Sunday, November 23, 2008

Update: I lost

Well, "Game Show!" came and went. I took my shot, swung the hammer, threw the horseshoe, tossed the dart. But --- although I was in fact winning throughout the main part of the questioning --- it's not a show without its perils, and I lost it all at the end. Now, it was a fun experience and I'm glad I had it, but I must admit to a certain moroseness over the missed opportunity. Not over the money --- I'm lucky to have more money than I need at the moment --- but I'd just like to have chalked up a major win in something this time around.

Barring sudden inspiration, I think I will probably take the rest of the year off this blog (not simply because of the Game Show loss, but mainly from general ennui). But I'll plan to return in 2009 (if still alive and willing). And I'll continue to come around and leave my own inimitably supercilious/stupid comments on all your blogs, never fear.

Yes, I am aware of how emo and self-pitying this post comes across as, and don't care. In fact, let's crank the emo to 11 with some Emily D, circa 1924.

I measure every grief I meet
With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
Or has an easier size.

I wonder if they bore it long,
Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
It feels so old a pain.

I wonder if it hurts to live,
And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
They would not rather die.

I wonder if when years have piled
Some thousands --- on the cause
Of early hurt, if such a lapse
Could give them any pause;

Or would they go on aching still
Through centuries above,
Enlightened to a larger pain
By contrast with the love.

The grieved are many, I am told;
The reason deeper lies,
Death is but one and comes but once,
And only nails the eyes.

There's grief of want, and grief of cold,
A sort they call "despair";
There's banishment from native eyes,
In sight of native air.

And though I may not guess the kind
Correctly, yet to me
A piercing comfort it affords
In passing Calvary,

To note the fashions of the cross,
Of those that stand alone,
Still fascinated to presume
That some are like my own.

-Emily Dickinson

Friday, November 14, 2008

perilously close to burned out

Man, I've been going over the archives and testing myself with a few trivia books and online quizzes, and it seems like seriously, I know absolutely nothing. I've never heard of major stuff like John Logie Baird (inventor of first TV set), or Grace Metalious, the woman who wrote Peyton Place, or Peter Paul Reubens' 24-painting cycle of Marie de Medici, or Beaujolais Nouveau, or first black ambassador to the UN Andrew Young, or, or, or...

And the stuff I have heard about before, I can't recall quick enough or at all. I've read Ivanhoe, and could not recall the name of Ivanhoe's inamorata Rowena. I'm sure I've heard a dozen times that Kiev is on the Dnieper river, but I might as well have never learned it. And which condemned Soviet writer won the Nobel prize first, Pasternak or Solzhenitsyn (the former --- I am amazed to learn that Solzhenitsyn died August of this year!). And Percival Lowell's name rings a dim bell, but try getting me to recall within three seconds that he's known for his belief in the canals of Mars. Go on, try. And the Prado's pride and joy "Las Meninas" and on and on.

On the other hand, I was watching Who Wants To Be a Millionaire at my parents' house the other day (they've revamped it: there's a 30 second limit for answering the questions and a couple of new lifelines). Human encyclopedia Ken Jennings was a lifeline choice (Ask the Expert) and he had no idea who oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens was! And Pickens has even been in the news lately for his cockamamie wind schemes!

So maybe there's hope yet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

More sounds of blackness

Yesterday's post was silly and born of exhaustion from burning he midnight oil, but it did get me thinking seriously:

We have a black president. Holy flurking schnitt, as Kang the alien might say. Considering that the United States has had a grand total of five black senators in its entire history (including Obama himself and the first two, who were Reconstruction-era candidates forced down the South's throat by state legislature), that's amazing.

In 1958, retarded Arkansas governor Orval Faubus shut down every high school in Little Rock so black students couldn't come in.

I mean, damn, America! Segregation was federally outlawed in this country in 1964. Obama was three when that happened.

First popularly elected black senator? Edward Brooke of Massachsetts, 1967.

In the realm of space travel we have real progressiveness, since the first was Robert Lawrence in 1967, only nine years after NASA's inception. But the programs he was on were kept fairly secret, so most people think it's Guion Bluford, who went up in Challenger in 1983.

First major party black candidate for President of this here land? 1972, when NY Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm threw her hat in the ring. She lost, I think. You can look it up.

First elected black governor? Douglas Wilder of Virginia, 1990. Yes, nineteen-ninety. And he had to win by a recount. And he looks like a white man, frankly.

Speaking of 1990, that was the same year that David Dinkins became the first black mayor of that cosmopolitan, segregated, liberal city, New York.

Mississippi formally ratified the Thirteenth Amendement prohibiting slavery in 1995. Good job, fellows! Perhaps you'll recognize the rights of gays to marry by the year 3600!

First black Secretary of State? George W. Bush's scapegoat Colin Powell, 2001.

Gobama

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Sounds of Blackness

There sure are a lot of of African-American firsts with the letter B in them.

Edward Brooke III, first elected Senator
Booker T. Washington
W.E.B. Dubois
Barack Obama
"Beulah," first radio and TV show to star an African American
Ralph Bunche, first African American to win a Nobel
Senators Blanche Bruce and Carol Mosley Braun
Guion Bluford, the astronaut
Cora Brown, first black woman elected to state senate
Condoleezza Brice
Jackie Bobinson

...I may be overdoing the quiz show cramming.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Toosday Trivia

From last week:

1. Holy freaking crap PRND21 is the gears of a car! It seemed so baffling then and so obvious now. Man, I was never superb at that kind of thinking game, but now my mind just doesn't work that way.
2. Lactic acid causes rigor mortis, as the Noticeably Knowledgeable Michael5000 pointed out. I should have recalled this, having read a book by a marathoner this year.
3. Roots took place in The Gambia, as the Wonderously Well-read Michael5000 knew.
4. I like Bananas the best.
5. It's actually Jesse Ventura, as the Insufferably Intellectual Randall pointed out. I knew that, of course --- but a slip of the tongue like that on "Game Show" means a wrong answer.
6. Travelin' men.
7. "The Taming of the Shrew," too? I had forgotten that the main story is actually a play within the play. This has turned my whole world view around. It's like finding out that Shakespeare himself was a fictional character.

And now, the new stuff.

1. What empire was united by a king named Shaka during the early 19th century?
The Zulus, as the infamous miniseries "Shaka Zulu" should serve to remind us all.

2. In September, what graying rock band had their fifth consecutive album debut atop the charts, a Billboard record?
I'm thinking Metallica, because they just came out with a new one.

3. Because of its famous mineral water, what British town lent its name to the chemical salt magnesium sulfate?
Bath, I guess. Or are those named after baths?

4. What beer was advertised by the famous "Whassup?!" TV ad campaign of 1999?
I'm not a guy who knows a lot about ads, having successfully ignored them most of my life. Was it Budweiser? I know they had the three frogs, but maybe they had those guys too.

5. What's the only U.S. state on the Atlantic that also extends into the Central Time Zone?
Florida?

6. What leading lady of TV and movies called her autobiography Knock Wood, in memory of her father?
Never heard of it. But Candice Bergen, daughter of ventriloquist Edgar, seems the most reasonable guess.

7. What unusual distinction is shared by these nations, and no others? Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, China, Congo, Egypt, Great Britain, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Japan, Madagascar, Mongolia, Peru, Ukraine, Venezuela.
I have never worn a dress within their borders.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Instant Messaging II

Chance says:
i watched the jones-calzaghe fight on Saturday. that was a poor decision on my part.

Deep Blue says:
was it ppv?

Chance says:
yes, to my shame

Deep Blue says:
yeah, I wouldn't pay to watch a 40-yr-old RJJR get his ass beat.

Chance says:
on the other hand, there were also three very boring undercards including a washed up zab judah failing to impress against his hand-picked, neophyte opponent.

Deep Blue says:
i might have watched anyway, but cyan is all "no, el boxeo is inappropriate for el nino" blah blah blah so I never get to watch any more... since we're trying to teach the little guy "not" to "hit"

Chance says:
what a wussy... you should teach him to hit only the soft areas such as throat, testicles, eyes and kidneys.

Deep Blue says:
he's a little punkass who likes to hit. I don't know where he gets it from; I smack him good any time he does it, but he doesn't take the hint.

Chance says:
your program clearly isn't working... perhaps abstinence isn't the way to go. instead of telling him to Just Say No, encourage hitting at appropriate times such as in boxing. Or, offer biting as an alternative.

Deep Blue says:
I figure I'll just get him a gun as soon as he's strong enough to handle one, provided Obama bin Biden hasn't taken them all away and given them to his Gay Gestapo.

Chance says:
Gay BLACK Gestapo.

Deep Blue says:
when does the Gay Sharia take effect?

Chance says:
as soon as possible, I hope!

Deep Blue says:
Mmmm, four husbands. I have my new pink shalwar kameez all ready to go.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Loaded XII

From this place.

Hypotheticals: If you could add one feature to your cell phone, what would it be?
Real feature: web browser. Of course, I would be constantly Googling stuff, which might turn me into a pod person, so perhaps it's best I'm disconnected from the Intraweb teat for at least a while. Fictional feature: deadly laser.

Anything Goes: Where would be a terrible place to find yourself tomorrow?
Under a bridge, shivering with cold, after my home was swept away by a tornado.

No-Brainers: What are your two favorite ice cream toppings?
I'm not much of a topping buff, but hot fudge is always good. Whipped cream, too.

Personals: What language would you like to master?
Chinese. I've wrestled with it on and off for ten years, and know almost nothing.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

I can make it all match up, I can hold my own

A man goes up to a prim and proper lady and propositions her crudely. She recoils and cries, "No, I will not!" The man says, "I'll pay you a million dollars to sleep with me." The woman says, "Well, I'd do it, if you have the million." The man says, "How about a hundred?" The woman says, "What do you take me for, a whore?" Man replies, "We've established what you are, now we're just haggling the price."

One of the funniest/scariest parts of Palin's cutsey brand of speechifyin' --- and I may be going somewhere with all this --- was how she ridiculed and denigrated people who thought government exists to take of them (cure self-satisfied booing at the very thought of it... now).

I wonder if the people who thought she was making sense traveled on roads to go see her? I wonder if they washed their oafish bodies that morning with water from pipes? I wonder if they enjoyed a nice cheap McDonald's burger courtesy of government beef subsidies? I wonder if they're prepared to foil various plots to bomb our airplanes and ports on their lonesome? I wonder if they enjoy many goods and services that come to them courtesy of tariffs and trade agreements?

Government exists to take care of the people, period. That is its only function. If we can just get the so-called "conservatives" (those pork-cramming, spend-and-spending profligates) to admit that obvious truth, we can start to haggling over terms: who ought to get what. Instead, half the country keeps getting to pride itself on a self-sufficiency that it doesn't actually have, and denigrating the other half for calling a whore a whore.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Or maybe James Burke

I've been doing a lot of work at a site which, had I known about it during DorkFest '08, might well have won me the blue ribbon in that venerable contest.

The site is Quizlet! You can make your own electronic flashcards, and then --- this is the totally aweosme part --- the site tests you on your card sets! You can have written answer tests, multiple choice, true or false, and matching! All random and everything! Man, what a wonderful invention that speaks to the instrinctive, never-ending drive to learn and better oneself! What an amazing learning tool!

Seriously I am the king of all dorks

***

As I mentioned, I've been doing a bit of studying for the upcoming appearance on "Game Show!" Now that I'm making an active effort to remember things I learn, they're actually sticking, and it's strange to experience the connections that pop up, unbidden, in my head as I encounter information. For example, this evening I heard someone use the name "Augustus" and I thought:

Octavian... Part of Second Triumvirate with Lepidus and Mark Anthony... Antony and Cleopatra... Cleopatra VII... "worm of Nilus"...

I feel like the guy in A Beautiful Mind! You know... whatisname.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I adore the passerines, my little chickadee

At work, the kids were doing a word find that featured words in the "-it" family. Little B, a smart and genial boy, muttered to himself several times while he was scanning the sheet, "I'm looking for tit... I'm looking for tit."

If I had a nickel for every time I said that....

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

History is made!

A few words about the election, and then the quizzing.

We won! And by "we," I mean the American people. We looked past the lies and slander, and of course the all-too-real race problem, and decided that there was an issue we cared more about than whether a man knew another man a long time ago, or what he may or may not have heard in church. And that issue was: having a house and eating. Congratulations, America. We won.

I am very glad all my nay-saying and fretting about the election proved ill-founded. However, we're certainly going to deal in the next for years with a lot of misguided rage from ignoramuses who don't know what logic is. (Just look at some of the comment boards on www.foxnews.com for examples.) The right wing hated Clinton with a passion. Some conservatives think Clinton is as bad as Hitler. Can you even imagine how they're going to hate Obama? They'll hate him like...

Well, there's no analogy that says it all. They'll hate him like a black Hitler.

McCain gave a great concession, very graceful. As opposed to his knuckle-dragging followers, who angrily booed the idea of working with the President of the United States. At times, McCain gives flashes of the old politician who entranced a lot of moderates back in the day. His campaign was just run poorly, and his VP choice turned a lot of people off. It contrasted starkly with Obama, who like Jackie Robinson, dealt with the mud-slinging and hate with placid magnaminity. He was just there to play ball.

***

And now, trivia, courtesy of Ken Jennings.

From last week:

1. Waldorf is married to Astoria.
2. Yes, it's the celibate Shakers who live at Sabbathday, Maine, as the Impressively Informed Michael5000 and Churlita both figured out.
3. TV Guide and Rolling Stone switched to standard magazine size those days. I never, ever would have guessed that. Ever.
4. Seven, which was my other guess, but not the one I went with.
5. Michelle Obama, as the Smugly Sophisticated Michael5000 informed me.
6. Pashmina comes from goats. I shall endeavor to remember that sir!
7. Take off, hoser.

New questions!

1. Where might you commonly see the collection of characters PRND21?

Don't know!

2. What chemical compound found in yogurt is also the substance that causes rigor mortis in corpses?

Don't know!

3. In what African country could you take an "Alex Haley cruise" up its namesake river?

What a fantastic question! But don't know! Nigeria?

4. What movie director has been using the same font--Windsor EF-Elongated--for the credits of all his films since Interiors?

This one I would have known even if the last two words had been left off. Woody Allen.

5. What American politician shares the same nickname that models Heidi Klum and Elle Macpherson have recently tussled over in the media?

James "The Body" Ventura.

6. In what field did Eugene Fodor, Karl Baedeker, and Arthur Frommer all make their fame?

Traveler's guides.

7. Based on the unusual distinction they all share, name a Shakespeare work that could be added to this list of plays, and tell why. The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Godspell, J.B., Man of La Mancha, Marat/Sade, The Producers, The Real Thing, The Seagull.

Another uncommonly easy Question Seven. Plays within plays. "Hamlet" (for "The Mousetrap") or "Midsummer Night's Dream" (for "Pyramus and Thisbe").

Monday, November 03, 2008

48 Records of the Year for some goddam reason

...Well, for quiz show purposes, actually. Warning: boring. Also warning: I don't listen to much popular music, so probably don't know what I'm talking about.

2008
Rehab, Amy Winehouse. Never heard it. Only know her horror-show drug-addiction life via paparazzi. Don't know any of the nominees, either.

2007
Not Ready to Make Nice, Dixie Chicks. Never heard it. But I did like their 2000 cover of "Goodbye Earl," with amusing video by Dennis Franz.

2006
Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Green Day. I love Green Day a lot and I love American Idiot, but this song is nowhere near the best of the album. Title song, "Holiday," or "Jesus of Suburbia" should have won. I have no interest whatever in the talentless nominees from this year, except maybe Kanye West, who is slightly amusing.

2005
Here We Go Again, Ray Charles and Norah Jones. Never heard it. Oddly, "American Idiot" was nominated for Record of the Year this year.

2004
Clocks, Coldplay. Not familiar with it. I found their 2000 hit "Yellow" to be quite the snoozer. Favorite nominee this year: Outkast's "Hey Ya!"

2003
Don't Know Why, Norah Jones. Never heard it. Not familiar with her work. Favorite nominee: "Without Me," Eminem.

2002
Walk On, U2. Meh. Not bad. Not world-shaking either.

2001
Beautiful Day, U2. A pretty good U2 song. Better than the other nominees, I suppose.

2000
Smooth, Santana featuring Rob Thomas. This was a nice song, but the win was probably one of those Long-Overdue Recognition Of a Master type things. I preferred this year's idiotic but fun "Livin' La Vida Loca."

1999
My Heart Will Go On, Celine Dion. This needs to be expunged from history. Seriously, anything but.

1998
Sunny Came Home, Shawn Colvin. It's okay; Colvin is an inoffensive but far from fabulous performer. Much more memorable: this year's "Mmmbop," by Hanson.

1997
Change the World, Eric Clapton. Not familiar with this track. Yet I like Eric Clapton! Isn't that "Ironic"? No.

1996
Kiss from a Rose, Seal. Snore. "Gangsta's Paradise" was better. Joan Osborne's album Relish was fantastic, but I hated the nominee "One of Us."

1995
All I Wanna Do, Sheryl Crow. Well, at least it was catchy. Probably deserved the win due to its impact.

1994
I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston. Hated, hated, hated it. Why didn't Billy Joel's "River of Dreams" win? Or at least Neil Young's "Harvest Moon"?

1993
Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton. Possibly a pity vote, but a great song regardless.

1992
Unforgettable, Natalie Cole with Nat King Cole. Boring, but won for the "Dead Dad Duet" gimmick that caught the public's attention at the time. If I cared, I would have rooted for REM's "Losing My Religion," or even Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About," both stronger performances.

1991
Another Day in Paradise, Phil Collins. Don't know it. I enjoyed Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U." Hammer's "Can't Touch This" probably should have won, if the award is for ubiquity and memorability.

1990
Wind Beneath My Wings, Bette Midler. Midler's a great singer, but I can't stand this song. You know what's a really fine example of songcraft this year? Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence." I love deceptively angry songs like that.

1989
Don't Worry, Be Happy, Bobby McFerrin. Silly pop song, nice simple positive message. You can't be mad at a song like that. But I preferred Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car."

1988
Graceland, Paul Simon. Yes. Yes. Finally, a song that unquestionably deserves to be singled out for greatness. Record of the Year? Record of the decade, perhaps. Far and away distant runner-up: U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

1987
Higher Love, Steve Winwood. Boring '80s crap. I'd have gone with Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer."

1986
We Are the World, USA for Africa. Mostly crap. Won the "Serious Message" vote. Actual best song nominated: Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." Distant second: "Money For Nothing," Dire Straits.

1985
What's Love Got to Do with It, Tina Turner. Pretty good. Probably the best of a pretty good bunch, although Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" arguably had more of a cultural impact.

1984
Beat It, Michael Jackson. Not my cup of tea, but deserved to win. Excellently produced, dynamic new video style, vaguely risque lyrics that intrigued the masses. Of course, I would have voted for the Police's "Every Breath You Take."

1983
Rosanna, Toto. Hate it. Horrible, slick '80s crap. Should have been "Always on My Mind," Willie Nelson.

1982
Bette Davis Eyes, Kim Carnes. Mediocre lozenge balladry. John Lennon's "Starting Over" was an infinitely better song --- but was it influential?

1981
Sailing
, Christopher Cross. Despite the fact that this guy won the whole Big Four quartet at the Grammies, I am not familiar with this song at all. The very little I've heard of it makes me sick. It is total crap. Now Sinatra's "New York, New York" --- that I like!

1980
What a Fool Believes
, The Doobie Brothers. Don't know this one. "The Gambler" should have won! Give Kenny his due, you Grammy bastards!

1979
Just the Way You Are, Billy Joel. One of Joel's weaker efforts, in my opinion. But then, the competition this year was pretty thin. "Stayin' Alive"? Chuck Mangione?!

1978
Hotel California, The Eagles. I think the Eagles are horrible over-rated, but this song has a lot going for it: enigmatic lyrics telling a nightmare story, good guitar, and a catchy sing-along chorus. It's sure a hell of a lot better than that awful Debby Boone song.

1977
This Masquerade, George Benson. I have no idea what this is. "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" is better than whatever it is, though. And hey, "Afternoon Delight"! I love deceptively raunchy songs like that!

1976
Love Will Keep Us Together, Captain & Tennille. Crap. The Academy overlooking the rock being recorded these years, I see.

1975
I Honestly Love You, Olivia Newton-John. Also crap. Should have won: "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," Elton John.

1974
Killing Me Softly with His Song, Roberta Flack. A tough year to call. This is a pretty good song and it hit big, but that's also true of the other nominees, "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "You're So Vain." Wise choices all. My personal favorite is probably the Carly Simon record. This was the first year that someone won RotY twice in a row.

1973
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Roberta Flack. It's okay, but come on, people --- "American Pie"!! A long, long time ago... Everybody! I can still remember how that music used to make me cry! But February made me shiver... I know that whole damn song.

1972
It's Too Late, Carole King. There's no denying King's a talent, but this song is just so... so... Seventies. I prefer Three Dog Night's stupid/awesome "Joy To the World," but is that really RotY material? George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" was a throw-away that probably didn't deserve even the nod.

1971
Bridge over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel. Yeah, this is a great song. But the Academy lost their last chance to give the Beatles a RotY with "Let It Be," the obvious Real Winner.

1970
Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In, The Fifth Dimension. A fine song and representative of the times; bizarrely, Fifth Dimension's second win. Cash's "A Boy Named Sue" is good, but I hesitate to let joke songs in with their more serious brothers at the awards shows. Blood, Sweat & Tears' "Spinning Wheel" is another good one this year.

1969
Mrs. Robinson, Simon and Garfunkel. Everything I said in 1971 applies here: great song, "Hey Jude" deserved it more.

1968
Up, Up and Away, The Fifth Dimension. Not winner material, but neither was anything else this year. Maybe Glen Campbell's cover of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," if it hadn't been a cover.

1967
Strangers in the Night, Frank Sinatra. Not the best song of the year by any means, but the best of the nominess, certainly. Distant second: "Monday, Monday," by the Mamas & the Papas.

1966
A Taste of Honey, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Not familiar with it. Obvious real winner: "Yesterday." Record of the Year hates the Beatles.

1965
The Girl from Ipanema, Stan Getz & João Gilberto. No, no. Better choices: all the other nominees. "Downtown," Petula Clark; "Hello, Dolly," Louis Armstrong; "I Want to Hold Your Hand," the Beatles.

1964
Days of Wine and Roses
, Henry Mancini. Couldn't hum it for you. Other nominees are also unknown to me. The Singing Nun?

1963
I Left My Heart in San Francisco, Tony Bennett. Best song of the group.

1962
Moon River, Henry Mancini. Best song of the group.

1961
Theme from A Summer Place, Percy Faith. I don't know this song, but I know that "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", Ella's version of "Mack the Knife," and Ray Charles "Georgia On My Mind" are all much, much better. The Academy was in its infancy, and stupid(er).

1960
Mack the Knife, Bobby Darin. Yeah, I can agree here. Better than Frank's stupid "High Hopes," and Elvis' "A Fool Such As I" is not one of his very best (but then, his very best never got him RotY, either).

1959
Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare), Domenico Modugno. Won third place at that year's Eurovision contest. The only foreign-language winner of RotY. I couldn't recognize it on the radio with certainty, though I have heard it, and I've heard the English versions. Probably better than Peggy Lee's "Fever." Immediate sign that RotY might not be the mark of total prestige it ought to be: "The Chipmunk Song" is a nominee this year.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: The Ghost Road

A review of The Ghost Road, a novel by Pat Barker.

This novel is set in England, late 1918. It won the Booker Prize.

The story deals with two men whose paths are related. Billy Prior, an officer who has three tours of duty under his belt, goes back to France for a fourth time almost fatalistic in his outlook. Meanwhile, a psychiatrist who once dealt with Prior, Dr. William Rivers, finds himself while feverish with flu mentally plunged back into his experiences with a tribe of south seas islanders, headhunters drenched in mysticism and ghost-ritual who are no longer allowed to hunt heads. These fever dreams give him new insights into how he deals with his patients.

I learned after reading this book that it's the third in a trilogy. I'm a stickler for reading things in the right order, but the book doesn't appear to exclude newcomers; I was immediately drawn into its harrowing drama. Barker blends the historical and fictional seamlessly (the poet Wilfred Owen is a character, and Rivers was historical as well), and writes of the carnage, camaraderie and ritual of war so well, you’d think she was a WWI veteran. She's an intelligent writer who easily weilds an almost poetic prose.

She’s also very capable of writing from a male perspective. Perhaps she goes overboard in the virility department, in fact, making Prior rather omnisexual. Also, she spreads the homosexual experiences rather thickly on the ground in my opinion. But then, maybe the British officer class during the Great War really was riddled with buggery. And then, too, perhaps Barker uses sexuality as a metaphor for the frantic, necessary comradeship of soldiers in war.

I was really moved by this haunting, imaginative and insightful look at WWI and its larger themes.

***

Sunday Warbooks casualty count:

Greco-Persian wars: 1
WWI: 2
WWII: 3
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2

Saturday, November 01, 2008

He loves your parts and services

In the old place I never got any trick-or-treaters, ever, because it was on a major road and in the back. But the new house is on a placid lane with a few children. I asked my neighbor David, the old retiree, if they got trick-or-treaters and he said they did. So I bought a metric ton of candy (which is, I believe, about equivalent in U.S. customary units to 1.6 buttloads) and not one single kid came to the door all night. They probably all went to the affluent neighborhoods.

You ungrateful bastards! You come here and eat this goddam candy!

...But not the Whoppers, because I love them so.

***

I remember very clearly from when I was a kid a television ad for some medicine or cleaner or some crap, in which the authoritative actor representing a scientician intoned, "Many surfaces in your home are covered in germs. You touch the top of the toilet, the side of the tub, or a kitchen counter, and then your face, and" --- here he snapped his fingers to indicate the stark suddenness of it ---- "you can catch a cold."

This made a big impression on me. Being the kind of kid I was, I spent the next several weeks vigorously rubbing toilet tanks and kitchen counters, then wiping my hands across my eyes, nose and mouth several times. I wanted to get sick and miss school. And I never even caught so much as a sniffle.

Of course, I learned quickly that advertisements are lies. But it wasn't until many years later than I realized that this ad had been an early example of the preying on the fears of neurotic parents that many companies are engaging in much more explicitly these days. I laughed and laughed at a later ad that implied that kids touching non-sanitized doorknobs was horribly dangerous, but on the web the other day I saw an ad that implied that unreliable batteries will get your kid murdered by pedophiles.

Most people are gullible and prone to panic, which explains why so many of them are Republican.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!


It's always good to keep one's perspective when things look bleak.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Specious tidbits ultimately providing incorrect details

When my assistant told S, the Spanish teacher, I was going to be on "Game Show!", S immediately asked me:

"What acronym does wow stand for?"

I was bemused. "In what context?" I asked, thinking she was thinking of the name of some group or event.

"Just the word wow, what does it stand for?"

"I have no idea," I said.

She smiled proudly. "Wonder of wonders."

This is a woman who, as she will eagerly tell you, has read not a single book in two years. She's not very educated and is satisfied with simple explanations for things, so she's the perfect target for those totally retarded emails about word origins and for that old stand-by for the gullible, backronyms.

Wow is not derived from "wonder of wonders."

And, from the same general bag, golf isn't derived from "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden." And posh (probably) isn't from "port outward, starboard home."

Remember: if the word origin is cutesy and easy to remember, it's probably specious. So don't pass it on; let it stop. (That's Stationary Totally, Onward Prohibited.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How many rolls in a wheel, where did eyeballs come from

Little G, a fearful sort, hides his face whenever anyone says "witch." Also, he hides his face when he thinks he might see a scary eyeball. Like when I showed the book About Your Body and it depicted bones, veins, muscles, and eyeballs.

The other day we had a math coloring page that featured a witch with bulging eyes. G seemed okay with it --- the witch was very comic looking --- so I asked him whether the eyeballs scared him.

"No," he said, coloring away. "I only don't like eyeballs when there's one, or a big pile of 'em."

That seems reasonable.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Swotting, burning, idling

Swotting away at studying up on trivia: lists of state mottoes, lists of largest lakes, lists of brightest stars, etc. Refreshing myself on history and some literature. I used to be very au courant with the entertainment world, but the last decade or so my age caught up with me and I now know very little about what's hot on the charts, let alone what starlet is snuggling with whom.

Burning the midnight oil, and getting little sleep. the blog will probably have short posts for the next three weeks or so.

I get Ken Jennings' Tuesday Trivia in my email weekly. Here's the latest:

1. Which Muppet has a wife named Astoria?
Waldorf, I suppose.

2. A community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, is today home to the last remaining members of what group?
Well, the lake's name clearly indicates some religious group, but which? The Seventh Day Adventists' membership isn't dwindling. Maine is also a clue, I'm sure, but it's not ringing any bells with me.

3. What did TV Guide magazine do on October 17, 2005 that Rolling Stone later did on October 30, 2008?
No clue at all. Put a Jack-O'-Lantern on the cover?

4. What number followed the name of all of the spacecraft capsules flown by the Mercury astronauts?
I don't know this one either, which is a bad sign; "Quiz Show!" loves its US Space program questions. If I had to, I'd guess Three.

5. What famous woman is the sister of Oregon State basketball coach Craig Robinson?
Ken's questions are unusually esoteric this week, I think. I have no idea.

6. Pashmina wool comes from a breed of what animal?
I've heard of this but have forgotten the details. Llama?

7. What unusual distinction is shared by all these celebrities? Sarah Ferguson, Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford, Arnold Palmer, Ron Paul, John Travolta, Chuck Woolery, Steve Wozniak.
Okay, while Question Seven is supposed to be the Google-proof stumper, this time it seems much easier than the other six to me. Ford's adventures as a pilot are well-known. John Travolta is also well-known to be a pilot. Fergie wrote a series of children's books about Budgie the Helicopter, and is the only royal with a pilot's license. I have no details about Woolery, but I do know that he was an adventurer and claimed to be a spy; such a person would probably be a private pilot. So that was a simple one, I think, but the others, except #1, were all out of my admittedly random areas of familiarity.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I thought it was the glottis

At work, I was reading a beginner chapter book to the kids. At one point, the narrator said, "I could see the thing that hangs down the back of your throat."

J6 raised his hand and said, "I know what that is! It's called the uvula!"

I said, "It is? I mean, yeah! Right! Good job!"

Man, maybe he ought to be on "Game Show!"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: The Rape of Nanking

A review of The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II, by Iris Chang.

This book, controversial when it came out in 1997, shines a clear, accusatory light on the war crimes of the Japanese in Nanjing in 1938. At the time of The Rape's publication, the massacre was largely unknown in America, outside of academia.

It cannot be denied that this is a subjective book, one with an agenda and a mission. However, given the nature of the mission, possibly the questionable remarks from Chang about Japanese intent (and "the Japanese psyche") can be condoned, if not excused. I'd studied the events in my Japan History class, but reading this book was still shocking. Chang discusses the brutal tortures in some detail, driving home the awful barbarism of it all. She also extols the virtues of the foreigners who helped save thousands of Chinese lives, including, perhaps ironically, the high-ranking Nazi official John Rabe.

Then there is what she calls the "second Rape," namely the efforts of right-wing Japanese, both official and private, to discount the massacre, deny the killings, and depict the rapes as merely the use of willing prostitutes. The lengths to which these revisionists go to defend the "honor" of their empire and portray themselves endlessly as victims of aggression are just as shocking as the massacre itself. Yes, it's true that all nations do this --- there are few white Americans who acknowledge how great our crimes against Indians, Africans and Mexicans are --- but it's shocking nonetheless. Chang recounts that those Japanese who do speak out for the Rape and its victims are subjected to ridicule and even death threats.

This is a truly important book, and Chang was both honored and reviled for it. Tragically, she submitted to severe depression and killed herself in 2004.

***

Sunday Warbooks casualty count:

Greco-Persian wars: 1
WWI: 1
WWII: 3 <--- winning!
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2

Saturday, October 25, 2008

If you choose not to decide, you still are a moron

I had the misfortune of overhearing two typical Texans talking about politics. One expressed displeasure with McCain for a reason I didn't catch, and announced his intention to vote independent. The other was a McCain man all the way. Neither of them had any intention of voting for Obama.

"If he wins, as soon as he gets in there, the economy is going to tank, and everyone who voted for him will be responsible." What, it's not tanking now?

"And when he's in there, first thing he does is he's gonna take all our guns." "Yup, that's the first step in tyranny." Note: Not historically true. Also, what has Obama ever said to indicate that he's going to confiscate guns? Did Clinton do it? Did Carter? You people are neurotically scared that someone's going to take away your penises. I mean guns.

"As soon as he gets in, we're gonna get attacked. A big one. And it'll be on him." Yeah, because remember when the Democrat was President and there were all those attacks on U.S. soil? Luckily a Republican came in and then we were safe. Oh wait. And anyway, do they really need to attack us again? They seem to be doing just fine bleeding us dry financially and morally already.

"I mean, he's a socialist. They already bought up all the banks!" They?? THEY?! What, the bail-out is Obama's fault now?

"What's the guy done? He spent four years in the Senate running for President!" So you knew who he was three years ago, then? You must be familiar with his accomplishments.

I didn't say any of those italicized rebuttals. I just paid for my things and left as quickly as I could. Citing facts has never changed any Republican's mind.

I see that polls show that between 8-18% of likely voters are undecided. There are nine days until the election. Anyone who is not decided at this point:

(1) cannot speak English and has no idea what's going on;
(2) does not understand any part of the American political process or its basic principles; or
(3) is a racist, but can't stand McCain.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Waste of time sitting still

At work we had the School Fair immediately after school. It was pretty much chaos the whole day. For math, I had the kids make spiders with legs made out of eight pieces of licorice and a body made from a sugar cookie they slathered with brown frosting. (There was a counting lesson in there, too, but the important thing is that I crammed the kids with sugar.) We had pretzel sticks for snack time, so I dipped those in the chocolate frosting also, because, you know, tasty, and hey, not my kids.

Yesterday, two mothers came in at my request to carve a jack-o-lantern for us. The kids helped scrape out the insides, and squealed with gleeful disgust at the gloppy seeds and pulp they extricated. The kids helped gather the seeds and clean them of pulp strands, and one of the mothers took the seeds home. Today she brought them back all roasted with garlic butter. The kids loved them.

When Miss Busty saw the mothers in my room, she asked with a conspiratorial grin, "What, did you ask for only the hot moms to help?" Because the mothers are both conventionally attractive. I actually had no control over who showed up, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thankful for the extra perk of the hotness.

I stayed at the Fair for an hour, then left. I joined the Friar and Palfrey (who is scheduled to deliver her second baby on Wednesday), 74 and Zaftig and their two kids, and some friend of theirs, at a Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was nice. One of the kids from Mr. C's room last year, the one I covered for a month, happened to be there and greeted me, which was very sweet, and I might have been more expansive to her mother had I not been slightly tipsy and eating a spinach burrito at the time.

A series of goofy, semi-inebriated conversational detours from the Obama-supporter-mugger hoax led to 74 and I deciding we need to write a factual, helpful book on how to kill your wife, remain the prime suspect, and keep your cool. Example chapter: "That's Really Deep: 'Self-Defense Wounds' That Look Real."

Then Friar went to go play roadie for R.E.M. Yes, really. I swear that guy has a semi-charmed life.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What is a pretty cool thing?

I'm not supposed to talk about this online, but since this blog is almost utterly anonymous (I rarely even mention what city I live in, for pity's sake), and since only about four people read it, might as well say it.

Remember when I went out to take a test for a well-known TV quiz program? Well, they called me back. I'm going to fly out to California and be on Game Show! pretty soon --- sooner than I'd like, really. It will air later.

That's cool.

I'm excited, but mostly nervous, as I feel unprepared. I know a lot of stuff, but it's all haphazard and random bits here and there, a result of my ADHD-attention span autodidacticism. I'm hugely ignorant of entire categories such as geography and sports and television shows and world leaders and on and on.

Even so, I feel reasonably confident and I think I'm being fairly realistic about it all. I have very little interest in fame and fortune. And as my friend 74 said, I have a job and make okay money. The cash you can win on Game Show! is not life-changing, like it is on some of the other shows like Can You Win a Bajillion Dollars By Being Very Lucky Or Asking a Smart Kid? It's Possible, But Most Likely You Will Walk Away With a Couple Grand. So like I say, winning would be sweet, but all I really want is not to look like a complete moron on TV. Here's hoping!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Do I have to come right out flat and tell you everything?

I can't believe that this indicates in any way "the final undoing of Sarah Palin," but it's nice to see so much growing distaste as the story spreads.

***

Today after work we had our regular meeting. Among other things, the Vice-Head gave us the official procedure for writing recommendations for students. She cautioned us against writing too much praise: "It's not our job to get them into other schools," she said. "We want them to stay here."

Call me naive, but that kind of surprised me. I mean, asking a teacher for a rec is kind of trust, I thought. If your kid's kindergarten teacher can't be counted on to spout effusive approbation for everything the little darling does, what is this world coming to?

It kind of reminds me of the time I was 18 and working in a frozen yogurt store. The regular size was 3 ounces and we had a digital scale to measure our swirls. The manager told us one day that when elderly ladies came in, it was okay to give them 2.5 or 2.7 ounces, because they wouldn't eat that much anyway.

I think the part of me that might have grown up to be a capitalist died that day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cheat, cheat, or don't get anywhere

Hey kids! Do you like Republican-organized voter fraud in Nevada, West Virginia, and pretty much nationwide? Huh? Do ya?

Hope so, 'cause that's what you're gonna get.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: The Good War, Studs Terkel

A review of "The Good War:" An Oral History Of World War Two, edited by Studs Turkel (1984).

This weighty tome (more than 600 pages) is a collection of reminisces and insights on the war. The voices are mostly American, but there are German, Japanese and Russian contributions as well. Even so, the years 1939-41 are almost totally ignored, which is an unfortunate but perhaps unsurprising weakness (given how many Americans seem to believe that World War Two started in 1941) in what is otherwise an immensely important book.

Almost every war story has a chilling image that lingers in the mind long after the telling, and these reminisces are no exception. The tales told here present hundreds of such horrifying, bizarre and amazing images. Perhaps the most memorable is the legless ex-GI, deformed from radiation and now become head of the National Association of Atomic Veterans, recounting his warm welcome in Japan and his treatments there, while the US government shamefully blocked all treatment at the VA hospital for fear of admitting negligence. (And still, the GI spouts patriotic sentiment!)

From the varied accounts --- the bombers and the bombed, the journalists and grunts and top brass --- four main themes emerge. The first is how utterly naive --- with the exceptions of a few groups such as the so-called Premature Anti-Fascists --- Americans were in 1941. A bloody world war was being waged, with the stakes unutterably high for democracy, and the general ruck of Americans were blithe about its progress, ignored the likelihood of attack.

The second theme is the changing attitudes Americans adopted after the war: prosperity became a right, and confidence was very high, among women and blacks as well as veterans. Perhaps that quickly faded among most in the cold harsh light of post-war preality, but the initial rush had lasting effects, including the civil rights movement and the creation of the suburbs.

The third is the pervasive and deep racism of the typical U.S. soldier and his government. As one particularly bizarre example, some white GIs told their English friends that blacks had tails. Blacks were shot and hanged by white soldiers. And while these men were fighting fascism! I fear that in this, we have come only a short way.

The fourth theme is the distrust that Americans came to feel for their government. Vietnam is mentioned by cynical vets again and again; the quick turnaround of Russians as allies-to-enemies is cited. What a pity that this cynicism never blossomed into a healthy rationalism when it came to involvement in government (see, for example, the expedient demonization of our erstwhile Commie-bashing buddy Osama bin Laden and our quondam beloved bulwark against the Iranian menace, Saddam Hussein.) And, since the book was compiled the '80s, there is a palpable sense of fatalism in many of the stories: a feeling the bomb can drop any moment. This, too, is another WWII legacy.

***

Sunday Warbooks casualty count:

Greco-Persian wars: 1
WWI: 1
WWII: 2
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Loaded XI

This meme is found here.

Hypotheticals: If you were a hunting fanatic, what animal would you hang from your wall?
Well, I've been pretty vehemently against sport and trophy hunting all my life, so it's hard to get itno the spirit of this question. But if, in some parallel universe, I were a hunting fanatic, I suppose I'd want the dead detached head of some majestic powerful antlered creature, full of grandeur and power, to adorn my wall, its soulless glass eyes gazing down at me to remind me of what a Big Tough Manly Man I am for blasting it to death with a high-powered rifle when it came trustingly with its family to eat from the bait I and my beer-swilling hunter redneck friends left out all year, while I hid behind a blind doused in artifical animal scent to mask the smell of alcohol and self-loathing that perpetually hung around me and my tiny, tiny penis.

Anything Goes: What word describes your knowledge of the Internet?
Savvy.

No-Brainers: What is your favorite pet name?
You gave me a pet name
Which is not to say I like it
We met at a party
Not to say I was invited

Personals: What do you consider the greatest threat to your personal stability?
Having Republicans in power. The hypocrisy and viciousness of these people makes me enraged and insane, and is bad for my blood pressure.

Friday, October 17, 2008

How wrong can I be before I am right?

Well, the second day of conferences didn't go quite as smoothly as the first. Overall, I feel very good about everything that was discussed, but a couple of things stand out.

I made a mother cry. I talked to her about shy G, the sweet little boy who loves superheroes so much (and who differs with me on such serious philosophical issues as the appearance of Braniac and Ant-Man). G's capable enough academically, though he's well behind about 80% of the class. Most of them are comfortable sounding out words or reading the simple Bob books, while he's still struggling with individual letter sounds. That's not the problem, though. My concern was his crippling shyness, his severe lack of confidence. When I call on him, he changes answers, guessing wildly in the hopes that he'll be let off the hook, instead of relying on his own abilities and standing by an answer. And he often shuts down, gets a miserable look on his face, and practically tears up when he "messes up." I put it to Mom as gently as I could that this, not the lack of reading, made him stand out, and that I thought we should address this confidence issue now so that in first grade she's not hearing really bad news like "G is totally lost and doesn't even seem to know when to ask for help." Well, like I say, I put it gently, but my associates tell me that Mom was showing a little tear in her eye her own self when she exited my room. Three times during the conference, she mentioned to me that maybe they coddled him too much. I couldn't say so even if I knew that was true, of course, but putting on the therapist hat, it seems clear that she's telling herself that she already knows her own problem and solution.

In contrast, my conference with the parents of quirky, precocious L (he of the marker in his head) went a little awry when Mom tried to put me on the defensive. L reads at a high level, understands addition and subtraction, and has a prodigious memory (he knows all his family's phone numbers and license plates, and the library number of everyone in class --- definitely needs to take Qantas to Vegas, definitely). I told the parents that I'd like to see L push himself a little harder, for example to write two or three sentences during the time the other kids write one. Mom took exception to this (in retrospect, I can see how it might have seemed that I was blaming L for not being challenged) and said, 'Well, I wonder what you're thinking the psychology is at work here, that you're expecting a six-year-old to do something like that." Well, Prestigious is all about instilling responsibility and self-management, so I mentioned that educational philosophy, and also suggested that children generally have an inner drive to challenge themselves anyhow. I think part of the problem, as it is with so many super-bright kids, is that L's bored and lacks pride in the work, which he probably sees as beneath him.

Finally, the best part of the day was my meeting with the five-year-old L (he of the middle finger). We're all on the same page with this guy. His parents and I are working on curtailing this mischievous, disrespectful streak. We're agreed that L is a sweet, good-natured kid most of the time, who has an older sibling from whom he learns some PG-13 material, and who needs an outlet for his latent aggression. I mentioned one example of such behavior, when he booed his classmates as they did some team activities in gym. His mother said that a few weeks ago he booed a magician at a birthday party as soon as the act started.

Apparently, he quickly settled down afterwards and then got into the magic act like everyone else, but I think that's totally priceless. Imagine you're a small-time professional magician who does kids' parties. And you're doing your act, and all these five-year-olds are staring rapt and oohing and aahing, and then suddenly there's this one little kid, sitting apart from the others, booing you with all his tiny lung power.

Myabe it's just me, but I just love that image. I think the whole situation's got that euphemistic Who Moved My Cheese-type of potential, wise words hidden in the parable:

Don't boo the magician before you see his act.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stars are stars and they shine so hard

The Dallas public school system is firing more than three hundred and seventy-five teachers to make up an enormous deficit. Whoever's doing the budget for DISD is stupid and corrupt. None of those administrators making six figures is being fired, but some assistant principals and counselors are getting canned. That's in addition to over 200 teachers who took a buy-out package a few weeks ago. Hey, I have an idea! Let's disband high school football programs! No coaches, stadiums, or uniforms! Let the parents pay for that stuff, since they love it so! That might help.

In my neck of the woods, Miss Busty reports that one of her parents is next-door neighbors with "Tony and Jessica," as these two are called in the People-reading familiar parlance of my colleagues. They apparently pal around together. To which I respond (immediately after "Tony who?"), "So what?"

Conferences went great. I have only two or three sets of slightly high-maintenance parents who need me to tell them the ways in which I'll be pushing their five-year-old to excel. Example: I mentioned to one couple that their daughter says things like "sitted" and "tooked" with some frequency, and the mother wrote that down in her notebook, and they discussed whether they could find a workbook that would address that problem. I understand the need to foster improvement, but it's pretty normal for a kindergartner to talk like that. Some things can just be let go. Other than the couple of Type A parents, most of mine are easy-going. We have a nice laugh and then they leave. My conferences took an average of ten minutes each, compared with everyone else's thirty. I'm either doing something wrong or something very, very right.

Still procrastinating, though. I meant to finish up the last of my notes at home tonight for the second half of conferences, but left my assessment sheets at school! Argh! Now I have to go early and get it done before 7:45. If, that is, I can remember where I put the assessment sheets.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nothing left here to greet me but the velvet moon

Parent conferences are today and tomorrow, and while I'm not the least bit anxious about it, I'm scrambling to prepare my assessment forms and comment sheets and notes and what not. I'm such a procrastinator.

I haven't watched a movie in a month, making my Netflix subscription pretty much a free donation to those good folks. All I do lately is read and, to my shame, play horribly addicting online games like these.

Also, I could stand to wash the dishes piling up in my sink. But on the positive side, I've continued to go for a 20+ minute walk every day, no matter how exhausted or frantically behind on paperwork I am.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

That's not a thumbs-up

One of my five-year-old boys, L, showed his extended middle finger to another child at lunch yesterday. I wasn't in the room at the time, but my assistant was. She talked to L, and asked him if he knew what the finger meant. He knew it was "something bad."

Later that same day he hit another child. So I had to email his parents about the incidents. Conferences are at the end of the week, so at least we'll have a topic of discussion, right?

Today, during recess he was found behind one of the play structures with a boy from another class. They were taking turns pulling down each other's pants and laughing.

There's no accountability these days.

Monday, October 13, 2008

As free as the roaring tide

My blowhard neighbor Dale, who always has his fingers in various money-making schemes that don't seem to make much money, asked me what company I chose for my electric bill. (He has some service which I don't quite understand that gives him a commission if people sign up for power through him.)

I told him it was the big guys. He asked what rate they gave me. "What kind of deal did you get?" he wanted to know.

"I have no idea," I said. "I didn't ask for a deal. I just took the rate they said it was."

Dale threw his arms in the air. "Why, Lord?" he bellowed upwards in mock exasperation. "Where was this naive soul when I needed him?" Then, turning to me again, he asked how much my bill was.

"Forty dollars," I said.

He reeled. "How is your bill so low?!"

Many things flitted through my mind. Not watching TV keeps the costs down. Unplugging the microwave, shredder, blender, and other devices when not in use. Keeping the refrigerator at a low power-saver level. Turning things off when not in use. But before I could share my socialist anti-American agenda with him, he continued, "Don't you have central air conditioning?"

I said I rarely using the AC and when I do, I haven't yet set it below 78.

"Man," Dale said, "I set it to 68 around the clock! You can call my house the Meat Locker! I don't know how you stay cool like that."

I said, "The secret is that when I'm at home I never wear pants."

That shut him up. For a few seconds, at least.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: A Viet Cong Memoir

A review of A Viet Cong Memoir: An Inside Account Of the Vietnam War And Its Aftermath, by Truong Nhu Tang, the former Minister of Justice for the Provisional Revolutionary Government in South Vietnam, with David Chanoff and Doan Van Toai.

This is an example of the "war biography" genre, of which countless examples stand on the shelves. Boy born to poor but honest parents, etc., loves his country, boy joins the armed forces with no particular expectations, boy gets a severe shock, boy analyzes what the hell war is about. This particular book stands out, of course, for being from the viewpoint of "the enemy" in what may still be America's touchiest subject, Vietnam. (Other contenders for that title, I suppose, would be the Civil War and the Iraq wars.)

In this memoir, Truong explains how revolutionary idealism came upon him despite his privileged background, and how he joined the National Liberation Front (an organization which he is at pains to insist is more political than military in function). He details the trials he experienced as a prisoner of the South Vietnamese; his life in the jungle during U.S. bombardment; and what he characterizes as the final victory.

All well and good, and so far within the parameters of the genre outlined above. But the book becomes more interesting when he describes how this victory crumbled, as his nationalistic ideals were pushed aside in the brutal Northern socialist campaign for the south, and how he escaped by boat. The style is good, although the historical events are not laid out chronologically, which is a bit disorienting.

As for the content of book, the arguments he makes: well, obviously one has to take any war story with a grain of salt, and all else being equal, lots more salt when the war story is coming from a Communist. For example, there are many points at which he claims Vietnamese intelligence had pinpointed how the war with the U.S. was going and how it would continue. That's unlikely, and Truong contradicts himself a few times in the details. Of more interest is his thesis that while the Viet Cong understood what was going on in the war more than the Americans did, they still misjudged the political climate after the fact. Also, Truong explains how Hanoi and the NLF were not a united bloc in terms of ideology, which explains the betrayal he felt after the Americans were pushed out and the Vietnamese continued to suffer.

In general, this book seems a reasonable account, very intriguing and highly readable. Modern American readers can argue back and forth how accurately Truong depicts the past and whether any prescience even made a difference. What's important, though, is that the book stands as a testament that Americans didn't "lose Vietnam" simply because of mistakes at home, or the jungle, or the heat, or the U.S. press, or peace protests. Truong represents the other side, the active agents that engineered American defeat in Vietnam. That's, I think, a crucial point; Americans always seem to forget that there exist other people and cultures, with different ideas and goals than their own.

I wonder, when American students read in their history classes memoirs of Afghan and Iraqi Republic Guard soldiers, telling their side of the Gulf wars, what those will have to say?

***

Sunday Warbooks casualty count:

Greco-Persian wars: 1
WWI: 1
WWII: 1
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You were born too late, I was born too soon

The Friar did a little DJing at the Hangout tonight. I don't mean he was scratching vinyl; he just played mp3s off his computer into the sound system. Of course, T-Bone, Courtney and I were there to cheer him on and help pick songs. We played a little Arctic Monkeys, "Brick House," some Kanye, lots of Prince, the Cure, "Paper Planes," "Night Fever," Led Zeppelin, and much more, mostly what appeared to be songs about backing asses up.

Gradually, as the place filled up, we got more and more requests, which I, being the most approximately sober, fielded. I had the college kids write down their requests, and if the requests weren't too atrocious, I passed them along and Friar maybe played them. He yielded to two demands for some boring crap called T.I. that was insanely popular. I got him to play two Latin songs neither of us had heard of, mostly because there were about 12 Hispanic young people there in a group, and they ruled that dance floor. Also, one of them had a very revealing dress on. Yes, I am far more likely to listen to you if you have boobs and they're on display. Sorry, fellows.

One very youthful-looking guy came up and said to Friar in a pedantic, correcting tone, "This is a young crowd... You want to play the hits. This song is old." The song that was playing at the time? Madonna's "Vogue" (1990). Yes, we are old people. Dammit, the young people need to hear some classics, too! But they sure clapped and cheered when the hits they knew were played. How sad. These young people today and their T.I. tomfoolery.

One guy, who seemed like a decent young man, asked us to play "Sussudio" by Phil Collins, and handed me a five-dollar bill. I nudged Friar and relayed the request, and he shook his head. "Give him his money back," he said. "I can't sell out that much."

Good times.

***

In related news, I have now been using the last.fm service for two years today. It's a great application for OCD list-makers like me. It keeps track of your total number of tracks played, top artists, and top songs. It tells me that I have listened to 35,519 tracks since October 11, 2006. That, it adds, is an average of 49 tracks per day. Gee, that's like four albums. Per day. For two years. And what do I have to show for it? A short little span of attention and a head full of ideas that are driving me insane. Perhaps, like Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons, I've wasted my life.

...Nah.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Americans hate civility

Huh. I just this very morning wrote an email to the McCain camp, saying how ashamed I was that he and Palin have been letting their supporters yell out stuff like "Terrorist!" and "Kill him!" when they mention Obama.

I wrote:
Dear Senator ("the other one"),

I'm an Independent, politically, or at least have identified as such until 2001. I think Bush and his cronies have hurt this country deeply, but I know it can be fixed. The John McCain I saw coming into the limelight eight years ago might have been the man to reach out, be a real uniter (not a "decider" with tunnel vision), and fix it. But now? I don't know.

How, Senator, can you in good conscience call Obama "that one" in your debate? How can you refuse to shake the man's hand afterwards? How can you allow your supporters to smear him as un-American, socialist, even a terrorist?? For God's sake, this man is a United States Senator! He may be your opponent but he deserves a modicum of respect. I can't believe that John McCain is really that shallow.

The next time someone in your audience yells out, "He's a terrorist!" or "Kill him!" at a rally, the decent thing to do would be for you or Sarah Palin to respond, "Hold on there. I don't agree with the Senator, but he's a patriot and a statesman, and he's trying to help the country his way. I don't allow assassination talk or smears like that. The Senator is a good man, a family man, with his own set of values. They're not my values, and they're not the values that I believe will make America stronger, but they're patriotic and they're good-intentioned. So please do not shout out comments like that in my presence."
I'll be cornswoggled if the man didn't do just that. And he was booed by his own supporters for it.

How odd. A Republican with a little bit of a conscience. It makes me respect the guy again, a little.

***

Went to a Mexican restaurant with 74, Zaftig, and others for 74's birthday. I had a margarita and way too much food. The downside of being a healthy eater most of the time is it knocks your system for a loop when you do indulge. At least at my age. So old.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The place shakes with bass, called one for the treble

The Mexican family that lives about five houses down and across the street seems set on enacting all the stereotypes about Texicans that they can. They stick out a little in this quiet suburban street where mostly seniors and childless couples live. They've already covered the front-lawn cookout with dozens of guys in cowboy hats milling along the whole block; the pit bull (and the tiny bug-eyed yapping dog) off the leash; and the shirtless teenagers having pellet gun fights running up and down the street yelling "Motherfucker" at each other and knocking over their younger sisters.

Today, as I passed them on my walk, I saw they had covered another stereotype. They had the pickup truck out front, stereo booming, car doors open --- because while they don't care to have a stereo system indoors, the truck has got to have the latest and greatest sound systems. The bass was, of course, pre-eminent in the mix. (When I got home, I discovered I could hear the music inside my house.) The kids were playing Frisbee up and down the street, and as I passed one shirtless youth, I swear to Shiva he was singing along to the bassline with these words: "Boom boom, boom-pa-boom-boom."

The guy directly to the west of me is a sinewy old retiree named David who was in the Army, 86 years old now and always out painting, repairing, watering, or biking. The very first day I drove into the driveway, he was out on his lawn and we had a brief talk. He said the neighborhood was a quiet, pleasant place, with no "illegals." I could tell the illegals really gnawed at him. A week or so later, after I got to know the block better, I was mentioning the pellet gun-toting kids as a nuisance (I was pretty distressed at their treatment of the young sisters, actually), and David replied as if in the neighborhood's defense, "Yeah, but they're the only Latins we have around here."

(I might have said to that, "Yes, but we have a ramshackle house with broken beer bottles perpentually on the lawn owned by three white ex-cons." But I didn't.)

Here's the odd thing: David is rather swarthy, and talks with just the slightest hint of an Hispanic accent. If he's a self-loathing "Latin," he wouldn't be the first I've known. My Ex-Father-In-Law was a fatter, darker, thicker-accented, first-generation Mexican-American, and a combat veteran, and man, he hated illegal immigrants and "those damn Spics" in general. (In fairness, he also had nasty things to say about blacks and white people.)

So, anyway, assumptions about race, huh?

On the other side of the spectrum, some of my neighbors appear to be hysterical paranoiacs. I subscribed to the Neighborhood Watch email group, and there are quite a few postings such as:

Saw a yellow car driving slowly down the street. I think it was checking out the houses. Called 911 immediately.

Or:

Saw three truants walking down the street. Seemed as if they were up to no good. Called 911 at once.

Messages such as these are always replied to with two or three congratulatory posts about being vigilant and calling 911 without hesitation.

Gee, isn't 911 for... uh... emergencies? Can't we wait for the "truants" to actually break into a house before we choke the line with calls? Somewhere someone's being murdered and no one can get through to emergency dispatch because these fearful histrionics took one look at some poor schlub driving down the street to look at houses for rent and decided he was a serial killer.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Know your place in life is where you want to be

I was reading a book to the kids at work and it had the word "anthem" in it. I explained that an anthem is a country's special song. The kids sing "Star-Spangled Banner" in music class a lot, so are familiar with the word, but only in conjunction with "national." One girl, when she realized the connection, said, "Oh! Like our anthem!" and began to sing, "U.S.A. can you see..."

Also today, I had the kids draw as many things as they could think of that start with the letter B. One girl, H, came up to me with her pictures (I check all their work) and among the usual boy, bear, ball, and so on, there was a large peach-colored oval, flecked with black dots. I asked what it was (though I had already started to suspect, correctly), and H giggled. "It's a belly," she said. I then knew what the black bits were, but I had to ask. "They're hair!" she squealed. "My daddy has a big round hairy belly!"

Coulda been worse.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Nothing wrong with them a bolt gun wouldn't fix

I sit down to write about what's going in my life, but it all seems so pointless. When every single thing the Republicans do is openly hypocritical and destructive and the people they hurt cheer them on madly for it, I get too depressed to blog about the mundane, and feel too impotent to blog about politics (not when there are brilliant bloggers like Samurai Frog, Dave Away From Home, Constant Scholars, and others fueled by political rage).

That said, I found it amusing that McCain decided to attack Obama for associating with radicals, given his own past and connections.

I have no idea why the GOP ran Palin instead of Ann Coulter. They're the same ideologically and intellectually, and both are hideous soulless beasts considered "pretty" by Republicans.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Every smile you fake

I had my first observation today. Prestigious holds these little events, in which half the classroom's parents crowd around the little one-way glass and peek in, watching their kids at work without them knowing. It went fine. One of the kids spilled the coins he was counting, and the cleanup-to-gather and review transition was a bit slow, but it was mostly smooth. The kids have been acting a little more rambunctious than usual, so I may have been less than my jolly, effervescent self, but I was told by Miss Busty (who helped present the observation to the parents) and a junior administrator that everything was satisfactory. The next half of the class is scheduled to come Wednesday; perhaps I can muster up enough energy by then to get a "more than satisfactory."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Music response meme II

A.k.a. the patronizing meme, as seen here; taken from Dave, here.

Turn on your iTunes (or iPod).

Or, in my case, Windows Media Player.

Set the player on "Shuffle."

It always is. I have music-appreciation ADD. Not an album purist. I used the shuffle button before there was a shuffle button. We called it "making a mix tape" back then.

Write something (a sentence, a paragraph, a story, a word,) about the first 5 songs that come up.

1. "Bad Moon Rising," Creedence Clearwater Revival
Don't go 'round tonight,
It's bound to take your life,
There's a bathroom on the right.
Some songs are just so much more fun sung in mondegreens. Off the classic Green River. Five stars. Almost everything CCR ever did is five stars.

2. "Stay Or Leave," Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds
This is from one of the --- holy cow --- two hundred and fifteen compilation albums I own. That's a lot of the Various Artists oeuvre. (But I do so love good old VA's work.) I enjoy Dave Matthews' unusual voice and his style of quirky, non-threatening pop. I don't own any of his albums and don't plan to, but I like his stuff when I hear it. This song is typical of his lilting, pleasant, unmemorable material. Despite owning this song, up until this very minute I had no idea who Tim Reynolds is; he is this guy. Three stars.

3. "I'm Still In Love With You," Al Green
Another from the compilation department, this from a disc of the Rolling Stones' hand-picked favorite songs. While I like horn-based soul-funk-R&B such as this song, a little goes a long way. This particular number is one of those smooth, sexy grooves with sultry female backing vocals matching Al's lithe falsetto. Four stars for sheer talent, but probably just three stars in terms of how often I'd want to hear it.

4. "The Face Of Love," Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan with Eddie Vedder
Off of --- you guessed it --- another Various Artists effort, this one the "inspired by" soundtrack to the Susan Sarandon-Sean Penn vehicle Dead Man Walking. It's a terrific album, and this is a wonderful song. I'm no Jamhead, but I can't deny the sheer passion Eddie delivers in all his vocals, and this cut --- one of two duets between the pair on this album --- is no exception. The way he trades heartfelt, impassioned, wordless calls with the late, great Qawwali singer creates one of those truly touching, not fabricated, musical moments. Four stars.

5. "The Parting Glass," The Pogues.
One of the bonus tracks off the remastered and expanded classic album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, this is a traditional Irish drinking song. Being an aficionado of Celtic songs, especially of the drinking variety, since I was a wee bairn, I also have versions by the ubiquitous Clancy Brothers and Waxies Dargle. The Pogies treat this one reverently, unlike the snarl-and-spit versions they do of some other traditional folk numbers; it's a slow, maudlin lament. Come back, Shane, all is forgiven. Four stars.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Hope is just a small town in Arkansas

I continue to feel the Doom. I vacillate, however, between despair for the future and the crazed hope that this excellent Salon piece has a rational grasp on the American zeitgeist. I sometimes dare to entertain the timorous hope that the greedheads and idiots are merely the loudest and not the most populous subsection of the electorate, that their lies and slander are just that and not the conventional wisdom they're presented as. I know that the shouting of lies and slander is a tried and true, and not unreasonable, attempt to make that metamorphosis into conventional wisdom, but I pray that this time around, such shouting is only the death throes of a desperate and dying political animal.

But mostly I feel the Doom.

Friday, October 03, 2008

That's nothing, I have a hamster wheel in there

One of my kids, L, who just turned six, is a bit precocious (he can read at, I estimate, at least a second-grade level), but fully weird. He's always muttering bizarre things to himself, or coming up to me and saying, "I now have eighty-six gold medals for racing" and then running off at top speed. He's very much like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes; he's in his own little world, and it seems that other people just serve as set pieces for his elaborate fantasies.

He's in some ways a bit like me; Miss Busty called him my "Mini-Me" just because of that tendency of his to suddenly spout off-the-wall non sequiturs.

Today he said to me, apropos of nothing, as usual, "I have a magic marker in my head, and it writes down everything I say and hear."

Man, I really would love to know where he'll be in twenty years. A misunderstood genius novelist? A well-adjusted, satisfied soul? A loner who concocts elaborate plans of revenge and mayhem? As to that latter, there but for the grace of God go I, Mini-Me!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

You may live in a mansion or you might live in a dome

I went to dinner at 74 and Zaftig's house. Their daughter, now two or so, is a spoiled brat and they have no discipline strategies at all, so her shouting was kind of annoying after nine hours of kindergarten. But they're loving parents, and 74 cooks the best filet mignon I've had outside of a $100 five-star steak house. Very delicious and bad for you potatoes au gratin, too. Their little baby son is a cute chunky fellow who doesn't cry much.

At work, I've been going over the kids' addresses with them the last few days, so they can learn to recognize and recite their own. Driving to 74's, I noticed that a lot of the kids in my class live within a few blocks of him.

74 and Zaftig are friend with a German guy and his wife who have two children about the same ages as 74's. They share a couple of nannies between the four kids, and take turns having the nannies take care of the kids at each other's houses. Anyway, the German guy told me he had an offer to buy 100 run-down and foreclosed houses in Ohio, Michigan, Louisiana, and Georgia, for a total of $100,000. He was seriously considering doing it, either to sell the best ones at a small profit (say two or three thousand per house) or to have a friend manage them and become a slum lord.

My friends live in different social strata than I do.

Anyway, we watched the VP debates. They are a stain upon our national character.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I don't know where I'm gonna be next

Can't blog. Too busy having The Fear.

But man, this guy is the new Hunter S. Thompson. I want to get gay-married with him and have his little eloquent liberal gay-babies.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vocabulaire: un attentat

un attentat - an attack
Une victoire républicaine est un attentat contre la liberté du citoyen.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How do your pistol and your Bible and your sleeping pills go?

Feeling overwhelmed by my various personal pressures and doomed by the national news.

I'm dealing with career goal meetings, parent meetings, observations of classes, math assessments that need to be done before parent conferences, literacy assessments same, class buddy arrangements, literacy center management... and that's just at work. There's also rent, parents, friends, Dog, and more. And my library books are overdue.

And while I've heretofore gotten a bit energized by the catharsis of blogging various quotidian worries, national politics make everything seem so futile and meaningless. I mean, people are going to vote for McCain and Palin! There are working people making less than $45,000 who will vote for that corrupt asshole and his idiot running mate! The stupid, it burns. Our president has destroyed literally everything he has put his hand to, and the people want more of it. And all the banks might explode and polar bears are eating each other and journalists are censoring themselves because McCain might throw them off his plane and the votes will be counted by George W. Bush's good buddies Bob and Todd Urosevich.

And Bush seems to be setting up for a speedy declaration of martial law and suspension of elections, just in case the uppity colored elitist son of a sheep herder wins. No, really. This might happen. It could. Easily.

I was fine through 9/11. I was calm during the Anthrax attacks and the Beltway sniper. I was even okay when the panic got to Ashcroft and when Tom Ridge shared his fear of fear with all of and gave us our color-coded Fear Notice. But now... Now I'm truly wondering if the U.S. government has begun to end.

I've got it at last. I've got The Fear.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: Quartered Safe Out Here, George MacDonald Fraser

A review of Quartered Safe Out Here: Reflections On the War In Burma, by George MacDonald Fraser.

You may talk o' gin an' beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere,
An' you're sent to penny-fights an' Aldershot it;
But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
--- Rudyard Kipling, "Gunga Din"

I have loved the Flashman series --- a collection of baudy, outrageous, but historically accurate novels of Victorian military history, featuring the eponymous anti-hero Harry Flashman --- for over 15 years. Here, the author of that much-lauded series gives his personal and true account, from the ground level, of the WWII campaign in Burma with his beloved Nine Section.

This war memoir is fascinating for two reasons. First, reading this, it became clear to me that Fraser is, for all intents and purposes, Flashman himself: the broad racial delineations, the bald admiration for famous generals, the unabashed Imperialist fervor mixed with rational analysis of battle, even the fear of waiting before battle and the mad adrenaline rush afterwards. It strikes me that Flashy isn't so much a fictional construction as Fraser himself, made a bit more cowardly, and set in the Victorian era. For Fraser is, for better or worse, one of the last of the old unreconstructed crotchety men of the empire: the book is vehemently non-PC.

Fraser admits that he still feels hatred for the Japs (as he calls the enemy), even preferring not to sit by them in public places today. The ‘40s propaganda image of the Jap as “an evil, misshapen, buck-toothed barbarian who looked and behaved like something sub-Stone Age” is Fraser’s image of them to a T. (Which might say something about his abilities to assess things rationally, since by his own admission civilized lights mustn’t shine much in war, or you’ll lose; and his section committed what would be called war crimes today; obviously, both sides harbored the same kind of racist illusions, but Fraser can’t see that).

He bemoans many other facets of modern mores as well (condemning, for example, "counseling" and "war guilt," indicating those weaknesses, as he sees them, are creations of a non-military public and media). But the main thrust of the book, and why it will be fascinating to readers who are not familiar with Flashman, is the sometimes funny, sometimes appalling, obviously soul- changing experience that was war. It’s a superb war memoir, peppered with odd characters and vivid battle scenes, and a very important record of what the average foot-soldier must have felt at the time. It begins with him "smelling Jap" in the jungles of Burma and ends with one of the most honest yet brutal proclamations on the ethics of dropping the atomic bomb that I have ever read. Fraser writes with the flair of the seasoned novelist, even if his use of North British dialect in dialogue probably scares off American readers. It shouldn't.

***

Sunday Warbooks casualty count:

Greco-Persian wars: 1
WWI: 1
WWII: 1
Vietnam: 1
Iraq wars: 2

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The night may be young, but I'm not

Friar had his birthday dinner at Green Margarita with the man himself and his lady Palfrey (now looking very pregnant with their second child); 74 and his wife Zaftig, plus their two children; the museum director Anacreon and his wife (who will have their first in about seven months), who is the school psychologist at an even more Prestigious private school than mine; some guy Friar met in law school; Friar's jovial, rotund cousin; and Friar's supervisor at the law firm, C, and his wife. And little old unattached me.

I'm not big fan of the Green Margarita --- in fact, its only attraction to me is the highly potent, nuclear-green frozen drinks they serve, which are necessary to wash down the appallingly greasy, cheesy food. For the last few weeks, as I noted a while ago, I've been eating pretty healthily, and a big honking plateful of Friar's favorite glop came as a shock to my poor, trail-mix-nibbling system.

And of course afterwards Friar and I went to the Hangout, where I had a couple of rum pineapples. I didn't feel all that well when I got home. I'm not sure I'm old enough anymore to be keeping up with the kind of systematic destruction to the internal organs that Friar seems to have been bent on his whole life.