Wednesday, May 31, 2006

When Coffee Promotion Outranks All Shame

Image from article link below.

Is it true you've made it once you've been misunderstood? Until now, my career in print consisted of an uncredited review in a resort-town tabloid and a photo of a slab of my hairdo from a Chelsea boys' life mag. Now, my name is appearing in print- well, online print- but as it's part of a wire service, someone may print it somewhere. And my name's been misspelled, so I can try to tell myself it's a different person whose quotes the writer contextualized so as to make me sound like a crotchsnagging nosebag.

The Columbia News Service article.
Find the early quote that sounds most like the snobby Comics guy from The Simpsons remarking on Flash vs. Aquaman, and that's me. In the wide photo of the table above, I'm the second undistinguished body from the right, with a green hem on my sweater. The suit-and-tied guy on the left goes unmentioned and is probably the premier expert on coffee in the U.S.

I do not count myself among “coffee crazies”--consumers who treat $20-a-pound Kona beans like a 1995 Bordeaux, and spend hours each day [emphasis mine] talking about, researching and savoring flavors. I also don't treat my "addiction like an art form" since I don't drink enough caffeinated beverages each day to even get a headache if I can't get a fix. Moderation is possible, but perhaps works against journalistic purposes. Further, I think she could have come up with a better Bordeaux year for reference than the '95, and only a couple coffees are aged. Coffee's about freshness. Whatever.

Now, my real explanation and defense, my perception of the scene she described elsewise. You may feel free to ignore it, but I'll feel better.

Once upon a time there was this stringer who wanted to write a story about coffee and dieting. And through the wonders of surfing, she found Fortune Elkins' blog- who was my own intense welcomer to the world of specialty coffee- who in turn convinced the young journo that there was far more interesting and compelling coffee stuff to cover. Quite true.

Following the editor's agreement, Fortune planned a professional cupping experience where the journalist and her photographer could meet some acknowledged experts in the field, including fifth-generation coffee man Don Schoenholt of Gillies, the nation's oldest coffee merchant, and Mary Pettit, Executive Vice President of the Columbian Coffee Federation, who volunteered her NYC office and cupping lab for the event. Despite the article, Mary was the one actually roasting the coffee and discussing the process in detail since she is both a certified cupper and one of the first women cuppers allowed on the NY Coffee Exchange. It is a tremendous pity that she wasn't mentioned and quoted. Nor was Schoenholt who exudes classic New York attitude and is a great spinner of coffee history and lore. Insult to injury means your foolish poster was quoted and named, despite my near silence throughout the event while listening and taking notes from the experts' discourse.

In coffee, cupping represents something different than just tasting like you might do for friends over brunch. Cupping is a professional, highly-controlled tasting of multiple samples from a single batch and is used to certify coffee origins and quality. It has a purpose in grading coffee and legally arbitrating differences about whether a contract has been adequately fulfilled. I and a couple of other amateurs were invited along to provide the low end of the curve in knowledge, and we added our enthusiasm even if our ignorance significantly diluted the expertise in the room. So, inside a commercial organization's lab (nothing like what you'd do at home unless you have a $5,000 batch roaster and spectrometer on your counter- need I mention the dental spitoons?), we were cupping a few different award-winning coffees from recent Cup of Excellence judgings. This is NOT what your friendly neighborhood coffee-hounds are doing regularly while trading sips of double-shot espressos.

It was a fascinating experience, especially with such pros to inform the process, but it isn't something you'd do at home any more than buying the technology to count the threads in your own sheets. As careful consumers, we can benefit from learning how thread count, origin, and type affect the final product, and we might invite friends to share something we bought that's terrific, but we're not handling the back office procedures of verifying the staple of the raw cotton or the actual count ourselves. We're using better labeling as our guides. So too, coffee.

However, the journo didn't seem to understand that, neither did she seem to understand that the only coffees on the table were champions. People might individually prefer one over another, but they were all exceptional examples of their style. Anyway, because I perceived by her questions that she was serially misunderstanding the role of cupping (no, amateurs won't be doing it), and that there weren't any losers on the table (no, it's not a coffee cage match), I said the bit about fancy cars that she did understand and that makes me sound like a complete shmendrick.

She also reports Fortune, a pursuer of transendence in baked goods as well as fine chocolate and a passionate yogini to boot, finds her greatest relaxation invading a commercial lab to cup coffee she's not technically qualified to judge. Ah, well. Here, I must paraphrase the divine Mary Pettit whose devotion to the cause of coffee exceeds her vanity, as mine unfortunately does not. After reading the article, she remarked along the lines of: If it makes people more aware of specialty coffee, that's great.

Someday, I hope to be enlightened, too. Until then, I's OBSESSIVE and CRAZY!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bring on the GeezerWar!

Never, in Pat Robertson's much-televised life, has he ever looked like this image of the genuine Jack Lalanne , or like Paul Bunyan or Jose Canseco or other fictional strongman. Whither this previously unrevealed superhuman strength?

So, what about Pat Robertson's claim to leg-press 2000 pounds? For years, I've been asserting he's loonylicious and should be dismissed except as political comic relief. Go stand in a faraway corner with failed candidates Pat Buchanan and the departed Pat Paulsen, who at least intended to be funny. Observations:

-You can see the video where he claims to do a 1000 pounds- though he keeps adding either 80 or 90 pounds (40 or 45lb plates) and calling it a hundred heavier each time while shaving ten or twenty in actual weight.

- Whatever the awe-inspiring amount, he claims it's after a hiatus from doing leg presses of a couple months. Muscles start atrophying in days, but not SuperProteinShakey ones, I guess.

- This amount loads his machine to the limit. Most machines won't hold more without modification. Where did Pat find the one for his 2,000 pound feat?

-Hulking, virile young football players can't leg-press 2 large, not even the recordholder at FSU who burst the capillaries in his eyes setting the upper limit at 1300ish.

-No previous protein shake has made someone this strong- radioactive spider venom on the other hand...Hand me my credit card, QUICK!

- Shouldn't Robertson be out fighting crime in the mean streets with this bad mojo?

- If the 700 Club leader's intent is putting his own braggodocious moves on Scientology for crazy dominance, I'm enjoying the throwdown. Next, could he put clanking bottles on his fingers and invite Tom Cruise out to play-ay, Pleeeassse?

-Pat Robertson looks spindlier than I am. Sure, he's nutty, but I'm mean and decades younger. I like my chances, and yet, my bet is that 92 year-old Lalanne could still pin him (and me) for eight.

-Could I please be the ring girl in the Pay Per View? How much would the aforementioned GeezerWar rock?!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Roger, Roger. You're Speaking My Lingo

Image from College Boredom's 8 Reasons to Hate Cell Phones, which I don't, but c'mon now. Loud talkers or pablum and their faux-clever ringtones must be stopped.

This article about the new cell phones with fifty different media options show that some users are fed up, and just want a simple-to-use, reliable phone. Many of the added features include extra fees which incent the carriers to get you using them. They can all see that the iPod interface, for example, propelled its popularity way beyond other MP3 players, but they won't think about how to make phones more intuitive. I recently had to charge up the minutes on my phone, and I kept having to pull it away from my ear to locate the tiny buttons (1 for yes...) and wade through piles of annoying menus, and it's stupid that such rich devices are still so clumsy.

However, near the end of this article was the statement echoing exactly what I've been saying for years:

But Roger Entner of the market research firm Ovum said none of the major carriers impresses him. He says most of them are trying to replicate how people use personal computers instead of coming up with a new approach.

"What do (customers) do best on the phone? They talk. What do they do worst? Type. Why is every user interface based on typing?" Entner said. "Right now, the software developers take advantage of every weakness a device has and none of the strengths."

Get me a freaking voice-activated phone, with password and voice print security, so I can perform communication and information retrieval functions naturally and logically without octopus arms!

Friday, May 26, 2006

New Battery, Same Stupid Operator

As my aged laptop with original battery had finally become no more self-sufficiently mobile than to grumpily tolerate my switching outlets from the one near the desk to the one near the couch- no stops between either- I ordered a new battery. I'm using it now in my local coffee hang with WiFi. However, I've just realized that I failed to start it up and check the charge before coming here, and I'm low and descending. Perhaps one ought to charge up a thing that's likely been sitting in a storage warehouse for a year. Ya think?

More later, including my awesomely snotty and turdlike misquote in a coffee article!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Don't Know Why...

It's not really stormy weather, but I am consumed with efforts and initiatives, and forgot about the blog until today. Strange.

When I have so many things going that I don't want (or am not ready) to talk about, I can't divert to anything else. After I started writing the twee list of dreck though, I saw how many dead-type items there were. Death (Pratchett fans, you'll imagine the preceding in the Goudy Copperplate print font, not the handlettered script of archetypal significance) has to do with two projects I'm currently writing, too. So here's an unsourced pic from my e-mail that's mostly on topic.

- I went to a cool coffee thing at the New York Coffee Exchange and saw Alexander Hamilton's grave at the nearby Trinity Church, the oldest white cemetery on Trump Island.
- This weekend, one friend will attend the springtime funeral of a new mother.
- Another friend just witnessed the woman next to her at the beauty salon gurgle under the hair dryer and shuffle off the coil into eternity.
- Do I want to move across a river?
- How early does a nocturnal owl come out?
- I still haven't heard from the latest wave of agents.
- After a niggling phone call today, the entire plot of a novel I'm writing spilled forward, completely imagined in layers, implications, resolutions, and punchlines. A relief, since I like knowing what the Peugeot is this odd thing I've been writing, and was worried that never knowing might matter eventually. A disappointment, since its alluring enigma's reduced along with my tension.
- How does one entice a neurotic Boston Terrier to soak his foot?
- My friends have done some exceedingly good works, I've discovered. Proud, humbled: me.
- I like baseball more this year.
- I'm overwhelmed with gifts and cards and travel arrangements.
- After accompanying my niece and nephew on their first wowee-look at the American Natural History Museum dioramas last weekend, I couldn't help thinking about the impossibility, for better or worse, of ever making or replacing them today. Armavirumque concurs.
- The movie Phantom of the Opera was, as expected, a tumescence-killing non-rocker from the jump.
- On the other hand, radio-controlled sailboats rock hard.

I could give you sillier multimedia stuff, but it would just be stolen from here, here, and here, so why bother?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Listing My Dutch Chills

These freaks want you to know that Winter Swimmers are not only healthy but super sexy and consider the chill currents off Alcatraz as so much bathwater.

I'm getting myself back together...slowly, so the junk's junkier than usual.

1) As you may have heard, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, having been effectively quarantined from normal life by security threats against her from Islamic extremists who don't like her message (or pal Theo Van Gogh's) about the subjugated role of women in Islam, has now been evicted from her apartment and stripped of her Dutch citizenship, thus also her parliamentary seat. She has since accepted a job at an American think tank, and I'm glad she will be coming here where I hope she may be allowed to lead an unmolested life of free thought and speech.

Christopher Hitchens finds her treatment disgraceful. Henryk M. Broder says "Voltaire and Erasmus are spinning in their graves."

2) Via NRO's Corner, I learned about this 7 year-old who swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco in 47 minutes. That's way cooler than I, almost as cool as the 50-ish degree water.

3) Pigeon Weather notes that one shouldn't ever post lists of things other people shouldn't do, for Alfred E. Neuman's sake. Except that I agree with most all of his list, dear frenzzzz.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Houseguests and Journalists Are Coming!

In my mind, it rebounds and echoes like Paul Revere's legendary cry about the British, thus the image. For the record, my incoming guests will carry much more compact firearms. But verily, soon they will be here, and I must needs refreshments and comestibles in addition to more bare household surfaces to receive their items.

So, I don't have much time, except to purloin some paragraphs. Long-time editor Jonathan Last, in this subsription WSJ article, opines about the uselessness of Journalism and Communication degrees, particularly in relation to studies of actual knowledge rather than dissemination processes. This has long been a bugaboo of mine, so ROCK ON with it, Mr. Last, especially as the number of J-school graduates is larger than ever. Eeeek!

Those of us saddened by the declining fortunes of the newspaper industry had hoped that shrinking newspaper staffs would have at least one salutary effect: fewer journalism-school graduates. This has not proved to be the case. In 2005, newspapers cut 2,000 jobs; this spring more people graduated from journalism schools than ever before...

The running theme is an emphasis on process and the "craft" of journalism: nut grafs, ledes, kickers, inverted pyramids and the rest. Yet this seems a waste of time. Schooling is expensive...

Yet when it comes to learning about the style and craft of writing, an education can be had for much less. sells the complete archives of The New Yorker on DVD for $63--it's hard to see how a classroom discussion of story structure could be much more valuable than reading and studying the work of the greats, from Truman Capote to David Grann.

Instead of educating future journalists on the nuts and bolts of journalism--because let's be honest, it isn't rocket science or even carpentry--it would make more sense simply to teach them things. Facts, it turns out, are useful.

Most people can write a nut graph after 30 minutes of practice, but comparatively few people can explain, say, econometrics, or fluid dynamics, or the history of the French Revolution. Aspiring journalists don't need trade-craft--they need a liberal-arts education that gives them a base of mastery in actual academic subjects...

If America's universities were providing students with adequate academic instruction, instead of pumping out degrees in pseudosubjects like "communications," then J-schools wouldn't need to adapt at all. They could simply shut down.

This is hardly singing to the choir, but the tune has a beat I can dance to. I'd love to see us all demand more from people who haven't bothered to learn anything, but want to tell us what to think. The lack of basic inquisitiveness about the world among young (and many old) journalismos is disturbingly counterproductive. These new collegians who shouldn't be wasting their time and big dollars in higher education get Communications degrees so they won't ever be forced into the "hard" subjects. Currently, those who haven't learned to think, report instead.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Meaty Clown Holes Plagiarize Brooklyn Writer

I feel almost sufficiently recovered to cook up the usual succotash.

1) Tim Blair covers the most amazing patent pending: a personal wormhole generator for teleportation. The invention's based on a man in Puerto Rico's spontaneous hyperspace travel while walking to his bus stop.

2) When you stare at yourself and question how it started, why you wanted to get tattoos, why you liked the bright lights and the smell of sweat and the bodies climbing over you to reach for the stage only to jump back in the crowd, you have to wonder where the beginning of all that was, don't you?

This entry from A Small Victory wasn't about my personal beginning, but definitely reflected part of the ride. After John Lennon's murder, not everyone was grooving to the Meatmen's One Down, Three to Go, but I laughed in my graveyard-whistling way. This album is the definition of politically incorrect, and I enjoyed it as eye-poking fun, not manifesto. The musicianship wasn't epic, hardly existent really, but the aesthetic was all stompy goodness. I can't tell you how my heart crinkled just to see the album cover again and the links to the horrific tracks.

3) The final performer, also a notable singer and musician, to play Clarabell the clown has died. Clarabell is special to me as a clown, because I didn't (although others might've) find him particularly skeezy or creepy. Go figure.

4) Don't let the three names fool you. Reed Farrel Coleman is a real Brooklyn guy and the kind of hard-working author who keeps finding practical ways to help other writers. He'll share whatever he's learned, drag you around and introduce you to people, and always seems genuine, not fatuous. Heck of a writer, too, as if that weren't the most important part. Here's a great article about this local hero of the NY MWA chapter and the national board. Read it before it disappears into the NYT pay hole.

5) From the justice grinding slowly file: Plagiarist of text and art as well as faux-Indian Ward Churchill has been cited for misconduct by the committee at University of Colorado, where this lousy wretch has tenure. It comes simultaneously with the revelation of yet another incident of mistaken attribution and fact-skewing from a careful and serious scholar, Brenda Child, an actual Ojibwa tribe member as it happens. I don't care a fig about his politics- a rat is a rat is a skunk.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why Manhattan...

Image site and Hawaiian explanation here. donkey balls. I just got back from a lovely trip (excepting the days of spitting cold rain) to Chicago and Detroit thereabouts. While still working through my e-mail, I was contacted today by a fine New Jersey supply firm to inform me the curtain rod I ordered last week was damaged in shipment by UPS, so they'll have to send out another.

-Thanks, fine, but I need it by Friday. Can they upgrade the shipping?

-No, UPS won't do that. Of course, they're the ones who screwed the pooch. And the gent I'm speaking to is reluctant to even allow me to pay for an upgrade because the rod I'm ordering now costs less than its shipping.

-Yes, but I still need it. Even if you and UPS don't think I should. Why everyone seems unwilling to make me whole is perplexing.

-Can't I find it in Manhattan, the gent asks.

-If I could, doesn't he think I'd posess the aforesaid item Already?! NO! You can't find **** in Manhattan. Limited selections due to low storage and display capacity.

-Oh, but his brother lives near where I do and he finds everything.

- Does his brother know where I can find an extra-long, small-diameter, cafe-style curtain rod? 'Cause I'll go buy it post haste.

- What about Home Depot?

- Despite my apparent stupidity, the thought did occur. They don't stock the special size. It'd cost me $50 to rent a car to get to another borough or New Jersey where I could conceivably find the article somewhere in stock. Not to mention gas and tolls. Thus, my online order of last week. And I do have a couple of other things to do before my 4 houseguests arrive.

- Well, you know we'll have to charge you the extra for shipping. It's gonna be a L-o-T. (In the universal sing-song of taunting.) If you're S-u-r-e, give me your CC info again. Our new system doesn't retain it from the previous order- we're not some fly-by-night operation. I don't want you to think...

- Yes, I know. I've ordered from you before and wouldn't have again if I thought you were disreputable (rather than merely self-absorbed and argumentative). I hope to have adequately comforted him in his distress. He has yet to sympathize with mine. UPS doesn't care to remedy the problem that their mishandling caused. The NJ gent is most interested in defending inventory levels in Manhattan (and his brother's incredible resourcefulness) despite the fact he works for an outfit benefitting directly from this phenomenon. I take the bath.

UPDATE: I have now been called by the NJ outfit again to get my credit card expiration date. A different person. Female. Apologetic. No doubt the Good Brother didn't want to speak with me again. He'll be suprised by her report of my meekness. I am deflated and defeated.

UPDATE2: I've been called back again by Gent #1 who must have heard I'm cowed. Their extra-reputable, security-conscious new system is bouncing back my card and we have to check over the specifics. Turns out the trouble was in transcribing from the note that he scribbled with all my billing information. Ah, irony. Hope he's as fastidious as the computer about destroying it. He's laughing at his own poor handwriting while I'm crossed between a whimper and sigh. Should have been a sturgeon, he says. Funny old life.

Don't ask me how much a cheap curtain rod should cost. When you're out of time and don't run your own blacksmith's shop, you must pay the price.

While visiting old friends this weekend, I went to a store near Lansing, Michigan with an amazing shoe department that would make Imelda spasm in glee. The staff was plentiful, friendly, and helpful. The prices and sales were good, and the scores of customers scattered across the ample seating beamed in joy as we consulted and complimented each other's selections. After ascertaining the precise location of the expansion I needed, they stretched my new sandals for free while I shopped. My sales clerk was terrific and probably in late high school.

That and the former exchange above are why, unless you're the kind of rich and famous person who is excessively fawned upon or the kind of crazy that's gently tolerated, Manhattan and environs can suck donkey balls.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Not Dead, Just Traveling

And one of my erudite and generous hosts has a venerable computer that runs on monk's tonsures and angry squirrels, not cookies. Until next week, have a lovely Dia de Las Madres.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

In Transit

Sorry I didn't post yesterday. I was preparing for my travel today. I'll try to do a proper entry later with my accumulated tales of humilation and inconvenience. But while my corpus gets hauled from hither to yon, I'll being doing the jazzercise of the mind. Hasta, ya'll.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Tag- You're IT!

I've been preoccupied, too busy to respond in a timely fashion to clothesaholic's kind invitation for posts on influential cinematic costumery. Here's the Carnival of Couture #16 with my treatise on catsuits in the comments.

Again this year, I've also missed No Pants Day. View the photo gallery, and pencil in May 4th for 2007.

I've been distracted, overwhelmed by many unfortunate and curious things around the world: noble, worthwhile (tx, elgin) ventures for progress; questionable initiatives; and always the discretely peculiar nestling among other fascinating theories.

Having thus lightened my head's curiosity cabinet, I can't advise that you pick up the debris.
What I must do now is ignore it all and write. Write whatever portion, however small or shallow, is allotted me.

Friday, May 05, 2006

FREE Comic Book Day!

Castle Rain's Jack the Lantern: 1942 is just one of the titles which may be available as swag for you.

Okay, I felt a little bad about not doing any Cinco de Mayo stuff, especially after a friend told me it's his excuse to eat 5 times his normal amount of mayonnaise.

But now, I learn from Bookgasm, that tomorrow's Free Comic Book Day! Follow the link, find your nearest emporium, and pick up your selected freebie goodness from a pinata-load of the juiciest comic publishers, ya'll.

Treat the Dog Right, Pick the Best Kitten

1) For all my whining about missing The Daily Kitten, I was remarkably remiss in reporting its return. Earless Vinnie (above) was the first one I saw when it came back. To TDK's credit, they did change the verbiage on their blank screen of despond so I felt they actually were only temporarily gone. E voila! They are back and I'm better for it. Stuff on My Cat, Cats in Sinks, Kitten War, and Cute Overload are all good, but they don't equally soothe my furrowed, hateful brow.

2) For the heretics, Cecil explains why there's no ketchup on a proper hot dog.

3) For authors like Lauren Weisberger and Augusten Burroughs who memoir their way to fame and fortune, what happens when they run out of their best stories before the end of their book contracts? I like making stuff up myself, but I've never claimed to write even a woozy version of the truth. Read the NYT Burroughs piece fast- it's screaming into the pay hole by Monday.

4) Many writers have recently been inspired to use name and word constructions from spam e-mail to enliven their prose. I submit that none of those assembled accidents can compare with the serendipitous and tender beauty of the following description of a keyboard cover (read it all at apostropher) translated for the Hua Zheng Silicone Manufacture Factory. I liberally excerpt:

...All seal completely the design, watertightness, dust palliative, defend the oil, defend the sour alkali...

...pound without the voice, can make the complete mute, not afraid influence family sleeping.

Return to flexibility goodly, touch soft comfort, the hand feeling benignity...

...Diverse sex of color...well received by vast computer favored deeply by the masses of consumers.

This is all I want in life. To be dust palliative, to return to my flexibility goodly, to touch soft comfort, and to be favored deeply for my benignity. Thank you, Hua Zheng for getting me. Nice weekend should be having.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Booksfull of Urban Crime and Punishment

Click images for huge views.

On This Day for May 4th is about cities I've known. Today, Peter Minuit landed on Manhattan Island which he purchased for about 24 bucks. It's the day of the Haymarket Riots in Chicago, as well as the completion of the Sears Tower. It marks the founding of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a group established to help Irish immigrants that I'd never heard about until I saw this street marker near Chinatown. Is all that's left of them the sign? I took that picture on the same day, almost a year ago, that I roamed across the the beautiful geometries of the Brooklyn Bridge and all around lower Manhattan with my camera and a friend.

1) Thanks to Tobias Buckell for posting the majority of yesterday's Crystal Rain review on his site. I empathize with and forgive his editorial snipping of my introductory comment about the title.

2) In other bookish updates, I've just posted my review of Seymour Shubin's Witness to Myself at As a bonus, here's an interview of this hard-working true crime writer and novelist. I bet this patinaed professional's got enough great stories to occupy a thousand nights of barstools without ever buying a drink.

3) An executive at a Manhattan heart disease foundation embezzled hundreds of thousands in charity funds to pay Lady Sage, his favorite dominatrix.

4) Mexico plans to legalize drugs. This is an inventive way to equilibrate the traffic flow over the borders. Operators of package tours to Amsterdam are dismayed.

5) Three men are convicted in Norway as accessories in the 2004 theft of one of the four versions of Edvard Munch's Scream. Of course, we still don't know who actually took it off the wall or where it went. The thieves have been ordered to pay $123 million in restitution to Oslo. I think if they sold the painting to a private horder of art, they might just be able to swing that.

6) Tourism and inflation are up in Rome. Now, a beer costs $1200.

7) Trial judge from Phillipines dismissed from bench merely for consulting in his chambers. Perhaps it was because Angel, Luis, and Armand are imaginary mystical dwarfs.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

UFOs and Crystal Rain Receiving Exposure

I liked this one because of the colors and the way it looked like a rain-bedraggle UFO surreptitously waiting for those in the know, however Streetsy has 5 pages of street art with UFOs. Not to endorse vandalism, of course, but some of it's tasty and obviously commissioned

1) Since Tobias Buckell has just broken into Locus' Bestseller list (a freaknormous achievement in scifi/fantasy) and is two weeks from finally quitting his day job (congrats!), I've decided today is the day to give my review of Crystal Rain, his debut novel that he kindly sent me after I posted about his prodigous self-promotion here. I linked to Amazon for ease of displaying covers and reviews, but please feel heartily encouraged to purchase at your local specialty bookseller.

It's quite good, though I wish the title tied into the story and setting better and didn't remind me so much of Chubby Rain from Bowfinger, although I admit the latter's my own problem. Buckell's written a viable, interesting world of trouble for armless amnesiac John deBrun without spilling every secret in minute narrative detail. Hooray! The reader encounters the world immersively as a stranger, and for me, there were discoveries throughout of things that locals take for granted which continually caused me to reassess what I'd assumed. How the place became as it has is gradually unfolded, and there are still elements about which I'm curious. The juxtaposition and conflict of a sacrificial Aztec-based culture with a more Carribbean-based one is fascinating, as well as the odd intrusions of leftover technology in this apparently lonely world. The story is nicely told and includes several interesting side characters like Pepper, the benignly-named scene-stealer who is a deadly mix of Predator and sidekick and worthy of a novel all his own. The strongest necessity and most difficult hurdle for a tale of this type is met: the created world and characters are vital and engaging enough to sustain lots of action at cross purposes, and the story ends satisfyingly while leaving plenty of questions and future possibilities. I'm not surprised it's doing well.

2) As we've been recently talking Doomsdays, there's another clock of which you may not have heard. The Paradigm Research Group's clock ticks down until "disclosure", that is until the U.S. goverment admits the prevalence and origin of UFOs. Lately, they've bumped it up by 5 seconds or back by 30, but something which they cannot reveal in detail has caused them to skip it forward by a whole minute to 11:59:45.

Based upon an analysis of a multitude of circumstances within and outside the nation and upon highly impacting information provided to PRG by an unexpected and extraordinary source, PRG has concluded that America is now facing an unprecedented crisis which has opened a window to disclosure wider than at any previous time.

I have become thornily skeptical in the extreme of anonymous sources, and I'd love to know what PRG heard. It better not be another prank call by a summertime junior subaltern at the State Dept., because that's just mean-spirited.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How to Bring Down a Room

Always there to tell you 'bout a new disease
A car accident or killer bees
You beg her to spare you, "Debbie, Please!"
But you can't stop Debbie Downer!

You know how it goes. The wedding DJ's just played Earth Wind & Fire whose tight horns command the people off their junk to enjoy the funk. And then, once everyone's revved up and ready for more, he brings on the screeching crash of grinding gears and disappointed expectations by whipping out Lady In Red. That's me, folks, buzzkiller extraordinaire. Because I'm feeling semi-serious today and I think so many offensive and unpopular topics are fascinating. In my brainstorms, the comically trival, political, and profound routinely agree to share a cab.

1) The young scribette of recent scandal has professed to having a photographic memory, and now is accused of potentially cadging text from authors Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, and Salman Rushdie too. Is it inherently hazardous for a person of such apparently immediate and irreversibly impressionable mental gifts to attempt writing original work in the same vein as what she's been reading? And why would she ever have needed to, as she claims to have done, reread Megan McCafferty's books so many times?

2) Over 60 scientific experts in climate and related fields have signed an open letter to Canada's Prime Minister denying the accuracy of current computer climate modeling and implying that the Kyoto treaty would never have been the result of today's thinking in this acknowledged-to-be "emerging science."

Personally, I'd be happy to see all the money for futile Kyoto poured into extensive study of all kinds of weather phenomena and geography including the effects of human activity. Icebergs, volcanoes, wildfires, floods, tropical storms, tsunamis, and earthquakes are all things it would help to know a lot more about, because today a meteorologist with a multi-million dollar Doppler radar can't guarantee a rainless birthday party three days in advance. Catastrophic predictions decades in advance are true fiction writing. Reviewing the accuracy of these gloom-brokers since 1960 is like watching Nostradamus' interpreted doomsdays keep ticking by uneventfully. I will cycle everywhere, grow my own clothing, and eat soy everything if they're proven to be genuinely world-saving habits, but I won't conform my least behavior or belief to shoddy and histrionic scientific conclusions in service of fund-raising for political agendas. From the open letter:

'Climate change is real' is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural 'noise.' The new Canadian government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to 'stopping climate change' would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.

Update: Via Tim Blair, a Telegraph op-ed about the oft-remarked mistake, not of the notion of human-caused climate change which could yet prove true, but the fallacy of consensus on this issue citing several additional sources including a report to the House of Lords and from Germany's GKSS National Research Center. The Lords' report also contained a quote from Professor Reiter, of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, which challenged the appropriateness of the notion of scientific consensus. He said "consensus is the stuff of politics, not science". I say, let's keep asking uncomfortable questions favoring scientific and ethical rigor in evaluating what we find.

3) The DC Examiner quotes John McCain preferring "clean government" to the pesky, nasty, messy individualism of the First Amendment, and therefore calls for Congressional term limits. Here, here. And not just for that reason. As a dear friend remarked, after too long in office, those denizens of The Hill are a lot more like each other than they're like you or me, and the unique interests of career politicians are the ones they grow likeliest to serve.

4) For competing professional baristi, excellence is revealed in performance. If you haven't seen or heard about it before, it's amazing to discover the amount of knowledge, technical savvy, adaptation, and skill required to produce a perfect coffee consistently. For example, Aussie David Makin practiced 10 hours a week for five months in preparation for the championships. If you routinely get coffee from a place where they push a button and stuff shoots out, or worse, they boil it down to bitter mud on a hot plate all day, this is the difference between dinner made by a chef and Chef Boyardee.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Carnival of Couture #15: Exquisite Corpse

The fabulous Frank Montagna illustrated Darrin Zeer's charming cool-out guide, Office Spa, and made towel turbans look swanky beyond compare. That wonderful work inspired my inferior homage.

I flew home last night, and getting our model posed today took some time. I hope you'll find it worth the wait.

The Surrealists were known for their love of unusual juxtaposition, creating a collaborative form called the exquisite corpse in which each artist contributed without exposure to the rest of the connected work. So for the topic of torturous fashion, I thought it would be fun to draw our bloggers' exquisitely tortured fashionista.

1) Ripped Heel. We have all known shoes that hurt just to look at, but Style Graduate exposes the cruelest betrayer- a previously perfect boot gone bad.

2) Hobbling and Itchiness. As you'll read, ShoeSense is a tireless crusader against painful shoes, but antes up an unforgivable pair of Dries Van Noten's and raises a gorgeously unwearable La Perla bra.

3) Asphyxia and Bloodshot Peepers. Clothesaholic has corseted herself a wasp waist and wept through contact lenses. Bonus: Another pic of a turbaned beauty, in glasses no less!

4) Bad Posture and Migraines. Between shoe assaults, The Fashionable Kiffen's delicate neck suffered under the oxen yoke of heavy jewelry.

5) Painful Dress with Painful Memories. Don't know the skirt length on the black Vera Wang, but it was part of a micromarriage for Shoe Lover.

6) Chafed Pits. Super-high armholes constrict within while elongating the line, and Final Fashion does it to herself again and again.

7) Inability to Move on. At Runway Scoop, Maria Palma hurt herself with denial in the 1990s, hanging on to Doc Marten's enormous clown-shoe grunge look too long for the sake of comfort.

Thanks to all of this week's creative contributors, and now I must relieve our model of her egregious afflictions and fetch her some bunny slippers and a smoothie.