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.