Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bloggo Redux

John Updike, at dinner with John Irving (from Slate)
Once, when he came to dinner, my middle son, Brendan, was in a phase of dressing up—disguises, voices with accents, bizarre enactments. Updike and I were having dinner when Brendan appeared in a kimono; he was holding a lit candle, and something that looked like (or was) a microphone. "Good evening," Brendan said. "This is the news in Japanese." And then he went into an incomprehensible imitation of Japanese news; it was pretty convincing. (I think Brendan must have been 8 or 10 at the time.)

That was all. Brendan left, with a bow, and we went back to our dinner. Updike had never met Brendan before.

When we were saying good night, Updike asked: "The news, in Japanese—is it a regular event?"

"No, just for us," I said; I couldn't think of what else to say. Brendan had never done it before, nor would he ever do it again.

"Well, that was … special," Updike said.

Social Networking News!
Burger King launched a campaign in which it would give a free Whopper to anybody on Facebook who would “unfriend” ten “friends.” According to a feature in the New York Times, “Facebook suspended the program because Burger King was sending notifications to the castoffs letting them know they’d been dropped for a sandwich (or, more accurately, a tenth of a sandwich).” Facebook policy apparently does not permit e-mail notifications to those who have been defriended, or to alert others that you have defriended somebody, and the Burger King campaign was suspended.

More Writer News!
In THE BELIEVER, a short story writer named Gary Lutz published a lecture he gave at Columbia University, called THE SENTENCE IS A LONELY PLACE, an analysis of sentences he considered wonderful, beautiful, etc. This was one of them, from a writer named Sam Lipsyte:

“Home, we drank a little wine, put on some of that sticky saxophone music we used to keep around to drown out the bitter squeaks in our hearts.”

That doesn’t seem like such a good sentence to me. I would cut “…to drown out the bitter squeaks in our hearts.” I have no idea what it means. If it means a literal heart, well, hearts don’t squeak. If it’s the “heart” that is “soul,” it’s unearned sentimentality. And besides, it’s inferred by the “sticky saxophone music” in the first place. Still, it’s the kind of sentence I would like, if I found it in a piece of pulp fiction.

Which reminds me…
A writer I love, Raymond Chandler, had this sentence in his story, “Wrong Pigeon,” which I recently re-read: “It was a quiet street in Bay City, if there are any quiet streets in this beatnik generation when you can’t get through a meal without some male or female stomach singer belching out a kind of love that is as old-fashioned as a bustle or some Hammond organ jazzing it up in the customer’s soup.”

The hell…? The sentence starts out as a standard detective noir trope, and then suddenly lurches into the voice of old man complaining about these kids today. Stomach singer? An organ in the soup?

Barbie News!
According to TOY MONSTER: THE BIG, BAD WORLD OF MATTEL, Jack Ryan, the designer of Barbie, was a swinger, patronized prositutes, attended orgies, and was once married to Zsa Zsa Gabor. Gwen Forea, who voiced the talking Barbie, claimed, "He once said to me he loved me being tall so he could stick his nose in my boobs when he hugged me.”

Happy birthday, over time.
John C. Dvorak in PC MAGAZINE:

“2009 marks the 30-year anniversary of the now-ubiquitous spreadsheet program. And society as a whole has deteriorated ever since its invention. It was the spreadsheet that triggered the PC revolution, with VisiCalc the original culprit. Can anyone say that we've actually benefited from its invention? Look around: I think we've suffered….

“And yes, while all the pundits and visionaries talk about business intelligence and modern practices and this and that, where's the evidence of improvement in the way business runs or works? Cars are shoddy, consumer goods are junk. Toxic substances are in the food supply. Lead is in toys. Most of what we buy is made cheaply elsewhere. At every level of the business scene today, some bean counter does a what-if calculation before making the decisions. The spineless CEO worries about what the shareholders would think if he disagreed with what the spreadsheet and the CFO told him to do. To make him feel better, the board will give the CEO a fat bonus for saving money.

“The what-if society has marched forward with little actual regard for the customer. If the customer has a complaint, she can call someone in India—someone doing customer support there because the spreadsheet told the company it could save 1 cent a year on phone costs. There's no way this idea would have evolved without spreadsheets.”

Burn your Excel. You have nothing to lose but your database.

Australia news!
(AP) Before there were cuddly koalas, hoards of flesh-eating kangaroos, "demon ducks" and marsupial lions roamed Australia's Outback, according to recent fossil discoveries by paleontologists.

Nigeria news!
(AP) … In a front-page article on Friday, the Vanguard newspaper said that two men tried to steal a Mazda car two days earlier in Kwara State, with one suspect transforming himself into a goat as vigilantes cornered him.

The U.S. House may vote to extend television’s digital conversion deadline to June 12th, because many Americans are supposedly still confused about the whole thing. I’m not confused, but I am angry. If I had my way, I’d still be watching shows on a twelve inch black and white that uses a coat hanger for an antenna.

A smattering of reader posts on a Minneapolis Star Tribune story about this, however, shows that I am alone in this.

There was this post: “…If these people have not prepared themselves in two years what makes you believe they are going to get it done in the next four months? Sounds to me like good old fashioned laziness or an unwillingness to change. I thought that Barack Hussein Obama was all about ‘change’, and he was behind this extension. I guess he only wants change that will benefit him and the liberals.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you already have a digital converter or cable, you will receive television just fine, right? So what’s their problem with the delay? They want to watch WIFE SWAP in 3D?

And this: “I'm always bitterly amused when the Leftist apologists say that one population or another can't access one thing or the other and throw up various excuses like language barriers. They don't seem to realize that they themselves are defacto, treating these populations like they are nothing but helpless morons. Good grief, if something is IMPORTANT, a refugee or minority population will sure as hell find out about it through word-of-mouth at the very least and develop their own solutions. Instead, we now coddle them like they were little children. I often wonder how my own Scandinavian and German immigrant ancestors ever survived without Leftist cocooning.”

Again, what does coddling minorities have to do with this? Is forcing a poor person to buy a digital converter really a conservative cause?

Most posts were like the above. But this poster made my same point: “Obama only asks for a delay because the economy is so bad that some people cannot afford the $80 to spend on a converter. Let alone afford to have cable. If you have the converter now, you're already getting the channels. Some areas have 64 channels with the least of 33 that I have seen. Major networks are already broadcasting in HD, so majoy shows wether you have the converter or not come in crystal clear. Plus, the government isn't issuing anymore coupons, there has been a delay in those also. So those of you that have the converter already, or have cable already, quit your b i t c h i n g.”

And finally: “it's not like the government is cutting off their oxygen or starving their children. And WTF!? Our gov is spending our tax money on giving coupons to pay for a luxury item? How about a rebate for us cable users since we now HAVE TO have cable (instead of choosing to have it and affording the luxury)!”

I hate us. Love television though.

Just watched THE DARK KNIGHT on our new (digital) television. I didn’t get it. Heath Ledger was all right. I liked the little snaky thing he did with his tongue. But he was, after all, just another over-the-top villain. Not enough Batman. The fight scenes were poorly choreographed and murky. And it was bleak. Who wants to see a bleak comic book movie? Well, millions, I guess. Must be a sign of the times. Plus: it was two and half hours long! And self-important! Good grief. Must every Hollywood action movie now be these lumbering glittery dinosaurs lurching from explosion to car chase to fistfight with patches of obvious dialogue stitching the scenes together? Just asking.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Joe the Blog

Joe the What?
I don’t watch much television news, so I missed most of the “Joe the Plumber” soundbites. I did intuit that he, like Sarah Palin, was a godsend to journalists desperate for something to write about in the waning days of the campaign. He was a poster child for the kind of people Barack Obama said wouldn’t suffer from his tax plan. At the exact same time, he was a poster child for what John McCain claimed was the kind of person that would suffer from Barack Obama’s tax plan.

Just as America’s eyes began to glaze over, our ever-alert media dug up the fact that Joe wasn’t really a plumber, and he owed some taxes. Scandal! Then he wrote a book (with the help of some other guy): JOE THE PLUMBER – FIGHTING FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM.

And now, he’s a reporter in Israel for Pajamas Media, a branch of the conservative blog, Little Green Footballs. I don’t know how much he’s being paid, or what purpose Joe the Plumber’s presence in Israel will serve. A symbolic one, of course. An American working class joe, bringing the truth about Israel to a rabidly anti-zionist media! At last!

Michelle Malkin, a green footballer herself, wrote, “Joe the Plumber's new gig is an affront to the Fraternal Order of The Professional Journalist because it underscores hard truths: An Ivy League journalism degree does not a truth-teller make. International war broadcasting experience does not a truth-seeker make. Look at Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post fabulist Janet Cooke. Or New York Times fiction writer Jayson Blair. Or Boston Globe fabricators Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle. Or former CBS News Captain Queeg Dan Rather.”

So the hope is that our working class joe will roll up his sleeves and bring home the truth bacon for a hungry America. Unfortunately, Joe gave an interview to the Associated Press. This is part of what he said, “I think media should be abolished from, uh, you know, reporting. You know, war is hell. And if you're gonna sit there and say, ‘Well look at this atrocity,’ well you don't know the whole story behind it half the time, so I think the media should have no business in it."

So, let us recap. Joe the Plumber, who is not a plumber, is now a reporter, who does not believe in reporting.

I want that job! Do I have to go to Gaza though?

According to the Associated Press, “Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, … hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering — a field long dominated by Ph.D.s toiling in university and corporate laboratories.”

According to the AP, in San Francisco, “31-year-old computer programmer Meredith L. Patterson is trying to develop genetically altered yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal the presence of melamine, the chemical that turned Chinese-made baby formula and pet food deadly.”

Supposedly these basement chemists and programmers will ultimately find the cure for cancer, or whatever, where the bloated bureaucracies and lumbering private enterprises cannot.

Some, of course, find this amateur approach to genetic engineering alarming. I grew up in an era in which our fathers were enthusiastic hobbyists. They were all about electric trains, hi-fi equipment, home carpentry, battle tableaus, and DIY fireworks displays. So I worry a bit. I knew a Dad who liked to collect and pose lead soldiers. Unfortunately, he could only solder a musket on a lead redcoat for about a minute before requiring a trip to the emergency room.

Still, I welcome a return to grownups having hobbies. Nobody has hobbies any more. We only build things in the hope of attracting venture capital. And most of the building is virtual, anyway. We don’t make a ship in a bottle, we make software that allows you to create a ship in a bottle online.

And a group in Cambridge, called DIYbio, gives me hope. They have set up a “community lab where the public could use chemicals and lab equipment, including a used freezer, scored for free off Craigslist, that drops to 80 degrees below zero, the temperature needed to keep many kinds of bacteria alive.”

Well, okay, that’s kind of scary. I don’t know if I’d want a bunch of enthusiastic biology dropouts storing staph infections in a Kelvinator anywhere within a ten mile radius of me. On the other hand, one of the co-founders of DIYbio claimed that while “amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels,… they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.”

Now, that’s more like it! That’s the America I love. No cure for cancer, no life-extending protein drinks – glowing tattoos! Inflatable feet! Adjustable hairlines! A sixth finger! Toes that can sing! Eye color that adjusts to match your mood! A chihuahua that fits in a spoon! A formerly endangered tiger that fits in your pocket!

And Dads everywhere will take up smoking pipes again. After work, they’ll loosen their ties, go into the den, fire up the particle accelerator and either end life as we know it, or emerge with a self-sharpening pencil, a cat that knows how to bark, or a bacterium that feeds only on dust bunnies. Just in time for dinner! Thank you, says Mom. You Go Dad, say the kids. I love you, says the genetically re-engineered dog. And Dad will beam in his new found glory, glowing like a hopeful tattoo, a beckoning beacon for a dark and frightened nation.

A Story I Found Strangely Touching, if Creepy
From Popbitch, a Brit gossip newsletter: "Mariah Carey doesn't like to go to bed without
the security of someone just watching her sleep."

Another Story I Found Strangely Creepy, but not Touching
Farhad Manjoo, in Slate: “Friends—can I call you friends?—it's time to drop the attitude: There is no longer any good reason to avoid Facebook. The site has crossed a threshold—it is now so widely trafficked that it's fast becoming a routine aide to social interaction, like e-mail and antiperspirant. It's only the most recent of many new technologies that have crossed over this stage. For a long while—from about the late '80s to the late-middle '90s, Wall Street to Jerry Maguire—carrying a mobile phone seemed like a haughty affectation. But as more people got phones, they became more useful for everyone—and then one day enough people had cell phones that everyone began to assume that you did, too. Your friends stopped prearranging where they would meet up on Saturday night because it was assumed that everyone would call from wherever they were to find out what was going on. From that moment on, it became an affectation not to carry a mobile phone; they'd grown so deeply entwined with modern life that the only reason to be without one was to make a statement by abstaining. Facebook is now at that same point—whether or not you intend it, you're saying something by staying away.”

If I understand this moron correctly, he’s saying that if you don’t own a cell phone, you’re an elitist stand-offish sort of person. Of course, you could also be an orphan in Zimbabwe, cowering in a ditch. A cowering orphan with an affectation.

Okay, that’s harsh. But if you are indeed saying something by not being on Facebook, what could that something be? Well, maybe you're saying you don’t want to be bitten by vampires, or play Scrabulous (Lexulous now), or “poke” people, or make “friends” with people you don’t even know, or spend hours updating your profile, or have zombies attack your “friends,” or have all personal information posted on Facebook open to anybody with a Facebook account (or not), or frantically count up how many “Friends” you have, or check the status updates of others, or send YouTube links, and post funny pictures of fuzzy animals.

That’s what I would be saying, if I didn’t have a Facebook account.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Unborn Blog

Favorite new catchphrase, from THE UNBORN
“Jumby wants to be born now.”

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Our friend S just had her hip replaced, and is out of commission. Her mother is in town to watch over her for the duration, and I have been entrusted with S’s car –since she can’t drive it, and S’s mother is scared to drive in Oakland. So I drove S to the hospital, took her home, picked up her cat from the vets, went to the grocery store…. Like that.

This morning, while taking S’s mother to church, I hit a major pothole (Broadway and MacArthur: drivers in that vicinity, look out), which blew out the right front tire.

S’s trunk is full of many useful things, but tools are not among them. There was a jack, but it was one of those unhelpful cheap jacks that come with the car, and it did not have a lever. And she did not have a lug wrench. Being car-free myself, I had none of those things either.

So I called a tow truck. A very good looking young Israeli man showed up, changed the tire, and charged me 125 dollars for it. I couldn’t find my credit card, so I went in the house to look for it, and still couldn’t find it; I wound up using the Dread Bride’s card.

That being done, I went to the Safeway/Wells Fargo where I had last used my card. None had been turned in. So I cancelled that card, and not only ordered a new one, I started a new account.

So that’s been my Sunday. Now the landlady's brother is painting the house. The landlady is supervising, unhelpfully. Happy New Year!

The Fearsome Wife and I left the house, she to buy some ReMent (miniature foods and such), I to buy ANTATHEM, the new door stopper novel by Neal Stephenson.

As I was paying for the book, we noticed a PEANUTS anthology at the country. My wife said something about it, to which the clerk responded that her grandfather had been one of the animators for the PEANUTS specials. His name was Frank Smith. His granddaughter told us that he told her that Linus was the hardest to draw. Now you know.

Bono in the New York Times, going on about something or other….
“Now I’m back in my own house in Dublin, uncorking some nice wine, ready for the vinegar it can turn to when families and friends overindulge, as I am about to. Right by the hole-in-the-wall cellar, I look up to see a vision in yellow: a painting Frank sent to me after I sang ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ with him on the 1993 DUETS album. One from his own hand. A mad yellow canvas of violent concentric circles gyrating across a desert plain. Francis Albert Sinatra, painter, modernista.

“We had spent some time in his house in Palm Springs, which was a thrill — looking out onto the desert and hills, no gingham for miles. Plenty of miles, though, Miles Davis. And plenty of talk of jazz. That’s when he showed me the painting. I was thinking the circles were like the diameter of a horn, the bell of a trumpet, so I said so.”

What is that, that “Plenty of miles, though, Miles Davis?” Is that free association? A pun, or something? Beats me.

Headline form AlterNet
“Why Atheism May Be the Best Way to Understand God”

Well sure, if you don’t believe something exists, understanding it is a snap.

From a link somebody sent me….
“Bold Nazi Candle Designs… Adolf Hitler wishing you a Merry Christmas!”

“Each 3 inch x 6 inch pillar candle comes in a variety of pleasing scents (we choose) and colors white, beige, red, pink, green, cinnamon, orange (we choose but you may state preference in comments section of checkout) with a lead free wick that will burn 50 - 60 hours.”

Of course, THEY choose. They’re Nazis!

Oh boy! Ann Coulter and L. Brent Bozell III! Together at last!
L. Brent Bozell III, writing about Ann Coulter’s new book, GUILTY, which I gather is about how liberals are pretty much to blame for everything: “Call Coulter outrageous, call her a bomb-thrower, even state she goes beyond the pale of civility, if that's your read. But do not assign that label to Coulter and then present your on-air love, kisses and giggles to all the public leftist hate-spewing that far exceeds any perceived incivility by Coulter. That is utterly transparent liberalism, and utterly transparent hypocrisy.”

Harry Smith, on CBS’ EARLY SHOW, asked Ann Coulter some relatively pointed questions when she was plugging her book there, to which Bozell (III) responded: “Harry Smith hosted Maher on CBS just months ago on his faith-mocking movie RELIGULOUS and didn't say one discouraging word to him about his caustic remarks about Cheney or his hateful anti-Christian bigotry. Not one word.”

So there you go.

Associated Press
... had a feature about “biohackers,” that is amateur scientists, tinkerers “…working at home with the basic building blocks of life itself. Using homemade lab equipment and the wealth of scientific knowledge available online, these hobbyists are trying to create new life forms through genetic engineering.”

Whatever happened to, I dunno, making a bookshelf, or a ship in a bottle?

One DIY biologist told the AP that “…amateurs will probably pursue serious work such as new vaccines and super-efficient biofuels, but they might also try, for example, to use squid genes to create tattoos that glow.”

Headline, AFP
“CIA give Afghan warlords Viagra in exchange for information on Taliban”

Keep those caftans loose, boys.

Part of a highly-convincing email I received from Robert Mueller III (any relation to Brent, I wonder?), of the FBI

Slate review of THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX, by Emily Bazelon
Another alarmed Mommy with too much time on her hands: “Why, given this likely audience, did the moviemakers feel the need to include extended sequences with fear-pumping music; a giant menacing cat that charges after Despereaux in a gladiator ring; and Botticelli, the torture-obsessed leader of Rat World? And what's the point of a G rating if movies like Despereaux fall into that category? This movie confirms my feeling that it's past time to replace G with better age-tailored guidance.”

Gumby wants to be born now.

Mona Charen’s Christmas column:
“It's Christmastime and the Fox News Channel, the most conservative of the major media outlets, is running an ad for PajamaGrams, ‘the only gift guaranteed to get your wife or girlfriend to take her clothes off.’ The ads feature soft porn images of women disrobing and tossing slips and bras to the floor. The ads run at all times of the day and night. Thus do we usher in the season supposedly devoted to the Prince of Peace and the Festival of Lights.”

In a related vein, Jay Nordliner in NRO
“Two seconds ago, ‘Merry Christmas’ was about the warmest, nicest, most joyful thing you could say to someone. Now, it can be borderline hate speech.”

So: Happy Horny Daze everybody! Oh wait - it's over? Thank God, or thank Jumby, or some other non-existent entity that I, like, understand totally.