raw milk, even though the dangers are miniscule and the benefits could be many.
As Joel Salatin, in the forward to The Raw Milk Revolution by David Gumpert puts it:
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over the fact that the government arbitrarily determined to make it very difficult for me to become a farmer. That seems un-American, doesn’t it?
Isn’t it curious that at this juncture in our culture’s evolution, we collectively believe Twinkies, Lucky Charms, and Coca-Cola are safe foods, but compost-grown tomatoes and raw milk are not? With legislation moving through Congress demanding that all agricultural practices be “science-based,”...

The inability of people to decide what to put in their own bodies is disturbing at best. And it's just milk! Milk is good for you!
One could be paranoid and muse that all this is simply a tool to keep small milk producers down - for compling with pasturizing regulations is expensive and time-consuming. Harpers published an excellent article about this in their April 2008 issue called "The Revolution will not be Pasteurized" (Pdf link) and it's worth reading too.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Go Bernie!

Break up the TBTF banks!

Yikes

I've always been a liberal leaner, but I've become even more liberal over the years as I see what's happened to the Republican party. Mainstream Republican events that compare attempts to provide all citizens healthcare to the Holocost are disgusting in the extreme. And what's with calling Obama a communist and socialist (as if they are the same thing)? It's as if the conservatives have all gone insane, because they've stopped offering any good ideas (some might argue, any ideas at all) and just rant and rave and foam at hte mouth these days.

It would almost be amusing if the consequences weren't so scary. Krugman summarizes the issue:
And if Tea Party Republicans do win big next year, what has already happened in California could happen at the national level. In California, the G.O.P. has essentially shrunk down to a rump party with no interest in actually governing — but that rump remains big enough to prevent anyone else from dealing with the state’s fiscal crisis. If this happens to America as a whole, as it all too easily could, the country could become effectively ungovernable in the midst of an ongoing economic disaster.
The point is that the takeover of the Republican Party by the irrational right is no laughing matter. Something unprecedented is happening here — and it’s very bad for America.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Quote of the Day

He used to be so wild and free
But time treats everybody like a fool

Roll With the Punches, Warren Zevon

(It's, without doubt, the most contemporary song I've heard that knows how to properly use an organ...)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thoughts from a Parking Lot

I went on a walk around the commercial complex I'm working in now so that I could see what was around me. Since the CA building is only a 10 minute drive away from my house, I'm trying to find a way to bike to work, but so far no such luck: this office park was designed only for the automobile. The roads serve one function: get cars off and onto the Mass Pike as quickly as possible.

Anyways, as I was walking through parking lots (no sidewalks) and trying to ignore the roar of cars whipping down the Mass Pike, this poem came to mind:

The Snow Man, by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

The Military and Open Books

This post from Andrew Sullivan about the problems the military have been having recruiting young people because people just can't meet minimum standards:
The latest Army statistics show a stunning 75 percent of military-age youth are ineligible to join the military because they are overweight, can't pass entrance exams, have dropped out of high school or had run-ins with the law.

This is incredible: 75%!
To the entrance exam point, when i was in Jr. ROTC (Air Force) in High School, I was amazed at not only how easy the open book exams were (one of the reasons I don't remember a damned thing from those classes) but also how many people would fail them. Literally the questions were right out of the book. The question would be "The front surface of an airfoil is called the _______", and you could open your book and read "The front surface of an airfoil is called the Leading Edge." People would fail these tests!
So while i'm dissapointed, I can't say i'm not suprised. A little common sense can take you a long way in this world.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Infallible Past

Yesterday, David Brooks of the NYTimes published a screed that will rank him among some of the best old fogies out there. He was complaining that technology - mainly TXTng - is ruining romance with a capital "R" (whatever that means). While I'm prepared to be sympathetic to these arguments, I think that his logic as a whole is absurd, and glosses over what i'm sure were the same complaints made in the past about Scary tehnologies like movies, automobiles, etc. Ta-Nehisi Coates elequently points out that idealizing the past is a typical conservative stance:
This is a theme residing in the conservative soul--a professed, thinly-reasoned skepticism of the fucked-up now, contrasted against a blind, unquestioning acceptance of the hypermoral past. This is a human idea--most people, like those slaves, believe some point in the past was better. And indeed, in some case the past was demonstrably better. But the writer who would argue such has to prove it. He can't just accept his innate hunch. He has to bumrush and beat down his theories of the world, And should they emerge unbroken, that writer might have something to tell us. It's got to be more than justifying your prejudice. It's got to be more than those meddling kids.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dog Nostalgia

A moving example of puppy nostalgia.

Nip Watch Ctd.

The results of yesterday's Nip watch (first one of November):
6 vodka nips
3 water bottles
1 beer bottle (UFO)
1 canned corn can

Mediocrity Defined

Shorter Buffalo Bills 2009 season:
What's the hardest and most obscure way to get to 7-9?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Perpetual Revulsion Machine

Spending an exciting Halloween at home taking care of a sick son, I found this hysterical Daily Show bit that explains - in an entirely entertaining and funny way - exactly how Fox News works. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Man is Vile

Lieberman's ego is too big for his own good.

From the Tell Me Something I Didn't Know Department

We tried hard to keep Hunter away from TV until he was two because that's what doctors reccomend. Still, the fact that Disney admits that Baby Einstein doesn't help babies is huge. As the Movie Mom sez:
The academic studies show that what infants learn from watching a family member once takes them four times as long to absorb in a DVD. And the very act of watching a DVD with the pulsing refresh rate of the screen can be at the same time soporific and stimulating, making it more difficult for them to get restful sleep. The only thing they learn from these DVDs is how to watch television.

Disney even has to offer a refund!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Deep Thought

Orlando without a car isn't all that exciting. Although the mini-golf volcano that "erupts" every hour or so keeps you on your toes.

Reading Mailer

I've always been impressed by Norman Mailer's writing. Not only is it intelligent and entertaining, it also combines all sorts of dissimilar elements together in an intoxicating brew. At his best, his writing illuminates its subject from many different angles, circling around it, probing, musing, and theorizing. This is the writing of The White Negro and the rest of Advertisements of Myself . When it doesn't work - as the interminable novel Ancient Evenings or most of his later writings - he comes off as self-indulgent, as someone that thinks too hard about subjects that don't necessarily deserve it, or that he tries too hard to mythologize the subject. The one standard is that he's never dull.
This is why I find myself reading Miami and the Siege of Chicago, his first-person account of the Republican and Democratic political conventions in 1968. He starts off talking about Miami, and makes many interesting observations about the city and the players involved:
Like pieces of flesh fragmented from the explosion of a grenade, echoses of the horror of Kennedy's assassination were thus everywhere: helicopters riding overhead like roller coasters, state troopers with magnums of their hip and crash helmets, squad cards, motorcycles, yet no real security, just powers of retaliation.
p. 20, emphasis mine
There was unity only in the way the complacency of the voice matched the complacency of the ideas. It was as if Richard Nixon were proving that a man who had never spent an instant inquiring whether family, state, church and flag were every wrong could go on in secure steps, denuded of risk, from office to office until he was President.

Another tactic he takes here that I found fascinating is an in-depth philosophical analysis of Nixon's press conference where Mailer shuffles Nixon's replies with his analysis... it's riveting, even when it sounds like hyperbole.

First lines of Miami and the Siege of Chicago

They snipped the ribbon in 1915, they popped the cork, Miami Beach was born. A modest burg they called a city, nine-tenths jungle. An island.

Norman Mailer

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Quote of the Day

Without the presence of Negro American style, our jokes, our tall tales, even our sports would be lacking in the sudden turns, the shocks, the swift changes of pace (all jazz-shaped) that serve to remind us that the world is ever unexplored, and that while a complete mastery of life is mere illusion, the real secret of the game is to make life swing. It is its ability to articulate this tragic-comic attitude toward life that explains much of the mysterious power and attractiveness of that quality of Negro American style known as "soul." An expression of American diversity within unity, of blackness with whiteness, soul announces the presence of a creative struggle against the realities of existence.

- Ralph Ellison

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Want It!

Although I wasn't a huge fan of The Fortress of Solitude, I do like Jonatham Lethem's stories. His short stories are fantastic (particurally The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye, and his scifi/expermental fiction is fascinating.

Chronic  City sounds great. Nice to actually want a new book!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pixelated Reading

Some big thinkers talk about the problems inherit in eBooks, or reading from a computer screen. Some good bits:
Right now, networked digital media do a poor job of balancing focal and peripheral attention. We swing between two kinds of bad reading. We suffer tunnel vision, as when reading a single page, paragraph, or even “keyword in context” without an organized sense of the whole. Or we suffer marginal distraction, as when feeds or blogrolls in the margin (”sidebar”) of a blog let the whole blogosphere in.

- Alan Liu
Reading on screen requires slightly more effort and thus is more tiring, but the differences are small and probably matter only for difficult tasks. Paper retains substantial advantages, though, for types of reading that require flipping back and forth between pages, such as articles with end notes or figures.
To a great extent, the computer’s usefulness for serious reading depends on the user’s strength of character. Distractions abound on most people’s computer screens.

- Sandra Aamodt
Aside from my iPhone, I'm not yet a fan of eBooks, because I like the physical sensation of holding a tangible book in my hand.

Quote of the Day, or Why Background Beats are Bad for You

People are uncomfortable in silence because it can breed needless contemplation and may engender a floating into the deeper world of the self. In our moment of deracinated intimacy, too many of us have settled for a blob of backbeats and recording-studio tricks that do not swallow but melt away in the great force of music in a perpetual submission to contrived novelty.

- Stanley Crouch, writing about Duke Ellington in the June 2009 issue of Harpers.  
I'm as guilty of this as anyone, mainly because of two reasons:
- I need music to block out perferial noises at work so that I can concentrate on what i'm writing and/or reading.
- I like the energy of music as i'm doing housework, even if i'm not necessairly listening to the actual melody.
The sad thing is that there are times when I sit and actual listen to a song that i've heard many times before in the above situations, I often get things out of it that I never knew were there. It's a shame that I don't have time to concentrate on music the way I used to.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

401(ahhhhhh)!

Having bounced around from job to job during my adult life, I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about 401(k)s and other retirement tools and bemoaning their weaknesses. The big problems seem to be that they don't really work for the self-employed, vesting schedules make employer matches meaningless (they're supposed to promote staying at your job but there's no such incentive for a company not to fire you), and actually getting real money out of your plan is a crapshoot that the market is high when you retire. This Time article is a bit inflammatory, but raises these points and more:
But retire rich? Don't bet on it. The average 401(k) has a balance of $45,519. That's not retirement. That's two years of college. Even worse, 46% of all 401(k) accounts have less than $10,000. Today, just 21% of all U.S. workers are covered by traditional pensions, and the number shrinks every year
.
It'll be interesting to see where mine ends up in 30 years, but I don't have a lot of confidence that I'll be living the high life...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Did Sagan Join "Air"?

This video actually makes Carl Sagan look and sound hip. Plus, it incorporates his always admirable words and thoughts and retains his sense of wonder. Well played.

Underrated, It Is

Obama's sense of humor, I mean. Grab a Mop, willya?

Nice Pictures

And Then Comes Halloween,” by Tom Brenner looks like a most excellent childrens book.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Comix as Confession

Not sure I entirely agree with this but it sure is interesting to contemplate:
When the neurotics appropriated the strip cartoon we witnessed the ideal marriage of form and content. They subverted its innocence and filled its thought balloons with their wretched, guilt-sodden solilioquies. The strip cartoon turned out to be a splendid medium for confessions. And we, the audience, found ourselves called upon to perform the duties of the Catholic priest.

Waldemar Januszczak, from The Guardian, July 24 1984, talking first about Spiegelman's Prisoner of The Hell Planet.

Promethia

Even though I have all of the regular issues, I would love this. Looks really pretty, and the amazing artwork really does lend itself to a bigger format.

Pay no Attention to the Man Behind the Scenes

I had always thought of the US Chamber of Commerce as being a pretty honorable and worthwhile institution. However, it appears that it's currently being headed by Tom Donahue, a venial and corrupt man who is using the institution to support an extreme right-wing agenda, including lobbying to support Creationism. In addition, the Chamber of Commerce's position on Global Warming is so backwards that members are starting to drop out in protest. Just another example of why you should always question authority and institutions, I suppose.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Boooooo...

This is what you get when your coach is stoopid enough to start 3 rookie linemen in a no-huddle offense and also fire the OC 5 days before start of season. The Buffalo Bills are bad for many reasons, but the lack of any kind of plan is the most infuriating. And the whole TO situation is even more bizarre than ever; if anything, this team might actually befefit from him going off on the coach, but it seems like TO's going to play the good soldier and try to convince a good team to pay him next year.
I never thought I'd do this, but I'm putting away my jersey and flag and mug and hat until the team shows me they give a damn. Unfortunately, this probably won't happens until Ralph Wilson dies and the team goes to someone who is willing to spend some money on good players, but this owner is also probably going to look to move the team.
These are dark days for Bills fans, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Don't Judge a Person by their Face

A fascinating study that presents different pictures in order to question why people perceive other people's faces in the way that they do. The first image is one of the most interesting.
The two side-by-side faces are perceived as male (right) and female (left). However, both of them are versions of the same androgynous face. The two images are exactly identical, except that the contrast between the eyes and mouth and the rest of the face is higher for the face on the left than for the face on the right. This illusion shows that contrast is an important cue for determining the sex of a face, with low-contrast faces appearing male and high-contrast faces appearing female. And it may also explain why females in many cultures darken their eyes and mouths with make-up. A made-up face looks more feminine than a fresh face.

Who knew how much difference a bit of makeup could make?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Not Talking Sports Today

I don't want to think about any of my sports teams today. The Sox look pathetic and the Bills just look inept. You couldn't pay me to watch the snoozefest of the Browns/Bills game tomorrow. (actually, you could. But I wouldn't be happy about it.)
Blah.

Deep Thought

There's nothing quite like splitting wood to make you feel like a real man.

Nip Watch Ctd.

Now that Bella's ACL is essentially healed, we've been able to start taking walks again. And as you longtime readers may remember, I instituted a Nip Watch for our walks down to Green street. Here's what I picked up on our walk today:
3 water bottles
2 plastic hip flasks of vodka
4 aluminum cans
1 Dunkin Donuts plastic cup
10 nips, mainly Stoli and Absolute vodka

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nobel Now?

Like many if you, my first reaction upon hearing that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize was "for what?" Digby, as always, puts it best:
I guess this Nobel Peace Prize is more about intentions than accomplishments, although the symbolism of the first African American ascending to the presidency is a sign of peaceful progress in America to be sure.

It's also pretty blatently a knock on recent American leaders. It's like they're saying "Thank God you got rid of Bush and didn't elect McCain."
It's dangerous though: it puts a lot of pressure on Obama to actually follow through on all of his promises: ending the wars, closing Gitmo, etc.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Beef: it's what makes you sick...

Lee pointed me towards this disturbing NYTimes expose about the lax ground beef inspection standards and how it leads to an unacceptable risk of E. Coli. It's long but worth reading. If you eat ground beef, this will make you think twice!

The Title Says It All

Scary article:
Mom: Health insurance denied over condition she doesn't have
you'd think that the bad press alone would prevent practices like this but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Fundraising Sucks

I wish that WBUR would provide people that have already donated to the station a secret station where we could listen to the news without the begathon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Poem of the Day

The Dogdom of the Dead

There is no dog so loyal as the Dead,
Always with you, trotting along at your heels,
Or snoring lightly and taking up most of the bed,
Their paw pads twitching and their tails a-wag.

For even in your slumber, they still tag,
Dawdling behind and charging ahead,
Sniffing a memory out like a fleeting rabbit,
But always losing the scent when it crosses the Styx.

They are creatures of habit and cannot learn new tricks.
But what you would throw away, they fetch back for you,
A game they never tire of, and what you would keep,
They bury in the ground, a hoard of bones. 

If you try to sneak off without them, they sound such moans --
Wind skinning itself in the trees, the boo-hoo of trains --
And then come bounding behind you, faithful as shadows.
You will come to prefer them, dumb and dogged, forgiving,
For the Living, like cats, insinuate into your arms,
And when they’ve licked everything clean, dictated their terms,
They stray back into the moonlight and other kitchens,
Ungrateful creatures with their own lives.
- A.E. Stallings

Hat tip Andrew Sullivan

Silence Explained

I started a new job as an Instructional Designer at CA yesterday, so I've been really busy getting back into the swing of having a regular job and all of the routines that go along with it. There's a lot to process and it's mentaly tiring. I hope to be back to semi-regular posting next week.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The History Revealed

There was always a big mystery behind the unavailability of Alan Moore's great Miracleman (Marvelman on the US). Here's an interview that explains all.

It's Easy Seeing Green

From the common sense department, a study notes that nature calms you down:
I've written before about the powerful mental benefits of communing with nature - it leads to more self-control, increased working memory, lower levels of stress and better moods - but a new study by psychologists at the University of Rochester find that being exposed to wildlife also makes us more compassionate. Nature might be red in tooth and claw, but even a glimpse of greenery can make us behave in kinder, gentler ways.

although one astute comment thinks that the study has it all backwards:
...or maybe a mere glimpse of city life can make us more miserly? Why is the focus on nature here? ...
It is not like it is the default state of all humans to live in cities. I think large cities like New York do more to make us miserly to strangers than nature does to make us generous. In New York there are just too many people trying to scam you to trust everyone. I think a city picture would, for me at least, conjure up suspicion and stinginess. I'd be more likely to point to the city picture as a source of behavioral change than the nature picture.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hunter's Stats

Hunter just had his three-year checkup and we found that he's"
- 38.2" tall, well taller than 75% of the kids his age
- 34.4 pounds. So he's tall and skinny.
- Body mass index of 16.53.

His newest phrase is "that's fantastic!" which he uses from anything to being presented with sausage to finding out his favorite shirt is clean.

Quote of the Day

The mind should be a vastness like the sky. Mental events should be allowed to disperse like clouds.

Longchenpa

New Toons

My friend Eric records excellent music as Innerfuze, and just released his first song, which is available from most of the major outlets. I highly recommend picking it up - his music is energetic and entertaining. He started playing some of the Boston clubs, and i'm hoping to actually make it out of the house to see him spin one of these days. If I do, i'll be sure to let y'all know about it here.

A Walk in the Woods


I took advantage of a beautiful fall day and Bella's healed ACL to take the dog for a walk in the Ashland Town Forest today. The sun was shining, turning the light green as it dappled through the green beech leaves. The trails are mainly through a tree canopy so you feel like you're walking through a tunnel, although there are many open spaces. In the wetlands, the ferns are dying, opening up the soggy earth to light and exposing the squirrels and chipmunks as they race around gathering up all of the incredible profusion of acorns that are littering the forest floor.

Very peaceful. I wish I had more opportunities to take these walks, just me and the pup.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

First Lines of "Blood Meridian"

See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him.

- Cormac McCarthy, in Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West.

I find this book both fascinating and boring. Too much of it reminds me of the long interminable travelogues of The Crossing, which I couldn't even finish. Other parts are riveting action passages, and the character of the Judge fascinates me. His writing alternates between a just-the-facts-ma'am Hemingway prose with bouts of almost biblical descriptions - I'll post one of those some day. Regardless, there's not a hint of humor anywhere in the book. I'm about one-third in and have yet to decide if I like it or not.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Whose the Marketing Genius that came up with this one?

What are the NFL people thinking, showing Miami/San Diego over Buffalo/New Orleans? The Saints are only the most entertaining team in the league... Now I don't have an excuse to laze in front of the TV.

More MEAT!

From Ezra Klein's blog:

The carbon emission implications of this are pretty terrifying:
For every newly converted vegetarian, four poor humans start earning enough money to put beef on the table. In the past three decades, the earth's dominant carnivores have tripled our average per capita consumption; in the next four decades global meat production will double to 465 million tons.

That comes via Tyler Cowen, who found it in James Workman's new book, "The Heart of Dryness." Keep in mind that livestock production is a larger contributor to global warming than transportation. But there's been virtually no progress in persuading rich or poor countries to worry much about this fact.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Juxtaposing Humor

Eddie Cambell, after quoting Stephen Grant on where ideas come from (scroll down):
I once heard an explanation of how jokes work, that they are a conundrum set up in one context and then resolved in another. It was a perfect description of something I already seemed to know but couldn't have explained. A brilliant flash of astonishing simplicity.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Silent Issue

I'm one of these people that was moved to love comix by - among other things - the silent issue of G. I. Joe (ish #21). Read a good retrospective here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Importance of Eyebrows

Fascinating pictures that demonstrate exactly how important eyebrows are to recognition.

I've always been fascinated with eyebrows, as anyone who's seen my drawings can tell.

Sounds like fun...

An extremely interesting description of life as an editor in the publishing industry. My favorite part:
Being a book editor is often, on balance, a rum game. The arts -- high and low --have a way of moving forward, backward, or to the side which leaves their servants perpetually scrambling to catch up with and make sense of their direction and their very nature.  Profit, when it gets into bed with them, doesn't like the unpredictability of the arts. It tries to rationalize them and make them financially reliable. Can't be done.  But our brains need to narrativize events in retrospect, so, particularly now, with everything and its brother "monetized,"  publishers and editors come up with explanations and stories that help them believe that they knew what they were doing. 

Friday, September 18, 2009

The truth hurts?

Max Baucus' confession.

Quote of the Day

When I jumped off, I had a bucket full of thoughts
When I first jumped off, I held that bucket in my hand
Ideas that would take me all around the world
I stood and watched the smoke behind the mountains curl
It took me a long time to get back on the train

Phish, off the Farmhouse album

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Deep Thought

Self employment taxes suck.

Balancing Design and Usability

Jörn Bodemann with e-spirit thinks that the Mac way of presenting your computer's shutdown screen isn't as usable as the old XP way of selecting your shutdown method from a drop-down list because:
What at first appears to be an improvement in functionality – a more organized layout – turns out on closer inspection to be an improvement of design at the expense of functionality. This is because the “uncool” drop-down menu previously used by Windows users to shut down the PC would always “remember” the last action selected and suggest it to the user at the next startup – since the average user will always want to do the same thing here, in this case shut down the computer, and thus all they had to do was confirm their previous choice. For the average user it is not necessary – and makes little sense – to have to view all the available options lined up all at once side by side. In this case, the drop-down menu is much more user-friendly than the new window, which is generally perceived to be “prettier” but where you have to enter a selection each time.

I understand what he's saying, but I'm not sure I agree. Having all of the options in front of you sure seems to be the best way to go in this instance, even more so when you consider that when you're looking at the shutdown screen for either OS the rest of the computer screen is grayed out. In addition, if we assume that you don't need to make another selection from the drop-down list, both methods require the same amount of clicks: OK for Windows and your shutdown option for Apple. In my opinion, the Apple method offers you greater flexibility since all of your options are right out in the open, rather than hidden behind a drop-down list.
(Note, however, that the Apple version is still superior, because it lets you hit Enter for the Shut Down option, while Windows doesn't remember your last chose and requires you to learn a keystroke combination to Shut Down with the keyboard.)

Degrees of Hatred

One of Andrew's readers makes a good point about not only how Bush hatred and Obama hatred is manifesting itself, but also how this is covered in the press.

I myself remember how the anti-war rallies were dismissed by the press, and am a bit amazed at how much press the "tea baggers" are getting these days.

More Cops Always Solves the Problem

I have no problem with more police details, but the Massachusetts practice of requiring cops at every construction site is not only insanely expensive, it's not a good use of police manpower. Don't understand why farming out this job to private business isn't happening. It would create more jobs and save the state money. But i'm sure the police union has most of these councilors in their pockets - that's just how Mass politics works.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sniffing Like We See

I've always wondered exactly how it is that dogs - and currently, my dog Bella in particular - perceives the world. I've always known that it's mainly through smell and not through their black and white vision. Andrew points us to a book that expands upon this.
Fascinating, captain.

Self-schadenfreude

The Goose's Roost comes up with a really good picture of what it's like being a Bills fan:

There should be a special word for the type of torture being a Bills fan is. It is almost self schadenfreude, really; an attempt to enjoy something that in the end only causes pain. With every new year comes a chance to end the torture and make it to the promised land, but with that chance also comes the opportunity for defeat. And we all know defeat is a creative little bastard.

Unemployment

Bob Herbert makes some good - and chilling - observations about unemployment in this recession. Short story: it ain't good and doesn't look to get any better anytime soon.

Keep your fingers crossed that I continue to find contract work!

Monday, September 14, 2009

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad game

A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills dropping yet another MNF game in the final seconds:

1. Why is Keith Ellison a starting LB in the NFL?

2. Overall, the OL looked much better then expected. Butall of the penalties by Bell, who had all of one week to prepare for his starting LT job, was the bed that the Bills made themselves.

3. Every big Patriots play was concluded by Keith Ellison either making a late tackle or looking on.

4. The offensive play calling was excellent.

5. Aaron Schobel, how I've missed you.

6. Keith Ellison is awful. Hope to god Poz isn't seriously hurt. (UPDATE: He broke his arm. Very bad news.)

7. If you hesitate, you take a knee. That's what you were taught, Leodis McKelvin. This loss is on you.

8. The loss is also on Keith Ellison.

9. Overall, I'm encouraged that the Bills might not be as bad as I feared. 7-9 again, here we come!

10. The throwback unis were awesome!

Let's go Buffalo!

You never know...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Canal Diggers 5K

I ran 21:45, even after re-aggrivating my right hip flexor injury. Thank god the course was flat. Good beer and food afterwards with Robin and Frank made for a most excellent day.

Now if only I could get healthy again...

Friday, September 11, 2009

More than Detroit and SanFran Combined

Wow:
The U.S. Census Bureau has just announced that the poverty rate for 2008 was 13.2%. This means the number of people in poverty has increased by about 2.5 million, to 39.8 million. To give you some perspective, 2.5 million is more than the number of people who live in Detroit and San Francisco combined.
The Census data is just devastating, particularly when you take into account that the numbers come before the job loss in the first 8 months of this year. In addition to the uptick in the poverty rate, real median household income fell 3.6%, the biggest drop in 40 years. The richest tenth of one percent saw their incomes rise by 35% over the last 10 years while median incomes stayed flat.

Incredible numbers. No wonder everyone's so angry.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When is Ambient not Boring?

So Richard D. James is a genius. This is not news for those of you that listen to electronic music. I'm listening to Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II today while painting, and it's brilliant. IMO, it's exactly what ambient music should be. These tunes have a wide range of emotions, a much wider range then the blissful melancholy of Eno's best ambient. No, these tunes float and pulse and even occasionally pound, but all the while remaining true to a cohesive vision. I don't have the musical vocabulary to describe what I'm hearing, but here are some impressions I jotted down for ya (note that the tracks are all untitled, so I used the titles from Wikipedia):


  • [shiny metal rods]: lollipop pistons in a Stomp production

  • The spooky Mass of [matchsticks] (when you'd expect the music to exult, it flattens into a minor chord, like the end of the Falling theme in Twin Peaks)

  • The eerie dance of [ropes]

  • An echoy spirit dance takes place in [windowsill]

  • The calm lullaby of [hexagon]

  • The repetition in [radiator] gets really old really quickly

  • The warm bath of [rhubarb] starts out so soothing but gets progressively colder as time passes: musical entropy

  • The evil calliope music in [rusty metal] is not soothed by the creepy Jack in the box laughter

  • [tassels]: Radio interference as music



It's important to note that not all of the songs are great. As mentioned above, [radiator] gets really boring. Another example is [domino] which is just too statically abrasive for my tastes. But the majority really do
stake out a sound space that paints a unique picture. it's not for everyone; in fact, it's the epitome of what my brother would call "weird Todd music". But if you're willing and patient to let the music open up to you, give it a spin.

UPDATE: Forgot to link to Music in my Mind where you can get the album yourself.

Deep Thought

You really haven't heard Eminence Front until you've heard it either with a subwoofer or bass-enhancement headphones.

People think this song is all Pete, but like most Who songs, John is the driving force behind it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In which I learn about rescission

It's a scary thing to contemplate.

A Good Point

A reader of Talking Points Memo, after criticizing the current insurance system (mainly the never knowing if you're going to be approved for any health care, regardless of your insurance), makes a very good point:
Denied treatments, rejected claims, endless red tape, a lot of politicians seem to think if everyone buys insurance, the problem will be solved, but that doesn't get to the heart of the issue: That private insurance is an adversarial system designed to limit the amount of care you get and maximize the amount of money that can be extracted from its customers.

Deep Thought

Hip flexor strains suck. They suck even moreso one week before a 5K.

It Figures

So all of the four day weekend (Kelly doesn't work on Fridays) Hunter got up extra early (4:50 in two instances!). However, now that it's his first day back to school, I had to wake him up at 6:30.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Comix literacy

I've tended to credit my lack of interest in most comix on sale these days to two things: my boredom with the mainstream superheros (what can they do that hasn't been done before?) along with a general ignorance with what's out there these days. For the record, all I read on a regular basis is Hellboy, Love and Rockets, Nexus (when available), and the Dark Tower series. For impulse buys, my main rule is that unless Alan Moore is writing it, I'm not buying unless the artwork is stunning.

So you can imagine the interest I had in the Comics Reporter's very detailed analysis of how recent writer/artist collaborations are skewed unfairly towards the writer. It's worth a look for several reasons, not least of which is the great artwork. Some of David Mazzucchelli work on Daredevil: Born Again is included, which, to me, only emphasizes how boring and repetative the current Daredevil comix are.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Is it Red or White?

The Dish has a fascinating account of how blind taste tests of wine showed that people not only couldn't tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine, but also between red and white:
The next day, Brochet invited the wine experts back for another tasting. This time, however, he dyed the white wine with red food coloring, so that it looked as if they were tasting two red wines. The trick worked. The experts described the dyed white wine with the language typically used to describe red wines. The peaches and honey tasted like black currants
.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Quote of the Day

If his love for Marijana is indeed pure, why did it wait to take up residence in his heart until the instant she flashed him her legs? Why does love, even such love as he claims to practice, need the spectacle of beauty to bring it to life? What, in the abstract do shapely legs have to do with love, or for that matter with desire? Or is that just the nature of nature, about which one does not ask questions? How does love work among the animals? Among foxes? Among spiders? Are there such things as shapely legs among lady spiders, and does their attractive force puzzle the male spider even as it draws him in?
- J.M. Coetzee (who loves his questions), Slow Man, page 149.

The great American themes in literature

Matt Yglesias talks about American literature as a whole:

I really have no business writing about literature. That said, this comment from Bob McManus basically sums up my feelings about the great American novels:

Huckleberry Finn is good enough for the young ones. There is enough darkness and questioning there

America as psychotic idealism in Moby Dick or corrupt hypocrites as in Gatsby may need some maturation. Although there are even gentler versions of those themes in HF.


I would only say that that’s a bit too dyspeptic of a way to put it. America is the land of strivers, of people who believe in endless possibility, and where triumphs and tragedies spring from this endless reservoir of boundless desire. It’s the kind of place where a president boasting about his plan to expend vast resources on a avowedly pointless mission to the Moon can be remembered as a great moment in political rhetoric...


I think that "America as psychotic idealism in Moby Dick or corrupt hypocrites as in Gatsby" is a good way of putting the major themes of our best books.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Does mean the comix will become even more lame?

Disney buys Marvel. Wow.

Update: I was being a tad glib. This post made me see that perhaps this isn't that bad a thing.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Monadnock Resonation


Made up Mt. Monadnock last Wednesday, in a hike that had a little bit of everything. I started off around 10:00 on the Parker Trail, which is mainly flat as it heads due west. I turned north and started the real climb on the Cliff Walk, which is just as tough as it sounds. All this time, it was hot and rather humid, and by the time I hit Bald Rock and took my lunch break, I was overheated and tired. However, as I traversed my way underneath the peak via the Amphitheater trail, the clouds rolled in and cooled things off a bit. Still, the Summit trail to the top was a mix of sun and clouds, although the peak of Monadnock was windy as ever. The clouds were rocking and rolling, as evidenced by the picture above.
As usual for this mountain, I didn't spend a lot of time at the top because there were a LOT of gapers yelling at each other and being generally annoying, so I headed NE on the Pumpelly Trail. By this point, it was downright gloomy and somewhat chilly until I got underneath the tree line, and I wasn't feeling all that great. However, two things got be back up to par: 1) as soon as I started back to the State Park via the Cascade Link, I ran into huge bushes of wild blueberries which I ate with abandon, and 2) dunking my head in the stream that runs parallel to the Cascade Link was incredibly refreshing. Still, by the time I had met up with the main trails (the Red Spot and White Dot trails) it was raining, so I was pretty happy to get back to the car. All in all a good day!

Where i've been

I've either been painting or prepping to paint recently, and that combined with a mini-vacation and nice hike is responsible for the radio silence. Which you can now consider broken.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Meditation and the Brain

While I've always been interested in meditation, I've never followed up this interest with any actual - you know - meditation. Just too impatient, I guess. No time. So short of "corpse pose", I'm out of the loop. However, I find this account fascinating:
This retreat was in the Vipassana tradition, which emphasizes gaining insight into the way your mind works. Vipassana has a reputation for
being one of the more intellectual Buddhist traditions, but, even so, part of the idea is to gain that insight in a way that isn’t entirely intellectual. Or, at least, in a way that is sometimes hard to describe.

... I’ll just say that it involved seeing the structure of my mind — experiencing the structure of my mind — in a new way, and in a way that had great meaning for me. And, happily, this experience was accompanied by a stunningly powerful blast of bliss. All told, I don’t think I’ve ever had a more dramatic moment.

More on expanding your mind here.

Before and After

Last week, I spent a very satisfying day pressure washing the house and deck. To give you an idea of how badly the house needed a cleaning, check out the two sides of my bulkhead doors, one of which was pressure washed, and the other in its original glory. Can you tell which one is which?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Quote of the Day

Two cliches make us laugh but one hundred cliches move us.

Umberto Eco, writing of the cumulative effect of cliches in Casablanca.

Deep Thought

It's depressing how much time I have to spend convincing my almost-three year old son to go to sleep. In the last 24 hours alone , I've spent almost 1.5 hours in his room going through the nap/night time routine. Add in the destressing time recovering from all of his crying and complaining and it's even longer.

I hope to god this is just some form of awful phase.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

He placed a jar in Tennessee...

A new Wallace Stephens poetry collection is out. The NYTimes reviews, but spends a good half of the article gossiping and bemoaning the lack of unpublished poems. The reviewer is probably one of those people that pay more attention to the "making of" and "extras" on a DVD than the movie itself.

Anyways, Stephens is the first modern metaphysical poet I ever "got", thanks to Prof. Barnaby at UVM. His “Anecdote of the Jar” is a fantastic picture of how man changes his environment simply by being there, by observing. It's a nice piece of work.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Do they need the money that badly?

So someone - I suspect our doctor's office - sold our name to some "having a baby" list and now we're getting stuff from people ranging from all of the kid krap stores to the lactating mothers of America society. Considering the lengths we go through to prevent the amount of junk mail we get, this new stuff is dammed annoying. Stop selling our name!

Deep Thought

The vibrations from a power washer sure do make your arms tired.

The Big Bang down to the Final Sigh

I haven't had much time for reading recently - for example, I spent all of yesterday washing the deck for painting - but I'm still working on Inherent Vice. The NYTimes graced us with a nice revew this weekend, and contains this great quote:
The weighty points his work makes about the universe — that it’s slowly winding down as the Big Bang becomes the Final Sigh — tend to relieve our despair, not deepen it, by letting us in on the cosmos’s greatest gags: for example, that the purpose of the Creation was to make itself perfectly unmanageable and purely unintelligible. No wonder so many of Pynchon’s characters revel in chemical dissipation. Entropy — if you can’t beat it, join it
.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Party Allegiance

Politically, I'm a registered independent, mainly because the Republicans offend my intelligence and the Democrats are mostly spineless (not to mention, in MA, hopelessly corrupt). Digby, as usual, puts the dilemma better:

[The Democrats] are afraid to say the truth. The right is unafraid to lie. And that leads to a distorted political dialog that nobody can understand. And into that void, the scare tactics have a distinct advantage
.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kind of Confusing

As much as I love Miles' Kind of Blue, I've never pretended to understand the musical theory behind it. Occasionally, someone will try and come close, but in the end I just don't get it. Perhaps if I played an insturment?

In the meantime, the LP will continue to be on in heavy rotation for weekend breakfasts and romantic dinners with my girl.

First Line of Coetzee's "Slow Man"

The blow catches him from the right, sharp and suprising and painful, like a bolt of electricity, lifting him up off of the bicycle.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The High Cost of Discounts

I remember talking to someone once about some boots that they were wearing that were falling apart. He was complaining that "they don't make them like they used to", but when we chatted more about it, it turns out that they were Chinese-made boots that he bought at Wal-Mart.

I thought about him again as I read about Ellen Ruppel Shell's book "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture". Cheap consumer crap is killing America. Or, as Shell points out:
Cheap chicken, cheap shirts, cheap sneakers — they’re all being paid for by somebody, even if it’s not the person taking them home. More than a third of the working poor, Ruppel Shell notes, have jobs in retail, where the annual mean wage for a department store “associate” is $18,280. That’s one reason we pay so little for those shirts and sneakers. We’re also being subsidized by a distant labor force we never see, the Chinese and Mexicans and Vietnamese who work under well-­documented Dickensian conditions.

Kids say the darnest things...

As long as I'm talking about kids, I thought you might like to hear some funny Hunter stories from the last few months.

When he's not sure if you're listening to him, he'll turn to you and say "Are you listening to my words?" If you're sitting with him, he might actually lean towards you and physically move your face so that you're looking at him.

At times, if i'm on the computer while he's watching TV, he'll demand that I "Put those things on your ears" until I put on my iPod headphones. Then he'll be happy. Along those lines, if he's wearing shorts with drawstrings, he'll sometimes put the strings in his ears and say "I listening to my iPods".

One new thing is if something exciting happens, he'll say "No Way!" When he does this, I often respond "Yes Way!" But then Hunter wants to say "Yes Way!" so he'll tell me: "Daddy. You say no way & I say yes way".

The other day, the Ashland Police were handing out "junior officer badge" stickers. When he put it on, he was very proud of himself, but when I told him that he was a police officer, he looked confused and said "I not a police officer, I Hunter!"

For those of you that haven't heard...

Kelly and I will be having another boy! Due date is still on X-mas day, 2009. Kelly is still doing fantastic now that the first trimester is over.

Sorry Anya!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More Insurance Absurdities

A doctor writes:

"Verifying coverage and benefits for our patients can take 20 hours or more per week. Another way to think of it: every hour of patient treatment time will require 30 minutes or more interacting with an insurance company."

Action must be taken.

Friday, August 14, 2009

There but for the grace of god...

Being someone that's been unemployed and self-employed a lot over my career, I read about all of the people lined up at volunteer free health care clinics because they're either un- or under-insured and am thankful for my wife's insurance. It may not be the best, and the deductables are very large, but at least we have coverage if something goes wrong. Not everyone can say the same thing.

Bella Update

So Bella's surgery to replace her ACL in her left knee was successful, thank goodness. I detailed the details of the procedure here.

She had a soft purple cast on for a few days, but that's off now and you can see the stictches holding the incision together. This exposure to the air means not only that it will heal faster, but also that she can now lick and chew the wound, so she's had to wear an Elizabethian collar to keep her away from it. Suprisingly, after the first night, she's been remarkably good with it, so all is progressing nicely for now.

The plan is to remove the stitches on Thursday, and her unforced inactivity will continue until at least a week from this Monday. After that, we start the "rehab", which basically means taking her for short walks and helping her to regain her strength in the knee. This short walk period is supposed to last at last four weeks, but as my friend Amy sez, there's a good chance that she'll heal much faster. At this point, I'm thinking that she should be back to as normal as possible by Hunter's birthday.

I'll post some pix when I'm online (not on the iPhone). The cut looks nasty, so we'll have to see what the scar looks like.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

A biographer sifts the truth from a quarry full of facts. A poet or novelist intuits a quarry full of truth from a single fact.

Julia Cameron, Walking in this World

This is why Health Care needs to be reformed, somehow

Andrew Sullivan's blog is again pointing out some of the awful absurdities in the current health care system, pain points that are being blocked out by the current "debate".

For instance, a reader writes in:
For a few months, I worked at an electronic medical billing company. I was astounded at how complicated and convoluted medical billing is, and this is ultimately why we need to have significant health insurance reform. What happens is a doctor's office will decide on a price for a procedure - for instance, a checkup typically costs around $180. Say I have Tufts. They might pay out $100 for a checkup - the rest the doctor writes off. Why not just charge $100 and not have to write off $80? Well, that's because other insurance companies - say Blue Cross and AETNA - might pay $120 and $150 respectively. So it make sense for doctors to charge significantly more than they would expect from most insurance companies. However, if somebody doesn't have good insurance or has no insurance, they are billed for the full amount -$180, even though the doctors office might expect to write off up to $80 dollars of that charge from somebody with good insurance. Given that the majority of the people without health insurance are lower income, this can cause crippling financial problems, or result in a denial of service. And why? Is someone with insurance "better" than somebody without? Are they more deserving of good health because they happened to not get laid off during a particular bad recession?


And another of his readers - who worked a job where they tried to automate medical procedure approval processes - points out the amazing waste that takes place in every doctor's office or hospital in the amazingly antiquated approval procedures that take place manually every day. Details after the link, but then there's this:
Of course we know that just because the insurance company says they will pay, it doesn't mean they really will. There's a whole different team of people who have to pick it up on the back end in that case.

Everyone who thinks that their current insurance is good, hold your breath that you don't get sick, because you never know what you will or won't be charged once the procedure is completed.

Um... Isn't that a bit over the top?

Now, like any good Thomas Pynchon fan, i've got no problem with paranoia. But the conspiracies put forth by the "birthers" - those people that believe that Obama wasn't actually born in the United States - are simply amazing. For example, John Richardson followed Orly Taitz, one of the head of the movement designed to "expose" Obama's foreign birth, and found out exactly what she believed in:

But Taitz wasn't finished. She marched her troops straight over to the secretary of state's office and did the exact same presentation all over again. Then she headed to the FBI to do it a third time. And the whole time, she never stopped talking:

Goldman Sachs runs the treasury.

Obama is a puppet.

There's a cemetery somewhere in Arizona where they just dug 30,000 fresh graves, which wait now for the revolution.

Baxter International — a major Obama contributor — developed a vaccine for bird flu that actually kills people.

Google Congressman Alcee Hastings and House Bill 684 and you'll see that they're planning at least six civilian labor camps.

Google an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about train cars with shackles.

The communist dictator Hugo Chavez way back in 2004 purchased the Sequoia software that runs our voting machines and the mainstream media won't report any of it — not even Fox because Saudi Arabia bought a percentage of Fox in 2007.


This is the stuff that the media never gives Taitz a chance to say because it's so focused on the news hook of the "birther" issue. (And, believe me, this has been merely a tiny sample of what I saw on my road trip this spring.) But this is the stuff that reveals who she really is, and what this movement really is.