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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Self Image (I'm a Sexy Bitch...)

How I look to my dog:

Why on earth would my dog want to please me?

On a different subject:

The mysteries of human reproduction

Beautiful women seem to fall into two categories:

  • Ones who think they're basically unfit to be seen in public, no matter how much evidence they are presented to the contrary. Men in the presence of these women are rendered incapable of rational judgment by sheer lust, but the babe continues to live her life assuming she is ugly and that men act that dorky all the time.

  • Women who know they're hot. This group, for some reason, tends to be as obnoxious as another species of women: the ones who aren't fit to be seen in public, but insist on hip-huggers with holes in the butt, half-shirts and lower back tattoos with religious themes.

I suspect that the same cultural pressures create both types of women. Most seem to enter the alembic of American pop culture and emerge believing they're chopped liver; a few come out thinking their shit has been transmuted to something that doesn't smell.

Men fall into two categories also.

  • Guys who are 100+ pounds overweight, poorly dressed and hygienically lacking, who figure they're 'not bad.'

  • Guys who live at the gym, working on rock-hard six-pack abs, juicing until their nuts turn to raisins and their brains go soft. This is to make them attractive to beautiful women who know they're good looking.

How does the species propagate? It would seem that (unless you're going to compete with the steroid freaks for obnoxious Paris Hilton wannabes), all attractive women are basically out of the league for any guy with a sperm count.

How Lobsters Reproduce*

*No Lobsters were sexually gratified in the snapping of this photo.

Vetting Daughter's Dates

This also falls under the category of why television has to stop. I don't have cable, or a dish, just an antennae, and the outrages that still penetrate my home! I try not to watch, but I caught part of a show one time, 'My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé.' I guess this is what they are talking about when they talk about reality TV:

  • This chick (who I'd guess falls more or less in the second category of beautiful women, though she was only beautiful in the most utterly superficial and plasticky way possible), they get her to go on a TV show where she gets a bunch of money if she marries a total stranger. And she has to sell her family on this deal, get them on camera and humiliate them.

  • The guy, according to the setup, is in the same position. I think the only reason this drew me in is it amounted to an extended 'Candid Camera' routine, and I always kinda dug that show. The guy, of course, was a regular, ordinary guy. He looked more like John Belushi than Brad Pitt, but he was an actor, as was every person brought in as his family members.

  • When the 'men' of these two families were brought together, one of the things they did to make things hot for the Barbie-clone and her family, was all the guys, including the fiance, from the 'actor' side of the family started pulling up their shirts, doing 'OK' signs around their nipples and shouting "MOOSE!"

The chick was still at the alter when push came to shove, at least if I remember correctly. Yep, that's reality alright...

I thought the Moose was great. Em thought it disgusting. So we worked out a deal. When she gets to be a teenager and a guy asks her out, there's an audition required. Not the nervous, furtive exchange on the front porch that characterized my high school first dates**.

The pimply goon has to come to dinner at our house. I'm not looking for elbows on the table so much as signs of him being too much like me at that age. Basically, I know my daughter is going to make mistakes, but I think Frau Lobster and me should have the chance to vet the nominee for an hour or so. Not grill him, but get a sense of wehter Em is making a mistake on the order of a guy she'd rather not see in the halls at school, or one that's likely to end up with a 3:00 a.m. call from the police or a hospital.

So anyway, the deal is, if at any point in the dinner I pick up a Jeffrey Dahmer vibe, or the guy brags about how fast his car goes and how ideal it is for hill-jumping...

Then, Em can turn to the boy and say, "You can finish your meal if you like, but after that you might as well go. There's no future for us, you got the Moose."

Kind of 'Meet the Parents' cross-bred with the Gong Show.

**First dates were usually only dates, but I had a lot of them. I learned at an early age that most girls won't decline a first date. I think this is because they: 1) Feel like it would be rude, or otherwise have a notion that it's wrong to hurt even an unattractive guy's feelings; and 2) Know it's a free movie, meal, whatever, and might not be worse than watching TV with their parents. The reason my dates tended to stop at the first is the large proportion of girls who found out a date with me was so much worse than watching TV with their parents. Cured them of caring about my 'feelings.'

Thursday, July 28, 2005

That's What I'm Talkin' 'Bout

My friend J sent me this book. It's more remarkable than that sounds. This is a person I've never met in person. We ran into each other on an internet forum and have been trading e-mails since last fall, even though he no longer frequents the board we met on. The only other bulletin board I know him to lurk on is one I hardly ever go to.

It's one of those things where we have just enough in common for friendship, and enough things to argue about to make it interesting.

By argue, I don't mean combative barbs. I mean argue in the Debate Team sense. The kind of discussions you'd find on a college campus if the Politically Correct police weren't on patrol.

Anyway, this friend has sent me books before. Raymond Carver and John Cheever, always just out of the blue, always good shit.

So when I was getting a slow start on 'Geronimo Rex' by Barry Hannah (I'd just read 'Ray' and liked it quite a bit, so I'll come back to it), and 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' showed up in my mail, I decided to switch dance partners.

I'm not far in, and I'm trying to post this pretty quick so I can get back to it. I guess some people say it's controversial, but that adjective can probably be applied to...I'm looking, trying to see if anything on my bookshelves...

Nope, everything I read is controversial. If you get enough narrow minded bigots together anyway. Hard to see a big book burning party getting worked up for the technical books, except they're about yeast culturing and other aspects of making beer, mead and cider. The Temperance Union, Mothers Against Delightful Draughts, that crowd could burn those. Call in the anti-piracy zealots for my Real Book, so not even my sheet music is safe.

One time while reading a book I said to Frau Lobster, 'You gotta love a guy who names a character "Blister."'

Frau Lobster told me I read some fucked up shit. Thinking back to the past few books I've read have included a book told from the narrative view of a pederast in prison living vicariously through a college girl with similar proclivities via the mail; the story of a murderously corrupt dermatologist and associated social deviants and dope fiends in 1950s Los Angeles; the story of a Native American serial killer cult...

I guess Frau Lobster has a point.

So the current fucked up shit I'm reading is (so far) in the form of letters written to an estranged husband by the mother of a Columbine-style student killer. And I'm loving it.

But getting back to my friend who just sends people books because he thinks they might like them. As if that isn't generous enough. These aren't cast-offs he couldn't finish and thought maybe someone else could stand to read. It's not the 'eat this before I give it to an animal' approach. He actually goes out of his way to have them shipped to me, usually via Amazon.

This time, though, he decided the American cover (I'm paraphrasing, but sure I'm close) 'sucked ass.'

Well, that'd put it in league with most book covers. Being a graphic designer by trade, a major temptation of self-publishing is I've got about 19:1 odds of coming up with a better cover for my own book than I'd likely get from Double Day or whoever.

Here's the American hardback and trade paperbacks next to the one J sent me. He had it sent through Serpent's Tail, the publisher of tke UK trade pb. The one I'm showing here (the only UK cover I can find on line) is near identical to what I got. The blurb on this pic that I can't make out is a two line blurg on my copy, a pimp by Jenni Murray about it being a courageous and resonant book. At the top it mentions it winning the Orange Prize for Fiction (I hadn't heard of it either, so don't feel bad). Turns out Jenni Murray is a judge for the prize, so I guess the top banner and bottom blurb are saying the same thing in a way.

No, I won't say the cliché about judging a...

I do have some observations, things that I would suggest as a sort of literary Rheinheitsgebot of book covers. Not binding law, just common sense that is very often missing from whatever misguided souls come up with the kind of covers I really hate.

1) Thou shalt not make the author's name bigger than the title of the book. Not even if they sell more books than J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Clive Cussler, Stephen King, John Grisham and Thomas Harris put together.

2) The words 'a novel' do not belong on the cover of a novel unless it has a title so misleading that the book would be mistaken by an educated person for a cookbook, sex manual or government report. Exceptions could be granted to such books as 'The Contortionist's Handbook' on this basis. And maybe to something like 'The Pleasure of My Company' since Steve Martin is so famous for non-book stuff that a reasonable person might take it for a memoir. That is, a reasonable person who hasn't read past the second paragraph of the book.

3) Including praise for the book by authors of other books is bullshit. Don't do it. Especially since most consumers are aware that most of these endorsements are as valid as the paid-for 'two thumbs up' you'll see on movie ads even when Used-to-Be-Siskel & Ebert have panned the flick.

4) Adding that it's about to be a major motion picture is not helpful. Since most motion pictures are varnished shit, the fact that Hollywood loved a book is not a selling point.

5) Don't put a sales count on the cover. It's like the old McDonald's sign saying how many billions of people they'd improperly fed. I don't care if the book is a POD print and my copy is one of six not owned by family members of the author. That is, I don't care if the book turns out to be any good.

6) A good cover on a book that doesn't sell well, it's not the cover. Max Barry's hilarous novel 'Syrup' tanked despite being a brilliant debut. When his second book, 'Jennifer Government' broke out (to use industry lingo), they trashed the awesome cover from the hardback and put a cover on the trade that doesn't make any sense. The double 'x' thing might have been a legitimate gripe, crossing the line between clever and stupid. That's one tweak.

7) If a book's been made into a movie, don't put pictures of the movie stars on the cover of the reprints. Even if the film was better thant he movie, a film is almost never remotely faithful to the book, so don't lie.

There's probably more rules I could come up with. I don't know how many of these jive with J's opinions, but I can see two or three offenses on the U.S. covers for 'Kevin' that aren't present on the UK production.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I take more drugs than Abbie Hoffman

When I started punching Frau Lobster in my sleep, I went to my doctor for a sleep study. REM Behavior Disturbance, when you're not paralyzed during REM sleep, that's bad. I don't fish, but if I dreamed of fishing and went to cast off, you wouldn't ant to be sleeping with your face right where my arm's about to swing, right?

I hardly ever remember my dreams, so I'll give you an example of one I do remember. I slipped on stairs, grabbed the rail at the last minute. Finger shaped bruises on Frau Lobster's arm the next morning.

Anyway, they can treat it. Clonazepam, the generic for Klonopon, is the drug of choice. According to the doc I had at the time, and it works most of the time. I complained it was 100% effective. Frau Lobster almost had to go to the doctor, which would have landed me in jail for domestic abuse. A judge might want to hear my doctor talk about REM Behavior Disturbance, but the cops by law aren't allowed to listen. And a doctor who saw the bruise on my wife wouldn't have been able, legally, to 'not' notify the cops that they had a likely domestic abuse victim.

The alternative, it turns out, is a Parkinson's drug with a side effect profile no doctor I've talked to is comfortable with prescribing me. Even Frau Lobster vetoes it. Even the neurologist who finally diagnosed my Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (misdiagnosed as tendonitis a decade earlier) wouldn't write for it. And she wrote for it all the time, for Parinson's patients.

So they up my dose of Clonazepam. 4 mg at bedtime now. I skip on the rare occasions I sleep alone, my sleep is more restful without it, mentally if not physically. With it, it's kind of how Chief Broom describes the Secenol they give the patient's in 'Cuckoo's Nest.' You don't fall asleep, you blink out of existence.

But the sleep study, it found I had obstructive sleep apnea, which Frau Lobster kinda knew and had been nagging me about. So I sleep with a CPAP, which makes a huge difference in the quality of my sleep. It's about as sexy as a genital wart, but quality sleep can be strangely habit forming.

Then I have a heart attack mowing my Mom's lawn. So in addition to the CPAP and Klonopon, I take:

1 Aspirin
50 mg Atenelol
2000 mg Fish Oil
2000 mg Niaspan (prescription grade time release niacin)
10 mg Crestor
10 mg Zetia
1 generic equivalnt of a Centrum Silver
2,000 mg Vitamin C

That's at bedtime. During the day I take my Ritalin (yes, methylphenidate, Garth), for ADHD. Which if you couple the Ritalin iwth the Clonazepam and a halfway normal neurological system, is the Elvis Diet.

Perversely, thanks to my ADHD, Ritalin effects me about the way I'd imagined valium. But Klonopon was developed to replace Halcyon because of psychotic side-effects; and Halcyon was developed to be a less addictive valium.

And this September, I turn:

Next time you hear about Baby Boomers aging, remember I was only

when I...

Well, I died. Cardiac arrest. Four percent (or so) of guys like me come back from that. The only excuse I have for being alive is that only the good die young.

Oh, and yes, cardiac events are a contraindication for stimulant therapy. A lot of people don't seem to know that Ritalin is, well... It's crank. See also Adderall, which is a cocktail of amphetamines, and Dexedrine, the original 'greenies.' Isolated way back in eighteen-ninety-something. They used to give Dexedrine to anyone who played professional baseball, looked great in ruby slippers, or otherwise got fat. Now they hide cold medicine so people don't make homebrewed amphetamines. Go figure.

But my blood pressure actually measures lower on the Ritalin. After a lifetime of 'catching up to the class' and 'underachieving,' of 'not living up to my potential,' it's very stress-relieving to be able to go to work and not be the guy they put up with.

Okay, maybe I'm still the guy they put up with, but I'm easier to put up with. Ask Frau Lobster. She hates it when I don't take my crank...I mean Ritalin.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Eat, Drink and Be Merry...For Tomorrow We May Diet!

I’m fat. Not phat, fat. Well, maybe I’m both. If you think I’m a swell Lobster, I guess I’m a phat fat guy with abundant hair. Or sometimes I’m the phat fat guy with a shaved head (wonder what all this ‘phat fat’ will do for my keyword hits...)

‘Beer Belly Blues’ by Tim Wilson about sums it up for me. It’s more than beer I’m wearing, but I do own the only XXXL Cult Hoodie ever made (thanks, Mirkah!), and I’m sure plenty of people have had fun at my expanse when I’m not around. Or if they know me well enough, they’ll say it to my face.

So in the land of the 2,000 calorie salad, how do you lose weight? Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Deal-A-Meal? Atkins anyone? It doesn’t matter, because the Diet Industrial Complex makes a bigger profit if you fail. Think they don't know it?

When Sumo wrestlers diet for weight gain, they binge and purge to shame Marlon Brando. By eating very little for a few days, they crash their metabolism and their bodies start thinking, ‘famine, survival.’ Then they go and eat the Japanese equivalent of the Sizzler buffet. Their body converts all those excess calories to fat.

If you’re American you’ve dieted. Don’t even try to deny it.
You do so good for what, four days, five? Then you eat a large Pepperoni Lovers pizza. You figure you’re good more than not, so why aren’t the pounds coming off?

Because you’re on the Sumo Wrestler’s Training Table!

Of course the programs work if you really follow them. Even that stupid Subway diet works if you don’t cave and eat four Super-sized McDonald’s Fries ‘just this once.’ So there’s skinny people they can run on TV commercials to prove that Slim Fast (or whatever) works.

Yeah, I know, exercise is key. I cut a lot of weight when I was spending four hours a night at the YMCA. I never saw my family for those eight months, but I was the trimmest I’ve been since high school.

The Shrine of Skinny

How do they con people into torturing themselves and sacrificing their health in the quest for Skinny?

A big chunk of the world's population is still dealing with how to get enough calories to stay alive, never mind whether it's meat or bread. We're hard-wired to put on fat in times of plenty, genetically. Those naturally skinny people who can't seem to gain weight no matter how much they eat and how little they exercise? How long do you think they'd survive in a real famine?

So here we are, the survivors of all those famine cycles in a country where a guy living out of his car has a TV that plugs into his cigarette lighter so he doesn’t have to miss ‘American Idol.’ What do we want? We want to be skinny. Really skinny.

They only ended ‘Friends’ because in another couple of seasons Courtney Cox could have hidden behind Mary-Kate Olsen. The skinny fetish is almost as alarming as where Hollywood seems to be putting the fat liposuctioned off Anna Nicole Smith. She lost that weight alright. But someone found it, and instead of making soap out of it, they injected it into Angelina Jolie’s lips. Are women supposed to be a rack made out of coat-hangers to dangle breast implants, bee-stung collagen lips, and hip-and-butt-padded panties?

Can you imagine the mess if Angelina's lips popped? It'd be like the fat-wrestling scene that got written out when 'Fight Club' was adapted for screen.
If guys are honest, a lot more body shapes than you find in the Victoria’s Secret catalog are hot. Playboy knows this, it’s why they mix up the body shapes they showcase. The Suicide Girls know this, they have even more variety in their pack, and it’s more interesting. And even Playboy and SG has an element of phoniness. I’ve personally almost wrecked my car to get another glimpse of a woman who would be thrown out by one for being too fat and the other for being too mundane.

Wait, Chixulub a voice for moderation? The end times!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Work is the New Vacation

I'm in a perpetual state of economic turmoil, yet it's not like I'm underemployed.

Oh, hey, AMG. I found it!


There's my full time job, which has a very respectable benefits package (incredibly generous for the size of company and the cut-throat industry we're in). The past couple of months have been slow, and in the nine years I've been there I can remember about four such droughts lasting all of about six weeks each. What's more typical is a 40 to 45 hour week that ramps up to a 50 to 60 our week for four months in the fall. And they pay double-time for hours over 50.

Then I have my freelance work. Just finished spending, basically, all my waking hours for two and a half days working on a 48 page magazine. Technically, I'm still working on it, having just uploaded the second round of revisions for the editor, who should be e-mailing me back tonight either more changes or approval to FTP the booger to the printer.

Booger, it's an industry term. They only say 'put it to bed' in movies. Screenwriters are far to busy being enamored of their scripts and waiting tables in Los Angeles to squander their time learning about file transfer protocols or PDF preflight software.

The point being that I work my tail off. Not as much as Frau Lobster. She's a Mom, and for those of you who don't know about that job, it trumps the Peace Corps for the 'hardest job' claim, has no pay, no pension plan and can still end up with a crushing debt burden that needs to be restructured through bankruptcy court. Kind of like having your own airline with no off hours, travel, or airplanes. And the little bottles of liquor in the galley? If I was going to take that job, I’d demand they be replaced with bar liters.

So what do I plan to do with a couple of days off? Well, aside from reintroducing myself to my children and going through that annoying stack of junk mail called 'bills,' I plan to do more revision and rewriting on my novel.

Yes, it's a hobby. No one is paying me to write it. Even if I knock all the rough edges off it (like having plot continuity, credible characters, good pace, and a lot fewer txpos and error grammars), AND get an agent who actually sells it to a publisher. And if that publisher actually publishes it, and (insert music to indicate a miraculous event) it sells through a meager advance, I still won't have made the Bangladeshi Minimum Wage.

'Wealth Effects' predates my heart attack, so I've been wasting my efforts on this unlikely venture for well over three years and it's still an embarrassment. And I can't wait to give it my full and undivided attention for hours on end during the next two days when my employer is paying me not to be at the office.

What is wrong with me? Don't get me wrong, I can get sucked into the TV real easy. It's part of why I run from televisions as a rule. And I can get lost in a book, a good one can take over my life for days. This happened most recently with A.M. Homes' 'The End of Alice.' Just started Barry Hannah's 'Geronimo Rex,' and I guess we'll see if it hijacks me. I enjoyed 'Ray,' a much shorter novel of his, and this one won the Faulkner Prize which tends to be a fair to good sign.

But doing nothing? Like sitting somewhere and just being? I can't do it. It's fucking impossible.

Even now, while I await edits, I blog. And if I wasn't blogging, I'd be redesigning Lobster Land, or doing monkey-brain edits on 'Wealth Effects' or trying to wake up Frau Lobster. I can't do nothing.

Before I had kids, I used to play Super Nintendo while letting Keith Jarrett Trio run over me. Super Mario World, Tetris. I guess that was kind of doing nothing. Or I'd make a liter mug of gin & tonic and run the claw foot tub our old house had and spend the day reading some malnourishing comestible by Robert Ludlum or John Grisham. That was kind of doing nothing, except when I'd let water out of the tub with my wrinkled toes and run more hot water in...

Now if you turn the tables and talk about whether I'm doing anything productive... Like working up a budget that doesn't lead to financial crisis, finishing mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage...

I'm sorry, what were we talking about? And what’s this ADHD thing I hear about?

Anyway, when I practice the guitar, it's always with the thought that I ought to be pursuing my first career choice. I ought to be aiming for the stage of the Village Vanguard. A contract with Blue Note records. I want to hire Dave Holland to play bass, Billy Stewart for drums. Bring in Joe Lovano on sax and Hal Galper at the piano. Even though I lack a fundamental talent for time that makes real musicians hate playing with me.

When I work on my book, in my head it's for the Pulitzer committee, even if the result isn't worth a pulp house.

Other hobbies? I haven't brewed in a while, but when I made beer it was with an eye towards making better beer than I could buy; brewing led to making meads and ciders; making meads led to keeping bees. Then to a business plan I never quite perfected for a meadery and cider mill — to do for dry sparkling mead and cider what the microbrewery movement did for beer.

In other words, there's few things I do, even as a hobby, that I don't approach as if it was a job. What the fuck is wrong with me? The only way I got into graphic arts work to begin with is I wanted to publish a magazine. Talk about a get-poor-quick scheme.

When I started blogging, I ended up trying to figure out how to tweak my CSS template to make it look more professional.

A professional blog, that's got to be a warning sign, like posting two blog entries in one day.

Remember in 'True Stories,' the movie David Byrne made, with the speech by Spaulding Grey about how people don't see the difference between working and not working? How there's no such thing as weekends anymore?

Work, it's the other vacation!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Keyword or Cry for Help?

Okay, you can't see it because I have a personal issue about visible counters, but there's a counter on this site. I basically don't want you to see how pitiful the traffic at my site is. Plus, I read somewhere that visible counters were amateurish. I can't say there's anything remotely professional about this crap, but I have this issue. It's personal, and no I don't think your site sucks if it shows a counter.

I think a counter is a personal choice.

Speaking of personal choices. The counter I use, StatCounter, gives me all kinds of mostly useless (to me) information. Mostly it tells me that the few people who come here don't stay. Zero seconds, that's the norm. The people who are here longer must be one of two types of visitors: people who know me; people who are still on dial-up and can't escape before StatCounter registers their hit as more significant than it is.

Oh, I guess I should say 'hi' to the following repeat visitors: Tempe, AZ; Sunnyvale, CA; Kansas City, MO; Zurich, Switzerland; Rochester, NY.

There's others, but that's not what I started this entry about.

StatCounter also has features like telling you the screen resolution, operating system, browser, etc., of the visitors you get. This is useful, I guess, if you find out all your users are blind and you have no 'alt' tags.

The 'Keyword Analysis' is the alarming thing. I get friends coming around here. I submitted to the Langa List because it got me a spike of traffic for my primary domain. And there's the Cult, I have a link to my blog in my signature there, and on other message boards I'm less active on. So that gets hits. But here's (I'm NOT making this up) what StatCounter says are the keyword entries bringing in new surfers via search engines:

  • big pimp fucking group

  • pimp drawing

  • family guy song rock lobster

  • projected needs of lobster buy and selling product

  • pimp my rid game

  • pimp cup design ideas

  • lobster boys t-shirt

  • family guy song rock lobster put in description

  • adult adventures in the midwest

  • pimp my teen daughter

  • pimp crops gold

  • how to get a gusshing orgasm

I won't lie to you. I can't tell you how to get a 'gusshing' orgasm even if you learn to spell. For me, it's always just happened. I don't want to pimp your teen daughter, even if your crops are gold. I know nothing of cup design, selling lobsters or how to draw a pimp.

Please don't tell me what a 'rid' game is, and I definitely do not need to know what a 'big pimp fucking group' is or why 'family guy' shows up more than once on this dubious 'top twelve.'


I invented a word! Good on me, eh?

Okay, first I had to invent the definition. Wrong word, I didn't invent the definition, I personified it. I told Frau Lobster to read my blog the other morning and she asked me what I'd blogged about.

"I have no idea," I said. "But I really meant it."

I had somnambublogged!

Have you ever blogged in your sleep? Maybe this is a symptom that can be worked into a set of warning sings for a new 12-step program. And your fourth step, that personal inventory part, your blog IS your fourth step. What an awesome shortcut! Ah, I can picture the meeting...

In the overheated basement room of a church or civic center, a group of people with unusually pale skin sit in a circle. Some have wrist braces on, and scars from carpal tunnel syndrome surgeries. Others have impossibly thick eyeglasses and cataracts from prolonged exposure to cathode ray tubes and plasma displays. No one as colorful as Bob with his bitch tits as portrayed by Meatloaf, but you can tell these people aren't healthy.

Obesity is the norm in this room, and isn't helped by the Krispy Kremes brought in for those who haven't relapsed into chain-smoking as a substitution for their blogging habit.

And the best part, your blogoholism isn't your fault. It's a disease. There's pamphlets, literature about the disorder geared towards the afflicted and their loved ones.

"Hi," I'll say. "I'm Chixulub, and I'm a Blogoholic."

"Hi, Chix!" the group will respond in unison.

"I guess it all started when I decided to have my own domain," I'll say. "No, that's not quite true. I swore I wouldn't get high speed internet access, and I...DID!" [Chixulub breaks down sobbing. The group leader tells everyone they need to support Chix for having the courage to admit his blogging problem.]

And what will be the signs that you're a blogoholic?

If you answer yes to five or more of the following questions...

  • Have you ever refused to have sex with your spouse/lover/date because you had to blog?

  • Have you ever had four color process cards printed up to leave in unusual places in hopes of getting a hit on your web site or blog?

  • Do you know what an RSS feed is?

  • Is the number of hits your site or blog receives the primary basis for your self esteem?

  • When you witness a tragedy, accident or unlikely event, do you immediately start thinking how you'll blog it?

  • Faced with the choice of paying your ISP bill or having the water shut off, do you start showering at a friend's house?

  • Do you think of the 'blogosphere' as an actual place?

  • Did your spouse/lover/date leave you without your noticing it for days because you were busy blogging?

  • Ever missed work to blog or due to a late night of blogging?

  • Have you lost jobs for blogging when you were supposed to be working?

  • Are you still reading this list?

  • Imagining people who don't blog, do you picture Amish horsecarts?

  • Have you ever somnambublogged?

I won't say how many of these I say yes to. And sometimes you have to embrace your addictions. Unless you're refusing sex, because that's messed up.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Guy Who Doesn't Get It

Anyone hip to Richard Cheese? 'Lounge Against the Machine,' 'Tuxicity,' both kill me, and I'm dying to get his latest, 'Aperitif for Destruction.'

Cheese's schtick is he does heavy metal, punk and rap songs in the milieu of Wayne Newton. And it's hilarious. He's got to be the whitest guy to refer to himself in first person as a 'nigga,' and his 'unplugged' (a la Tony Bennett) was a song by Old Dirty Bastard.

He even does 'Holiday in Cambodia,' complete with sleigh bells. It ranks up there with Hayseed Dixie, who do bluegrass renditions of KISS, AC/DC, Queen, etc.

So I hear on NPR today that Paul Anka is trying to do the exact same thing with his album, 'Rock Swings.' Listen to the interview, the guy has no sense of irony.

Anka even expurgates the lyrics to Nirvana. And he seems to think Sid Vicious' rendition of Anka's 'I Did It My Way' tune was a legitimate interpretation. Even refers to granting the license for it. Granting the license?

Parody, Mr. Anka. The Sex Pistols were making fun of you and Sinatra, and didn't need your permission, it'd fall under fair usage.

Van Halen's 'Jump' as a 'new standard' with a big band. The problem is Anka's serious. It's not camp, it's not even the kind of misguided theory that someone famous for not singing (Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Sid Vicious) should record an album because they're famous. It's worse: Anka makes his fucking living as a singer, and if he's going to do this, he either needs to find material that actually suits him or have the kind of fun Richard Cheese has with it.

And no, it's not like when Johnny Cash did Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden songs. He picked tunes that he could work in his style, that were actually better done by Johnny Cash. 'Black Hole Sun' as a Rat-Pack-Vegas-lounge bit only works if it's a spoof.

Listen to the interview and judge for yourself. I think maybe Paul Anka was who Jill Sobule was thinking of when she wrote 'The Guy Who Doesn't Get It.'

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

This She Believes...

Yesterday I mentioned a 'This I Believe' bit on NPR by a former professor at the University of Tehran who lost her gig for not wearing a veil and for thinking.

Here's the link.

She says it well. And as someone who has been surprised to find narrow minded fundamentalists to be more intelligent (at times) that the supposedly 'open minded,' I think her supporters indicate a universal quality.

Just because someone thinks, like Ignatius Reilly, that progress for the better stopped in the Middle Ages, that doesn't mean they lack the capacity for critical thinking. It may not even mean they're wrong, but illustrating that might take something like free expression. Literature.

Tell me a story...

Monday, July 18, 2005

To Digress or Not To Digress...

If you've had enough patience to read this fucking blog, you know I have either a talent for digression or a disorder of some kind.

Chixulub's Manuscript as a Pickup Truck...

As I mentioned in my reply to J(ay) on yesterday's entirely too dark (even with an Electric Jesus Chixulub graphic) post, I heard part of an interview with John Irving on the radio this evening.

This was on my way from the office to visit Todd. To read more pages from the current rewrite of 'Wealth Effects.'

Reading aloud is a useful exercise, because it forces me to listen to the rhythm of my prose. Left to my own devices, I write convoluted sentences Evil Ash has rightly referred to as 'comma abuse.' I also have an affinity for gritty characters and a problem with giving them unlikely vocabularies. Read a redneck narrator aloud and inconsistencies in his argot become more apparent.

Irving has contemporary writers he likes, from what I heard, though they were guys I've never heard of. I've enjoyed the four books of his I've read: 'The World According to Garp,' 'A Widow for One Year,' 'The Fourth Hand,' and 'Cider House Rules.' But like Tom Wolfe, he's a commitment to huge page counts, and as much as I love to read, I'm not a fast read. I sub-vocalize everything.

Not that I move my lips or anything like that. But 'Kavalier & Clay,' 'Mason & Dixon,' 'Middlesex,' and so on, these days, I have to be pretty sure I'm in for something good before I'll tackle books of that size. I just won't bother with Pat Conroy, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, etc.

I don't share Irving's dislike of the 'modern' or 'post-modern' (whatever that is). He mentioned that a lack of plot and architecture is a problem in his view. But 'Underworld' is my favorite Don DeLillo book, and I haven't read him through but I'm 99% sure it's his longest work. It also lacks an overall 'plot' of the sort you'd find in 'A Tale of Two Cities' or 'The Cider House Rules.'

But Irving mentioned loving the 'sentences' of his favorite authors, and that's definitely part of the appeal for DeLillo as far as I'm concerned. 'Cosmopolis' has a more compact plot, but really what I love is his use of the language, especially his dialogue and the interior thoughts of his characters, in that case Eric Packer and Levin/Sheets.

But a lot of what makes 'Wealth Effects' a monster-in-a-box/wonder-boys type thing is I have all these back stories invented. I have the childhoods of these characters, their formative experiences, their parents, their school experiences from grade school to college, their work histories... Failed marriages, financial crises of their own engineering, fucked up families, entrapping jobs, etc.

Elmore Leonard (who I LOVE), really short-hands these back story elements. Sometimes I think that works, but other times I think the only reason I accept a crooked authority figure or a crook with a noble streak is that it's Elmore Leonard. His other books, characters, stories, etc., become the back story you'd find in a guy like Irving who writes fewer (but much longer) books.

I've struggled with the structure of 'Wealth Effects.' I originally had the proposal of the arson/bank robbery spree as the opening scene, but became disenchanted with that. Starting with the actual crime wave is another option, but where do you build from there? Without back story?

The draft I have been tormenting Todd (and his roomy) with doesn't even get the actual 'crime' in first 100 manuscript pages.

But from the outset, I've wanted it to not be a crime novel, per se. More a literary novel with crime, transgressive, social criticism and romantic elements. Today, I'm wondering if I'm even smart enough to read a book like what I am trying to craft, much less write the fucker.

And this morning, on the way to work, I heard a 'This I Believe' on NPR, by a woman who lost her gig teaching lit at a university in Iran for not wearing a veil, and for teaching some of Irving's literary heroes. Their goddamn tax-subsidized web site isn't coming up for me to link you to the item, and I'm late for the sheets, but I basically share her view that good literature makes you think, makes you empathize with people you might, on the surface, find outrageous, wrong-headed, subversive or criminal.

So what's my goal with 'Wealth Effects?' I want to make you dance with the infidels of middle-class values. I want my prose to shoot bullets at your feet that make you dance with these infidels...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A Day in the Life of a Lobster

When Frau Lobster woke me this morning, she’d had an hour of sleep. She was concerned first and foremost that I get adequate rest, leading me to a recurring thought:

Damnit! Can’t you think of yourself for a change!

So I pretended to supervise our children while she napped. In three days she'd had about eight hours of sleep, Mo being on overdrive lately. Which probably means another seizure soon. She had a big one Friday, and usually that means it'll be a while before another major one. But disrupted sleep and behavior problems that exceed the norm for her are usually harbingers of a hurricane force seizure.

What sort of behavior do I mean? Oh, like bolting when Frau Lobster was letting the honyocks play in the hose, clearing the neighbor's fence, bursting into their house and opening a Coke before anyone could catch up to her.

Anyway, while I pretended, I made it through about half of A.M. Homes' 'The End of Alice,' a repulsive but entrancing book. I've avoided Nabokov because I used to work for a guy who thought 'Lolita' was the sexiest thing he'd ever read. I don't think he ever touched a minor, he just sought out barely legal girls who were underfed enough to be boy-shaped. He'd date professional ballerinas and tell them they were fat. So I always associated that book with pure creepiness.

The Electric Jesus Chixulub (to lighten this post up)

What Homes has accomplished (unless it falls apart in the last fifty pages) is amazing. To sympathetically portray a person I believe should receive the death penalty, and a sort of protégé he's egging on, not a lot of authors can pull that off.

A totally different writer, John Irving, did it with 'Cider House Rules.' I not only believe life begins at conception, I make a distinction between innocent life and the life of someone who has abdicated the responsibilities of a human being. I think a doctor (or pretend doctor) who performs abortions without a literal threat to the life of the mother should be executed for first degree murder. The 'patient' and whoever else enables the procedure should be sentenced exactly as anyone else for the appropriate crime: solicitation of murder, accomplice, accessory.

But in 'Cider House Rules' Irving got me not only to sympathize with the ether addict running the abortion mill, but even with his plans to coerce Homer Wells into taking his place. At least within the context of the story, I could 'root' for what I consider to be the bad guy.

Homes doesn't quite have me rooting for the bad guy, but she does make me think. In the end, I still come up with Old Sparky, the rope, the gas chamber as the solution for child molesters. I don't mean an 18 year old dating a 15 year old, though neither 18 or 15 is old enough to make an informed, consentual decision about sex. But a twenty-something ice cream truck driver touching a 12 year old, or a parent/child situation, capital punishment is the only solution.

Why? Because the crime itself is evidence of a compulsion that probably has no cure. Call it a disease if you want, but just as we quarantine people with incurable, contagious, deadly diseases, the only 100% guarantee against recidivism is death.

Life in prison? First off, that means society has to pay to warehouse these creeps. Then you have the fact that lawyers, judges, parole boards, etc., have a track record of irresponsibility when it comes to keeping those life sentences actually meaning 'life.' And prisoners escape. They also commit sex crimes against other prisoners, who may be incarcerated for less serious transgressions, but may be pushed to act out with sexual aggression of their own once released. I can't prove that the compulsions of a pederast are contagious, but I'd place a higher value on the innocence of one child over the lives of dozens or hundreds of kiddie-touchers.

Damn, this blog is getting to be a downer, eh?

I worked on my own novel in the afternoon. I cant' tell if I'm making it better, but I'm stirring the mess up. I read to Todd for a little over an hour from it. He's a good accountability partner, because he's patient when I stop to scribble on the pages and re-read sections. I wish I could gauge his reactions better. He'll grind his teeth or have a coughing jag and I don't know if it's because my prose sucks that bad or what.

We went to dinner sans Frau Lobster to celebrate my Mom's birthday. A place I once washed dishes at, actually. If you can wash dishes and see the prep-cooks in action in a restaurant and still want to eat there, it's a pretty good restaurant. No Orwell/Palahniuk tales of food service terrorism to report.

Then I got to thinking that since I've been lax on practicing the guitar, why not try playing for Todd? His feeding tube kept jamming, the machine beeps a slightly sharp F. I tried to tune to the machine and play in time to it between the nurses coming to try and clear the blockage. His roommate seemed to like my playing more than Todd did, but then his roommate also laughed every time the beeping started again.

Todd's roommate signs 'yes' and 'no,' not really standard sign, he doesn't have the digit control for that. But he has a system. One of the nurses asked if he liked my playing, and he signed 'yes.' I asked if it was better than my book, and he signed 'yes' and laughed.

"Thanks for the boost to my self esteem," I said. This got another laugh, though Todd had fallen asleep. The nurse assured me that she regularly asks Todd's roommate if she's fat and always gets a 'yes.' He's about half Todd's age, judging from the high school sports team pictures on his walls, but it looks like the same sort of thing landed him in the rehab/nursing home. Might have years of rehab ahead to be semi-functional but he's still got his ornery.

I'd be ecstatic if I could elicit as much rudeness from Todd. I guess this isn't making this blog less of a downer...

Just when you thought this blog couldn't get any worse (Jehovah! Jehovah!)

Our neighbor Hannah has had a relapse of her Burkitt's Lymphoma. She lived a couple doors down from us until a few years ago, then moved a few blocks away. She was probably the biggest boost the Gardner Relay For Life had this year. You never see adolescents in force there, but you did this year. Hannah is 13.

The good thing about this particular Leukemia is it's usually responsive to chemo. The bad part is it's fast and deadly. Plus, it's rare, so they don't have a lot of options for a second course of chemo with the relapse. She's on what I gather is an experimental drug.

Her brother turned out not to be a bone marrow match, which is also not so hot. I'm pretty wimpy about needles, but I had decided that I should look into being a marrow donor. It does involve needles, and it's not exactly painless or easy, but I've had my own life saved against odds, so I feel like I have a debt there.

Unfortunately, according to the NMBP site, I'm not eligible specifically because I'm a heart attack survivor. Never mind that being a heart attack survivor is exactly what made me decide I should look into getting on the registry. There's about a zero percent chance I'd be a match for Hannah, but there's other people out there fighting for their lives.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Not a poll as such...

My friend J suggested that I make this blog more dial-up friendly, but I'm not sure. I was going to put a poll in, and even found copy-and-paste code that would work except I couldn't see how I'd harvest the data. I guess if you're on dial-up, like to read my blog and get pissed at how long it takes to load the page, e-mail me. I'll think about it at least. I remember the dial-up days, it sucked. If I didn't have legit business reasons for high-speed, I'd still be listening to that damned phone modem and avoiding sites like this...

I'm launching back into the rewrites of my novel tomorrow. Well, that's the plan. If my daughter has more seizures, well, my kids are more important than my silly novel.

I used this 'M' on a business card for a while, but no one got it. I'm not that old. Okay, I'm old enough that dating an Olsen twin would be creepy, but I'm not old enough to date Farah Fawcett with a straight face. Not that I'm in the dating game, I won my prize.

But no one seems to remember typewriters anymore. I mean, maybe in some DMV or other Kafkaesque setting, there's probably a Selectric in use, but the ball on those doesn't even look quite like a traditional typewriter key.

I loved typewriters. Except for the lack of spell-check, web surfing and e-mail capabilities, they rocked. But at least I remember what they looked like. Even what they smelled like.

But then, I'm a dinosaur, I know. No matter that my wife is roughly the same age as Nicole Kidman, that I'm roughly the age of Jennifer Aniston, and younger than the other 'Friends' girls by a couple of years or so. I still have a turntable, for LPs. Yeah, those vinyl discs the record industry swindled you into throwing out in favor of CDs.

But tomorrow I toe the line and get serious about 'Wealth Effects' again. It's been a month since I tormented my brother with pages. I haven't been as active in the online workshops as I should be, but I feel worse that I promised Todd I'd read him more from my ms and haven't.

Todd's a good audience because after the accident he doesn't vocalize much, so if he objects to something I've written, I have to take it to heart. And just reading shit aloud without knowing if he understands or not, I can hear what sucks in my writing.

But to have more pages to read to him, I have to do more rewriting/editing. There's just no point in reading third-draft shit, I already know how bad that stuff sucks.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

When Mozart Was My Age...

He was dead. Or near it. Last I heard, undercooked pork was the likely cause of death, but still, it makes me realize how much time I've squandered.

Yesterday’s thoughts of triptychs vs. quadtychs got me to thinking of Hieronymus Bosch, one of my personal heroes in the world of art. His visions rival anything by Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí or André Masson for surrealism. Bosch is beyond psychedelic, beyond surreal. If there’s evidence of the supernatural, I’d aver Bosch’s Hell trump Michelangelo’s Heaven any day.

These dark visions, you’d think these were 20th Century works. They even used a detail from 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' for the cover of Joey Goebel's second novel, 'Torture the Artist.' A fitting cover for the title, to be sure.

But Bosch isn't modern. This post-modern painter died in 1516. To put that in perspective:

  • That’s 169 years before J.S. Bach was born.

  • It’s 24 years after Columbus found ‘India’ in the Caribbean.

  • It’s closer (301 years) to the signing of the Magna Carta than to the Civil Rights act of 1964 (448 years).

  • Bosch was dead 48 years when Galileo was born.

Bosch’s contemporaries, loosely, would include Copernicus, Gutenberg, and Leonardo DaVinci.

Quote for today:‘I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a hot-gusshing, butt-cramping, gut-hosing orgasm.’—Chuck Palahniuk, in ‘Choke’

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Time for Polydactyly!

Okay, when I read 'Contortionist's Handbook,' I wasn't aware that Thomas Harris had given Hannibal Lecter six fingers. It wasn't really played up until the last book, which sucked, and I'm certain it wasn't even mentioned in the movie adaptation of 'Silence of the Lambs.' I can say that with authority, because while I read the book, I saw watched the movie on a weekly basis back when my job included the depressing task of rolling 'The Waldo Shopper' every Tuesday. So every Tuesday, I'd roll 4,000 shoppers to be thrown the next day, and every Tuesday, the VCR got 'Silence,' 'Ferris Bueller,' 'Where the Buffalo Roam,' 'Uncle Buck,' 'My Cousin Vinny,' and 'Blazing Saddles.'

This went on for months, so if they'd included it in the movie, I would have noticed. The book, maybe I missed it. I preferred 'Red Dragon' and 'Black Sunday,' which I still consider Harris' best work, and in any case I didn't re-read books much back then. I hadn't really gotten to the point of analyzing, studying books, and I wasn't reading (for the most part) books that would stand up to that kind of scrutiny.

The 'Contortionist's Handbook' intrigued me on many levels. The idea of identity changing, that there'd be a group of people who have to do this all the time even though they're benign, a kind of perpetual underground that travels by paper, was fascinating. The autistic characteristics of John Dolan Vincent are amazingly accurate. I kind of hate stuff like 'Rain Man' that leads people to comment, 'Your daughter's autistic? That just means she's smart.'

Yes, people have actually said that to me. Also that Einstein was autistic, see also Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, and so-and-so's crazy uncle who invented an engine that runs on water, but the oil companies bought the patent out and threatened his life if he spilled the beans.

As if the steam engine was something new. The same people assert that Einstein Edison, Gates, etc. have/had ADHD if I bring that up. Like they're the same thing.

So Clevenger's character having savant characteristics is something that ought to irritate me, but he does it so beautifully. John Dolan Vincent has all the hallmarks of legitimate autistic spectrum problems coupled with a gift that (in the Greek tradition) is both his strength and his downfall.

I won't detail all the things Clevenger nailed, read the book. 'Contortionist's Handbook,' Craig Clevenger, MacAdam/Cage 2002. Trade paperback $12.50 retail, you can get it at Amazon for $10, so if you get a $25 total going for the free shipping you can get it pretty cheap. And it's a great debut, maybe the best first novel of the past five years or more.

But John Dolan Vincent also has six fingers on his left hand. His father was too broke/cheap to have it removed surgically when he was a baby, asking the doctor 'how do you know which one is the extra one,' without kidding. When John would get his ass kicked by other kids over being 'spider hand,' his Dad shrugged it off asking, how do you know the rest of us don't have enough (fingers)?

The book fascinated me so much I went on a polydactyly kick. As narrator John Vincent tells us int he book, a perfect extra digit in people is almost unheard of, 'except in some house cats.' He adds, 'With cats it's cute. With people, It's Not Polite to Stare.'

So I did this 'vodka' ad, originally as a lithograph. I have access at work to an HP Indigo digital press, so as along as I don't get carried away I can usually run a one-out print of something cool out. The stock we run isn't as heavy as I'd like for cards, but I've done some proud birthday cards and make my own business cards that way.

I put it up on the original Lobster Land site as a fake ad, as if Chernobyl Vodka was sponsoring us. I linked it to the Kid of Speed site, which is both fascinating and depressing. Most people get the size of the glass, that the woman is drinking vodka in her bathrobe like any Ukranian PTA Mom. They sometimes pick up on the logo over the reactor towers. They're U.S. reactor towers, I'm pretty sure, from a stock photo service, but the log is the actual Chernobyl Electric Company logo. And what people seem to miss is the extra finger on the model. I was very careful with it, but maybe too careful. It's one of those things that you can't quit noticing when you've seen it. You can't see online, I don't think, but where you'd expect a ® registered trademark, I used the biohazard symbol. Also, in addition to the proof, I listed the pC/li (the radioactivity) of the vodka.

I also did a six fingered hand for an avatar at some message boards (the Cult, the Velvet). Those sites draw a disproportionate number of people who've read the Clevenger book, so it went over pretty well there.

So of course I had to drag my family into it, creating a quadtych (is that what you'd call a triptych with four panels?). The effect isn't as carefully done here, but hopefully it's good enough for my blog.

A friend asked why Frau Lobster isn't more prominently represented in photographs on my blog, and basically it's because most of the time I try to take her picture, she sticks that six fingered hand in the way. She's not as hung up about it as Thomas Pynchon or anything like that, she just doesn't think she's photogenic (she is). I ofer the quadtych as evidence, even though you mostly see her lovely six-fingered hand...

As for the rest of my fam, you would think a kid with a hand like this would stick with the piano, but no such luck. She's shown some interest in the guitar lately, and I can't think this would be a handicap...

In other news, I forgot what I was going to say. And yeah, this is probably riddled iwth txpos, but I'm too tired and apathetic to fix it.

Oh, and not to make you feel like Big Brother is watching you or any of that, I use StatCounter to find out how many people are coming to Lobster Land, so I also stuck it on my blog. The Langa List got me a lot of hits with the original Lobster Land site, but no one stuck around.

So far, it appears that almost all my readers here are friends I already knew. Some are also bloggers, some are fellow Cultists, some I'm not 100% sure of. Is the ISP that shows up from Sunnyvale, CA on a regular basis who I think it is? I can think of two, one is an ubermod, one a former employee... Don't worry, I won't blow your cover. Its embarrassing enough that I write this shit, I won't rat you out for reading it.

I spent all that money and effort on developing Lobster Land and it sucks. The average visit (according to StatCounter) is less than five seconds and I don't get repeat visitors. My blog, which I assumed no one would ever read, has already generated a respectable number of hits on its own, and a lot of repeat visitors. Which bears out Max Barry's idea that a blog is better than a static site because it's not the same every day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The non-giant pandas...

I saw on the news where they’d had some success getting a couple of giant pandas to get their freak on in a meaningful way. This produced a very un-giant squirt of a panda cub, which will get to be 30 pounds if it lives three months or so.

This got me thinking, pandas are never just 'pandas.' It's always 'giant pandas.' What other kind are there? Non-giant pandas? Without the 'giant' qualifier, what do you have? Medium pandas? Mini pandas? Or is the cub a pre-giant panda?
Turns out, there is another type of panda, called a ‘lesser panda.’ Think of the self esteem issues that title must cause. How’d you like to always be called a lesser human? I have some experience with that, and I can tell you it sucks.

Ailurus fulgens The ‘lesser’ pandas, the un-giant type, turn out to breed well in captivity, and they give the impression of a raccoon bred with a fox, maybe some Tasmanian devil stock thrown in for bad measure.

Next time someone uses that old joke about the duck billed platypus being proof that God has a sense of humor, think about the lesser pandas. Maybe they're an indicator that God has a mean streak.

Less famous, in part because they seem willing and able to hump for the sake of their species. Most preadolescent zoophiles don’t even know about them or what they look like. The platypus or, for that matter, the moose, look more cobbled together from Dr. Seuss’ imagination. Among freaks of nature, the poor lesser pandas suffer the curse of mediocrity. I don’t think anyone eve bothers poaching them for fur – they might not even be endangered.

Okay, they're endangered according to IUCN. But it's because of timber cutting, not because anyone is clubbing them for their fur. Imagine how chic it would be to have an animal rights activist spit on you for wearing a Lesser Panda Stole!

They only get about 42 inches long, which would be fairly big as house pets go, though not really giant. I've had dogs bigger that that, including a dog that really seemed like a giant if you let her jump on the furniture.

Oh, and the non-giant panda eats mainly bamboo, just like the giant kind. They eat acorns, roots, rodents, birds, etc. But mainly they eat bamboo. They can't digest wood fiber, but instead of getting smart and not eating wood (my personal strategy), they eat tons of bamboo.

Rodent of unusual size or weird bear, I can't be sure which it is. I think the main function of the 'lesser' panda is to pump up the ego of the 'giant' pandas. Or maybe its China's attempt to come up with a rival product for the raccoon...

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Mote in the Lobster's Eye

I paid extra at the eye doctor a few months ago to have them take this funky picture of my retina. It wasn't a ton of money, but insurance doesn't cover it so I was probably a chump to have it done. Peace of mind, I believe, was how they pitched it. My prescription for eyeglasses was still pretty much right and I have glasses, back up glasses and prescription sunglasses, so there wasn't really anything of real value they could offer me to get at my wallet.

I guess they could sell me contacts, but that means touching my eye, and that's not happening. Ever.

The picture was so cool, though, I asked if they would send me the photo via e-mail. I didn't think they were going to come through, and then I get this e-mail today and I almost nuked it as spam, probably with a malicious attachment. But no, it's my retina photo. Given my present budget, it's kind of embarrassing because I could really use the $30 or whatever it cost a lot more right now.

But I got to looking at it, and I think there's something in my eye. What do you think?

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Designing tattoos for my brother's guitar...

For those who've visited my guitar page, you know that my Uncle Kenny can do spectacular things with wood. My page emphasizes the archtops because that's what I play.

My brother is getting his turn, having a steel string flat top made, and I enlisted to help with the inlay designs. For whatever reason, he wanted oak leaves and acorns, and I came up with some stuff along those lines. I also worked with some Celtic knots and made a Celtic cross with knots. Since the line art doesn't really show well, I faked some 'shell' material from some marble, placed the designs on burl for the headstock stuff and on a dark grained wood for the fingerboard inlays. It's not the whole neck, just an image of what might go between the frets at a given juncture.

I haven't heard back yet to find out what he thinks of the designs. The idea is to make them personal, and since I don't know why he's hooked on oak (not an instrument wood typically), it's maybe a little tricky to get a handle on it. It's like designing a tattoo for someone, if you think of something way cooler after it's done, too bad, maybe next guitar.

Having a fine handmade guitar isn't an everyday sort of thing. Having a fine luthier in the family adds a whole other dimension. My guitar isn't just a prize possession, it's an heirloom and I'll haunt anyone who lets it out of the family. That's why the 'M' inlays for the fingerboard. I think he's going to go for the 'McBride' arching over the top of the headstock, something I'd designed for my archtop. Kenny was so in love with that he put it on a banjo he'd made 25 years ago.

The wee thing, by the way, is an acorn meant to be in scale with the oak leaves for the finger rest. The idea being that the leaves would be maybe the 5th and 12th position markers and the acorns could go in 1st, 3rd and 7th position. Not only does it maintain a fairly natural scale but it functions as a dot inlay. Kenny blew me away with the bees on my fingerrest, he even made little inlaid eyes on them, so I'm pretty sure I'm not reaching beyond his ability.

The green of the leaves is problematic. Getting reds, greens, purples out of shell is not only tricky but when sanding down, those micro-thin layers of color come off. Sometimes the layer underneath is a totally different color, which is how I ended up with gold and silver apples on my tailpiece when Kenny was going for red and green (if memory serves). There's laminate products made from shell that can give you consistent color, but it depends on your temperament whether you think that's organic enough for a handmade instrument.

Zogg Almighty

My wife e-mailed me this link, and it's fucking hilarious. Maybe I'm the last guy on the 'net to find it, but if not, here you go.

Speaking of odd religion, I've already ranted about the bad rap Kansas gets for putting Intelligent Design on the table as something that should be taught alongside evolution. Atheists and others who believe (wrongly) that the seperation of church and state means a prohibition on even an idea that might lead someone to think about religion in the abstract have fought it hard. They've held their breath, fallen on the floor and kicked their arms and legs, plugged their ears and chanted 'LA LA LA, I CAN'T HEAR YOU THERE'S NO ONE TALKING!' They've even threatened to take their toys and go home, or in the most recent piece of news, boycotted a hearing because, in the words of one woman I heard interviewed on NPR, we're too dumb to have the wrongness of intelligent design explained to us in an hour.

Isn't school supposed to teach critical thinking? These people are the same sorts who persecuted Gallileo. They want us to accept it on blind faith that life is fully explained by evolution and that anyone who says it's at most a partial explanation should be drummed out of academia.

I think some of the strict evolutionists are really pissed that supporting Intelligent Design in the curriculum should get you sent to Camp X-Ray or some other gulag.

I'm a life-long atheist, even if I'm in something of a crisis of a lack of a lack of faith. Still, I went through a supposedly top-drawer school district and learned:

  • Evolution is the complete explanation of the origin of life and the differentiation of species.

  • That anyone who believes something counter to that first item is either a religious zealot or a lunatic. They belong on the Art Bell show.

  • George Washington cut down a cherry tree.

  • Ben Franklin discovered electricity.

  • Thomas Jefferson freed his slaves.

  • Everyone knew us teenagers were going to have sex, but we should at least have the decency to wear a rubber.

  • If the rubber breaks, you can go get an abortion and not tell your parents.

  • Communism looks good on paper.

  • Free enterprise caused the Great Depression.

  • Public spending and World War II ended the Depression.

  • FDR saved the Jews.

  • Israel was founded by people reclaiming unpopulated land.

  • Prohibition failed because it was impossible to enforce, but the drug war is different.

Okay, that last item I didn't even buy at the time. And I think by high school there was some fessing up about the cherry tree, but basically the above list is all stuff that was either said by teachers, printed in textbooks or otherwise transmitted to the student body sometime between Kindergarten and the parole of the class of 1988 from Shawnee Mission North.

But if we actually teach our kids the facts, they can come to their own conclusions. What are we afraid of? That they might not be good cogs for the machine of state and commerce? That's a good reason to teach them better as it is.

I can recall few teachers who actually presented opposing ideas and encouraged a rigorous, intellectual debate that would lead students to reach their own conclusions. The Planned Parenthood people came in on a red carpet to tell us about the wonders of birth control. Anyone suggesting that a fifteen year old, besides being legally below the age of consent, might not be ready to make that kind of potentially life altering/ending decision, well they must be a religious bigot and the children must be protected from them.

I even had a teacher admonish us that whatever we did, don't try anal sex. He went on to tell us all the things that could happen: HIV transmission, rectal tearing, etc. He also had a former student, out about ten years, talk abut the pre-aids high school sex scene, about how she was shocked that kids would not insist on a condom as everyone she knew in her day did. This chick was about 28, and I can only speak for myself but I was just dying for her to make me put on a condom.

It was in my brief college career that I read the 'Autobiography of Ben Franklin' and found out he didn't discover electricity, he just proved that lightning was electricity. This is remarkable stuff, got him in the Royal Academy if memory serves, and led to the development of lightning rods. That's great, why not teach kids that Ben Franklin figured out a way to keep some homes from burning to the ground? He also developed a very good stove, a descendent of which is still popular. Started a newspaper and the Poor Richard's Almanac. Helped found a library, a fire company, and a fucking country. He was a vegetarian for the most part, and I think about as close to a teetotaller as people got at the time (the 'Autobiography' notes the replacement of a beer bucket with soup and water in a British print shop he worked in while trying to acquire additional type for his own paper, as the inscrutible Empire made it very hard to get fonts in the colonies). The guy was amazing, and you can leave the womanizing out for the grade-schoolers but there's so many awesome things he DID do, there's no excuse to teach the kids a lie.

I could rant similarly about Washington. Jefferson didn't free his slaves, though he definitely diddled at least one of them. I'm sure there was no coercion... But these guys did great things that you could teach the kids. And you definitely shouldn't teach them that Washinton was a great strategic mind. He was embarassingly inept at warfare, his gifts were in the charisma department.

FDR, well, I think if he could have put off fighting Hitler until the Jews were finished, he would have. It's ironic how many Jewish people went Democrat because of him. If FDR, Henry Ford and so on could see it now: a Jewish guy driving a Ford pickup to a Democratic Party caucus!

And I've ranted elsewhere in my blog about Israel. I'm not anti-Jewish, BTW. To an extent, Israel should probably be excused its atrocities: they are financed and armed to a huge extent by the U.S. and have been all along. We have the engineer of the Trail of Tears, a genocidal maniac who makes Saddam Hussein look benevolent if you consider the limited technology of 1812-1836. If Jackson had mustard gas and nukes, there wouldn't be enough Indians left to mount a protest outside Arrowhead stadium.

All that money we send to Israel, it has the faces of murderous fiends we not only put in power but venerate over a century after their death. When Israel says there are no Palestinians (the official stand of the Israeli state into the 1960s), it's not much different than the U.S. pretending there's nothing but wilderness to the West.

I disagree with historian Paul Johnson's assertion that 'settled' and 'nomadic' people are so incompatible that one had to dominate the other. He extends this not only to the crimes against the Native Americans, but to the Scottish highlanders, and to the cannibalistic and ferrocious warriors of Tasmania, who (I can't find the exact passage in 'Birth of the Modern'), regrettably had to be exterminated to the last man because they wouldn't give up to British rule. A truly civilized people would not consider this either unavoidable or even acceptable.

Still, Israel is on solid ground from a standpoint of immitating their American patrons. Of course there's a lot more of these non-existent Palestinians. The 700,000 or so that fled under a hail of bullets in 1947-1948 have had kids, and most have stayed right there, either on the edge of Israel or trapped in the amber of the former Palestine.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The War on Reason

This started out as a reply to Max Barry's blog, quipping about the charming ability of Brits to snap back after the tube/bus bombings of yesterday:

For anyone who thinks the IRA was ever justified in blowing up shopping malls or school busses, this is good food for thought. When the IRA was active this way, a lot of Americans thought it was a good prompt to dust off nationalist Irish songs and sing. After 9/11, Americans seem to understand domestic terrorism a little better.

Now, if we could only apply what we know to 1) not aggravating a major portion of the world with blind, bipartisan support of Zionism; 2) not arming and aggravating Muhajadeen against Commies and then turning our backs when they bring down a reign of terror created in their own image.

All the Americans reading this have concluded I'm either anti-Jewish or pro-Al Queda, so they've stopped listening. They've got their fingers in their ears chanting to keep the sound out, though my point is picking sides and arming them to the teeth is a big part of what starts this nonsense.

If you take race and religion out of it (for Americans), the question is not whether it's okay to blow up a federal building, it's whether Timothy McVey was a random act or if he was committing a horrible crime in reaction to an otherwise legitimate grievance.

That's where I ended my response on Max's blog, which will probably get me flamed by people who wanted another person to rail against the war in Iraq.

I'm against the war in Iraq, but I wasn't when we started to shock and awe that country. At the beginning of this most recent Iraqi adventure, I was all for giving war a chance. Why? Because Saddam Hussein appeared to have weapons of mass destruction, and a program to develop more. Apparently he wanted his neighbors to think that and was counting on payola to France, Germany, Russia and maybe China to keep his bacon out of the fire. It didn't work, though he had every reason to believe it would, since the United States had talked tough and left him to rule through 30 years of his various outrages. Even acted friendly when we felt like it.

The war in Iraq led me to read 'Blaming the Victims,' a collection of essays by both Jewish and assorted gentile writers, from the hard left to the radical right, edited by Christopher Hitchens and Edward Said. This book was one of the most thought-provoking I've ever read, not less because it was recommended to me by a Republican with libertarian tendencies who is, as far as I can tell (he keeps close about what exactly he does) is an arms dealer. Any time I hear from him, he's back from some hell hole. You can Google places he's been and it's always the site of a civil war or border conflict. Oh, and he has to get State Department clearance for these trips even though he lives in a Caribbean country outside U.S. jurisdiction.

I digress, but that's what Lobsters do.

The essays in this book are not all persuasive by themselves. It's more the concert of them, of finding people from different ends of the spectrum who can articulate the crimes of the state of Israel (note: a distinction between the state and the people) and the political legitimacy of the PLO. This is bitter medicine for Americans, who are told by their press and their leaders that the PLO is the bad guys and the state of Israel is a great democracy and beacon of hope.

Israel is about as much a beacon of hope as the Apartheid regime of South Africa. That's not an anti-Semitic statement, by the way. The Palestinians are Semitic people, and some Jews are too. Not most of the Zionist movement, that was mainly white European Jews and their American counterparts.

So while we've continually pissed off the entire Muslim world for sixty years, what else have we done? We became utterly dependent on the tit of Arab oil at the same time we stood by and let royalist thugs and their goons nationalize the oil reserves of every major exporter, then watched them form an anti-competitive cartel.

Then we do everything in our power to ensure the formation of Al Queda, ignore them while they blow up our embassies, our naval vessels and (possibly) TWA Flight 800. And when the Trade Center comes down, we hold a pity party and ask what we've ever done.

The governments of France and Russia are hideously corrupt, as is the U.N., but that doesn't make ours clean and odor free. Just as we 'liberated' the Jews of Germany and then turned our backs on the Jews of the Soviet Union, only taking a hard stand against Stalin after he got the bomb. I think when Ike warned fo the 'military industrial complex,' I think he had seen that there were interests too tickled to have a big, bad, indefinite adversary. And while the Soviet machine flew apart, we continued to ramp up defense spending. And called reduction in the rate of growth 'cuts' in defense and talked of a peace dividend.

So now we have the 'war on terror,' another indefinite bad guy, one that can't go broke and give up like the U.S.S.R. The downside if you’re a defense contractor, is that terrorism isn't likely to be thwarted by big, nasty military machinery. Terrorists almost always resort to terrorism because they lack the military might to play at conventional warfare.

But the war on terror is a lot like the drug war. All sorts of adventures in places like Columbia, not at 'war' but on a 'drug interdiction mission. For people who make a profit on our defense budget, before the Iraq war, $385 Billion annually. If the margin on that won't corrupt you, you can't be bought.

Afghanistan made some sense, both because the Taliban was thumbing its nose at us, and because we didn't just roll in and take over. We worked with existing political forces. We could have gotten rid of Saddam sooner and for less, except every time Kurds or Shiites threw up a fight, we turned our back and watched them get gassed.

Iraq made sense to me when we started to roll, but when they didn't even manufacture evidence of a WMD program with any scope to it, or of real WMDs (he got rid of them by using them on the aforementioned Kurds and Shiites), the picture got fuzzy. Not that there's any way to cleanly extract ourselves from the place. Nor is it the fault of foot soldiers, many of whom thought they were out of the service already or who figured they could use the extra money to play soldier on weekends.

But while we wait for the paint to dry on the corner we've painted ourselves into, I do wish we'd take some steps that would actually fight terrorism. This would include looking harder at people we're giving military aid to, including Israel. It would also mean not turning our backs on the next Muhajadeen. See also, not deporting, en masse, thousands of young men from the Middle East who thought they were here legally, even if it means splitting up their family. And so on.

Which means acknowledging that blowing yourself up on a bus is wrong but that the PLO has a legitimate beef. And that it's also terrorism if you do it from a helicopter gunship or with 'smart' bombs.

Maybe it even means accepting that governments we don't like are going to join the Nuclear Club. It's not like Pakistan tested their second and third bombs on industrial centers in India...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Oh yeah, that novel...

I'm more than faintly disgusted with myself, that I've put more work into this blog than I have on my book in the past few weeks.

I've also done little to advance the inlay art for my brother's guitar.

One reason I haven't worked more on my web site is to keep the focus on 'Wealth Effects.' I know, writing a novel is the Get-Poor-Quick scheme of the 21st Century, probably only rivalled by my adolescent dreams of being a jazz guitarist for a living. One of the cliché questions asked of writers is 'why' they write. Most will chalk it up to some sort of compulsive behavior, that they just can't help it, and that seems to rub most people as a bullshit answer. To an extent, I guess it is. Anyone can write out of a sense of compulsion, in a fit of hypergraphia, and even 'publish' it after a fasion like I'm doing right here.

If you're sending query letters to agents, trying to figure out how to pay for a trip to the Bread Loaf conference or anything like that, it's more than the desire to express yourself. My wife calls it seeking fame, but again, what kind of idiot would write a book to get famous? No one reads them, and even to get bought as a doorstop, home decor, subway prop or paperweight, you practically need an ayatolla to declare a death sentence on you. Or for everyone who's literate to condemn you if you're Dan Brown.

So why am I writing this book? To prove a point? Make an ass of myself?

Part of it to be sure is a form of fame seeking. Not so much to be known by the masses, but to be known by a handful to have the shit. Like that soccer player in Tennessee, plays for the biggest team in the world's most popular sport and his neighbors don't know. Except, oh yeah, he gets a hefty paycheck from Manchester United. So not like that, really.

I'm not saying it wouldn't be nice to have your books optioned as movies, sell a lot of copies, etc. That'd be great, and I wouldn't turn down the Booker Prize or National Book Award people either. But as a main motivation to write, it's up there with Powerball tickets or a lucky case of bourbon.

I've always been setting out to write a novel. Since before I'd even read many, it was just something like what I hear some people describe their religious calling or favorite sport. But all my ideas sucked, or seemed to after I got a few chapters down. That's still true, though I've quit letting it stop me.

And I've got all this work left to do to get 'Wealth Effects' in marketable shape. Why bother? And why try to publish? I bother, in part, because I want to see it down. Getting published would really just be affirmation that the time and effort wasn't totally wasted.

But I have a better answer to the overall 'why' I write. Chuck Palahniuk has hinted at it on his 'Haunted' apology tour, the need for myth. That's really what's behind the spark of a story, it's talk-therapy on paper (or screen). It's how I try to understand myself, people, the world. I guess this is probably deconstructionist bullshit, but when I read a 'weird news' item about someone with seven teeth being pulled over on a Pennsylvania highway with 28 live chickens and a stolen piano in a stolen 1975 Peugot, I want to know how they got there. So I make shit up.

They don't ban books anymore. That made the entire career of, for instance, J.D. Overrated-Salinger. Looking at my 'to read' stack, I see 'For Fucks Sake' by Robert Lasner. I think of Ani DiFranco's comment about Clear Channel banning a bunch of songs, including 'New York, NY' but not any of her songs. "Come on," she pleads. "Ban one of my songs. Because you have to play them before you can ban them."

Maybe the smart move would be to publish under the title 'Do Not Read! Obscene Content!'

Deep Thoughts...

Yes, actually, I do mean the ones by Jack Handy.

The Un-Update

I've tweaked my homepage again without losing the deep purple look. Live and learn, CSS rocks and my site doesn't. The good part about GoLive being such a let-down was I learned a lot more CSS code while figuring out it wasn't worth the money for me. Not enough. I can't even tweak this blog all the ways I would, but when J(ay) mentioned the black background being hard to read, it was a couple of quick edits and bam, black on legal pad yellow with a serif typeface.

I'm told the update I did to correct some typos and whatnot wasn't very obvious. So subtle as to appear to be the exact same site, in fact. I started to work up a graphic to fix that, but I botched up the image map and I'm not feeling that energetic, to go back and reconstruct it... Instead, I'll put it here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Conspicuously Unpatriotic?

Playboy recently defined 'Hexpatriots' as people who bash America but haven't left the country, and sometimes that’s me. I don't fuss about my coffee, there's no coffee to fuss about. Read on and you might get a notion why I might not come off as particularly ‘pro-American.’

I've wandered all over the political map in my life, from my Marxist junior high days to the anarcho-capitalist present. I've been pro-abortion and seen the error of my ways. I've gone from believing in a Maximum Wage to not even believing there should be a minimum. Some people are so inept and rude they should have to pay to have a job.

I've been a pseudo-pacifist posing in the pew of a Friends Meeting so I could get conscientious objector status if Reagan tried to draft me for a war I was sure he would start (somewhere). I've also worked for a hard-right, pro-Reagan, magazine that sometimes endorsed Libertarians but mainly went for conservative GOP candidates and positions. There's almost no opinion I haven't reconsidered, changed my mind about, etc. I'm told that most people set up like concrete by the time they're twenty or so, and get sick from intellectual turbulence if exposed to new ideas after that, so maybe I'm wired differently. I'm probably as guilty as anyone of making up my mind, then looking for evidence to prove my opinions fact. Maybe that's why novels are such a fixation with me, reading them, writing them. As Donald Maas observes, a well written novel provides one or more really strong points of view. A novel with no opinions or judgments, that makes no case, is not likely to stir interest.

The Fourth of July, this is a tricky holiday for me. Dad sent me a link to The Improved Order of Red Men which I was shocked to find didn't immediately turn my guts. I'm definitely the kind of guy who doesn't want to join any organization so indiscriminate as to let someone like me in, but scanning their info, it looked like the sort of outfit I would like. I even like the politically incorrect name of the outfit and the appropriation of probably bogus Indian rituals.

So what is tricky about the Fourth?

I love the basic ideas outlined in the Declaration and Constitution. There's some fucked up shit in there, like the idea that the government has any business even looking at people's mail, much less delivering it. But basically the Founders didn't try to remake man in their own image. They tried to set up rules of engagement that actual people could function within. The biggest fallacies of socialism are based on asking people to act against what they perceive to be their personal interest. Almost no one will do it for something as nebulous as the 'people' or the 'greater good.' Even the best intentions whither in a system larger than a family. And since most people don't know what's in their own best interest, much less the interests of the community, both the people calling the shots and the people disobeying the orders are as like as not making big mistakes.

Capitalism lets us make our own mistakes, really. If you look at is as a democracy of dollars, when you buy Bangladesh-made jeans from Wal-Mart, you're voting for cheap imported goods; if you go out of your way to find the one brand of jeans (if there is one) made in the U.S. from American, Union Made and organically certified cotton, you're voting (with even more dollars) against cheap imported goods. In fact, you're voting for high wages, intensive regulation and unions. If there's no such pair of jeans to be had (likely), that means it's been drummed out of the market on strictly democratic grounds. And you're free to grow your own cotton and try DYI jeans as Ghandi-style protest.

Where big business gets off the capitalist ideal, in my view, or big labor or big elderly or big anything else, is when you start saying that a little bit of tweaking would make the system even better. Start picking winners through the wholly undemocratic means of the state. Impose tariffs on textile imports, pro-strike laws to protect the unions, ban pesticides on cotton crops, etc., and the next thing you know people have no choice but to buy the expensive jeans. And if they're poor, tough shit. Let them buy their own lobbyist.

And just as we always have 'the poor' (a relative term, there's always a bottom fifth), we always have the well to do. Call it wealth, power, whatever you want, the main difference between the top players in a capitalist system versus a socialist system is whether they generally generate wealth or generally deplete it. Also, even Enron didn't do the kind of damage the Khmer Rouge did. That's probably the biggest difference between corporate bosses and Communist Party bosses, the body count.

The Fourth isn't necessarily even tricky for me because I'm ambivalent about the contradictions of American history. No, we didn't abolish slavery as quickly as we should have, nor did we resolve the issue without a disgusting war, inexcusable Reconstruction and a botched attempt at civil rights.

We did a ton of things wrong. The genocide of Native Americans; illegal annexation of lands through wars with Indians, the Spanish and Mexico. Even tried to get Canada, and would have if the British hadn't all but won the War of 1812. Not to mention wiping out buffalo only to turn around and breed cattle higher in fat and cholesterol, eventually favoring the specific short-horn breeds that amount to a jobs-program for cardiologists.

I can live with most of that because if you didn't get wiped out by America, you generally were probably better off as part of the United States than as part of the alternatives (Spanish Empire, Mexico, British Empire, Canada). The end doesn't justify the means, but there's worse ends.

I struggle more with the things we fuck up today, really. The war on drugs is an abortion of justice, making prison a growth industry and involving an unconscionable proportion of our population in a Kafkaesque system that disenfranchises people who've done nothing wrong.

Speaking of abortions, the Supreme Court has maintained for over three decades that a girl who can't get her ear pierced without parental consent can have an abortion without even parental notification. The result has been a holocaust that makes Hitler look like a Cub Scout.

What else? The state has grown to a magnitude that the Founders would be astounded by. If they'd foreseen half of it, they'd have petitioned King George for readmission to the Crown. Prior to blundering into Iraq on false pretenses, our defense budget was bigger than the rest of the planet combined. Who are we competing against? The almost entirely engineered Cold War has just been replaced by the even more engineered War on Terror. For that matter, six decades of unqualified support for Zionism in both monetary and military form goes a long ways towards making 9/11 appear a self-inflicted wound.

In all this negativity, where’s my patriotism?

America's not quite the 'free' country it poses as, but it's closer than most alternatives. The fact that I'm unlikely to be awakened in a few hours by secret police for this blog, for instance. Dissent can be patriotic if you look at it as constructive criticism. I'm not saying 'down with America,' I'm saying 'we can do better.'

And while I think we should have focused on exposing the corruption in the U.N. and the economic incentives France, Germany, Russia and China had for keeping Saddam in power, I think we did something near right in Afghanistan. We'll see if we fuck it up again or not. Al Queda did, after all, grow out of the Muhajadeen we supported against the Soviets. The enemy of your enemy isn't necessarily your friend, though I'm sure Soviet support of the PLO was guided by the same principle.

The buffalo weren't quite wiped out, there was even some left for me to make bison burgers out of yesterday. And while we have gotten awfully candy-assed about home fireworks, the public display my family went to last night was quite nice. The only thing I liked more than the fireworks themselves was watching my daughter's face reacting to them...

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Sound and the Fury

If there was a 'least likely to attend a motor sports event' category in my high school yearbook, I'd have been more of a shoe-in that the Ugly Dog winner. I did go to a demolition derby last summer, and loved it, but mainly I'd rather watch commercials than any race you'll find on TV. Televised coverage of NASCAR is like watching a video game I have no controller for, and I really can't stand it.

I'm not complaining, it keeps me from wasting days in front of the TV.

But I've been struggling in my novel with a character who is, has to be, a NASCAR fanatic. So without ever having been to a race, it was hard for me to get a handle on the specific things that would really appeal to him about it. My friends who are NASCAR fans aren't much help. I've cornered them with NASCAR broadcasts on the tub and said, 'Splain this to me.' The best they ever come up with is that I just have to see it to understand. In person.

But it's a damned expensive proposition. I'm certainly not going to squander my meager resources traveling to Talladega, Darlington, Daytona or any other Southern hellhole and spending hundreds of bucks on tickets. I love football, but I never even buy tickets to see the Kansas City Griefs, and that's comparatively affordable.

Kansas Speedway, built at great expense by the taxpayers of the People's Republic of Wyandotte County, doesn't even sell single event tickets, they want you to buy the whole season or fuck off. That's roughly $300 per person, way out of the question.

So then the United Way sent around an e-mail offering tickets this weekend to people who would spend a few hours selling raffle tickets for this pretty truck.

Not only a ticket to the race, but to the hospitality village where I had access to free food and beverages, so it was the perfect situation. I got to satisfy my curiosity while doing something I ought to do anyway but would normally find a million excuses to get out of.

For NASCAR fans, this weekend really wasn't the real thing. October is when the Busch and Nextel Cup races are coming here. I find it curious that a group of people who take brand loyalty in auto manufacturers, beer, etc., to a level of chauvinism are so blase about the Winston Cup being renamed after a cell-phone manufacturer. But I guess it makes sense, as the Winston Cup was just ahead of its time in selling the name of a trophy to a corporate sponsor. Baseball and football arenas have started doing the same, so I suppose it's a matter of time before Vince Lombardi gets knocked off and the Super Bowl prize becomes the 'Verizon Trophy.'

For that matter, when people walked up to enter the raffle and found out it wasn't a free drawing, that it was $10 a chance or three for $25, more than one threw down the pen and said, 'It's a fucking Ford.'

I guess it's easier to blame the United Way for raffling off the wrong brand of truck than to just admit, 'I'm cheap!'

Some more honest fellows said they had to save their money for beer. At $7 a round, I suppose that's either understandable or utterly mad.

Speaking of trucks. This weekend featured the 'Craftsman Truck Series' race, where they race these very un-truck like things.

I think it's cute how they've kept the styling of the grills reminiscent of the 'trucks' they are supposedly 'stock car' versions of. Not that you could haul anything in one of these things, the bed is closed up, and besides, they rind millimeters of the ground, so if anything heavier than the driver gets in, it'll bottom out. You could high-center these 'trucks' on a pencil.

Not that the NASCAR 'Taurus' has even DNA in common with an actual Taurus. I ran into a chap hauling Matt Kenseth's car. Well, one of them. I couldn't decipher the name of the circuit the car was for, but he indicated Kenseth only drives it about four races a year. He let me come in the trailer and check it out, and I asked him how much of it is actually a stock 'Taurus,' and he laughed and said not much, if anything. He couldn't think of a single part that would actually be interchangeable with a showroom Taurus. When I asked him what the differences were in this car and the Nextel Cup car Kenseth drives, or the Busch series cars, ARCA cars, etc., his answers were in the form of incomprehensible compression ratios and weight limits.

Speaking of cars that are a lot like those Nextel Cup cars, the second Saturday race was for ARCA cars, which are visibly faster and louder than the trucks, but fans assured me were not nearly as incredible as the Nextel Cup cars.

They look just like the 'big league' cars to me, and in the stands, I definitely had to wear earplugs. The seats I had were very good, 21st row of the lower section, so the grandstands acted as an amphitheatre for the 30-odd unmuffled engines. You can actually smell burning rubber and fuel odors that close. The Doppler of approaching cars and escaping cars creates an effect similar to a hive of bees hooked up to the Grateful Dead's outdoor concert rig.

Which reminds me, during the truck race, I noticed this girl a few rows in front of me, maybe a year old or so, with no ear plugs. Her parents weren't wearing them either, so I guess they didn't think the trucks were as loud as I did. And the girl seemed happy, if sweaty.

Speaking of which, before the races, I took the pit tour, which is where a lot of these photos came from, and got a good close up of the pace car. I thought Fau Lobster would be tickled at it, on account of her enthusiasm for Mustangs, but she complained that it wasn't black.

While on the pit tour, they were qualifying the IRL cars for the Sunday race, and since I hadn't heard the trucks in concert yet, just one car running the track seemed incredibly loud. The Indy car is probably the most impressively engineered car. Danica Patrick (on the PA, sounds like 'Danna Kirkpatrick') took the poll with a speed of almost 215 mph. This on a tire the thickness of a credit card. Which of course made her the darling of the track, or the enemy of the people, depending on who you asked. I had to root for her just because I can't believe it's taken this long for women to break into auto racing at the top levels. A Y chromosome gives you some advantages in the strength department given the same age and training, but in an event where endurance, skill and nerve are the keys to success, I can't see where guys would have any advantage. If anything, maybe the opposite.

Unfortunately, the car that took the poll in Saturday's qualifying had mechanical problems on Sunday and she finished 9th. Which points out the narrow difference between the best and worst in that pack. The car who trailed almost the whole race, and was even lapped once, was basically struggling to catch a pack going a couple of miles an hour faster. Probably less than 1% at those speeds.

Did I like it? Will I go back?

I'm not likely to go buy tickets, but I wouldn't pass up the chance to see the spectacle on similarly frugal terms. Auto racing definitely televises poorly. The exception would be the wrecks. Every time I went to pee, it seems, I came out to find them running under caution, cleaning the track. I was afraid a correlation would be made and I'd either get barred from the track or forbidden to leave the grandstands. With no instant replay, I missed the majority of the mishaps that happened on the track.

It was also instructive to see three varieties of racing. The trucks were easily the slowest and quietest vehicles. But the trucks knocked each other about a lot more than the ARCA or IRL racers. The fenders are probably part of that, though the ARCA cars also have closed wheels. And rubbing another driver with fenders an inch from your tires is probably just as likely to cut your tire as anything, so I suspect it's more a matter of driver skill and the handling limitations of the truck platform.

The IRL cars ran the cleanest (see also loudest, fastest, closest together). This is probably because there's no such thing as a minor mishap in such a fragile car at such high speeds. They're probably also the most skillful drivers, they almost have to be.

And for any wet blankets who think we could end oil imports if we knocked off the racing business, a lot of the fans were grumbling that race fuel is actually very cheap, about a buck a gallon. I'm sure this is in part because it's not taxed as aggressively as your gallon of unleaded. But it's also almost pure ethanol. I guess that stands to reason for a sport that grew up as a sideline to moonshining...

Okay, that was intentional redneck baiting, but I couldn’t resist. The redneck contingency is actually a smaller percentage of the crowd than what I saw at the demolition derby last summer, and that crowd had a lot of white collars in it.