Monday, October 31, 2005

Lame Halloween Cliches with Pix of Workplace Horrors

This three-story, half-flayed pregnant lady haunting an office bldg near 51st and Park (or thereabouts) is some check-writer's idea of good. (Tx, Bonnie) If you work here, when you arrive daily to toil, on smoke breaks, looking out your window, at lunchtimes, when ready to go home and leave workaday horrors behind, you must realize that inescapably confronted by dubious decoration, Every day is Halloween!

I'm your basic afternoon poster, my synapses fire once the sun gets warm (and stop again if it gets uncomfortably hot). Still, I have things to attend to immediately so I may clear my schedule (in my mind, I'm pronouncing it shedyool) to watch the scary and not-so-scary movies that will make my All Hallows' Eve fun, at least before the dead ancestors come knocking to bug me later. You, dear readers, had me at "Trick...", so here are the linky treats, mostly multimedia with sound (my pardons to the dialers-up). Ya'll at work, grab the headphones.

1) Halloween Cat bowling. Heck yeah. With sound. (Tx, Bonnie for this, too) I stink.

2) If you loved Numa Numa boy, strap in for a joyous ride. This isn't so boo-scary, except I co-opted it from the Secret Dead, and you can see one of these Chinese students has listened to enough of this crap that it actually thinned his bones enough to snap his arm. Why won't they heed the warnings? How often must I warn the kids (#3) to protect their precious marrow. There's a reason we call pop music lame.

3) For the text bound, this represents another modern workplace horror: BenYagoda's modern interview with Mr. Arbuthnot, the cliche expert.

4) The Straight Dope takes on the narrow subject of Appalachian inbreeding and its relationship to legends of blue people.

5) This is another one you'll need some bandwidth and display capacity to get, but it's cool, perhaps worth adding to your daily looksees. Buzzmachine pointed me to this feature of the Flickr photosharing site called "interestingness". They use a variety of factors in the photo and response to it in order to calculate a rating of interest, and will serve you up an assembly of recent photos united only by being rated "interesting." And they are. As you hit the top right Reload button, one fascinating collage after another.

If none of the sounds, sights, or stories above caused any titillation or enjoyment in your hollow breast, then you're a sludge-blooded, leather-skinned old hasbeen of a formerly sentient creature. Congrats, you passed the test! And welcome to my new zombie readership!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

White Woman Fantasizes Eating American Gothic

See here for more amusing AG-inspired images from the art students of Ark. Tech. U.

As usual, I just start getting my Halloween on when it's almost past. I feel downright spectral during November. Many of these links are sizable, but if you're having a leisurely enough day to browse what catches your fancy, maybe some of these will be nice accompaniments to a cup of something cozy.

1) I saw Woman in White last night, which is an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical just arrived in preview on Broadway from London. I'm a fan of Wilkie Collins' original novel and the macabre in general, so I went. I did enjoy the fine voices and melodramatic, Gothic humor of it. Hurrah for Count Fosco who relentlessly charms as he chews the scenery. There were a few lovely, catchy numbers if ALW has slightly ripped himself off with certain portions keenly reminding me of other music he's already written.

One interesting aspect is the stage design, no more embellished than a tall, white semicicular wall. It's concave when placed upstage and rotates around front to make a convex half circle bowing toward the audience near the stage's apron. Within this big white crescent is often set a smaller, shorter one that similarly rotates to display its inner or outer face. The shorter fingernail is set onto a circular turntable of stage that- you guessed- rotates. This set-up allows huge, multi-layered computer-generated images of various drawing rooms and libraries, front entries, and graveyards to be projected upon the contours as the scenes demand. In the first few minutes, the projections struck me as clumsy and I was having problems immersing myself. Then background images began swapping and out at great speed, swiveling the wall screens while flying us across computer countryside and through elaborate passages. Even the actors' movements are in arcs, and soon the panoramic action is granted the visual comfort of a cinematic panning shot. And we're there. Obviously, the computer images allow an almost limitless number of set changes and this production spares few opportunities. Why not spend the three seconds swooshing a wall around to project an iron gate behind a thirty-second scene? It's an unusual, but ultimately positive device. If it saps some of the dusty stillness and emotional gravity that pervades Victoriana, it unquestionably adds dynamism to the tale, and the rolling revelations of scenery create the delight in discovery one might enjoy in a great curiosity shop.

2) Speaking of Gothic, now it's hip. You know 'cause the NYT says so. I'm bored with the crowds of transients.

3) I've written, okay ranted, about these trends in culture and education, but Christine Rosen covers it all in The Overpraised American which examines the accuracy of Christopher Lasch's foresight in 1979's The Culture of Narcissism. It's a longey, but a goodie. Savor it.

4) Here are MSNBC's ideas of 7 truly terrifying entrees. I think they took a shortcut here to make sure all the frights weren't from abroad, but no kind of luncheon loaf (even headcheese) can compare to shark meat leached of urine by leaving it to rot. Even the maker says the taste of the putrefied meat is bad, decent only in aftertaste and with tons of booze to drown it, and that it's the kind of thing you'd never eat regularly.

5) As NaNoWriMo looms in only 2 days, if you're preparing to participate with a fantastic offering, here's a list of questions that will help you determine whether your fantasy concept is deriative tripe.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Reptile Digestion Insulting Death Sentence for Mosquito

See item 7 for image link.

1) I won't give identifying details, but I do adore it when postings for editorial positions at enormous publishing houses contain sentences like this one: A college-level understanding and use of the English language, attention to detail, self-motivated, well organized and team oriented. Wha...? Yuck.

No, I wasn't planning on applying. Candidly, I'm too obsessive, indolent, unfriendly, and impatient for that kind of gig, though I consider myself a rare variety of overachiever in search of the right market niche. I'm a divine curmudgeon.

2) The deadly Nile Monitor, cousin to the insatiable Komodo Dragon, has been seen swimming toward the nature sanctuary of Florida's Sanibel Island. If we sent Godzilla to roast all the invading hostiles, I think you can see we'd just compound the problem with a bigger rapacious reptile. Therefore, I'm calling for lizard-attacking (and marinating and roasting to crispy succulence) robot armies fueled only by our gratitude and used diapers. Get on it, capitalists and enginerds! I already did the idea part.

3) In deep space, who can protect the junk in your trunk? Mmmm, marrow...

4) Aubrey de Grey has a short list of big goals that will "murder death." He seems brilliant and slightly mad, although all visionaries smack of insanity. But really, is this what we want? Don't weep, but I'm sick of most of the jamokes I know already. If you're planning on lingering another century or two to vex me, I'm gonna start a skydiving school with swiss cheese parachutes. Free passes, ya'll.

5) I love the KMMN (Kill Malarial Mosquitos Now) Coalition. There are other voices saying it, and I've bored you with it about a million times, but I STILL HEART DDT!

6) Have you forgotten to call someone a Walloon today?

7) Yeah, so I knitted you a digestive system. So what about it?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Bouncing Art Stinks but Good say Martian Vampires

Image from here.

1) That Yellow Bastard referred me to this Sony Bravia ad, filmed without special computer effects, but by letting 250,000 superballs bounce down the streets of San Francisco. The broadband feed is smooth- has sound of the sparse acoustic type- and is beautiful. If you're rockin' a fast connection, I think you'll enjoy the simple pleasure.

2) As Bookslut points out, it's an irresistable headline: Lesbian Stalker Loses Vampire Love Battle. I can imagine the lurid movie poster now.

3) If you're of astronomical leanings, it's cool news that Mars and Venus will be glowing brightly on Halloween.

4) The Anchoress points out this story about my current hometown. It's a sad comment, but I'd have wondered, too, if I'd noticed the general atmosphere of Manhattan smelled too good.

5) As we approach the holiday season, here's the recent state-organized Jerusalem Day in Tehran. Don't confuse it with St. Paddy's or Casimir Pulaski's or Christopher Columbus' or Puerto Rican Day which are celebrations of the existence of people from other lands. No, no. JDay is the holiday where since 1979, Iraqis have demonstrated their abiding hatred for Jews and Israel and confirmed their committment to Semitic eradication. By the way, Death to America, too.

6) I am not just a linky traffic cop in the blogopshere, despite my adherence to crediting where I find things. Daily, I slave to select the choicest morsels from the buffet for you, frame them, give them context, incorporate them into my lame titles and find stupid pictures to attach. Don't say it's nothing. I wade through loads of the yawny-yawny so you don't have to. With that defensive preface, I note that Michelle Malkin pointed me to the photo series titled Propaganda at Riding Sun who found it from apostropher, but about this I have original commentary, so back off!

As I've said, I'm not much for "message art." Usually the message is unsubtle and overwhelms the aesthetics which end up taking a rung so much lower in the artist's attentions as to require a spelunking helmet to detect them. Nope, Chuck, that's just another mold deposit, not visual intention. However, I do find these photographs by Eolo Perfido well executed, no pun intended. (His own site has the nicest versions. Flop open an extra window and let's go through them together.)

UPDATE: I fixed the broken Eolo link, dagnabbit. You could've reached the photos through the other blogs' links above, but I didn't intend you should work so hard. And tx, apostropher, for the add'l kind words.

Onto the art. I like the palette, the dramatic lighting, the crispness and the care with which they're done. I find the bandaged heads reminiscent of "See No Evil" (or perhaps the Mummy Returns), and the protruding teeth of a flayed skull. I find myself also a little generally reminded of the shivering heads from the move Jacob's Ladder. Coming from Europe, this is hardly groundbreaking conceptualism, and if I don't find it all genius, it's still good looking. But, and you knew there'd be one coming, I do have issues with the set dressing.

Popcorn Man. His flag is tied to a branch, much more trouble and more expensive than the ubiquitous plastic flap-on-dowel at every megamart and drug store. Perfido should understand it's like the pre-wrapped Japanese instagifts available everywhere in Tokyo to satisfy the social customs. Since it's mandatory for U.S. citizens (and pretenders) to bear flags at all times in public locations and in private ones where more than three non-family members are gathered, we don't spend a lot of money or time on them. Like commuter umbrellas. The popcorn in a bowl instead of chips out of a bag? No paneling on the bunker walls or a foam fan finger? And this guy's underwear don't look right either. Look closely. The strappy tee part is no ribbed wifebeater and what about the shorts with buttons? This is obviously a furrin notion of proper undergarmentry. Might I suggest this inspiration to greater accuracy?

Scrawny Woman and Child. As everyone knows, America's jingo poor are fat, and the quilted wrap robe might be iconic for the 50's but hardly current. Think knee-length sleeper-T , preferably with crackled cartoon character decal and worn-to-elastic-fatigue sweatpants. Greasy ponytail and/or bad bleach job for sure.

Whore Girl. That's a solid depiction. Nailed that one, Eolo. High five, whooo.

Dreadlock Man in Cart. Dare I mention the bone structure and skin of this guy look a little youthful and Euro model-stubbly to go with the hair unless he's a skater dude? The cart-riding crowd in NYC usually look older, even in their twenties, and less, uh, robust.

KKK Guy after nose job and eye lift. The stained flag isn't likely though. See how they elevate the symbolic. In these photos, you'll see all the flags and basements are sparkling clean. Americans know the Klan are great at three things: the mentality of supremacy, wall arrangements, and laundry.

Electric Chair. I guess it's possible a brawny old guard would attack a convict's cranium like a zombie looking for a Lunchable, but once the little guy's strapped in, isn't it easier just to flip the switch?

Cyberpriest. I suppose I'm just grateful Eolo didn't go for the more predictable kneeling boy here. Still, doesn't this priest resemble the young Fr. Karras from The Exorcist? Hey, did you know actor Jason Miller's son Jason Patric is Jackie Gleason's grandson? Sorry, distracted by imdb.

Camo Battery Guy. Not much to say except the age makes the guy look like the war ended a while ago but not for him, blah blah... Where are the hardbodies from our current conflict? Where are the conductive dog tags?

Corporate Mummy. I realize there may be difficulties getting an actual flag to tie-size, but this guy's neck knot is way bigger than any normal Yankee shill who isn't a double-Windsor devotee of the Brit stylings of Thomas Pink.

I guess what I'm saying is that Eolo Perfido's beefs may be legit, but I can't shake the feeling that this Frenchman living in Rome doesn't really get us. Failing in the specific, he may be a little simplistic in the broad. And isn't it's a little- okay I'll say it- small-minded and maladjusted to spend so much time shaking your fingers at the distant and unalterable when you don't have any skin in the game? I don't know of any American artist devoting his time to relentlessly bashing another country unless he's an expat. Even then, the art of criticism often shows tremendous affection for the lost land. See many Cuban-American artists as examples. Does Perfido's exacting work show any particular understanding of or compassion toward its subjects, or does it fail to move the spirit because it treats its substance as inhuman, safe to demonize once reduced to easy, if hackneyed, abstractions?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

You Blew This Putt, Noonan

See image here. Twisted Feather tremendously odd Imports here.

1) This is light, thematic, and frothy, unlike the frothing at the mouth I'll do next. Halloween Hangman is a good time. (Tx, Bonnie) However, I warn you, there's SOUND. If you're at work, turn down the volume before linking or you'll hear abusive ranting from the skeleton that implies he died of cirrosis and lung cancer combined. I can practically see the ghosts of betting slips in his bony fingers.

2) Sometimes, I think Peggy Noonan gets it right. Some days like today, she sounds like she's only writing for and aware of the other inmates in the Beltway asylum and nearby gated communities. That may not be true, and I don't mean to damn her hunch-gathering. I don't doubt some people feel the way she writes. But I think the gloom off-base, not particularly tied to facts but choices of perception, and largely the cri-de-coeur of people unaware they've morphed from key contributors to consumers. Most importantly, I reject her view of the elite and consider them actually the common, in the sense of being increasingly satisfied with being less than excellent. My rejection of her points was as visceral as logical, so we'll see whether I avoid the accusation that I'm merely patching the cracks in my "constitutional and classic American optimism." I'm not exactly providing a disputation of her observations as much as a different reponse to them.

I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley [is] off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. That our pollsters are preoccupied with "right track" and "wrong track" but missing the number of people who think the answer to "How are things going in America?" is "Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination."

When have the actors of the day ever known the destination of history, which is built on the bones of those who'd never imagined things could go as they did? Pandemics have occurred, great civilizations have fallen, natural disasters have changed the planet, mass murder of millions have occurred through cruelty and war. If we were ever to discuss history (a contemporary failure which augments this morass of mood) we learn that all these horrors have happened many times over, and yet, people survive to be shocked about them. Because of the direction that time flows, humanity is always charging into darkness. Whether it feels like adventure or doom has largely to do with how robustly you adapt to uncertainty and how you credit your fellow humans as traveling companions.

I mean . . . the whole ball of wax. Everything. Cloning, nuts with nukes, epidemics; the growing knowledge that there's no such thing as homeland security; the fact that we're leaving our kids with a bill no one can pay. A sense of unreality in our courts so deep that they think they can seize grandma's house to build a strip mall; our media institutions imploding--the spectacle of a great American newspaper, the New York Times, hurtling off its own tracks, as did CBS. The fear of parents that their children will wind up disturbed, and their souls actually imperiled, by the popular culture in which we are raising them. Senators who seem owned by someone, actually owned, by an interest group or a financial entity. Great churches that have lost all sense of mission, and all authority. Do you have confidence in the CIA? The FBI? I didn't think so. But this recounting doesn't quite get me to what I mean. I mean I believe there's a general and amorphous sense that things are broken and tough history is coming...It's beyond, "The president is overwhelmed." The presidency (her emphasis) is overwhelmed. The whole government is. And people sense when an institution is overwhelmed. Citizens know. If we had a major terrorist event tomorrow half the country--more than half--would not trust the federal government to do what it has to do, would not trust it to tell the truth, would not trust it, period.

Is existence truly less stable than before, or are we just better informed about a complex web of risks outside our direct control? In technological societies, our lives hinge on developments and devices and people we don't understand and couldn't replace ourselves. Now that masses face undreamt health and longevity through advances in standards of living and medical care, if our pervasive worrying leaves the minutia, it drifts to terrorist cells, climatological change, mercury levels in salmon steaks, sick building syndrome, the sexual predator next door, and on and on. I'm not implying that any of these aren't worthy concerns, just that they aren't all likely, and one can't stay level-headed while internalizing dread about all of them, especially ones outside the purview of one's specific expertise or position. That is the recipe for hopelessness: worry about what you can't do while failing to do what you can.

You must decide to trust generally or not. Either big-G Government (substitute The Corporation where applicable) is a conspiracy of huge numbers of alien beings unlike you who intend you harm, or even the largest entities are made up of folks roughly similar to you in strengths and weaknesses, desires and priorities. To me, the primary danger of anything huge is the dilution and masking of accountability combined with possibilities for hazardous groupthink, but limits on power with support for transparency and individual freedoms help defuse that volatile kind of conformity. Another nuance of modern history- for good or ill- is that no governments have ever had to go through the real-time scrutiny and micromanagement by so many armchair senators and generals before. In the storied past, which we've elided into peanut-buttery smoothness, mistakes were made. People screwed up, failed to show up, just like today. Some blunders were important enough or become known widely enough to wring knuckles over, but humans aren't essentially worse than we ever were.

When I was young we didn't wear earrings, but if we had, everyone would have had a pair or two. I know a 12-year-old with dozens of pairs. They're thrown all over her desk and bureau. She's not rich, and they're inexpensive, but her parents buy her more when she wants them. Someone said, "It's affluence," and someone else nodded, but I said, "Yeah, but it's also the fear parents have that we're at the end of something, and they want their kids to have good memories. They're buying them good memories, in this case the joy a kid feels right down to her stomach when the earrings are taken out of the case."

Holy birthday party for Anne Frank, Batman! Is that really it? Giving her a last bit of joy through cheap accessories since she's as doomed as doomed can be? If you ax me, the trend is hyperindulgenge in the superficial and transient. The terrible, insatiable current need to nurture fledgling esteem through acquisition rather than achievement has made parents into piggy banks and most children uninteresting.

When the American middle class exploded in the fifties, many invested in acquiring the trappings of what used to be thought high culture. Intellectuals were feted on TV, people bought albums and books of things they though were good for them. But few wanted to pay to feel bad about themselves, so what was provided more was the slightly lower rung of high culture which kept descending from there. Now you're "elite" if you've even heard of opera much less sat through one. And even those citizens who didn't have lofty aspirations had money to spend on common entertainment which became ever more lucrative to provide. Huge numbers of people's principal recreation began to come from paying others to exhibit the skills of musicianship, dance, elocution, art, or sports rather than practicing and creating these entertainments on their own. Why learn piano when you can buy an album and the virtuosity is guaranteed? Added to the migration from the creation/participation model of recreation to passive consumption in an era when leisure grew to a larger percentage of John Q. Public's life, many loving parents also started bouncing their offspring over obstacles they would've had to hurdle themselves. Welcome to the first generation of Yankee ennui, man.

And now, as people raise petted, easily troubled, trivial-minded American children in Candyland mythologies of childhood as ultimate destination, denying its purpose as a training ground for adulthood, they are taken aback that these weak-minded dependents (who haven't learned the Life Skills of householding that we teach the mentally disabled) won't leave home and are near-hysterical about selecting a life-ruining college course because they couldn't consult a parent on the umbilical-phone. One whole sentence- gasp, pant.

In my opinion, if our public school system were as good as it ought to be (and should be based on children's capacities), many kids wouldn't need beyond a high school education that conferred solid literacy, math and science, and critical thinking skills. Then we could move onto extended vocational education, especially where things like technology and health care are concerned. Let's not waste our time and cash on those millions of vanilla Communications majors that mean students learn nothing specifically or deeply except how to party with a safety net. Maybe the sad, fearful parents could put some of the adolescent earring money into language lessons, ballet, musical instrument rental, travel, museum passes, terrariums? Okay, anything that teaches knowledge/skills of lasting value/beauty. One thing common to pop CDs, games, celebrities, and fad fashion is that they're disposable and therefore always eventually disappoint. An actor may develop within his understanding of Shakespeare for a lifetime- there's enough substance to sustain. Set your children's intellectual and cultural table with plasticware and paper napkins and wonder why their tastes never develop, why they never advance in breadth or sophistication. You should want them to thrive in the world that's coming at them. You should want them to outdo you. You should. Shame on you if you don't, you insecure monster.

Of Noonan's jawdroppingly silly citation of the forboding of a cocktail-swilling Teddy Kennedy predicting we won't get by without their dynasty, I will not comment except to say that there's a good reason not to have monarchies. Old Joe, the founder of the feast, was a canny guy, a heck of a moneymaker and backroom broker. His sons gained the polish and pedigrees he lacked, but there's so often tremendous dropoff of talent once the first generation has strived, overcome, succeeded. Only rarely do the heirs excel in the same arena. If we could resurrect and ask him, would grandpa Hilton be bursting his buttons or dead twice from shame?

Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.

These may be the elites, I suppose, using a certain measure of rarity, but they're never who I've looked to for progress. I do agree many are becoming impotent, especially those whose idea of relevancy orbits the cosmos of 1968. I mean, the journalistic elite? Really. Let's have a trade school for that, too. People without inner hunger and hope don't drive the world forward, but there are revolutionaries shaping the future in this moment.

Here, where our electrons touch, there are people around the globe communicating their pains and aspirations. Here, not in the mediocre press of reactionism and opaque reasoning, are heard global whisperings and mutterings as they grow in volume. Here, we see proved the truth that humans thirst to be free to express themselves, and that unblinking consensus isn't a requirement of coexistence. That technologies are evolving, challenging our ethics and identity but offering amazing potential. That we can discover enough truth about foreign climes and circumstances to sympathize and help in concrete ways. None of us need buy any party's line or vision without verification.

I doubt I've made myself clear, but here I can gratefully edit, update, and repost. If you're not preparing yourself to contribute as well as consume, and if you're not excited about the potential past your own navel, and if you believe the majority of your fellow humans are inherently weaker or more evil than yourself, GET OUT OF THE WAY.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bits Bearish, Physic, and Above All Spooky

See item 6 for image info.

1) Spooky Particles, the name preferred by Einstein, are also known as entangled particles and do something weird and wonderful. I'll try not to mangle the explanation, but these photons affect each other without being physically connected. Even over great distances, simply observing one will create a corollary change in the other. This particle telepathy or sympathy is the idea behind quantum computers which won't simply transmit a pile of zeros or ones based on electrons like we do now, but will instead be able to transmit data reflecting any position on a sphere. In essence, these computers will be able to answer the series of questions which form programming instructions using a lot bigger vocabulary than merely yes or no. Bigger vocabulary, more sophisticated language, faster answers. Although we're approximately in 1950 in developing qubit computers as compared to the history of current computing, the possibilites are staggering.

2) How do we explain the persistence of stories and the sane normalcy of victims of Alien Abductions?

3) Man dies en route to his brother's funeral.

4) Eight year-old girl , Cool Hand Sierra, bags first trophy in Maryland's bear hunt.

5) Once again the last to know, I've just discovered Renault's supermini, the Twingo. Okay, I am a fool, but it proves I don't egosurf. Anyhoo, I do live in a city, possess only my feets, and would be happy to discuss a blogdorsement-in-trade kinda deal.

6) As Drawn! points out, Pumpkin Gutter raises the bar on pumpkin carving. Be sure to scroll down for link to page 2 of the gallery. No, they don't last. No, they're not special pumpkins. For the rest of the facts about Scott Cummins' annual creations, check out his snarky FAQ.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rubens' Pale-Skinned Paintings Starve African Smurfs

Samson and Delilah found here where page-bottom link to Religious Themes page 4 will link to the referenced Massacre of the Innocents.

1) Lamb and Lynx are a lot like the Olsen Twins, but more overtly happy to be white. (Tx, Bummer Girls.) Honestly, as long as they're not advocating violence or breaking the law, I don't really have a problem with their existence, even if the message blows. Still, I doubt there's huge growth in this niche of the population or marketplace. I prefer to marginalize domestic supremacist movements by ignoring them or being amused. However, if one becomes unlawful in its infringement of other citizens' rights, bring the ACME moron hammer down!

2) If you haven't heard about Unicef's new Smurficidal commercials to get us to understand the plight of children in war-torn lands, read this funny Steyn article. Many Smurf haters are happy to see the little blue bastards finally getting what they deserve and Gargamel triumphing the way Wile E. Coyote was never allowed.

3) South Africa seems poised to make the same kind of disastrous, famine-inducing land redistribution as ruined Zimbabwe's agricultural capacity. Free registration. (Tx, Scrivener.)

4) Is Rubens as dirty as all that? The image above is dissected in this spicy article by Waldemar Januszczak which I found through Arts & Letters Daily. What say you? Vicarious, violent filth or zaftig fantasy? Does it depend on the day and your mood?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Artsy Bookery and Bloggadociousness

Today, I might be considered all erudite and crap. That is, if you agree that comic in strips and bound formats- (ahem) graphic novels- have lasting value. Otherwise, it's the book notes that'll have to save me.

1) Today in 1897 a comic strip, The Yellow Kid, first appeared in the Sunday color supplement of the New York Journal. Although Richard Outcault's strip had its debut in 1895, becoming widely popular and boosting newspaper readership, this day remains special for birthing the Sunday funnies. Collector and merchant Stan Tychinski gives more history, and explains how a collection of the Kid's strips, published in book form by the NYJ, argues for its place as the first successful graphic novel.

2) I have posted on how the prolific James Patterson has used "collaborators", ditto Tom Clancy, but I don't think I ever substantiated this slightly less-than-open but hardly unknown secret. Forbes does the down and dirties.

Ed. NOTE: I'd like to mention that making the preceding, tiny entry would have been much easier if the ragglefraggle Blogger search tool worked at all. When I search my own blog for topics and text strings I know I've written, it never finds them. When I search all of Blogspot, I have to wade through pages of spamblog entries. FIX THIS, Blogger! Please! Make it more than a frustrating placeholder on the top border hinting at functionality it won't deliver. I'm still using Technorati and Google just to find myself- no theraputic sense implied. Make me a better offer.

3) Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson is still keeping a low profile and doing his own thang, a decade after finishing a decade of his beloved strip. Would you have the strength or even the desire to walk away from something that was so popular, even if you felt the quality and your satisfaction would diminish with time? Would your agent threaten hara-kiri?

Audiences always want the trick pony to keep performing the trick they love, and resist the evolution of artists into new territory, though the trick they adore was once a novelty, too. Having said that, plenty of people (the kind with entourages) shouldn't try to evolute as artists, they don't have enough of the primordial creative goo inside to sprout new gills or trotters. These type should stick to doing their one trick well, professionally, and without extraneous media coverage.

Still, for those who are gifted enough to create meaningful work in a variety of genres or media that daringly occupy different shelves in the store, proving it requires overcoming a lot of commercial resistance or simply dropping out of the argument.

4) This is a believable though depressing NYT article detailing the discouraging journey of a new author after publication. I frequent author events and read up on the subject of publishing as if either could help the writing which is my true face and sales offering to the world. As I thus avoid work, I experience many thoughtful veterans armoring we pre-published novices with ugly truth. Of these bummers I hear so much I could really use a little sunny- even if slightly fraudulent- optimism. Subscribing to Publisher's Marketplace, I read about tankerloads of deals and none of them are mine. But Elizabeth Royte wants me to know that such an ardently desired announcement will be no cause for celebration, since it will most likely only lead to greater miseries and an acting out of neuroses on a grander scale. I'm sure the authors she quotes are being candid, but I don't require any more portrayals of my chosen career (oh, how I wish someone else would choose that I pursue it) as an ever-darkening vale of tearful rejection for the angst-ridden and sensitive literati.

Among the bright and talented writers I meet, most are not Rowling-rich, but I haven't met any who were literally starving. When the group gripes, justified by facts I'm sure, bust out over Chianti, it makes me wonder whether anyone likes the job or whether the gloom is just an artifact of the "catastrophic mind". Isn't anyone so grateful for it that they wrest some pleasures from book tours and signings? Isn't anyone mostly humbled and delighted to meet someone charitable or adventurous enough to allow an author's invention to take residence in his mind for hours and perhaps for life? For those with stars in your eyes about the business of writing, read and learn. For those already pounded thin by relentless realism, don't bother. Just want less, expect disgust and despair, wallow and repeat. That is the way toward authentic art, right?

5) Dr. Sanity pointed me to this fun calculator that she was referred to in the big, bloggy telephone game. It uses an algorithm established for the AOL acquisition of Weblogs Inc. to determine the dollar value of a blog.

I was surprised that this site is worth about $5600 if someone wanted to buy it. Of course, the market for low-obstacle-to-entry ventures like this is as saggy as a Victorian dowager. But to me, dear readers, understand that your time and attention remain pearls beyond price.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Swallows Leave Capistrano

Image from Marinarena's travel page.

Today is the feast day of San Juan, the day that the swallows of San Juan Capistrano leave the mission on their 7,500 mile, month-long migration to Goya, Argentina for the winter.

The bands of swallows fueling for flight are calorie vaccuums, consuming up to 1,000 insects daily and providing an enormous insecticidal fleet. At dawn of February 18th next year, they will leave Goya, returning en masse to Capistrano on March 19th as they do annually and have since the Cenozoic Age, a couple of million years ago.

Read here about the sister cities and about the amazing travel of the swallows from an Argentine scientist. I love cyclically recurrent natural spectacles like this one, and hope someday to see it in person.

However, if you're looking for something more emblematic of the thinning of the veil between the material and spirit worlds at this time of year, you can still just make Carlsbad- this I've seen- and witness the pre-migratory flapping of hundreds of thousands of free-tail bats.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Criminal Snowflea Tells Cops He Couldn't Freeze

See item one for image source with active clickables.

I'm hungry, but I'm not going to eat until I post this, so you can bet it'll be more rushed and ramshacklier than ever.

1) Tied to our season's Halloween/Death theme, here's a link to a nice round up of Dia de los Muertos items from what claims to be Arizona's home page, but looks to be a partnership of local newspapers and a television station. As I've mentioned before, I love this celebration's associated artwork and sweets and parades and hoopla. I'm a big fan of celebrating life by shaking the bone rattles. Linked to the image above is information about what items go into composing your own traditional or modern altar for el Dia. I like the traditional better. The modern reminds me too much of a curbside shrine for a thuggy skeezer.

2) In a follow-up to my recent list of outlandish plots gleaned from true life, a suspect has been arrested for killing the wife of the attorney currently defending a woman accused of killing her husband. Say that ten times fast. The suspect is allegedly a stoner con man turned entrepreneur who'd ordered some hydroponic growing equipment to start his weed empire. For some reason, Hempy McTrump became convinced -paranoia perhaps?- that the materials had been delivered to the trailer where the lawyer and his wife were living during the building of their new home. And apparently, allegedly, when the wife said uh-uh can't help you, he may have disbelieved her or just disliked her and beat her to death with a nearby piece of crown molding. The story is growing weirder and sadder as it goes, although for my part, I consider teen fascination with the occult as a pretty typical path for disaffected youth and not a necessary or even common gateway to fraud and murder.

3) Potential victim foils carjacker with hot coffee, and it gets more Apple Dumpling Gang from there.

4) And we finally break from death and true life crime to discuss the amazing wingless snowflea who manufactures his own antifreeze. Scientists hope someday to emulate it for use for organ transplants and even agriculture.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Greatest Crime Series Never Written (yet) one I just read in a WaPo article by Del Quentin Wilbur that I liked so well I'm regurgitating his byline. His subject is the D.C. natural death squad.

These are former homicide detectives who investigate what look like natural or self-induced deaths after ruling out criminal cause. It seems they primarily work with people who've died in their homes. Now, I am laden, practically encrusted, with disparate story ideas I'm trying to sculpt into usable plots, but these people are begging to have a book written about them. Look at them, for heaven's sakes! I know they've been posed for this picture, but this is how they dress. Even though I understand they're real people doing a very difficult job, I'm abstractly in love with the concept behind it and how they're different from the detectives we're used to reading about.

What's so compelling about them to a crime-focused fabulist, you ask? Look at them again! And they're stationed in the urban, criminal paradise of Washington D.C. I intend no offense to the residents or law enforcement authorities, but the capitol's long been a fertile producer of crimes both actual and fictional. Here are some of the other factors I found both heroic and provocative:

They deal with the grimmest realities of odor and decomposition and see more bodies, by far, than any other squad. This must exact a physical as well as mental toll. Tied to the numbers involved, they deal with a lot of suicides, and do a ton of family notifications- I would bet this number is also higher than any other squad. This must require reserves of strength and human compassion as well as excellent coping skills to stay sane and grounded.

They're never in a hurry, since the people they serve are already gone and not by foul play. What happens to the pace and procedure if and when they discover, as these former homicide detectives are well qualified to determine, that a crime was involved? The hours are known to be far more reasonable and regular than the homicide detail, and the pace is slower. Plenty of time, I'd think, for a different feeling police drama to unfold.

Cheap cigars, though not necessarily cigar smoking, are an essential tool of the trade. Even the lady detective lights up on site to combat the smells. One detective tucks the snuffed stogie behind his ear as he finishes his tour of the house. I love the images and physicalization tied to this detail.

As often as we see TV detectives developing detailed biographies of murder victims, the natural squad detectives really must wade through the detritus of people's personal lives when they're trying to determine how and when they died. Since they are frequently coming into residences unrestricted by living residents, I'm sure they must search through more homes and possessions than lots of detectives do who would need specific warrants from a judge just to get inside. Simply for notification purposes and to rule out crime, these detectives must get into the cupboards and closets trying to establish identity and often state of mind. Note how one squad member removes the jewelry from a deceased woman and gives it to her family member in order to spare her having to reclaim it from the coroner who might use rougher methods to reclaim the rings. Ranging free in people's unprotected homes requires impeccable honor be a key attribute for squad members. This is a position where someone greedy and unscrupulous could clean a place out or pick up a variety of trinkets before the heirs even knew about the death. This offers an unusual plot device, possibility for discoveries, and promotes a special kind of character underpinning.

This situation is dense with human drama and chances to examine things like family malfeasance or neglect as well as family solidarity. There's isolation, greed, the stress of bearing bad news, battle fatigue, the discoveries of oddities which were private in life. While a death itself may be no crime technically, I can envision lots of other crimes that could be related to or resulting from this kind of death. I shouldn't be happy about that, but from a production standpoint, it is important that an idea has legs.

That's enough, I'm sure, perhaps more than you wanted to know. If you're not a writer, but care at all about the process- and I don't know why you should- I can't speak for anyone else, but this is how my story ideas take root and grow branches. To me, a great premise is one that offers an assumed probability of character development (the options for which are as old as time) and plot complications which are inherently, even uniquely plausible under circumstances that make a story feel fresh and specific.

So there! Thank you, detectives, for sharing your unique careers. And somebody who's a better writer than I had better get on this one, or I'll have to tackle it myself and wreck its great, glowing potential.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Vigoda Would Want You to Read This Mess

See item 6 for image source. No, I checked. He's not dead yet.

Today's an incoherent hash of the whimsical and heartbreaking, but I'm finally extruding the last steaming heap of my collected links. Whew. Tomorrow, I'll have to have bagged fresh prey to have anything to offer.

1) Color me Debbie Downer for these Africa links aplenty. But everyday is a good time to wish the shortest future reign for Mugabe, the Butcher of Harare , who dares to attend the UN summit and blame the West for all his problems after single-handedly creating starvation conditions for thousands, if not millions, of his own people. Unemployment in Zimbabwe today: 70%. Tim Worstall quotes liberally from Nicholas Kristof about the sad state of agriculture in Niger as international relief merely provides stale tins of sardines instead of stocking the rivers, so to speak. The Nation's Andrew Rice reviews new books that pose competing theories about why Africa is still poor. Of course, Botswana, one of his cited successes, is now forcing Bushmen from their homes according to the WaPo.

2) The Anchoress, who still loves her some All Hallows' fun despite the killjoys, referred me to this supersized Halloween Etymology Carnival at Done With Mirrors. Read about the origins of our nomenclature for the spookyriffic.

3) I always know a sliver of what's hip, but never all of it. Perhaps there's too much to keep up with anymore since the internet has made every grimy cranny of interest into a legit niche with fan base and forums and T-shirts at CafePress. Anyway, Gaping Void is, among the many I've surely missed, a wildly popular blog that all the kids have been reading since forever, and I've just gotten to it. I first looked at the English Cut, an associated blog, maybe half a year ago and loved it, but I somehow missed finding GV. Of course, where one is about the painstaking tailoring of men's bespoke suits, the former is roughly about marketing creativity in the emerging electronic world and cartooning on the back of business cards. Both blogs are excellent scratchposts depending on where you itch. Here then are Hugh MacLeod's profound Rules of How to Be Creative. , an essential read for anyone who works in a creative, self-directed enterprise.

4) Doug TenNapel, the comic artist who did Earthboy Jacobus and the Nick series Catscratch, strips success down to only three rules for one eager fan.

5) Sometimes Lileks sings my soul, as when he vaunted this dream machine of a coupe which is unfortunately named the Efijy [sic- sick] and will supposedly run at the speed of a slippery superjet on a Corvette chassis. I must blot the drool from the corners of my mouth.

6) When Louis Nye died, I realized that all these kinds of people, and you'll know what I mean when you cross reference this site to celebrity obits, are represented by the same agent! It's a crazy crock pot of TV stars, many from the same show. Better for theme party bookings, I guess. But Jill Whelan, Charo, Gary Burghoff, and Shields & Yarnell?! If Bob Denver and Nye are just the beginning of a plot to increase the marketability of the rest, who will fall next? Protect my Vigoda and Knotts, I beg of you!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Leeches, Spiders, Snails, and Sponges

He came from here and belongs to Arthropoda.

Okay, I hoped it would seem I was covering new topic areas, instead of piling more onto my recent posts about fear and brains, brains, brains, not to mention my ubiquitous, scrivenocentric items. So, today I'm listing by alphabetized phylum for variety's sake and to avoid confusion with the embedded, numbered list.

Phylum Annelida: Another voice asking for calm in the face of the pandemic possibilities.

Phylum Arthropoda: Women can read road maps, as long as Aunt Flo is also a passenger. More from the wacky world of hormonal brain alteration.

Phylum Mollusca: If you're a writer parched of ideas for crazy plot twists, take these true-life, tragic amazements of the unfortunate and iniquitous for inspiration. However, be warned that some might argue these stories are too outrageous to sell as fiction.

- Indian man with epilepsy spends 54 years institutionalized as insane.

- Gamine woman in pink, child-sized clothes with a happy-faced flower tattoo (perhaps a Daisy?) is beaten to death and left near the entrance to Lands End, the historic residence and likely real-life inspiration for the setting of Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby.

- 8 year-old boy lifts a stash of weed from his stoned Uncle Albert to show off to his classmates on a field trip to the Natural History Museum. We're so sorry...

- Jesuit priest accused of raping a Native Alaskan woman resulting in a bastard son. Twice.

-California Judge declares mistrial for woman accused of murdering her psychiatrist husband after her defense attorney's wife is murdered.

Phylum Porifera: According to Agent Kate, here are some plot starters she wishes never to receive:

1. Hurricane Katrina. Sorry Folks. Not Yet. The only good 9/11 books didn't come out until this year. Give it time.
2. Grieving spouses. Yes, I am a heartless bitch.
3. Paranormal Romance. You won't BELIEVE how many queries I get containing these two words a week.
4. Religious Conspiracy. The Da Vinci Code is so over.
5. Any detective formerly or currently working for the FBI, CIA, local, regional, or federal police, or in private practice. Why can't normal people solve murders? Butchers. More butchers should solve murders. Just think of the suspense.
6. Any work of fiction or non-fiction primarily written in letter form.
7. Fiction with a billion different narrators. Pick one and commit, people.Please take note.

I had to laugh and sigh, because the short story I'm working on contains three of these defects, one of which is a requirement for the anthology. I still think it could be darned fine, my best yet even. Thanks to the Grumpy Old Bookman for referring me, and read his post's comment by Francis Ellen for an embittered writer's bite back.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fraudulent Review of KGB Killer Inflames Elephant Appetites

See item 7 for image explanation and attribution.

Sometimes things hang together and some days they all fall apart. Today is one of those where I'll offload without collation the collection of odd and interesting (to me) items I've accumulated.

1) In reviewing the book Slam Dunks and No-Brainers, P.J. O'Rourke demonstrates why a bad review by a good reviewer can be so much fun. I'd prefer to read less buttering and more well-deserved lambasting.

2) You may not be shocked by this, but lack of government transparency, interagency coordination, and the web-based technological sophistication a consumer would expect in buying a CD are all making it difficult to protect the vast mounds of Katrina cash from fraud.

3) If you're fascinated by espionage stories, here's a doozy about the KGB agent who infiltrated Latin America and became a coffee baron in Costa Rica during the Cold War. (ht: bccy blog) Okay, you'll have to register to read the article, which I hate doing. However, this registration isn't quite as intrusive as some, and I believe you'll have access to all these surfworthy publications in the network, which is good efficiency for one registration.

4) Some of the elephants at the damaged New Orleans Zoo are clearing fallen tree debris by eating it. What interested me most was:

Most of the zoo's residents and a dozen or so key staff members stayed put for Katrina. The caretakers hunkered down in the reptile house, a building designed to withstand a hurricane and serve as a shelter. Food for animals and humans alike had been stockpiled. "We have been planning for this for years," zoo spokeswoman Sarah Burnette said, adding that Audubon had picked up survival tips from the Miami zoo after Hurricane Andrew.

They did have a few casualties and the sea lions had to be moved because of their special environmental needs, but does it occur to you that the zoo handled its responsibilities for stewardship and planning better than a few others we might mention? And what about learning from Florida's experiences? How often have you read that? Bravo zookeepers!

5) Because I am- I don't know what I am- I took myself to see the new Wallace and Gromit movie a couple of days ago, and I really liked it. Not being a big W&G fan to date, I hadn't noticed before the fingerprints in the clay faces and forms before which were wonderful to see pop in and out during the stop motion. The whole thing was charming and beautifully realized. I am a fan of world creation as an art form, and this created a place I'd love to have tea, toast, and a salad of the local veggies. It also had some genuine pathos mixed in which I think all lasting and beloved "fairy tales" do. The fearful parts, not terribly frightening to an adult, were caused mainly by overreactions or misunderstandings by characters and coincidences of dark and weather, so I don't think the movie harbors any new bogeymen to linger under the bed, which is a skillful thing to manage in spooky storytelling for children.

So I was saddened to read on the Gray Monk's blog that the W&G warehouse including archives, models, and awards was destroyed by fire. He didn't post the news link, so here's one. From another story, Nick Park, who created the popular characters, says while the loss hurts, it "isn't a big deal" in comparison to recent natural disasters hitting the world.

6) I found this through Samatha Burns who found it through someone else in the viral way such things propogate. Anyway, she kills for revenge, while I discovered- no suprise, really- that I am an Assassin. Take the quiz and learn what kind of killer you are and see your own trading card of death if you're mature.

7) Another linky-daisy chain led me to Wendy McClure's Candyboots with her Weight Watchers recipe cards from the 1970's. If you loved Lilek's Gallery of Regrettable Food, you'll love this.

Would you believe I've got more, Chief? But I'll stop here. Why should you have to carry all my garbage to the curb in one trip? The rest of the recycling can wait.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Gluttons for Punishment or Laughs?

Image from
I'm scared, and check out the corner devils. Remind you of anything? P.S. for some reason, my pics seem to be a little funky. I'll work on it.

For me, these items all knit together, especially after my previous fear post.

1) Scott Burgess' Daily Ablution blog, which I enjoy in its relentless vivisection of the Grauniad's (Guardian's) journalistic offerings, provides an examination of two recent "imminent apocalypse" type stories. One asserts, among other stretched-thin conclusions:

Almost daily, new evidence is emerging that progress can no longer be taken for granted, that a new Dark Age is lying in wait for ourselves and our children.

Well, best we smother them in their little beds then, isn't it, to save them the horror of reaching their own doomed maturities? Read Burgess' examination of the weakly supported, strongly arguable conclusions that humans have become less innovative since peaking in roughly 1873. Keep in mind, you'll have to disregard muscle cars and microsurgery, antibiotics and chemotherapy, supersonic jets and space travel, photocopiers, and cell phones, dammit, because we've lost the mojo.

What I find most fascinating is the bleakness of outlook from educated, middlish-class people in civilized societies who are today the beneficiaries of health, prosperity, productivity and conveniences which heretofore even emperors could not have commanded. The whole post is worth reading point by point as you see the lengths one must go to to turn ethical scientists stating findings carefully into shills for the adult diaper industry.

Another tidbit that jumped out at me was this scenario of the soon-to-arrive bitter end:

Famine and chaos increase in the poorest and most unprepared countries, killing thousands of people at first, then millions as infrastructures collapse and civil wars rage.

The Grauniad author may not be as educated as I credited, since this very scenario is happening in Africa as it sadly has for decades already. And most of what they require is an infusion of current, even slightly outmoded, agricultural and pest control technologies through uncorrupted governance and the thousands dying from famine and pestilence could be greatly relieved. Perhaps the journalist is suffering from "learned helplessness" where one fears attempting even what is possible.

2) However, to address that subject, we must turn to this lengthy, but highly readable and fascinating, article from the Times (ht: Arts & Letters Daily) on the still-emerging science of happiness. It discusses the definitions of happiness, its biochemical signatures, and how it may affect aging and health as well as the "hedonic treadmill" which allows us to become inured to the good and focus on the terrible instead. One explanation for this tendency is that our brains evolved during the challenges of the the Ice Age when humans survived while the mammoths and sabre-toothed cats perished.

Survival in a time of adversity forged our brains into a persistent mould. Professor Seligman says: "Because our brain evolved during a time of ice, flood and famine, we have a catastrophic brain. The way the brain works is looking for what's wrong. The problem is, that worked in the Pleistocene era. It favoured you, but it doesn't work in the modern world."

In fact, the article notes that of the six universal emotions, only one is positive. This may be analogous to our uneven sensations of heat and cold. We sense small drops in temperature faster than rises, because they're a greater physical danger to us. I recently also posted on gender-based brain differences. Combining some concepts from there with the ideas found here, we see that happiness seems to live in the pre-frontal cortex and left brain where creativity and abstract reasoning (dare we suggest innovation?) also seem to reside.

Perhaps happiness can activate the parts of the brain tied to creativity? I'm interested to see how the science develops. But I would posit, off my uneducated cuff, that a non-stressed, relaxed, detached (content?) state of mind- which so many athletes and artists report anecdotally as being integral to their moments of greatest achievement and inspiration- is a necessity for innovation. This all means, to me, that panic and marrow-melting terror about the future won't help us avoid the outcomes we fear. Only optimism, enthusiasm, and mental resilience will.

So I say it again: Have a laugh, you dour mf! There's a world to enjoy and to save!

3) On a smaller scale yet illustrative of the same points, an author previously known for his comic edge has created a pseudonym to write work to be taken more seriously and perhaps grab the serious cash and prizes. I read in Sarah Weinman's excellent blog Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind that Richard Hawke, whose Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) of Speak of the Devil was stuffed in my Bouchercon goodie bag, is none other than Tim Cockey. Read the Publisher's Weekly review under the title for a laugh about the quality of this "first novel."

I loved Cockey's books about the Baltimore undertaker named Hitch with their horrible pun titles based on the word hearse. However, I saw him speak at Left Coast Crime (in 2003, I think), and he was on a humor panel with a few other authors who also weren't sure they were strictly comedic. I sensed their discomfort with the category and agreed it sold their books short. Ask "cozy" writers about that, too, if you want an earful. The Hitch books are funny, and while there are over-the-top characters, I also found them very smart and human and good for more than merely a laugh, in the verbage of those who so undervalue wit.

When Cockey changed his title theme from the hearse puns to Backstabber for the last Hitch book, I wondered if it was an attempt to get wider readership and exposure (noble aims both) by making the book's first impression grittier and letting the humor be a serendipitous discovery for readers. It's true that being thought of as comic is a harbinger of lesser regard by the professional marketplace and trickles down to fewer copies sold. This is not because the writing is easier done. I would argue it's tougher, especially since a key element of humor is surprise, and surprising a laugh from intelligent readers is tougher than finally manifesting a painful situation that you've been foreshadowing for hundreds of pages. However, if a book doesn't just contain humor but is seen as a "humor book", it is degraded in comparison to its bleaker cousins, just like brillant comedies that never win the Oscar. Perhaps this is the prejudicial wiring of our brains. I wish Richard Hawke much luck. I like what I've read so far.

At the moment, I'm working on a lighter, even frothy, piece and a much darker one, and find I require them to spell each other. Some of the darkest stuff I write, I don't know that I'd want to read, and I find it repellent and uncomfortable living within those people and situations while I'm doing it. But in my head, it's mostly the monstrous that shows up for inspiration roll call, so there I'm stuck. Meanwhile, my nightstand has room for all of it, and I plan in my personhood to skim ever more lightly-lightly into a robust old age.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Long Way to Go For a Halloween Scare

Company impends, so harried cleaning and showering are due, but here's a speed blurb if you haven't seen it about a man who died of a freak accident while getting a "Last Rites" devil's head tattoo. I'm guessing the picture is of the actual stencil that would have been applied to his arm to transfer the image for inking.

I don't mind the artwork actually, but the Halloween-spooky tie-in is too great to ignore. I'ts a shame that a young guy's early death is turning into a joke, but weird things like this beg the amused detachment of the ghoulish spectator.

It's worth registering if you can't see the whole NY Post story.

Later, ya'll

Friday, October 14, 2005

Let's talk fear.

Bowel-loosening, insomniac fear. In this longish but meaty piece in Spiked, Frank Furedi writes:

Fear is fast becoming a caricature of itself. It is no longer simply an emotion or a response to the perception of threat. It has become a cultural idiom through which we signal a sense of unease about our place in the world.

He goes on to discuss some of the ways through politics and the media that our unceasing doom-mongering has become a twisted version of the healthful fears that keep us alert and safer.

There is seldom a teaser for local news stories that doesn't hinge on impending catastrophe: for your children (the drum most often beat), for your health, for your job, for your salad bar. There is seemingly no topic that can merely intrigue or interest once passed through the Jabba-like script-excreter of TV news. "How.... can ruin your life- details at 11. "

I've always wondered why, if they're so urgently concerned for my fate as a viewer, why not just cut to the answer and concrete warning in the promo? "To save lives in the 3 hours before our broadcast, we must inform you this instant that climbing rickety water towers or eating sandwiches without cleaning your hands could kill you." Thanks, I'll keep it in mind. And on with life, which is by the way a dangerous enterprise from the first squirm and will finally pin you and me both in some tangle of wrassle-hold we can't escape.

I normally enjoy Charles Krauthammer as a writer and opiner, but when reading this story about the recreation of the Spanish flu, "an agent of near-biblical destruction," even the cool and clear-eyed may feel a little wobbly. As Furedi pointed out, it's good to go wobbly over some things, but I'd say especially those I can control like jumping out of the path of a speeding bus.

However, as we now genuinely live in times with capacities described previously in science fiction, and (re)creating monstrous biological horrors with "a risk 'verging on inevitability' of accidental release" is nigh, may I please ask everybody to COOL DOWN THE RHETORIC OF FRIGHT?

Humans can't survive any of these threats and/or innovate brilliant solutions to deal with them if we've all gone crazy as shithouse rats, afraid to drink the water, go outside, or breathe due to the exponential compounding of every possible splinter of risk into soul-crushing anxiety.

I feel myself developing panic fatigue from the peaking and troughing of my own fear response. If I let it, it will exhaust me to the brittleness of an old rubber band that can't snap back anymore and just plain snaps. Of course, my current disinclination toward and disaffection with the "ain't it awfuls" leads people to caution me that I'll subsequently become blase' in the face of REAL peril. But as I see it, every day Existence is balanced on the edge of a sheer cliff, and every day so far, has only wiggled its toes and laughed. So, I'm choosing to be informed if and when possible, to do what I can without having to make a tin hat, and trying to relax and crack a smile once in a while. Keep the Buddhas giggling for Crikey's sake!

Al Neuman image with interesting discussion of origin here. Ryan Gilbey 70's cinema book with better cover than current Amazon listing is reviewed here. I originally found the Gilbey reference at the blog Ushering in Banality , neglected since '03. The photos are great here, and if you read German, I bet you'll like it, too. Sadly, another webtique.

Update: Much after finishing this spasm of angst, I was rocked like Krakatoa to discover I was listed on Samantha Burns' random blogroll. Extra Fantastico, since her blog's cool and funny and more than several people actually read it. Although you, my loyal pal(s?) and reader(s?) will always be first in my affections, I wish for you the joys of increased compatriotism. Thanks, Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns! Now I'm going to have to add a blogroll.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Happy Confucius' Birthday! I'm a Dunce.

1) Today in Hong Kong, they celebrate what is, if this web site is correct, his 2557th bday. I took the opportunity to scan some of the verses there and found they included lots of talk about fitness for various positions of authority as well as serving one's parents and the perfect commonwealth state which startled me some. I confess I know little about Confucianism, and being ignorant, was unable to quickly locate something pithy and apt, although I did learn enough to realize I'd misunderstood it even in generalities. My quick looksee surprised me. What I may have misinterpreted read as harmonious concord with the principles of Communism. Conformance is revered, disorder hated, wealth disdained, "benevolence" vaunted. It reflects much municipal concern with a desire for absorption into some higher figure's principles be it father or lord. I think I'm more of a Lao-Tzu type myself.

Turning instead to a site about that sage who was a contemporary of Confucius, I read: "In him I have seen the dragon that rides on the cloudy air," replied Confucius. "My mouth fell open and I was unable to shut it... "... After another crushing visit he admitted: "In the knowledge of the Tao am I any better than a tiny creature in vinegar?" A final episode shows him becoming virtually a disciple of Lao Tzu. These accounts are, of course, Taoist propaganda. In reality Confucius would have regarded Lao Tzu as a dangerous threat to established custom and filial piety. The Tao te Ching contains not a single word about either of these central Confucian concepts. Indeed by stressing spontaneity and harmony with nature, it represents a rebellion against Confucian obsession with form and duty. But Taoism did alter the course of Confucianism, leading to the synthesis of neo-Confucianism in thinkers like Chang Tsai. It also moulded the shape of East Asian Buddhism, giving Buddhism a much less negative stance to the world.

Well, I might have been right with my kneejerk take on the big C, but nonetheless, I've learned what an idiot I am about Chinese history and philosophy. If I ever find myself subject to ennui and atrophy, please remind me how much territory in eons and miles there is yet for me to study.

2) Here's a Wired article about how people of both African and Native American descent, some raised within their tribes, are having trouble sharing in the casino earnings because of bad recordkeeping by lazy government employees (even in the golden past, such have existed). Judged by their skin color and facial structure, now these people fight for their identities based on DNA tests. Should proving your racial heritage be such a big deal in America? My previous thoughts on the execrable Native Hawaiian bill are here and here, because I couldn't help but wonder if this is the kind of thing what we want happening around the country with people of Hawaiian descent?

And that's all I've got time for. I'm on the run, again!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Gender differences: Too Scary?

Thanks, Amy & Alex.

Super Spooky topic for Halloween: May we admit without hyperventilation that women and men and other genetically distinct groups of people (such as different races) are actually unlike each other in certain ways? Ahhhhh, hide under the covers!

Charles Murray bravely wades into the deep water with his freebie essay in today's WSJ, extracted from a much longer, even more annotated piece in Commentary. What one discovers pushing through the data is that cognitive differences exist. It's true, breathe deeply, and scientists have understood it for years. But talk about a concept which dare not speak its name- as a modern social taboo, it's a biggie in a society that equates equality with sameness. And many are afraid that if we promulgate the truth, the feeble-minded will generalize as an excuse for specific predjudice. Well, they will. As they always have. Welcome to human nature, and what else is new? But fearing that morons who can't tell a standard deviation from a deviant will call names doesn't mean that those of us who can think clearly shouldn't do so. In order to encourage excellence and achievement, which should always be one of humanity's goals, we ought to understand them as they're most often manifested. Here, I'll focus on the largest terrifying divide, male and female.

Here's a truth you may not know. In general, women have more acute senses than men, better hearing, sight, smell, and taste (ha!). Women are more sensistive instruments for detecting the world around them in richness and subtlety. Since it's girl-powery, I find people rarely complain about that discriminatory set of facts, discriminating because they draw differences rather than pretend homogenity. So, why are not more women premier sommaliers, chefs, perfumers, jewelers, and designers, much less notably excelling in the fields of science in which heightened senses would be beneficial? Perhaps it is the cultural and biological bias against forgoing motherhood or being neglectful mothers. Perhaps it is, until recently, the lack of self-supporting careers for women or that women were not historically raised by families in these traditions as the inheritors of these positions, chosen to study or apprentice for them. Murray writes:

Thus, for reasons embedded in the biochemistry and neurophysiology of being female, many women with the cognitive skills for achievement at the highest level also have something else they want to do in life: have a baby. In the arts and sciences, 40 is the mean age at which peak accomplishment occurs, preceded by years of intense effort mastering the discipline in question. These are precisely the years during which most women must bear children if they are to bear them at all.

Among women who have become mothers, the possibilities for high-level accomplishment in the arts and sciences shrink because, for innate reasons, the distractions of parenthood are greater. To put it in a way that most readers with children will recognize, a father can go to work and forget about his children for the whole day. Hardly any mother can do this, no matter how good her day-care arrangement or full-time nanny may be. My point is not that women must choose between a career and children, but that accomplishment at the extremes commonly comes from a single-minded focus that leaves no room for anything but the task at hand. We should not be surprised or dismayed to find that motherhood reduces the proportion of highly talented young women who are willing to make that trade-off.

I would blame not only socially-encouraged career/vocation obsession for males but what I empirically observe as an inherent sort of male single-mindedness (perhaps due to their bias for using the left brain more) versus a native female capacity for multitasking (possibly related to their double-sided brain usage). An inborn, laserlike focus on a mental construct to the exclusion of all else is frequent and anecdotal in the biographies of noted male geniuses, and might be a necessary trait, in addition to cultural support for childlessness or surrogate child-raising, required for brilliant women to succeed in fields of abstract reasoning. Are people dropping dead over their laptops yet? No? Perhaps these ideas themselves aren't lethal.

Ask any "unenlightened" sort of parent whether their little daughters from birth didn't behave differently and exhibit different strengths than their little sons and the answer is not only clear, it provides an opportunity for cooing over snapshots. Broad differences (no pun intended) among general comparisons don't mean that any given individual can't excel in a particular way, so there's no reason for panic at mere acknowledgement of the obvious. I extract and rearrange liberally:

[On testosterone] But this is just one more of the ways in which science is demonstrating that men and women are really and truly different, a fact so obvious that only intellectuals could ever have thought otherwise...

The Orwellian disinformation about innate group differences is not wholly the media's fault. Many academics who are familiar with the state of knowledge are afraid to go on the record. Talking publicly can dry up research funding for senior professors and can cost assistant professors their jobs. But while the public's misconception is understandable, it is also getting in the way of clear thinking about American social policy...

One such premise is that the distribution of innate abilities and propensities is the same across different groups. The statistical tests for uncovering job discrimination assume that men are not innately different from women, blacks from whites, older people from younger people, homosexuals from heterosexuals, Latinos from Anglos, in ways that can legitimately affect employment decisions. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 assumes that women are no different from men in their attraction to sports. Affirmative action in all its forms assumes there are no innate differences between any of the groups it seeks to help and everyone else. The assumption of no innate differences among groups suffuses American social policy. That assumption is wrong...

Thus my modest recommendation, requiring no change in laws or regulations, just a little more gumption. Let us start talking about group differences openly--all sorts of group differences, from the visuospatial skills of men and women to the vivaciousness of Italians and Scots. Let us talk about the nature of the manly versus the womanly virtues. About differences between Russians and Chinese that might affect their adoption of capitalism. About differences between Arabs and Europeans that might affect the assimilation of Arab immigrants into European democracies. About differences between the poor and nonpoor that could inform policy for reducing poverty.

Even to begin listing the topics that could be enriched by an inquiry into the nature of group differences is to reveal how stifled today's conversation is. Besides liberating that conversation, an open and undefensive discussion would puncture the irrational fear of the male-female and black-white differences I have surveyed here. We would be free to talk about other sexual and racial differences as well, many of which favor women and blacks, and none of which is large enough to frighten anyone who looks at them dispassionately.

Let us, my brothers and sisters, be afraid of none of the contents of our heads, neither the matter nor the musings. Reason has been one of humanity's best friends, let's invite it to supper, it's been too long.