Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yea Baby!

On our way to daycare every morning, there's one light that I have to drive through. It's a relatively busy intersection, but that early in the morning there's not always a lot of traffic, so sometimes we actually make it through the light without having to stop. When this happens, Hunter has started yelling "yea, baby!"

I have no idea where he picked this up, but it's hysterical.


A few weeks ago, Liz Phair wrote a very entertaining review of Keith Richards autobiography Life for the NYTimes Book Review.

Incredible Numbers

Gregg Easterbrook via the Dish:
This year, the United States will spend at least $700 billion on defense and security. Adjusting for inflation, that's more than America has spent on defense in any year since World War II -- more than during the Korean war, the Vietnam war, or the Reagan military buildup. Much of that enormous sum results from spending increases under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Since 2001, military and security expenditures have soared by 119 percent.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Deep Thought

I am an earplug connoisseur.

I'll Never Retire!

The title of this post is being a tad glib, but it's hard not to believe it when you read facts like these in Erza Klein's excellent post about the "Retirement-Security Problem":
The failure [of the 401(k)], experts say, basically, is this: The typical worker approaching retirement needs about $250,000 in a 401(k). Most don't come close. The average is closer to $98,000 - only a bit more than a third of the recommended amount.
... On average, baby boomers can expect to subsist on an income of about 77 percent of what they earned in their peak working years. For Gen-Xers, it's 65 percent. And if they have the bad fortune to retire during a market slump, well, it's not clear what they'll do.
Sigh. Building up a 401(k) requires you to have been playing in the stock market casino for a LONG time. And for those of you who, like me, have had to jump from job to job and also work as independent contractors for a while, you know that a constant presence in the job market is not a luxury that's easy to afford.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Time Keeps on Ticking, Ticking, Ticking...

As I get older, time has developed a different meaning then it used to. Sometimes it moves faster than ever before: it's an obvious cliche because with kids there's more crap to do, more to think about, and yet you're stuck with the same amount of hours. But the flip side of this is that it make free time all the more precious - the time you get to yourself at night means so much more that you're willing to forgo sleep to do what you love (like read another chapter in a book, for example).
Also, time patterns itself differently. When I was younger, weekdays would have a certain rhythm and weekend days would fall into different patterns. Now the patterns are read by weeks or even months - and, at times, I don't even recognize them because i'm just too damned busy. Regardless, time's different structure makes me think and act differently then I would when I was younger.

The War on Raw Cheese

Not content with its bizarre effort to eradicate raw milk, the FDA is now focusing its resources on raw milk cheese. The whole effort is bizarre. As Harper's Index notes:
Number of Americans who have died since 1998 from drinking unpasturized milk: 2
Estimated number of U.S. children hospitalized last year after hurting themselves on monkey bars, swings, or slides: 173,000
You can't ediricate risk and if people want to enjoy unpasteurized milk or the swings, they should be able to do so without worrying about the government. Of course, the big milk companies are the ones with the money and thus are the ones writing the laws and directing the FDA's agenda. As David Gumpert notes:
The FDA has never been known to take such niceties as consumer taste and nutritional preferences into account in its approaches to such matters, though.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Quote of the Day

The healthy can't understand the emptied, the broken.
- David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, page 469.
How I envy Kelly that she's reading this book for the first time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Quote of the Day

He always seemed to be going to bed. It was always bedtime. The day came and went and it was time to go to bed again.
He went around turning off lights, checking the front and back doors. ... He checked to see that the oven was off. The last thing downstairs was the oven.
- Don DeLillo, Libra, page 75

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pluto Ascendant

The big point I never see acknowledged when arguing about why people are so upset that removing Pluto from the pantheon of planets is that Pluto plays a huge part in astrology. The new solar system disregards the age old need for order expressed thru astrology. Plus, how to realign the star charts based on the new order?

File Under "Cool Things I Will Never Do"

Speedflying. Holy Crap.

Quote of the Day

"What more do they want? She asks this seriously, as if there's a real conversion factor between information and lives. Well, strange to say, there is. Written down in the Manual, on file at the War Department. Don't forget the real business of the War is buying and selling. The murdering and violence are self-policing, and can be entrusted to non-professionals. The mass nature of wartime death is useful in many ways. It serves as a spectacle, as a diversion from the real movements of the War. It provides raw material to be recorded into History, so that children may be taught History as sequences of violence, battle after battle, and be more prepared for the adult world. Best of all, mass death's a stimulus to just ordinary folks, little fellows, to try 'n' grab a piece of that Pie while they're still here to gobble it up. The true war is a celebration of markets. Organic markets, carefully styled "black" by the professionals, spring up everywhere. Scrip, Sterling, Reichsmarks, continue to move, severe as classical ballet, inside their antiseptic marble chambers. But out here, down here among the people, the truer currencies come into being. So, Jews are negotiable. Every bit as negotiable as cigarettes, ****, or Hersey bars."
— Thomas Pynchon, astute and abrasive as ever, writing in Gravity's Rainbow

Domestic PKD

Anne R. Dick, one of PKD's wives, has written a memoir about him that sounds really interesting as it was during his marriage to her that he wrote some of his most memorable books, and, after their divorce, his eccentric traits began to take over. Among many good observations in this NYTimes interview are these:
“I think he’s what you might call a psychomorph,” Ms. Dick said... “He was quite different with each person. He had this enormous gift of empathy, and he used it to woo and please and control. I’m not saying he wasn’t a very nice person too; he was. He just had a very dark shadow.”
Ms. Dick says that while Dick was both agoraphobic and shy, he was a man of enormous personal magnetism. “He knew how to talk to people, to move their emotions and thoughts,” she said. “But he was too shy to go out into public. He could have been a great F.B.I. agent and a great actor.”
“He gave a lot. Maybe too much. He tied himself in knots, and then exploded, like a balloon.”

Stupid Pet Tricks

This was fun to watch.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Quote of the Day

It's always important to ask questions, and it's important to ask yourself why you ask the questions you ask. And do you know why? Because just one slip and our questions take us places that we don't want to go. Do you see what I'm getting at, Harry? Our questions are, by definition, suspect. But we have to ask them. And that's the most fucked-up thing of all.
- Roberto Bolaño, 2666, page 442.
His writing is simplistic, yet completely absorbing. I'm about 250 pages into the "The Part About the Crimes" section of 2666 which is a relentless depiction of an endless series of brutal murders in a border town in Mexico. It's repetative but also absorbing in the new details that he presents which continually makes each victim a unique person, and all the more chilling for the lack of attention and humanity of their ending circumstances.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thinking of the Dark Scanner

I liked Bob Einstein's write up of PKD's A Scanner Darkly, mainly because it made me feel as if I should give the book another shot. It's wasn't one of my favorite PKD novels, and I'm not sure I could ever articulate why. The story was brilliant enough: in a nutshell, a drug addicted undercover cop with a split identity is assigned to spy on himself. If I remember correctly, my main issues with the story were the unrelentingly grim paranoia combined with an increasingly unhinged writing style (which here Einstein describes as "valuing the cultivation of uncertain aspects of the story from the vantage of writer as artist, free from the convolution of a pre-established conclusion and the plot points building to that (showcased with devices like foreshadowing)"). Regardless, I really should give it another go, given how much I love the twisted ideas and brain-fucks of his other novels. (If you want a real brain twister, pick up UBIK. Like, yesterday.) It was also made into an interpolated-rotoscoping animation movie made by Richard Linklater, which always intrigued me, since it's hard enough to follow the plot in the book, much less a movie.

Anyways, Einstein has some thought provoking things to say about the book, including this gem, which IMO is spot on:
"A Scanner Darkly" tells the story of a motley group of bums and burn outs the likes of which I've never seen before. Think if The Whole Sick Crew of Thomas Pynchon's "V." were given a follow up, set somewhere ambiguous in the future.

Quote of the Day

The call of the wild is not a difficult song.
- David Byrne, "The Call of the Wild" off of Rei Momo

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sick of Politics

Part of the reason I try not to pay attention to politics these days is that I hear too much of this:
Political commentators have largely explained this opposition [Republican opposition to the New START treaty with Russia] neither in terms of nuclear defense, which is decreasingly important in the era of terrorism, nor in terms of U.S.-Russian relations, which are at an all-time high since the first such agreement was penned in 1991, but in terms of domestic partisan politics. That is, Republicans appear to be motivated by a desire to turn what would have been a victory for President Barack Obama into a defeat, thus raising their party's relative stature and improving their odds for winning the White House in 2012. But whether or not defeating New START would in fact be a domestic political win for the Republican party, it would be a significant defeat for U.S. foreign policy. ...
If New START fails then heads of state, foreign ministers, diplomats, and negotiators from around the world will be forced to think twice before making a difficult deal with the U.S. They will have to consider the possibility that any political sacrifices they make in the course of negotiating could very well be wasted. That will shift foreign leaders' calculus, if only slightly, away from deal-making with the United States. Why even bother?

Not Looking Forward To It

I'm traveling through Logan for Thanksgiving, and i'm not looking forward to my first grope.
Bonus fun (but overlong) video explaining the absurdity of this security theater here.

Superheros Should Not Be Part of the Real World

There are many things I love about Jamie Hernandez, and his love of fun comix is one of them. You see that in his mixture of realism and pure cartooning in his art, and in the way that he approaches the problem of superheros. In part three of this fascinating interview on The Daily Cross Hatch, Xamie talks about his fun two part return to superhero comix (in Love and Rockets Volume 3, #1-2):
Those things [like The Dark Knight movie] are fine, because I still look at them as fantasy. They have hoodlums that steal money and go in the alley to count it. That’s still old school criminals. Things like that. For me, when they bring it more into the real world, it loses it’s charm. I do like superheroes.
I guess I should say, I like superheroes with their own rules. Not our rules. And I think that was cool when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko changed the rules. I think that was cool, but it kind of—they created a monster to me. I think you should go by your own set of rules. It was kind of like we were the intruders, instead of them.
It’s kind of like I say at the end of the Ti-Girl story, where Maggie says she always felt that Penny was this drawing cut from a comic and pasted on earth, but one of the characters says, “yes, but in this situation, you’re the fake.” And Maggie goes, “yeah, I figured that.” So Maggie was the weird visitor in their world.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Highlight of my Weekend

I've been trying to get Hunter interested in doing chores around the house, or at least engaged in outdoor activities while I take care of them. We've also been doing some bird watching. Combine the two, and my favorite moment this weekend was raking while Hunter held a stale piece of popcorn we found in the car (don't ask) and screamed "Birds! I have some popcorn for you!"

Alas, no birds took him up on the offer.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quote of the Day

...the ventriloquist, who looked back and forth between her and his dummy, as if he had no idea what was going on but he could smell danger, the moment of revelation, unsolicited and afterward uncomprehended, the kind of revelation that flashes past and leaves us with only the certainty of a void, a void that very quickly escapes even the word that contains it. And the ventriloquist knew this was dangerous. Dangerous especially for people like him, hypersensitive, of artistic temperament, their wounds still open.
Roberto Bolano, 2666, Page 436.
This book continues to absorb and amaze me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

'cause I'm Your Brother...

I always knew the Davies brothers had a tempestuous relationship (Hatred is the only thing that keeps us together), but this Dave interview is quite shocking. Check this:
‘You’ve heard of vampires,’ says Dave. ‘Well, Ray sucks me dry of ideas, emotions and ­creativity. It’s toxic for me to be with him. He’s a control freak.
‘I hate to say it, but it’s got worse since he met the Queen [Ray received a CBE in 2004]. In his mind, it’s given him more validity, more “I’m better than you”, more “I’m superior”. With him, it’s “me, me, me”. He thinks he is The Kinks.
and this:
‘The last time we were all together was at my 50th birthday party. Ray had the money and I didn’t, so he offered to throw it for me.

‘Just as I was about to cut the cake, Ray jumped on the table and made a speech about how wonderful he was. He then stamped on the cake.’
But the amazing thing is that Dave concludes with:
"[I said to Ray]: "You’re not having any hits any more." Ray said: "I don’t care what people think. I write songs for my dad."
‘That’s the real Ray. I believe he’s still in there somewhere. I could never not love Ray.
He’s my brother.'
Note: Title taken from "Brother," a track from 1977's underrated Sleepwalker album.

What's Playing Now

Despite what it might say on the left, i've been listening to some of David Byrne's solo music (sans Talking Heads of course). After a a good friend's brother-in-law played me some of Byrne's Latin-influenced pop-rock at a bachelor party, I wasn't able to get it out of my head, and so I finally picked up 1989's Rei Romo and 1992's Uh-Oh. Rei Romo in particular is killing me. I don't know the musical forms that he's using but its fun as hell, makes me want to dance, and has those typical Byrne lyrics that really make you stop and think.

I'll have more to say about it when I have more time to put down my thoughts. For now, i'm just shaking it, baby.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Moulds Thoughts

I love this interview with Eric Moulds by Buffalo Sports Daily. Best quote:
BSD: It was years ago, but I have to ask you now. Be honest, how did you feel about the team’s decision to bench Doug Flutie and go with Rob Johnson in the 1999 playoffs?
EM: I thought it was the dumbest decision made in history of pro sports. Here you have my good friend Doug, who just took us from 0 and 3 to nine or 10 straight wins to the playoffs, and then we start the quarterback (Johnson) that got us off to a three game losing streak to start the season. It’s a story that I wish ended differently.
Hard to argue with that!

Modern Politics: A Blueprint

Rick Perlstein points out the current dynamic at play with the Democrats and Republicans, where the Democrats are too afraid to play hard ball and thus suffer accordingly. Here it is in short:
The vector worked, and works, like this:

(a) A mountebank (i.e., Rush Limbaugh) teaches his millions of followers that everything the president says is a priori a lie;

b) The mainstream media that acts as if anything his millions of followers believe is a priori deserving of respect as heartland folk wisdom (note the cover article lionizing Limbaugh in this week's Newsweek);

(c) The president unilaterally renders himself constitutionally incapable of breaking the chain between (a) and (b), such that, (d), the assumption that Obama raised taxes when he really lowered them becomes hegemonic for a majority of the electorate, and even a large plurality of Democrats.

Q.E.D.: Governing has become impossible.

More Cheese!

TPM pointed me towards a very interesting NYTimes article regarding the government efforts to simultaneously eat less fatty foods and also eat more cheese. That's the problem when you're so big that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing... or is simply getting too much money to care. Money quote:
Dairy Management ... is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.
Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. ...
Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.
The organization’s activities, revealed through interviews and records, provide a stark example of inherent conflicts in the Agriculture Department’s historical roles as both marketer of agriculture products and America’s nutrition police.
In one instance, Dairy Management spent millions of dollars on research to support a national advertising campaign promoting the notion that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products, records and interviews show. The campaign went on for four years, ending in 2007, even though other researchers — one paid by Dairy Management itself — found no such weight-loss benefits.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Poem For the Weekend

Wallace Stephens' Man Carrying Thing
The poem must resist the intelligence
Almost successfully. Illustration:

A brune figure in winter evening resists
Identity. The thing he carries resists

The most necessitous sense. Accept them, then,
As secondary (parts not quite perceived

Of the obvious while, uncertain particles
Of the certain solid, the primary free from doubt,

Things floating like the first hundred flakes of snow
Out of a storm we must endure all night,

Out of a storm of secondary things),
A horror of thoughts that are suddenly real.

We must endure our thoughts all night, until
The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.
In Stephens vague way, he describes the most effective poetry (and I'm including song lyrics in this as well,) which consists of hints and issuniation, the painting of shadows on the wall of a cave. Painting the truth in too strong of a light diffuses its power, negating the universal power of the image.

The trick to me was always making the individual details work in the context of this vague universality. It's not easy to do.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hellboy: The Storm

I've been pondering this one for a while after reading The Storm, but I'm sorry, it's true: Hellboy's become boring. Sure, Duncan Fegredo's art - while not being as good as Mignola - is still pretty good, and the series still has some interestingly dramatic moments (represented here by the surprise attack in ish #1), the overall story seems to be coasting. Leaving aside the absurd idea that Hellboy is the heir to King Arthur, each of these mini-series feels formulaic: a first ish that sets up the plot with a brief summary of whats come before, a few issues in the middle where information is doled out slowly amongst much myth mongering and monster fighting, and then the grande finale, but which is constructed in such a way that its merely a step in a much grander plot/war. Hellboy is now series in which the storm is always threatening, but never breaks.

Having said this, I'm impressed that Mignola has remained so true to his vision of Hellboy. Part of the lack of drama in the book is due to the fact that Hellboy always disengages from the plots that are set afoot to ensnare him in evil messiah roles: Hellboy is, of course, a humanist at heart. He is the true "monster with a heart of gold," presented with such honesty that its hard to disparage the stories.

But it's just not as enjoyable as a read as I think it could be. I enjoy reading the short stories - such as last year's "In The Chapel of Moloch" - much more than the series now. Its like the last few seasons of the X-Files when the "one off"'shows were so much better than the "conspiracy" shows because they weren't carrying the baggage and could just have fun with itself. Hellboy was built to be fun, in a brooding, pop-art kinda way, but recent events have made it morose, like The Storm's ish #2's heavy handed "you suck" reprimand to the demon hedgehog. I still love the ironic, over-heavy b-movie mythological setups, but some essential spark seems to be missing, taking with it the series' joy de vivre.

I have every faith that Mignola will entertain me again. I'm also very curious to see how the Nimue's threat will be dispersed. I'm invested here and have faith that the story will continue hold up to its promise. I just hope it steps up sooner rather than later.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Poem of the Day

I love this poem, despite not knowing what some of it (douce campagna?) means:
The Well Dressed Man with a Beard by Wallace Stephens
After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slid over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket's horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self that must sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough. Ah! douce campagna of that thing!
Ah! douce campagna, honey in the heart,
Green in the body, out of a petty phrase,
Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed:
The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps,
The aureole above the humming house...

It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.
Despite its rather dark tone, I find the poem affirming. If only one thing, no matter how ephemeral, survives, then things are not as dark as they seem. And that's all that really matters at the end of the day.

Quote of the Day

I was doing something useful. Something useful no matter how you look at it. Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people's ideas, like listening to music (oh yes), like looking at the view, like talking a walk on the beach.
- Roberto Bolaño, 2666, page 258

Grotesque Finale

I loved the first three issues of Sergio Ponchione's Grotesque (published as part of Fantagraphics lovingly over sized Ignatz series). The series started out with a bang, with a surrealist examination of three protagonists and their quests for the meaning of life, all connected by tenuous connections with a mysterious figure called Mr. O'blique. Issues 2-3 took a sharp turn from the events of issue 1, painting a picture of a hard-boiled town under the rule of a group of thugs that got their power indirectly from O'blique. The surrealistic imagery carries the story as we see how Professor Hackensack teams up with Inspector Doppiofaccio to liberate the town. All three issues are extremely entertaining, and lavishly drawn. You can find yourself - and I was - lost in the details of Ponchione's drawings.

So I was excited to get issue #4 recently. However, despite the return of the four protagonists from issue one, the conclusion of Grotesque was highly disappointing. The detailed surrealistic scenes were mainly missing along with the intricate plots. Instead, we're presented with a conversation between O'blique and Hackensack about the meaning of life and how the different characters in the story have found it. It feels perfunctory, like Ponchione lost funding for the series and was forced to conclude it before it's time (a fate that unfortunately befalls a large number of independent comix). Despite this, I'll definably keep my eye out for more work by Ponchione, and I highly recommend the first three issues of Grotesque to anyone... just don't pick up issue #4 so you can keep dreaming about potential endings to the stories.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

First Line of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

"Miss Kawasemi?" Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. "Can you hear me?"
Boring, I know, but it's David-Fucking-Mitchell and it quickly gets underway with a bang. Check this, from page 9:
"He inhales once, twice, three times; his crinkled face crumples...
...and the shuddering newborn boiled-pink despot howls at Life."
Now that's a line. In a book sure to be chock full of them. Very excited about this one, a gem in what was a bumper-crop of books that arrived for my birthday this year. Thanks all!

Musical Theatre

The other day I was playing David Bowie's Station to Station album and, during one of the more dramatic songs (probably either "Word on a Wing" or "Wild is the Wind"), my wife turned it off and said "this is way too music theatre for me." And she's right! It's funny how I never recognized this before, but Bowie's drama does veer dangerously into musical drama. The difference being that Bowie's solid rock grounding and strong voice usually save his songs from schmaltz. However, it's been hard for me to listen to these tunes lately without hearing shades of over-dramatic Rent-style "rock opera."
(Bonus: Team America's awesome Rent parody: Leased.)