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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

News? Try Showing an Honest Politician...

Duke Cunningham is getting unfair billing: they say (Mercury News) it was 'extreme' corruption.

Nope. About average, from what I see. Check out the Big Dig. It's passed the two decade mark and Boston is still a place where willingness to drive is proof you're a menace to yourself and those around you.

The only good Kennedy is a Dead Kennedy, but even they aren't that great without Jello Biafra.

The famous 'military-industrial complex' speech Ike parted with, think about this:

Ike was a politician. Yes, he was a general, which is to say he reached a high executive post in a very political system, the military. As in most things, promotion may be based on merit, but to reach such lofty heights, the 'merit' is probably largely the result of those below the person taking the credit and advancement. And war hero or not, you don't get to the Oval Office (or even Congress) without being a masterful politician. This means fooling some people and buying off the rest until you have a sufficient 'majority.'

I think Ike was as corrupt as Reagan, Clinton, Carter, LBJ, and the Bushes. Oh, and those 'dead' Kennedys (the living ones too). I'd say if Ike was freaked out at all by what he saw, it had to be pretty extreme. Like making a mess that will gag a plumber, if you actually outrage a politician, wow.

Think about it, the New Deal and all the other jerkoff tricks FDR pulled did fuckall for the economy. The real problem was the Federal Reserve, but he couldn't fix that (and didn't want to), but war had a beautiful way of generating prosperity while making Hamburg and Dresden into ovens and Hiroshima and Nagasaki into nuclear test sites.

Not to take away from the Holocaust. An atrocity with offspring (Israel).

But the U.S. press-ganged a bunch of resources into place to win the war and then there was no war. We had zero competition.

I believe it's as likely as not that the 'red' bomb Russia detonated while America was just trying to listen to a baseball game, was built from leaked info. If we didn't give them the info they needed to make a mushroom cloud, I'm sure we would have.

No, I don't think Russians wouldn't have figured the trick out, but if they needed a nudge, I'm sure we would have provided it.


Because you can't build an empire with no opposition. Since the 'savages' of a country doesn't wash as an argument a time when the U.K. and France were coming to their senses about having colonies at all, we needed cover building our own (Japan, Germany, etc.) We needed a rival capable of inspiring the insane tax-and-spend policies to keep dividends up at defense sub-contractors. Since the USSR fell apart and the war on drugs is mainly a way of extending Jim Crow (my advice, if you must do coke, be white), we now wage war on 'terrorists.' All part of the same sick system.

We need a scary enemy, even if it's a freak in the dessert we once armed against the Soviets, and even if he goes too far knocking down skyscraper, we need Osama if we can't have Stalin. I fact, since anything from a Zippo lighter to a dirty bomb is a potential terrorist threat, Osama makes a better enemy if you make a profit from America's lack of national security.

I'm not saying be light on Duke. I'm saying, while you have the hot tar and feathers handy, why not make a clean sweep? I'd even tar and feather Ron Paul since he voted for the first Patriot Act...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sunday, November 27, 2005

When The Best Beer Is...

An IBC rootbeer ad a friend sent.
Another one...

If you have trouble getting these links to work, try going to Midwest Rock Lobster's rootbeer directory, the two files will be listed, and you can click on them to view with whatever you have for watching .wmv files. I thought I set this up so it'd take you right there with the links above, but when I test it I get errors.

The 'Real' Meaning of Thanksgiving...

William Burrough's Thanksgiving prayer...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Fast Reads, Food Binges, Honyocks

A.M. Homes is impressing me. Again. After spending a long time reading a relatively short, light book by Cintra Wilson, in a day I'm halfway through 'Jack.' Granted, a day in which I had more leisure than I've become accustomed to lately. 'Colors Insulting to Nature' isn't going to break any literary ice, but it's funny and its themes resonated with me. 'Jack,' on the other hand, is one of those books that gets into the gristle of human life.

Speaking of gristle, had my T-Giving din-din today. That's a joke, no gristle was harmed in the ingestion of that meal.

Worked in the morning (of course) and headed to my in-laws. We were 'hosting' but at my in-laws. They have more space, so Frau Lobster cooked (masterfully) in their kitchen: the bird, the gravy, the mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean caserole (extra fried onions, excellent), with others chipping in sides and dessert. My Dad brought shrimp to go with some gourmet shrimp cocktail sauce I had from trying some gourmet bloody mary mix.

Blue Crab Bay's cocktail sauce is good, but their 'Sting Ray' bloody mary mix is good enough that even cheap vodka won't spoil it. I'd say skip the vodka and drink it like V-8, but they make it thick enough to stand a 1:4 spike, and without the vodka I think it might be a little too much like drinking really spicy ketchup.

So we ate too much and got sleepy, our duty as Americans. I know, we were supposed to do this on Thursday, but fuck it. If Ben Franklin had his way, we'd have turkeys on our dollar bills and, for all I know, bald eagle on the platter.

Em and her cousin did a puppet show, my brother-in-law's high school 'party' was recounted again (I have a neighbor who went, who still loves to tell stories about the best party he ever went to, though I think his stories may have some revisionism in their history). My mother-in-law was (again) appalled at the legal ramifications if the cops had really nosed around the party, which mainly resulted in his pitching career in high school baseball being sacrificed on the alter of the five-keg 'party.'

When I was in high school, there was a clique who seemed to constantly be going to 'ten-keggers.' I have seen zero evidence that anyone has ever held or attended a high school drunk-fest with ten kegs. One or two is usually enough to bring the undivided attention of local constables; three is enough to bring in the state-level Alcoholic Beverage Gestapo. Five kegs and charge admission, you're damned lucky not to be in jail. I think the 'ten-keggers' were about as real as capped teeth and Nebraska Man.

I got to hang with Mo some while Frau Lobster got ready to hang with some friends and de-stress from cooking a Thanksgiving Dinner for the Mayflower. Em came later (side-trip to Grandpa Calvin's to raise heck with more cousins). My Mom skipped it because she has a cold nasty enough she was worried about passing it along.

She still sent the desserts, a couple of pumpkin pies, a pecan pie and an apple crisp, so I guess if whatever put her under the weather is food-communicable, we'll all be reaching for Kleenex and SudaFed (now an official narcotic where I live).

Oh, and I came home to find, in the snail-mail, a package from my friend in Zurich. He included a little of everything from ads for the new Audrey Tauttou flick I've been looking forward to, to movie listings from Zurich (surreal enough to make me wanna move), weather reports to scare me off, and Calvin & Hobbes translated to German.

Oh, and '100 Bullets' comic books. I've seen them, but never read them. Surprised the come with his endorsement, I'll have to read them and see. I'm a really-late-comer to comic books. I didn't read them as a child if you don't count my Dad's Pogo collections. Oh, and I'd read Doonsbury collections. Read the first comic book (at least the first that wasn't a collection of newspaper strips) when I was thirty-something and a friend published one of his own. He and some other friends turned me onto 'Milk & Cheese' and other 'grown-up' comics. '100 Bullets' always looked like fairly genuine 'pro-military' type stuff, but the note indicated it's a comic-book answer to film noir. Since I either love or hate 'noir' stuff, I figure the comic books have at least a 50/50 shot of amusing me. If it's a bum steer, it'll be a first from the guy who turned me onto Lionel Shriver, John Cheever and at least contributed to my exploration of A.M. Homes.

Oh, he also included an article clipped from a a magazine headlined 'Chuck Palahniuk Does Not Attend Fight Club.' True enough, and natural since I met Jay through Chuck. He also sent some Christopher Hitchens clippings, which is a common point of contention. I seem to recall him thinking Hitch has sold out to the 'right,' where I tend to find Hitch a bit left-wing (at times), but in all cases we both agree Hitch at least bothers to back his shit up. If he's wrong by either (or possibly both) our lights, at least he'll be wrong with some research and thought.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Day of Doubt

I was running late returning to my slot in the corporate machine and a guy was walking along the road.

If you don't live in hard-core suburbia, carlessness is more suspicious than homelessness. If you're not obviously 'exercising,' people want to know what's wrong. Case in point: when we were a one-car family, a rode my bike to work when the weather permitted, and I worked nights then. So I'd be cruising home at 3:00 a.m. DPS cruisers would pull up by me and ask what I was doing.


'Commuting,' I'd say, inviting more scrutiny instead of less, even though it was the most truthful answer I could give.

As I passed the guy he gave me a thumbs up. I gave him one back. 'Way to go,' I thought, then 100 yards down the road, I think, wait: he's hitching. I would have picked him up, too. First, because that stretch of road between the Presto and my employer, when my car crapped out a couple of guys in a pickup gave me a lift the mile or so and I karmically owe them. Second, because if he's a predator, this stretch of road is the last place he'd expect to find victims. Without going out of my way, I'd only have carried the poor guy a couple of blocks, but still. Maybe that couple of blocks counted to him. He was bundled well, carharts and all, but still, it was 25ºF.

What I feel worst about is that I contributed to this guy's (likely and probably well-founded) view that no one helps anyone these days. I mean, if the Texas Chainsaw Massacre worst-case scenario is assumed to be 'normal' (unlikely), what would he get besides my skin? A 1988 Buick with flaking paint? The clothes off my back (Wal-Mart, clearance outlets and Salvation Army Thrift)?

On a seperate front, I get email notice when someone replies to these threads. Someone named 'Anonymous' replied to a post I made over a month a go, highly critical of nothing I can see. Folks, learn to hate correctly. I can live with you being wrong (i.e. disagreeing with me), but be clear about how you want to approach being wrong.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Exc-yoooze Me!!

I mentioned a few posts back this self-inflicted spam I get from the OED people. Today's 'Fact Of Te Day' is a definition of a 'blog.'

blog /bläg/

→ n.
a weblog: blogs run by twenty-something Americans with at least an unhealthy interest in computers.

→ v. (blogged, blogging) [intrans.]
add new material to or regularly update a weblog.
- DERIVATIVES blogger n.
- ORIGIN shortening.

I am not twenty-something, I'm more than halfway to forty-something. Interest in computers? I have none. I make my living using them, but that's like saying a mechanic has an unhealthy interest in wrenches. Even if he does folk-art in the back yard with his arc-welder in addition to fixing the frame on his car, it doesn't mean he has an interest in welders, healthy or otherwise...

Who Went Looking for Chili at the First Thanksgiving?

Okay, I'll probably get deported for this, but aside from my flu-struck daughter's "Little House on the Prairie" DVD as second-hand smoke, I spent Thanksgiving day without watching TV. But wait...

I didn't eat any turkey. I didn't even look at one. Breakfast was cheesy-poofs and after Frau Lobster objected to the questionable nutrition such has to offer, eggs sunny-side-crisp with plenty of Tabasco and toast. Dinner was some chicken and chops, mixed veggies and cornbread.

Oh, and I finally mowed up my overgrown lawn and autumn leaves. I bagged until I'd filled five trash cans, the extent of my dustbin collection. That was before I finished the front yard. I 'mulched' after that, though I couldn't see where mulching the calf-high leaves in my driveway would do anything aside from further clogging a semi-functional sump pump. But I think I got the yard to a point where the city won't impose a fine.

Oh, and the bunk bed Grampa made for the girls when they decided to share a room (they have since moved back to a room apiece, but both adore the upper bunk). The mattress is held up by slats that, according to design, don't need any anchor. But the design didn't anticipate my kids' fonching about. Slats would get vibrated out of place and eventually the middle of the matress would be sagging.

So I found some finishing nails from when I kept bees (you use a lot of small finishing nails building a Langstroth hive), and worked up a good sweat nailing down all the slats.

I might break my TV fast now, Frau Lobster is consoling a friend who actually has something to complain about, the kids are in bed, and I finally finished 'Colors Insultig to Nature.' Structurally, it borrows a bit from 'Confederacy of Dunces,' but the prism isn't Ignatius' odd notions of the Middle Ages, but the ubiquitous American cult of celebrity.

I was unfamiliar with Cintra Wilson when I bought the book, an unusual purchase on many levels. Dunno how she is as a columnist, but I enjoyed the book. She skewers the people I'd love to, and skewers me in the process. I guess you could say she made me her bitch and made me like it. But I laughed my ass off...

Oh, the chili and the TV-fast...

I had a hankering for chili. But the only canned chili I really like is HyPower. I like their tamales too. The grocery store was closed for the fake holiday, but the convenience stores were open. I checked the five in easy reach, but all the carried the Hormel stuff I wasn't 'chili hungry' enough to sink to.

I really wanted to have HyPower chili and tamales for my personal, fucked-up Thanksgiving...

And I checked out some videos from the library for the weekend (such as it is, I'll work tomorrow and Saturday morning prior to actually eating turkey, green bean casserole and sweet potatoes), but most of what I grabbed was VHS and our VCR is on the blink again. The one DVD I got was Woody Allen's 'The Front,' which I uniquely have any interest in according to the rest of my lobster family....

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Okay, I'm thankful...

I'm still my usual bitchy self, but I've been whoring myself way too much of late. You wouldn't know it from my blog posts, because hypergraphia is a sort of self-administered therapy for me, and writing a blog entry seems less useless (by a narrow margin) than writing in a journal.

It's a trade-off, because a blog gives me the illusion of privacy. If I ever said something sufficiently interesting, the Google people would probably de-index the site and instead of getting worm-viri posing as e-mails from the Feds, I'd probalby have Feds taking my computer to see what kind of e-mails I've been sending.

A hand-written journal gives me the reality of privacy, but because even I can't read my handwriting cold, it means my entries are obscure even to me. Plus, I've never found a pen with a spell-check.

Or a search engine.

So what am I thankful for on this weird holiday? I'm thankful I don't have to fucking work. Between seasonal overtime (sixty-hour weeks) and my freelance stuff, I've worked the past seventeen consecutive days. Most of those days have been spent working, a few hours spent having a cocktail or three and blogging, or sleeping. Right, I know, I'd be better off sleeping than with the blog-tail hour, but like I say, liquor or no, I find spouting words therapeutic.

It is a bizarre holiday, isn't it? I wonder, who brought the compulsive behaviors to the first Thanksgiving?

I'm not happy about it being at the trade-off of slavery and small pox blankets, but tomorrow I get to sleep in, take a long shit (maybe finish the book I've been reading for a weird span of time). Maybe mow up the leaves before the city threatens me with fines. Again.

Regime Change...

"I'm not really a Republican, I'm kind of a Libertarian. Leave my money alone, do all the heroin you wanna do, good luck with it."—Tim Wilson

About sums it up for me.

I'm So Commercial

I even added the link. Some of the blogs I read (AMG, the Department of Redundancy Department, etc.) have these little buttons showing the 'worth' of their blogs.

I think it's probably something related to hits. Or links. Or something. But in any case, I wanted to know what I'm worth.

Selling out is easy to do, goes the Tom Lehrer song. In my case?

Not unless I was wiling to 'sell out' for NOTHING. According to Techno-whoever, my blog is actually WORTHLESS!

Yikes. Nothing. That's at least 30¢ less than I expected.

An Aside About Evolution

By the way, living in Kansas isn't much fun when you're on the losing end of political cartoon equivalent of a Scopes trial.

I've argued heatedly with Jay about ID, aka 'Creationism' versus evolutionary theories. While I don't deny that ID guys like Behe (the guy who turned the trick in my mind) have 'religion' and 'an agenda' (no necessarily the same), I think it's legit to say a reasonable person could come to either conclusion. That means, if you expect schools to teach critical thinking (abhorrent to most of the powers that be), you have to outline the arguments for and against a theory. The 'big bang' theory got a lot of heat for smacking of creationism, and last I heard, one of it's 'discoverers' (Stephen Hawking) has spent more years trying to disprove it for flaws than he spent promoting it. There's an honest intellectual, willing to shoot at his own balloon in a lot of ways.

Lovelock's 'Gaian' hypothesis wafted my way thanks to subscription-spam I get from Oxford. I miss my OED Online subscription, but it's more than I can legitimately afford/justify. When I left, I signed up for this 'fact of the day' thing that's free. You never know what they'll send, could be history, language, science. If Oxford has a 'dictionary of' or a 'guide to' something, it's a potential 'fact of the day.'

Basically, as I understand it (and I've read a bit more than the paragraph in the Fact of the Day), the Gaian theory is that life makes life. That dog will hunt in the specific. Take fermentables like malt sugar or grape juice, and if yeast gets a hold, it will generally make bacteria as welcome as a U.S. Marine in Baghdad.

Not that beer and wine can't be spoiled by bacteria, but whatever microbe gets sufficient majority, it manipulates the environment to exclude its potential competitors (which itself might be a 'hand' argument for the ID side). Yeast will lower pH to where most bacteria can't survive. Bacteria will gobble nutrients the yeast needs and starve it to autolysis.

So if yeast makes an environment yeast likes, and if bacteria makes a home for other yeast, it would stand to reason that, for want of better-than-Chrichton terminology, life will out. Even if avian flu takes most of us away. Well, I guess there's some disagreement among academics about whether a virus is really 'alive.' But most of the people in the argument die of bird-flu in either case, so I guess the last man standing gets his way.

But 'Gaian' theory is, as far as I can tell, at least as pure a sophistry as Intelligent Design. Francis Crick believed life was seeded on earth by aliens, which begs the question: where'd the aliens come from? Are they standing on a turtle? Are we just a crop planted for them to harvest in some 'to serve man' Rod Serling sense?

Sorry, but I'm a rationalist in recover. 'Hi, I'm Chixulub and I'm a rationalist.'

'Hi, Chixulub!' the group intones.

'I remember, I used to think rational thought had no bounds, even when I bought lottery tickets I knew were just a tax on stupidity.'

You know those pictures that look like one thing until you turn them upside down? You can't unring those bells. You can change a mind, but not with the arguments that mind has seen 'from both sides.'

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

No Dork-Sided Photoshop Trickery

Honest. These are not manipulated photos. I've been accused of such, but when I manipulate photos, I brag about it. I am proud of, for instance, my polydactylic Chernobyl Vodka ad.
Like the sidewalk artist I posted a few days ago, this is one of those series of pictures I got e-mailed to me and thought was cute. Dunno the source, so I hope I'm just spreading warm fuzzies (wouldn't want to contribute to 'illegal sites.' Got another spam trying to infect me with Sober X., this time with a bullshit FBI source and another of the variations on the subject line Snopes warns of. Ah, the milk of human kindness.)

The lady in these pictures has one of those dogs I consider rodents. I was disappointed when Barley the Dog-Faced Boy only turned out to be big. He goes probably 70 lbs, but I had him sized up (as a puppy at the pound) for a three digit dog. His temporary sister fulfilled my size requirements but she had a fetish for kicking Barley's ass, and we had to find another home for her.

But squirrels, I like them. I have relatives who consider them pests, mainly (I suspect) because they've never seen rats. In a suburban sprawl environment you don't get the kind of rat infestations you get in a dense, urban area, but that doesn't mean you don't have some Rodent Hatred in your DNA. I like squirrels, so I guess it's almost a natural corollary that I detest small dogs, especially ones Kelly Osbourne or Za Za Gabor can carry like they're a fashion accessory.

Proper dogs, in my few, are the kind too big for that by the time they're weaned. The squirrel lady also has cancer, if you can't sympathize with squirrels. She rescues the animals because it's therapeutic. Or she thinks it's therapeutic, which amounts to the same thing.

A girl I briefly dated (after carrying a torch for a long time) in high school had a father who fed the squirrels. He was a no-nonsense guy (not so hot for me at the time, he saw right through me, but I think his daughter did too, and neither of them were having it). He didn't see the point of putting out seed and trying to keep the squirrels away from it in favor of birds. He'd fill birdfeeders, but he also poured lumps of seed on several stumps in his yard.

Another lovely couple I know not only feeds squirels, they put the food (including upright ears of corn to encourage the squirrels to stand anthropomorphically) right outside their dining room window. Just as that girl's Dad (I think) really preferred the squirrels to the birds, this couple prefers the squirrels to the TV.

I imagine it's a short leap to go from admiring squirrels in the yard to domesticating them (or 'rescuing' them if you prefer that terminology).

Sober X. and the 'CIA'

Fortunately, I had good anti-virus software (TrendMicro), and a brain. I got an e-mail aptly described at Snopes that had all appearances of coming from the Central Intelligence Agency.

They even managed to fake out my Outlook to think it was from a CIA 'gov' domain. Some obviously hinky shit was the fact that it wasn't addressed to my hate-mail address but to an 'e-user' at my hatemail address's domain. It had the subject line about me visiting over thirty illegal web sites.

Puu-Leeze. First off, I've visited hundreds, maybe thousands of web sites in my incarnation as a person with internet access. For all I know, most of them are 'illegal.' Chances are, if they don't manage to break a rule in the United States (such as flagrant copyright violations, obscenity, etc.), they probably break a law somewhere (North Korea comes to mind). Not that I'm under the authority of the North Korean government. But then, the 'Nigerian' assheads running scams aren't subject to U.S. law except that we have an army that could bog itself down in an invasion of Nigeria, where North Korea would bog down if the only tried to invade Hawaii.

For the record, I'm not in favor of invading Nigeria. I reserve the right to personally invade Hawaii as a winter refuge from the Alaskan resort I don't have...

Anyway, there was a time when I was excited and amused by the pornographic aspect of the internet. I'd type in domains I didn't think anyone would be vulgar enough to register. Yep, they were all 'taken,' and by people with really bad taste in porn.

I remember my first impression was that if alien civilizations were monitoring the internet as a way of judging Earth, it would be similar to the effect of a European seeking lost tribes in the heart of an African jungle, who comes to a clearing to discover natives who have never seen a white man. What are these natives doing, unaware they are being watched? A circle-jerk.

The period where this excited and amused me lasted roughly three hours. A good three hours, but since there's a finite number of perversions the world has to offer and I wasn't willing to give anyone any credit card numbers, I got bored pretty quick.

Incidentally, there's an 'adult' dating service I get spam from despite my best efforts to get off their list. I don't know how I got 'on' their list, but it must be some data-mining that got done before the three programs I run to thwart such picked it up. I think my efforts to remove myself from their list only cemented me there as an actual e-mail box. I don't know where they got the name of my town but these emails come saying that a bunch of sexually irresponsible twenty-somethings in my area want to meet me and/or me and my spouse or gay lover. It occurred to me that, in a town of roughly 12,000 people, it was unlikely that a low-rent dating service would attract enough people to fill one email, let alone a series.

Then I noticed something. These 'women' who supposedly want to meet me (no thanks), could I possibly know them? What if it was a neighbor on my street? I could suck my teeth and think, 'Whore!' without ever saying a word.

Remember the John Cheever story about the big radio? I got to thinking the porno/escort spam might include a neighbor. So I looked closer.

No class, I know. Sue me. It's not illegal, even if the CIA spam was legit, the CIA has no domestic authority and I've very, very domestic. The only foreign country I ever visited was New York City. And that's not really a foreign country, that's a different planet.

Looking closer, these spam-biotic panderers got the town name right from whatever data-mining they were able to do, but not the state.

They were offering me neighbors from a town I've not only never been to, but in a state I've never visited. Over 1,000 miles away.

Very long way to say 'just say no' to the 'Steven Allison' who works for both the CIA and FBI and who really just wants to put an annoying worm into your PC. Even if you visited over 30 'illegal' sites, so what? Are you the victim of 30 obscenity violations?

The bigger question is, who is 'Steven Alison?' If you had an adequate database of high school bullies and bad college room-mates, I bet even money you'd find the virus writer with just the name, 'Steven Allison.' As much as I'd like to give virus writing hackers .45 caliber retroactive abortions, as much as I'd like to think I don't understand them, I have to think that a guy who would write a worm, virus or other unnecessary plague on the computer-addicted public, he couldn't just happen, right? Right? I mean, computer virus hackers are worse than cannibalistic serial killers...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Welcome to Lobster Land!

How punk are you? Huh? What did you say, punk?

I'm so punk, I'm Apple-PLUS...

Oh, and since Americans are obsessed with celebrity, I want to present to you a guy who is one of two things:

A comedic wit.

Likely to be profiled in the near future on 'America's Most Wanted.'

This second link, I'd say is a toss up if you don't read his hilarious legal disclosures.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Squandering Talent

Tom Leherer, on one of his records, quips that, 'When Mozart was my age, he'd been dead for two years.' (Or something to that effect, no time or patience to get an exact quote from the Lobster's Claw).

I enjoyed using this line when I was 21 using Scotty LeFaro, the great bassist of Bill Evans' finest trio as an example. But we've all seen it. Even in office life, the Vice President of Operations where I work is not only younger than me, he was hired shortly before me, promoted, left the company for a couple of years and came back to advance to ever higher ranks

Power to him, too, because while he was gone I got to try my hand at being in charge of more than me and I fucked the dog so royally I expected to be fired. Instead, I got to go back to doing what I do well.

What I do well is not babysitting adults. What are termed 'soft skills' in the seminar trade are not my strong suit. Witness the fact that I describe my own performance with a reference to bestiality. Think about what a review given by me as a supervisor might be like, considering that I also had an emotional stake in all my hires and reports succeeding despite evidence that I'd made some very loud and smelly farts in the hiring arena.

But this sidewalk artist, I think this is the second time I've gotten a series of photos of this guy's work emailed to me. I love it, but instead of e-mailing it around I'm probably violating the shit out of copyright laws by hosting the larger images (click on the image to see it in full glory) and making thumbnails of them. For both of the visitors this site attracts, I hope this entertains. It's better than anything I ever did with the graphic arts, music or literature. This guy is amazing.

If this post is a violation of the intellectual property rights (or even the wishful thinking) of the artist in question, I hope the interested party will let me know and I'll take the shit down.

Meantime, I'm blathering on (an exercise in squandered talent itself, if a lesser one than the sidwealk chalk freak)...

For that matter, I'd argue that the sidwealk chalk artist has accomplished more than I have because I'm using my sorry blog to promote his art.

He's not using his blog to pimp anything I've created. As far as I know, anyway.

Maybe shows like Star-Search and it's clones (American Idiot for instance) exist to make even me look accomplished by comparison. I liked the Gong Show better, though: it gave Rex Reed a legitimacy he never enjoyed as a movie critic.

But then, the Gong Show had a prize of (if memory serves) $516.32. Since that's what it costs to fill both tanks of my family's cars some weeks, it can be laughed at, though if invested in gold as an inflation hedge, it would be worth at least $150 today (for you yougsters: gold was way overpriced in the Carter years).

And in any case, 'We'll be right back with more...stuff,' actually translated to some good shit in Chuck Barris' day. Well, sometimes. The Gong Show had a lot more variety, higher peaks and deeper valleys than the ersatz talent shows network TV pushes these days.

Come to think of it, with all the hoo-haw that was raised over W.'s attempt at appointing a complete crony to the Supreme Court, Paula Abdul had no prior judicial experience, did she?

Oh, and with the sidewalk art (this post is about sidwalk art, remember?) if you look at it from the 'wrong' side, the 'stuff' is fucked.

Almost as fucked as defending the President's Supreme Court nominations by way of American Idol. Wouldn't it be nice if we all had mallets and could just go 'gong' the President in Chief. You could line up all the candidates in the wings and see if any of them can get the $516.32. Believe it or not, hundreds of people actually file for the office every four years. In 1992, I did an article on third party candidates, and started with a request from the Federal Election Commission for a list of everyone who'd filed.

There were over 300 names on the list. Anyone who's 35 and has the filing fee (I think it was a few hundred bucks), and can prove they meet the citizenship by birth and other 'criteria' set forth int he Constitution, is technically running for President. Some of these cranks are almost as fun as sidewalk art. I caught a TV interview that included a guy 'seeking the Republican nomination.' He was seeking it in a beaver hat, and his 'platform' was an epic poem he'd written out longhand on I forget how many sheets of legal pad paper (it was hefty looking). He claimed he'd read this poem in the Oval Office on the night of his inauguration and bring about world peace.

Gong! Next? Then again, a guy who thinks he can find the GOP nomination dressed like an illustration from a children's book about Frontier Life, he might be the least harmful alternative of all. If all countries could be run by such obvious and ineffectual lunatics, it's hard to see how they'd get something as complex as a land war in Asia going...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

This is What I Do For Money

I'm a production artist. This means I'm an artist you will never, ever see in a museum unless it's a museum of advertising crap.

I know more about offset lithography than is health for a fellow to know but I've never taken an art class beyond the middle-school level. I couldn't draw a good stick-figure on a napkin.

But with a PC and Adobe's software, I can redraw a beach rescue procedure for my hourly wage. I can (and do) redraw logos for semi-obscure and soon to be merged real estate firms.

A lot of times, the art comes ready to 'drop and go.' In other words, whoever designed it already did the hard stuff and they gave it to us in a format that can be readily adapted to our templates and software.

Over the years, I've seen 'Realty Executives' mistyped as 'Reality Executives' (reality being something no agent I've ever met was selling...) I've seen the 'Vial of Life' produced as 'Vile of Life' for a fundament church. I've seen the 'Naked Mile,' postage stamps reproduced on bookmarks according to a theme, done a triangle-shaped calendar magnet for Bass beer, and a bookmark done to scale a dinosaur tooth for a natural history museum.

In the nine-plus years I've been doing it, I've seen about everything you can conceivably advertise with ad specialties come through, yet I still find amusement.

Mississippi Breastfeeding Medical Clinic, for instance...

I've heard of Louisiana Hot Sauce; Boston Baked Beans, New York Minutes, Texas Toast, but Mississippi Breasts are new to me.

Is it like with a watermelon feed, where you see who can eat the most Mississippi Breasts in a timed contest? Are they chicken breasts? Fried or roasted? Do you have to eat it off the bone or is it de-boned prior to cooking?

Or is the clinic an educational facility to help Mississippians eat breasts?

Or is Mississippi Breastfeeding a disorder they're trying to cure?

Or if it's breastfeeding as it's commonly taken in non-Mississippi contexts, why is it reserved for babies? Or is the idea that in Mississippi even people who can read a fridge magnet can drink milk right from a woman's breast?

I'm udderly confused. And/or amused.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Comic France

Jay pointed out to me that maybe Jerry Lewis isn't as big in France as Americans who haven't been there think.

Why do we think it? Because 'everyone' says so, I think. David Sedaris (who is Kryptonite to Jay) is an American expat living in France who shed some light on it. He moved there in part so he could smoke with out being fined or shamed.

Sedaris smokes in, among other things, France's movie theaters. He was delighted to find that instead of 'the movie channel' the French go to cinemas that replay decades of old movies. It would stand to reason that Jerry Lewis' films would play in some of these film houses. And if an American sees the guy who hijacks a network for a telethon for people they feel noble for tolerating actually occupying a marquee in France, what are they to conclude? That the French go the theater for things Americans guiltily consume via cable? Or that anyone on a marquee must be a huge star?

What other things do I 'know' of France, a country I've never visited. This isn't Francophobia: I truly want to visit Prague, yet I don't even have a passport, much less ever having cross the Atlantic, so while France doesn't top my list of European Destinations, it's only because I am more interested in the Celtic sections of the U.K., the Czech Republic (where Bohemian has an address), Brussels (home of Labmic, the last primitive beer of Europe), and the Trappist monastic breweries of Belgium and the Netherlands. By the time my priorities get to France, it's tied with Germany, Poland, Spain, and Portugal. Places I want to go, but I have no hatred for them.

When I smoked, I was a non-filter chain smoker. Player's Navy Cut were my top choice, maybe second only to Balkan Sobranies (no longer available in the U.S., they were an English brand that cost twice what Navy Cuts cost, offered ten smokes to a tin instead of twenty, and those smokes were so loosely packed you could claim that Yenidje tobacco from Turkey was four times as expensive as Player's Virginia counterpart.

Gauloise, however, was like inhaling razor blades. This was the evaluation of your Lobster as a smoker people referred to affectionately as 'Iron Lung.'

A tobacconist gave this explanation: the French have never learned about aging tobacco. The fermentation and oxidation most take for granted is bypassed in France, hence the harshness of Gauloise.

So what else do I know about the French asside from their famous cigarette brand being unsmokable by most smokers?


Still thinking....


Oh yeah, in France the unemployed go on strike. This is from Sedaris, who lives there. What does an unemployed person strike for? Shorter working hours? And if it's just more pay, what are they going to do if they don't get it? Not work even harder?

So Jerry Lewis isn't a 'comic genius' there? In America, he's been replaced by Jim Carey. Same schtick, but so what?

Monday, November 14, 2005

All The News That Fits Our Agenda

Jay expressed surprise French rioting has gotten airplay in the American news. It must have gotten considerable attention if I noticed it. I've been working 60 hour weeks (seasonal overtime, I'm a graphic artist in something that approximates an account's 'tax season'), and the meds work better when I don't read the so-called news.

Because they only tell you what they think you should believe.

Still, I've managed to pick up on the French riots through the walls of my news-source Est chamber. Why? I have two leading theories: focus groups revealed that Americans love to hate the French (more on why to follow); and focus groups revealed that Americans love to see Muslims behaving badly (again, see below).

Why focus groups? Because I think as much as the American news media is very much the propaganda machine it is painted to be, like all good grifters and cons, American news outlets want you to like and trust them. Why? Because there's no money in the Nazi/Soviet model. I used to work as a cashier in gas stations, an occupation in which I fortunately avoided having a gun put to my head. However, there were occasions when people tried to rip me off.

A common grift was the quick change artist who tended to favor things like D-Cell batteries the quick-shop overpriced. We kept them up by the register because aside from a gallon of antifreeze or a carton of cigarettes, a pair of D-Cells were the most expensive bootie in the store.

No one seemed to want to steal anti-freeze, even the summer when one of the two U.S. factories making the stuff blew up and the price tripled for months as the other factory went to three shifts to struggle with the demands of the ignorant motoring public. People accused me, eighteen year old barely-above-minimum-wage employee of being responsible for the deplorable price gouging, but they never tried to make off with the anti-freeze.

Quick changers would come in and grab a pack of D-Cells and whip out a roll of cash (usually a few well-wrinkled $1 notes wrapped with a $20. The idea was I'd see the twenty get peeled off right around the time I told them their total was $4.85 with tax. Of course $4.85 for a pair of batteries in 2005 is truly price gouging, and in 1988 it was beyond $3 gas. So the guy hands you a $1 (dealing from the bottom of the deck of bills), then does a double take.

"Did you say, Four dollars and eighty-five cents???'"

"Uh-huh," I'd say around the cigarette I always had going despite policies and city ordinances declaring my kiosk a 'smoke free' area.

"Nope, I don't want 'em." the grifter would say, indignant. The man wasn't going to charge him almost five bucks for a pair of batteries.

You've already started to count out change for a $20, right? It's a matter of timing, usually bought with banter about whatever was in the news that day, but the grifter wants you to have his $15.15 in his hands, and the $20 in the drawer, and he wants to leave with both.

What he 'really' gave you is $1. If you file your money in the drawer (contrary to the training better convenience stores give that you put the money in sight of you and the customer while making change), worst case scenario for the grifter is you put a $1 in the $20 slot. If you're green enough, maybe you'll even laugh at your own mistake make change and not realize you've been had until shift-change when a real-world drawer count reminds you of this dude who wanted, uh, batteries?

Fortunately, I wasn't dumb enough or apathetic enough to get taken by this scam, but barely. A guy almost pulled it off a few years into my term as gas station serf. He was wiley, picked film instead of batteries...

Back to the focus groups: keep in mind that when Al Gore was running against G.W. most Americans were, "That's a choice?" A day later and there were protesters in Florida willing to swear they had been duped (a bad thing to admit) into voting for Pat Buchanan. Prior to 9/11, even the protestors didn't give a shit who won the White House: 'You mean if I paint a sign, I'll get on the news? Cool!'

And when Bush ran for re-election, against Kerry, again: "That's a choice?"

What was one of the biggest obstacles to letting Iraq have hell for being controlled by the despotic, evil Saddam Hussein? France. See also Russia, China and Germany, all of whom, like France, had figured out how to accept lucrative bribes from the unforgivable shit.

Did that justify 'shock and awe?' No, but it goes a long, long ways towards pointing out that politicians are shits whether democratically elected by a popular vote or appointed by an oligarchy or the Chinese Communist Party.

But Americans have delight in hating France since I was a little kid. Why? Hard to figure since Jefferson was highly partisan to the overthrow of the Ancien Regime. To the extent that Socialism was untried at the time, he can probably be forgiven; he was fighting against monarchy, a good cause despite its tendency to replicate in the private sector as 'heirs' to 'corporate interests.'

To reduce guilt about the Iraq war, it's common for Americans to latch on to patriotic nonsense. If they're too educated to point out we 'saved those frogs' from 'the Huns' maybe you can get them for liking Jerry Lewis.

Or nail their ass for 'oil for food' corruption. Which is dead-on, but not as damning as riots.

So there's the first reason the French Riots get 'ink' so to speak (or is it pixels?) in the American news.

The second reason it's 'news fit to print' is that Americans love to hate Muslims. 9/11 made it okay to be open about it in some circles, but as early as 1988 I heard Arabs referred to as 'camel jockeys' and 'sand niggers.'

So you have 'sand niggers' trashing a country that has embraced Jerry Lewis and 'ought to be grateful' sixty years after we saved ourselves through their convenient offices. Naturally the focus groups pick up on this as a hot button.

France is enjoying the fruits of immigration for the sake of a welfare state. See also New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and 'Caulifourneyea.' Mexicans who want to work, I say bring it on. Native-born Americans (even 'Native-American-Born') who just expect a check to show up because they're alive, fuck off. I once met a state-level politico who worked his way through college by shoveling out hog pens. He was fond of saying that 'hunger' was the best 'employment program.' He didn't shovel hog-shit because he liked it, he did it because, realistically, it paid twice what he could make frying pork at Waffle House. This was a legislator who caught no end of shit from his electorate in terms of supporting NAFTA (he enthusiastically supported the idea that a Mexican immigrant might take the shovel away from him at the hog-pen), to support free trade and anti-tariff measures.

I've known an American daughter of a capitalist who'd earned his retirement 30X. He set her up with a puppet business after he sold hout. She lived in France while going to college and accidentally picked up more than I've ever made in a year pretending to 'want work.'

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Why Not a Movie Called 'Jughead?'

I keep forgetting to mention this. A few weeks ago, at the mall I frequent for end-lot clothing and remaindered books (it’s not officially a discount mall, but the only stores worth a damn there are clearance houses), I was approached by a marketing research clip-board teen.

I’m not averse to these people. Unlike telephone solicitors, marketing research people will often pay for your opinion. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve been paid as much as $125 for two hours of focus group time on the subject of office stationary (this was in 1997 and at a time when the money was badly needed, and I’m still ‘for rent’ to pretty much anyone willing to pay $62.50 an hour plus refreshments for me to gas on about what I do and don’t like).

I got (if memory serves) $20 for an hour of my opinion on convenience store fountain drinks.

Regrettably, this clip-board brandishing teen didn’t turn out to be offering money. Random positive reinforcement is a vital part of Pavlovian templates, so I’m bound to get suckered out of a few minutes of my life for free in exchange for the times when I get overcompensated for mouthing off.

What this kid did was take me back to a booth where, after filling out my demographic vitals, he showed me the trailers for a movie called ‘Jarhead.’ According to a newspaper ad I saw this weekend, it wasn’t a bad joke, the movie is actually playing.

I get as pissed off as right wing radio talk show hosts at disingenuous conspiracy theorists like Michael Moore, but I don’t think its any improvement when Hollywood recruits Jamie Foxx and other vaguely familiar looking actors for what amounts to a two-hour Marine Corps propaganda flick. As far as I could tell from the trailer, it’s a Desert Storm glory movie, apparently in an effort to cast the occupation of Iraq in the limelight of glamour by representing it in the context of a separate war.

Okay, some would say it’s the same war continued. But I have serious questions about whether the rulers of Kuwait are much of an improvement over the average in the region. The general rule in that area of the world is totalitarian regimes with any valuable resources (petroleum, jewels, Palestinians) nationalized by the ruling party and exploited for whatever profit they will yield in a manipulated market.

OPEC is the kind of anti-competitive organization (similar to the Medellin Cartel and Big Tobacco) that deserves to be disrupted. That said, it’s something the state is uniquely unqualified to disrupt effectively, as the state is also an anti-competitive organization.

But disrupted how? And at what cost? King Bush I was mainly afraid (as were many other political entities) that too much oil would be under one thumb. Even if Iraq could claim a rightful stake in Kuwaiti oil, and even if Saddam had been Daddy Warbucks instead of Daddy War-Lord, it’s scary enough to the CEOs of the Fortune 500 that Saudi Arabia’s abortion of a government controls such a huge amount of petrol. The thought of the pool of potential members of OPEC coming down by one was too much to bear. The U.S. could (if countries existed in vacuums) sustain its own energy needs for some time. Might have to piss off the hippies and tap ANWAR, or Mississippi (hippies prefer protecting Alaska, even if Mississippi is a bigger problem in ‘real’ terms). But we’d be okay. Really, it’s Europe and Japan that needs Middle-East oil, but as Europe and Japan are de-facto American colonies, we treat them as the 51st state and declare their interest our ‘national interest’ (read: the interests of global corporations based in the NYSE).

We buried John Wayne a long time ago; buried Ron Reagan long after he could do better than deliver cribbed notes about the doctor’s who patched him up after Hinkley’s Hijinks. But we still make war movies to glorify the most armored, lowest paying form of gangsterism. For that matter, with a gang membership, you at least put your life on the line for the elusive (and dubious) reward of wealth, instead of the ridiculous reward of a coffin draped with a silly flag.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A Three Ring Circus

Sorry, but this isn't an analogy headline: Frau Lobster came into free tickets to the Ararat Shrine Circus Thursday night. Which means it was inexpensive to attend, all I had to do was feed my new (to me) '88 Buick enough gas to get to Municipal Auditorium, $5 for parking, $20 or so for concessions and souvenirs.

It's eerie how it's exactly like I remembered. It's been, easily, 25 years since I went to a circus. I was an overly cynical kid, and really didn't enjoy the circus that much as a child.

First off: after we park and are walking to the auditorium, I have to wonder if the children of all ages cliché is bizarrely true: there were tons of people mixed in with the families of obvious circus-goers who were twenty-somethings dressed to the nines in black designer dresses and semi-formal suits. Freaky enough, the idea of childless Beautiful People attending he circus: to get dressed up for cotton candy and clowns?

But Municipal has more than one room. The main arena was the circus, but the theater part was playing Les Miserables. Oddly (to the Lobster's POV), the two started at the same time and had the same intermission. We left at intermission because it was a school night, Mo was on overload from the spectacle, and, really, how do you top a human cannon? We emerged from the auditorium and had to pass through the well dressed young couples' second hand intermission smoke.

Cigarettes are a queer addiction. I've been off of them for a decade and still want one sometimes, but do I miss struggling to make it through a movie without sneaking out for a smoke? As long as Wagner's operas are, the junk-sickness for a cigarette must have made Sigfried seem much, much longer.

But back to the circus. Cirque du Soleil can be all Migh and Highty about how they don't use 'the animal,' but the real reason is that while watching a bear ride a scooter is fun, it pales compared to aerialist performing without a net.

The big cats are beautiful. The poodle routine was cute. But the trapeze, rope and high wire acts were literally breathtaking.

The flying angels were scary enough: they do the passing of one acrobat to another, stuff with a high enough goof-percentage you couldn't do it without a net. But I saw an act like that as a kid and maybe this is where my cynicism was checked:

When they set up the safety net for the act I remember from (I think it was the Ringling Bros., but it might have been the Shrine circus, I saw both, the latter more than once), I saw that one of the corner poles wasn't as upright as the others. I was just a kid in the stands, so if I could see it anyone could. Especially experienced circus people, right?

During this acrobatic act, a guy falls on the net and it gives, drops him to the arena floor. Brutal fucking fall, right? But in my child's mind, I thought it was like in the movies where people aren't really shot, it's blanks in the gun and fire-cracker size charges placed in walls to simulate a guy being shot at. If the net was set up to drop the guy and he hit the floor, it was staged, right?

The ringmaster gave a speech that struck my cynical-kid ears as corny, about what a sad thing it was, as the guy was hauled off by paramedics. Of course, the ringmaster lived on the road with this guy, he was probably genuinely upset by it, but I assumed it was all for show and I wasn't buying it. When he said that 'the show must go on,' I about gagged on cliché.

Then I find out, via news and my parents, that this acrobat really did take a nasty fall and was hospitalized.

Flash forward to Thursday evening and I like animals, but concerns that the animals might be cruelly trained are offset by a notion I have that to get a full grown bear or lion to behave in silly, anthropomorphic ways, you have to understand the animal better than you understand people. Breaking a horse is not inherently cruel: it's a process of making a physically superior animal 'want' to be ridden. When I see poodles doing a conga, I see Pavlovian templates taken to amazing conclusions. Ditto for kissing tigers (not without risk, remember Sigfriend and Roy?) or fiddling with bears on leashes, I can only see mean tactics getting one so far.

Also, the risks the animal trainers take are dwarfed by the acrobats. One act was three rings with a rope act, a ring act and a trapeze act, all without a net. These girls were doing things like hanging by a hand-hold and rotating their body in unlikely positions a good 30 feet above a floor with little more than a wrestling mat's worth of protection. The trapeze girl (who had earlier foot-juggled flaming batons), at one point was swinging by her ankles while a fat old man stood below her center like he'd catch her if she fell. Maybe if she fell at zero degrees of arc, but if she fell in any of the other stations her trapeze was describing, the guy couldn't even get badly hurt failing to catch her.

The tightrope act was another netless job: and one of the dudes, he didn't look old enough to vote, much less take a drink, and he is somehow allowed to sign the waivers to trust his balance alone? He was trying to skip rope on the line and fell, first taking what looked to be a bad groin shot and then catching himself with one hand before he went all the way down. He hoisted himself back up and the ringmaster asked him if he was okay.

The guy wants to try it again. And he did it. Skips rope on a high wire with no net, the wire slightly higher than the balcony level of the auditorium begins.

There's a purity to this thing. No, they don't have a sideshow in any circus I've attended, though Chris Offut's relatively contemporary memoir 'The Same River Twice' details his travels with one that did. He's a few years my senior, but he would have been travelling with that show after I was too old to be dragged to a circus unwillingly. Perhaps cosmopolitan KC got a cutting edge breed of circus in the 1970s.

Perhaps the animal acts will, as those French-Canadian fanatics suggest, look as ridiculous to me in the future as a sideshow. What I remember from Offut's memoir was the 'parrot lady' who was shunned by all the castes of the circus. She was a sideshow act, so acrobats, animal trainers, even roadies basically wouldn’t talk to her. The freaks didn’t like her because all her deformity was chosen (if memory serves, a bizarre series of tattoos coupled with a fetishistic exhibitionism.

Anyway, whether I should feel guilty for enjoying it or not, I will not willingly miss another circus that passes through town. I don’t care if I ever see ‘Les Mis,’ but I will not miss another circus if I can help it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Why Dey Do Dat?

Okay, forty-plus French cities are burning to the chagrin of 18 Francophiles and unhealthy delight of 400 million Francophobics. What does it teach us?

Some say it's the result of uncontrolled immigration. I live in the most powerful country on earth (for good or evil) and it was founded on, and continues to thrive on unlimited immigration. The people threatened by immigrant labor are people being paid more than their labor is worth. What's their labor worth? What they can negotiate in a mutually voluntary employment relationship. Not more, not less. I'm not unaware of the painful elements of having your efforts evaluated by the market. Markets, like weather, are indifferent to individuals.

Private, voluntary charity (imperfect as it is) has always kept a bit of a net under people. With rising prosperity, the 'floor' below which we're not willing to let even the lazy or insane sink, rises, but it's always the bottom. Even in countries able to subsidize their welfare states with the temporary boom of petroleum money have economic strata, culutural, political and economic elites.

And since socialism is a Ponzi scheme at the end of the day (eventually the oil wells dry up and someone figures out how to exploit some other source of energy more cheaply). Petroleum is an alternate fuel: it came on strong when it got hard to find whales. Just as there's no whaling industry anymore, fossil fuels will eventually peter out.

If Cuba had oil, they wouldn't be using ox-carts in Havana in 2005.

What's this got to do with France? There's been lots of nonsense from both liberals and conservatives, religious zelots and anti-religious bigots, about what's 'causing' rioting in France. It's pretty simple: the more socialism you have, the less you have the reality-check of the market. You create a sense, in people, that they are entitled to more of whatever it is they think they want, and at the same time stifle the creation of wealth that allows for expanding employment and something to tax for the sake of the welfare state.

France's problem is not immigration, it is not Islam. As it's been since the French Revolution, it's been France's embrace of socialistic economics. I can't remember who it was who quipped that the French Revolution succeeded in cutting off the heads of everyone refined enough not to shit in their armchairs, but as violent revolutions often do, the result was an illiberal regime (to put it mildly).

The places in the U.S. where there's a 'crisis' of immigration, they're just milder manifestations of the same problem. As long as economic opportunity is to be had by emigrating people will do it (and you're wasting your effort if you try to stop them). As long as that opportunity is the opportunity to find employment or open a business, immigration is great: it takes people from places with too few opportunities and deposits them in places with too few people. If the opportunity is to collect unemployment benefits, then you get France, where as David Sedaris has pointed out, even the unemployed 'go on strike.'

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The War on Whatever (and France)

On the way home, I heard an AM asshead giving me an echo of what he said yesterday. Some nosie about the French being sterile and over imigrated. I don't know, he was speaking Idiot and I only know that tongue when I've had a drop too much.

A drop more than now, even.

O'Reilly was on the same topic as I was on my way to play net-less tennis with my Youth Friend on a tennis court two woud-be Lolitas were determined to sweep and wet-mop. Badminton is beter, since we know nothing of the rules when it comes to the yellow ball or the shuttle-cock. But you get some time to line up your miss with the shuttle-cock. A tennis ball, even at 1/3 of the 130mph speed the pros get on their serves, you're luck if you know what's about to inflame your testicles. At least one returned 'serve' I gave today hit three niches shy of career-changing impact...

The War On Whatever

I grew up with the War on Drugs. Not that sobriety resulted.

When the Twin Towers fell (despite the legitimate questions about whether they should have been built), I felt violated.

Thomas Jefferson is cited by the likes of Hitch as being a 'nation builder' (something no President in my lifetime can claim), and specifically is lauded for his willingness to fight Barbary Coast piracy.

What were the Barbary Coast pirates after? Spanish gold from Central America was centuries depleted to a great extent, and the Barbary pirates had basically setup a tax system where it was understood that a certain percentage of gold stolen from Indians would be diverted to North Africa.

So what was Jefferson worked up about? He clearly gave fuck-all for liberty or he wouldn't have been riding one of his female slaves under his wife's nose instead of actually 'freeing' thse slaves. But white-folks, that's a special case for Jefferson: he was willing to extend the U.S. naval resources to fight Barbary Coast piracy because...brace yourself...those pirates traded in slaves. And they were colorblind, willing to enslave Spaniards, Americans, Irish, Whatever. Put it on a boat, it was fair game as far as they were concerned.

So America waged war on 'white' slavery while still embracing the pigmented version in huge regions.

When 9/11 happened, and they started talking about a war on 'terror,' I likened it to the war on piracy. I had no idea how apt the comparison was.

I might as well have referred to the Moorish Wars, the French Resistance to them, or later, to the Crusades. In any case, piracy is still a very real thing.

This came up on an NPR blurb today, 'Talk of the Nation.' Appaarently a cruise ship mistook a war zone for he high seas, and was attacked by a pair of cigarette boates nar Somalia. They shook the attack off, but here's what stopped me:

The expert on high-seas piracy they had on spoke of specific areas of the ocean that no cruise line should touch. This isn't a signle opinion, this is a U.N. edict.

Worse, the 'expert,' was able to speak of the percentage of piracy that is committed against oil tankers. Just what we need is an Al Queda-guided Valdeez-Replay.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Talk About Taking it Up The Tail Pipe

As if the image of Elvis dead on the toilet isn't enough. I've never believed anyone would 'fake their death' that way, not someone with The King's ego.

But Marilyn draws a whole other type of conspiracy theory. Since she died before age could really take much of a toll (despite the hard-living), she's permanently a goddess of pop culture.

The conspiracy theories about Marilyn all have to do with whether she accidentally overdosed, killed herself on purpose, or was murdered. No one wants to find out she didn't die. No one is sexy at 79.

And from what little I know of the whole sordid business, the scene was contaminated from a forensics standpoint by everyone but Bigfoot. The chick was about to remarry Joe DiMaggio, she'd fooled around with the President and the Attorney General, both Kennedys, not to mention Sinatra, who didn't exactly run with a bunch of Boy Scouts. So if someone killed her, you've got a better chance of catching Bigfoot than the killer.

But what the Playboy bit has that is so far out, and John Miner doesn't seem an obvious crank, is the notion of 'how' she might have been murdered.

His theory: a Nembutal enema, given after she was already passed out from a chloryl hydrate sleeping pill. Talk about the valley of the dolls...

Six Fifths (and it's not a shopping list)

I'm reminded of a track, I was thinking it was Peter Erskine, but it could have been Bill Stewart. Forget who the headliner of the album was, but the track was a drum solo, no other instruments or composition. And it was called 'But Is It Art?' Of course

Great line in the close of 'End Zone' by Don DeLillo, where Taft tells Gary about the racial percentages of various 'white' figures in history. Euclid, according to Taft, is 'six-fifths' black. By which point in the book, you know that Taft isn't even remotely serious in reporting this mathematical impossibility about a mathematical personage.

Sixth-fifths. I guess that's a natural ratio for a footballer to come up with, someone used to giving 110%.

You wouldn’t have to be a football fan to enjoy ‘End Zone,’ by the way. There’s one chapter where it’d help, the only really extended play-by-play bit, apologized for in advance with the disclaimer that, ‘much of the appeal of sport derives from its dependence on elegant gibberish.’

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Queer Eye for the Literary Award

Back when the Nobel committee had a member resigning in a shit-fit, I mentioned that as far as I can tell, you have to have a homosexual character to qualify for the Pulitzer.

This is not a homophobic rant, by the way, in case you were going there. Don't bother. Some of my best friends are homosexual characters... Ah, where's Lenny Bruce when you need him? How to entertain your 'colored friends' and all that.

But it's eerie, I think Anne Tyler's 'Breathing Lessons' may be the only Pulitzer-winning novel going back to 1982 or earlier, that didn't include homosexual characters or themes. And maybe 'Breathing Lessons' has one I forgot about. I didn't notice Quoyle's Aunt being gay when I read 'Shipping News,' it had to be pointed out to me by a friend I was discussing the book with. Quoyle was so dense about it, I guess it rubbed off on me. I was so expecting Wavy to turn out to be a lesbian that I missed the subtler homosexuality of the Aunt.

And the narrative focus of 'Breathing Lessons,' the ultra-flake Maggie, she could probably walk through a Gay Pride parade and not notice any homosexuality. She'd be too caught up in how to fix everything around her. Fixing things much the way an unfrozen cave-man might 'fix' your car for you.

But 'Breathing Lessons,' while funny, brings up the bigger question of 'how the hell do they figure it's the winner?' According to their own site (see item #19), they have no criteria. Isn't that nice?

Looking around, you will find such high-tone phrases as 'high literary quality and originality.' You'll also see that they admit the prize is totally subjective and that they intentionally refrain from defending themselves or responding to criticism of any kind. Fine, I too reserve the right to ignore criticism.

I listened to 'The Stone Diaries' at work this week. Note, I did not say I read it. I do not believe I am a 'Recorded Books Reader.' Audio books help pass the day, and when you work sixty hours a week at times, it's a good thing. But it's passive, you get the story told to you. In a way, this is a reversion to the tradition the novel springs from, the bard who travels about telling tales for his supper; in another, it's passive compared to actual 'reading,' something which is often described as a 'passive' pursuit itself.

If I find 'Breathing Lessons' a less-than-obvious Pulitzer, 'The Stone Diaries' goes to another level. It's good writing, but it's also, basically, Willa Cather recycled. It is not original, it plots poorly (even compared to Willa Cather), and it's pedestrian stuff. The only reason I kept listening is because I assumed all this pedestrian shit was the setup for something that would startle me, make me think. Evoke a reaction. I guarantee you, if it was the print form, I would not have gotten past 30 pages.

So how did this unremarkable, if smooth, piece of writing win a Pulitzer? Here's my theory: near the end, when Daisy is practically dead, and less lucid than her narrative voice (something which breaks the suspension of disbelief a bit, IMO), this totally superfluous character, the minister who sort of 'comes with' the hospital she's been to after her heart attack, he tells her he's gay and asks her advice regarding his mother.

Why is it there? Earlier, she's told the candy-striper she doesn't want to see him, and gets bullied due to her sense of manners into admitting him. She's not exactly among the 'faithful,' though she'd consider it bad manners to be an outright infidel in the face of someone who's taken orders. There's no indication of why he'd think she, of all people, would be better than any other old lady for him to consult about this, and yet he travels cross-town to ask her advice about coming out to his 60-year-old mother.

There's nothing wrong with Daisy's advice, that he should keep his trap shut and accept that Mom probably already sussed this out. But why is this part of the text? It advances nothing of character or plot, tells us nothing we didn't know about Daisy, reveals nothing of the order of things except perhaps the societal shifts between her generation and Reverend Rick's. Nothing we haven't seen refracted through her children.

My theory of why it's there: 'The Stone Diaries' is the kind of book that's lucky to get an agent and/or publisher. It's not the kind of book to sell a gazillion copies, nor does it break any real literary ground. Carol Shields is a capable wordsmith, no doubt, but the authors at the grocery store end-cap have nothing to fear from her. She's got a gay preacher in the last chapters, which I think was inserted for the benefit of the Pulitzer jury.

Personal theory about Pulitzer criteria: if you're commercially successful, fuck off. Elmore Leonard, John MacDonald, etc, forget it. It doesn't matter if your next book makes the works of Shakespeare look like the classified ads, you've made too much money to get the prize. What you have to do is write well enough to pass for 'literature,' but not so well as to create a Pynchon conundrum, with the jury being overruled by the board, resulting in no award at all.

But to make sure you're in the running, better put a gay character in, whether it fits or not. Because the people who nominate and vote on the winners apparently believe that homosexuals, besides being natural interior decorators with great taste in clothing, are essential to worthy literature.

For that matter, the stereotype that gays are better at interior decor and wardrobe than straights, well it's hard to pass up a flattering stereotype, right? Chris Rock made a crack about how the problem with racial stereotypes is that most of the ones applied to blacks are negative. He expressed jealousy for stereotypes such as Jews being good with money. If memory serves, he said something to the effect that, 'I live for the day when someone says, "Hot damn! I got me a nigger accountant!

Hey, what if to win a Pulitzer, you also had t include black characters? And hispanics. Even if the story is about a 19th Century arctic exploration voyage setting sale from Newfoundland? If you have only one character, perhaps you're required to make him sexually ambivalent AND racially inscrutable.

Imagine the frustration of Tom Spanbauer, 'The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon,' it should have been a shoe-in for the Pulitzer. Homosexual incestuous Indian prostitutes pitted against hypocritical Mormons and genocidal cavalry?