Friday, August 31, 2007

Party like it's 08/31

I went out to dinner with E.P.A.L.Y.G., my old co-worker (last mentioned in this post), today. I put my number on a note I'd left for all the parents to see at The Job, and she called me earlier this week wanting to catch up. So we talked for about 40 minutes, then made dinner plans. It was nice --- she's great fun to talk to --- but (somewhat disappointingly for me) strictly a friend-type interaction. Well, that's cool too. She was interested in going to Hangout later, but couldn't because she was leaving early next morning for a long weekend vacation. We made tentative movie plans.

I've visited The Job twice since leaving, and each time this co-worker's mournful, longing looks toward me made me rather uncomfortable. Pursuit and escape, the social dance. It's sort of sad, thinking about all those unfulfilled hopes, mine and so many others'.

After that, I joined Friar and Palfrey at the Green Margarita (a place first mentioned in this post) for a, well, green margarita. And later, Friar and I went to the Hangout. I've been going to bed and getting up early lately, gearing up for the unrelenting daily grind that starts next week, but this time I stayed until 3:00 a.m. or so. A last night of irresponsibility for a while, I guess.

There was a guy there, a short, scruffy, dopey-looking, sort of lumpy fellow, hanging out with a very good-looking girl. I'd seen and exchanged nods with the guy before, but don't know him. I learned that (a) he and the girl have been hanging out for a year, and (b) according to the Friar, he's in his early 20s and a virgin. As the Hangout slowly emptied, he was talking (in a subdued and respectful way) about how he finally had a shot at going home with the girl this night. She wasn't drunk, and she was sort of flirting with him in a subdued way.

I don't know what I felt, exactly, watching this kid fumbling around, sort of dropping the conversational ball every now and then and finally wandering away from the girl even after she made it pretty clear that, whether she wanted to sleep with him or not, she saw something special in him. The Friar and I told him to get the hell out of the damn bar and go home with the girl already and see what happened. But he didn't, saying he didn't want to force her into anything and other excuses of the kind. When I left, he was sitting in one corner of the Hangout, talking to Tall, while the girl was being chatted up by AL (this guy).

Hell, that dopey-looking kid still probably understands social relations better than I did when I was 22. Or maybe even now.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Loaded Questions (from One Day at a Time)

Inspired by and taken from this clever idea for a meme found at this blog. Ah, pointless memes. For when you have nothing interesting to write about... or when you're keeping the good stuff to yourself.

So anyway.

Hypotheticals: If you could coach any professional sports team, which one would it be?

I couldn't coach any team. I don't know the rules to any team sports. Also, I don't care if anyone wins.

Anything Goes: Fill in the blank- I could probably bench press ____ pounds.

Oh, not too much more than a hundred. I've never been a max lifter, just a rep lifter.

No-Brainers: What is the best restaurant you've ever been to?

Man, I couldn't possibly narrow it down to one. There's a place called the Green Room, now closed, here in town where I ate the best fish I've ever eaten. But when I think of good and memorable meals, I almost always think about expensive, very well cooked steak. I've enjoyed Pappas Brothers Steakhouse and Nick and Sam's here in town, and Jake's Grill in Oregon. But I've also gone wild over high-quality sushi in Portland (Mio's!) and New York.

Personals: When was the most embarrassing moment of your life?

I think I win in this category. On a seventh grade field trip out of state, I once had to go to the bathroom really badly, but the guide wouldn't stop, and I ended up peeing my pants. Not in front of the whole class, but in front of a couple of guys. I assume everyone knew about it quickly enough after that, in any case. The headmaster had to take me back to the hotel, where I showered and changed. How humiliating.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Every girl crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed slob

The start date for student teaching at Brown Elementary is Tuesday. I went to the ISD Administration and got my photo ID. Then I went to the Gap and Target and bought two dress shirts and two pairs of slacks. I now own 12 decent to classy long-sleeved dress shirts and seven pairs of pants that are not jeans. (Despite what others have said about how male teachers dress, Ms. L told me when I visited that there was no need for a tie. That's good. I own, I believe, one tie.) I may need to buy more dress shirts before the term is over; my shirt-alternating pattern will doubtlessly be quickly discerned by the sartorially adept gazes of the women folk, and that would be just awkward and embarrassing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Crashingly good

Hey, Alberto Gonzales is latest to leave amid a cloud of incompetence and/or corruption. Terrific. Talking Points Memo has a lengthy but edifying and amusing Top 10 Gonzales Moments here. A video worth watching.

***

So, one of my latest little projects is to watch all the movies that have ever won the Oscar for Best picture. I got me an alphabetical list, and am currently up to Gigi. (I skipped Cavalcade, as it's not available on DVD.) Which means, given the number of movies I'd already seen before beginning this cockamamie scheme, I have about fifteen films left to watch. So far, my reaction to the supposedly greatest movies of all time has been fairly muted. A lot of them are mediocre (Cimarron, Braveheart) and some are just plain bad (An American In Paris). The one I've the liked the most, off my recent viewing, was 2004's Crash.

Similar in tone to Robert Altman's Short Cuts and Lawrence Kasdan's Grand Canyon, the film interweaves the lives of several people over two days in L.A., examining how racial stereotypes and tensions can shape our ideas and actions. It's the kind of movie that --- especially in its more melodramatic moments, slow-motion montages set to Enya-esque New Age type music --- could easily come off as mawkishly sentimental, but for some reason it didn't. Intellectually, I was thinking, "this is a bit over the top," but I can't argue with the genuine emotional reaction it wrung out of me. I'm not often drawn into movies immediately, and have a very short attention span, but Crash got my attention early and held it, despite its length.

It's not preachy or polemical, either; some of the bad guys do good things and some of the good ones do rather bad things. This is a movie that approaches the thorny race question in America and portrays it in shades of gray.

Also, one of the minor characters is played by Jennifer Esposito, who is the sexiest woman on earth. But anyway. Terrific film; unlike a lot of the winners in retrospect, Crash deserves the recognition.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mood: stunned

So, remember I sent those resumes out a few days back, apropos of nothing and not at all expecting anything to come of it?

Well, I got called back last week, and I had a job interview today at a very prestigious private school in town. The interview went well, I thought, and they seemed impressed with my resume. They're going to call my references, and if all goes well, maybe --- maybe --- I will get called back to do a mock lesson as a second interview.

I'm amazed and highly gratified that a place with such high standards would think so well of me. I absolutely loved the campus, the teachers, the kids, and the school's philosophy. It really would be a great fit for me. I'm trying not to get too excited because it's not likely that I'll be offered a position, and I don't want to "jinx" it somehow by counting chickens, but hey, I am excited.

The job pays a lot more than a starting public school salary, almost twice what I made at The Job. And the benefits are better.

Man, I really hope I get offered a job there. But I'm not going to hold my breath. I just have to put it out of my mind for a couple of weeks.

(Yeah, right.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Vocabulaire: un larron

un larron - a thief
Le larron a tenté de voler mon argent, mais j'ai parvenu à le faucher.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Saturday cartoons: Betsy And Me, June 2, 1958






















by Jack Cole

Onychophagia, justified and otherwise

Things I am worried about
  • The health of myself and my loved ones
  • Lack of health care (in myself and others), and this country's appalling health care system
  • Steadily encroaching West Nile virus and other pandemic-quality bugs, and the administration's concomitant lack of interest in prophylactic measures
  • The administration's war on the constitution, privacy, and civil rights
  • Some of America's best and bravest, dying and being mutilated for no particular reason
  • Legitimate terrorist threats to America that may not be noticed because of the resource vacuum that is Iraq
  • Global warming, dwindling water, our dependency on oil
  • Pollution by corporations and the public, especially the use of plastics
  • Layoffs, US jobs being shipped overseas, and the disappearance of the well-off working class
  • Putin's apparent desire to start up the Cold War again, now when we have a president who is incapable of defusing the situation or dealing with it rationally
  • The ever-rising tide of ignorance and violence in America's youth, caused by lack of quality education and poverty
  • The fact that America's current two-term president is, in actual fact, a proud ignoramus who fires anyone who dares disagree with him
  • The suspicious amount of evidence that the GOP rigs elections at the local level
  • The administration's apparent inability to do anything to help anyone who actually needs help
Things I am not in the least worried about
  • Lindsay Lohan's career
  • "Kid Nation" controversies
  • Any reality TV controversy
  • Britney Spears' clothes, love interests, or hair
  • Any celebrity DUI
  • The legal troubles of any players on any sports team
  • The outcome of any game, ever
Oh, and also: if you're driving and an ambulance comes up behind you, siren wailing and lights flashing, and you just kind of tap on your brakes, but you don't pull over and stop, like you're goddamn well supposed to --- fuck you. I hope you are horribly injured, and the ambulance that is taking you to the ER gets stuck behind someone just like you. Really. You're breathing air that better people could be using.

Sweet Shiva, people, where is the empathy?

Friday, August 24, 2007

First visit

I drove up to Brown Elementary, where I'm starting my student teaching starting the fourth of September. I was only there an hour or so, getting familiar with the halls and so forth, but I loved it. Everyone, including the secretaries, was extremely polite and friendly --- which was not the general rule at my tutoring and observation sites. The teacher I'll be helping out, Ms. L, was incredibly welcoming and nice. Oh, and it turns out she teaches first grade; I was meant to be placed with a second grade teacher originally, but that person got an administration job so they shunted me over to first. I don't mind.

Two things of interest. First, one of the kindergarten teachers was a male (so that makes a whole two of us in the building, except for the principal and vice principal). I was surprised but glad to see this, not because I'd feel awkward being the only male --- I'm well used to that in work and school --- but because I think it's great for kids to have teachers of both sexes. Second, the teacher of the adjacent first grade room is a former classmate of mine from last year --- I forget which class it was, but she greeted me with a smile as well.

I liked the look of the school a lot; it was very pleasant and orderly. So far, it looks like it will be a terrific experience, and I'm looking forward to it happily.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

If you like web surfing...

And I mean you really like your web surfing, you need to use StumbleUpon. I've been using it obsessively and have been rewarded by being introduced to a lot of terrific information all over the internets. It's not all TubeSpace; there's a world of admirable creativity and scholarship out there.

When someone posts something interesting, like a fan movie or a song or anything that requires industry and application, it always gets me when the comments say something like, "Yeh u r good but u have too much time on ur hands lol." These people have just as much time on their hands, but use it to passive-aggressively tear down other people's work. What winners!

***

I went with my parents to the new trivia place, where the prize is a big cash payoff. The Friar joined us, and 74 put in a very rare appearance; I honestly don't think I'd seen him this in person this year until today. We came in second --- it's a tougher game than at Waitress T's TriviaBar.

Afterwards, the Friar and I drank and talked at the Hangout. The video trivia and games were on free play, so we OD'd on that. Then Paris, the idle rich fellow who acted aggressive toward me in a petty little way a while back, invited me to his house for a party on Saturday. It's amusing how chronic drinkers are always ether sullenly hostile or expansively affectionate.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A man is master of his liberty

I ate lunch with the Friar and Palfrey. They were both on their lunch breaks; I am an idle fellow. I ate an oyster po' boy. Coincidentally, Palfrey's mother was in the area, and she was taking care of their baby, so I got to see and hold him. Cool.

I sent in my resume to five private schools in the area. I don't expect any of them to bite, but perhaps they'll keep me in mind until next year. Indeed, if I did get a call back from one of them, I honestly don't know what I'd do, since I'm about to student teach at Brown Elementary. I just did it to keep in job-applying mode, since the student teaching is, as they said up at the State School meeting, "a twelve week long job interview."

***

I watched the movie Borat. Amusing, but highly overrated, I thought. I guess maybe I've seen too much of that kind of premise, from glorious (Da Ali G Show) to goofy (Candid Camera) to pathetic (Punk'd). The film certainly makes for an interesting sociological experiment: how patient and polite will people be to a man who begins to act ridiculously stupid and gradually ups the ante until he's apparently sociopathic? How many kisses will an American male put up with from a stranger? But as a comedy, I found it only a moderate success. I laughed hard at places, cringed at other times, and stared blankly at still other scenes. He's knocking down a bunch of breakable antiques, and it's funny because he's... foreign, I guess? I don't know.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Existential Evidentialism

I went to my stress echo test today. But they couldn't get a good picture because of my twisted organs, and there was fear I may be allergic to the IV stuff they use to highlight people's insides. So they canceled the procedure and unplugged me. I signed a form allowing them to retrieve my previous medical records so they could find out if I can tolerate the organ paint and went home. Perhaps we'll try again in the next week or so.

***

When I was in high school and college, I was strongly influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre's writings and considered myself an existentialist. I still do to some extent, but not nearly as much. One of the major questions of life, to me, was what the hell anything matters. Whether you're a Cambodian farmer or Michael Jordan, what's the point of your existence when everyone dies? After you're dead, really, what does it matter what you've done? The utter pointlessness of doing anything sunk in deep, and it may be influenced my own lack of accomplishment later in life.

But now that I'm older --- and this really is a recent development; I was swayed by the power of the ideas above well after college --- I think I have an answer. As I get a few health scares and I start to honestly contemplate my own mortality, I feel that there is a point to life. Yes, you will die, and your heirs will die, and the most anyone can hope for --- though it's granted to almost no one --- is to be a name in a history book.

But you'll know what you did. And that, it seems to me now, is the point. The point is to have accomplishments one can look back on. I'm not saying popularity is the key --- obviously, not everyone can have that. Indeed, popularity really is meaningless. I'm saying that living life is not a means to anything, but its own end. It doesn't matter if your poems were ever published, as long as you wrote them. It doesn't matter whether your face launched a thousand ships, as long as you were someone's fairest of them all. And so forth.

This isn't coming out as well as I had it in my head, so I'm going to stop groping for clarity. All I'm saying is that if you're lucky enough to lie on a deathbed knowing the end is near, you'll ruminate on your life. And that's when doing something will matter, and why it does. So do something.

***

The comic store guy gave me a free Ned Flanders figure, so I glued him on the dashboard of my car. Remember that song in Cool Hand Luke?

Well, I won't get in fender-benders
'Cause I've got me a Ned Flanders
Sittin' on the dashboard of my car.

Wearin' glasses, with green sweater,
Helps me make my driving better,

Take him with me when I travel far.

Goin' ninety all the way to Reno,
Protected by Ned Flander-eeno,
Sittin' on the dashboard of my car.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Vous n'êtes point trompé; ce fou vend la sagesse

Yesterday, had the meeting at State School. Lots of the usual blather, but finally assignments were revealed. I'm going to a second grade room at Brown Elementary. I'd like to have gotten third grade, the first year the TAKS are given; I wanted to show that I could handle that particular stress. However, I'm happy with second, and a couple of classmates told me that Brown is a great school. Their website has some very impressive statistics about passing rates and so forth.

So, feeling good about that. Some lingering resentments toward my old alma mater back in Little Canada, the State U. where I got my master's. I had applied, back in 1995 or so, for an elementary teaching certificate way back then. I was denied at the interview stage; they told me I was too academic. They said I was wrong about a teacher's primary responsibility being to teach. They wanted me to say that a teacher's primary responsibility was to coach life skills and nurture. They said they were impressed with my intelligence, but that I ought to be a college professor, not a school teacher.

So I got my master's and over the next three years or so was confirmed in my belief that academics is not for me. I don't like college students. I didn't even like college students when I was a college student. Beer-swilling yahoos who don't appreciate what they have, is what they are. I strongly believe in reaching children when they're young, in making a difference early, and being an intellectual role model (especially for boys), of which there is a shameful dearth in this country.

And thinking about that today, ending up now in the spot I should have been starting out at ten years ago, I got a little bitter about the path my life took, and State U.'s role in that. But I carried a lot of that load myself, and anyway we have to let go of the past, and also remember that when you point a finger, three more are pointing back at you, unless of course you point with all five fingers outstretched, which just looks weird.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

I went where the wild goose goes

Today was the last day of the Job, as far as I know. One parent I told that to said, "I've heard that before." It's been a long time coming; my cutting down to part time and then subbing over the summer made me much less of a fixture as before. But I do think this is really it.

Tomorrow we have the meeting where State School will tell me which ghetto I'll be student teaching in, and since a lot of schools around here are starting either Monday or Wednesday next week, I figure I won't be back. To work, anyway; I'll definitely come visit. It was sad leaving my workplace of four years. I will miss those kids and miss the autonomy I had there, for sure. I also got along great with almost every parent, which is nice. It's hard to leave the familiar for the completely unknown, but that's what I'm about to do.

I am also leaving the highest salary I have ever made for exactly no salary for the next twelve weeks. Eep. A little nervous about that, but then, I won't starve. I've got savings. I'll just have to watch my expenditures.

I had a few parents and the Assistant Boss fill out recommendation forms for me. And I nearly, really quite almost, but didn't, ask Extremely Pretty And Literate Young Girl replacement teacher out. I would have, really --- we laugh and talk a lot, and she seems to like me, usually hanging around after her kids are gone and only walking out the door with me at the end of the day --- but I thought about what my living situation will be like for the rest of the year, and thought I didn't really have enough to offer. It's one thing to be funny and nice and smart, but if you don't have money, you're not exactly dating material.

And now, I have to get up at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow, when I've been in the habit of waking at 10 or even 11 (being needed at work only in the afternoons). So I must at least pretend to go to bed early.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak)

I went to the doctor and the doctor said, "Boy,
Your body's a temple, it's not a toy.
Fill up this here paper cup and give it to the nurse."
I went to the doctor and the doctor said, "Friend,
this should be the middle, but it could be the end.
You'd better get better, or else you gonna get worse."
--- Loudon Wainwright III, "The Doctor"

My cardiologist appointment was this afternoon with Dr. Z. I saw a nurse, who administered the EKG. Next to come in the room was the J.D. to Dr. Z's Cox, a fourth-year medical student who asked me questions about my unique medical history. Finally the big wheel himself came in and gave me a pretty careful look-over. He listened to my heart with his hands as well as his stethoscope --- never encountered that before.

They noted my high blood pressure and my excessive pulse rate, but Dr. Z said before he could treat me he needed to see a bit more data on how my heart works. I told him that I didn't have any insurance right now and was trying to keep costs down. So he said, "Well, sometimes you just have to do things, so I'm going to schedule you an echo stress test at no cost."

Dr. Z is from another country. An American doctor would never say that. Anyway, it really was like a moment out of "Scrubs." I didn't know what to say, except "thank you" and "I'm sorry."

The appointment cost nearly five hundred bucks, but if this really happens (hospitals have a way of snuffing out the charitable impulse in their doctors), I'll feel pretty damn lucky. Anyway, that's Monday.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

You Know What I Like?

Inspired by the always entertaining Tom the Dog in this post, I thought I'd do the same, as he suggests. Herewith, my abecedary of things I like and appreciate in this world. There's a lot for many of us who gripe perhaps a bit too much to be thankful for.

Asterix. I was raised on these albums. The combined genius of Udzero's illustrations and Goscinny's writing (and in English, Anthea Bell's unsurpassed translations) influenced me a lot as a kid, and bring me joy still.

Brubaker, Ed. The man writes some damn fine comic stories. I recently finished Coward, the first "Criminal" collection. Terrific, ultra-gritty noir stuff. And I'm getting into "Sleeper."

Children. I love kids; always have. Almost every single one of them has the potential to become the greatest human being in history. If only society wasn't so hard on them.

Dylan, Bob. I count myself very lucky to have lived in the time of his second greatest creative streak. He's never been better in concert, and in this modern age of CDRs I can hear a lot of those concerts without having to follow him around. Thanks for the music, Bob.

Evan Tanner novels back in print.

Friends. I have a few --- very few --- but they're good people and I love them.

"Good Vibrations." This is the best song ever written.

The Hold Steady. I can't begin to express how much this band means to me. Seeing them in concert was almost a mystical experience; not because they were so good (though they are the best band in the world), but because of the feeling of camaraderie and good-will they emanate.

The Internet. I truly believe that it is the greatest invention in human history, more important than the printing press or the airplane or television or electricity --- but we're too stupid to use it right.

The Jungle Book. A superb book adapted into the Disney film that, if not the best drawn or most resonant, is in my opinion the most fun. Baloo in King Louie's court. George Sanders as Shere Kahn. "The Bear Necessities." Just pure amusement, this.

Kucinich, Dennis. The tough-talking Democrat gives me hope that someone with power cares, even when deep down I know the Bastards are in control. "If people want to know what kind of president I'll be, they only have to know my background to know who I'm in government to represent: those who aspire to decent jobs, a decent wage, health care, a roof over their heads, education for their children."

Literacy. Whether it's Moby-Dick or a comic book or a Newbery winner or a magazine article or "Pericles," reading is one of my life's greatest pleasures. It separates us from the beasts.

Mangoes. The fruit of the gods, the apple of the east, nature's nectar.

Netflix. Truly, one of the best ideas of the last ten years. A very easy way to mainline old TV series (like "The Wire," "The Shield," "Rome," "Entourage," etc). I absolutely love it. And, they keep lowering the price! Crazy!

Order of the Stick. A webcomic created by Rich Burlew. I'm hooked, and I don't even like D&D.

Pogo by Walt Kelly. The best comic strip ever created: insanely original in its use of language, always a feast for the eyes visually, genuinely loving in message. Some of its political jibes are as sharp as ever today.

Queen. Not exactly in regular rotation on my playlists, but a damn fine band that starts with Q.

Rhino Records. The kings of reissues. I gladly buy albums I already own when Rhino comes out with the definitive deluxe editions. (I like real rhinos more than the record label, but thinking about their status worldwide makes me sad.)

"The Simpsons." After all these years, some of the sheen has worn off and some of the joints are creaking, but there's more to it than that: it's a monolith of popular culture. I honestly don't think a day goes by when I don't, consciously or unconsciously, slip a reference or inflexion borrowed from the series into my speech with friends and family. And the movie --- excellent.

This is Spinal Tap. Another cultural monolith. And the popular legacy of this one --- you know it --- goes up to eleven.

Unbreakable. M. Night Shyamalan made the movie that was in my head!

Verne, Jules. The grandfather of science fiction.

Women. Boy, some of them are attractive, aren't they? They're like the Grand Canyon or the Mona Lisa, some of them. "Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck. How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices! Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed." Song of Solomon: Biblical erotica.

X-Men, the movie by Bryan Singer. Good stuff. It's not Casablanca, but it is as well done as a movie about mutants fighting can be, and it starts with X. I liked the sequel just as much.

Yay! Being almost done with long lists is nice.

Zulu. One of my very favorite war movies, a tale of heroism (and some panic) in the face of overwhelming odds, based on a true story.

***

Compiling this list was an exercise in positive thinking, but sometimes it backfired. For example, I wanted J to be for Jusitice, but I realized I couldn't think of any high-profile examples of justice, rather the opposite. That unrepentant criminal Alberto Gonzales refusing to remove his corrupt ass from the seat of power, some of the finest young Americans getting their limbs blown off in the name of nothing in particular; child killers getting ten years instead of a quick bullet in the brain, and so forth. In the same vein, I would have liked to have something in there about clean water and air, but again, the environment's been losing a war against Big Government and Business, Conglomerated for about six years now. I may enjoy Fiji bottled water, but it's a shame that I feel I need to buy it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Vocabulaire: une poule

une poule - wife
Bordel, ta poule est canon, j'ai grand envie de la niquer, quoi!
Note: this word can also mean "hen" or "mistress" or "prostitute." Those wacky French!

Monday, August 13, 2007

En apprenant la nouvelle, j'ai failli avoir une crise cardiaque, moi aussi

So, hugely talented and personally popular comics artist Mike Wieringo died Sunday at the age of 44. He was, early accounts suggest, a healthy fellow and a vegetarian. He called 911, reporting chest pains, but they didn't reach him in time.

He was a terrific artist, and, according to what I've read, liked and respected. He died much too young. It's a sad thing.

As someone with a heart problem myself, getting ever nearer to 40, it's also a scary thing. I feel the same way as when I heard the incomparable Joe Strummer died of a heart problem --- good Ganesh, it's been five years ago now. Very sad and sympathetic and, yes, scared for myself as well.

My pulse rate is extremely worrisome. I'm going to the cardiologist on Thursday. I suspect he will want to put me on a beta blocker and something like digitalis. Oh dear.

For all I know, I have hours to live.

Writer Block

At long last, Lawrence Block's novels about Evan Tanner, the polymath insomniac spy, are back in print!

Block's books about the alcoholic PI, Matt Scudder, have long been my favorite mysteries of all time: gritty and noirish, mostly realistic, with a cast of memorable lowlifes and weirdos, packed with dialogue as snappy as pistol fire. The Tanner novels are bit more madcap and require a little more suspension of disbelief, but they're fun as hell.

So, anyway, I've been reading all day.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

The night the bluesman met the honkies

This memory sprang unbidden and whole from my head (like Athena) recently:

Many, many years ago, back when I was a naive young man living in Little Canada, my then-wife and I went to see a blues singer named Osee Anderson. He was very, very good and very loud. A veteran at ease on stage, he was free with the banter. His audience was almost all white, and he seemed conscious of the lack of melanin in his fans, and tried to compensate for it. At one point, he said to us: "I don't want you out on the dance floor. This is a blues thing. I want you out on the dance floe!" In case the honkies didn't get it, he became specific, spelling it out: "F, L, O, E: floe!"

A few minutes later, Osee exhorted us to give voice to the the power the music had over us. "Let me hear you say: Ohhhhhhhh!" he called out, this last a deep soulful bluesy moan.

"Owww..." the honkies tried. Actually it was a kind of subdued, nasal gasp, a cross between "Awww" and "Owww."

The bluesman was briefly nonplussed, but bravely soldiered on. "No, no, let's get everybody to say" [throaty, resonant moan]: "Ohhhhhhhhh!"

"Owwwww...?" (Same as above, sort of petering out at the end, perhaps somehow sensing that they weren't quite getting it.)

Well, he exhorted us no more after that, for a bluesy moan of satisfaction was clearly beyond the power of the honkies. But later in the evening, Osee proved he was adaptable to the shortcomings of his audience: "Let me hear you say: Owwww," he offered.

This, they could do. And they did, heartily.

I kid you not.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Oh maman j'ai mal au coeur, vite une verre de liqueur!

Some days I seem to have a few rants in me --- I intend to post merely a line or two, and get fired up and end up writing far more than I thought I had to say about a subject.

Other days, I have a lot of thoughts circling around in my head and I can't seem to pin any down into a coherent thread.

This high blood pressure thing is scaring me. My sitting pulse yesterday was 111, which is so not good. I have to see a goddam cardiologist. Perhaps I'm stressed over the upcoming student teaching placement. I feel sure I'll be sent to the ghetto. At least, that's what a barber who lives up in the area told me.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Game advice

If you ever find yourself on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," don't use your "Ask the Audience" lifeline for anything that has to do with history. Or geography. Or literature. Or anything, really, except for television, movies, and the most popular of best sellers. Because otherwise they don't know and they will guess wildly.

Also, when you "Phone a Friend," make sure he or she knows how to use Google efficiently. And isn't hard of hearing. And can spell. And can use Google efficiently.

Also, if I'm ever a contestant's Friend Who May Be Phoned, I'm going to answer the call with a crisp, "Lifeline!"

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Heathen Chinee

We gluttonous Americans are draining the earth of resources with our rampant esurience, sure. But it sure seems the Chinese are trying to surpass our fell appetite for destruction.

Bits from recent news include the nasty bear bile story (dude, in wine?!):
The lucrative but illegal export trade in bear products coming from farms in China is threatening the existence of some species of the animal, a new report by campaigners says.

Bear bile is included in everything from hair shampoo to wine and medicinal tonics.

The substance is extracted from a bear's gall bladder in an excruciatingly painful process which involves slicing into the animal's flesh to "milk" bile from the gall bladder with a tube. The process causes many of the animals to resort to chewing their paws to cope with the pain.
And also (though note the worst offender here):
China has become one of the largest importers of wood with imports of industrial round wood estimated to reach 100 million cubic meters by 2010, accounting for half of the total annual demand in the country.

China produced 105 million cubic meters of round wood equivalent in 1995, compared to 81 million cubic meters in 2001, according to the report.

The total import volume of round wood was 16 million cubic meters in 2002, 11 times the 1997 figure. China's market for industrial timber, pulp, and paper has now become the second largest in the world after the United States, according to the report.
"As the world's second largest wood importer, China must take full responsibility for global forestry conservation," said Dr. Claude Martin, director general of WWF International at the workshop.
And don't forget about "traditional Chinese medicine:"
It's true that rhino parts (horns in particular) and tiger parts have been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), but not for sexual purposes. TCM is an ancient and well-codified system of medicine, and in its pharmacopeia rhino and tiger parts are nowhere prescribed for sexual uses. A passage headed "Rhino Horn is Not an Aphrodisiac" on WWF's Web site makes this point, and adds, "The penis of the rhino still has limited use as an aphrodisiac in Laos, Thailand, and India, and genital tonic pills are still on the market in China, but the horn is generally used as a fever-reducing remedy." Not just any fever, but high, life-threatening fevers, the kind of fever that led one traditional medicine practitioner who is also a conservationist to tell Mills "he would take the last horn off the last rhino if his child were dying of fever."

In Korea, Mills says, every household used to keep a few pills on hand containing rhino horn, among other ingredients, which were considered good for bringing people back from coma and stroke. Not for bringing them back from sexual apathy or inability.

The tiger story is similar: Tiger parts have long been valued in TCM, but sex is the least of it. Tiger bone, in particular, is used to treat arthritis and rheumatism, to suppress pain and to reduce swelling. Obviously, the demand for drugs to treat chronic conditions like arthritis is a large one.
Oh, well, if it's not for boners, it must have value! Sweet Krishna deliver us.

But look, I don't mean to rag on China. I got my advanced degree with a thesis on colonialism in China, and have dabbled in Mandarin off and on over the years. I very much respect China's ancient culture, its literature, its people and its history.

The other day, I was talking with a neighbor about the rash of scares on Chinese imports: poisoned dog food, lead paint on toys, and so on. (Oh, and the bear bile toothpaste! Delicious! It puts the "bear" in "unbearable!")

I said that nothing would change until American corporations started valuing their consumers' health more than the chance to make another dollar. As long as it's cheaper to make shoddy goods and occasionally maybe have to pay clandestinely to fix someone or satisfy a grieving pet owner, then that's what they'll do.

This neighbor said, "No, it's not the corporations! It's China! I've been there" [she's an airline stewardess] "and it's a soulless country. They're the ones doing this."

"Okay," I replied (utilizing to the utmost the deadly arguing skills I learned as a philosophy undergraduate at the feet of erudite perverts), "let's grant that. Let's grant that China's a soulless country. Then what are we, as a supposedly Christian and, I don't know, soulful (?) people, doing this kind of business with them? Doesn't it then remain the fault of the American corporations that don't care that they're dealing with the devil?"

I'm pretty sure she didn't really follow, and continued to blame China. Go capitalism!

Monday, August 06, 2007

A losing battle

Advertising Sways Kids

It's not the food, it's the brand name. Marketing strongly affects 4-year-olds' food preferences, find Stanford University pediatrics researcher Thomas N. Robinson, M.D., and colleagues.

Robinson and colleagues studied 63 low-income children enrolled in Head Start centers in California. The kids ranged in age from 3 years to 5 years.

Told they were playing a food-tasting game, the kids sat at a table with a screen across the middle. A researcher reached around either side of the screen to put out two identical food samples: slices of a hamburger, french fries, chicken nuggets, milk, or baby carrots.

The only difference between the pairs of food samples was that one came in a plain wrapper, cup, or bag, and the other came in a clean, unused McDonald's wrapper, cup, or bag. The kids were asked whether they liked one of the foods best, or whether they tasted the same.

In all cases, the majority of the kids said the "best" foods were those linked to the McDonald's brand, even though the only differences between the bags were the McDonald's logos (no special advertising materials were used).

  • 77 percent of the kids said the same french fries, from McDonald's, were better in a McDonald's bag than in a plain bag (13 percent liked the ones in the plain bag; 10 percent could tell they were the same).
  • 61 percent of the kids said milk tasted better in a McDonald's cup (21 percent liked milk in a plain cup; 18 percent could tell it was the same).
  • 59 percent of the kids said chicken nuggets tasted better in a McDonald's bag (18 percent liked them in a plain bag; 23 percent could tell they were the same).
  • 54 percent of the kids said carrots tasted better in a McDonald's bag (23 percent liked them in a plain bag; another 23 percent could tell they were the same).
  • 48 percent of the kids liked hamburgers better in a McDonald's wrapper (37 percent liked them in a plain wrapper; 15 percent could tell they were the same).
  • That's amazing.

    Ever since I found out I have high blood pressure and low "good" cholesterol, I've been trying to eat less sodium and fried foods. Also, more fish: smoked salmon, sushi and cooked shrimp. And I recently re-discovered the real pleasure in fresh, raw carrots, celery and cucumbers. Crisp, watery and refreshing. Yes, I do dip them in a bit of ranch dressing, but I figure the benefits of the veggies outweigh the tasty poison I'm putting on them.

    The point to living is to stay alive for as long as you can and enjoy it. I suppose.

    Sunday, August 05, 2007

    Grand Slam Grand Final

    I say, these Brits aren't half clever, what?

    Saturday, August 04, 2007

    Friday, August 03, 2007

    Everything's inevitable

    From http://www.cbsnews.com/:
    Search For Answers In Bridge Collapse

    2005 Report Called Minnesota Bridge "Structurally Deficient" And Possibly In Need Of Replacement

    Inspections as far back as 2000 on the bridge identified both corrosion in the steel and a lot of cracking, says Stehly.

    Questions are also being raised about a 2005 report in the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Bridge Inventory which rated the bridge as "structurally deficient" and possibly in need of replacement.

    The report said there were fatigued details on the main truss and floor truss system. Yet it concluded there was no need to prematurely replace the bridge because of fatigue cracking, avoiding the high cost associated with such a large project.
    Yep, no money for repairs. Because we're such an impoverished society.

    We just can't spare a dime.

    Cost of the War in Iraq
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    I swear, with our crumbling infrastructure; wrong-headed war that hemorrhages money and makes no one safer; lack of health care; increasing gap between poor and ultra-rich; liberal newspaper editors being assassinated in the streets; and all the cheap, lethal goods we continue to import from China (even though they've hit us where it hurts: our kids and pets), America's looking more like a third-world country every day.

    FDR's spinning in his grave.

    Thursday, August 02, 2007

    Mourir pour des ivrognes

    Today I went with my parents to another bar where there's trivia, not the Sunday TriviaBar where W works. The prize at this new place is much more, and in cash. There are also only ten questions --- but those questions are truly trivial. Recondite, one might say.

    My father is an extremely intelligent and educated man (though he does have his moments of disconnect). My mother, while not what you might call academically refined, is literally a human encyclopedia: she remembers every fact she learns. Friar, who was also there, is, like me, the product of many years of formal education. So we're all pretty erudite. We got two out of the ten questions. Two other teams tied with six.

    To be fair, we don't know much about sports, and there were two sports questions. But it's pretty sad that the only thing we knew for sure was a Simpsons question.

    ***

    Friar and I went to the Hangout. Then he and I, with Mr. Hangout and Paris (a very rich, idle playboy who for whatever reason his drink-addled brain concocts doesn't much like me) went to a different bar. I drove Mr. Hangout's big, expensive car. At the other place, we saw K briefly. She was, along with a bunch of hot hippie chicks and elderly-looking fellows who might have been original hippies, dancing to the not unpleasant sounds of a Grateful Dead cover band.

    There was a weird flare-up which I can't really explain when Mr. Hangout paid the cover for the rest of us, Paris threw a hundred-dollar bill on the table, informed me he had been threatening me earlier in the car, and stormed out in a snit. He didn't come back. We didn't stay long.

    Back at Hangout, a pall seemed to have been cast over the whole evening. Friar and I played video games and were joined by AL, a rather know-it-all guy, around 50 or so, who's nice enough but tends to mocking laughter when other people don't know things he does. Having been the object of his short, barking laugh more than a few times, this evening I rather piled on the sarcasm in return when he made mistakes. I later regretted doing that. Everybody's got their little idiosyncrasies and insecurities, and who am I to sneer back at a harmless old barfly just because he likes knowing stuff?

    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    I don't know much about art but I know what I don't like

    Man, here's August already. Tempus fugit, eh?

    I watched Art School Confidential, based on the Daniel Clowes comic story (and written by him). It was directed by Terry Zwigoff, who also did the remarkable and moving documentary Crumb. And, I saw with surprise, it was co-produced by an old family friend with whom I've lost touch.

    Well, this film was mediocre, but the way Clowes nailed pretentious art geeks really tickled me. I didn't go to art school, but I took a few art classes at a tiny liberal arts college in California, and the effect seems to have been the same. We had all the art school "types:" the artist manqué professor living vicariously through his students; the suck-up; the other suck-up; the arrogant snob; and so forth.

    I identified quite a lot with Jerome, the main character, during the scenes where his class discussed each other's work. I'm not as talented as he was meant to be, but I'm rather a dab hand with the pencil and pen. I was therefore simultaneously amused and pissed off to be regarded as a hack since I drew recognizable figures, and to see the professor and the suck-ups engage in a big circle-jerk of praise for the masturbatory crap everyone else produced. There really was no question of talent in these classes; all anyone cared about was how to "act arty." The more abstract and layered and rough a thing was, the more they liked it and bent over backwards trying to explain it as the product of some kind of vision and talent. To them, art began and ended with Andy Warhol.

    Just for one example, one guy brought in a canvas which he'd scribbled on and then attacked with an axe. Ooh, innovative! Daring! Pretentious! Utter shite!

    Anyway, I'm clearly bitter. But I did like that facet of Art School Confidential.