Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

It's been a bit of a hiatus, but good to be back in the saddle. I'm working on a brief review of John LeCarre's newest novel "A Most Wanted Man," that may appear here soon, but in the meantime just wanted to share a line or two. I was at a pre-Christmas party of very mixed company (young/old; liberal/conservative), my favorite kind of party actually, and someone mentioned that they had read Palin's book and thought it very "elegantly" written. Of course the book was ghostwritten so that credit (if it's true -- haven't read the book and won't) would go to the ghostwriter. But diving once again into "I Claudius" I came across this very appropriate line on the first page: "My readers must not therefore be surprised at my practised writing style: it is indeed Claudius himself who is writing this book, and no mere secretary of his, and not one of those official annalists either, to whom public men are in the habit of communicating their recollections, in the hope that elegant writing will eke out the meagerness of subject matter and flattery soften vices."

To that, in the context of Sarah Palin I will raise my glass. And also to a year that will hopefully forget her.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Universal History of Infamy

After browsing my home book shelves this morning and slipping out a thin volume entitled "A Universal History of Infamy" by Borges I began paging through it. While everywhere there were depictions of scoundrels and murderers, I was never able to re-locate the page I had just read, a device that Borges himself used in his story "A Book of Sand." I suddenly realized that the only way such a slim volume could actually hold a Universal history of infamy, which I took to include past and future, would be if the volume contained a near infinite number of pages, which would make for a very unwieldy book indeed. Borges solved this problem by allowing pages to appear and disappear at random, thus allowing a near infinite coverage while keeping the volume slim. Just another of his great fictional devices.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Riff off Tanikawa

One hundred black coots
bobbing on silver water this morning

and i hear the sound of blood in my ears.
Tanikawa says poetry is none other than blood;

blood then is nothing but wind, and wind
our lost voices returning.

One hundred black coots bobbing
on silver water and the sound of wind

in my ears.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nicolas Cage's Movie Choices

There is a reason the talented actor Nicolas Cage has taken such stupid roles in such stupid movies over the past few years. Apparently he's broke. According to CNN: "Nicolas Cage brought about his own financial ruin with a spending spree that included two castles, 15 palatial homes, a flotilla of yachts and a squadron of Rolls Royces." Poor baby.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Siegal/Schwall Memories

When I was growing up in Chicago and Oak Park one of the most popular blues bands was the Siegal/Schwall band, a band we lived out many high school concerts with. Corky Siegal of course went on to some notoriety while Jim Schwall, who played a beautiful miked acoustic Gibson, disappeared. It was with great pleasure that I found this re-union at one of our neighborhood clubs, Fitzgeralds, also featuring the great Sammy Lay (luv those glasses!). Enjoy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Or, Well, What?

I still find myself intrigued and disturbed by 1984, and have dog-eared so many pages (it's a library book - my bad!) that I'm going to buy a copy. The text has cast a filter on my news consumption (and even sports viewing!) lately, and in light of the apparent continuation of our "little" wars in Afghanistan and Iraq I'll share this quote:

"Goods must be produced, but they need not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this is by continual warfare. The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence in the long run, too intelligent. (I'm not sure about that -- fat and complacent might be more like it.) Even when weapons are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labor power without producing anything that can be consumed." Are we on the path of continuous warfare? And let's not forget that we are the largest weapons producing nation in the world, a fact that should make any sane person a subversive. Along with this continual warfare is all the pomp and jingoism and choreographed mourning for the killed soldiers, who gave their lives for their country. Don't bother asking why the f*ck we're over there anyway.

The other insight I picked up from 1984 was how the populace needs to be kept joyless. Anger, pain, cynicism, bullying, violence and fear are all legitimate emotions or psychological states because of their ease of manipulation. The prevalence of these negative energies, or the condition of cynicism, which is so prevalent in most media, has caused the poet Robert Hass (and many others in different ways) to state that merely "Feeling human is a useful form of political subversion."

Friday, November 13, 2009


Is a stunning book and one that doubtfully would be published today, with it's thin plot line, didactics, and complex psychological, philosophical and political descriptions, But it's a book everyone in America should read (again) and discuss in schools, cafes, bars, talk radio and news shows, because it still pertains to US. To some extent we have become the people of this book.

But, that's not what I had in mind with this post. What I had in mind was to transcribe this beautiful passage about a bird singing, overheard by Winston and Julia after they had first stolen away into the country and illicitly made love:
"A thrush alighted on a bough not five meters away, almost at the level of their faces. Perhaps it had not seen them. It was in the sun, they in the shade. It spread out its wings, fitted them carefully into place again, ducked its head for a moment, as though making a sort of obeisance to the sun, and then began to pour forth a torrent of song. In the afternoon hush the volume of sound was startling. Winston and Julia clung together, fascinated. The music went on, minute after minute, with astonishing variations, never once repeating itself, almost as if the bird were deliberately showing off its virtuosity. Sometimes it stopped for a few seconds, spread out and resettled its wings, then swelled its speckled breast and again burst into song. Winston watched it with a sort of vague reverence. For whom, for what, was the bird singing? No mate, no rival was watching it. What made it sit at the edge of the lonely wood and pour its music into nothingness?"

Great Zorn Thread

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Questions for Big Bird

Sesame Street turns 40 next Tuesday and this is your chance to ask Big Bird any question you want. Check out some of the questions here.
thanks to M for this.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Whatcom County Feminism

A feminist visiting from another area, seeing that Kathy, Mary Beth and Michelle are running against Dan, Carl and Ken might be heartened to see women well represented in local elections. If that same feminist arrived today, they might be dismayed that all three women were defeated. The irony is that the three men represent "progressive" concerns, while the three women were right-wingers. In what I am beginning to call the Sara Palin Effect, Republicans seem to be turning more and more to literate, pretty, clean-cut women to carry their cause forward. The further irony of this is that putting women into positions of power is a feminist cause, and the current crop of Republicans seem to be embracing it more effectively than the Democrats. And if by some amazing fluke Sara Palin runs, and is elected president, the Republicans will have achived a feminist coup by electing a woman to an office previously occupied by men 100% of the time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Medicine Cabinets

Damien Hirst, a conceptual artist, is selling a series of Medicine Cabinets through Christie's Auction House. the medicine cabinets feature sliding glass doors, sleek white cabinetry, glass shelving, and are stocked full of bottles and boxes of goodies. The Medicine Cabinets are "thought up" by Hirst but actually executed by people with technical talent (but far less imagination) that Hirst. The Cabinets are going for around $239,000 and up. But before you rail on about the idiocy of conceptual art and the foolishness of investing this kind of money in flukey sh*t, be aware that the bottles and boxes in the Medicine Cabinets are crammed with Oxycontin which have a street value of around $80 - $100 a pill, thus making the investment rather a bargain. And selling the contents at local High schools is legal since it's art. Smart guy, this Hirst.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Way of Music

I wrote recently that I'd been dabbling in Kurt Weill. Well that led to a re-discovery of Carla Bley, one of the first major women jazz band leaders, who had a fascination with German marching music, as well as the music of the Weimar Republic. Tracking down Bley also led me to her collaborations with Nick Mason (of Pink Floyd) and Robert Wyatt. It also evoked many memories of old friends, concerts, and life in a seemingly more adventurous yet simpler time. Currently listening to Third by Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt drumming his way into the future.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Buying Byron

Now that Lord Byron's letters are for auction at Sotheby's it gives us a chance to ruminate on the days when a poet had the same "larger than life" persona that a rock star does nowdays (i.e. Michael Jackson), given the communication constraints of the era of course. Aside from the always obnoxious and persistent commodity fetish we subscribe to the "things" of famous persons, the fact that this sale actually represents letters of a poet is grand enough. Undoubtedly thousands of people will pick up Byron, perhaps for the first time, and if some beauty enters the world because of it, then it's all good.
Our last American larger than life poet was arguably Allen Ginsberg, whose spiritual and to a large extent stylist mentor was our first grand, and much larger than life poet, Walt Whitman. If Walt were alive today he'd probably be a hip-hop artist or rock star. Poetry is quiet in America, despite the popularity of slams. But perhaps it is just estavating, waiting for the right person to come along. Someone large, bold, bad, brilliant, and very damn good.
My favorite Byron tidbit thus far, picked up from NPR, is his reference to Wordsworth as TURDSworth. Nothing like a smack-down to get poets into the limelight.

On other issues of proportion, check out the Book of Genesist illustrated by R. Crumb. It may succeed in giving back the bible (this book anyway) its elemental and perverse humanity.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Going Rogue

Marvel to the days when one can have a bestseller before the book actually exists, which is what has happened with Going Rogue, Sarah's somewhat premature memoir. But I say Fair's fair. If people are allowed to pay for a book that doesn't yet exist, we the people should be allowed to pay so that it will never exist. I'd pay $10 for that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's Not What You Say

The following post by Atrios ( garnered 99 comments.

"Morning Thread

I'm sure I'll have something to say once I've had some coffee."

I wouldn't get any comments if I said this because it would mean something entirely different. I drink Maxwell House.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Marianne Faithfull

I'm tracking down as much Kurt Weill as I can these day, and making forays into German Caberet music, all as a result of hearing Maianne Faithfull's 20th Century Blues (originally released in 1997). Marianne's husk-smoked voice serenaded by the incomparable Paul Trueblood on piano and arrangements, introduces her interpretations of many classic Weill songs. I was thrilled to hear them, remembering the Three Penny Opera LP my parents owned and played when I was a child, versions of Mac the Knife that wouldn't leave my head, and the cover of Alabama Song by the Doors that could be mundane or insanely edgy depending on Morrison's psychotropic cocktail that particular night. Anyway, thought I'd share this rather good youtube of Marianne singing "I Want to Buy Some Illusions" There are several of the Weill songs on youtube as well but the imbed feature has been disabled. This will give you a taste however. Now onto the Berliner Requiem.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A New (to me) Chanteuse

Looking for that Perfect Gift Book?

Look no further. Awful Library Books has hundreds of ideas, from cat dissection to embalming fetal pigs in plastic to curing VD at home; books titled "Looking Forward to Being Attacked" (who can wait?) and "Nice Girls Do: Now You Can Too!" (I'll be looking at nice girls differently after this one.
Anyway, thanks to Elizabeth for the tip.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Moon at Dawn

This morning while walking the dog I was, as Charles Olson once wrote, "seized by the moon." As contemporary cosmology has proven, the light of the moon is not merely reflected sunlight, but a remarkably altered light, with it's own mysterious qualities.
It's wondrous eye above the dark fir caught me in its gaze. Still holds me hours later.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Top Bellingham, to Rock!

After 2,000 plus miles on the road -- Montana, Idaho (Stanley!), Oregon, Washington with my 86 year old father who held up well, though befuddled and pained.
Read Treasure Island and Kidnapped by Stevenson for the first time since I was 8 or 9...what a treat! Long John Silver is as much an operator as anyone Elmore Leonard ever created (or knew) and I'd forgotten all about the Scottish sovereignty theme in Kidnapped.
But mostly wanted to share a live version of a song that's been looping through my brain for the last month or so. It's off Streetcore, the 3rd and final album from Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, actually released after he died (the version on the album is slightly different). This is such a powerful, terrific, eclectic band one can't help wondering where they would have taken themselves.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Neil Young took Coltrane's Wail and Stuck it into an Electric Guitar

Two Books

I've been reading somewhat slowly lately, due to many outdoor treks and other ventures, but these two books are definitely worth the time. Both are runners up for the National Book Award.

Telex from Cuba, by Rachel Kushner (former editor of BOMB!) is a complex, lyrical, witty, intelligent investigation of colonial Cuba. Narrated by multiple characters, but largely children of the corporate managers, the stories travel through the eras of Prio, Batista, and the Castro Brothers tracking the relationships between American industrialism (such as United Fruit) and the national government. The stories that comprise this tapestry often conflict, and the net result, for me, was a deeper understanding than would emerge from a more univocal novel. The children exist in a unique world shared by their priviledge, but also by children of the oppressed cultures -- particularly Haitians and Cubans. They move in and out of these worlds both aware and unaware; they witness the economic abuse, and the very humane compassion, often from the same person. There are no easy answers other than polyvalent contradictions, and a similar scenario is most certainly taking place in many third and fourth world countries today. The theme of exploitation continues my forays into novels such as Tree of Smoke and The Grapes of Wrath.

The Lazarus Project, by Aleksandar Hemon, is a parallel narrative that also continues this theme. The initial narrative begins when a Russian Jewish immigrant, Lazarus Auverbach, shows up unnanounced on the doorstep of the Chicago Police Chief, Chief Shippy, with an envelope. He is invited in, and subsequently shot dead by the chief and several other police. This narrative begins to explore the immigrant conditions in Chicago around the turn of the 20th century, the anarchist forces of protest, the tenuous Jewish voice, and the corrupt power and brutality of the Chicago Police. The second narrative is that of Vladimir Brik, a recent Bosnian immigrant. The recipient of a grant to write an investigation of Lazarus, Brik joins a photographer friend and travels back to Eastern Europe, tracing the route he imagines young Lazarus and his sister Olga took to escape the waves of pogroms. Their bizarre and often surreal adventure, replete with thugs, hookers, war and love develops parallel to the earlier investigation of Lazarus' murder. Hemon delivers gritty, desperate and depressing insight into the fulfillment of immigrant dreams.

Reflecting a bit on this book, it's interesting and disturbing that once each wave of immigrant becomes settled they tend to violate the new comers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On the Way to Work - Matins

Lovely Ameriaisan girl one foot off the curb poised in space

Older man head bowed grimacing walking fast arms pumping

Water a reflection of all above

The rabbit scurrying away, the ducks looking up from their grazing, a goose starting towards me, neck cocked back

Friday, July 17, 2009

Grapes of Wrath

I have come onto so many great lines in Grapes that like the emperor in the Borges story I would have to re-create the entire work to make a perfect map, but these are some that strike me on this glorious warm sunny breeze filled evening

"they walked about, stiff in clean clothes, miserable with carefulness."

"You know a vagrant is anyone a cop don't like.""

"An' she's gettin' prettier," said Tom.
The girl blushed more deeply and hung her head. "You stop it," she said softly.
"Course she is," said Ma. "Girl with a baby always gets prettier."

" An don' let anyone touch me."

"In a little while it ain't gonna be so bad." (I think this every day!)

"Pretty soon they're gonna make us pay to work."

"And in the distance the Jesus-lovers sat with hard condemning faces and watched the sin."

Viking 1967 ed.

Hope you got a nap Rob.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Ride In

Twenty geese in the pond this morning tipped like buoys, white
rumps in the air. Two deer on the trail -- a mother and fawn
who ran scared toward me, then heeled and into the woods.
Air crisp, fog below in the valley, and the Ocean Spray browning.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Nicholson Baker's novel Vox was both titillating and a disappointment. Vox is a 165 page telephone conversation between and man and woman who have called a sex number advertised in a magazine. The random connection of two lonely and distant people is a wonderful and imaginative set-up, but not this time. First off, Baker is in love with ironic distance, and reducing a character to a voice on a phone fuctions as a distancing mechanism for Baker (the way a voice in a confessional need not). Secondly, the characters, Jim and Abby are interested in masturbation, even when they actually share sexual experiences with physically present people. This renders their actual sexual experiences as once-removed, and the phone conversation twice-removed. Thirdly, and most importantly for me, the book fails to take advantage of what could be an immensely powerful and moving situation by dwelling on the mundane. But perhaps reading Vox so quickly after Koestler's Darkness at Noon was the problem. A book of enormous philosophical, political and self-examination, and yes, real soul. Something that is rare in pop culture, in which Baker seems to be a star.

On the other hand, and yes there are two, I'm fascinated by the device of a phone conversation to frame an entire novel. The only other one I know is Lily Tuck's Interviewing Matisse, or the Woman Who Died Standing Up.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Whatcom Falls Park and Other Ramblings

It is one of the true joys of these summer days that in my six mile bike to work (which I don't do every day, since it is also six miles home with steep hills at each end) that I bike almost four of those twelve miles through Whatcom Falls Park, a gem of an urban forest bisected by a salmon/steelhead stream, and criss-crossed with hiking and biking trails. The morning ride (largely downhill) is crisp and fragrant, and the other morning I saw two deer standing in the center of Whatcom Creek, one lowering its head to drink. Other wildlife spotted include opossums, racoons, beaver, squirrels, rabbits, and numerous birds, including a bald eagle family in and around a nest at the top of the park. This park is the site of Bellingham's infamous pipeline explosion in 1999 and I ended up riding through a tour commemorating the 10th anniversary several weeks ago. Returning in the afternoon is an uphill affair, replete with sweat and the shouts of kids swimming in the creek. This ride makes it worth going to work.

Lydia Davis had a lovely line in her recent book Varieties of Disturbance. The book is comprised of numerous short vignettes, and in some cases aphorisms, witticisms, and so forth. This particular line is from a short piece entitled "Kafka Cooks Dinner" and goes like this: "But at other times I sit here reading in the afternoon, a myrtle in my buttonhole, and there are such beautiful passages in the book that I think I have become beautiful myself."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Come on Gary

Every writer occasionally publishes work that later embarrasses them, but Gary Snyder recently published work in that esteemed of the esteemed journals "The American Poetry Review" that embarrasses me as a reader, and should have embarrassed him enough to keep it in a notebook. Snyder, riding his cache bareback, is featured on the cover with his de rigeur backdrop of craggy peaks. Just inside we meet his contribution, nine frags, of which I'll reprint three of the worst:

Don't Twist My Hair
"Don't twist my hair
old bear

Three inch teeth
good grief"

Out West
"There's all the time in the universe
and plenty of wide open space"

Country & Western
Loving, hurting

Cheating, flirting

Drinking, lying

Laughing, crying

It's not just that he is still capable of much better work (I hope), but that a journal with the stature and respect of APR would give him the space over other, lesser known but far more worthy writers. And it also attends to the lack of judgment on his part. Has
Gary reached a place where lack of discernment is celebrated as yet another demonstration of his Dharma achievement?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dick Dale at the NightLight

How many guitarists invented surf music? How many play a right handed guitar upside down and backwards? Dick Dale at the Nightlight Lounge 6/28. Twenty bucks.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Telephone Novels

This is somewhat related to my last post about novels written on Twitter, with mention of Japanese novels written on cell phones (the ones I've seen are pretty fragmentary), however this post concerns novels that are comprised entirely of a phone conversation, and are wholly dialog. Thus far it's a short list, though I'd love to hear of more. I've always been attracted to films that are largely dialog (My Dinner with Andre and Twelve Angry Men come to mind) as well as stories like Hemingway's The Killers or even A Clean Well-Lighted Place. There is something about sheer dialog holding its own without the props of background (or foreground) action that intrigues and satisfies me.
I'm currently reading Nicholson Baker's Vox which consists entirely of a conversation between two people who dialed up a phone-sex matchmaking service. I haven't finished the book, but the confessional nature (two people sitting/lying in the dark talking to a stranger) is compelling, and not nearly as sexual as one might expect. Although the man (anonymity is valued after all) is strangely aroused by Tinkerbell. Anyway, the only other novel that I've read or heard of, that takes place entirely as a phone conversation is Interviewing Matisse, or The Man Who Died Standing Up by Lily Tuck, and it was probably the most infuriating novel I've ever read outside of Creeley's The Island. This novel consists of two women talking past each other for around 140 pages. I couldn't wait to finish it, yet couldn't put it down for fear something might happen. It reminded me of watching Warhol's Sleep in Chicago many years ago, and how there were many comments about not leaving for fear of missing something important. Turns out the most important action was John Giorno rolling over. With regard to telephone novels, I'm sure that William Gaddis would have written one had he thought of it, although his would involve a switchboard.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Twitter My Novel

Cell phones in Japan supposed accounted for (as writing devices) five of the best sellers in 2007, but thus far Twitter hasn't made as much of a splash in longer fictive ventures. As Ed Sanders once penned "I'll write with my bloody stump if I have to," Twitterers have it easier and cleaner. A list of Twitter novels.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bumper Sticker

One of the stranger bumper stickers I've seen lately:
"God was my copilot but we crashed in the mountains and I had to eat him"
Having grown up Catholic, and eating God in the form of little wafers, I can definitely relate.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Books of Koolhaas

I was visiting the Seattle Public Library the other day and watched a brief video on how their automated system sorts the returned books. I couldn't help thinking how out of place, how displaced these books looked in the midst of vast steel and plastic technology, as if they were relics from another era, outdated, or sacred objects protected and shuttled about by some alien life form. What a strange technology paper and ink, and what strange contradictory impulses it causes within us, in this age of Kindle, and the online pulse.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Art Is Lost, but Alive

Art hunkered in the shadows of Lascaux, smoldering.
He broke into the third dimension under Rembrandt, found beauty

With Botacelli, exactitude with Van Eck and Vermeer; exploded
Into a rage of color and perspective with the Impressionists, the Cubists.

Then Art began questioning his intentions.

In 1917 Marcel Duchamp hung Fountain, a urinal, at the
Society of Independent Artists exhibit, and said “this is art.”

In 1980 Jeff Koons did pretty much the same thing
with four Hoover vacuum cleaners, but for a different reason, perhaps,

at the New Museum in New York City. One of the series (why quit
a good thing?) was recently sold by Christies for $11,801,000, and

being encased in plastic the vacuums still work, which is an added
bonus. You could take them out and clean your house.

Since then Art has wandered many places, but seems to have a fascination
with primary functions: Piero Manzonni in 1961, exhibited

90 cans of Artist’s Shit (two cans recently sold
for well over $100,000 – must be good shit!) and Adres Serrano

dropped a crucifix into a glass of urine and photographed it;
John Baldassari videotaped himself sitting in a chair; Maurizio Cattelan

Hung stuffed horses, and Matthew Barney milked his
Cremaster, but this was tame stuff.

When Guillermo Vargas’ chained a dog to a gallery wall
letting it starve (it was later rescued) he violated Art’s trust;

and when Aliza Shvarts successively impregnated herself, aborting herself
each time while videotaping the procedure she became what Art

Should never be -- evil. Today Art is lost.
He finds himself slouched on a barstool off Forty-Seventh

unable to remember where he lives; an air conditioner
banging away and the Wurlizter playing Cryin by Roy Orbison.

The amber liquor is going down smooth, too smooth. It so seems
long ago since Art took his hat off the peg and went to find

beauty, truth, and the mind and soul of humanity. The bartender, a cherub with
an evil grin pours it slow out of a stout bottle, and the light is the light

of Marlowe, of dusk and neon and loss. After
a few more drinks, Art has to piss. He gets up walks to the rear

but the door opens not on the men’s room, but on a high prairie where
moonlight casts shadows off contorted sagebrush. He pisses and watches

the dry ground drink it up. Not far off a coyote howls. North wind, and Art
feels the back of his neck prickle. He throws his head back, and once

the dizziness subsides, stares into the vast cataclysm above dotted with stars,
but he doesn’t realize that up is relative

to where he stands (which is perhaps Art’s problem - hubris?)
and he is staring into directionless

endless distance. Pieces of an exploded universe move away from him
at speeds approaching light, rushing blindly into infinite emptiness

until at some immeasurable future time they might slow,
stop, and begin retracting again, long after the lights

of the dwellings on earth have burnt out; long after Art is dead.
Art shivers again, turns and re-enters the warmth, light and cluttered noise

of the bar. He summons the bartender, takes out a wad of cash
and buys a round for everyone in the house; then he walks over

to the jukebox and plays another Orbison song, “You Got It.”
Art turns and watches the crowd, their naïve humanity,

Their banter and their beauty, and Art grins, happy to still be alive
even if barely.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Can't Buy Happiness

As the quarter end nears, and the work piles up, stress levels are apparent. I caught part of an NPR show this morning that discussed the relationship between health and vacations. One interesting statistic was that men who worked with no vacations had up to a 30% greater chance of having a heart attack than men who had at least two weeks off a year. Women had a 50% greater chance. The relationship between "Happiness" and vacations was also commented on, and the correlation between vacation (and free time) and Happiness was apparent. Many of the happiest countries are those European and Northern European nations that allow (or in some cases mandate) five and more weeks of vacation a year. The average in the U.S. has fallen to less than two weeks in recent years.

There are numerous lists of Happiest Countries and Happiest Citizens out there, but I couldn't find any that listed the U.S. in the top ten.

The list NPR used (Ruut Veenhoven's database of
happiness) ranks these as the top five: Iceland, Denmark, Colombia, Switzerland, Mexico

Adrian White's list (University of Leicester’s School of Psychology) puts the top ten at:
1. Denmark
2. Switzerland
3. Austria
4. Iceland
5. The Bahamas
6. Finland
7. Sweden
8. Bhutan
9. Brunei
10. Canada

Right now, I'd be pretty happy with sunshine and a couple of weeks off.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Modern Times

I Linked-In my Twitter
and Twittered my Facebook,
Facebooked my Flickr and
Flickered my face.
Linked-in Myspace and Second-Lifed
My Blogger, Myspaced my Twitter
and Flickred my frog.
Bloggered my Buzznet and
Netted my Linked-in,
Twittered my Plurk and
Plurked my Dog.
GoodReads and AgentQuery
send spam to my mother
who hangs out on Facebook,
Outlooking on Flickster
and watching the Ryze.
So my Twitter my Myspace
or Twitter my Flickr
if you want me to answer
What you have to say.
I'm watching my LibraryThing
Flickr on down screen
and Skyping my Blog
to bypass my Mog.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Latest on Google Books

I have commented here on Google Books and the recent the recent settlement of the lawsuit brought on by the AAP and the Author's Guild against Google Books, particularly with respect to an article in The New York Times Book Review by Robert Darnton, the director of Harvard's Library, who claims that the settlement makes Google the largest book publisher and distributor in the world. While this is still debatable, the amount of literary turf appropriated by Google as a result of this settlement is enormous, even as the exact dimensions will continue to be mapped.

There is a synopsis of the effect in the current (and hopelessly irregular) Google Librarian Newsletter, but I'll highlight here:

- Expanded access to millions of in-copyright books:
The agreement dramatically expands the reach of Book Search Library Partners<> by enabling readers across the U.S. to preview<>millions of in-copyright out-of-print books preserved in their collections. Readers will be able to search these books through Google Book Search and where previously they have only been able to view bibliographic information and a few snippets of text from the book, they will be able to view a limited preview (up to 20%) of the book to find out
if it suits their needs.

- Free online viewing of books at U.S. public and university libraries:
Through this agreement, public libraries, community colleges, and universities across the U.S. will be able to provide free full-text reading to books housed in great libraries of the world like Stanford, California, Wisconsin-Madison and Michigan. A newly-created Public Access Service license will allow full-text viewing of millions of out-of-print books to readers who visit library facilities. Public libraries will be eligible to receive one free Public Access Service license for a computer located on-site at each of their library buildings in the United States. Non-profit, higher education institutions will be eligible to receive free Public Access Service licenses for on-site computers, the exact number of which will depend on the number of students enrolled.

- Institutional subscriptions to millions of additional books:

Imagine never having to ask a patron to wait until a book is returned or arrives through interlibrary loan. Beyond the free license described above, libraries will also be able to purchase an institutional subscription to millions of books covered by the settlement agreement. Once purchased, this subscription will allow a library to offer patrons access to the incredible collections of Google's library partner when they are in the library itself as well as when they access it remotely.

- Services for People with Print Disabilities:

One of the advantages digitization presents is the opportunity to enable greater accessibility to
books. Through the agreement, the visually impaired and print disability community will be able to access millions of in-copyright books through screen enlargement, reader, and Braille display technologies.

- New Research Opportunities with the Creation a Research Corpus:
The vast database of books that Google is digitizing is not just a resource for readers, but also a one-of-a-kind research tool. The agreement allows for the creation of two research centers that will include a copy of almost all of the books digitized by Google. These research centers will enable people to conduct research that utilizes computers to process or analyze the text of the books. Examples of the types of research they will facilitate include automatic translation, analysis of how language has evolved over time, next generation search technology, image processing research and others.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hungry Art

As someone who earns a good chunk of change writing Dog poems, I am obviously a Dog activist and worshiper (remember Dog spelled backwards is God -- this is not a coincidence). God may be dead, but Dog survives. At least mine do. Guillermo Vargas's dog in the art installation "Eres Lo Que Lees" (Códice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua, August 2007) may not have been so lucky. While there remains controversy about the fate of the dog, it was documented to be extremely sick and emaciated while chained to a gallery wall. Stories conflict as to how long the dog remained there, whether or not it was fed, and other details, although many of the reports/rumors concerning the installation described the object of the piece as deliberately starving a chained dog in an art gallery and noting visitor's reactions. Vargas himself commented that no one attempted to assist or free the dog. His intention in the piece was purportedly to explore how sets of rules and understandings prevent spectators from "interfering" with tragedy, particularly in the case of media (i.e. news photographers snapping photos while an elderly woman is bludgeoned to death) or art museums, where visitors are sternly warned against touching or interacting with most art.

The thought of a dog chained to a sterile gallery wall is bad enough; starving it to death to note visitor reatcion is deplorable. To call the entire experience art however is intriguing, and opens the door on an entire realm of performance/installation art that I feel would be intriguing. Simply stated, it would involve artists chaining themselves to gallery walls and starving themselves to death (I have a list of candidates). Installations could be videotaped, and spectator interaction studied (huge signs warning people against touching or feeding the artists would be posted). What sould be the effect of gagged pleas, urine and fecal-soaked clothes, and the listless, lethargic eyes of death on "sternly warned" viewers? The effect
would certainly transport art into a real life or death arena, and remove it from its current ennui of dillentantism, actualizing the prophetic text of Kafka (The Hunger Artist), or John Hawkes (The Passion Artist). In the words of Professor Suanders Stillet of the Ecole de Baguette whom I often consult with on matters of art, "This type of artistic pursuit would foreground the premise of nihilism and suggest that Derrida’s analysis of dialectic pretextual theory is invalid. In simpler terms, the gradual starvation and death of will is also reflective of the body of the Other in the One, embedded, as it were in the meaninglessness of narrativity, beyond which there is no transgression but the use of capitalist neoconceptualist theory to modify sexual identity, as Debord certainly clarified."

And when it was all over, think of the bones it would provide for Dogz.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Teabag Em

Rachael Maddow recently reported on the new phenomenon she dubbed Teabagging, a conservative (largely Fox News driven) attempt to rile everyone from Storm Front to the average idiot who hates taxes to protest by sending tea bags to everything Democratic, Obama on down. We are assuming they are not referring to the first Wikipedia definition, although who knows. Anyway, teabagging brings to the forefront several extremely relevant issues:

1) Does the type of of tea matter (i.e. green or black)? Can one use Chai?
2) Is this a good time to buy stock in companies who trade and harvest tea?
3) Can one use cream? The first Wikipedia definition would imply yes.
4) and, Do Tea Parties count as Protests, and thus, are the participants Protestors? Because I thought Fox News considered them bad. ??

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon's New Adult Labeling Policy

Amazon, arguably the world's largest book-seller, has made a small change in their classification system which has HUGE ramifications. They recently introduced the category "Adult," for books. Those books categorized Adult will not be ranked, nor will they appear in Best-Seller lists, nor will they appear on many searches, even exact title searches. Nor is there a way to include these titles using the Advanced Search option.

Additionally, the category Adult includes a vast quantity of new LGBT literature, much of which is now being excluded from most Amazon searches. To read more about this very disturbing development check out this Daily Kos post. And voice your concerns to Amazon!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Threatened by Books

I was heartened to hear Sherman Alexie chant the word books 15 or 20 times in a row, the chant of love, of adoration, of kinship. And I do idolize them, but they currently surround me, threaten me, climbing up on the tables and sofas, baring their spines, snapping their pages, ready to leap. Sons & Lovers (the next in my Modern Library pilgrimage having just finished Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, the greatest book ever written); The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage (my friend Rick Newby has just published (via Drumlummon) a re-issue of The Pass by Savage); Tree of Smoke by one of my all-time favorite authors Denis Johnson, and what will perhaps become the definitive Vietnam War novel (and winner of the National Book Award in 2007); The Power of Now (which I'll never finish since the Now is never-ending) by Vancouver spiritual teacher Echardt Tolle; The Dog Who Spoke With Gods by Diane Jessup (can never read enough good dog novels); Shadow Country by Peter Matheissen (the whole Watson trilogy revamped!). I must read furiously to keep them at bay! Or perhaps I'll succumb and read the New Yorker book reviews and find even MORE!

Great lyric of the week - "If words could speak I wonder what they'd say?" Martha and the Muffins

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This Modern Life

I wonder if the 45 seconds I spent standing in front of the microwave negated the health benefits of my organic vegan black bean and rice wrap?

Sherman vs. Colbert

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Sherman Alexie
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

Sherman Alexie is here in the Ham Wednesday - Friday for our first Whatcom Reads event, where everyone in the County read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Native American). We spoke briefly about his experience on the Colbert Report where Colbert was ambushed. To paraphrase Sherman, he expected a bookish introvert. There are few who've gone toe-to-toe with Colbert like the Sher Man.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's Good News Week, Really

For those of you who can remember the release of the song "It's Good News Week" by Hedgehoppers Anonymous in 1965, you know there was just a hint of satire, a pinch of irony. But times have changed. Sick of watching your retirement plummet, Rush Limbaugh blather and spew, suicide bombings and global warming? There are several cures. Good News Daily and GoodNews Network are news sites that feature only accounts detailing the more benevolent, altruistic, and spiritually enlightened aspects of homo sapiens, and from the polluted mainstream media streams it seems there are damn few of these around. Well there are more than you might think.
The news on these sites will give many people optimism, and proof that there is more occuring in the "human thaing" than catastrophe. Check them out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dog Thinks of Trakl

The dark fir, snow, haunted
evening light reminds Dog

of Georg Trakl’s poetry which master
reads aloud now and then, “blackness,

silence and snow” although

it isn’t exactly silent, the car stereo
across the street battering obnoxiously, still

Dog is filled with inexpressible sorrow
and an inexhaustible appetite for young

wine. Out of the darkness and would-be

silence, the companionship of a forest-hemmed
tavern beckons. The young wine, pats

on the head, maybe even a belly scratching.
But the car leaves, and silence does now descend,

and along with it, the “blue grief of evening.”

Friday, March 6, 2009

No Poem Today

Just crows
in trees
in sun

and in other news, a Canadian study has found that the plastic lining in canned beverages contains Bisphenol A, a chemical which mimics estrogen. So those macho guys sitting in their pickups sipping brew are getting more in touch with their feminine side every sip.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dog Disputes the Existence of God

Dog, knowing his name spelled backwards
is God, still has doubts. Would a rational, beneficent

God create Pomeranians? Dog doesn’t think so.
Six of them tangle now on the other side of the fence,

a chaotic, irritating Pilobolus of ratdog fury, gone
berserk over the simple fact that Dog is lifting

his leg on the rhododendron in their front yard.
The sound is that of rabid mosquitoes on meth…

not pleasant. But with God, one never knows. Perhaps
they are yet another test, tedious as this gets, being

Job. Perhaps He has His reasons. Dog wanders
away from the glistening rhodi leaves, the nightmarish

noise and looks to the sky, pewter as usual. Why Pomeranians?
Dog asks silently, Why? He realizes this question, although

in other languages, other forms, has been asked
a million times before, and will be asked a million

times again. And that no answer will ever come, no
answer clear as a righteous bark on a moonlit night.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Dog Treads Lightly on the Day

Jewels in the trees
the asphalt glazed with ice

Dog treads lightly
on this world

Even his breath, soft
white cumulus huffs

is beautiful. Above,
four crows in one tree

squawk at seven crows
in the adjacent tree. Dog

gives them a look. “Chill,”
it says, “chill.” The day

is clear as ice, sharp
as glass.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Google Books vs Pierre Bourdieu

For anyone wishing to read an excellent description and forecast for Google Books (is it really going to evolve into the world's largest book business?) check out the article Google & Books by Robert Darnton, director of Harvard's Library, in the February 12 New York Review of Books.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bail Out the Book Industry

Katha Pollitt's column makes a lot of sense, and good reading. Check it out.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Brave New World

Having just finished Huxley's disturbing dystopic masterpiece Brave New World, and then getting a moderate dose of Superbowl commercials, it seems we are devolving toward a similar future. Commercial (late capitalistic) America utilizes continual messaging (subliminal and not) that defines what a man and a woman in this culture should be. The picture is not pretty. Approved = young, perfectly formed/great looking (although remarkably similar in appearance), superficial, happy, consumptive, addicted to tactile pleasures; Disapproved = introspective/thoughtful, passionate, compassionate, diseased, frugal (or poor), different. While we are still a long way from the Contolled production of genotypes and slaves, there is a path blazed.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dog and Space-Time

Dog intuitively understands Einstein’s concept
of space-time. There is a round

space contained by the hard plastic bowl
and it takes time before it is filled

with crunchies. Too much time, usually.
When a shadow passes over the bowl

the hole of it turns black, and if crunchies arrive
then they are swallowed up. Once a worm

was wriggling in the bowl, though it’s usually
slugs. Dog yawns and wonders fleetingly

how long it will take this event to reach Alpha
Centauri. He wonders if it will bend

along the way. But largely he wonders
when master will get his scrawny butt

home and fill the bowl again.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dog and the New Day

Dog stands at the entrance of the new day.
Infinite it stretches.

Successive silent shivers ripple through his body
though he sits still as a statue.

Dog inhales deeply the rarified air, every fiber
of his body alert. The scent of so many things –

the little poodle, the fat beagle, automobile
exhaust, bacon frying, the cold pure mountains of the north,

the nether reaches of inner and outer
space. Dog’s body tenses – electrical stimuli sent

via his olfactory nerves through his mighty brain to triggers
in the soleus, quadricepts, gastrocnemius, intensifying,

swarming, starting to surge. Hunching
invisibly, Dog leaps forward, legs stretching

into the impossibly clear biting air,
legs flashing, pounding the asphalt, head

raised, open to the world until
GACK!!! the choke collar sets and stops him cold.

Dog flips head over tail
nearly taking the master (caught staring at clouds as usual)

out with him. Staring up from the pavement Dog
gags, tongue lolling out the side

of his mouth and thinks the day
does not look so infinite anymore.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Patrick McGoohan Dead


My childhood robbed not only of Santa Clause, but now The Prisoner. Life is SO unfair.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


As Jon Stewart said, why couldn't they have called this something more positive, like Certainty? Well there is a reason.
I'm here to recommend all Catholics and former Catholics see this movie, which bludgeoned open up a large memory bank for me. I attended a parish school very similar to St. Nicholas, late 50's to early 60's (the movie is set in 1964), except mine was in Chicago, not Brooklyn. St. Catherine of Sienna. Mostly Irish and Italians. I was an altar boy through at least the seventh grade. Then off to an all-boys Catholic high school.
The plot of the movie involves a possible molestation of a young altar boy by a new priest Father Flynn (played to perfection by Phillip Seymour Hoffman who I've admired ever since Magnolia). Meryl Streep, the closest iconic star we have to Katherine Hepburn plays the accusing principal of St. Nicholas, Sister Aloysius Beauvier. Just to see actors of this caliber face off is worth the price of admission, but conflicts and lines of tension abound, as do the uncertainties: Gender - Nuns, the teachers are hierarchically inferior to the priests, monsignors, and bishops. Progress - Flynn is a "new" affable, open and welcoming priest who is trying to make St. Nicholas more, pardon the insidious phrase, user-friendly; Sister Beauvier is strictly old school, and believes in a strict discipline, pencils over pens, and absolute decorum. Racial, class, theological and philosophical divisions also rear their heads, or rather their banners, since the movie is too short to explore any of these in detail.
There are two weaknesses to my mind: the issue of child abuse by priests seemed to be informed by contemporary knowledge and beliefs rather than the morays of the late 50's, early 60's. Abusing priests had not yet been "outed" and they were either ignored or not recognized. Secondly, in thypical Hollywood overkill, the kid (Donald Miller) that Flynn was suspected of abusing was the first black student in the school, and I'm sorry but that's just too damned convenient.
The film is best at its grittiest. Go see it with friends and plan to have a drink afterwards. Lots to discuss here.