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


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!


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?