Thursday, August 31, 2006

Textbooks Full of Screaming Treadmills

I just felt like a monster picture today, you can link to the other art yourself. Here's where I got this three-headed beauty.

1) I'm delighted and even relieved that the Edvard Munch paintings (one of his Scream versions and a Madonna) stolen from an Oslo museum 2 years ago have been recovered in relatively good condition. The fear had been that, under pressure, the thieves might destroy them.

2) If you enjoyed the treadmill choreography of OK Go's Here It Goes Again that made them You Tube faves, they will reportedly be reprising it live on MTV's Music Awards tonight. Set the TiVo. Jupiter knows you don't want to have to sit through the rest of the greasy nitwittery in real time.

3) Perhaps the Reuters' and AP's use of doctored photos in foreign reporting doesn't faze anymore. What about other doctoring of reality under the aegis of providing illuminating fact? How about putting able-bodied child models in wheelchairs for textbook photo spreads, since the really disabled aren't always so photogenic? That textbook won't begin to prepare you for the kaleidoscopic modern world that technology and medicine has opened to us, a world where wheelchair-bound people with severe cerebral palsy may drool and have appalling motor skills, may need assistance for hygienic and nutritive matters, and may grunt or yell rather than speaking while earning their PhDs in engineering or public policy. What about omitting Hispanics from pictures who reflect the indisputably strong European components of South American populations, that is to say blonde or red-haired and blue or green-eyed? Lucky mestizos can conceiviably work triple duty as educational models, though, since they may be substituted for actual Asians or American Indians in a pinch. Whew.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Libertarian Ballads Filled with Chocolate and Mercury

For image link, see item 2.

1) Via apostropher, if you needed the sweeter, gentler acoustic ballad video of Hey Ya, here 'tis. If you're not sure whether you need it, you do.

2) I love pop scare fashions. So how should Classical Values feel about those mercury fillings?

3) Related in my mind to previous recent discussions on other blogs, Marginal Revolution asks: Why do libertarians love science fiction? The answer's mean and funny, but I laughed harder 'cause I've never joined the Ayn Rand yankfest.

4) Is a 6-pound Chihuahua a less destructive and more versatile drug-sniffer, or more likely to be eaten on tortas by cholos?

5) Delicious, Heaven-sent Virgin Mary of the chocolate factory.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Puttering and Pottering with Mutants

On the daytrip driving tour last week, one of the places we hit was The Lobster Roll AKA Lunch on the way to Montauk. We also frequented Nathan's Coney Island Hot Dog stand and snacked on cheesesteaks in South Philly. What's the good of history and vacationing if not manifested in sandwiches?

As per usual, at least lately it seems, I'm attempting to post an image but am not obliged by Blogger. What do I want for free? I'll update as possible later. Update 1: It's been a day and nothing. Update 2: I might just give up. Update: Finally success Wed. night. Is it just me having trouble? And was this pic worth all the hoo-ha? Still, now you know why locals call the joint LUNCH.

1) This funny script edit proving (?) how Harry Potter ripped off Star Wars. Via That Girl Who Writes Stuff whose blog is so much hipper and slicker than mine from the tippy-top banner down. Oh yeah, I'm making this standard template look GOOD. Who am I kidding?

2) In related issues, if you haven't been following along, like John Scalzi's recent posts at Whatever, writer Lee Goldberg's blog has become hotbed of fan fiction flame wars (not really total flame wars, but I couldn't resist the alliteration being a hack. My own comment is way down the list, no. 50 or something, posted this morning. I've been vacated, for heaven's sake). At issue: Generally, J.K. Rowling and the paid defenders of her intellectual property, appropriately I think, ignore the scads of Potter fan fic online. However, they're taking a more aggressive posture regarding Potter porno, some of which fetishizes the master/student relationship between Professor Snape and Harry Potter and can be called Snarry, though why not Snotter I couldn't say.

3) Thanks to April who shares another wonder of creation: a mutant hybrid carcass whose discovery is not reported in this Globe as might be expected, but appears in the online site of The Boston Globe. The tragic picture is of a creature now departed and never understood, not even taxonomically.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Grandma's Brain Polluted by Bongos

Don't know where Brent Davis originally got this, but link for ham sandwich and squid bonuses.
Update: I hope to post the image soon. Blogger's belching as usual.
Update2: Five hours later. No Go.
Update3: Friday Afternoon. Still nothing. Irritating.
Update4: Saturday night. Finally worked. It's not that the pic's so awesome, obviously, it's just that I'm freaky enough not to be able to move onto a new post until I get "closure". And I like Maynard G. Krebbs.

It's all Science and Cultchah today.

1) So, what about the narcissistic hippies now grown into grandmas? Matured? Not really. Still incredibly self-absorbed and selfish, they'll no doubt be surprised when their families find them unpleasant and optional. While journeying deep within the shallow puddles of themselves to the exclusion of valuing any other human lives, they should hope they don't need any bone marrow or help recovering from surgery. Here's a review about 60s-era sexual trailblazer Erica Jong. More of the same egocentric, self-justifying blah-blah. How utterly irrelevant and risible these one-time rebels have become due to their unwillingness to progress beyond the normal head-up-the-heiny stages of youth.

2) More talk about the specific differences in male and female brains.

3) Via Tim Blair, if you're riding a scooter for the green factor, read this. Many scooters are worse polluters than SUVs.

4) New York has already had an anthrax victim/tribal drummer. Though the CDC says the chance of contamination is low (higher with exotic hides), now I read in the Daily Gut about this UK dude likely killed by stretching his own bongo skins. No one's ever died from playing the flugelhorn, though some have suffered chronic cases of mild embarrassment. I was going to say accordion, except accordions rock wicked hard for polkas and morose French cafe music.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

25 For Limber Thinkers

Don't know where these dollies come from either.

Sorry I've been stale so long. In one fell swoop, a block of vacation and joyous new mobility impacted my productivity like a meteorite of fun. So I've been itineraring like crazy, with hardly an online second to spare. This will likely be the case through this week, so the posts will be sporadic and puny. No applause, please.

Without further ado, and via some other blog that I can't remember well enough to credit at the moment, Mental Floss Magazine, already posting a daily trivia dose of exceeding sweetness, offers up:

The 25 Most Important Questions in the History of the Universe

Whether you're a fan of nougat, snooze buttons, or blackmail, they've got you covered. And twenty-five individual items divided from last Thursday equals 4.2 items per day including today, if you let me count retroactively. And I know you will.

In that sense, I'm eerily prolific in the face of distraction. Way to go, me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Elvis' 29th Deathiversary and Consequences

Follow the link and click on the pics to discover their links through the Oracle of Elvis.

Would the King know what to think of today's world. Instant e-porn and the diminishment of raquetball's sporting dominance? I wonder.

As the WSJ notes in what I fear is a subscription piece, after the aldermorons of Chicago passed huge citywide minimum wage and benefit hike which I recently condemned with other picayune acts of madness, retailers have responded quickly:

...Target was the first big chain to react, recently cancelling plans to open a new superstore in a run-down area on the city's North side. Only a few months ago the project was hailed by city leaders as an anchor for redeveloping that depressed neighborhood. Now it gets to stay depressed. Wal-Mart has also announced that its plans to build 20 new stores in the city over the next five years are "on hold" until the wage issue is resolved.

This isn't what the politicians said would happen when they mandated that certain mostly non-union "big-box" retailers pay a minimum of $13 in wage and health benefits by 2010, or more than two-and-a-half times the national minimum wage. "This is a great day for working men and women of Chicago," said Alderman Joseph Moore, who sponsored the ordinance but clearly doesn't think very far ahead, if he thinks at all. The Council was warned that stores would flee to the suburbs or not be built...

...Mayor Daley seems intent on vetoing the bill, which he says would result in higher property taxes to compensate for lost sales-tax revenue once stores leave. Alderman Shirley Coleman voted for the law but has since changed her mind now that a Wal-Mart in her district may never be built. At least three other aldermen who voted for the measure are also reportedly now open to giving Mr. Daley the votes he needs to sustain his veto...

Alderman Carrie Austin, who represents the area where the Target store was supposed to locate, puts it this way: "My colleagues are saying, 'Don't worry they [the big box retailers] will come.' Well, mine just left."

Catch the overwhelming whiff of aldermanic territoriality? Classic. Just like unethical Senators fighting over pork for their home states. Maybe instead of listening to the echo chamber of unenlightened rubes, when considering economic matters, they should consult those more well-versed in theory than their companions who've only concretely demonstrated an inordinately high tolerance for hypocrisy and rubber banquet chicken? After all, I guessed the future correctly without being psychic or even particularly clever. Just following some basic principles of wage dynamics laid out by economists, and restated for all of us recently by both the eminent Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, fine economic thinkers and educators alike who ought to be hired for a on-site team teaching seminar at the City Council.

Now, I'm off to mourn the E in my own, idiosycratic way.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Otto Links-a-lot's Cancerous Crescent

Have I used this one already? From an unattributed e-mail. Whatever. You make it fit.

I have too much ennui for numerals today.
So, if you hadn't known already:

Legendary Otto Penzler finds chick lit cynical, unlike the two-fisted cynics that make up the fictional landscapes of male writers, I suppose. Some folks strongly disagree and cite a lack of fiber for crochety Otto's issues. I read the Jennifer Weiner quote that so bothered him while thinking about how many authors I've met who dislike their book covers- almost every one- and couldn't find it in me to condemn her for simply being aware of how she's marketed.

The vaccine-autism link isn't.

Ed Hoch writes well and a lot.

Some cancers are contagious, Goofy.

Via Samantha Burns, celebrities get pit stains. And someone collects the crescents of proof.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Friday Media Dump

1) My latest review of Jeffrey Ford's Edgar Award-winning novel, The Girl in the Glass, is here. I have much praise and a few gripes. Feel free to disagree with my wrong-sided cerebrations. Because I like to add bloggy bonuses for those of you linking from here, I've also got an entertaining autobiography of the talented gent as well as another guest blog post with more wonderful, funny insights about his mom's encouragement to stay home watching movies rather than going to school.

All but one of the following links are time-wasting multimedia clips, so be forewarned and delighted.

2) Via pal Bonnie's e-mail, I loved this OK Go video on You Tube for Here It Goes Again. The coordinated treadmill choreography by retropoppers is awesome, and the song's a guitar-soaked toe-tapper, too.

3) Via pal Noelle and the occasionally sluggish Yahoo Video, this is a cat massaging a puppy. This interspecies stuff is even filthier than you'd expect.

4) This is a feature on You Tube about a dog who walks upright on two legs. Caution: Kleenex-dabbing-at-moist-eye-corners factor high.

5) So I wanted to find something more upbeat than a weepworthy pooch as a finale. I searched around for some candy-colored fun and had to give into the bleak zeitgeist. Hope Is Emo and The Words Are Dying. And though she's completely despondent over all the words lost to her high school's chalkboard erasers, she wishes some words didn't exist, like Gothtard.

Oh Hope, as it was passed from the generous apostropher to me, may I comfort you with this Huggable Urn? (If you can't view video, you still must check out this link.)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Singing Volcanoes of Cheese... Okay Guacamole.

Image of the original Singing Volcano, Mario Del Monaco, master of squillo doncha know.

I can't believe it's been three days already. Gotta get this filed before the Blogger outage.
I've been editing hundreds of pages, however, and the nights have gone late. Now, I'm into another compositional phase, commencing as soon as I'm done here.

1) I apologize for the WSJ's subscription status on this article, but just a reminder to eat some darned guacamole, you joyless fatophobes! Because so many good nutrients are fat-soluble, you need to digest some fat to absorb them. I, a lover of a bit of cheese and/or full-fat dressing with my veggies just because it's fantastic, feel quite edified:

..."What we're finding is that if you don't have some fat in the meal, all these wonderful" compounds are missed, says Steven Clinton, program leader for molecular carcinogenesis and chemoprevention and the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus. "If the nutrients don't get into your system, then what good are they?"

Dr. Clinton's latest research looks at how adding avocado -- which is relatively high in unsaturated fat -- to salsa or a salad affects how well the body absorbs healthful compounds in the foods. In particular, the study looked at absorption of carotenoids, the red, yellow and orange pigments found in many fruits and vegetables that are believed to have cancer-fighting properties.

For the salsa study, 11 test subjects were first given a meal of fat-free salsa and some bread. Another day, the same meal was offered, but this time avocado was added to the salsa, boosting the fat content of the meal to about 37% of calories. In checking blood levels of the test subjects, researchers found that the men and women absorbed an average of 4.4 times as much lycopene and 2.6 times as much beta carotene when the avocado was added to the food.

Lycopene is the red carotenoid found in tomatoes and watermelon that is being studied as a potential fighter of prostate and other cancers. Beta carotene is the orange pigment in fruits and vegetables that is used in the body's manufacture of vitamin A. Studies suggest that diets high in fruits and vegetables containing beta carotene are linked to lower cancer rates.

With the salad test, the impact of adding avocado was even greater. The first salad included romaine lettuce, baby spinach, shredded carrots and a no-fat dressing, resulting in a fat content of about 2%. After avocado was added, the fat content jumped to 42%. When the salad was consumed with the avocado, the 11 test subjects absorbed seven times the lutein and nearly 18 times the beta carotene. Lutein is a carotenoid found in many green vegetables and is linked with improved eye and heart health...

So far there isn't enough research to advise people how much fat they should consume with vegetables to get the optimal absorption of carotenoids. The basic advice is to still count calories and don't overdo the fats, choosing heart-healthy unsaturated fats like avocado or olive oil rather than foods with a high saturated-fat content...

[My note: Oh, go on, a little bit of saturation never hurt anyone]

Nutritionists say diners should look at the overall fat content of the meal. A bowl of cereal with berries might be improved by using 2% milk or full-fat yogurt instead of skim milk. But if you're eating a meal, dietitians advise clients to choose one food item per meal with a significant amount of fat, and keep the other foods very low in fat.

Though I admit I excerpted liberally, you'll have to subscribe for information about other similar results from other studies and pithy kickers about strawberries in cream after hamburgers.

2) Free trade fashion for free! Via Tim Worstall.

3) In other heartwarming, cheesy news, dozens of workers at a Sargento Cheese factory in Wisconsin are splitting a $208 million Powerball jackpot.

4) Via The Corner, scientists are turning the eruptions of volcanoes into music, so we can learn how to anticipate the big choruses.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Artistic Matador's Bratwurst

While I learned that Matadors can be tactical missiles, yachts, and naughty German skinmags, I was thrilled to recall this sweet 1977 AMC Barcelona coupe and most delighted to find this pencil drawing by Pablo Picasso from 1897 of Matador Luis Miguel Dominguin. Kind of proves my point in item 2 about understanding the artistic elements before distorting them.

It's always interesting to me how stories seem to run in packs. Or perhaps, it's simply because my mind is on a subject that I notice related items more easily, but that's a spoilsport take on it if ever I've heard one. Anyhoo, after a few days of aldermadness, lately it's gobbling mania.

1) Takeru Kobayashi, undisputed king of hot dog eating, decimated his competition in bratwursts (a much denser meat tube) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin last week. "Black Widow" Sonia Thomas wasn't close. Even the dogged Joey Chestnut, who for a few minutes breathed down Kobayashi's neck in the July 4th weiner race, ended far behind. Who can beat this phenom? I admire his undimmed magnificence, however, a couple losses would add drama to a comeback, no?

2) Lionel Shriver, having completed her 13th novel, is grousing about the hideousness of modern book covers without original artwork. Well, she hasn't been shopping in the scifi/fantasy shelves obviously, where hand-painted throbbalicious specimens of flesh and rupturing asteroids bring the bragging rights. She does make a valid point however:

Yet these hard-working and skilful designers have consistently turned a deaf ear to the author's entreaties that someone, please, sit down and draft some original art. You would think I was suggesting that they hop aboard the next Nasa shuttle and go collect moon rocks. I fear that, like so many recent art school graduates, most of these technologically nimble professionals do not know how to draw.

That is much more often true than when any course of art, even "graphic" or "multimedia," required grounding in the same fundamentals learned by artists from Leonardo to Picasso. But when technology morphs from tool into crutch for inadequate concepts and execution, the results are, colloquially speaking, shiteriffically yuckadoo.

3) I saw an excellent movie this weekend, The Matador. It was interesting and surprising and darkly funny. Also well-scripted, acted, directed, and edited- so there. At times, I'd get ahead of the moviemakers, judging some storytelling decision of theirs, only to be smacked back into my place by a turnaround I hadn't anticipated. Pierce Brosnan was fantastic as a crude geezhound and burned-out assasin. At one point, he needs convincing just to get to his feet. (It reminded me somehow of the pathos of Caddyshack when Ty confesses his jellied incapacity to Noonan, just at the moment they need to make the big putt.) This film was picked up by the Weinsteins at Sundance, and deserves a second life through DVD. Brilliance, I say!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Oases of Swallowing and Shopping

Why do I have to learn about this from ferriners, I ask?

1) If not your home for competetive eating stories, I'd like at least to be considered an oasis. So, here's a comprehensive book on the subject by Jason Fagone, Insatiable, as it was called in the UK and reviewed here by the Telegraph. I believe in this country, the name is the catchier Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream. In looking up Fagone's book, I was shocked to discover Ryan Nerz's book, also of earlier this year, entitled Eat This Book. If some publisher/publicist/author were crafty, I'd be contacted to receive copies for review and discussion, as a simple Technorati search of the last couple years will show I'm no gurgitator-come-lately.

2) If you thought increased salmon and reindeer populations were the only pluses of global warming near the arctic, the purest beer in the world is now made from melting glaciers.

3) Via apostropher: If you take a drunken competitive eating bet, make sure it's for food. Neither knife, nails, or clothespins apply. See link for full story and bonus x-ray.

4) The WaPo covers Filene's annual Running of the Brides, a no-holds-barred frenzy of grabbing swapping, and stripping. But the participants seemed elated. Are they any more or less insane than El Wingador, the chicken wing champ?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Still a World of Wonders

For today's image, I looked around for pics of Rowling's excellent shoes, but no joy. Instead, I discovered that Heliotrope is not only a pretty purple flower but another name for Bloodstone, marking a fortuitous connection between today's items and another lovely and wonderful thing in its own right. Image from Wishing Well.

Stuff may suck in spots. In some spots, sucking in an existentially profound way beyond the ability of the word "sucks" to convey. However, that's true every day, and doesn't mean there aren't yet wonders to celebrate. Some that occurred to me:

1) I forgot to mention that for the reading J.K. Rowling wore a cute sleeveless black dress (sort of Audrey/Givenchy cut on top, A-line flared skirt) with a large, black-stoned cocktail ring and just fabulous silver snake-motif shoes. They were high-heeled, Grecian-ish sandals with a thin strap high around the ankle and another across the toe. Connecting these from bottom to top was a modeled snake T-strap that slightly curved as it slithered up the vamp of the foot, and upon reaching the ankle strap, coiled around the outside to dangle its crystal-studded head and flick its tongue back toward the heel. Fantastico!

2) It took until now to stretch the fibrin of blood clots between microscopes capable of seeing these protein fibers which are 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. Now as we seek better treatments for heart disease and strokes, we've learned that incredibly, human blood clots are stretchier than rubber bands and stronger than spiders' silk.

3) Thousands of Sri Lankans saw colored rays emitting from a Buddha. When engineers (and others) revealed the natural cause of the optical illusion, the monks were happy to have the visions debunked. If you've got the genuine yak butter of enlightenment, what do you need with Oleo?

4) FantasyBookspot has launched its long-awaited e-zine, Heliotrope, complete with articles by Jeff VanderMeer and R. Scott Bakker along with other reviews and original fiction. I am proud of these guys for creating another high-quality, paying market for speculative goodness. I believe it's open to every genre we review, so crime/horror/comic authors get your stuff submitted. The checks will clear!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

About Harry, Carrie, Garp and the Match Girl

See only link for image.

The following post is light on links . These are titans of publishing. You can find their works yourself, if you don't already own one or twenty. Last night's reading at Radio City Music Hall was star-studded, I can tell you. Afterwards, there were fans clustered outside the stage door hoping for a picture. I'm not used to seeing authors treated like rock stars- outside of scifi and comic cons- so it was wild.

We were seated way up in the highest balcony, the 3rd mezzanine, but in the very front row (AA) on the extreme stage-left side where the arc of the balcony curves forward. The slightly dizzy-making but awesome impression was of floating in space, in front of and above all everyone - like a speaking senator from Star Wars - and we were unobstructed in our view of the seats, the stage and the enormous vault of the hall around us. Thanks to the four huge video screens backing and flanking the stage, as well as my trusty opera glasses for whatever the cameras didn't focus upon, I had a terrific vantage point. I assume, if you've read this blog at all, you know I'm a geek. Read on and feel affirmed in that judgement.

There was a slick video montage intro with music to make the authors look ubercool. Then, our evening's line-up included Whoopi Goldberg introducing the event, Tim Robbins introducing Stephen King with a funny bit about how much Scrimshaw, Stimsink, Scrankcram had meant to people. Stanley Tucci introduced John Irving, and Kathy Bates introduced J.K. Rowling, thanking her for getting children reading about places "Google does not go." A friend who attended last night said Kathy Bates introduced King for them, Andre Brauer (update: sp apologies, Braugher) introduced John Irving, and Jon Stewart introduced J.K. Rowling. After each night's readings, Soledad O'Brien moderated a question and answer session.

The readings were wonderful. Stephen King started with his hilariously vomitous short story about a blueberry pie-eating contest, The Revenge of Lardass Hogan from a short story collection called Different Seasons. That tale was adapted for use in the movie Stand by Me.

John Irving read a section about casting the Christmas pageant from A Prayer for Owen Meany. Perhaps he had to develop this voice himself to write the character, but his scratchy falsetto for Owen was fantastically funny on its own. I wonder how this scene might've read to me on the page, because I was almost crying with laughter at Owen's relentless repetition of his concerns. "What about the turtledoves?" Sometimes repetition in text makes me want to skim, but in person, Lou Costello had a million ways to ask Bud Abbot "Who's On First?" to keep juicing the comedy though they'd each look the same in print. That's just an aside, though. Irving was excellent.

J.K. Rowling read a section from #6: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, a flashback where Dumbledore goes to the orphanage where Tom Riddle (who will later be Voldemort) has lived for the 11 years since his birth, and Big D tells the matron he's got a spot for Tom at Hogwarts. It's a good choice because there's a large female part in Mrs. Cole, and Rowling did some funny wheezing dialect with the gin-soaked caretaker of the foundlings.

I don't know if all the attendant celebrities had kids they wanted to get comp'd inside, or whether they're legit fans themselves, but it was something to behold. Last night, called forward for the Q-&-A was another notable author, Salman Rushdie, and his nine year-old son who was a little too shy to grab the mic himself. J.K. Rowling, unlike the other authors reading, was under constant badgering to expose her upcoming storyline, and she opined it might not be quite fair to have someone asking questions who was so gifted with figuring plots. Rushdie Sr. deferred to his son, saying modestly (or perhaps truthfully in his opinion) that one of the two gents before her was gifted with plot divination, but not himself. I'll use the quote of his question from Publisher's Lunch, because it sounds right and I wasn't transcribing. There were Lots of publishing industry type there. In fact, sitting just behind us were some industry pros from a competitor (I think they said arch-nemesis) of Scholastic, Rowling's publisher who co-sponsored the event. From today's P's L:

In the question-and-answer session, Rowling worked hard to respond politely without giving anything away though well-aimed questions did elicit a couple of morsels. One audience member wanted to know why Aunt Petunia blushes when told she'll only have Harry on her hands for one more summer, and Rowling made it clear that "there's more to Aunt Petunia than meets the eye."

But the toughest questioning (and harshest answer) came from Salman Rushdie, theoretically speaking on behalf of his nine-year-old son standing next to him, who theorized that Dumbledore's death in book six was "a ruse." The essential question, he (and others) asked: "Is Snape good or bad? In our opinion, everything else follows from it."

Rowling replied, "I see I have to be more clear about this.... Dumbledore is definitely dead.... All of you need to move through the five stages of grief."

I didn't find her reply harsh, especially since earlier in the evening, she'd already said not to expect "Dumbledore to do a Gandalf." She also wryly noted that after the stage of denial which she was trying to help along might come the stage of anger and she was worried about that. When another very nice nine year-old from New Jersey had earlier read his long, sincere question basically asserting similar points to prove Dumbledore couldn't really be dead, she seemed genuinely upset for him, and was very self-deprecating about the mess she was making for readers. She also said that she was still making changes as she wrote, characters with terminal fates were being swapped, and she'd even thought of a new title in the shower earlier. But the ending's been written since 1990, and that last chapter won't change.

She made an off-handed reference to the flack she's gotten from some Satancentric Christians, the kind that don't like Halloween either, and I think that's a pity, but can't please everyone. They can read something else. However, she's been resolute that children should know bad things happen that can't be reversed. I respect her for it, as I happen to agree and as it comes from the strongest tradition of storytelling for children. For everyone really. It's not the gooey treacle happy-kitten stories that last, it's the horrible ones with children at serious risk. I think it's because they communicate something we understand as essentially real in a safer forum, and that impact of learning a truth is ineradicable.

(I still remember when I realized a negative number and the minus sign were interchangeable, and I didn't need to minus a positive number. My 7th grade algebra teacher said regardless of how weird it sounded, one day it would just pop into our heads making sense, and it did. I remeber the pop of other emotional and personal truths, too, from The Velveteen Rabbit, The Little Match Girl, and The Little Tin Soldier. Sadness and betrayal, often without rescue or amelioration. Scary then, but I absorbed them. They're very comforting now. Why else do people sing the blues?

I believe Rowling's said before, and I believe from my own experience, that children know when they're being soft-soaped, so to speak. I think a little more exposure to conceptual horror and lasting consequences couldn't hurt. Instead, today's kids get scenarios of excruciatingly graphic violence where no one worth caring about is actually hurt or supposed to do anything but laugh maniacally at the damage they cause. The victims are most often not even human. Acclimating kids to view gore emotionlessly and to expect action without consequences is what's really twisted to me, not the occasional wrenching of the heart that comes with loving and losing, something which remains very much part of the fullness of being human.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I'm All About the A/C and Authors

Image see item #2.

1) The city of NYC requested that building management firms notify citizens of tips to stay cool in the heat. So, slid under my door along with contact information for city agencies is a list of advisories reminding me to drink water and wear cool clothing. People down south are finding this panic over heat in the northeast amusing. But people in the northeast don't see snow and close the city. It's all in what you're used to. I admit I find the advice a little spoilsport, Darwinwise, but I grew up in Texas and California. Chicago regularly blows hotter and colder than here. Still, I think most people rational enough to read and absorb such directives are also likely to be keen enough to know hydration is an essential of life and to stay out of sunlight hot enough to actually hurt as it blazes against bare skin. Maybe not.

Recently, in Queens, some people were without electric for almost two weeks. Very tough for mere loose clothing to compensate for no A/C, ice, or fans in a part of the world not engineered like the Alhambra of Spain to use the breezes to maximum advantage. Let this be my own notice to the city and utilities. You just keep the power juicing, and I'll take care not to stink up the joint with my rotting corpse. The better news Ill sneak in: Castro might beat me to the beyond, and DDT's back on the menu.

2) I really enjoyed blogger Kathryn Finney's How To Be A Budget Fashionista. Like her site that inspired it, the book is wonderfully good-natured and good-humored. It's also nicely formatted with lots of illustrations, charts, and lists for variety hounds like me with short-attention spans. She starts by focusing on getting real with our budget and desires in order to ensure we have the wardrobe we need while being able to afford the things we'll love. The tone is friendly and leavened with her own budgetary missteps. I laughed aloud at the motivational sticker she put across the face of her credit card reminding her, "You ain't Oprah!"

Her advice about mercilessly paring what's not working in a wardrobe and monetizing it toward better purchases is concrete and practical. She has tips for earning opportunities to help fashionistas fatten their clothing accounts, as well as discussing what qualities beside price separate designer goods from knockoffs and how to take care of clothes for their best appearance and longevity. She creates a process to help readers target their own mix of styles, and carry it from aspirational looks through actual purchases. Best of all, she includes oodles of weblinks to other resources from good foundation garment suppliers to consignment shops. Even if you already know some or most of this stuff, you'll undoubtedly find a tip or two worth trying. And besides, it's oh-so nice to have a cheerleader echoing that it's not only okay but fun and stylish to mix your cheapest finds with trophies of couture. She understands a legitimate reply to the compliment "Cute skirt," is "$17, Elder Beerman weekend sale with double coupons."

Reading what she wrote about how layaway is no more, I was reminded how with it we lost a sense of savoring our consumption and the notion that having the money before spending it is a pretty solid chronology. When I was in junior high, my mom helped me put a knitted vest on layaway. It was in lustrous ivory yarn with a zipper, ribbed split-collar, and a shearling lining. How I loved it. I loved going in the store to look at it when we gave them pieces of my allowance along with my mother's additional contributions. Mom didn't usually buy much on layaway, preferring seasonal shopping trips and the absolute No when it came to foolish expediture, but I think she wanted to know whether I really wanted it enough to sacrifice other pleasures. When we finally picked it up and took it home on its plastic-covered hanger, I was so epically happy. Of course, I know now that especially paired with my suede and shearling elf boots, I must've looked like an insulated steam pipe, but I gazed upon that vest with fondness for years because I'd invested so much in it. Whether it's a shoe, handbag, outfit, jewelry, or none of the above that inspires your passionate craving, Kathryn Finney's book is a reminder of the simple, normal joys that can be had while planning for, saving for, and then experiencing something worth treasuring.

3) In other bookish news, I'll be sharing the room with three famous authors tonight. Granted, Radio City Music Hall is a very big room, and I doubt they'll mention me personally, but I'm still looking forward to the Harry, Carrie, and Garp readings by J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and John Irving. King and Irving are already putting the full-court press on their comrade about Rowling potentially offing her hero.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Don't Get Me Started on the Feckless Fat Men

Via Reason, I found many articles about overheated men who overshare their bodily bounty. Within the article, click on the Gallery link for this image and others. Sure, they're fat men a continent away from the ones I'm raving about below, but what the heck? I'm annoyed.

Too late now- I'm already started on the fat men, though I include pencil-necks and the crazy aldergals in the latest Chicago City Council contretemps. The newest craziness in the Socialist Republic of Chi-Town is that against the mayor's strong condemnation (good call, Richie) they passed an enormous city-wide hike in the minimum wage and health benefits designed to apply solely to the large square-footage type stores where the unwealthy shop, although as you'll see in this Trib article, it includes many stores any urbanite might expect to frequent.

-Are local small businesses edified? No. they understand the scope creep of such regulations, and if the big guys can't defend against it, what are their puny chances?

-What about the businesses that already pay higher hourly wages? Even relatively high-paying Nordstrom can't accomodate the new regulations without changing its health benefit policies nationwide. Which seems more cost-effective: doing all that or just closing the downstore store and leaving the ones in the suburbs as is?

- What about working-class people who shop in those Wal-Marts, Targets, K-Marts, and Costcos? Not sure this'll go well for them either when their local stores have to raise prices, close, or move. Hope all the people who need bargains the most have plentiful, reliable transportation. Or is that an oxymoron?

The only saving grace is that the Illinois Retail Merchants Association is suing on the grounds that the new law is unconstitutional since it is carefully and discriminatorially crafted to apply only to non-unionized shops. How'd that happen in the great and Windy City? My stars, what a coinkydink!

It was tough to get the big box discounters into the city in the first place because of the exorbitatant costs of union construction and municipal gravy-dipping, even though people desperately wanted to work and shop in them. Yesterday's WSJ (may be subscription only) has this note: When Wal-Mart opened a store in Evergreen Park, just outside Chicago last year, some 27,000 applied for the 325 jobs with starting pay of $7.25 an hour. The Wal-Mart that will open later this year in Chicago's West side already has 12,000 job applicants. Alderman Isaac Carothers told the Chicago Tribune that the law "will cost black people jobs. If I put out a notice that there were 500 jobs waiting in my ward -- what Wal-Mart was offering -- you'd see a line of people from my ward all the way to Mississippi. People want jobs."

Years ago, I had to go outside the city limits to get to my closest Target, for example, so I spent my scarce dollars without benefitting the city or its resident workforce, even though I was one of them. People already travel for larger purchases because of the odious city sales tax. If this plan stands, they'll travel to exurbias and suburbias for everything, even their groceries if they're heading to a superstore.

Having worked in retail a fair bit, I will tell you these places don't "run fat" on staff in the first place, and may of the biggest discounters have lean profit margins. If it's going to cost thousands more each week for a store to cover its nut, during what would have been typical temp hiring seasons like summer and Christmas, the retailers won't hire summer students either, and will instead opt to pay overtime to already-benefitted full-timers because it'll be cheaper than enrolling someone in health care for six freaking weeks. Of course, some stores will close their city locations, and return the heart of Chicago to a retail wasteland. And we can expect the value of all that new condo development in the city to sag, because people with choices (and not surrounded by moats like Trump Island) won't choose to live that far away from normal retail infrastructure. The Naperville Town Council is already planning its new ad campaign.

One might think that having such an excellent, Nobel-laureate-packed institution as the University of Chicago nearby, some of the dim pols might take an extension course or two in basic Econ. Whatever may be said of the Mayor Daley the younger, he has over the last few years finagled and negotiated to create enough sweetheart packages of tax inducements et al to draw some corporations back into the city proper. Also, the unions' deathgrip on film and advertising production has been loosened to the point that people will occasionally consider shooting in Chicago again, a predilection taken for granted and therefore squandered since the halcyon days when Chicago was a national advertising capital. It costs a Fort Knox ton to pay for requirements that surplus people be hired to lean on brooms, and there are always more "unofficial toll-takers" waiting with hands out.

Thanks, City Council, for being once again an organization that never met a golden goose it didn't think could be made healthier by a good throttling.