|NOTE! This archive page contains an entire week - scroll down to find the day you're looking for. I'll have more accurate linkage soon - promise. Really. Really!
Well, nothing happened said my wife as Memorial Day ended. No scuba divers swimming through subways to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. No swarms of small planes smacking into nuclear power plants, no reports of people expiring by the thousands from cyanide-laced water. Well never know if nothing was planned or if pre-show publicity caused terrorists to rethink their actions - if the latters the case, then weve stumbled on the best way to defeat them: dozens of vague warnings that cover every possible situation, and make them think curses! The infidel dogs are on to us! But how? But how?
Its interesting that one can say nothing happened now, and no elaboration is needed.
Good weekend. Summer finally broke through Sunday, with clear blue skies and temps in the upper 70s. Not a hint of lingering chill; the wind didnt feel as if it carried cold steel under its cloak. Tweeting birds, the long yawn of lawn mowers up and down the block, laughter from a deck up the hill as the guests got lubricated. We went over to the Giant Swedes for the annual cookout. Once upon a time I sat in a chair and chatted with friends; now I leap up every 90 seconds to rescue Gnat or steer her away from the Marinas Trench of an egress window well, or help her climb the steps on the slide. Since we all have young ones now, everyones doing likewise, and theres nothing you can do about it. Well, you can do something - stake them down like Gulliver trammeled by Lilliputians, for example, but it takes forever and you have to stand there and brush off the ants, so its more trouble than its worse.
The great thing about Memorial Day cookouts is simply this: you feel as if it is your duty and your right to have a burger and a brat. Usually its one or the other. Not today. Its an extra-meat occasion, and if the result is meat-related torpor, fine. Stop. Sit down. Stay there. Relax; make it last. There are three such days in Summer - Memorial Day, the Fourth, and Labor Day. The first says hello, the second takes stock, and the third waves good-bye. When youre a child these three days are spaced like Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and New York. Now they fly past like mile markers on a freeway.
Watched the HBO special on 9/11; in fact I ordered HBO just to get it. (I had HBO years and years ago, and can still hum the ultra-80s electric guitar theme they used to introduce each movie. I canceled my subscription when every movie that played at 12:00 AM had Corey Haim, or any of the ancillary Corys.) The documentary had things I hadnt seen before - the jumpers, the anguished faces of the crowd below, and one horrible shot of the second plane coming in, taken from across the water. The event has come to be defined by a series of images I know by heart, and to see it all again through different eyes made it all happen again. Horrible. Horrible. Horrible.
One thing still amazes me: at the end of the day the site was floodlit, and the crews were on the job. Rescue and removal started immediately. In todays paper I read of a train accident in Mauritania - the train had developed problems going down a hill, so the engineer stopped the train, braced the passenger cars with rocks, decoupled the engine and limped on ahead. Eventually the rocks failed, the passenger cars came roaring down the hill, hit a truck, derailed, hundreds dead. It took 90 minutes for an ambulance to show up; most of the wounded were taken by private truck to the hospital two hours away. Thats the norm for much of the world. We took for granted that the WTC site would be lit up by nightfall, with bulldozers and firetrucks and excavation vehicles, firemen and sniffer dogs pitching in to start what seemed like an impossible job.
Its not just a triumph of wealth, although that helps. What made it possible was not the civic bodies that directed the people, but the people who used the civic bodies to do what they wanted to do. Had to do.
I was also struck, again, by the variety of people standing on the street below, or holding out pictures of missing loved ones. A Hispanic woman and son; an Asian couple; a Black gay man - arent these supposed to be the people marginalized and oppressed and devalued by society and the media? What are they doing on a documentary made by a giant media conglomerate? Could it be they all worked in the same place and got along, and that every single interaction wasnt shaped and defined by Race and Gender and Shoe Size and all other forms of polarizing identity?
It says something about America that you cant blow up an average skyscraper without killing people of every race and creed on the planet.
It says something about Americas critics that fighting Arab Islamists is automatically racist - and the murder of diverse peoples by an ethnically homogenous group is explained as a response to . . . racist American policies.
Im bothered by one image, a quick two-second clip taken from a tourists camera. A fire-engine screams through Times Square, and passes the ABC news crawl. One word is visible, a word that didnt seem to be in the news on 9/11. I hit pause, went back, looked again: sure enough. As the truck races south to the World Trade Center, you can make one word before the truck obscures the rest of the story.
The word is Afghanistan.
Note: once again, no Flotsam or Matchbooks - they resume next week. Try out the fancy-schmancy additions to the NYC site. Warning: no shots of 101 Park, anywhere.
In the dim distant 80s I had a brief enthusiasm for horror movies. Not the Jason / Halloween slasher flicks, where stupid teens got hacked to bits for having sex on Indian burial grounds - no. (I had a girlfriend whose father enjoyed watching those, though. He was a high school teacher. Maybe half the audience of a Jason movie consisted of high school teachers smiling grimly as the little bastards got what was coming to them.) I did like the first few Nightmare on Elm Street movies, because they had a certain flair, an interesting backstory and a creepy villain. But two movies put an end to my dabbling in the genre: Hellraiser, and Hellraiser 2. By now the franchise is in disrepute - from what I understand the last one took place in space, which is always a bad sign. (If theyd made a dozen Wizard of Oz sequels, Oz XII would have taken place on a Jupiter colony, with the Tin Man rescuing Dorothy from winged monkeys in spacesuits.) Hellraiser 2 was on the other night, and while much of it looks silly, and gross, and simplistic - hell apparently has several back doors - it has a bleak godless nihilism that still makes me blanch. But it had a great anti-hero villain - Pinhead, as he was known to friends and associates. Pinhead had rules; Pinhead lived by a code. In his own way Pinhead was fair, which made things worse.
At the end of Hellraiser 2 I knew I was done with this stuff. No more. It wasnt just the opposition to the notion of good, of the divine - it was the utter absence of good, of the relevance of goodness. Evil defined creation. The central image of Hellraisers underworld - a rotating obelisk that raked Hell with a thick black beam - was inscrutable and mindless, an unappeasable thing that stood outside human understanding. I remember feeling something click: it is not good to enjoy movies like this. And so I didnt.
I watched it again as an experiment, to see if it still bothered me. It did.
Everything disgusting in horror movies can be traced back to the breakfast scene in Alien. Nowadays the Gen Y & Z demographic is used to things bursting from chests and guts; Im sure Grand Theft Auto 4 will allow you to disembowel your enemy, knot his intestines together and lasso other foes. But in Alien we saw something wed not only never seen, but never considered. When that thing burst out of John Hurts chest, it punctured a taboo. The body had never been violated like that in a movie. People got shot, yes. People got decapitated - I still have a recollection of Leo McKerns noggin flying up like a volleyball in an Omen movie. People got speared. But nothing came out of the body until the alien baby popped up, hissed a hallo, and skittered out of the room. After that, all bets were off, and movies tried to outdo themselves with hideous glistening deformations of the body. Future sociologists are going to have fun with this one: just as the overculture was preaching new definitions of physical fitness (Fonda, Nautilus, shoulder pads, veiny Stallone physiques, etc.) the underculture was carving the body up and, as Jebediah Springfield might put it, engrossening it.
These are the images a culture produces when its in transition, I think. In the 50s we fought giant mutated insects spawned by the atom; in the 60s horror retreated to cheap lurid Poe knock-offs that were utterly disconnected from the turmoil in the culture, and thus safe to indulge; in the 70s we had dystopian sci-fi to mirror our fears about the future - and then that thing came out of John Hurts chest and cinema horror had a new standard. For the next 20 years, at a time of American ascendance, we carved ourselves up, and I find this fascinating.
The apotheosis was Robert Patricks liquid metal Terminator in T2, whose ability to assume any shape was a perfect mirror of Bill Clintons poll-driven presidency.
I am, of course, kidding. But that will probably be the thesis of a doctoral candidate in 2019.
This week might be a little light on the bleats, as Im doing the twice-annual overhaul of the site. This means link weedage, new sites, changing fonts, and generally making sure that six months from now Ill hate what I did today. This also means tackling some historically effed-up sites that never seem to work no matter what I do, like the New York Postcards, and the Bleat Archive. Going through the NY Postcard site now, I see a little font quirk that makes the last line of every section stick out on the left. And you know what? I can live with that.
For six months, anyway.
I took out all the Times Square postcards, which Im making into a separate site. Why? Ive no idea. Sometimes I think its ridiculous that I do this at all, since I dont even live in New York, but a strange thing happens after youve started a hobby site and kept it running for a while: it ceases to become a little homebrew diversion, a show in the backyard for the neighborhood kids. You become a Resource. I googled New York Postcards, Motel Postcards, Fargo Postcards, and Restaurant Postcards. Guess whos the first item returned in each category.
So I have to keep these things going. I dont usually announce the upgrade to the postcard sites, since the new cards get shuffled among the old ones. Ill be adding 20 or so incredible 50s & 60s restaurants soon, as well as five pounds of motel cards - the best ever added, I think. But itll be a stealth addition, unheralded here. Anyway - back to work, and back to the mail - if I can get five answers out to the billion letters I got today, Ill be a happy man. Apologies, as ever, to those who dont get a reply.
Tomorrow: a Gnat movie, and non-grisly Bleating.
Ten Apples Up On Top is not only Dr. Seuss leanest narrative, it is also a economic parable of staggering complexity. It begins with a lion (a symbol, perhaps, of monarchy) congratulating himself for balancing two apples on his head. The number of apples may represent their role in the Garden of Eden story, as well as their anecdotal role in presenting Newton with the concept of gravity; thus through their duality they symbolize both faith and rationality, and the monarchs belief that both justify his rule. Along comes a dog - a sardonic mutt who obviously represents America. The dog demonstrates that he can balance additional apples on his head, and the two have a brief moment of bitter competition that calls to mind the arms race of the 60s and 70s. Enter the tiger, who may well prefigure the dynamism of Asian economies; he not only can equal the number of apples the other characters have on their heads, but he adds three more. Now the former adversaries are allies, wracked with awe and no small amount of fear over the Tigers capabilities.
It is refreshing to see the Tiger boast of his powers, as well as the dogs distrust and sarcasm - these qualities are almost completely absent in the anodyne world of modern kid-lit. Anyway: our troika walks across a telephone wire and enters a private residence, where they pile additional apples on their heads. Each now has 10 apples up on top, and this makes them forget their previous differences and celebrate their mutual skill. In other words: market penetration is complete, and an oligopoly has formed. But these things cannot stand - into the room rushes a Bear. A symbol of the Soviets? Yes, and no - the Bear seeks to destroy the Triple Alliance of apple-balancing fauna, which is rather red of her, but Mrs. Bear is also motivated by the mess the exuberant apple-topped trio has made in the kitchen. Its an environmental issue, in other words. The trio flees the house, pursued by the bear; three birds attempt to eat the apples, and Im not sure what they represent. (Other than the obvious answer of Masons, the Federal Reserve, and the Council on Foreign Relations. Or the Trilateral Commission.) The fleeing trio makes a Randian decision: we will get out of town. Atlases are shrugging, in other words: the heroes are pulling out, leaving the apple-knocking-downers to their own filthy misery.
At this point something extraordinary happens: the entire cast collides with a gigantic apple cart, spewing apples everywhere - and when the smoke clears, everyone has ten apples up on top. We can disagree on what this means - perhaps the big apple cart represents labor, and the collision represents the breaking of trusts that concentrate wealth. Or perhaps the collision represents the creative destruction of capitalism that spreads wealth to the greatest possible number. You could read it either way, and indeed the fact that this salutary distribution comes from the persecution of the Three Apple Balancers makes me a little nervous; it would seem to reward violence. The book ends there, and we do not see what happens next - those who cannot keep ten apples up on top pass laws banning apple-stacks greater than three, and mandate that only organic Macintosh apples be used, etc.
This ones up there with Animal Farm, I think.
And yes, I have read it 47 times today. This is how I keep myself sane.
Not working, is it.
Lets see. Other news? None. Hot day; good day; had fun with Gnat, who was extra-adorable all day long - the warm weather makes her tresses curl, and her happy disposition was doubly so today. Work was frantic, since I spent most of my time in the office jabbering and discovered at the last minute that I had not actually written a column. It took a mess o frantic typing to hammer that baby out, but sometimes those are my favorites. I wasnt tired today, which was unusual since I stayed up late watching half of Chicken Run. It works better on the small screen. Ive always liked it, but last night I loved it. Then I switched to the Acme Hour, which plays old Warner Bros. cartoons; they showed one of those tiresome books-come-to-life cartoons that are notable mostly as a snapshot of the culture at the time - and also a reminder that once upon a time, you could base a mass-media cartoon entirely on the best-seller list and expect that the audience would get most of the jokes.
At one point the Three Musketeers snuck out of their book, and in the background I saw writing on some other spines; I freeze-framed, peered at the title, and got a jolt.
Guilds: Their Formation and Management
in collaboration with Ted Pierce
Wow. Now, those who know Termite Terrace history can probably fill me in here, but this seems like a sly & clever jab at management. Two cartoonists - Darling and Pierce - are announcing their intention to start a union right in the very cartoon itself. I hopped on Google and did a search, and found nothing; any help?
Finally: Many have wondered why I havent been screeding lately, and its simple: were in a tween-war lull. The amount of incandescent idiocy has diminished, and Im saving myself for the Iraqi dustup, whatever form it takes. I heard an interview this afternoon on the radio with a man whos suing the government for $49 billion, because he believes the Bush administration plotted and executed 911. Those who disagreed he liked to the enablers of Hitler. Godwin save us all from this nonsense; its just beneath contempt.
I will add this. (NOTE: disinterested parties may want to head to the bottom of the page for a Gnat movie link.) I went over to blorwoggerwatch today by mistake - clicked on a link, and the next thing you know Im loading one of those pages whose author would suck Chomskys toes after hed walked shoeless through a dysentery ward. (Full of lepers.) To my surprise, the site had an actual graphic. You might recognize the photo - Robert Capas famous Death of a Loyalist Soldier. It shows a soldier standing on a hill with his arms spread wide; either he's just been shot or he is preparing to launch into the refrain from Somewhere. The sites authors have written Avoid This below.
In other words: if you disagree with those who believe Bush masterminded 9-11, you are a fascist stooge; if you support fighting actual fascists, you are a blood-crazed warmonger. Anyway, lesson noted: avoid getting shot battling fascists. Stand aside and let them in.
The sites main author hides behind the name Eric Blair, which was George Orwells real name. Does he know that his namesake went to Spain to fight the very men his site believes should be unopposed? Probably - but dont bother them with details. Capa also hit Omaha beach with the first wave, and Im sure at some point the site will photograph bodies floating in the water, with the same sententious admonition to avoid that, as well. Okay, fine: so we could have avoided WW2 by taking out Hitler in the 30s - but that, too, would have been condemned as unilateral warmongering by these children.
Just remember their creed: sticks and stones may break my bones, so we need to enter into international treaties with nations whose main industrial product is sticks-and-stones delivery systems. We need to find a common ground with countries that put sticks and stones on the national flag, and sing the national anthem Our Sticks and Stones Shall Break Their Bones at mass rallies celebrating the Presidents 37th year in power. If you shoot someone whos shooting you, youre worse than he is - why, you could have run away. If these people had their way, the only Purple Hearts ever given would be for wounds to the back and the foot.
Okay, enough. Heres the Gnat movie. Go spend Apples Bandwidth!
Put Gnat down for a nap at 12:30 and went outside for the first break of the day. Blue sky, warm air, brilliant sunshine splashed on the lawn. A Monarch butterfly flitted past. Two small birds landed on the bricks and bickered over a worm. No airplanes, no sirens, no honking horns; pure peace. Finally: summer.
Later: mayhem. The UPS deliveryperson came by with an Amazon package; it included a few really cheap movies, a book on Palm Springs mid-century architecture, and a CD from 1 Giant Leap, a collaborative effort of British producers and musicians. Id bought it after seeing the video for Our Culture on Mobys MTV show. The CD is one of those projects invariably described as a musical journey across many different cultures - and in the old days this meant bamboo flutes and Yma Simac. Now it means real indigenous sounds married to Western meters. I like these exercises in cross-pollination - the Eno / Byrne My Life in the Bush of Ghosts comes to mind, as does that Deep Forest project, the Can Ethnological Forgery series, etc. - but please: enough with the sermonizing. The world will not be changed by a CD that combines African beats with spoken words of Kurt Vonnegut. In fact the world may be damaged somewhat. Its all harmless, of course, but theres one phrase on the packaging that sums up the mindset of the participants:
Our unity is in our diversity.
You can smell the spilled bong-water, cant you? Theres a certain mindset that automatically finds profundity in oxymorons - its as if they believe that something so manifestly false must be true. But if the people in the recording studio had kept talking, they'd have found something to argue about
Musician #1: We are all human!
Musician #2: Yes, we are all human.
We share the same passions, the same needs.
Yes, our hearts beat in the same eternal rhythm.
We have loved, and lost, and yearned and desired.
Yes, many are the passions of life.
Every head, hand and heart stretches up towards the divine.
Yes, we contain within us the seeds of eternity.
We all realize that we are but rude clay, defined by our imperfections, redeemed by the spark of grace.
Yes, life is a process of confronting that which is evil and base, and turning our essence to a higher purpose.
We can only succeed by following the tenets of the Islam.
Yes, we - well, actually, Im Hindu, and Id say -
Hindu? Why are you building a temple on the grounds sacred to our faith?
Your faith? Its holy to us, too. Anyway, lets jam some more. Heres a riff -
Your people killed a thousand of the faithful in a vicious riot!
Excuse me, but your people burned a trainload of my people en route to pray.
(the rest of the band is now shifting nervously in their seats, looking at their watches.)
Your polytheistic heresy offends Allah!
Yes, well, our gods can beat up your God. We have one god with three times the arms of your Allah.
Raper of Kashmir!
(voice of producer over intercom: Okay, tapes rolling. Lets take it from the top.)
Im not saying people of different faiths cant live together; obviously, they can if they want to. But the idea that diversity alone contains the prerequisites for unity is freshman-dorm talk. Of course people can agree when it comes to melding musical styles, because music doesnt matter in the same way religion or politics matter. No nation ever went to war over music. England did not invade Germany to protest Beethovens introduction of a chorus into the symphonic tradition.
Music is a great united, yes, but even so it has its limits. You cant play a raga version of My Sharona. And that alone is enough to make me side with India in their current situation.
Thanks to HBO, I am no longer reduced to watching Blind Date before I go to bed. Last night I watched part of Trainspotting, an enthusiastic look at the wretched lives of some jovial parasites. It holds your attention, and Im curious to see how it turns out, but Ive no sympathy for any of the characters. Theres a baby-in-peril issue in the first half that made me turn against everyone in the film, and theres no way any of them can have my sympathy again. I dont care how clever or romantically dissolute they are; theyre moral sinkholes, and the fact that they may sporadically recognize the fact doesnt redeem them. The movie has a voice-over narrative, which is a cheat - it tends to insinuate the main character into our hearts as we warm to his voice, enjoy his confidences and self-lacerating honesty. (Clockwork Orange did the same thing.) But Im not buying it. Well see tonight what the film wants me to think, and I have the suspicion that no matter how much I may disagree with its intentions & manipulations, Ill still be glad I saw it.
Using the Eno / Lanois melody from the Apollo soundtrack during the descent into the toilet was, however, unforgivable. I had to turn the sound off.
Went to CompUSA today for a nifty little gadget - a USB Compact Flash card reader about the size of a football players big toe. Last week it was on sale for $29.99, although the fine print said this was after a $10 in-store rebate (what, please, is the point of that?) and a $50 mail-in rebate. Well, scwew this, I thought. Today it was $29.99, with no rebates. Juste $29.99. Apparently it was too much work even for them. So I picked one up. Jam it in the iBook, and it mounts as a drive with the sad name of No_Name. I was about to thread another USB extension cord through the desktop - you might recall my earlier description of my Quest for Hidden Cordage; everythings routed through a port in the desk, from which emerges a Medusa coif of cables: Firewire, Ethernet, Camcorder Firewire and recharger cord as well as the wires for the Airport Base Station. (Theyre all hidden behind a small framed 1950s picture of a Scientist peering at a beaker.) I was prepared to add another cable when I realized I could just stick the device in an extra USB slot on my keyboard. Why do I bring this up?
Because now I can finally curse Steve Jobs for jumping three years ahead of everything when he eliminated the floppy. Lord, Ive held back. Lord, Ive nodded and grinned and wiped the Kool-Aid from my lips as I scorned the useless old floppy. In private, I used a cheap floppy drive that made hideous sounds when writing to the disk - it sounded like someone was strangling a robot cricket. Then I got a SuperDrive, which had 100 MB per disk, and a USB CD burner that took about the length of a Senatorial term to burn 650 MB. Later I got the laptop, and moving files between the two required booting and cabling and waiting. When you just want to move a few files, you miss the floppy. I was burning CDs just to move 30, 40 MB. Yes, I could have moved things wirelessly, or stored them on my server or Apples server and accessed them from the main Mac, but heres an odd detail of modern life:
Sometimes it is easier and quicker to walk upstairs with the data in your hand than to put the data on a computer in California and retrieve it later.
Apple should sell these things. It bothers me that the design aesthetic is different from the rest of my machinery.
Hah hah! Just kidding.
(Note to Apple: Ill pay $39.99 for one. Not a penny more.)