The John Birch Monthly

I never thought I’d see the day when the Atlantic advocated racist generalizations. Actually, it’s the white guys who never seem to wash their hands in the bathroom. Generally the Caucasians about to broker a deal, the suits fond of the handshake. People like Cullen Murphy. Scary shit really, but all it takes is hanging out in a fancy-schmancy men’s room for an hour and keeping track of who doesn’t wash their hands.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

[8/8/05 UPDATE: Now of course, these things don't come as much of a surprise to me anymore. But I'm still very much annoyed that highbrow to middlebrow magazines still use language to voice casual generalizations.]

Your Brain’s Guide to a Safe New Year

Today, please adjust the settings in your mind, as follows:

4:00 PM: Yearly Self-Diagnostic. Run defrag program. Check for viruses. Finish organizing and prioritizing memories of 2003 events.

5:17 PM: Finish Kith and Kin Telephonic Check-In program.

7:22 PM: Register 2004 New Year Resolutions with CPU.

8:42 PM: Determine whether Body Unit intends to drink. If blood-alcohol levels = unmanagable, then capitulate keys to Sober Mind Obligated to Protect Other Body Units.

9:06 PM: Kiss Long-Term Companion Unit, listen to L-TCU’s last thoughts and resolutions.

10:34 PM: If 2003 New Year Resolution = Program Not Executed in 2003, Then 2003 New Year Resolution = 2004 New Year Resolution. Don’t worry. Other Body Units and CPUS will probably forget, particularly OBU (Quite Inebriated) types.

11:22 PM: Exchange 2004 New Year Resolutions with OBUs and L-TCU.

11:46 PM: Obtain champagne.

11:50 PM: Last-minute Kith and Kin Telephonic Check-Ins.

11:54 PM: Find L-TCU or L-TCU (Potential).

11:56 PM: If L-TCU (Current) or L-TCU (Potential) Does Not = Hand (Champagne), then obtain champagne. L-TCU (Not Champagne) = L-TCU (Champagne).

12:00 AM: If one second before Turn of the Year Announcer = Mouth (“One”), then when Turn of the Year Announcer = Mouth (Null) or Turn of the Year Announcer = Mouth (“Happy New Year”), Your Mouth (“Happy New Year”). Kiss with L-TCU optional, though with obvious advantages for both CPUs.

General Program Notes: If L-TCU = Unavailable, don’t worry. This is the result of Propaganda (New Year’s) running in several OPU’s CPUs. Propaganda (New Year’s) was a virus authored long ago by some bored fifteen year old punk. Disregard all conversational facets pertaining to this and be sure that CPU = Happy, if L-TCU = Unavailable. See General L-TCU Maxim for more information (i.e., CPU = Not Happy continues L-TCU=Unavailable condition, CPU=Happy, and CPU=Confident and Listening, improves likelihood of L-TCU=Available condition, though timing of new variable impossible to predict).

Cutting Off the Collectors

Patrice Moore, a 43 year old one-time mail clerk, was trapped under a pile of books and paper. Emergency workers filled 50 garbage bags with paper. It’s still not nearly as bad as the Collyer brothers, extreme reculsives who never threw anything out, got caught within their own debris, and who died of starvation and being gnawed upon by rats, respectively. (And, in fact, there’s a book on the Collyers called Ghosty Men.)

A Moore-Collyer type in training might be this 18 year old, who chooses books over partying. An admirable Hobson’s choice, but how does this kid expect to meet people?

French book commercials are a big controversy.

Linguist Charles Berlitz has passed on.

And, apparently, there are a few Bernard Goldbergs running around in France.

More Quickies

Way to go, Brian!

And, another good victory.

Bertrand Russell’s last essay: “There could be a happy world, where co-operation was more in evidence than competition, and monotonous work is done by machines, where what is lovely in nature is not destroyed to make room for hideous machines whose sole business is to kill, and where to promote joy is more respected than to produce mountains of corpses. Do not say this is impossible: it is not. It waits only for men to desire it more than the infliction of torture. There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere. There is an artist imprisoned in each one of us. Let him loose to spread joy everywhere.” (via Wood S Lot)

Harvey Weinstein publishes a satirical book about Miramax: “Contrary to popular belief, we do have a sense of humor about ourselves.” Yeah, right. (via Maud)

Gaddis Was The Man

Today, Wood S Lot reminded me that eighty-one years ago, one of the most underappreciated American novelists was born.

I first came across Gaddis when I was 25, stumbling through a bookstore and coming across some book called The Recognitions that had an incredible Hugo van der Goes painting on the cover. Something that looked like an anguished Neanderthal, but could have easily been a tortured wrestler. Plus, the book was thick. And instinctively, I’ve always been drawn to anything huge.

It took me three weeks to finish the sucker.

Gaddis wasn’t your fly-by-night novelist. He demanded that you work. One minute, he’d be drowning you in remarkable descriptions, placing you in fascinating tableaus that would never end. The next minute, he’d be giving you sentences like, “The door was opened to the length of a finger,” or “He got up and lit an American cigarette,” always reinforcing precise absurdities. (Why should the nationality of a cigarette matter so much? Why measure a door by a finger when a hand isn’t there?) The thing that kept his books worthwhile was Gaddis’s presence as a relentless imp. He’d skewer anything, whether it was Dale Carnegie’s disciples, bizarre organizations like the Use-Me Society, or the chronic counterfeiters who riffed throughout his books. His dialogue of debutantes and dilletantes always came across to me as astutely observed. The spoken lines were prefaced only by dashes, immersed within the pages as if to imply that the dialogue itself was inseparable from the tragic vapidity of human behavior.

Without Gaddis, there would not have been a Thomas Pynchon, nor a David Foster Wallace, nor a John Barth. He ushered in a postmodern wave where anything was fair game, where Balzacian observation could dance hand-in-hand with Mencken and the Marx Brothers. And that’s why I was particularly sad the day he died not long later.

Related Link: William Gaddis video interview with Malcolm Bradbury.

Snaps

No less an authority than University of Wisconsin professor Barbara Chatton has revealed that the film form is bad for Dr. Seuss. Chatton notes that the predictable rhymes make the Seuss books encouraging for beginning readers and points out that kids tend to resist the tacked-on morals Hollywood insists upon. Next year is the 100th anniversary of Mr. Geisel’s birth.

The Boston Globe profiles thriller writer Derek Raymond. All of his books are out of print in the States. Also in the Globe is an interview with Marion Cunningham, a lady interested in bringing back the family dinner hour. She points out that some people have never seen other people cooking. But what does this really mean? Will we see an upsurge in kitchens with mirrors (to add to the many reflective surfaces)? I envision a sudden wave of kitchen narcissism, of lonely people cooking alone, admiring themselves in the mirror, standing naked save for a “Kiss the Cook” apron, and swinging a brand new garlic press like they mean business. Not much of an identity, I know. But if I was pressed to predict a trend for 2004, this would be it.

Aniruddha Bahal is pleased as punch. As you may recall, Bahal won the Bad Sex Award earlier this month. He says book sales have spiked and notes that, “A lot of people actually thought it was a good piece of writing.” This from the man who wrote of breasts that were “placards for the endomorphically endowed.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an update on the island in The Egg and I.

And the latest person to sue Disney is French author Franck le Calvez, who claims that Nemo is a ripoff of a character he created named Pierrot.

Mayfly

Here’s my Mayfly 20 word capsule: Holed up, reborn, maturity, resolve, decisions, less damnations, hitting the ground running, whipping my lazy ass for next year’s kill.

[8/8/05 UPDATE: Yup, this is clearly a description written by a guy in his late twenties, if not younger. As to the "reborn" silliness, I was going through a lot back then. But I did whip my ass into shape and accomplished quite a lot in 2004.]

The Un-Ethicist

Shortly after Xmas, I was astonished to get this email:

Dear Mr. Champion:

Randy’s at it again. Every time our family gets together for the holidays, not only does my older brother go on and on about the ethical way to carve a turkey, but the little fucker can’t stop going on about his lucrative Times and NPR gigs. I’m sick and tired of being the odd sibling out. I’m sick and tired of introducing myself as “Randy’s younger brother” at cocktail parties, only to have these people gloss over my fine haircut and unusual eating habits. What’s a younger brother to do?

Yours,

Miguel Cohen

I hadn’t heard of Miguel Cohen before, but I could sympathize with his concerns. I put two and two together and realized that he was actually Randy Cohen’s brother. We had a few email volleys. And I learned that Miguel, beyond having a few “unique” views on life, is also quite an interesting writer. I asked Miguel if he was interested in having a regular place here on Sunday. And he pitched me on an idea that was questionable, but nevertheless fair. He plans to answer the same questions pitched to Randy.

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Hey, R.P., get with the fucking program! Those student loan companies are rapacious vultures. No less a benign authority than David Sedaris says so. Since it’s illegal to kick those greedy bastards in the teeth, or to cut off the heads of their roan ponies and make them offers they can’t refuse so they can stop sending those “consolidated” forms to you, what better way to get back at them than mining this 9/11 thing for all its wortht?

Making money off tragedies or freak occurrences is a grand American tradition that goes back to P.T. Barnum and spans out, more recently, to Jerry Bruckheimer with that stupid Pearl Harbor film that lots of people paid ten bucks to see. The plain truth is that there are a lot of dumbfucks out there who will pay big bucks for this kind of memorabilia. And, besides, it’s not as if you’re auctioning off Nazi china, or some other memento mori from a fascist regime. (Then again, the way things are going, and judging by the way my bourgeois brother keeps his complacent trap silent on politics, and all of these paranoid emails I keep getting from Conspiracy Nation, it may end up that way.)

Even so, sell the motherfucker. Get some boob to pay for it, preferably to someone employed by Sallie Mae, and keep the sale relatively anonymous, if you’re concerned about this thing becoming public. In the grand scheme of things, even if it does become public knowledge that you sold this ticket, people will judge you by the collective scope of your actions. And who knows? Maybe years from now, when this tragedy isn’t being exploited by the Republican National Convention, you’ll have a funny yarn to tell your grandkids.

You’ll probably be accused of dishonoring the dead, but keep in mind that the 9/11 widows and widowers have been given more money than you’ll probably ever make in a year. And after those limitless Portraits of Grief that ran forever in my bro’s paper, they’ve had more than enough attention. Meanwhile, where are you, R.P.? You’re probably working some job you’re overqualified for, wrestling with all those damn student loans.

Sell the sucker now while it’s a hot item. And if your friends disown you, you just tell them Miguel says it was okay. And if they don’t like it, I’ll kick their teeth in.

Solid Contentions

solid_geometry.jpegApparently, Ewan McGregor’s uncle (Denis Lawson, who played Wedge Antilles in the original Star Wars trilogy) turned Ian McEwan’s infamous short story,”Solid Geometry,” into a film last year. [Denis Lawson interview.] While this version doesn’t appear to be available online, this wasn’t the first film adaptation of “Solid Geometry.” This forum thread includes an article that chronicles the initial 1979 version. Set to be directed by Mike Newell, BBC-2 pulled the plug when they learned of a nine-inch penis prop. Producer Stephen Gilbert issued public statements, was fired by the BBC, and entered into a substantial dispute. This BBC audio review, featuring smug British intellectual types dismissing the controversy and the penis, details the new Lawson version and covers, in part, the 1979 version.

Putting the Cock in Caucasian

surgery2.gifAngry Asian Man points to this fascinating article on the booming plastic surgery in Asia: “The culturally loaded issue today is the number of Asians looking to remake themselves to look more Caucasian. It’s a charge many deny, although few would argue that under the relentless bombardment of Hollywood, satellite TV, and Madison Avenue, Asia’s aesthetic ideal has changed drastically. ‘Beauty, after all, is evolutionary,’ says Harvard psychology professor Nancy Etcoff, who is the author of Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty?not coincidentally a best seller in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and China. Asians are increasingly asking their surgeons for wider eyes, longer noses and fuller breasts?features not typical of the race. To accommodate such demands, surgeons in the region have had to invent unique techniques. The No. 1 procedure by far in Asia is a form of blepharoplasty, in which a crease is created above the eye by scalpel or by needle and thread.”

Quickies

The Guardian has an excerpt of Carol Shield’s unfinished novel, Segue, which she was working on at the time of her death.

Terry Gross interviews Stephen King. Hearing Terry Gross describe the beginning of Gerald’s Game in such clinical intellectual terms (apparently, without irony) is pretty hilarious, as are the additional queries that jump from third-person to first-person (“Let’s get Stephen King to the kind of gore and terror and suspense that you create.”). But the second interview has King talking about his accident.

The Globe and Mail features a New Year’s-themed article on the description of drinking in literature that’s also unintentioanlly funny. Really, I couldn’t make this stuff up: “You can, with a little licence, trace an arc in 20th-century drinking literature that follows the act of drinking itself. In Hemingway’s work, the drinking was never-ending, and often celebratory when it wasn’t the weary duty of the lost generation. Hangovers were left largely undescribed, something that could be walked off in the clear air of the Pyrenees, or washed off in a fine and true Michigan trout stream.”

More fun from J.M. Coetzee in the latest NYRoB.

Speculation in the Age on 2004’s Australian heavy-hitters.

Tony Kushner gushes over Eugene O’Neill.

Biggest surprise: USA Today names both Living History and The Five People You Meet in Heaven as worst books of 2003.

Stavros has a translation of the Lost in Translation commercial scene that reveals (no surprise) remarkable caricatures.

And about 70 books on Mao were published in China this year. Perhaps because the 110th anniversary of Mao’s birth was yesterday.

Report

The streets remain quiet, even after Xmas has come and gone. Those who remain hide behind locked doors. But some can be found on buses or in bars, reclining in cafes, quietly socializing on public steps, or catching up on movies, alone or with companions. The sun peaks above three-story Victorian edifices, but it gets very cold, California cold, at night. It is a San Francisco that resembles 1970s cinematic imagery: Bullitt, Dirty Harry, The Conversation. Before it was impossible to find a parking spot. Back in the days when an apartment was affordable. Before major events brought points of convergance and people flooded through the makeshift turnstiles when the cornets and drum machines let loose. Those who remain are silent about their private quests, but are congenial. They volunteer for worthy causes. They wish total strangers, “Happy holidays.” They look out for each other. They commit time without burdens, fueled by a laconic spirit of giving, unencumbered by familial artifices, their smiles resisting bourgeois falsehoods against Pottery Barn splendor. They are the true souls of the City.

There was a reason why so many buildings eschewed Xmas lights, even in the affluent pockets of Lake Street. The residents within didn’t expect to stick around.

But when the remaining two-thirds of the population return from their holiday getaways, replete with booty and fruitcakes, the streets will flood with people again. The mad rush, the pitter-patter of cell phones, the trundling streetcars snailing beneath Market Street at rush hour, the chaotic dichotomy of whether to stick around or extirpate roots to head to another town that will advance a career. All will return. Ineluctable regularities. The anguished groupings.

For now, peace on earth truly rules in the air. But perhaps it’s just me.

Can They Sink Any Lower?

Melissa Panarello’s One Hundred Strokes of the Hairbrush Before Going to Sleep, the latest “sexually frank memoir,” is different from the usual memoirs, but only in the sense that Larry Clark’s Kids is an artier, more teen-centric approach to the oeuvre of Zalman King. As the Times reports (user: dr_mabuse, pw: mabuse), “The title of the book refers to a kind of purging ritual that the book’s narrator, also named Melissa, performs after she is prodded by one of her sexual partners into having sex with him and four other men at the same time. That happens on her 16th birthday.”

Indeed. Personally, I’m waiting for Three Thousand Ice Cream Cones Against His Left Testicle Before the Horse Sodomized My Sister, the frank memoir written by an eight year old incest survivor who, like Panarello, smokes cigars, but only Cubans.

Meanwhile, the real criminals can be found in Iowa, where a woman has pled not guilty to stealing 450 library books. If she’s guilty, the funny thing here is the lack of subtlety. 117 hardcover cookbooks disappeared gradually over a short period. If you’re going to do something as ignoble as steal from the library, shouldn’t you broaden your interests just a tad?

Script Before the Book

Sarah points to this article on Philip K. Dick adaptations, which suggests that the best PKD movies are those made by directors dismissive of the source material. The Post article points out that Ridley Scott dismissed PKD’s work and hadn’t even bothered to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But what the article fails to acknowlege is that, unless the director is also writing the script, the director’s job is to visualize the story, not actually develop it. With Minority Report, Spielberg was more attracted to creating a future than adhering with the PKD hardline (although Spielberg notes in the Wired interview that he had read Dick). But the fact is that a lot of filmmakers don’t read the original books when the script falls into their hands.

Girl with a Pearl Earring — (Michael Weber): “I deliberately held off reading the book for a while as well. There was one thing I was scared of: I had the script, I had done about eight months working on the script with the writer. I was worried that if I read the book too soon, I would have a whole load of knowledge, just there in my subconscious…”

Nicholas Nickleby — (Charlie Hunman): “Yeah, I read it at school. It was probably mandatory to read at least one Dickens and it just so happened that I was asked to read Nickleby. But when this came around I couldn’t really remember what the book was about. I was just nine years old when I read it and, like most things at school, I didn’t really pay too much attention. I read director Doug McGrath’s adaptation for the film before I re-read the book and I thought he did an amazing job.”

The Hulk — (Ang Lee): “We had tried several drafts of the screenplay, but it didn’t quite work – I didn’t really know what I wanted to do yet. And then one day James [Schamus, co-writer] brought to my attention that in one issue of Hulk they brought the father back, and then an idea hit me. But at the same time I thought, Oh no, not the father/son thing again! But I wouldn’t have done it unless I felt that it was bringing something fresh.”

The Eggers Rumor

Okay, folks, here’s what I know about the Eggers-Where the Wild Things Are connection.

I contacted Playtone Productions, the production company that’s behind Where the Wild Things Are. (I won’t dare reveal how I got the number.) I was told by Playtone that they could neither confirm nor deny that Eggers was involved on the screenplay, which suggests that Eggers is possibly involved, but no one is ready to make an official announcement as of yet. I asked if they could tell me if any writer was involved, and they told me, “We don’t give out that kind of information.” So what we have so far is a blank slate.

I then tried contacting Eggers’ office, but was caught in a voicemail labryinth and couldn’t get a live human being.

So at this point, we have nothing but rumors to base a conclusion on. The possibility exists that Eggers has written a screenplay, or is working on a screenplay. Since I’ve lambasted Eggers so much, I seriously doubt he or one of the 826 Valencia people will return the message I left in the general voicemail box. But perhaps someone closer to the fray can give us a definitive answer.

[UPDATE: Couldn't get a live body at Good Machine. Tried Michel Gondry's company, Partizan, but didn't get anywhere, save for a helpful receptionist who replied, "Who is Dave Eggers?"]

Nice Guys & Lesbians

Oddly enough, I had a “date” similar to this, though nowhere nearly as extreme:

ME: Why is she walking home and why are you picking her up.

AFV (now in full blown rage) BECAUSE YOU TRIED TO KISS HER you asshole! Why did you try to kiss my girlfriend. What the hell do you think you’re doing?!?!?…..

ME: What are you talking about? I was on a DATE with her!

AFV: You weren’t on a date.

ME: I picked her up, I bought our tickets to the concert, and I bought our beers. I mean that’s a f*cking date right.

AFV: It wasn’t a date, she just went out with you because she thought you were a nice guy!

(via Six Different Ways)

Work in the Prison

Jospeh T. Hallinan’s Going Up the River has countless revelations for anyone interested in how the prison-industrial complex has changed American life. But two, so far, have particularly stuck out for me:

“Well,” he says, “my wife and I have been married twenty-eight years and lived nineteen years in a travel trailer.” He looks me dead in the eye. “Do you have any idea?”

After ten years, he will be eligible to receive medical coverage after retirement, a benefit so precious, he says, that he is willing to spend his days among killers and thieves. “Be fifty-four and try to go out and buy health insurance.”

The second item concerns teachers attracted by the increased pay rate afforded to public school teachers who have since moved on to educate prisoners in Beeville, Texas:

He and Dave, I knew, feel a little guilty about their defection. Both mention repeatedly, for instance, how much they miss working with kids. But they don’t feel that guilty. “I’m much more relaxed,” Dave says. “I have more time with my family. My lesson plans are a lot easier to write. I haven’t had a parent come to see me yet. And all in all besides that I got about a six-thousand dollar raise.”

Stafford will be fifty-six in a few days, and Texas has mandatory retirement at sixty-five, which means he’s got nine years left. Whether he’ll stay that long, he doesn’t know. “I tell everybody I’m doing five to ten,” he says. “My inmates like that.”

Beyond the rising incarceration rate, and beyond the ways in which corporations have cut exclusive deals for both the products used in penitentiaries and the labor employed to manufacture American goods, is the startling realization that the penitentiary, in some impoverished towns, has become the new Wal-Mart. If your employer won’t pay your health benefits, or if you can’t afford the exorbitant rates of an HMO, work in the prison. If you want to really teach, but can’t afford to live on the impoverished rates the school districts are paying teachers, work in the prison. Not only will they pay you more, but your teaching demands will be considerably less. Because most of the inmates are high school dropouts (in Texas, 60% are, and Hallinan notes that this is about equal to the national average). Of course, even if you rehabilitate prisoners through education, their prospects are grim. In the 1960s, there was a brief moment in which grants were given out to prisoners so that they could earn four-year degrees. The grants were killed in 1994.

Bah Humbug

For all those who have offered, “Happy holidays,” thank you for the well-wishes that don’t specifically reference Xmas. Happy holidays and good cheer back to you.

For those who have polluted the air with insufferable carols, for those who have tried to induct me into their hellish Xmas-Christian propaganda with almost complete artifice and ideological solipsism, for those who say hello to their family and friends but once a year (now, but never any other time), for those who think that a pre-printed card with a mere signature below some bullshit Hallmark “witticism” somehow makes up for this yearly discrepancy (not unlike signing an annual blackmail check), for those who have forced the issue, whether it’s the execrable bastards in control of the Muzak machines or the hypocritical assholes who really couldn’t give a good goddam for those alone, friendless or homeless (the true people in need of attention), then either wander off a butte and die or get with the program.

If you’re in San Francisco (or anywhere), I dare you to throw off the shackles of holiday bullshit and actually do something for the downtrodden. Don’t max out your credit cards on trinkets. Just get in there, volunteer a few hours, and selflessly give of yourself to someone who needs it. Think of others for a change on real human terms. Here are a few organizations that could use your time.

That’s about all I have to say about this sham of a holiday. Except bah humbug.

Quickies

Infinity expert A.W. Moore compares David Foster Wallace’s Everything and More against two other books specializing in the subject and concludes that DFW is wrong: “The sections on set theory, in particular, are a disaster. When he lists the standard axioms of set theory from which mathematicians derive theorems about the iterative conception of a set, he gets the very first one wrong. (It is not, as Wallace says, that if two sets have the same members, then they are the same size. It is that two sets never do have the same members.)…He goes on to discuss Cantor’s unsolved problem, which I mentioned at the end of the previous paragraph. There are many different, equivalent ways of formulating the problem; Wallace gives four. The first and fourth are fine. The second, about whether the real numbers ‘constitute’ the set of sets of rational numbers, does not, as it stands, make sense. And the third, about whether the cardinal that measures the size of the set of real numbers can be obtained by raising 2 to the power of the smallest infinite cardinal, is simply wrong: we know it can.”

Heather Havrilesky interviews David Callahan, author of The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead.

Bernard Goldberg’s Arrogance has sold considerably short of sales. Retailers will get a half-price credit. And to think that a little less than two years ago, Goldberg was the man of the hour. All demagogues fall. When Ann Coulter?

Dave Eggers may write the script for Where the Wild Things Are for Spike Jonze. Oh no. (via Maud)

And if you haven’t seen this end-of-the-year wrapup yet with the bookblog cabal, check it out.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

4,000 men were questioned in Britain. The results: Married men are more likely to suffer mental health problems than those who live with their partners. But the reverse holds true for married women. And women, in general, are actually better off without men. Meanwhile, single men are more likely to suffer from depresison.

So if you’re a man, you can remain single and depressed. Or you can get married and get depressed. But if you live with your partner sans commitment, you’ll be dandy.

And if you’re a woman, you can remain single and remain the happiest. Or you can get married and remain reasonably happy. But if you live with your partner sans commitment, you’ll be miserable.

Or to look at it another way:

Living Together Without Commitment: Man (Happiest) + Woman (Miserable)
Married: Man (Miserable) + Woman (Reasonably Happy)
Single: Man (Depressed) or Woman (Happiest)

In other words, what we have here is a startling development, should a woman need to be in a relationship. Relationships and marriages, it seems, are essentially exemplars for game theory. But the difference here is that the man alone is miserable and the woman, without any effort whatsoever, is happiest. A woman need not do anything to remain happy. Is this misery because men make most of the efforts in initiating a date or a meetup or is this misery extant within the Y chromosome? If the psychological hypothesis in these findings holds true, then what we have here is a clear biological indicator that women are the superior gender.

Their Threat Fatigue and We Need To Do My Things On Your Alert

What Tom Ridge Said: “I don’t think we’ve got to worry about threat fatigue. We need to be on the alert and America needs to know that those who need to do things are doing them, that their government is working 24-7 to protect them against terrorist attack.”

What Tom Ridge Might Have Meant:

“threat fatigue” — A little known cousin to “chronic fatigue syndrome.” Either that or, as Wordspy notes, “ignoring or downplaying possible threats because one has been subjected to constant warnings about those threats.” So if Tom Ridge tells us that we don’t have to worry about threat fatigue, am I to infer that he’s telling us to be scared shitless? And it all sounded so benign!

“We need to be on the alert.” — In Homeland Security vernacular, one cannot be alerted, nor can one be prepared for alert. One is “on the alert,” which, for some strange reason, conjures up imagery of Donald Rumsfield on the rag. Nonetheless, this might mean that, collectively, the nation is close to the alert button, or about to be alerted, but not quite there yet.

“America needs to know that those who need to do things are doing them.” — As opposed to wanting to know? Do we citizens not have “to do things?” Can we sit in our La-Z-Boys and eat Cheetos? Can we really trust “those who need to do things” to do them?

And then there’s troubling shift in perspective. Ridge goes from “we” to “those who need to do things” to “their government” in one sentence! Which suggests to me that “we” (the citizens) are sorta involved in any potential alerts, ad hoc, but are not people “who need to do things.” Additionally, Homeland Security and the U.S. citizens are joined at the hip, but “their government” implies that “they” are either the U.S. government or some unidentified government we are at battle with. (Perhaps Canada unknowingly?)

All I know is that Tom Ridge is full of shit, couldn’t speak intelligibly to save his life, and really has me worried about the DHS’s ability to communicate. I haven’t seen government language like this since the Nixon Administration.

Doctors, Lytton & More

British practitioners are tired of writing doctor’s notes. Apparently, there’s a rampant epidemic of comparative note shopping. This collection of notes, however, suggests that the aspiring malingerer might be better off forging their own. One note reads: “Both breasts are equal and reactive to light and accommodation.” Indeed. Unfortunately, doctor’s notes don’t make for compelling drama. That didn’t stop these guys from trying.

Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians has been a hoot, filled with some great reductio ad absurdum arguments: “Now, two propositions were accepted by both parties — that all infants are born in original sin, and their original sin is washed away by baptism. But how could both these propositions be true, argued Mr. Gorham, if it was also true that faith and repentance were necessary before baptism could come into operation at all? How could an infant in arms be said to be in a state of faith and repentance? How, therefore, could its original sin be washed away by baptism? And yet, as everyone agreed, washed away it was. The only solution of the difficulty lay in the doctrine of prevenient grace, and Mr. Gorham maintained that unless God performed an act of prevenient grace by which the infant was endowed with faith and repentance, no act of baptism could be effectual; though to whom, and under what conditions, prevenient grace was given, Mr. Gorham confessed himself unable to decide.”

What’s interesting is that a sizable chunk of Strachey’s papers can be found at the University of Texas at Austin. Who knew that such a pioneering iconoclast would end up where Bush II once presided as governor?

The Guardian has a list of 2003’s overlooked books. Plus, Crimson Petal author Michael Faber isn’t smitten with Motherless Brooklyn and Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry is given a second look.

And, in a Maryland elementary school, comics are being used to get kids reading. Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook (excerpts can be found here), is cited in the article as one of the inspirations. Among some of Trelease’s conclusions: He attributes the popularity of Harry Potter to a desire for plot-driven page turners. He sees human beings as pleasure-centric and believes that because of the greater likelihood of finding rare words in children’s books, reading narrows the word gap from the 10,000 words or so we use in conversation and the broader vocabulary that we don’t.

Beyond the Pale

Maud’s posted a great little ditty on pallor. But I must assure Ms. Newton that she don’t have jack on my albino ass. For years, I was terrified of wearing shorts. I wore T-shirts to apartment complex swimming pools, and I resented the fact that, no matter how powerful the sunblock, I’d return home with ruddy, blistered flesh. Beyond this brutal reddening, I was hopelessly etiolated.

P.E. was always the toughest period to get through. Beyond my scrawny, clumsy self being among the last selected when softball or basketball teams were established on brutal Lamarckian terms, I was subjected to merciless ridicule about my skin that all seems quite silly now. I was terrified of changing out of the school-sanctioned T-shirt and shorts, back into my regular threads. And no matter how silent I remained, the jocks and their jocose acolytes berated me without letup. I was called ghost, freaky, whitey, paleface.

The turning point came, oddly enough, with the Goth movement. I was never into Peter Murphy or those other silly, angst-ridden singers. But the Goth girls would come up to me and say, “You are so Goth.” At first, I thought they were referring to a towering spire that had somehow affixed itself to my back. But it soon became apparent to me that these young vixens, with their colored hair, tenebrous deportment, and passionate piercings, intended to compliment me.

When I moved to the City, the weather certainly worked to my advantage. But since the unspoken policy here was to accept everyone, eventually I had no problems wearing shorts on rare sunny days. I had no problem at all being Mr. Paleface.

They may be honest in Brooklyn, but I’m convinced that some people aren’t meant to turn tawny. And that’s a good thing. I’m also convinced that healthy pallor is one of the most underrated attributes of beauty. Particularly in a lady.

I’ve Got the Power

Last night’s planned baking extravaganza went awry. The situation was perhaps best described by today’s Chronicle in a remarkably redundant headline: Blackout puts S.F. in the dark. Personally, I’ve always wondered if a blackout could bathe a city in light. And, last night, it did in spurts. Flashlights, headlights, candles, and small halogen lamps replaced cruddy fluorescents. There was a rustic silence in the air. Who knew that so many things turned on, locked behind multi-unit buildings and overlocked doors and Victorian facades, created such a subtle din? It was nice to walk the streets, wandering around my neighborhood, looking at my life and surroundings without clutter.

From my own building, an anemic “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” seethed from the dark newels and balustrades. But it didn’t stop hands from groping in the dark. I became unexpectedly acquainted with my neighbor’s breast, and apologized for this unique, quite accidental housewarming. The sound lost its fresh Duracell perfect pitch quite quickly. This electronic vowel wavered, crumbling with the concealed security systems. It died in the dead of morning.

Phones were denied their electric juice. I was grateful to have a charged cell phone, if only for the dim LCD display functioning as a temporary candle. Humanity’s move to cordless had sucked the life of urban telephony dry. But I did hear one pleasant sound as I walked the streets. From a window, an old-school phone rang, the stark analog bell reminding me of those pleasant chimes we had forsaken long ago. There was purity in that sound, and I missed it. But progress was irrevocable. The phone went unanswered.

While mom-and-pop corner stores locked and chained their doors, Albertson’s stayed open, evincing the mantra, “We Never Close.” A backup power generator fueled a few registers. The overhead lights flickered. People smiled and couples bought bottles of wine, preparing to drink naked beneath undulating counterpanes. I was able to use my ATM card to buy candles, but I felt like I was cheating at a board game. But I wasn’t as ungainly as one young whipper-snapper, who hoped to get his pictures developed at the one hour photo machine. At first, I thought he was joking. And so did the helpful lady behind the counter. When he responded with “Thanks for the sarcasm,” this clerk and I laughed our asses off. Some people fail to understand that human beings once lived for centuries by candlelight. Why pictures now? What pressing priority did this young man have?

Perhaps it reflected the quiet desperation in the air. With routine disrupted, I saw many people standing around, at a loss with how to expend their time. Some sat in stairwells, smoking cigarettes, drinking from bottles, talking, flashing lights at strangers, counting flowers on the wall. Some walked their dogs. Some soothed little ones. Others shined powerful rays out their windows, perched solitary on sills. What to do without the blue orbs reporting “reality?” What to say when they set their minds on silence?

Predictably, the bars were packed. Dipsomaniacs forewent their whiskey-and-cokes and downed straight Jack. Aside from the attached and the hard-line alkies, there weren’t a lot of women. The shuffling shadows kept them indoors, wondering when the power would be restored.

Eventually, I headed home. When I woke up at the crack of dawn, I heard my computer humming. The monsters weren’t due on Maple Street, but I sure as hell missed the silence.

Who the Hell is Emeril?

While trying to score some bakeware this afternoon, I ran smack dab into a huge display that read “Emeril.” Physically, I was unharmed. Emotionally, however, I was quite devastated. “Emeril,” you see, was photographed with his arms outstretched on the various boxes. I did a quick search on the Internet and found the following photos:

emeril2.jpgemeril1.jpgemeril3.jpg

There doesn’t appear to be a single photograph of this man with his arms close to his body.

Can someone tell me who this Emeril guy is? I don’t have cable television. I’m completely in the dark about his show. But what I do know is that it’s morally wrong to photograph a chef as if he just dismounted from a high beam. It does not, shall we say, inspire others to have fun in the kitchen.

To be perfectly frank, I’m alarmed by this man. His arms are so long that I wonder if they’re mechanical enhancements. While one can look into Emeril’s face and see that he’s just a giddy, harmless bastard, what of the moral costs?

All I needed was an extra baking sheet. Instead, the Emeril display had me sobbing like an infant.

Bad Santa

Like everyone, the Muthafu’in Holidays have kept me so perplexed that I’m dropping key letters from colorful adjectives and creating nonsense. Expect something coherent again on Monday. In the meantime, why not try some of the many fine establishments on the left?

___________ of the ___________

Well, now that I’ve seen It (It being a high-profile film release that will make many people rich this week alone), I must confess that I’m a bit disappointed. Not outright hostile towards the film, not hating it, but decidedly underwhelmed and, if it can be believed, even more ill-disposed towards the source material than I was before. The last twenty minutes of It featured more anticlimaxes than I had seen in five years of summer blockbusters. Even the effects played out like cut scenes from a crudely rendered computer game. (Here’s a tip to the boys in the editing room: When you cut directly from an overhead shot that is clearly computer-generated to a medium angle that involves real people on real horses, it sort of hinders the illusion. Also, things like rain and night, and actual build-up, help disguise visual blunders and work to your advantage, as they did so well in the Helm’s Deep battle from the last film.)

Loved the trolls, loved Howard Shore’s score (Wagner-like, the best of the three), loved the opening Smeagl-Deagol moment (and nearly every moment with Gollum). But the problem with It is utterly clear: These characters have no flaws. They are not nasty or mischevious in any way, unless frat boy nips in the weed count as intelligent behavior. (Even Indiana Jones was sardonic enough to blow away a swordsman with a gun. Even Superman sacrificed his powers for the woman he loved. Even John McClane had to pick out shards of glass from his feet. Even Luke Skywalker confronted his father to clear up a complicated domestic situation. You see where I’m going with this?) They are people wandering around a beautiful landscape, getting involved with battles, and there is every assurance that they will come back from the wars unscathed. Despite the fact that everyone else around them has been flung about by elephant-looking things.

Amused? On some basic adolescent level, yes. Will I see it again? Maybe the Extended Edition. But ultimately I’ve now come to terms with the sad reality that character no longer means a thing in an action movie. And that’s a pity.

On a somewhat related note, Tom has some thoughts on moviegoing. I must say that one of the best moviegoing experiences I ever had was seeing Rear Window at the Castro. Despite the fact that nearly everyone there had seen the movie, they remained on the edge of their seats. The oohs and aahs of Hitchcock’s suspense rippled through the crowd like magic. Years later, the film had lost none of its power to thrill.