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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Damnation as a Parenting Device

That 'now I lay me down to sleep' prayer. When I was a kid, it had death in it. Did you know that got changed? I think a lot of what's wrong with the world can be explained by a whole generation of kids who go to bed NOT thinking they'll just as likely die before morning.

I mean really, along with free jazz and the novel, eternal damnation is probably one of the cultural gems we should really preserve, even if we're atheists.

Message to kids: God put you in the care of your parents; therefore if you disobey your parents, you are defying God. If you defy God, you go to Hell. Hell is a terrible place, almost as bad as a Sunday school classroom, and they never let you out. Only Cuba rivals Hell as a bad destination, and if you die you can get out of Cuba.

There's some adults I think would behave better if they spent more time worrying about eternal damnation, too. But if you don't plant the seeds in the child, what hope is there?

Happy September 28th!!!

I think this is an important day to remember how fortunate we are to live on earth. To breath air. Eat food.

Shit fecal matter.

While counting our blessings, the marvelous opportunities that being carbon-based life affords, it's important to step back and remember that even Liv Tyler's breasts are just mammary glands, made to produce dairy products.

And ultimately, what September 28th is about is taking stock of all we've worked for as human beings. The cities built and destroyed and rebuilt. The children we worry over until they have children and worry over them, just as our parents worried over us. The highways built just so people can experience traffic jams, the 'information highways' that let me blather on like this about September 28th.

But September 28th is an important day to remember. It only comes once a year, after all.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Worst Case Scenarios

A friend sent me 'We Need to Talk About Kevin;' Oprah turned me on to Toni Morrison. Somoene, probably Oprah or NPR (same thing, really) turned me onto 'A Map of th World.'

Not to mention Jones' 'The Known World.'

So here I am in another worst-case scenario, reading 'A Map of the World.' Well, it's multiple worst-case scenarios, it starts out evil and gets worse.

Is it me, or do I need to come up with something worse than a school-picnic-atomic-bomb to show up on radar???

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Public 'Trust'

Mmmkay, this should be a simple lesson in why Lobsters distrust government:

The head of the SEC is voluntarily recusing himself from investigating Bill Frist. This is what passes for 'honesty' in D.C. Why would he recuse himself? Because they're pals, former coworkers (Chris Cox disserved in Congress with Frist) and, oh yeah, Cox is even a campaign contributor of Frist's.

Here's the outrageous part: it's a voluntary recusal. The good old SEC, charged with protecting the integrity of American Finance does not have a provision making Chris Cox automatically disqualified from investigating his friend, colleague and crony.

But they don't want an appearance of conflict of interest. Appearance, that's all that counts. Right?

Ask the shareholders in Enron, Arthur Anderson, etc. Personally, being a member of Congress should disqualify anyone from serving in a government oversight position. Senatorial Courtesy, after all, gave us Justice Black, a former KKK member as an un-debated Supreme Court apointment.

So Chris Cox gets to pretend honesty, and either way whatever crimes Frist has committed are unlikely to go unrewarded. Because what's at question? A 'blind trust.' You hear about these, right? With relation to, for instance, a Vice President who's former employer gets a no-bid contract to rebuild a whole country we just blew up?

Note: I do not for a minute beleive that Depublicans are more honest, Republocrats just happen to be in power.

Bill Frist's 'blind trust' apparently made some awfully convenient trades. But it can't be Bill's fault, right? He put his assets in a blind trust. But then, public disclosure/transparency rules require that everyone in America can know his business.

Bill Frist is in America, therefore can find out what he owns, doesn't own, might like to buy. As a member of the public, I might trust him more if he was really blind.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

TV vs. Second Hand Smoke

I used to smoke cigarettes. Okay, that's an understatement. When I quit, there was a recession in North Carolina and Virginia, and political pressures were levied that I might go back to my old ways.

Second hand smoke, if you could get a nicotine buzz off it, I'd think it might be dangerous. If a house has such bad ventillation that someone else smoking is a danger, the radon levels are probably worse.

Anyway, I came up from my weekend's freelance work to eat some pizza and my fam was watching the home makeover show, where they take a house nicer than the Bangladeshi Royal Family's and tear it down, replace it with an all-out trophy house.

It's supposed to be entertaining, this supposedly useful guy with a bullhorn, a guy with horn-rims he must have stolen off Bill Evans circa 1962 who cries a lot, this animated Barbie doll who 'designs' things.

There's always an emotional angle played. Sure, the family gets a new house, but only if they're willing to be a National Object of Pity. To make things worse, the producers of the show get their neighbors to line up behind flimsy baracades, so there's no chance anyone in a 2 mile radius does not know you got that shit for free.

From what I caught of tonight, they at least didn't commit the vulgarity of making the garage the most prominent feature of the house. The father of the family was given a prosthetic leg, on account of he lost a big chunk of one in Iraq.

Isn't the VA supposed to take care of that?

And in the moments before I retreated to my work in fear that I'd vomit my pizza up or say something that would start a fight in the family, they highlighted an American flag and stressed that this guy had lost his leg definding his country.

The guy was not Iraqi, not so far as I could tell. He lost his leg for U.S. munitions manufacturers, and for Halliburton, who gets to rebuild what those bombs blew up on non-competitive contracts.

Not even 9/11 excuses this bullshit. And you can't blame it all on W.; the resolution for 'regime change' in Iraq was passed by Congress under Clinton's watch in 1998. Saddam was a fucker, but so are at least 175 Presidents/Dictators/Prime Ministers around the world. Including our own, probably without exception, all the way back to Washington.

And I couldn't help but wonder, given the speed these houses are rebuilt at, and salaries paid to people who have good camera presence but aren't exactly crafstmen, how many Habitat houses could you build for the production cost of one 'Extreme Makeover?' How many sub-Saharan famine victims could be fed for the catering budget this show commands?

Bottom line, second hand smoke is never as bad as TV.

Offense Intended?

I cracked up at this.

Most authors worry, at most, about libel suits, infringement, the usual legal hurdles. One piece of advice I've seen about portraying a character largely based on an acquaintance is to give the character a lot of extra afflictions (a scorching case of herpes, a secret homosexual lover, maybe terrible breath, offensive body odor, and a parent or child in prison/mental hospital). That way, the relatively innocuous things you've documented that might encourage a libel suit are offset by the person not wanting to announce that they may have all these other things wrong.

Also, with libel suits, you have to be proven to knowingly defame someone's character to their detriment, and in a case where the only defamation happened when they piped up, your chances are better, right? In theory, anyway.

But as with infringement/fair use issues, there's always an exception. Like when you get more than dirty looks from the people you've lampooned. It must be a pretty good book to inspire a lynch-mob.

Modern Times

I've been doing a typesetting gig this weekend, one that once involved paste-up, negatives shot with a camera, and so on.

It involved driving, proofing, etc.

Now I hand off an electronic file of what I've formatted and proofed with my editor via the internet. Oh, and the editor is on an Alaskan cruise, so he's been sending me shit when he can get a connection. He'll do the initial proof from Seattle, finall proofs when he gets back to Kansas late tomorrow night.

None of which makes my life any easier, since faster capacity means an even faster demand for speed of turnaround.

Not that these technological advances have made levies less likely to burst.

And after abandoning a conventional mattress for a waterbed; then a soft-side waterbed; then an air mattress, I get to sleep in shifts though the next stage in my personal technological progress.

Those single bladder waterbeds, they were great. Except for bottoming out during sex, not being able to use them upstairs in some houses and the fact that a pin-prick could translate to flooding.

The soft-side is nice, six independent tubes, all sturdier than the old single bladder, encased in sufficient foam to make sure cat's claws and other mischief doesn't puncture them.

They are so self-contained, you don't know what the hell smells funny until you peel back the foam and find out that micro-leaks have still occurred and cultured mold that would make bleu cheese look fresh.

The base is sound, but the mattress...

But those camping mattresses, they rock. Stayed on one placed on a fold-out and it was the best bed ever. Three whole nights, which is the rub.

It started with a cheapie camping mattress on our soft-side's box. It may have lasted almost a month. We ascended through the price ranges, getting brand names like Coleman, etc. Some lasted a month or two, some went flat the same day.

They use different pumps, too, though you'd think that would be standardized. Garden hoses are.

The latest, I splurged and bought a Simmons. Lifetime guarantee. Except I fucked the dog and didn't send the receipt and warranty registration off.

It lasted a while, but now, after two or three hours I might as well be sleeping on the floor. Got to get up and pump it back up. Or, I'll be asleep on apparently hard wood when I hear, through the ether, a screaming sound and find myself buoyed up on the mattress.

Lifetime guarantee? I know I didn't fill out the paperwork, but where they talking about a human lifetime?

Yeah, there's those 'sleep number' beds that are basically the soft-side-water-bed version of a camping mattress. They cost a fortune. But then, when I think of the air mattresses we've been through, I think maybe we would have been smart to get the overpriced one.

My sleep number? It's called, I don't want to have to buy a fucking mattress for a few years, 'kay? Can I get that out of you? A matress that won't leak air, water, feathers, whatever the fuck you make it out of until there's a different President of the United States?

Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Take my truck, please...

Actually, I like my truck. It's a '95 F-150, the front bumper is a perfect impression of a Lincoln Mark-Something, and the back window sports inflammatory and innacurate bumper stickers.

"I brew the beer I drink" is the least of these: I still have the gear, but haven't made a batch in a couple of years.

"Feed Jane Fonda to the Gay Baby Whales" is one I waited and waited to put on an actual vehicle.

"I Own A Gun and I Vote." Well the latter part is true. And I was supposed to get a gun, but Frau Lobster vetoed it, and the sticker was up.

I also have a sticker that compares the 9/11 attack to an average day in Abortion Land, but it's also innacurate. It portrays 9/11 as being similar in death-toll, but the number of innocent lives taken by so-called doctors every day makes Al Queda look like a fucking humanitarian outreach.

And I don't 'heart' NY, I actually love it.

So anyway, this dented, minty-green truck, the engine is tight, the transmission was rebuilt a couple of years back, Cottman's best, but the driver's side window doesn't roll down. The AM reciever doesn't work, nor the CD player, leaving me with FM only. Alice Cooper's night time show is kinda fun, and NPR is always good for pissing me of, but it's not much of a radio.

It's nice to be able to haul shit to the dump, but more often a problem with the minivan makes me wish I could haul my family, and the bench seat of my F-150 maxes out a seat shy of my family.

But now I'm present with a Buick LeSabre with almost as many miles as my F-150. It also doesn't use oil, has a sound transmission, etc. It even has a fully functional radio, would haul my family, and gets better gas mileage than my truck (no small beer when prices are considered cheap below the $3/gallon mark).

It needs a bit of work, but so does my truck. Like my truck, it's work that could be postponed.

I like being up high in my truck, there are fewer vehicles I can't see around. On the other hand, by being seven years older, the Buick probably costs less to tag.

The air conditioning of both works, but both are questionable, long-term. Again, a 2-1/2 mile commute, why should I worry?

According to Autotrader's web site, both of these vehicles are worth way more than I can fathom without blowing Diet Dew out of my nose. The old rule of thumb was a truck that runs is worth at least $1000. But after four years of zero-percent financing on new cars, there's a disgusting glut of used trucks way nicer than mine.

So, you wanna buy a truck?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Google: The New Napster

Okay, I'm pissed off. Google's plan to fuck copyright in the ass with the biggest steel-barbed dildo they can find is way out of bounds.

Internet piracy is bad enough without having an search engine that has become a verb blatantly steal everything in print. The fucking jerks.

I confess to having a copy of the Real Book (not the incorrect 'legal' version, a real, underground copy I bought over 20 years ago). And copied CDs, I have lots of them, though I have a rule about it: self-produced and/or local acts, I won't bootleg. Warner Bros. and their ilk, they have renegged on the promise of CDs. Over 20 years ago they promised that if we accepted inferior sound quality, we could have our records smaller and CHEAPER. A mass market CD should not have a retail price over $5, and that's allowing for wholesalers who are largely not necessary in the day of the internet.

A guy who puts his own ass on the line for a CD, I'll buy it at $15, but Warner Brothers? Fuck them, if I rip a copy it's their fault for charging 3x+ the fair market price.

Still, I believe in intellectual property. If I burn a copy of a CD, it's not to screw the musicians, it's to screw the greedy RIAA fuckers. If the musician gets meaningful money, I won't pirate it. I've even refused gifts of pirated albums on this basis.

What's Google trying to do? They are trying to make eveyr living author work for free. Fuck them. Don DeLillo never asked me to work for free, so damned if I'm going to support Google's efforts to deprive him of royalties he's earned ten times over.

Jonathan Lethem
Michael Chabon
Toni Morrison
Elmore Leonard
Amy Hempel
Lionel Shriver
Barry Hannah
Chuck Palahniuk
Joey Goebel
Jim Cracy
Jeffrey Eugenides
Thomas Pynchon
and so on.

What do they have in common? They never asked me to work for free. So why should I steal their work? I liked google, but they've fucked the dog here. Big time. I might even go to the trouble of taking the 'Google search' bar off my unvisited web site. I'll be using other search engines until I have evidence that Google isn't the biggest bunch of asshoes in the search engine business.

If You Thought The Un-Evacuated Were Crazy...

On the way home, 'This American Life' came on, across People's Republic Radio (NPR, yes I know it doesn't seem to have the same initials but you have to translate from Liberal).

After folks took that bus ride form the Superdome to the Astrodome, there were people with offers from private charities to relocate refugees to various places. Free housing, insurance, even cars being offered. Jobs, etc. Better deals than the federal government was offering (okay, the feds were only offering excuses, hopefully Rita won't show both the state and federal boobs for what they are because people die to prove politicans are still IDIOTS and MENACES TO MANKIND).

Anyway, this chick was offering a three bedroom, two bath house in Colorado, a car, insurance, a job at Coca Cola, a job at Wal-Mart, all in a package to anyone who wanted it. It took her three days to get a single person willing to consider it and she was still losing people to inferior offers out of Florida.

Why? Because Florida does not have a reputation among New Orleans refugees as being prone to freezing. People were convinced that Colorado was full of Eskimos who survived the bitter cold with some sort of witchcraft taht eluded Southerners. They told the girl, 'Colorado? I'd freeze to death!'

What the fuck? Are people who couldn't afford the more desirable modes of evacuation educated in geography solely by Coors Light commercials? Apparently.

I mean shit, I live in Kansas, have a good job and a three bedroom two bath house, but I'd take the offer. It came with some perks I don't presently get, and I have not been ravaged by any storm; if anything my primary sources of misery are me, the asshole who built my house the way he did, and the contractor I paid to fix it who made everything worse. Still, it's no 9th Ward situation...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I Can See My House From Here...

I pirated this pic off Google Earth, but before you call the Copyright Cops, I should tell you I have a reason.

I am not a handy guy. I don't fix shit, I only learned to change the oil in a car after age 30 and will generally sit in the dark rather than change a light bulb.

So I've never been on my roof. I generally offer to get a friend drunk if he'll clean my gutters, but that's only after I notice saplings growing up out of muck in my gutters.

I had no idea about this bullseye. Was it there when I bought the house? It's not on the disclosure. Could I get away with selling the house and not tell the buyer?

Potpourri Pizza (A Lobster's Recipe)

Or did he hyphenate it? Might have been Pot-Pourri. It was the name of my Dad's pizza joint, late 1960s, small town Kansas. Dad's not a natural business-type to begin with, but people didn't treat pizza as a staple at that time, not in the Midwest. They'd say 'I love your pizza, but I can't eat pizza every day.'

The last six months of its 18-month span, he started opening for lunch and offering sandwiches. That made him profitable, but too little, to late. That's right, it's hard to conceive of for an X-er such as myself, and whatever you call the subsequent waves of people even younger than me, it must be impossible. I can at least remember when there was no internet, not even a primitive precursor to it. But then, I can remember oggling covert copies of Playboy when Miss October was born. But in 1968, maybe in New York City you'd find pizza parlors that were open for lunch, but not in Baldwin, KS, population 1200 when Baker was in session, 800 when school was out.

And Dad did not cater particularly to the college crowd. He saw them as obnoxious (indubitably they were that), and avoided anything that would make his pizza parlor a hang-out for them. It would ruin his business, in his mind at the time. Not knowing that he was alienating the most profitable customer base he could have had.

But Dad still makes pizza, generally once a year, as a birthday treat for me. Great preparations are made: he makes an enormous batch of dough, gets his sauce going, lines up everything from Italian Sausage to anchovies, gets out his pans and pizza stone.

He makes some and people also top their own. I made a gem this year. I skipped the red sauce altogether, it's something I normally go light on anyway. So aside from the crust and mozzarella, I topped it with:

Smoked Oysters
Sliced Banana Peppers
Crushed Red Pepper
Sliced Roma Tomatoes
Black Olives
Italian Sausage
More Crushed Red Pepper
Red Bell Pepper

This was one of the best damned pizzas I've ever eaten. The smoked oysters are something I stumbled on a few birthdays back. Since high school I've loved anchovies on pizza, so why not smoked oysters as well?

Dad had shrimp on hand too, and one of the pizzas was half shrimp, and I kicked msyelf after for not going with shrimp instead of the Italian sausage, as I then would have had the perfect seafood pizza. Maybe next year, and maybe clams to boot. White clam pizza is always a treat...

Plain Brown Wrapper

Oh, I almost forgot. It's been over a week since my actual birthday (unless they've been lying to me), but one of the presents I got was in a plain brown wrapper.

I joked, 'It better be pornography.'

It was 'Candy' by Terry Southern, one of my favorite writers ever. I remember finding the paper back in Dad's shelves, and his retreival of it, horrified that a grade-schooler would read it. The paperback he had, it had a disclaimer along the 'adults only' line on the cover.

I mentioned to him a while back that I love Southern, but haven't gotten around to grabbing that book. 'The Magic Christian' is my favorite, 'Flash and Filligree' is disappointing in a way, but in context was brilliant. His later work, 'Texas Summer' and 'Red Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes' was good, if not as great. Even then, 'Big Nail' is an awesome character, lots of thematic implications.

What was in the plain brown wrapper? 'Candy.' Hardback, Putnam sixth 'impression' with Mason Hoffenberg given co-author credit I'd previously missed. I haven't collected 'Blue Movie,' but I have seen a blue movie made from the Southern book. It even made the same up-front allusion to Volataire's 'Candide,' but it's typical early 1970s porno. In fact, the version I saw was on Betamax. Gotta wonder if 'Blue Movie' wasn't inspired by a porno flick adpated without permission from 'Candy.' There was a U.K. produce 'Candy' which was both lame and wildly off-course. But probably the result of the Dr. Strangelove connection, since Southern collaborated on the Dr. Strangelove flick and Sellers is on record that 'Magic Christian' is the funniest novel ever.

So maybe Terry Southern, like Jazz and the atomic bomb is more widely appreciated overseas than at home...

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Great Stuff You Won't Find At Amazon

I've been listening to a birthday present, Pirates' Gold by the Jolly Rogers.

Maybe you've seen them at Renaissance Festivals, I believe they used to do a fairly thorough tour of that, in more recent years focusing on KC and Iowa. Apparently travelling year round as a singing pirate has too much in common with actual life at sea. Not conducing to family, hearth and home stuff.

It's traditional sea chanties and bawdy folk songs sung, as they were meant, by a bunch of guys in codpieces and all that. Sometimes acapella, sometimes with my old friend Mayhem playing guitar. Occasionally an electric guitar on their studio recordings, which I tend to think is a mistake, and sometimes with one of Mark's rock & roll bits in the mix, which doesn't really fit.

But like their debut, No Quarter, Pirates' Gold is pretty much the purist's stuff. The double album Loose Cannons is another fave, but my favorite of the two discs got scratched up when it fell into the wrong hands a couple of years ago. Mark has indicated he's willing to burn me a dupe since it's out of print, but our best intentions to get together for a drink and do that keep seeming to derail.

Anyway, you won't find their stuff on Amazon, at least I haven't been able to. No ISBN number, no chance to offer it to Amazon for 55% of what you sell it to the public for.

They do have some online sales, so if you can't find them at a Ren Fest, follow the trail of crumbs. Very worth it. They have a new album just out, and I'm looking forward to it.


beep beep-beep beep beep beep-beep beep-beep-beep beep-beep-beep

A few months back I bought MicroSoft Money to try and organize my so-called finances. But somewhere along the line I got the imput messed up, and the backup doesn't do any good when you have backed up your bad data.

Everything I tried to do made things worse instead of better.

So, deep breath, I took a chance and called their customer service number. I really just expected to have something to be pissed off about, a 'why do I bother' moment. Realistically, I didn't expect to get a live person on a Sunday afternoon.

And they helped me. The two people I talked to were polite, concerned and most shockingly competent.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Desperate Audiophiles

One of my favorite indie rockers (well, she strikes the pose, but I guess he has label support despite her merits), Liz Phair has apparently contributed to 'Desperate Housewives.' What's more, she does one of the few Stones songs I don't hate.

Here's the link.

Click on 'Hear the music,' Liz is the seventh track.

It's not 'Whipsmart' or 'Exile in Guyville,' but it rocks.

Thematic Breakthrough

What's worse than having a story that charms you at first but you want to un-write a day later?

Having a sub-plot you fell in love with and have nurtured for years that doesn't really fit thematically.

The sub-plot in this case is probably the nucleus of a whole other story. Might sound weird, to work on a novel for years and only now know what it's really 'about,' but I think I found the right lens, and it means I have to excise a bunch of backstory I really like.

Which is okay, if I can ever get 'Wealth Effects' finished, that material will go along with a dozen other ideas for novel #2.

And hey, Don DeLillo, one of my heroes, was only a year or two younger than me when 'Americana' came out.

Michael D. Brown's Career Prospects

So I guess if Michael D. Brown doesn't work out at McDonald's, he could get a job as a greeter at Wal-Mart or something.

Was this asshead qualified to do anything at all? Dig it, the guy couldn't run a horse club. You can't make this stuff up.

I Wanna Be Gilligan

Dude gets busted for posession of 35 grams of pot at the age of 63. Refuses to testify against a former co-worker, aged 59.

Who? Bob Denver. Stand up guy.

Hey, as far as I'm concerned, the government doesn't have any right to tell you what you can or cant ingest. But even if you said the state had some sort of bizarre interest in the intoxicants a citizen choses:

If I had to be called 'hey, Gilligan' every time I went out in public, or asked 'Where's the Skipper' afterall I did was pretend not to be up to seducing an oversexed, red-headed version of Jan Mansfield, I think I might like some pot.

Or a lot of pot. I don't even know what 35 grams of it would look like, but I know the last time I looked there were more grams of fat than that in a pint of Ben & Jerry's.

Is 35 grams a lot? I mean, if you're having to cope with being identifiably 'Gilligan?' What's the down side? A 63 year old might not be sharp enough to pass McDonald's drug tests? I think Bob Denver was past needing the greeter gig at Wal-Mart.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Pushing The Envelope

Heh. Just remembered that along with the Playboy coffee table book, 'For Fuck's Sake' and 'Satan Burger' came in too. I own a copy of 'For Fuck's Sake' because I was in a Borders with a gift card, getting frustrated at not finding much I was interested in that I didn't already have, and saw the title on the spine.

I figured it'd have to be really good or really terrible. Book mark is still in it at page 22. Maybe I didn't give it a fair shot, might try it again someday. But I'd requested it on ILL while I was requesting the Playboy and the Mellick book. Along with six or seven other things I found in the WorldCat but assumed were either already long sense stolen or were not generally let out of their home libraries.

The Madonna book 'Sex,' forget about getting that one from a public library. The few copies libraries bought were apprently immediatley stolen. Not that I really want to read that book or look at it or whatever you're supposed to do with it.

What's hard for me to get my mind around is this: these things seem so incredibly mundane to me. I grew up with ready access to books that were illegal when my Dad was in high school. In fact, what I see in the jacket copy on Mellick's book is a cry to keep pushing further, a sort of arms race of obscenity or something. I'm sure it appeals to a certain teen demographic. It might have attracted me when I was fourteen or so.

It fires up my inner Ignatius, big time. We need a good authoritarian crack-down on books. No, don't censor Mellick, the market's doing that already. Suppress books that actually make people think. Instead of giving Toni Morrison a Pulitzer for 'Beloved,' pub the bitch in jail! DeLillo, Pynchon, Philip Roth, life sentences. Of course with ready access to writing materials so they can keep breaking the law. You can get drugs in jail, I don't see why you can't also get word processors, typewriters, a nice pen. Just think how much better off Barry Hannah would be if he was the writer in residence at Parchman instead of Ole Miss! Tom Spanbauer, time to learn about really dangerous writing. A.M. Homes, you get a chance to actually write from a cell instead of pretending.

It'd totally change the meaning of the Pulitzer's or National Book Awards' 'juries.'

It Was Better As A Memory

I used to have on my Amazon wish list the coffee-table book Playboy put out featuring what they considered the best of their 50 years of photography. I was curious, in part, to see what they thought the best of their stuff was. Lots of film in fifty years, lots of celebs, etc.

I like Playboy, too, as a sort of cultural timecapsule. There's magazines that could fill that niche in some respects, but most are the sort of magazine no one keeps. It's a lot harder to find a 1999 issue of 'Wired' than it is to find a 1969 issue of Playboy. Fashion, expensive toys, fads, the left take on national news with no holds barred, these are things Playboy documents well.

So I always thought it would be a cool book to have, at least if I didn't have to spend the coin on it.

I requested it through interlibrary loan from my public library, just to see what would happen, and it came in. Ha! Well, most of it did. There are some pages ripped out, presumably someone's sentimental favorite. But there was a picture I'd swear I saw in the magazine back in the 1980s, Tina Louise. Yeah, Ginger, the role she's never lived down entirely. I could swear she'd posed for Playboy, presumably before she was on the TV show. I recall this photo being in there for some retrospective or other.

She's not even in the index, so she didn't make the 50 year cut. Sophia Loren did, so did Kim Basinger, Sharon Stone, etc. Hef's ex-wives, of course. The famous Marilyn shot that launched the magazine in a lot of ways.

So I went out online thinking maybe I'd find the shot I remembered of Tina Louise. Just for curiosity.

This is it, and I knew as soon as I saw it that I'd remembered it wrong. My teenage mind must have raised the skirt a few more inches.

Deadlines & Shit

Jay asked if he might have a ms of Wealth Effects to peruse by Xmas. Could happen, but the first six months of the year are typically when I get the most writing done. Why? Because my regular job has a huge seasonal flux that means lots of hours this time of year. Today I left after 'only' ten hours, but I've been putting in sixty hour weeks and we're not even into October yet.

This year has presented some other speedbumps, things outside work that have had to take priority over the book. The original plan was to have somethng agent-ready by now, and it's very, very, not agent ready.

Dunno about the Xmas deadline. I've been trying to get my central theme in focus. Hard to 'tell a story' if you don't know what it's about. I mean, I don't know how it ends, I've written several endings. Several beginnings as well. Experimented with stylistic approaches, changed POV, changed names, changed the amount of cultural white noise and back story I want to include, etc.

But the 'what's it about?' question, I've fucked a lot of the book up by changing my mind about that. Partly the victim of my own hubris: any theme sounds dumb and obvious after a while. 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' while it has sub-themes in it, is really about choosing freedom even if death is the consequence. 'The Magic Christian' is about how the amount of money you have might change the impact you can make on the world, good or bad, but it won't change your fundamental nature.

'Underworld' is a hard book to pin down a single theme, but it's the invisible connections of society, the secrets we keep, the parallels we live out. And since it came out prior to 'Cosmopolis,' and DeLillo spends so much of Underworld telling stories that center around refuse and waste, I have to wonder if he wasn't poking a bit of fun at himself when Richard Sheets interects that 'There are books about shit.' Some of the best sections of that book deal very directly with shit, both fecal and opiate, and if you extend the meanings of the word, there's the trash disposal, the universal need to get rid of waste, to hide it, make it secret, deny it. For that matter, lots of people just refer to the stuff as shit. No one is referring to fecal matter when they say, 'my shit is ruined!'

But thanks to some fellow travellers in Write Club, I think I have a better bead on my theme. Dunno about Xmas, but I'll get this shit together.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Great Lines

I remember in what SGJ describes as the 'reptile part of the brain,' an exchange from Don DeLillo's Mao II (which centers on a Pynchonesque author).

The photographer, she says, “I’m not interested in photography, I’m interested in writers.”

And gets the response: “Then why don’t you stay home and read?”

I could have that a bit wrong, but it's mroe or less the way the book goes at that juncture. The photographer in question having gotten permission to do a shoot of the author. DeLillo's character is, if anything, more remote that Pynchon. I know DeLillo is a fan, and that he has voiced great admiration for Pynchon. As far as I know, both of them probably residing in Manhattan, they're friends. Got to wonder if Bill gray isn't a product of 'names have been changed to protect the famous.' Because by some accounts Pynchon isn't hard to find if you go to New York and put a little effort into it. Best camoflauge ever, leads a boring life in plain view. If recognized could probably offer plausible denial, say 'I get that all the time, but it's not me.' The Mao II character lives more like Batman.

I've been wading into 'Gravity's Rainbow' (to explain this so-far bizarre blog entry), and having to cut the spirits with a bit of water. When I love Pynchon it's ful-on. But 'GR' is proving tough in the area that counts, entertaining me on the trip. Meanwhile, I've been reading the opposite, 'Pulp' by Charles Bukowski. Got it from the library (finally), and while 'Ham on Rye' was not thrilling, I thought I'd give it a go. The typesetting is marvelous.

Typesetting? I hear you ask.

Yeah, the typesetting. The gutters were on the wrong edge for 'Ham on Rye' in trade paperback, but I like generous leading, healthy font size and white space on the page. If I'm aware of te typesetting, it's usually because I really like the content but the publisher used such a terrible design that I find the act of reading fatigues. 'Confederacy of Dunces' suffers from this, with a bad format and small type for the body, accompanied by the 'Big Chief' sections being in small print that rivals the inserts for prescription drugs.

The other thing with 'Pulp,' though, is it's hilarious. 'Dedicated to bad writing,' it is so far (half way through) a perfect satire on the hard-boiled detective novel. And while the writing is intentionally 'bad' (which is to say he gets at the heart of what made Chandler & Co. famous), there are some lines that are so bad they're great:

'Last dream I had I was laying under this elephant, I couldn't move and he was releasing one of the biggest turds you ever saw...' Then, reflecting on a shrinks take: 'He'll tell you that the turd is a penis and that you are frightened of it or that you want it, some crap like that. What he really means is that he is frightened or wants the penis.'

And on the next page, 'Sometimes a phone made me think of an elephant turd. You know, all the shit you hear.'

It's shit, but it's great shit.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me

Sort of. My wife's friend passed from cancer last night. I tried to get a replacement for my lost driver's license and the DMV is closed Mondays. My wife had a sorority meeting she actually couldn't miss, so I was on bedtime patrol.

And sorry about last night's longwinded blog. I suffer these bouts of doubt and analysis paralysis with my book. The one comfort I have is that most authors of merit seem to suffer the same. The fact that I lack the talent to be an author of merit occasionally becomes evident.

The self-publishing thing is way ahead of the game for me, it's true. Being disenchanted with my book, it's natural to fixate on something else, like the publishing process and the heads-they-win/tails-I-lose scenarios of every option.

The main appeal to self publication for me is control over the jacket design and typesetting. It's not vanity, it's what I do for a living. Naturally, if I can keep control over things I know I can generally outdo the trade at, it's a temptation. Not that the faux cover I created for my last blog is indicative. It was something I tossed off for the blog.

Some of the bad advice I'd include in that book, if I wrote it, was including vulgar or scatalogical words in your title. I bought 'For Fucks Sake' out of curiousity, but I couldn't get past 20 pages of it. Carlton Mellick has made a business out of (apparently self-published) books with titles like 'The Baby Jesus Butt Plug: A Fairy Tale,' and 'Razor Wire Public Hair.' He comes out with several of these gems a year, and they are probably both self published and rough around the edges.

Remember punk rock? The Dead Kennedys did a good job, were basically a loud version of Tom Lehrer, but stand out mainly because their fellow punk bands were mostly garbage. So maybe I'm wrong about Mellick and he's the witty, satiric voice of the underground, but prove it.

Another item might be to have a few drinks and blog instead of working on your manuscript. I also envisioned chapters such as 'offering a downloadable PDF, don't do it,' and a subsequent chapter on 'the necessity of offering a downloadable PDF.' And of course part of the joke would be to show a POD vendor as the publisher of record in a book that warns against letting a POD vendor show as your publisher of record.

But someone else has probably told the joke better, and in any case, one of my chapters for the book I made that cover for would be 'Don't give the ideas away free on a blog,' which is what I'm doing right now.

I am periodically beset with a number of doubts and delusions about my novel. But I haven't given up, and the only Nike gear I'd be interested in might be a pair of 13D sneakers because I fouled my New Balances mowing in them, and it won't be sandal weather forever. But Nike tends to make such narrow shoes. I've owned a pair or two that worked out, but they've remained a little too-true to the days when you had to find a VW microbus at a track meat to get a pair.

Even if I dropped 100 lbs, as delighted as my cardiologist would be, my feet would still not fit a skinny running shoe. I think the last pair I was happy with was the Bruce Smith model that Dennis Hopper sniffed for money. Found a pair in my size at a discount store as a discontinued/end-lot thing.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Lawnmower Ideas

I detest mowing. Not just because I went into cardiac arrest doing it a few years ago, I hated it before that. I could have just as easily had a heart attack doing something I like. Well, one thing, anyway: could have been having sex. That's about the only thing requiring any physical exertion I care to do. Don't mind walking, prefer it to driving, but would do neither more than I had to.

I digress. It's what Lobsters do.

Curiously, I get my best writing ideas while mowing. Or showering, basically almost anything that isolates me from distractions without requiring any mental focus on the task. No, sex doesn't qualify. I can't ever recall getting an idea about writing while doing that. Does that mean I think too much during sex? Dunno, but another digression.

I got an idea while mowing that may put 'Wealth Effects' on the back burner. Regular visitors to this blog who haven't already been through their commitment hearings are probably aware: I'm writing a novel. I've started many of them, this is the only one I've finished a draft of. Very rough, but a draft. And very long. I've been at this sucker for years, rewriting, adding and replacing stuff.

I'm not even 100% sure when I started it. The first 60,000 words or so was lost to a combination of computer glitch and an author stupidity. Since I'd never finished a draft, who'd have known that the one I'd lose my initial chapters for would be the one that I didn't get disenchanted with entirely by the third chapter.

Not quite true, I reached that point at the usual juncture. But I'd been reading more author interviews, and came to find out that most of the authors I have respect and admiration for hit that point too. And then some. Chuck Palahniuk, who's peaks ('Survivor,' 'Choke,' 'Lullaby') make up for his valleys ('Haunted,' 'Invisible Monsters') has said he goes through as many as 30 rewrites before he'll show a book to an agent. Craig Clevenger put his number at 20. And authors who don't rewrite tend to be ones who roll a single sentence around in their melon for days before committing it to paper.

I'm not counting sloppy authors with huge egos who refuse to be edited for anything but spelling. I've developed an allergy to most of that crew, who take up far too much of the retail market. I won't say that a 'bestseller' is an 'avoid this' for me, but it certainly doesn't convince me by itself. I don't share the 'too many notes' thinking of some, that if it can't be said in 300 pages it isn't worth saying. 'The Contortionist's Handbook' was excellent, and only 200 pages. 'The Magic Christian,' another favorite of mine is even shorter. But I love 'A Confederacy of Dunces' (my trade paperback is 394 and that's with a terrible book design featuring wide margins but small type, with the 'Big Chief' segments even smaller), loved 'Mason & Dixon,' which weighs in at 773 in hardback. I prefer 'Flags in the Dust' to 'Sartoris' (the same book, but sharply edited for length by Faulkner's publisher, who had reason to be skeptical that this guy was ever going to sell through an advance).

So I've been wrestling with this manuscript, often making things worse instead of better. I've participated in three online writer's workshops, which have helped me find more angles to attack it from.

Thematically, I sometimes think it's very simple. 'People get things wrong.' 'Money won't make you happy.' 'Never underestimate the capacity of smart people to fool themselves.' 'Information cannot be communicated without distortion.' 'You can't know someone, even yourself.'

Other times, I think it's all these themes and more.

On the surface, it's a crime novel, but in its current form I have over 100 manuscript pages without the major crimes being much more than hinted at. I could move the bank robbery to the front, that was the way I had it at one point but I felt that left an Elmore Leonard expectation for the reader. And Elmore Leonard doesn't bother with anything he can't say in 300 pages. Though if you take his complete works, you'd have, what, 12,000 pages??? Most of which I've read.

Anyway, I've referred to my novel as my 'get poor quick scheme' for a long time. I really don't expect to make money off it. The original plan was to go through the traditional agent-editor-publisher route. The Big Six, a 'real' contract and advance.

A book tour.

That's the Holy Grail for we, the unproven. We want to be put on planes, separated from our families and our soon to be obsolete 'day jobs.' We want signings, radio interviews. We want to go on Larry King or even better Oprah and pimp our books, basking in the glorious fame of it. We want to get huge royalty checks that prove our advance was under-estimated and get book awards we have publicly scorned.

Or maybe that's just me.

But no, there's lots of clowns like me. We want our voices heard. We get a tad desperate about it. We have the probably fallacious notion that we have something to say. And if we can't get an agent, what do we do?

If we have money, maybe an inheritance (or even fake money, like a Visa card issuer out of their senses), we self-publish.

What's that mean?

Traditionally, it means you do your own license requests for copyrighted material you quote. Even that cute quote at the front of the book, if it ain't public domain, you better get a license from the copyright owner.

It means you've got to typeset the thing or hire that done. Frank Herbert had a huge investment in 'Dune,' which he self published when he couldn't interest an agent. He didn't even do the traditional thing of hiding his self-published status, he published it under 'Frank Herbert, LLC' if memory serves.

It also means you probably want to hire an editor. I've typeset three self-published tomes by other authors, and two were by a guy who'd made his living as an editor for ten years. You can question the content if you want, but the guy didn't publish a bunch of txpos. The other was by a lawyer who had a legitimate area of expertise to exploit. Shit, he had something like 100 orders where people just heard the rumor he was putting a book out and wanted a copy. They'd send checks for $20 or more and say 'send me a copy as soon as it's printed; if this is enough for more than one copy, send all you can. If this isn't enough, let me know, I'll send the difference.'

And of course there's distribution channels. Some require inventory, others (Amazon for instance) only require a ridiculous discount.

Today, you can self-publish using print on demand technology. I've been getting the PODi newsletter via email for five years or so, and it's finally starting to live up to promises made back then. For the uninitiated, the idea is to take the economy of scale out of the medium-length press run. I've you're printing 5,000 to 15,000 copies, you can get a way better unit price using a commercial printer. POD uses Indigo and similar color printing technologies with DocuTech and similar one-color printing technologies, and marries them to a bindery. The trade shows I went to in 1999 and 2000 showed the model of a kiosk that could be put in a Barnes & Noble or Borders. Tell them the book you want, go order a mocha latte, and before the coffee is done, your book is printed.

Hence the term 'print on demand.'

It's a beautiful concept in so many ways. What right have I to buy 'Mason & Dixon' new and unread in first-edition hardback on acid free stock from Foozle's who bought it as a remainder at auction? Especially since the $7 I paid is less than the cost of producing the book, no matter the economy of scale. The binding, the quantity and quality of paper, I don't know of a printer who could deliver this for $7 no matter how many I bought.

Or did I get it for $5? I forget.

*While I don't exepct 'Wealth Effects' to make money, I won't lie: if it makes money, that's awesome. If I benefit, all the better.

And no, I won't publish with the Pynchon attribution without clearing it. I'm of a mind that few authors have enough juice to kick up sales of any book. And since I can't see TP reading the book to begin with...

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Ultimate Source of Bad Advice

Thomas Pynchon says, in the introduction to 'Slow Learner,' that there are some rough passages in that collection of early shorts. To wit: "I was operating on the motto 'Make it literary,' a piece of bad advice I made up all by myself and then took."

How much bad advice have I coined and obeyed? I reel...

Friday, September 09, 2005

In Case You Hadn't Seen...

Maybe this Photoshop stunt hasn't been e-mailed to you. In which case, gotta wonder, how's it you're viewing my blog? Is there now a smoke-signal search engine I'm showing up on?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I spammed me, and can't even blame myself!

In my 'in' box were two e-mails I did not author from two scoundrels I wouldn't give the seconds of a bowel movement to if I could instead have them imprisoned, raped, or drowned.

I mean, the message is the usual 'block all from this user' type. To have them show up without provoaciton, appearing to be from me? Whoever you are, I'm calling you out.

I don't care if you were a nerd or otherwise passed over in the high school world—but if you invented this kind of Spam, I want a chance to murder you with my bare hands. If you can outdo me, my widow can take her shot, but as far as I'm concerned, you've lost your franchise. I'm taking you off the calendar!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Worst Case Scenario

Okay, I'll cop to the response to New Orleans trumping what most countries could do. But this is the land of the 2000-calorie salad, and sufficient sand bags could have been sent by FedEx priority for less than it'll cost to even make the 9th Ward a park commemorating the dead.

When I went into cardiac arrest mowing my Mom's lawn three years ago, she called 9-11 and got CPR going. That's why I'm still here. Tha's why people group together as families, tribes, states, etc., to protect.

Between the decision to not upgrade/update a levie engineers knew needed it based on race, money and ideology and a lacking response when the inevitable happened, George Bush should have to ride around in a fan-boat for overpass snipers to take pot-shots at. And Clinton should have to ride alongside. The President's Dad can drive.

If a hijacked plane broke the levy, would it take a week to figure out that it was a disaster? I mean, the press was there already, because the storm was supposed to fit American attention spans up front. What if it had been a 'dirty' bomb, making a similar area full of radioactive fall-out? Or an earthquake that busts up the best California constructions? Or a series of backouts caused by suicide truck bombers hitting power substations? Department of Homland Security Memo: 'Funny, I don't feel more secure.'

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Worst Book in the History of Anything

I've been fiddling with my manuscript, but also with trying to decide to what extent I want to follow my original course of traditional publishing or go indie.

I figure, I can make a first novel fall of the face of the earth as well as Random House.

But there are doors of promotion that are closed to self publishers. And if I let a POD vendor like Lulu or iUniverse issue my ISBN (thus being the 'publisher of record' in Books in Print and at Amazon), those doors go from just closed to fucking locked. Don't even keep knocking, they're calling the police right now.

Because dig it, anyone with an alien abduction autobiography, political tract or paranoid medical theory can 'publish' their book by POD. And thousands do. There's no vetting process, and people who really matter see those POD vendors as poison until proven otherwise.

I was thinking in terms of starting local and small-scale, but it's just a reduced version of this example:

You're a critic at the New York Times Review of Books or Publisher's Weekly. Or you are the producer of Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Who bought you lunch most recently? I'm guessing it was an agent for a mildly to wildly successful author who's published the traditional way. This agent gets a cut of the sales, and what's he going to have to say about print on demand? It's a blight!

Some friends of mine started a microbrewery a few years ago and scored a rare homerun in lining up a major distributor for their very fine beer. This distributor had a contract with Annheiser-Busch, a company that spends millions of dollars every hour on advertising. Taxes and advertising probably account for 3/4 of the sale price of a can of Bud. I'm not exaggerating.

But they sell 47% of the beer in America. So they are naturally hostile to anyone who makes even a 1% dent in their plan for global domination (ask some Czech brewers and hop growers how aggressive those cocksuckers can be: they nearly wrecked the economy of an entire nation for the sake of the name 'Budweiser.'

AB sent a letter to Flying Monkey's distributor saying that if you deliver Flying Monkey, you don't get any more Bud. These tactics are roughly the same as the Mafia in the trash business. Okay, AB didn't blow up a beer truck to make a point, but it's less than six degrees of seperation.

The thing that led me to lose faith in traditional avenues is that they seem so focused on the McBook. If they don't see it as the next Harry Potter, you can fuck off. Keep your filthy advance, we don't want to talk to you anymore.

And I've seen examples of really good authors getting fucked over by ineptitude and bad business models in the small press market too.

What to do? Well, by the time I'm finished making my book worse, I'll probably have even better options than I do today. I mean, it's not like it'd be the first book design I did. I'd be doing what I do for a living to something I do compulsively.

But of course, I want a sample of what I'm getting. Not in terms of distribution channels, that shit I'm still researching. I need to know if the paper stock is up to snuff, if the ink/toner is prone to smear, if the binding is iffy, if the color on the cover varies wildly from my Pantone solid-to-process guide.

So why not find out now? Lulu's deal, I can set up the book and order a copy for myself. I could publish the 'All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.' story from 'The Shining.' Copy and paste, it's not liked I'd have to check into a haunted hotel and do it with a fucking manual typewriter...

Better yet, just print gibberish. What has traditionally been called 'greeking' where you flow word salad to get a feel on a mock-up. Chapter titles could be 'you were warned.' And, 'I wasn't kidding, why'd you buy this piece of shit?' And, 'You're still here? God, I didn't know they made them that stupid.'

Under this cover:

Here's the theory I would be testing if I did this: anyone can sell enough books by accident to pay the POD fees for a listing. If that's true, knowing whether a book is worth a try is anyone's guess.

What's the chance I'd get hurt? I mean if you exlude people who ordered it expecting a book they could read? How many pages of gibberish to include?

It's a Fair Cop

I have made some very flippant remarks about the situation in New Orleans. And of all people, Anne Rice has taken me to the woodshed and I have to say she's not wrong.

God, that hurt to say.

The Mayor of New Orleans, I caught part of his act on 60 Minutes, just part. He reminds me of Emmanuel Cleaver, formerly the Mayor of Kansas City with Commie roots in the SCLC back in the day. But this New Orleans cat, he's more so. Southern. Kind of like how the Govna uh'Mississippi says 'Guffport' instead of 'Gulfport.'

But he ran some numbers and I can't say he seemed full of shit. Politicians, they usually are, and he is supposedly one of them, so maybe...

But he put the initial evacuation at 80%, leaving 100,000 people who chose to ride out the storm. After the post-storm deluge, they've evacuated 35,000 more, and maybe 15,000 to go. So that leaves 50,000 people unnaccounted for.

I'm sure the death toll won't be quite there, and he didn't say that either. But he did point out that it's a substantial death toll if you put it at 5% or 15%. In other words: worse than 9/11.

How arrogant am I to make snarky blogs about building a city below sea level from a den that's below grade?

The people who didn't evacuate, well, why? Why didn't they at least go to the 'dome? Well, maybe they rode out bigger storms in the same house, and they've got heirlooms they don't want looted that don't carry so well. And after the storm passed, it looked like Guffport and Biloxi had it worse.

But if you had money, you went to a high-rise or got out of town. If you had money and didn't evacuate the before the storm, you loaded up your SUV and got out while there was still a road.

If you were poor and not keen on leaving your modest home to looters, or had a medical condition that doesn't travel well to sports arenas, you'd stay put, right? They'll get the power on in a day or two, right?

And then, with no rain, the water rises. What the fuck, right? Well, it can't go any higher than that, right? Next thing you know you're in your attic trying to keep rats away from you.

They haven't even begun fishing the bodies out. In a few weeks when it's drained out, they get to go through all those flooded houses and find what the rats and alligators and rabid, feral dogs didn't eat.

And for a variety of reasons (and I blame the War on Drugs and Civil Rights Act among other things), the poor in the South is going to translate to black. There'll be white bodies too, and I don't place a higher value on a corpse on account of color, but the political ramificaitons of that are huge. And they'll probably lead to well meaning policies that keep blacks disproportionately poor.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Uncle Sam Fucks The Dog

Without the Federal Government, roads and bridges would crumble; armed gangs would maraud the streets; children would wallow in ignorance. In other words, things would be exactly the same...

This was more or less the ad copy that caught my attention and ended up landing me my first job that wasn't in the service industry. It's basically true.

And dig it: the federal budget gets bigger every year no matter which party wins elections. If you spend 4% more when someone asked for 8% more, it's called a 50% slash in that budget item.

And what do we get? We get a military more expensive than the rest of the world's combined, and we send it to Iraq so gasoline can be even more overpriced. And we get New Orleans.

No, Uncle Sam didn't make the city below sea level, and Uncle Sam didn't make Katrina. But the Army Corps of Engineers did provide the illusion of protection, and when the levee broke, stupidity did more damage than the water.

The last evacuees, they're being forced to turn their pets loose at the bus doors because they can't take them along. What the fuck? It'll be better if we have packs of feral dogs in addition to rats and alligators when they finally drain the water and start going house to house to collect the bodies?

In Kansas City today, the Red Cross turned away a refugee who had nothing but the clothes on his back because he didn't remember his fucking ID when he fled New Orleans. And the Red Cross is generally more 'with it' than FEMA or any branch of the United States Government. So imagine how many other stupidities are being piled on down there. The mind boggles.

With one year of pre-Iraq defense spending (roughly $385,000,000,000), we could have built a hell of a levee, don't ya think? Hell, with that kind of dough, you could just bring in fill dirt (the Rocky Mountains could spare plenty I'm sure), jacked the whole city up above sea level on fill dirt. And build a system of pipelines that deliver water from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi to purification stations in the Southwest where everyone is fighting over water rights. And how were those water rights divvied up? Oh yeah, the Federal Government figured out how much for each state based on the wettest decade on record, basically promising seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny.

The Un-Sweatshop

Here's the horrible mess on my desk. Actually, I'm prone to clutter, but when coworkers are going to your boss to with prissy complaints that you're unhygienic, best not to let too many post-its accumulate, right?

With gas going past the $3 a gallon mark, and with the busiest quarter of the year coming on where I work, there's a reason why I might have over twelve gallons of Diet Dew on my desk:

The gas station I pass on the way to work has a 'Tank Bank' program, a loyalty card where buying certain items gets you a discount on gas. At 89¢ per two-liter, they are undercutting the grocery store across the way for Diet Dew two-liters anyway, so that's where I'd buy them. Short of installing a full 'fountain' system on my desk, which I don't have room for, this is the most economical way for me to remain an unrepentant caffeinist and have the delivery-method of choice at hand. Economics has forced me to drink the free coffee at tea at work in the past, and will no doubt do so in the future, but nothing beats Diet Dew.

They were going to do a big group study on the safety of aspartame, but then they found out about me. I'm the canary in the mine: if I stay cancer-free, you're in the clear.

So these 89¢ two liters, last payday, I decided to stock up. Because not only are they about as cheap as I've seen them in recent years, each bottle earns 3¢ of discount on my next 15 gallons of gas. Would I be money ahead to drink the break-room coffee? Marginally: since the gas to get to and from work is not a discretionary expenditure, when you factor the discount in (you could look at it as a discount on gas or as savings on the soda), it's less than 50¢ a day for me to have the good stuff.

One coworker asked me if I was setting up shop. I told him the skinny and he thought it made sense. But the same asshole who thinks I'm a stinky slob, he thinks this is clutter. Something he shouldn't have to 'deal with.'

I've come to realize that he's not just pathetic, he's unhappy working there. There's a couple of people in my office who seem to fit this mold. I can remember when they were happy (and when they would talk to me).

Here's the thing: I know of no other place where I can apply my skills for more money or better benefits in the KC Metro. And that's the fifth largest market for printing in the U.S., so it's not like there's no one else employing production artists. The weakest artists in my department are pretty damned good, the best are astonishing, and the pay and benefits are a big part of why. People who've maxed out the pay scale at similar art departments have failed our pre-interview tests. We've got good equipment and software, a relatively comfortable cubicle farm, flexible schedules, etc.

And even these goons can't seem to make me unhappy about working there. Since jazz musician and novelist weren't careers that offered me the chance to support a family, how busted up can I get about being paid to fiddle around with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign?

Maybe I should fake depression symptoms and get Prozac scripts from my doctor, then lace these guys' beverages with it. If you're unhappy, it's easy to blame it on your job. If there's no one offering better pay for what you do, you're stuck. So find stuff to bitch about. A coworker who's growing his hair to donate to Locks of Love, for example. Find someone who isn't miserable, and hate him for it...

Saturday, September 03, 2005

If You Die, We Split Your Gear

It's over ten years ago I did this. I'd do it again, but I have to shed a few pounds. And find a skydiving school that's still open.

The class, it started with a 100 item sign off on liability waivers. With a film of a lawyer telling us that skydiving ways risky business and there was no way around it. You might die, be maimed, etc., and you're on your own. You knowingly did something that is inherently dangerous.

The lawyer in the film, he then jumps from a plane, briefcase in hand.

I used to see and hear ads from skydiving schools that said skydiving was 'safe, fun and easy to learn.' Two thirds of that claim is valid, but safe? Fuck you, safe. Anyone who says skydiving is safe, run away like they're about to catapult a wooden rabbit at you.

Fun? The best. The birth of your children, that's an easy out, but someone else (if you're a guy) endures the pain and risk. And it's great, when you board an airplane to know your take-offs outnumber your landings. If you spot a nervous passenger, ths fact can take on extra dimension...

The headline of this blog, I read it on the back of a skydivig club's t-shirt. Sums it up for me on so many levels...

So Much for the Information Age

Where is this? Think quick, it's a town that's been recently ravaged by flood waters. The clean up and rebuilding will cost billions and take months. Hundreds dead...

New Orleans? Nope.
Guffport? Nope.
Biloxi? You're not even getting warmer.

This picture is of flood damage that occurred last week in Brienz, Switzerland. If I didn't have a friend in Zurich, I wouldn't even have known about this, that's how much press it got in the U.S.

Full disclosure: I do not watch TV as a rule, so I wouldn't have seen it on the news except as second hand smoke. And since I don't have cable or a dish, if the network affiliates or national broadcast networks didn't run it, I wouldn't see it if I watched TV all the time. Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Germany, these countries were hit too, and it wasn't news. I even get e-mail versions of the NY Times & Washington Post, though I mainly tend to skim them for headlines of interest, reading an article here and there. I don't know if they covered it prior to 8/27, the oldest ones I haven't deleted from Outlook, but the ones I still have don't have a single headline on the subject.

Which gets to the root of why I spend so little time consuming 'news.' I get a small dose of NPR going to and from work, sometimes stream it on my headphones at work (which, come to think of it, I did quite a bit of last week, so there's another outlet that kept mum). I get the e-mails of the day's headlines from a couple of newspapers, but basically by ignoring the news media, I'm not substantially more ignorant of current events than I would be if I devoted lots of time and energy to it.

Basically, 'reading the paper,' or watching the TV news, this shit just creates the illusion of being informed. A handful of people decide what they want you to think, and release the information that will lead you to think it. In an age where there is more bandwidth, more resources available for the dissemination of knowledge than at any time in history.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Swiss Flooding

Jay pointed out that while the American press seems fixated on the Guff Coast, no one gives a damn about flooding in Switzerland (where Jay resides).

First off: Most Americans think the only thing Switzerland could possibly flood with is 'questionable' money.

Second: Most Americans probably think of Switzerland as land-locked. What, a lake named for Wisconsin dairy products (Lucerne), overflowed?

Third: Most Americans, and I'm sometimes guilty of this, think of Europe as being, if anything. wealthier than we are. Surely they'd have the resources to deal with, whatever...

In summary, as an American, Swiss flooding is bad manners ont he part of the Swiss; it is also not possible given what we're taught about the ultra-civilized Swiss; and is something the Swiss could have/should have fixed with that illicit Nazi Gold.

Full disclosure: that's an intentional dig at Jay. What am I to learn from the looting of New Orleans? That Wal-Mart had it coming? That it's different to steal ham than a lawn mower? Or what, through evolution, people would somehow be better than the people who lived in Newark or Watts during their riots?

I can't cry for Wal-Mart. Or CitiBank. They'll turn a profit no matter what.

The guy stealing a TV he won't have electricity for until next quarter? His loss: while he was stealing that idiot box, somoene else was taking food, beer and other essentials. What will he have? If all TV towers are restored, 57 channels of total shit.

And yeah, Kansas is land-locked and we've had floods. I've had my own personal flood because the asshole who built my house, like the engineers who invented New Orleans, didn't believe that water always obeys the law of gravity.

I'll have too scour the 'net for some news on the Swiss floods. The last European city I remember having a deluge was Prague a couple years ago when a couple of my friends were living there. And no doubt, a Swiss food would be marked by more courteous and law-abiding flood victims. America, after all, was largely built by people who got kicked out of Europe for having bad manners.

Ridin' on the City of New Orleans...

Illinois Central, Monday Morning Rail...

God, I love the Arlo Guthrie recording of that song. It was part of Mo's bedtime CD for so many years I should HATE it.

Dad used to play guitar and sing to me and my brother at bedtime. The 'Wreck of the Old 97' keyed us up, and he didn't seem to get the clue there, but we enjoyed it and it gave us many childhood memories that instruct us on how an exasperated father should act when he's the cause of his own aggravation...

I burned (from CDs I actually own) a bedtime CD for Mo way back, when we were first learning she needed routine. This lasted until she was too heavy to carry to bed after being rocked to sleep. The CD had four tracks:

'City of New Orleans,' a Steve Goodman classic but recorded by Arlo Guthrie;
'Shackles & Chains,' a Jimmie Davis tune Arlo recorded on the same CD; 'When The Ship Comes In,' a Dylan bit, again as done by Guthrie, and 'The Hobo's Lullaby,' a Goebel Reeves song. Guthrie again. From the same CD.

For years, Mo went to sleep to these four tunes, all as recorded by Arlo Guthrie one of my early Bad Influences.

Arlo does 'When The Ship Comes In' as a ballad, and when I play the original Dylan or the Pogues reinterpretation (very bright), my daughters don't believe it's the same song.

And then, Dad has to wonder how he ended up with a political radical son singing the Hobo's Lullaby:

I know the police cause you trouble,
They cause trouble everywhere,
But when you die and go to Heaven,
You'll find no policeman there.

My friend, who's a cop, thought this was a terrible thing to sing to children. But if they don't let bad guys into Heaven, what the hell use does God have for cops?

All this from meditating on the plight of New Orleans and the Mississippi 'Guff Coast,' to quote the governor of Faulkner's home state.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Volvos

I was dismayed to see one of my favorite online personalities, Natalie Dee, has bought a Volvo.

She was getting rid of some sort of Hyundai but I think she may have jumped out of the proverbial frying pan.

I still don't know what the fuck a mass air accumulator is. Or why Puff the Tragic Wagon wouldn't run without it, but I know that as a junkyard second hand part, it was $450, just for the part, ten years ago.

If you see me driving a European make, even a fucking Volkswagon, hell even a Chrysler Pacifica (since I hear it has a Daimler drive-train), you'll know I no longer need to worry about money. I mean coming from paying a guy $20 for an oil change I can do for $10 being a rare luxury to not giving a damn if the catalytic converter is $1500.

And what the fuck is mass air anyway? And why would a car need to accumulate it? Is it related to the 'heavy water' the nazis had when they were trying to come up with the Bomb?

Looters Will Be Shot

Non-Looters, too!

I'm sure there are assheads (to use J's favorite slur) who've taken advantage of the looting scene down there in Water World. Then again, stealing a vacuum cleaner or TV that's going to get soaked in Lake Pontchartrain runoff, well, it's an insurance claim for loss either way, so if they get the booty to higher ground I can't see the harm. And with no electricity, they're not really being criminals as much as being bad consumers. I mean, if I have to swim out of my house, I'm not stealing cleaning equipment. If the stores aren't open because the owners evacuated and there's no electricity anyway, I'm stealing food and booze. And maybe a boat if I find one.

As far as whether the deluge was preventable, I dunno. I think when you have people in the Quarter who ride out the hurricane in a bar boarded shut with the plywood sporting the slogan 'we will not die sober,' no one figured the levies and flood walls would break. Maybe it could have been prevented, but I don't know if anyone could have pinpointed where it was going to fail and gotten material in place fast enough or not. At this point, it's kind of like realizing that buildings like the Twin Towers ought to have automated anti-aircraft guns on them, just like an aircraft carrier, sufficient to elminate any airborn threat including cruise missles and errant airliners. Try selling that idea before 9/11, but in the post-9/11 world try flying a 747 at the Pentagon. My bet is you end up with a few hundred civilians made into confetti a mile before they would have it the wall.

When the '93 flood happened, I traveled to St. Louis, and at one point I-70 was only about six feet above the Missouri River at one of the mid-state crossing points. I clocked it on my odometer, and the Missouri (not Old Man River a tributary) was over two miles wide. At St. Charles, the confluence of the rivers, it was 26 miles from shore to shore. In the years after that, I saw flood walls go in where no one had ever thought you'd even want a sand bag. And that was a slow rising of water while it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. The Gulf Coast got that with some stank on it in a day. In a perfect world, everyone would have monolithic homes with self-sufficent power and 2-inch Lexan windows that withstand 300+mph winds. An as soon as you figure out how to build those kinds of multi-million dollar homes for people who are lucky to afford a fucking trailer, call me.

Obviously what they've done to address drainage in the City Below Sea Level, the opposite of Denver, wasn't good enough and will probably be beefed up big time. But those hundred year old pumps that aren't pumping because the electricity is off: those are new compared to the city itself. So while my own basement is enough to scare me off of living in a little house on Constantinople Street to do these scribblings on Big Chief tablets, there's got to be reasons New Orleans is there.

Something tells me the city will never be the same again, no matter how many billions Congress doesn't have gets spent. I wish I'd visited it before. Kind of like my pilgrimage to NYC, there's just some places you should see, experience, taste.

Oh, and good news on the Tabasco front: Avery Island appears to be far enough inland to only be devastated. Their zip code is not on the list the Post Office isn't accepting mail to. So hopefully the hot sauce will continue to flow. From what I can find online, it looks like if you compared Katrina to a ten-car pileup, they're about eight cars into it, fucked, but not a totaled car with a dead driver.