Friday, July 27, 2007

The Weight of Blue

We’ve been driving for four hours in a straight line across the Prairies. Soon, we’ll hit the one curve that detours around Medicine Hat and then there will be another four hours staring into the horizon as we listen to some plummy-voiced Brit actor read Jane Austen on the audio-book which replaced the unending stream of country music filling every radio channel.

The sky is vast. A deep blue that surrounds us, made more overwhelming because the top of the battered convertible is down (and, when it rains tomorrow, will only come back up with the muscular help of five other people). We’re at the edge of the Badlands and the weird, bounding leaps of white-assed pronghorn deer keep making my head swivel. The landscape is slightly rounded; what the glaciers didn’t grind flat, the wind has worn down. After four hours of this, I am road-stoned. Stunned into submission by the sky, my mind drifts. I feel the weight of the blue.

It strikes me as strange that we are 3000 feet above sea-level (water boils at just a little below 212 F, here). And this thought of the sea, and the endless blue above and around, remind me that we are driving along what was once the floor of an ocean. 70 million years ago my companion and I would have been crushed below the weight of water. As I stare up, the blue above me is deeper, filled with the ghosts of strange life; 60-70 foot cousins of the Great White might not even have found us big enough to be tempting snacks (although that’s probably too hopeful a thought). But the giant, long-necked plesiosaurs definitely would have deemed us worthy of being on the menu. There would have been clams, 8 or 9 feet across, and other marvels that I can’t even begin to imagine. I’m reminded of the moment when, as a child, I realized the true height of a tyranosaurus as I counted off three floors at the Montego Bay Holiday Inn Hotel where my parents worked. “That’s big,” I thought, immersed in wonder that anything so large had ever walked on land.

The sea was different and, to this day, some part of me still believes that that 70 foot long megalodons might yet hungrily swim through the depths. Out on the ocean, past the 10 mile line, the land is gone and the curve of the world is visible, and the sea has a blue-black colour that speaks of unimaginable depths. A whole world lies beneath the shifting skin upon which we float. Back in the car, I shift my gaze to the dashboard. I never did feel comfortable swimming past the reefs.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

This Week's Headlines

LinLo Lays Low, Phony Felony Flakes Fake Family Feud

Rehab's never been this fun. What gives? I'm just barely old enough to remember when rehabilitation meant a self-imposed (more or less) prison that makes the "Chained To The Radiator" scene in Black Snake Moan look like a 3-day weekend with the Olsen Twins at a Malibu beach house.

Why have these rehab centers in nice places? Put one in The Ninth Ward. "Okay, here's your trailer and here's a hammer. Go rebuild that dude's oyster shack. After that there's some latrine's that need a'cleanin'. Chop chop."

Clearly, total and complete blame can be confidently laid at the feet of Dina and Mike, her "parents". You'd probably be snorting Mongo Black Tar Heroin off the Tengu ladies room floor if you'd been raised by a creepy hothead with management anger problems and an even creepier airhead driven to destroy every last one of her kids with anger abandonment.

I'd hate to see Lindsay go the Brit Brit route, i.e, from "cash cow" to just, well, "cow". Still, to be fair, Brit had a huge headstart in that department.

Still, my favorite line from this whole fiasco is, "Uh... That's not my cocaine." Which is perfectly understandable considering all the times folks caught with blow by the cops, when asked, "Is this your cocaine?" almost invariably respond, "Yes, that cocaine is mine, now please give it back, like, yesterday, pig!"

Then Daniel Baldwin shows up on Access Hollywood as a sort of expert rehab consultant, and goes on to say that the only reason he went to rehab was not to get help but, rather, to protect himself from the media so that his career wasn't damaged. Career? Damaged? What, did they pass you over for Guy With Enlarged Prostate Reenactment Person commercial for the latest Avodart campaign again? Listen, putz: In order to damage one's career, said one must have what's called, oh, what is it, a career in the first place. You don't. Are you actually a real Baldwin?

Come on, Lohan. Grow up. Or faster than you can get horsefucked in a hottub with the DV cam rolling, you'll be doing hardcore porn just to make ends meet. (Wink!)

Justice Department Hearings Morph Into Abbot/Costello Routine

"So if I understand you correctly, Mr. Gonzales, you are now answering "yes" to a question the last time you were here you answered "no" to? Do I have that right?"
"Well, which is it? Yes or no?"
"Which time?"
"With all due respect, Mr. Gonzales, I'm having trouble taking you the least bit seriously at this point."
"Senator, I was dead for 9 months and I never missed a day of work. I just didn't have the heart to tell anyone. So, yeah, I may very well have missed a meeting or 2. Cut me some slack."
"Well, you have given a whole new meaning to the phrase 'tortured logic'. I'll give you that."
"Ha ha ha ha ha!"
"Ha haha ha ha hahaha!"
"Ha ha ha!"
[gallery] "Hahaha haha hahahaha ha!"

Hillabarribeth O'Bamwardston

Man alive. I haven't seen a cat fight this bad since Katie Couric bitchslapped her producer for removing all the little hearts above the i's and j's on the CBS News teleprompter.

Obama criticizes Hillary's support for the invasion of Iraq without having an exit strategy, while Hillary criticizes Obama for agreeing, if president, to sit down with leaders of rogue nations, while Lizzie claims her husband would be a better president for women than Hillary, while John claims that Obama's healthcare program is serious but requires mandates, while Hillary criticizes Lizzie's exploitation of her cancer to get the "sympathy vote" (okay, I made that up), while Bill stands around looking more presidential than our current president (okay, so the highlighter on my desk looks more presidential than our current president). Do I have all that right?

Come on. Elizabeth Edwards is an authentic southern woman, born and bred so. Which means any job she's ever going to have, real or imagined, is going to be, what they call down here in the deep south, a "fake job". It's one of those jobs that allows them to get out of the house for 6 and 1/2 hours, feel vindicated and needed for a bit, and then return home to throw the pork tenderloin in the oven for hubby as soon as he's done mounting the nanny in the guest bedroom.

Hillary, on the other hand, is a fake southern woman by default, but born and bred so, Chicago suburb chick through and through. Which means any job she's ever going to have, real or imagined, she's going to have to do roughly 30 to 35% better than a male colleague would do just to get noticed, and then paid roughly 15 to 20% less. (Hi, Gregor! Those stats aren't real!)

Which is a roundabout way of saying the entire issue is moot simply because this country in 2008 does not elect a black man, or a white woman, or Hillary Clinton. Period.

Opening Your Own Al Qaeda Franchise: Make Thousands A Week Working From Home

Finally: We learn that the al Qaeda operating currently in Iraq is the same as the one that was currently operating in Afghanistan. And that the al Qaeda currently operating in Pakistan is the same as the one that was currently operating in Iran. What bullshit!

Iran's al Qaeda puts paprika in their yogurt sauce and it's served on the side when you order Value Combo #4: Smoked Ram Gonads Surprise. In Pakistan there's no paprika in the sauce and they put it right on the gonads. Come on!

The Iraq one doesn't even have Value Combo #4. And the one in Afghanistan's Value Combo #4 is Fried Horse Vagina. But for the love of god, whatever you do, don't supersize it. Seriously. Hope this helps.

I think that's current events aplenty for one day. On to more substantially pressing matters: Does anyone know if tonight's Big Brother is a Head of Household competition episode? I love those. Some of those questions are really difficult! What memories those kids have!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Blogging The Debate (Drunk And Stoned)

Okay, I give up: Who was the silver-haired geezer blurting shit out to no one in particular? Is he a candidate, or did he just wander in from the street like it's open mic night at Laugh-A-Lot's in Des Moines? He was going off on Obama about $136,000 dollars in campaign funds from some shady corporation or something. He was hysterical. He brought just the right amount of surrealism and watching your grandpa listen to the radio and talking to it to the festivities. Highly reminiscent of Ross Perot's running mate, who's now dead.

I like Bill Richardson. He seems sincere, insofar as that's even possible given the circumstances.

Obama is nearly unflappable. Very quick on his feet, and a great speaker. Add the fact that he's the whitest candidate amongst all of them, and I smell an Obama/Clinton (Bill) ticket.

Even though Joe Biden is an asshole, at least he's also an arrogant dumbass who really never says anything pertinent to the questions asked. Still, being a dickhead is a full-time job, so I'm giving him the deficit of the bout.

Last night, blazing on weed, Hilary looked presidential. (Okay, me blazing, Hilary presidential.) She also looked like she was in the middle of anaphylactic shock. How much makeup does one need for high definition TV? It made me hungry for pancakes.

That old dude was hilarious! Man!

John Edwards is really hard to take seriously. There's an excellent expose in this month's Esquire. Peals back the veneer on a lot of his wooden persona. Too bad his wife's about 5 times smarter than he is.

Dennis Kucinich. How can you not love this guy? He's like this woodland creature who just stumbled out of the enchanted forest to tell people exactly what they don't want to hear, namely, the truth. He can do this, obviously, only because there's no way in hell this country elects an alien space pod-dweller from another planet in outer space president. Yet. It may have been the mary jane talking, but at one point, when the candidates were asked how they'd handle Iraq as president, he essentially said he'd end the war before he was president by getting congress to stop funding the war. Which really is the only realistic and practical reason for so-called democrats to do so. We're there for a very long time no matter the party of the '08 leader of the free world.

[Taco Bell!]

Something something something.

I liked the scary part when the snowman wanted to know how his child was going to survive the inevitable global warming catastrophe. Really brought a huge amount of perspective to an otherwise rarely mentioned topic. Then the 2 hilljack poseurs from Tennessee dropped the G-bomb, and you would've thought Anderson Cooper had ripped one right there and then what with all the uncomfortable fumbling around onstage. Which is exactly what Anderson Cooper does best, i.e., fumbling around uncomfortably onstage. And blowing celebrity interviews with his own incompetence. And writing really bad prose about New Orleans. And poor journalism. He's a veritable Renaissance Man of mediocrity.

Who's this Dodd cat? He looked afraid of all the other candidates, like they were going to gang up on him for whatever reason. (Projected paranoia on my part? You tell me.)

I thought the audience did an excellent job of clapping inappropriately at the most imperfect times. It was like they weren't sure if they were allowed to display either their displeasure or their approval without some sort of aural disclaimer. Not too loud, not too long. Like a David Cross album.

I'm forgetting someone. Hmm...

Seriously, it would be hilarious to have that crazy old dude as president. He'd get up there to do The State Of The Union Speech and just start laying into congress about the fact that it's hard to justify giving yourself a raise when your job consists almost precisely of creating laws under which you don't have to live. Dream job level shit.

Honestly, E.T. over there may as well have said, "Citizens of Planet Earth, I mean America: Man has survived hitherto because he was too ignorant to know how to realize his wishes. Now that he can realize them, he must either change them, or perish. That is all."

I'd say, after all the youtube spittle settled, it's a photo finish between Hilary and Obama, with Obama by a nose.

Finally, some pretty good questions, some pretty bad questions, some excellent questions, and some technically retarded questions. But ain't that just America right there for ya? Land of the home, free of the brave, &c., and things of that nature?

(Clooney/Depp in 2012!)

[Full disclosure: I was able to watch the debate on CNN because I was at the one that got away's loft. I left any misspellings of names, and the william carlos williams quote is from memory, so I apologize if I fucked it up.]

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Open Letter to Jacob Weisberg

It's here.

Popcorn Night

[Hope it's okay to repost this here. Y'all should know that The New Fray has become my proofreading/editing venue for this place. If I'm not mistaken, it used to be the other way around. {Hi, august!}]

When I was growing up, my dad made popcorn for his entire family every Friday and Sunday night, where "his entire family" consisted of anywhere from 7 to 2 to 17 or so (in-laws/grandkids) people at any given time. Popcorn Night wasn't for sitting around visiting with each other. No. That's what the dinner table was for. Popcorn Night was for eating popcorn and watching television as a family.

We moved around a lot because the company dad worked for transferred him on a fairly regular basis. They did this, turns out, because he was very good at what he did. I'm not surprised.

I first remember eating popcorn when I was 7. Dad would come down the stairs into the basement with a giant bowl of popcorn. I'm not exaggerating; that bowl was huge. And old. My mom's mom had used it when she canned tomatoes every Autumn, and it held at least, like, a dozen mason jars. Probably more. (Both my mom and dad had grown up on small family farms in very rural Iowa.) He'd march over to his favorite chair, which had the best view of the TV, and each of us in turn would scoop out a bowl of popping corn. Limit 2 scoops per child per night.

We'd each have one of those plastic cereal bowls that have come to be such an endearment to me when I think of him. And we were each given a Dixie cup (please tell me you remember those) for our pop (not "soda"), which was Pepsi more times than not. By the time I was 8, we were each getting our own bottle of Pepsi. My brothers and sister still give me no end of grief (you may or may not recall that I'm the youngest of 5) on account of my not having had to endure the anxiety and all-out fear of trying to make a Dixie cup of Pepsi last 3 hours. As they tell it, it might as well have been a post-1938 Jewish ghetto in Poland, trading a kernel here for a splash or 2 there. Deals were being made, fates altered, history revised, alliances crumbled. It was like an episode of Lost written by Sean O'Casey and directed by Steven Soderbergh.

When I was 10, my dad decided to take me on as an apprentice popcorn maker. Each Friday and Sunday night for several weeks, he showed me how much oil to put in the popper, a vintage Whirley Popper knockoff, meaning it was not as tall but was bigger around. I'd try to compare it to something else, but when he pulled it out from the lower cupboard, it was exactly what it was, namely, what dad used to make popcorn. You gave it no more thought than that.

He taught me when the oil was hot enough to add the corn. He let the corn sit in the hot oil for probably half a minute, then he'd place the lid with the spinning blade over it and start turning the knob, getting a feel for the kernels. He taught me to spin the blade not too fast and not too slow, but to do so with deliberation and confidence. When you could spin it no more on account of all the bursting kernels, he'd lift the whole contraption off the burner, a glorified frying pan whose contents had lifted the lid 3 inches from the pot, hold it for 3 beats, then dump the booty into the awaiting gianormous cauldron of cornness.

The Whirley was placed back on the burner, redhot at high, more oil was added, and then, at the appropriate time, more popcorn. But this time the spinning began almost immediately after the corn was added since the oil got hot much faster than the first time, and the popper got so heated up you had to rest a thumb over a pot holder to protect your spinning hand. Spin. Spin. Spin... Lift, shake dump, shake. Done.

On one of the back burners, a very small sauce pan that held a stick of butter was standing by. After the second popper was safely in the canning vat, the front popping burner was turned off. The butter was melted over the slowly cooling burner, stirred with a knife to prevent burning. At the perfect moment the newly melted stick of butter was drizzled over the popcorn, which was then generously salted, and the butter knife was used to stir up the popcorn. My first day as his apprentice, he gave me the job, since I paid such good attention during my first lesson, of bringing nature's bounty down the stairs for my awaiting (read here: "You'd think these people hadn't eaten in a week") family, who greeted me with, "Hoorays!" and other cheers, some of which might have been actually sincere.

After 3 weeks, he let me do everything, under his watchful eye of course, and he didn't say a word. I got everything right. So after 4 weeks, it was time for my first "solo flight".

Let's just say it went pretty damn well.

And then we moved. Again.

From age 7 to 10, popcorn night saw Dallas, 60 Minutes, The Wonderful World Of Disney, CBS Sunday Night At The Movies, among others. As each year went by there were fewer and fewer folks eating popcorn and watching TV on those Friday and Sunday nights. That whole dating thing and college bullshit. But I was still the Journeyman Popcorn Maker, because dad would always be the Popcorn Master. The shows on popcorn night gradually morphed into Murder She Wrote, Miami Vice, and, because dad would occasionally move a popcorn night from Fridays to Thursdays, in order to accommodate my brothers' rapidly growing social obligations, and drug habits, Hill Street Blues, Cheers, Family Ties and Night Court joined the corn cannon.

Then we moved. Again. My junior year of high school. (Having to move your junior year of high school is a whole 'nother post in and of itself, so I'll spare you the predictable teenage angst until later. You're welcome.)

By the time we moved and I was just about to turn 17, everyone was married and out of the house. And dad had been transferred far enough away from his other kids that visits were less frequent. It was just me and mom and dad. I kept to myself and purposefully didn't make many friends in order to avoid any connections. And I was so pissed at my dad for ripping me away from my friends whom I'd known for almost 6 years. Really pissed. He felt terrible about it. He really did. My mom suggested that I live with a friend back from where we moved to finish school. My dad did indeed consider it, but ultimately he thought it best that we remain together as a family. I was so pissed. He felt so bad. I knew how bad he felt, and it pissed me off even more. And I was a real shit to him.

We were still able to watch obsessively Miami Vice and Crime Story together. And maybe the occasional movie on the newfangled VCR. But none of that meant that I was no longer pissed off at him. And I passive-aggressively made him make the popcorn. Fuck that shit. I don't even want to be here and you expect me to make the popcorn? Jesus cornpopping Christ!

We lived there for just under 2 years and moved, again, after I graduated. Dad had been transferred close enough to his kids that visits were frequent. Then I went off to college.

Summers saw me back home, mostly just the three of us on popcorn night, but occasionally a brother would show up with a kid or 2. I asked dad if I could make the popcorn one Friday night soon after I'd completed my freshmen year, and he said, "Are you sure you remember how?" "Yeah, I think I got it, thanks."

Those few summers witnessed The Simpsons tear TV as we knew it a new one. I stayed in most Sundays but missed most Fridays. But more often than not dad instituted what became known as Popcorn Weekend, i.e., popcorn Friday night through Sunday night. And sometimes even on Thursday night as well! Which meant that Walker, Texas Ranger's smashing Saturday debut as a Popcorn Night staple brought the house down, literally. And don't even get me started on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

I guess my offer to make the popcorn on Sundays that summer was some sort of lame-assed apology to my dad for acting like such a dick the years before. I don't know.

And then one day, my mom came home with something called "microwave popcorn". That was the end. Gone were the days of my dad or I marching downstairs or into the living room with a massive tub of popcorn, though by this time one popper would usually do. Although on account of the dog, who was quite a genius at catching kernels, a second was often "accidentally" popped. (I swear you could give that idiotic shepherd/husky mix some Roger Clemens-level chin music, and he wouldn't miss a beat. If he'd been a hitter he would've been George Brett.) Gone were the days of carefully drizzling butter atop a white mountain of perfectly crunchy snowpuffs. Gone were the salt shaker, the small sauce pan, the knife. Microwave popcorn was pretty good. But it was immediate, or at least appeared so. In all honesty it wouldn't have taken that much longer to make it by hand. But with this new invention, you could throw it in the microwave, set it to 3:44 during a commercial break, and wait for the ding. But it just wasn't the same. Individual Pepsis in those cool bottles gave way to 2-liter plastic bottles of Dr. Pepper and 7-Up in tall glasses filled with crushed ice. Not a bad trade, really, but you can't tell me those individual bottles didn't taste better. You just can't. Add the fact that we actually started calling it by its proper name, namely, "Dr. Pepper" instead of "pop", and I don't think it's hard for anyone to imagine just how difficult this whole transition bit was going to be on each and every individual involved, popcorn-wise.

The last time I made popcorn for my dad, it was the Summer of 2000, just under 2 years before he died, suddenly and untimely at the age of 63. Orville Redenbacher Butter Flavored. Thinking back upon it, those Friday and Sunday night rituals were a constant in a confusing blur of growth, adaptation and change. A touchstone for me and my family in much the same way as Field Of Dreams suggests baseball was for America. I know, I know: Very cliche-esque, not to mention pedantic. But it was one of the few things that remained the same while all around me people were moving away and my personal scenery changed like a carousel with a thousand-mile diameter. Unending auto-evolution, and popcorn. Odd to be grounded by a snack. Unless it becomes so much more meaningful, pertinent, melancholy and beautiful the further I get from it. The care with which dad made popcorn makes me respect him for the father he was to all his kids, and the great though stoic affection he held for each of us as individuals as we matured into young men and women he could truly be proud of, in the strictest and most loving sense, insofar as the kid of a farmer can even show affection. I marvel at his sacrifice, his dedication.

If my dad's life had a thesis statement, it would be this: All my kids will go to college, and they won't have to pay for it, they won't have to have a job until the summers, and their college experience will be a perfect combination of study, athletics, and keggers. (I amended that last part. But I'm pretty sure he'd approve.)

I just wish that the night I'd made him the last popcorn I'd make for him that I would've taken the trouble to dig out that old Whirley knockoff. I take comfort knowing that my dad knew I forgave him; but I get even more solace knowing that he knew I knew there was nothing to forgive him for. As a family of 3 for all intents and purposes for those 2 years as I approached 18, I'd become closer to my parents than ever before. And I wouldn't trade 1 minute of that for an entire year away from them just to be with friends I'd forget about after my first college semester. And, finally, I get no end of maudlin-tinged peace of mind knowing that I told him exactly that while he still breathed.

If only I would've dug out that old popper. Memories aren't perfect. But for me, this one is close enough. It's been over 6 years since he died. But when the long days of summer spawn in me a desire to grow tomatoes and rake the yard, I can't help but think of him with that giant bowl of popcorn on his lap giving his color commentary on whether Walker will be able to save that one lawyer lady from her kidnappers, or something, and stuff just backs up on me a tad. But it does so in the best, healthiest sense, I think. Thanks for listening. (Note to self: Call mom tonight.)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

High in the Rockies; the SAS and Madonna

In my new province of residence, Ontario, the middle and upper classes belong to cottage culture (which is quite different in meaning than the British term “cottaging”). On Friday afternoons there is a vast exodus to these rustic lake shore retreats. Myself, I enjoy nature when it is mediated by concrete—is there anything lovelier than a dandelion’s green and cheerful yellow against a gray pavement? Every once in a while, I forget this fundamental truth about myself and go hiking.

One fine July day, a friend and I set out on a blazingly sunny morning to climb the highest pass in Banff National Park and then spend a couple of nights camped at the shore of Fish Lake. Because it was July, we hadn’t bothered with snow gear. About six hours in our foolish optimism was rewarded with a blinding snowstorm that obliterated the trail and left us with a visibility of about 3 feet. A quick look at our guidebook indicated that pressing on made more sense. It’s actually easier to go up under slippery conditions that down. This is even truer when your footwear respectively consists of a pair of Teva sandals and sneakers.

Eight hours later, in near darkness and chilled to the point of hypothermia, we stumbled out of the storm. It was surreally beautiful; the last rays of sunlight broke through towering pillars of dark cloud to illuminate a mountain meadow in full bloom. We were lost in wonder at the exquisite tableau. Which was probably why we didn’t see the porcupine until we almost stepped on it.

We managed to quickly jump to the side of the trail while the porcupine waddled by. Unfortunately, I landed in a large pile of reasonably fresh bear scat. Did I mention that I was the one wearing the sandals? We trudged grimly down until we reached Fish Lake. I washed my feet in the glacier-fed lake and then warmed them at the fire before retiring for the night. The next two days were idyllic. Small day hikes, sketching, and epic bouts of backgammon.

Late the afternoon of our final day, we returned from a languid walk to a small lake known for its plentiful fish. We looked forward to a good dinner and a quiet night under the stars. Weirdly, I could hear what sounded like a faint chorus of “Poppa Don’t Preach”. As we got closer to the campsite, Madonna became more distinct.

I don’t know what we were expecting to see, but it certainly wasn’t two dozen British soldiers in fatigues, their guns and grenades leaning against tree trunks. They were a training group learning mountain survival techniques. An essential part of the survival supplies seemed to be 26 ounces of Rye Whiskey per man. All I can say about the rest of that night is that you haven’t fully experienced life’s rich pageant until you’ve watched (cautiously and from a safe distance) a troop of drunken soldiers dancing to “Like A Virgin” while singing along at a high pitch.

We left while it was still dark, stopping a few hours later to boil some oatmeal for breakfast. The return hike was pleasant, except for the horseflies, which swarmed around our heads, landing for an occasional brutal bite. We were both relieved when we finally saw the car. In only two hours we would be freshly showered, eating pizza, and laughing over our hellish trip. This happy reverie was shattered when the car wouldn’t start. The problem was easily diagnosed when we opened the hood. The engine had been stolen. Since then, I’ve made sure that all my hiking is done within hailing distance of a taxi fleet. I’m leaving the great outdoors to the bears and the SAS.

Settlers Wanted

I’m looking for a few intrepid souls who are willing to try out blogging on a Wordpress platform at my new site.

I think you’ll find that you can do so much more with Wordpress that you’ll wonder why you ever used blogger in the first place.

As you can see here, you can easily upload your blogger posts and comments to the new platform. In fact, if you’re willing to share your blogger user name and password with me, I’ll do it for you.

Also included will be the comments links to the forum. I will be using this template to set up all of the blogs, but you can choose your own later on if you want.

So…who wants to be first?

Just email me at Give me the name of your blog and the name under which you want to write. If you include your preferred password in the email, I’ll set you up with that; otherwise, I’ll email you a randomly generated password and you can change your own later.

If you want your blogger posts moved for you, then include your user name and password for blogger, and you’ll be ready to start blogging right away.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The The Untitled JJ Abrams Project is Comming Together

See: Untitled JJ Abrams Project

I could use some help though. I need volunteers to cover various departments. Video Department. MSM Department. Blogosphere Department. Theories & Lunacy Department. Etc...

Division of labor and all that. So, step up already.

The Beastly Badgers of Basra

As if foreign troops, sectarian violence, and daily living weren't bad enough, the besieged inhabitants of Basra have something new to worry about--man-eating badgers.

This morning’s paper elicited a novel reaction. I laughed out loud at a news story out of Iraq. For once, it wasn’t the appalling list of civilian and military casualties (and isn’t that a sweet, gentle word to describe maimed bodies and bloody flesh?). The headline news reported that residents claim that giant man-eating badgers are terrorizing the Iraqi city of Basra. Inevitably, the occupying British forces are held responsible for the mutant beasts—farmers around the Karmat Ali area air base believe that the English released them into the country side. (They’re lucky, if they are right the English are being relatively mild, compared to the smallpox infested blankets that they used to get rid of 90% of Vancouver Island’s First Nations population 200 hundred years ago). Despite the reassurances by a local veterinarian that these are actually indigenous animals who typically weigh in at about 35 lbs, residents live in fear that the badgers will attack them in the night.

In a way, they are right about the British. The sudden increase in the badger population that has raised their visibility and predation is because the new government of Iraq has been restoring a vast marshland, which had been dammed (or, perhaps, damned) by Saddam Hussein as a means to rid himself of some rebellious tribes. As the wetlands are restored, the badgers, which had expanded over the last few decades into this new territory, are forced into the adjoining countryside of Basra. So it is legitimate to assign at least part of the blame to the bloody English.

I assume that, if I were unfortunate enough to live in Basra, dwelling on killer badgers would make a pleasant change from worrying about heavily armed sectarians determining that I subscribed to the wrong belief system or US allied troops deciding that I was an enemy. A new urban-folk myth might be the kind of marvel one discusses with neighbours and friends over coffee, almost a return to normalcy, rather than the daily, drearily sad horror that is life in occupied Iraq (and which will probably be even worse once coalition forces have withdrawn). In the end, it seems that my laughter was, after all, misplaced.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I See a Red Door and I Want to Paint it Black

Relax. I'm not suggesting Charcoal as the final color theme for the forums. But I did want a dramatic contrast from the original color set.

This is a democracy, isn't it?
I also want to throw open the color design to all members. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to bend your considerable collective skills to the task of proposing color themes for nuponuq (and eventually for "The Arena", or whatever it ultimately becomes). Do so by commenting on this article with your suggestions (more on how to do this below!). I'll take your suggested color themes and apply a new one every day or so for the enjoyment (and commentary) of the community. After a while we'll vote for our favorites and select a winner (Note: Schad will ultimately have veto power if he wants it).

How the hell do I create a color theme?
Many of you no doubt recall Ender's eye-searing foray into forum colorization a few weeks ago. If you were paying attention the next day, you may have seen my own attempts as well. The problem we were grappling with was the rather poor interface that the forum software has for managing colors. There's no effective way to preview color choice and so the only option we had was to pick colors that seemed like they might play well together and slam them into place in the live site. Chaos. For that reason I created a simple preview tool to dry run color themes. You can find the tool here:

nuponuq color tool

You can play around with color combinations and see how they will work together in the forum. When you have a theme you like, simply copy the color values and paste them into a forum comment. That's all there is to it!

So let's get cracking!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Jerry Potter And The Border Of Phoenix, A Movie Review

Name: Jerry Potter
Occupation: warlock, purveyor of religious relics, epistemological plumber
Assignment: Find out why, when China’s food chain is compromised, the director of their FDA gets his head chopped off, while in America, when our food chain gets compromised, the director of our FDA gets ahead of everyone else in line to announce that there’s a slight “problem” in the kitchen, metaphorically, and then reassigned to lobby for freer trade with China; and to get that one magician guy -- the other one, the one with the green pointy hat; and capture and/or kill all illegal immigrants

Good luck, Jerry! You’re going to need it.

With installment 119 in the Jerry Potter franchise hot off the presses even as we speak with author/writer/warlock herself J.R.R.K. Rowlkein’s ink not even dry yet, Jerry Potter And The Border Of Phoenix “soars” into theaters faster than you can turn a frog into an eagle and water into apple juice, or sneak across the Rio Grande with nothing but the shirt on your back, which, it turns out, is stuffed with cannabis, cocoa leaves, bubonic plague and a secret alien space zombie disease that turns everyone’s skin darker, leaving audiences breathless for that movie “magic” that will have you “cursing” that you’ve already read the book 3 times and don’t recognize any of the characters because there’s no possible way in hell any team of screenwriters no matter what can rise to the level of manic and crazed “Pottermania” surrounding these books that “Potterheads” torture all those around them with, chortling gaily. Guilty as charged!

But that won’t stop this filmmaking “wizardry”!

Everybody’s back, kids. And I do mean everybody. Including even those not killed off yet in the finale. Even Jerry himself, who gets hit by a runaway garbage truck 113 pages into the last book. !!!SPOILER ALERT!!!.

Re-reprising their roles are Danny Ratclift (Jerry Potter And The Giblet Of Corn, Jerry Potter And The Sunshine Of Your Love, Jerry Potter And The Tomb Of The Unknown Sailor, Jerry Potter Versus Frankenstein), Ralph von Williams-Fine (Jerry Potter And The Gauntlet Of Fear, English Patience, Made In New York, Seems All I Do Is Garden Any More, Full House [Episode 155: “Could This Be Any Not Funnier” {pharmacist #2}], Schindler’s Liszt), Jackie Gleeson (Jerry Potter And The Goblin In The Foyer, Troy Boy Toy, Code: Mountain!, Artificially Intelligent, 28 Days Later In Rehab), George Harrison (Black Guy Down, the steamer captain in Dr. Jones And The Ark Of The Convent), Gary Oldham (Batman Starts In, Element # 5, An Air Force Of One, Hi I’m Beethoven), David Threwlist (Jerry Potter And The Presenter Of Afghanistan, Omen 4: The Remaking, Basic Instinct Too, A Whole New World, Kingdom Haven, All My Invisible Children), Margaret Smith (Jerry Potter And The Mob Let Us Drive Her, Divided Secrets Of The Yo Yo Sisters Thing, God’s Ford Parked, Clash Of The Titanic [face/voice of giant stone head laying/talking on temple floor]), Emmy Watsin (Jerry Potter And The Chamber Of Sucrets, Who’s The Boss [Episode 190: “Allissa Milano Will End Up Doing Softcore”{ Sam’s British exchange student friend/meth addict}]), Isaac Jameson (Jerry Potter And The Hobbit Seer, Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” video [Faust]), Mike Zamboni (Jerry Potter And Something Something, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church), Allen Richman (Jerry Potter And The Printer At AskMen, Die Hard 1, Pride And Sensibilities), Irma Thomson [note: Okay, what fucking limey isn’t in this goddamn movie? Whatever!] (Jerry Potter And The Pilsner Of Allentown, Stronger Than Friction, The Day Remains The Same, Nothing Much To Do About), Ellen John-Bonham-Carter (That’s One Big Fish There!, Fight Clubbing, Room With A View And WiFi, Hollywood Squares [the coveted lower left corner, no less]), and John Coltrane (Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire [… uhh…], The 12 Oceans, Never Say The World Is Never Enough Again, Finder Of Lost Loves [Episode 17: “My High School Sweetheart Of 10 Years Ago Is A Pool Boy Now? What A Loser!” {Dr. Juan Xavier Manolta}]) as, respectively, Jerry Potter, Lord Valdamont, Alisdair Cooke, King Shacklebot, Sirius Blacky, Rufus Leamin, Merlina McDoogle, Hormone Grainger, Luscious Malroy, Albert Drimbledon, Chevron Shares, Cybil Treelooney, Battleaxe Lestat, and Rubin Haygood.

Add the fact that there’s even some classic footage of Lawrence Olivia and Burton Richards in there, and you can pretty much assume that the BBC was practically shut down in its entirety for about 9 months and counting. But this isn’t your father’s sorcerer’s apprentice!

“Hold on there, Pedro. I’m going to need to see that green card of yours before I pack 78 of you in the back of my 18-wheeler like wholesale nursery shrubs, because if you can’t make a profit in the peddling of human flesh and bones, you’re not selling the right rat race, literally.”

It’s spictacular!

And that’s when it happens. Amnesty. And before you can clean a hotel room from top to bottom and throw together a plate of Kung Pow Chicken at your favorite local Chinese restaurant, every last job not even a black person in the south would do is scooped up by the little brown devils, and our economy hums right along with the needs of the market, as it should be. Still, I think we’re gonna need a taller fence. Or, you know, a fence.

But I wouldn’t want to give away too many secrets!

Folks, in these times of racial stress and social classifying, we don’t want movies like Jerry Potter And The Border Of Phoenix. We need movies like Jerry Potter And The Border Of Phoenix, if for no other reason than I’d stock up on my vacuum cleaners, day-after pills and coat hangers, ladies. Because if Scalia keeps pounding on Roberts to precedent-ize Roe v. Wade, Tony’s going to be telling you just exactly what you can and cannot do with your own bodies. Because if the ACLU is so busy defending The Bill Of Rights, who’s defending The Constitution? Think about it.

Give me a break. It’s only hate speech if you’re not doing it right.

Whose body is it, anyway—when you’re on welfare?

Some years back, the governments of Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Georgia floated the idea that women on welfare should be denied benefits unless they agreed to contraceptive implants. There was the usual flurry of polarized for or against articles and speeches, mostly grounded in either feminist or right-wing ideology. I am a radical feminist (by Webster’s primary definition of each word) who came down on the side of enforced contraception. This was not a popular position within most of my social circle (I believe the term Anti-Christ may have been bandied about).

If, for whatever reason, a person goes on welfare, he or she gives over the responsibility of caring for their basic needs to another. The last time most of us were in that position, we were children. It is pretty commonly agreed (in wealthier societies that have the luxury of not needing children as economic resources) that adolescents should not become parents. The practical reason behind this is that children are dependant on their parents, and lack the financial and emotional resources to effectively care for offspring (if anyone reading this article is the happy parent of a thirteen-year-old mother or father, I can only assume that drugs or a fundamentalist sect form your worldview).

When on welfare, you involuntarily surrender some of your status as an adult. You’ve declared to society, “I can’t provide for myself; please feed me and house me.” The government becomes the de facto parent of the welfare recipient, albeit the kind whose neglect would probably lose the kids to foster care. Society provides some form of food and housing, no matter how grudgingly, by sharing the products of other’s labour. It’s the upside of taxation—at least if you are a knee-jerk left-leaner like me. While I’m happy to make sure that you don’t starve or freeze to death, I don’t want you bringing new lives into the world that I am also expected to pay for, because my taxes are already high enough—I enjoy my Starbucks’ habit and frivolous spending on unnecessary décor items.

Because of my selfishness, I’m in absolute agreement with the idea that if a woman applies for welfare it is fair to require that she be given a contraceptive implant for the duration of her time on social assistance. Just to be equally offensive to both genders, I think men wanting welfare should also have to use hormone implants or sperm duct plugs, as they are patently unable to support any offspring they father during this period.

This is not a misogynistic or anti-poverty position. It is a fair, economic practicality. Some of the aforementioned state governments also decided that they would deny financial support to any children that were born while a woman was on social assistance. Now that IS child abuse, coming from legislators who, even if they have the heart of a pre-visitation Scrooge, should be able to see the long-term medical and jail costs of malnourished, uneducated, uncared-for children. In fact, along with mandatory contraception, I’d also like to see a major increase in the funding that goes towards health, nutritional support, and education for children within the welfare system.

To those who scream that it is a human right to bear children, I ask, why? Simply because we can, biologically? Most of us have the physical strength to overpower and kill a child—does that mean we have the right to do so? Of course not. Do men have the right to rape women, simply because most of them are stronger than their victims? No. As one feminist slogan says, “Biology is not destiny.”

(For a well-reasoned, practical argument against my position, visit

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Open Letter

One of what I hope will be a series, in homage to my favorite defunct website.

Dear Rilke,

The city is prodigious with smell: vomited Cosmopolitans, rotting heads of lettuce, yoga mats saturated with sweat, bums as pungent as overripe papaya. In summer, New York is a medieval city, the air fat. The back door to every restaurant reeks like a slaughterhouse, every inhale filled with exhaust, stale popcorn, pollen, the drippings from air conditioners. Puddles breed new odors; I stepped in one and smelled the petrol and urine long before I heard the damp thwack of my sandal hitting the sole of my foot. I found relief at an opened fire plug.

People cannot walk quickly through this stench; they trudge like wet cats, the wealthy no better protected than the poor. Some try to mask themselves with perfumes, adding to the onorous cacophony. If the wind blows, one might find respite near the river, an instant of mint or jasmine or strawberry tucked within the sewage and the tugboats. Or in the trees of Central Park, the cruisers and the tourists are treated to a hint of mud and reeds.

How strange then, yesterday, to find a woman staring at a statue of an Italian patriot. Not a Rodin, not the kind of statue that might demand a new kind of being, just a casting of patriotic heaviness. At first I thought she was pilgrim, but she was exhausted. The oversized Italian cast a smell-shadow, a narrow avenue of neutral bronze. I laughed at that, and also at the makeshift bicycles rigged together for anybody who wanted a ride in the hopes of outpedaling the odor.

The heat wakes people up at dawn. They fix ice coffees and congregate on the sidewalks, waiting for the store to open. For my part, my scratchy caffeine throat makes me feel like a prophet with no audience, and I don't have a beach to shout on, and I don't believe in angels, nor do I care if they hear me. Nothing to do but write. You always insisted the dead were no more dead than the living -- why not write letters? My grandfather scribbled his epistles on saved junk mail -- it's all I have of him, the marked up ephemera -- so however dead you or he may be, why not write.


Monday, July 09, 2007


The media's tendency to "sound bite" complex topics does a disservice to subjects and audiences, and hinders understanding of others.

I'm going to start this with an admission. This was remarkably difficult for me to write. Not because there was some deep emotional content for me, or an ambivalence about the subject matter, but because I just couldn't make the words I put on the page march in the formation that I wanted them to. So I'm going to abandon any attempt at eloquence or the art of the essayist, and simply cut to the chase. Let me know how I've done.

Today's Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a story dealing with the dead-end investigation into the shooting death of Tajahnique Lee, killed when a stray bullet struck her in the face. Despite the fact that she seems to have been in a small crowd of approximately a score of her neighbors, everyone claims to have seen nothing that would help law enforcement secure a conviction, and so the case faltered, and two gang members who were arrested in connection with the shooting were eventually released. While the words "Stop snitching" never appear in the piece, which was reprinted from the New York Times, judging from the P-I's URL for the story,, it seems that it was on someone's mind. I come to this conclusion because we don't routinely refer to everyday witnesses to crimes as "snitches" if they give statements to the police, or testify in court. We call them, well, "witnesses." So seeing "snitch" in the URL stood out for me, and prompted me thinking.

The Stop snitching campaign is a complex social phenomenon within the black community; supporters, researchers and detractors alike all list a number of reasons that are given for people to refuse to cooperate with the police, even if they themselves are the victims of a crime. Some are reminiscent of Omertà, the south Italian idea that it is contemptible to rely on or work with the authorities. Others are pragmatic - why risk yourself by crossing people who are perfectly willing to murder you if you do, if you have no protection? Some are tied up in what is essentially a call for official accountability - don't testify against your own people until the police and other authorities are willing to do the same. There's even the idea that it refers solely to the more common understanding of snitching, where criminals or suspects point the finger at others to get better deals for themselves.

And like many complex ideas, the Stop snitching campaign runs the risk of being boiled down to a single, easy to digest concept, providing a convenient rationale for any instance of potential witnesses to crimes in black neighborhoods declining to speak out or cooperate with authorities when black perpetrators are involved. Outside of the potential to create or perpetuate negative stereotypes, the overbroad application of Stop snitching tends to reinforce the idea that disparate minority communities are parts of singular monocultures, thinking and acting in lockstep from coast to coast; with individual leaders that all members follow, and universal concepts and attitudes that everyone subscribes to.

Given the number of people whose only frame of reference for people of other communities is the media establishment, it's imperative that the news media, which is intended to deal in facts, not allow itself to become sloppy in this manner. If a democracy (or republic, or what have you) really relies on an informed populace for its survival, it's a matter of national survival. But hysterics aside, it's a necessity for unity. Portraying entire groups of people as monolithic "others" isn't the least bit helpful in building the sort of single national community that makes a nation durable. That's something that we've never had in this nation, and when you look at the longevity of more unified cultures and nations, it's hard to deny that it comes in handy.


Congrats on building a quack-free site.

Although, maybe broken?

Break Fast At Wimbledon

I’ll admit it: I love watching golf on TV. There’s something very calming and therapeutic about it. Add the fact that this is the time of year when the mercury reads 98 degrees regularly and the humidity approaches sauna levels, and you can imagine that I’m driven inside from my yard work to avoid another heat stroke and cool down with m’boy Tiger to watch him almost not choke again. (Those of you sweltering in the southwest, fuck off. It’s so not a dry heat here.)

But what I love even more than watching golf on TV on the weekends is watching the U.S. Open and, 2 weeks or so before, Wimbledon.

I set my alarm for 7:30 a.m. CST, since The Men’s Final started at around 8. (Didn’t need it; woke up at 6:45 for whatever reason.) Watched the entire first set. Missed much of the 2nd. (Picking tomatoes; they’re the best I’ve ever grown to date, by the way.) And watched every point thereafter.

I’ve gotta say that that’s the best tennis match I’ve ever seen. And I’ve watched a lot of tennis over the years. I have memories, some vivid, some not so much, of McEnroe (anger management when anger management wasn’t cool), Borg (he was there to witness in person someone tie his own Wimbledon record, presumably not drunk [we’re pulling for ya, BB!]), Connors (everybody’s favorite southpaw with a serve that could shuck corn), Becker (everybody’s favorite lovable non-Nazi), Lendl (Belgium is real!?), Agassi (all that wonderful 80’s hair – where did it all go!?), Sampras (everybody’s favorite very hairy guy with a serve that could toast bangs). The list goes on.

I’ve tried to follow Andy Roddick’s career, and I invariably cheer for him. But you’re gonna have to bring more to the tennis table than a 200 mile-an-hour serve and a Mandy Moore breakup. Gasquet owned your ass, and you were, what was it, 12 points from beating him to face Roger? Man. Phil Mickelson called. He wants his MO back.

It was clearly Roger Federer’s to lose, at which he was succeeding admirably. He couldn’t hold his serve. His winners got jammed back into his body like they were lobs. And his backhand, almost as feared as his forehand, kept missing the mark.

He doesn’t trust the new “eye in the sky” thingie that the U.S. Open introduced last year (I think) which Wimbledon used this year, where a player gets 3 challenges per set and 1 per tie breaker. Apparently it’s right 90% of the time, which means it’s wrong 10% of the time, to a +/- of 3 millimeters.

It happened in the 5th set. He started losing his cool. Roger Federer doesn’t play 5 sets. And he doesn’t lose his cool. He simply doesn’t. He doesn’t make much noise at all during a match. The last time Roger Federer lost his cool and played 5 sets, America was still a representative democracy, and damn proud of it.

Well, he’d had it. Frustrated with the technology almost as much as he was with his own game, he blew his stack, got pissed off, and screamed the primal scream residing deep within every athlete after bashing one perfectly down the line. Nadal didn’t have a chance after that.

Federer channeled his anger at himself into the last 4 games of the 5th set, ultimately breaking Nadal’s serve for the win.

The best tennis match I’ve ever seen.

Also, John McEnroe is a great commentator precisely because he’s unapologetic, direct, honest, and because he’s right even more than the “eye in the sky” thingie is. I love it. Now all I have to do is wait a few weeks and catch up with m’boys (and m’ladies!) in New York. It’s tennis-rific!

How I became an American--Sort Of

One of the joy’s of living in Canada is our health care system—depending on the province and your level of income it ranges from free to about $700 per year. It’s not perfect but, when one considers that the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in America is health care costs, the Canadian system is a fine and happy thing to belong to, because that little, throw-away statistic on bankruptcy can’t even begin to convey the horror of suffering from a major illness and knowing that you are the cause of your family losing their home and every other asset you’ve built up during your life-time. I can’t see it helping with the healing process, either.

The Canadian health care system is legally guaranteed by the federal government, but is administered by each province. So I found myself in a bit of a catch-22 recently when I fell into a mad love affair that ended, at least according to Oscar Wilde, badly(we got married). My husband and I conducted our courtship over a separation of almost 2000 miles. This was wildly romantic and very good for our national airline’s share prices, but the time came when one of us had to move. For a variety of reasons, it was me.

Just prior to the move, a thief’s deft fingers liberated my wallet. It was the second time in seven years that I had fallen victim to one of the pickpockets who ply their trade on Vancouver’s crowded city buses. I cancelled my credit cards, notified my bank to be on the lookout for any strange transactions, and then set about the process of getting my i.d. replaced. My passport had recently expired. I don’t have a driver’s license. I wasn’t born in Canada. The very first piece of i.d. I needed to acquire, before I could get anything else, was a Canadian Citizenship card. For some reason, it takes six to nine months to get this card. You might think this is because of renewed security efforts since 9/11. You’d be wrong. When I went through the process last time, it took just as long. The office is in a small city in the Maritimes. I can only imagine that it consists of a sleepy little bureau where half a dozen officials slowly make their way through the paper piles. This delay was to become a major problem.

After three months, my health care number from B.C. was no longer valid, but, because of my lack of identification, I could not apply for an Ontario number. My expired passport was not considered sufficient proof of identity. In vain, I tried arguing that the fact that the government of Canada had just a few years earlier considered me to be myself, and a Canadian citizen to boot, should be enough confirmation of identity to have a health care number issued. The officials were sympathetic but unable to help. And so, there I was, a few months after a major operation, without any health care. Which is how I became an American–sort of.

For that entire period, I lived in terror of any unexplained pain in my body. When the winter arrived and I routinely walked on icy sidewalks for the first time in over 25 years, I moved with the slow care of a brittle woman in her 90’s. I could not afford a broken bone. A bad cold turned into a bronchial infection that I suffered through, praying with each wheezing, painful breath that I wouldn’t develop pneumonia. I chose not to skate on the canal (a seven-mile long ice rink), because my innate clumsiness almost certainly guaranteed at least one good fall and I couldn’t risk a sprained wrist or concussion (both of which injuries my next door neighbour sustained an afternoon skate with her son).

It was the first time in my life that I didn’t have the comforting, background knowledge that, no matter what my financial situation, I could walk into my doctor’s office and be treated without having to choose between my health and the rent. I spent the next five months thinking often of my neighbours to the South. The comments in letters from friends about being stuck in a job they hate because they’ve developed illnesses that will prevent them from getting health insurance if they switch jobs and, hence, their insurance company, suddenly make sense on a visceral level. The spouses that stayed together long after the relationship ended, simply so that they didn’t lose access to health care. The man who risked jail for insurance fraud by giving his health insurance number to his brother after a fall from a ladder that broke his sibling’s back. And the hospitals that operate to make a profit. There is something vile about the idea that a place of healing exists to make money for shareholders; as a corporation, its primary duty is NOT to the patient, but to the shareholder.

There is plenty of room for improvement in Canada’s health care system. But there is also much to be thankful for. And, next winter, I have every intention of lacing up a pair of rented skates and making my faltering way out onto the ice, secure in the knowledge that I can, if not exactly enjoy it, at least afford a broken bone.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

New Forum Feature - Inline Login

This is really of interest only to those of you with blogs feeding comments to the nuponuq forum. Currently most such blogs display both a Login and Register link (and occasionally some prompt text asserting something like "You must login to post in the forum").

Inline login allows the comment posting code (Post New Message) to detect when the user is not logged in and redirect the user to the login page. After login is finished, the code remembers that a comment post was being attempted and redirects once again to continue the process.

This means you can remove the Login link and prompt (and probably the Register link as well since registration is possible from the login page; note, however, that since registration involves sending an email with temporary password, the comment process doesn't continue if the user has to register).

So clean up your blog articles today!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Dead News

Where do old news stories go to die?

"Whatever happened to 'Bumvertising'?" I wondered. For those of you who have no idea of what I'm talking about, a Seattle businessman hit on the idea of giving panhandlers one of his signs to hold, along with their own. For this, he hands over a free lunch, and between one and five dollars. The story (and the resulting teapot tempest that masqueraded as a controversy) first broke in 2005 on the national news cycle (ABC, the Daily Show, and others picked it up and ran with it), and there hasn't been much about it since then.

So much of our news a flash in the pan these days that there are all sorts of stories like this wandering the back woods of the Internet. Like the story out of Canada that nearly every pedophile that the Toronto police nabbed between 2001 and 2005 was "a hardcore Trekkie." Now you see it, now you don't. Where do they go? Every so often, you come across an interesting story, and then can go back a few months later and get the newest update. But many of them fade in perpetual obscurity as the latest Lindsay Lohan meltdown or wannabe terrorist plot grabs the headlines by the neck.

I can see this trackless graveyard, littered with the tombstones of old stories that seemed to fade away before coming to a satisfactory conclusion. Occasionally I wander through there, drawn by something that caught my interest years ago, before being filed away in Limbo. One of these days, maybe I'll stumble across another mourner, and I'll ask them who, if anyone, cares for all of the lonely graves.

Sandbag Shuffle

Sandbag Shuffle.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Book Review--Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon

In the hottest part of the summer of 1985, the future Mrs. Archaeopteryx and I loaded our camping gear into my ’78 Ford Fairmont (no air conditioning) and drove to the Grand Canyon on a journey that would have made Chevy Chase proud. The trip included a busted alternator, a night spent in the parking lot of the high school in Checotah, Oklahoma, an encounter with a friendly but incompetent police officer, a trip to the auto repair shop at Grand Canyon National Park, and finally a hike to Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the Canyon, where I got in an argument with an snippy ranger named Lorne.

The hike to the bottom of the Canyon, a nine-mile walk, took 11 hours. By the time we reached a shade-free series of switchbacks suggestively named “The Devil’s Corkscrew,” temperatures had reached 100 degrees. Like many first-time hikers in the canyon, we didn’t carry enough water or food. By the time we made it to the last part of the hike—two miles or so of thick sand alongside the Colorado River—we were completely exhausted and near heatstroke. We collapsed into a cool creek near the campground, then set up our tent. We slept fitfully in the heat—thanks, Lorne—then got up about 4 a.m. to begin the return hike. The hike up the canyon wall took only eight hours. Because we started earlier, we avoided much of the heat, but each step we took came with increased altitude, and as we neared the top, we had to stop every 100 yards or so to catch our breath. We were unprepared for the heat and altitude of the Grand Canyon, and it was a wonder we didn’t have to be evacuated out by the National Park Service.

Last month I accompanied a group of students to the Grand Canyon. While shopping in the bookstore at the North Rim, I happened across a book titled Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon. I flipped through the pages, and was hooked. The book is a discussion of every recorded death that has occurred in and around the Canyon since Americans began visiting in the 1800s. There are lists of every careless slip, every fall from a rubber raft, every heat-assisted heart attack, and every forlorn leap from a mile-high ledge. The book includes chapters on falls, heatstroke, flash floods, rafting accidents, plane crashes, freak accidents, suicide, and murder.

Here is the story of a priest who led two teenaged boys into the crazy heat of the canyon, and fell to his death; one of his charges died of heatstroke, but the second boy miraculously survived. A few pages later is the story of United Flight 718, which strayed a bit from its flight plan so its passengers could have a better view of the canyon; unfortunately, the pilot of TWA Flight 2 had the same idea at the same time. All 128 people aboard both planes died, and it took many days of dangerous canyon-climbing to retrieve their remains. One cocky fellow, admonished by his son to be careful, told him “you have to take some chances in this life,” then stepped into an unsupported snow bank and fell 500 feet to his death. Three members of the first expedition of John Wesley Powell—the one-armed explorer who first mapped the Canyon—split off from the group, and climbed the canyon walls, only to be met and murdered by Mormon settlers.

It becomes clear early into the book that the main killer of visitors to the Grand Canyon is stupidity. This fact was not lost on me as I recalled the hike that my wife and I made 22 years ago. Our story was very much like that of many of the victims recounted in the book—we were stupid, but unlike the folks in the book, we were lucky. Hikers in the canyon underestimate the effects of heat. They wander off maintained trails. They ignore posted signs warning of the vicious currents in the Colorado River. Tourists climb over guardrails, and roughhouse on the edge of a 5,000-foot deep abyss. River rafters fail to properly scout rapids, or ride through whitewater without life vests. The canyon is not forgiving of carelessness.

The authors—Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas Myers—are experienced river runners and hikers who ostensibly use the stories in the book to analyze the fatalities for common threads. They claim to be—and try to be—respectful of those who have died, but occasionally it becomes difficult for them to hide their astonishment at people who skip along retaining walls before plunging to their deaths, or at a fellow who is struck by lightning and survives while a bystander dies, or the unfortunate soul who is crushed by a falling mule. Their analysis is fruitless except to demonstrate that the depth of human stupidity is greater than that of the canyon. The book is generally well-written except for the last chapter, a rant against personal injury lawyers whom the authors apparently think are ruining the Grand Canyon by forcing the Park Service to install guard rails on every rim and trail. This goofy—and baseless—diatribe feels as if it was added at the behest of editors to give the book a purpose beyond rubbernecking, but gawking at disastrous missteps is what this book is about. That, and being glad that my wife and I aren’t in the index.

Thinking Blogger Award

Cat has awarded WikiFray with a Thinking Blogger Award. A very diplomatic choice Cat. WikiFray appreciates it.

For those of you who didn't follow the TBA link (and I'm not sure you should, it's a very large (read: slow to load) page, the rules say as recipients, we now get to choose 5 blogs also worthy of this award. Now I could make this easy and take it upon myself to choose 5 and be done with it. I could make it a bit less easy and argue that because WikiFray is a group blog, Cat has in effect awarded each of us individually a TBA, and so multiply the number of TBA's we have to give out by however many of us there are. Or I could make it a project and breathe new life, if only temporarily, into this tired old meme of tag. Which do you think I'm going to do?

Some of you may recall the 2006 Best of the Fray Choice Awards. It was a somewhat fun and totally transparent exercise to try and get some attention for bestofthefray. Didn't really work, but in the process I did discover some interesting reads. Well, now that we have something apparently worth re-gifting to give away, I'd like to revisit the choice awards concept. What I'd like to do is piggyback our award on the TBA. Or to put it another way, draft of the TBA to give our award some momentum.

Here are the rules for us. We're only going to give away one TBA. We're going to spend the next few weeks finding new "to us" bloggers -- and when you find one you'd like to nominate, do so in response to this post. That means, it's time for y'all to venture out again and meet new people with a purpose. I say few weeks because we're going to play this one by ear. At some point, however, I'll give you warning. At the end of the nomination period, I'll compile the list of nominees and we'll take another week or two to vote. The winner will get not only our TBA, but will also get the additional honor of _________________.

Blank as in, I don't know what to call it. Maybe "Star Poster"? But it will be essentially the same thing as the TBA, only you can only give out one instead of five. The goals of this monumental waste of time are simple: 1. Identify interesting new bloggers for the group; and 2. Start a meme of our own. Get ready, get set, go.

p.s. I like this star. But, since we're making this up from scratch, feel free to improve upon it.
p.p.s. Oh, and the person who nominates the winner of our Star Poster Award should probably get a prize too. So get motivated while I think of something.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4th, 2007: How we miss the problems of yesteryear.

The Republic is in piss-poor shape. Whatever little moral authority the US had continues to erode under the stewardship of a duplicitous and corrupt administration, gas prices are up, the fault lines under the economic landscape are rumbling, our enemies continue to coalesce against us (being provided with a baffling kind of encouragement that has proven this administration's trademark), there are distressing indications that our environment might (maybe) be warming up in a potentially catastrophic way, and we recently finished one of the most unexciting NBA finals in history. People have lost such fate in our government that a shocking number of them seem to believe that the CIA (or somebody) framed Al Qaeda, and flew those damn planes into the WTC themselves. I don’t even want to know how many people still believe Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. And I have yet to find a candidate I feel enthusiastic about.

But frankly, we’ve lived in a time of unparalleled prosperity. This nation has survived the horrors of the civil war, two world wars, Vietnam and the cold war. We never had to live with the horrors of the dust bowl, or the depression. We complain about the shocking cost of a form of medical care our ancestors couldn’t have even dreamed of, the high price of petrol (which, when inflation-adjusted, actually looks pretty damn affordable), and the loss of US business supremacy in a world whose economy dwarfs whatever came before. We continue our national struggles with racism, sexism, and classism in a country where I can still order more calories from the dollar menu at the local fast food joint than many people see in an entire day.

We may never have had it so good. So from where does this perception of deprivation arise? My guess is that its related to a media-advertising driven capitalism where competition for our collective attention is fiercely fought, and sensationalism and catastrophe are pandered in the service of selling you cheeseburgers and automobiles. That I'd even suggest such a problem is a testament to the opulence of the times.

But I would like to encourage everyone to take a step back, today, and consider: things may never have been better than they are right now. Today is the good old days of tomorrow, and people will look back through rosy-hued lenses, and share fond memories of the times when the watermelons sliced at the annual picnic still had rounded corners. Though the nature of our struggles continues to evolve and the problems we face may be dire, that we continue to struggle should come as no surprise – we always have, and we always will.

As proof that things are not much different today than they were fifty years ago, I bring you a song: The Merry Minuet. Sheldon Hamick wrote the song in 1958, and the Kingston Trio released their rendition in 1959 – 48 years ago. My brother and I memorized the words and used to sing it on car trips in the early seventies. Listen to the lyrics and share with me a little nostalgia about the worldwide problems of days past – and today.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Or, Notes on the Mojo of Automotive Field Repair

One of the glorious parts of being young in a rich country is the ability to combine poverty with freedom, to maintain a state of economy based on selfish tradeoffs instead of on the unremitting brink of cold, hard nature. Being responsible to no one is an incredible liberty. Insufficiency with a visible lifeline is totally worth it for the good stories.

As a student (or a recent student), you're not worth very much skill-wise, probably neck-deep in debt and sinking, and that beer money has to come from somewhere. I lived in a succession of shitholes that were comical in their abjection, from the uninsulated summer cottage (memoirs of Spring Weekends a decade past still carved into the wood paneling; we bought a dartboard to match the pattern of holes in the wall) to the cat-damaged apartment block maintained by a scary-looking backwoods dude (3/4 of the apartments unrentable) to the old Victorian house that fit a ping-pong table on the screened porch (fucking bliss; too bad no one got along).

Getting me to class or the lab from the series of condemnable shanties was, naturally enough, a series of dilapidated wrecks, a half dozen versions of chugging death (averted!) on wheels, replete with rotting hoses, bald tires, rusting bodies, misaligned doors, shot rings, corroded batteries, rotted mufflers, stuck valves, name it. Statistically, these shitboxes should have failed in a stunning variety of ways, but somehow the same things seemed to go wrong over and over again. I'm pretty sure I can still pinpoint a dying alternator from miles out (even though they should outlive any car), and I know exactly how to hobble an automobile home when it's spewing coolant all over the highway. There's a certain mojo, some weird mystical juju, that sends recurring themes my way. Or so it pleases me to believe sometimes, and who am I to tempt the fates?

Now if I were being scientific about my problems with cooling systems, I might note a possible correlation with the tendency of a young Doofus McDreamy to rear-end people when futzing about at low speed. These accidents tended to produce spectacular results in a tinfoil and chewing gum jalopy, and didn't agree with radiators very well at all. I am not an enthusiastic mechanic, but necessity can drive these things, and for a rank novice, I remain proud of my creative re-assembly of that '82 Dodge Ram 50 in my senior year of college on the snowy driveway of the wannabe Delta house. (It was only technically a truck, incidentally. Think a Dodge Omni--remember those?--with an improbable pickup bed behind it. I drove it because it was free.) The collision took out the water pump as well as the radiator, some other things too, but I got it together without too many leftover parts, and eventually even bought a stock fender in the right color and replaced the grille. Even though I thought the milk crate made it look sort of badass, I got pulled over enough for good reasons.

The five-pound hammer (I wasn't ready for bluegrass yet) that I used to pound the thing back in shape was considered lucky and I still have it, mostly for pounding in rebar these days. I accumulated tools randomly over the next ten years, and they'd gain or lose mojo based on how successful the project was. I got in the habit of keeping a supply of them in the car. The summer following the accident (after one of those eight-month eternities--O, youth), I was foolish enough to attempt a road trip in that thing clear across the state of New York.

I should have been more worried about the clunk-n-rattle in the front end, should have been more cognizant even then of my special radiator magic. I had needed to tighten the belt to the water pump before the trip, which seemed to shut it up. The part was salvage--frugality demanded no less--and when I picked it up, a friendly junkyard dog trotted right up and pissed on my leg. It was a special time. The shaft inside that water pump had already suffered unknown levels of wear and deterioration, but was decent enough to choke and sputter a bit before giving up the ghost.

It happened on the highway, in Middletown, NY, on one of those scorching August days. The temperature was spiking again. (Uh-oh.) I turned on the heater and slowed into the shoulder, trying to assess my chances here. Not good. I pulled over and felt the cap--it was ice cold, but the engine was in the red. Kill it, wait. The stretch of road is clear in my mind, the highway gently curving around the dry, grassy hillside. Somehow, an hour or two of redlines and pauses got the thing off the exit, and I was fortunate to catch an older guy out watering his lawn. I begged a few minutes with the hose, and he was good enough to supply a milk jug of water to go. As I filled her up, steam coursed angrily from the front and back of the radiator.

I hadn't given up on getting across the state, or, failing that, at least back home, and I parked it in the first place I could, and prayed for an auto parts store within walking distances. My habit of unlocking the door with a coat hanger convinced me that leaving my tools--which aside from my stereo were the most expensive things I owned--in the truck, and I loaded them into my duffel bag and hiked a couple or three until I found one. I bought, optimistically, some pour-in radiator sealer, a gallon jug of antifreeze, and some RTV silicone. As I walked back, I was struck by fat raindrops, and a crack of thunder followed as though Zeus himself were hurling personalized juju from the sky onto my errant head. My gym bag included two days worth of clothes, the better part of a wrench set, a small but decent hydraulic jack, and a gallon of liquid. I had the handles around my shoulders so I could wear it like the backpack it wasn't. It hurt.

Sometimes my memories look like action photos, snapshots in time. This one is a classic, lit by lightning, for it's rather late by this point, and there's me eyeballing the radiator, trying to tell if it's rain coursing off of it, or if it's just spewing more coolant. I uncapped the RTV and squirted it prodigiously into the general area of the breach, a whole tube's worth of orange goo sticking through the fins like icing. The sturdy screwdriver I used to gently spread it is still stained, and for years afterward, that tool bore some serious mojo indeed. Bedraggled, dejected, I unpeeled the plastic from my sodden wallet and sprung for a hotel room, agreeing to pay for it when I grew up. The truck never made it out of Middletown. A year later, I got a ticket driving through there on other business. Fuck Middletown, New York.

I'd have preferred not to go back through that bad mojo burg, but you can't go through life with superstition weighing you down. It might have been through Middletown that the cooling lines went on the minivan last week. There was serious stress on the system what with the summer heat and the stop-dead traffic. At least it was slow enough to wait until evening to reveal its overheating. (I still habitually watch the temperature gauge.) It hung like the day's ominous cumulonimbi, but it was about as enjoyable as family vacation can get, and minor adversity can be uplifting when the mood is right. Soaked to the bone and fleeing the park in a thundering torrent, had us giggling uncontrollably, and here I was cranking drinking water into the radiator in the middle of it again, and praying the family truckster got us back to the hotel.

More field repair in the morning: the leak was not in the radiator, but it was huge, and I epoxied the living shit out of the guilty heater lines and stocked up on gallon jugs for the eight hours home. We needed them, but damn if we didn't make it. As far as auto repair goes, I don't even bother to change my own oil these days, but I'm still not about to fork over five hundred bucks to pay for something I can fix jury-rig myself for ten. I shortened the corroded section, and made the rubber hose six inches longer, and that worked out fine too. I made sure to use my old orange-stained screwdriver to tighten the clamps. Completely rehabilitated the motherfucker.

You look for symmetries to bookend events in the arc of life. I couldn't have ended this bad luck streak on a more positive note, nor started it on one more comically heartbroken. I'm glad to have the story, but now it's only a story, purged from my current reality. Given the hypothetical chance, I'd love to be once again driving some wreck or other back to the projects, with life's realities still ahead of me.

And we all nodded at him: the man of finance, the man of accounts, the man of law, we all nodded at him over the polished table that like a still sheet of brown water reflected our faces, lined, wrinkled; our faces marked by toil, by deceptions, by success, by love; our weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, that while it is expected is already
gone--has passed unseen, in a sigh, in a flash--together with the youth, with the strength, with the romance of illusions.
from Joseph Conrad's Youth

Morons, Everywhere Morons

On Fray and meat life experiences converge in an inescapable conclusion: we are surrounded by morons. It would perhaps not be so alarming if the morons were pumping out gas or nailing in shingles, but it is clear that morons have infiltrated the highest eschelons of power. The ubiquity of morons suggests a depressing conclusion: we will always have morons.

Why are there so many morons? Well, part of the difficulty is that there are so many ways to be a moron, and perhaps the most common the conviction that one is, in fact, a genius. Narcissism and idiocy seem connected, and for this reason I would suggest that there are probably more male morons than female. But the absolute numbers are so large that one's chances of encountering a moron (male or female) on a given day approach 100%.

The narcissism of the moron is one of its most perplexing characteristics. How can people be so proud of being so stupid? Common behavioral traits of the moron include: loudly proclaiming inaccurate information, assuming an authoritative tone and dismissing questions as irrelevant, relating non-sequitor anecdotes designed to show that the moron's opponent is a monster, and falsely labeling others' arguments as logical fallacies that the moron has, of course, garbled. Not reading seems to be another common trait of the moron. The American moron (though not only the American moron) also seems to feed on nationalism and more than a pinch of racism. It should go without saying that anybody writing a top post that generalizes about morons is himself a moron.

Allow me to suggest (this is another rhetorical strategy of the moron -- enticing some unseen crowd by assuming that readers/onlookers are allies) that there are two broad categories of moron. The first category is the regular moron, the person who is simply too stupid to formulate or critique an argument. The second category, however, is the person clever enough to formulate a brilliant but incorect argument. To distinguish the simple moron from the genius moron, I will refer to the later as the "oxymoron."

Karl Marx is the paridigmatic example of the oxymoron. I have been reading him lately, and his genius should be self-evident. It is no mean feat to critique both capitalism and utopian socialism, to incorporate these critiques into a philosophical system that includes one of the most profound contributions to the study of history (the notion of class struggle) ever formulated, and to create from this philosophical system a viable and very powerful political movement. I can't think of anyone else who has done anything like it. Well, maybe Ghandi. I suppose some would include Martin Luther. Whatever, you get the idea (note another classic strategy of the simple moron -- infuriating vagueness at crucial points of the argument).

What a catastrophe! Is there any idea as promising as Marxism that has gone so sour? In my Chinese history classes, I assign a memoir of the Cultural Revolution called Spider Eaters. Picture schoolchildren murdering people in the name of socialism and you get an idea of how badly things can go when people are convinced by an oxymoron that they are not morons.

The book's epigram is particularly interesting. It is from a short story by the Chinese writer Lu Xun (not a moron, the first clear example of that rare species we have yet encountered), who wrote that he was very thankful to the people who first tasted crab. For crab is so tasty! And yet, Lu Xun reflects, if people tasted crab, there must also have been those who ate spiders and discovered the spiders were poisonous. There must, in short, have been morons, and we have profited from these morons. We now know to eat soft-shell sandwiches and avoid black widow petit-fours.

Rae Yang, the author of Spider Eaters, suggests that socialism is another such thing -- we needed morons to try it out so that we would know that it sucked. Rae herself was such a moron, a Red Guard who swooned over Mao the way others of her generation screamed and fainted at Beatles concerts. Because of Rae, I now know that however splendid socialism may seem, it has a rather nasty side effect of empowering morons.

This post seems to be about intelligence, but really it's about politics. What to do if one values justice and fairness, if one would like to see the world include more crab eaters and fewer spider eaters? It seems to me that one answer is to stop making morons powerful. As should be clear by now, virtually everybody is a moron. Would it be possible to create a utopia of the impotent, where everybody was so weak that even a great gang of morons could not fuck things up for the rest of us?

Probably not. Instead we are stuck with spider eaters, people willing to take any path no matter how destructive. The only hope is that when destruction comes, the odds are that the morons will be hit worse. See you in hell, morons!

Monday, July 02, 2007

"On Literary Criticism"

Matt over at Three Panel Soul has an ironic look at critique in popular media through a symbolic analysis of "Where On Earth is Carmen Sandiego". The next in the series is "God in the Machine: Optimus Prime as a messianic figure in Transformers slash fiction." I can hardly wait.

Just for Switters. ;)

The case for Green power....screw Global Warming

The debate on the Global Warming issue rages on much like the fires of an old number six, grandfathered in water tube boiler chugging out superheated steam and products of combustion for the power generation industry. There are experts for and experts against. Would it be past the audacious and underhanded manipulations of big oil concerns to pay off experts for their own benefit???... no, I think not. Is that the case now? I don't know for sure. To date I am still not convinced that man is capable of significant input to the process of our steadily increasing average temperatures. But no matter. Green power technology exists and it is what the entire world should be pursuing not just because it is kinder to the environment but also because it shows the greater potential for producing cheap, or should I say affordable power for the unfathomable population boom and subsequent power market of the next 20 years whereas petroleum based and coal based power markets only promise profit for pain.

You simply cannot set up a petroleum based power generation system in your back yard, that's impossible. However everyone can put up a small wind turbine. Everyone can throw a solar Panel on their roof or a solar water heater. Everyone can convert to evaporative-assist air conditioning systems and Geothermal heating and cooling and everyone can also send power back into the grid reversing their electric meters and contributing to a large battery store for peak usages.

On an individual scale this may seem insignificant but when you consider the effect of an increasing infrastructure over years of time it is enormous. This is the main reason I am an advocate of the green power movement. It takes the monopolistic control out of the hands of the oppressive power for profit and pain companies and puts it squarely where the largest and most efficient potential is and that is with a unified grid that becomes not only the distributor but also the collector. There is really no room for any logical argument here from an engineering standpoint which is exactly why you will never see one from that angle. As an added extra of course it also pacifies the needs of environmentalism quite nicely. Surely there is a common ground to be had between those who see the need for increased production and those who wish to reduce their carbon footprint.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

May I see your ID?

You'll need it, because WikiFray is

Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

Well, we're in good company, or company anyway.

Does this make us porn stars?