Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Random picture from my cellphone #3


Pittsburgh, Summer '06

Random picture from my cellphone #3


Saturday, May 24, 2008


Everyone wants to read my disjointed, off-the-cuff observations about books I'm reading for exams, right? Right!

Don Delillo, Underworld


I am two hundred pages into this book, and it's not entirely apparent where it's going, but you can see certain obvious themes emerging: the fragmentation, or apparent fragmentation, of social experience seems to be one. The present is no longer contiguous with the past. The novel opens at a baseball game in 1951, where the Giants beat the Dodgers for the National League pennant, and there's a sense of togetherness, kind of. Then, of course, both teams leave New York, right? And we see a game in the present, 199something, but it's not the same, and the main character, Nick, doesn't care about the team anymore that he used to worship and stuff. Nick works with waste; garbage--the detritus of our culture. La. He purchases, for a ridiculous sum of money, the supposed baseball that was hit for the winning home run in the game in 1951, which a black kid whose name is NOT Cotton Mather but sounds like it had recovered at the time. It represents failure to him; he isn't quite sure why he wants it. Is it a connection to the past, or a rejection of same? There's also a woman, Klara, with whom he had some sort of brief affair when he was small. Now she's a conceptual artist, working on a thing where she and various volunteers repaint old fighter planes--looking for a connection to the past, and to redeem the violent things of the past?

The book's not bad, but it seems sort of facile in parts. Been years since I looked at a real map, Nick sez. It's a sort of Robert Louis Stevenson thing to do. We have maps of highways and motels. Our maps have rest stops and wheelchair symbols. Wow, so the past isn't the present? Whodathunkit? There's a lot of stuff like this: really banal observations that you get the impression are meant to be profound. It can get on your nerves a little. And there's no real emotional resonance so far. But we'll push on and see what emerges.

I think I've decided I like the third-person parts, but the parts narrated by ol' Nick--not so much. It might just be the parts with Nick period, but for now let's just say the parts he narrates. I just read a chapter about nuns doing social work in New York slums, and it was quite good--contrasting the medieval kinds of associations that you get with nuns with the modern stuff--drugs, AIDS, science. How does the past play in the present? How should it? How can it?

So he goes to a hotel room with a strange woman he meets, but do they just get on with it? No no no...first they have to have a long, rambling conversation, like something in a Godard film, only annoyinger. I may have mentioned this before, but the big problem with the Nick sections is that they're sooooo cool and restrained. Nobody ever shows any real emotion over ANYTHING--like they think they're being all terribly witty and sophisticated. But they're not. Hmph.

Dellilo's success rests entirely on "accidental and intermittent moments of non-utter-vapidity." So says Scott Eric Kaufman. Mean, but perhaps not wholly inaccurate!

640 pages in. I haven't written a lot because it's just so unbearable. I know I should try to say something meaningful, but really, I just want it to be OVER. There are interesting moments: there's a scene with people watching a lost film of Sergei Eisenstein which is juxtaposed with nuclear testing in Utah, and it's kind of interesting, but seriously, this whole thing is SO emotionally sterile. There's a part with a kid--who later goes on to become a nuclear technician and tells horrible stories about people affected by radiation fallout--and while he's a kid, he's masturbating into a condom because it reminds him of a rocket. He's obsessed with rockets. And all I can think is, Pynchon did this more effectively, much more succinctly, and much funnier with the rocket limericks in GR. This just feels trite and artificial. Delillo is a dimestore Pynchon at best.

At any rate, I'll be done in a few days. I SHALL BE RELEASED!

I haven't been keeping up-to-date here because I'm lazy and I suck. Naturally, I finished the book on Monday. The ending section, featuring the nuns from earlier on and a young feral girl being raped and murdered and then appearing on a billboard in the lights of a train was, I must admit, pretty weird and haunting, and it makes me willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the book. Sort of. To an extent. I still can't really accept the emotionally anesthetized tone of much of the book, but there's definitely SOMETHING there. Is "something" enough? Dunno. I might end up having to reread the damn thing, god help me. But for now, onwards and upwards.

Next: Infinite Jest

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Random picture from my cellphone #2

This was taken recently, possibly over spring break. It's a squirrel, obviously. Outside my window. From a sort of interesting perspective. What else is there to say?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Random picture from my cellphone #1

When I was in Pittsburgh doing my MA in the fall of 2004, there was an unbelievable rainstorm one day that just went ON and ON and ON and WOULD NOT STOP. It was kind of awesome. Our class's subterranean computer cluster was completely flooded and ruined. Anyway, here was the view from out my apartment window. You really can't tell the magnitude of the rain from the picture--making it kind of pointless--but trust me: it was great.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Random Thought

Fuck Us on the Family and similar groups are super hardcore against abortion, but they're also super hardcore against the kind of sex education that would reduce the number of abortions.

They're against divorce, but they're also against pre-martial sex, meaning that sexually incompatible people will get married and then either be miserable or get divorced.

They're against teh dreaded Homosexual Lifestyle, but they also oppose gay marriage, which would curtail the elements of said 'lifestyle' that irk them so.

Does this mean they're not that bright, or does it just mean they've cynically figured out how to extend their pet causes endlessly by battling against the 'problem' and the solution at the same time? Discuss.

Friday, May 16, 2008

New Chick Tract!

Moving on Up! It may not be all that original, but it's pretty hard to beat for sheer humor value. There are so many awesome things here...well, three things, mainly, but they all rule:

1. The picture of the mother in the third panel: we must always believe what scientists say. Others claim to know, but they are the only ones who guide us." The expression of religious rapture on her face really sells it.

2. The idiosyncratic overview of the evolutionary process, especially about "how "the greatest event of all time" was when "we lost our tails," suggesting that ChickCo may be confusing evolution with Dragon Ball Z.

3. The bizarre characterization of Tyler, whose responses to his mother's explanations are so credulous as to sound sarcastic more than anything else. Your ideas intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter, you expect to hear him say. The absolute best thing, of course, is this:

Hell yes.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gay marriage (maybe) in CA.

Schwartzenegger surprisingly non-assholish about it; Dobson still one of our nation's leading dickheads.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Students will sometimes drive you crazy.

That is a given. They will fail to follow the most basic instructions. They will write "defiant" for "definite" because that's what ms word auto-corrects "definate" into. They will cite Wikipedia no matter how many times you tell them not to. They will miss five straight weeks of class with no explanation and then tell you that their grandfather died beg for some way to make up the missed work. They will plagiarize in the most head-smackingly obvious ways and then insult your intelligence by assiduously denying it.

Obviously this is highly aggravating and fuck you for being a pedant and telling me I can't use "aggravating" that way; I can and I will. So...yeah. You shout at papers as you're reading them, and you kvetch to your friends about them. Some might call that unprofessional, but you ain't a machine, and sometimes you need catharsis.

So anyway, I had written and was all set to post a snide little thing about a student who's been making me crazy. But then, I didn't. Obviously. I feel like there's an invisible line you can cross. It's one thing to sometimes be exasperated with students; it's quite another to turn into an unending font of rage, and I feel like once you get into the habit of pouring out your anger in print, you're gonna find yourself on the wrong side of that line, and then you might as well just pack it in, because who wants to be taught by a bitter husk?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Word of the Day

Finlandize: to be obliged for economic reasons to favor, or at least not actively oppose, the interests of the Soviet Union in spite of not being politically allied to it.

I don't know how I ever got by without it, frankly. I find it coming up in casual conversation a good twenty or thirty times a day.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Things that suck

Graham Parker's well-known anti-abortion ballad "You Can't Be too Strong." The sort of conventional wisdom is that this is a song that even pro-choice people can appreciate the power of even if they don't agree with it, but NO: it's just grotesquely maudlin. No song that features first-person narration from a fetus can be any good. Call that GeoX's First Law. If we must tolerate such a thing, it would be preferable to go with "Diary of an Unborn Child," which at least is funny.

Funnily enough, I have a difficult time sympathizing with men who get all teary-eyed about women's reproductive choices. For extra fun, check out this allmusic song review, the author of which clearly never learned the lesson of The First Thing To Do If You've Dug Yourself Into a Hole:

"The woman is not vilified for her act; to a large degree, she's portrayed as a victim of a man who lacked the conviction to face his responsibilities, and to a lesser extent the victim of a physician who performed the abortion rather than confronting his own moral qualms about it."

Yes, if only we had strong, brave men to protect weak, feeble-minded women from their foolish, scatter-brained decisions. I may not always see eye-to-eye with your more strident brand of feminist, but sometimes this stuff just writes itself. Jayzus.

Things that are REALLY fucked up

I did a google search for the term "vile piece of shit," as I am wont to do, and came across a page that is the first google hit for the name "Karim Zaki," which I'm not linking to because it scares me and which I don't really recommend visiting. Is the dude a child molester? Beats me, but the creator of this page is an incredibly nasty piece of work. Does he have some sort of personal motive, or is he just your garden-variety psychopath? Either way, he's an interesting albeit alarming case study in abnormal psychology. Assuming this Zaki is an actual person and not just a figment of his diseased imagination, he really OUGHT to take the guy's advise and take legal action. Very scary stuff.

Things that are fucked up

That cellphone commercial featuring Meat Loaf and "son" singing a modified version of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." It certainly makes you sit up and take notice, if only to note how dumb the name "gophone" sounds, but there is definitely something queasily oedipal about a song about teenage lust being reconstructed to be sung by father and son.

That said: please give us more. I feel like "Bat Out of Hell" needs to be used to sell auto insurance.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The end of Roger and Jessica

She has wandered away from him, down by the beach. The sun is so bright today that the shadows by her Achilles tendon are drawn sharp and black as seams up the heel of a silk stocking. Her head, as always, is bend forward, away, the bare nape he's never stopped loving, will never see again, unprotected as her beauty, her innocence of how forever in peril it moves through the World. She may know a little, may think of herself, face and body, as "pretty". . .but he could never tell her the rest, how many other living things, birds, nights smelling of grass and rain, sunlit moments of simple peace, also gather in what she is to him. Was. He is losing more than a single Jessica: he's losing a full range of life, of being for the first time at ease in the Creation. Going back to winter now, drawing back into his single envelope. The effort it takes to extend any further is more than he can make alone.
--Gravity's Rainbow

Steven Weisenburger's A Gravity's Rainbow Companion is tragically wrong.

On a reference to Porky Pig, it says:

"Porky Pig was a regular feature (with Donald Duck and nephews, Bugs Bunny, and Woody Woodpecker) of Walt Disney's Comics and stories, a comic book in continuous publication after 1940." (235)

Why does Slylock Fox suspect that Weisenburger has never read Walt Disney's Comics and Stories?

This is the old version of the book; there's a new one out that presumably fixes this, but jeez louise, that's a pretty breathtaking mistake. It doesn't exactly take an encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture to know that Loony Tunes and Warner Brothers characters--to say nothing of Woody Woodpecker, who is neither--are NOT THE SAME THING. And, having read many issues of WDC&S, I can verify that, no, the two did NOT have some crazy cross-marketing scheme going on. Disney, WB, and Woody comic books were all published by Dell back in the day, but that would not lead anyone who thought about it for three seconds to confuse them.

Anyway, laughable though it is, this isn't a huge deal, but if Weisenburger's capable of making such an obvious mistake that ANYONE can see, you sort of have to wonder how accurate the more esoteric background information he relays is.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cabinet Certification

We've all had it happen to us at one time or another: you go to the store and you buy a cabinet but then you get home and discover, hey, this isn't a cabinet! It's an end table! Or perhaps a desk chair! And you take it back, but the store people just look at you funny. If I had a quarter for every time that's happened to me, I would have somewhere around thirteen dollars.

Anyway, that's why it's important to always check to make sure the Cabinet Certifiers' Guild has officially certified your cabinet before you take it home.