Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Congratulations, Senator Franken!

Ha! Remember back when Lyndon Johnson was called "Landslide Lyndon"? Seems we has a new contender for that title! I haven't read Franken's book(s), but I still remember his whiteboard analysis of how Mike Dukakis could beat the odds and win the 1988 Presidential election after all.

Congratulations, Norm Coleman, for an exemplary concession speech. He represents that wing of the Republican party with whom the actual republic is still safe.

(Rush Limbaugh's piece of the bird is, of course, the middle toenail.)


Women invented art, too?

National Geographic is putting forth the notion that the artists who produced the French cave paintings were "actually female."

So, My Little Pony™ goes back 30,000 years? Considering what we know about women and fiber (have you ever tried to knit?), e.g., that fabric weaves aren't even remotely primitive in the Taklamakan Desert of 6,000 years ago (although woolen twills feature heavily, cotton does not), I guess that shouldn't be as surprising as it is. Weavers had to have invented (or discovered?) ALGORITHM, which is an altogether remarkable concept to get one's head around, so obviously other arts posed no necessarily insurmountable obstacles.

I'll buy the point that a majority of the hand prints at the cave art sites belong to women. It doesn't necessarily follow that women painted the art, or practiced mystery religions, or made oracular pronunciamentos, or even went in for raves, trance or mosh pits. I believe all that may have been true, one time or another, but prove it, 'ey?

In other news, thank you FOXNews anchor Shepard Smith for informing us that Farrah Fawcett had "anal cancer." The word is colorectal, Snuffy.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Anime mouth too small

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Más información relativa a María Belén Chapur

María Belén Chapur's story is fun another way. If you want to follow the details, it really helps if you can read Spanish. She, on the other hand, speaks English, French, Chinese and Portuguese, and once produced a television news summary in Buenos Aires called After Hours.

In other snooze...

Boing Boing is (heh) “reporting” that Michael Jackson's body missed the deadline for cryogenic freezing and will instead be "plastinated." There's some stuff about a monkey named Bubbles, but iit's taken me five minutes to type twes bcuz rotfl...

Hoax. Obviously... Just like the Legos™ thing...


Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson's Irrelevant Zombie Legion 2009

Gear up, people! There are only 127 days until Halloween. I thought he'd come back from the dead until that helicopter took off from the UCLA Medical Center roof. But Jackson already used the zombie idea TWENTY FIVE YEARS AGO in Thriller, so self-parody was already pre-trite. The kids are into serious Twilight now, so how could he top that? In a world where Uma Thurman is weirder than Michael Jackson, where your best comeback idea is a Hulk Retroid magic act with smoke and mirrors, well... Exit, stage left. Personally, my favorite entertainer in the Great Pop Exodus of 2009 is David Carradine. Bye, Bill, gone but not quite forgotten yet.

Speaking of guys who don't look like girls, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford would be nuts to throw María Belén Chapur to the wolves, assuming his marriage is over, Chapur's still interested, and this is her. This is a little like finding out Jack Kennedy was tonking Marilyn Monroe — a notch or two beyond understandable, in my humble opinion. I have to admit my admiration for Argentina — always high — has been revalidated these last few days. On the other hand, Sanford is comparing himself today to the Biblical King David, casting Chapur in the role of Bathsheba (the mother of Solomon, as it happens). She seems a little more sophisticated than Sanford's carryings-on, so I suppose the five days bawling in Argentina was Sanford realizing he'd lost both his wife and his mistress. Wotta luser.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Murderous Old Farsi

Must we forgive this murdering gasbag Ayatollah? Suppose at the Last Judgement, Khameini enters the presence of Allah in fear and trembling, the way a cockroach enters a housewife's bowl of flour? Will those he axed on the streets of Tehran, those entire families, bear witness for him? Will Gabriel's trumpet thunder for Neda Agha Soltan to stand forth and say a kind word for this hairy tarantula? As C. S. Lewis noted in The Great Divorce, it might just be a question of scale.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bad Swift Boaters! Bad!

Apparently, there's a real Canadian citizen named Shona Holmes, and yes, she had a real brain tumor. Yes, she has a beef with Canadian national health, and yes, she would have had to wait six months in Canada to see a specialist about her condition. And oh my yes, she did indeed go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for her surgery.

What makes this interesting is the way the Swift Boaters have picked up the story and are running it as propaganda against national health care in this country.

That begs a few questions: Did the Mayo Clinic pick up the tab for Holmes' surgery? (It's possible; see this page.) If not, is she now deeply in debt? If not, did Canadian national health services put her on a waiting list because she could afford to pay her costs out of pocket?

How does an ordinary Canadian citizen manage to find herself embroiled in a national health care debate in this country, when America saved her life? Many, many American citizens would love to have Canadian health care — or any health care at all, in point of fact.

Are the Swift Boaters cynically picking up her tab if she'll "speak out?"

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Monday, June 22, 2009

R.I.P., Neda

Sunday, June 21, 2009

First Day of Summer

A few thunderstorms, nothing very dramatic. The family has been gathering 'round the tube these last few days to watch all four of the old Sigourney Weaver Alien films. Peculiar fun, the stuff seems to have a really diminished impact these days.

Team Jacob, especially, professes to be semi-unmoved by the experience. I can believe her. She spent part of the evening helping a fellow traveller dye half her hair, parted down the middle, jet black — something about playing the role of the Norse goddess Hel in some scholastic Summer charade or other.

Lemon marmalade, Father's Day. Good mix.


Saturday, June 20, 2009


Ever heard of nålbinding? It's so prehistoric, there are no known elementary or prototypical examples. Nalbinding looks impossible, especially when you realize it's done with one or two yard lengths of yarn and a single bone (antler, ivory, beechwood, etc.) needle about four inches long. You can make Viking socks that way; and while the technique seems closer to tatting than knitting, the results certainly look more like knitting. Some of these old fiber arts seem positively neolithic.

It's actually kind of fun to meditate on — even if your polyester polo shirt was woven on the air-jet shuttleless looms of the post-Industrial Revolution rag trade, the algorithm, the craft, of it is like being wrapped up in the love of your last ten thousand grandmothers.

Who are these "evil women who blow on knots," by the way, mentioned in the Qur'an, Surah 113, Al-Falaq (Daybreak), Aya 4? It's curious that the earliest known examples of knitting in Europe are a sophisticated pair of stockings from 13th century Islamic Andalusia which bear the name of Allah woven in bands of Arabic script.

Catholics have the same idea, but on the flip side — e.g., EWTN's Mary, the Undoer of Knots Catalogue offers relief from the curse of pesky mundane entanglements at low, low prices.

Modern Wiccans refer the practice of knot-blowing to Isis, for what it's worth.

The subject of knots in thread or cords has probably always been a mindbender, considering its antiquity, power and mystery. Aside from the importance of knots and cordage to weavers, sailors and mathematicians, there is even an argument (promulgated by IBM patent lawyers) that the Jacquard loom was a precursor (and hence, prior art) to modern computer programming.

If Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and Anita Borg were accomplished women in the early history of computers, is it because evolution favored those clever girls who could firmly grasp the mysterious mindfulness of their craft, who could patiently weave the stuff at hand into the fabric of human existence — out of Under, Over and Repeat?

Just like 1's and 0's. Or DNA, for that matter! There's a lesson there. There are forty million shades of gray between black and white, and for all that, the entire world comes in living Technicolor.

"Sleep that knittest up the ravel'd sleeve of care" — Macbeth, Act II, Scene 2, Wm. Shakespeare

"Tend to your knitting." — Linnie Powell Philips (my grandmother)


Thursday, June 18, 2009

May Day!

I didn't believe it was possible to clog a Gerber Viper just on a normal diet of twelve cups of tea or coffee, raisin bran, o.j., toasted cheese sandwiches, spaghetti and broccoli, but evidently you can. Three minutes with the plumber's friend and all is well, but...! Haven't had this problem since we installed the new throne back on May Day.


Pretty Soon We're Talking Real Money

Every time I think about deleting my Boing Boing bookmark, they find something like this.

What does it all mean? I sense enormous, dark undercurrents in die Weltanschauung....


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to abort national health care

I don't know what role the sinister Senator Grassley thinks he should play in deciding what kind of national health care this country should have, but Dog In The Manger is probably not it. The arguments have been laid out for seven decades. It's time for at least this one "ranking member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee (and twice former Chairman)" to get out of the way of history.

It's odd. Grassley never was an idiot, but he always got elected in Iowa by playing the role of Mortimer Snerd and grabbing H. R. Gross' eponym (at least according to Republicans) of "conscience of the Congress."

In practice, Grassley's majority-style politics when Republicans held the Senate have been a strangler's grip on the carotid arteries of the poor and downtrodden — bankruptcy reform, a change few voters were clamoring for. Watching Grassley slog gleefully through the details of that process was disconcerting, like watching Hannibal Lecter toning up.

I don't know how vulnerable Grassley will be if he continues in this jugular vein when national health care comes to the floor, if it ever does. If it dies a-borning, Grassley will certainly get full credit for the abortion in most quarters.

Iowans love that Hickenlooper style, though. It's one Tom Harkin shares. We're a bunch of rubes out here in caucus country, bobbing for ethanol and Adam's apples where the tall potatoes grow.


Monday, June 15, 2009

The 1977 Harkinistas

This is my copy of Susie's photo of our old Harkinista band, back in 1977. I'm not in the picture ;-)


An old photograph...
My world has changed — the joke is
how I stayed the same.

That, of course, is an American lowball haiku, the kind the Japanese (and all urban haiku cognoscenti) hate. Aside from the terribly strict 5-7-5 syllable structure, it's just an irritant because it lacks all the standard haiku elements, especially mood, Aha-erlebnis and impersonal reference to nature, seasons and passing time. I like the form because it's hard to compress sufficient sarcasm and cyanide into such a small venue, especially using English free verse prosodic conventions like sprung rhythm, chime and wit.

Here's another example:

Mattress wisdom, this!
   The more refined the princess,
      The harder the pea.

Alan Watts talked about a variant form called senryu which is supposed to be less reverent, more personal and Zen-like, but in actual practice the norms of the form are just as preposterously precious as haiku.

Nobody likes my
   senryu — I can toss them off
      Like toilet paper!

For the true ancient Japanese flavor, haiku should be sung in violently strained, ingressive masculine tonalities with a few slow ridiculous dance steps and fan flourishes worthy of a matador's cape. The kabuki of such moments is deeply impressive. This is the true やまとだましい (Japanese spirit) that, in modern times, has given us karaoke.

Here in the West, we like haiku — with the reverential awe filtered out, of course. The best Western example of the style, as adopted by us Beat Zen film noir devotees, is Roy Batty's death poem in Ridley Scott's 1982 film, Blade Runner. Very effective. Truly pathetic. And, O Ultimate Transcendence, not really a haiku.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Senator Grassley redux

The Cedar Rapids Gazette has a column by Todd Dorman urging Senator Grassley (mentioned below, next to the Tweety Bird) to "tweet on" and give us all his Senatorial tics, twitches, itches and pulsing veins raw and indecent.

That's the same as yelling "Take it all off!" to a stripper, and says all you need to know about the press and politics, but Grassley's got more class than that, I think. Maybe.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Free Speech 4 Evah!

Carrie Prejean (l), Natalie Maines (r)

If a chick can't shoot her mouth off in America, a lot of good men have died for nothing.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Fortune cookie

"You have years of accumulated wisdom about stuff the world will never need again."


Valedictory address in a bad neighborhood

Getting old (I do not say "growing old") is like taking public transportation through a rundown neighborhood that gets shabbier and meaner as you go. Your skin gets tissue-thin, and suddenly there are sharp corners everywhere (like the door latch in your microwave) that bump you and bruise you and bleed you in thin little no-nonsense scratches. Your arms look like they've been blotting ink. Your waistline was a joke in your fifties — now, approaching your mid-sixties, the extra luggage weighs you down like Man o' War's jockey. You have years of accumulated wisdom about stuff the world will never need again. (See above.) Your jokes worry your wife, annoy your Team Jacob grandchildren, and bore anyone else to distraction. Your income shrivels to a meagre weak stream, like your bathroom functions. The old joke about every day above ground is a good day sounds like the barking of your neighbor's rotweilers. You curse your doctor for giving you that pneumonia shot. You know you'll die of some extravagantly exotic phlegma the world has never heard of. House is your favorite TV program. You know he doesn't care, and you want to laugh and whack his leg with your cane. Drat all professional students of human misery, and bless the poppy fields of Afghanistan. You can't afford to pay attention; who needs a mind anyway? Strangers hiss and cross themselves as you go by. Some flee across the street. Some laugh and come closer. Be nothing. Go slow, in fear and loneliness. It's worse ahead.


Thursday, June 11, 2009


Speaking of pwecious, overpwiced nerds, U.S. Senator Chuck Gwasswey (Iowa's twerp senior senator) has discovered the joys of micwobwogging — he popped off a nasty tweet or two about President Obama the other day and got held up in the national media to other old folks as an example of how not to tweet: "I did, I did taw a puddy tat!"

Iowa's twerp junior senator is, of course, Tom Harkin. They're both older than me.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Gloom and doom

It's not all fun and games around here, folks!

(Actually, it bugs me that I won't ever write any memoirs, having none to brag about. Is that the secret, that all autobiography is extraverted from the sheer shame of boring oneself to tears? History speaks of Lepanto, Waterloo... Only the Bhagavad Gita speaks of shame in battle. The older I get, the wiser Socrates, chilling from the toes up, doth seem.)


Monday, June 08, 2009

Gergoth, again

Ok, I've put Gergoth out his misery. This goes fairly quickly with a constant flood of Axe Armors and the occasional High Potion or High Mindup — make sure your HP is high enough to survive the plunge through the tower floors. I think I was above level 30 at the time.

Progress is slow after that. Find the tower key, then use it in the locked corridor just below the warp point Gergoth was guarding. That's straightforward, but then you reach the clock tower floors. Mistakes here cost you dearly, there are no convenient save points. Usually a good sign you need to be focussing on something else...

These virtual battles are always intense, focussed and technical. There is no emotional flood of relief, no emotion at all, usually — not reaction to adversary's taunts, or fear, or rage or even satisfaction. It's fascinating that a game can invoke a state of mind that martial arts seek to develop. You wind up as stunted as Gergoth. I can see why a samurai's karma is so bad he can only be reincarnated as a samurai. No one would do this to themselves unless it were in service to a greater cause.

[Update 10 jun — Dawn of Sorrow is tedious, frankly. The game lasts too long, and things that could seem humorous (like Killer Clowns) just seem redolently strange. Plus you must collect every soul in order to advance. Uh. Huh. Sure. The Game Boy Advance version, Aria of Sorrow, was way more playable and loads more fun.]

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

Cap Ace sake

Gekkeikan's Cap Ace sake comes in innocent-looking little bottles with a thin plastic sake cup over the top. Microwaveable, 16% ethanol. Ouch. Just one of these chibi bottles over the top of a pretty fair sweet-and-sour pork on rice dinner gave me a hangover. That's a first.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Objet grouvé

Thursday, June 04, 2009

If evil is your game...

Ok, I draw the line at Gergoth. I can't sic the SPCAA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animated Animals) on Konami, but still...! All the other creatures, beasts and animals in Castlevania seem to be participating in their own personal hells, but not Gergoth. This is like watching a bull elephant chained between iron posts and driven mad by deliberate torture.

Considering the immediacy and the immersion of these small format games, the violence and the affront become personal. Of course, Castlevania's not the worst. No pixels were harmed. Sigmund Freud even took a few notes ("the great mindless beast bowed down rather flaccidly, then suddenly half-rose and expelled a purple cloud of poisonous gas... Sometimes a truncated hadrosaurian is just a truncated hadrosaurian."). Gergoth is not Bambi's mother, though. Just as the dreamer wakes, sweating, the player puts down his Nintendo DS, pours himself a lemonade and mows the lawn.

Allow me to imagine a different catharsis. Soma Cruz enters the beast's cramped cell. Aghast at what he sees, he lowers his weapons and calls Yoko Belnades on a cell phone. Yoko and the team rush in at the last minute, and send the rampaging horror to sleep with four or five tranquilizer darts. In the confusion, Hammer takes a stray dart and topples over. Yoko facepalms. Jules remarks that this is why Dracula must die.

Soma Cruz advances and dispatches Gergoth's comatose bulk with a single 9mm slug through the braincase. There is no red ball reward. Gergoth keeps his own soul. The party leaves, and all including Soma find themselves, shaken, back in the Lost Village.

The doors to Gergoth's prison shut, a Magical Seal of simple beauty locks the chamber away from this continuum for all time, apparently leaving only an empty stone bower with a single alura une.

[Update 12 June ] Yeah, Konami pushed my button.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Brief Candles

I read this book (with this dust jacket!) when I was a kid (it was in my mother's pile of books from the public library in East Lansing, Michigan), and have been trying to recall the author's name for over half a century. It's part of a quartet of ghost stories, three featuring the Latimers1 and their monkey, and one concerning a German aristocrat2 whose castle has been invaded by film makers. Rue Morgue Press has reissued several of the Manning Coles books, including these, all in the same vein and genre as Thorne Smith's Topper books3 (or vice-versa).

1Brief Candles, Happy Returns, Come and Go (Rue Morgue Press)
2The Far Traveller (Rue Morgue Press)
3Topper, Topper Takes a Trip (Modern Library)

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Sebastian Castellio

"We can live together peacefully only when we control our intolerance."Sebastian Castellio, against John Calvin's burning the alleged heretic Michael Servetus at the stake, October 27, 1553

Best known as a ferocious biting gadfly on the quivering withers of John Calvin, whose hands were "dripping with the blood of Servetus," Sebastian Castellio was known as well as a passionate advocate for separation of church and state. He was, at one point, so on the outs with Calvin that he, a Spanish nobleman and one of the best-educated men in Europe, was forced to support himself and eight dependents by begging for food from door to door through Switzerland; Castellio's later fortunes did improve.

Michael Servetus, as you may recall from your lessons at the extraordinarily enlightened Sunday school which you attended as a child, was the first European physician to describe pulmonary circulation; he also rejected the Trinity on the grounds that it was adventitious nonsense encrusted onto the gospel by Greek sophistry, and more to the point, from Calvin's point of view, rejected also predestination asserting not merely free will but free conscience.

Once in a great while, I reconsider a decision I made decades ago not to be a Presbyterian; a decision colored by Calvin's willingness to immolate heretics, as I recall. Calvin, it seemed to me, was not a morally pretty man but a vicious, authoritarian martinet intolerant of opposing views and as plainly capable as any Borgia Pope or Dominican inquisitor of sadistic barbecue. I didn't like him then. I don't like him now. If there is architecture in Heaven, John Calvin is a garderobe gargoyle.