Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Guilt by lazy association

First off, what country is this? While we can agree that calls for violence and the stoking of religious/ethnic hatred is beyond the pale (um right?), the dialogue in a free society should otherwise be pretty... free. And it should be remembered that tinfoil hat paranoia has been vindicated at least a few times. So if you're offended by someone running down America, try proving them wrong before setting up the stockades.

That said, I think Barack Obama's response
to the reemergence of Jeremiah Wright has been a good one, as presidential candidacies go. He hasn't hidden the personal element in the crackup between the two of them. Whether the things that Wright says are arguable, the effect of his saying them when where and how he has is to sandbag Obama. At best, he doesn't care about his former congregants future or hopes. At worst, it's active sabotage. Obama's anger at that strikes me as very human, and a lot of voters should be able to identify with it. Most of us have friends and relations who could hurt us or hold us back through lack of discretion, and how would you feel if it happened to you?

So I think he's handling it the right way, assuming there's a right way to handle it. There might not be. The media tends to take a "we made you, we can break you" attitude toward would-be political saviors, and that seems to be the implicit line now. With even The National Enquirer taking swings at the jug-eared brown piñata, it's been some time since I heard anything good about Obama outside of a handful of liberal blogs. We may not hear anything good about him again until eleventh hour nominee Hillary Clinton loses to McCain.

I can live with this. In most respects I was more invested in the Dean campaign back in '04, and you remember how that turned out. But you have to wonder. For about twenty years now (since the Monkey Business fallout), national campaigns have been dominated by character issues and questions that go to judgment. As a result we have a president of sterling character and impeccable judgment. I mean, we do, right?

Notes on hygiene

Okay boys and girs, and especially pc users. Know that there are a lot of creepy bugs out there, bugs that can attach themselves to your computer. Know that they may not only slow down your OS, but that they can spit out a bunch of nasty popups that distract you from whatever else you're trying to do. Now, they call it malware for a reason. Whatever these parasites might be advertising, the real reason they exist is malice. Compromising your desktop or laptop is reward enough, apparently.

Now, there are programs that can help you clean the gunk out. I myself have Spyhunter loaded. But there's something you need to know. These spyware removal programs? You need to start your computer in safe mode for them to really take effect. Otherwise you may as well try to floss while you're still eating.

In normal mode, you round up and supposedly eliminate 30 bugs or so, but the popups continue unabated. Run the program in safe mode, and you nab something like 80 or 90. When you restart in normal mode, you may still get the popups. Keep plugging, and eventually you'll get them.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Grant at the Dance

Charlie Grant passed away on September 15, 2006, only days after his 64th birthday. He was home after a two-year hospitalization, and reied on a ventilator to breathe.

This spring's issue of Cemetery Dance, where Grant used to have a recurring column, features a substantial tribute to the late author. The 1.5 year gap can be attributed to the vagaries of publishing a quarterly fiction magazine. The important thing is that they got it right. There are remembrances from his friends and colleagues, including a transcript of his eulogy by Thomas McDonald. McDonald also contributes a biographical essay on Grant's work.

Charles Grant was a Nebula winning science fiction author, and one of his prize winning stories, the novella "A Glow of Candles, a Unicorn's Eye" is a worthy companion piece to Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. His real impact, though, was in supernatural horror. "Quiet horror" is the phrase most associated with his writing. While he didn't invent quiet horror, he made it clear that the subtlety of effects didn't just belong in the nineteenth century, and didn't have to be ghettoized in children's books. Although he was skilled at writing child characters, as well as teens and the elderly.

Worth seeking out? The early Oxrun Station novels, especially The Last Call of Mourning. The critically acclaimed The Pet, which was partially inspired by Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl(!) The later novels Jackals and Chariot, the latter of which carries an evocative profile of the ever-expanding Las Vegas. The overlapping story collections Tales from the Nightside and A Glow of Candles and Other Stories. All entries in the "Shadows" series, in which Grant as editor brought out the best in both new and veteran writers.

The insight that made Grant a great writer of horror is that people are scary. Not serial killers, not devil-worshippers, not even the noticeaby neurotic. Just ordinary people, because of the secrets they carry and the harm they can do. Yet he showed a great affection for people as well, completing the effect.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Heavy on the story songs: Friday Random Ten

Got an early start today. From my officemate's headphones I heard Laura Ingraham this morning, who always reminds me of Kathy Griffin doing a really long Ann Coulter skit. This effect can be amusing, but I wasn't in the mood, which motivated me to dig out my own headphones in the morning.

1. Neil Young and Crazy Horse*--Pocahontas
2. Lynn Anderson--Rocky Top (live)
3. The Fiery Furnaces--Teach Me Sweetheart
4. Sly & the Family Stone--Spaced Cowboy
5. Nat King Cole--Non Dementicar
6. Beck--Movie Theme
7. Puffy AmiYumi--Red Swing
8. Stone Temple Pilots--Pruno
9. Tori Amos--Jackie's Strength
10. Frank Sinatra--In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

A few narrative songs here. Actually the Fiery Furnaces song (from their not entirely popular Bitter Tea) is one that I often think of when I'm writing fiction. The air of family tension and insistent animal imagery work well with the musical slow burn.
*This is the third cut I've included from Rust Never Sleeps, but I've neglected Crazy Horse before. Sorry, gentlemen.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Influence of a good strange man

There's an interesting-looking show in New York concerning the influence of Henry Darger. Darger's an odd figure in the art world, even as Outsiders go. He seems to have been an uncomfortable figure in his own life. Some people feel too intensely, see in too high a contrast. Well, for some purposes at least. But if the man is out there, if he's watching and listening, at least he knows he's appreciated.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blog under reconstruction

Well, more like blogger (not Blogger) under construction. Not plastic surgery construction*, but I am trying to make some life changes, which has cut into posting time. I do plan to return, though. My verbosity knows no bounds.

And now a word from our sponsor.

*I thought about getting the devil horn implants, but then my favorite hat wouldn't fit as well.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bizarrely jazzless Friday Random Ten

Might be the first such selection here. The Mingus collection I loaded is another one of those sets that refuse to play on Friday. Without further ado:

1. Alison Krauss--Down to the River to Pray
2. Randy Newman--Memo to My Son
3. Gabrielle--Dreams
4. Paul Simon--Sure Don't Feel Like Love
5. Fairport Convention--Come All Ye
6. Tom Waits--Dirt in the Ground
7. T. Rex--Interstellar Soul
8. Isobel Campbell--Yearning
9. David Bowie--Fashion
10. Talking Heads--Psycho Killer

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Little victories

Okay, so blogging has been a little on the light side recently. But it's not like I have nothing to show for my time. Herewith, two small but sweet accomplishments I can claim.

1. Sometimes a little behind the curve, I just recently found out about that thing where you can put quotation marks around a set of words and narrow down where you heard particular phrase, sentence, etc. For some time i've had this Ned's Atomic Dustbin song intermittently playing in my head. (I won't be too hurt if you laugh.) I was pretty sure it was by them, and that it was called "Desire." But on those terms I was never even able to find proof the song existed. Well, turns out that the song is by NAD, but it's called "Grey Cell Green." Weird title, but I can live with it.

2. Also, I've recently started making pasta sauce from scratch. Well, I'm not growing and pulping the tomatoes myself. But I've found that with the right kind of canned tomatoes, combined with mushrooms and a few other things, I can make something decent. Also it doesn't weigh down the noodles as much when I take in leftovers for lunch.

As far as adding the dried pumpkin seeds, the world might not be ready.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Notes from a procrastinator:)

Just thought of this recently. On the RI income tax form, there's a happy face next to the line you fill out if you're getting a refund. And, natch, a sad face for the amount you may still owe. Does this predate the popularity of online emoticons? I seem to remember these little mascots going back pretty far, so it's not impossible. Who says we don't have any pioneers here in the biggest little.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Part of a vintage episode of I've Got a Secret. Something tells me that you're not likely to see anything like this on a game show produced now. Our loss.

I like Cage's somewhat Vincent Price-ly vocal manner. And as far as the radios are concerned, you gotta give him credit for thinking on his feet.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Random Ten, now with 200% more commentary!

Well, i thought it might be nice to provide some context here. At no extra cost, too!

1. Marvin Gaye--Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). The Moody Closer to the "What's Going On" album. Initially Berry Gordy was not happy about Gaye doing this angry funk stuff. It sold, though, so he learned to live with it.

2. Fats Domino--Jambalaya (On the Bayou). I bought a Fats Domino compilation a while ago, both because I had always loved "Ain't That a Shame" and because of the cover art. It's got some gems though, and this is one of them. While Hank Williams' original sounded very young, the still living Domino brings a more mature poignancy to the partying.

3. Sly & the Family Stone--Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey. I've had "Stand" in ye olde iPod for a few weeks, but the songs tended not to come up much, especially on days I was compiling these lists. So I made a point of loading "There's a Riot Goin' On" too. This song is actually from the former, but has a pissed off feel (duh) people more associate with the latter.

4. The Kinks--Have a Cuppa Tea. Ray Davies rocks on his grandma. Hallelujah, Rosa lee!

5. Annie Lennox--Little Bird. Note to "American Idol" fans. This is what vocal gymnastics sound like when the song actually means something to the singer.

6. Scissor Sisters--Laura. Opens up their first album, and is totally catchy. They're still fairly fringe here in the states.

7. Beth Custer--Sixes. In the running for the most obscure cut I've ever included. Custer is a San Francisco-based composer, and this percussion based track is one of the pieces she wrote for/with dance company The Joe Goode Performance Group. Nifty.

8. Nat "King" Cole--Lush Life. Nat captures the despair in Billy Strayhorns song with a theatrical yet convincing ennui. Or something.

9. Milt Jackson--I Should Care. Good vibes, with a nice vocal by Kenny "Pancho" Hagood.

10. The Veldt--I Couldn't Care Less. Another kind of obscure one. The Veldt were a 90's Black rock group from NC, one that tapped into a kind of Echo and Bunnymen/My Bloody Valentine sound. Their debut ep (which I used to have on tape) captured some ears, and they recorded a major label debut called "Afrodisiac." Then they hit a wall, but the music is still good.

I think there was other stuff I wanted to blog about, but that'll be coming in the next couple of days. Nighty night.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An unfortunate series of words

Seen in the paper today (April 10) was an advertisement for department store bigwigs TJ Maxx. I haven't been able to find this ad online, but the header is "Clearance Gone WILD"! Yeah. Echoing, natch, "Girls Gone Wild", the no-core porn phenom produced by Joe Francis. Joe Francis who is destined for the cheapskate circle of hell. Hey man, go ahead and show the coeds' tits, but get model releases and give them at least enough money for an iced latte. Anyway, it's kind of a not-good association for a sale that includes "misses', juniors' & kids spring tops & bottoms." And yeah, you could read more and more into it.

Of course, this company has also had some hacker trouble. The twenty-first century hasn't been all that good to them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Now that's a party

Charles on Fire

Another evening we sprawled about discussing
Appearances. And it was the consensus
That while uncommon physical good looks
Continued to launch one, as before, in life
(Among its vaporous eddies and false calms),
Still, as one of us said into his beard,
"Without your intellectual and spiritual
Values, man you are sunk." No one but squated
The shoulders of his own unloveliness.
Long-suffering Charles, having cooked and served he meal,
Now brought out little tumblers finely etched
He filled with amber liquor and then passed.
"Say," said the same young man, "In Paris, France,
They do it this way"--bounding to his feet
And touching a lit match to our host's full glass.
A blue flame, gentle, beautiful, came, went
Above the surface. In a hush that fell
We heard the vessel crack. The contents drained
As who should step down from a crystal coach.
Steward of spirits, Charles's glistening hand
All at once glowed itself in eeriness.
The moment passed. He made two quick sweeps and
Was flesh again. "It couldn't matter less,"
He said, but with a shocked, unconscious glance
Into the mirror. Finding nothing changed,
He filled a fresh glass and sank down among us.
--James Merrill

Monday, April 7, 2008

Questions for James Carville

Okay, so Bill Clinton hired Bill Richardson for his cabinet back in the day. That apparently means that Bill C can tell Bill R how to vote, at the risk of Bill R being deemed a Judas.

First question: How long is this in effect? Do the Clinton's still have final say in the 2020 election? And can Richardson speed this up? Say he returns his Secretary of Energy salary, is he his own man again now?

Also, why is it a betrayal for Richardson to endorse Obama, but not for him to run for President himself? My understanding was that he was at least tacitly endorsing himself for the nomination back then. Or is that too subtle?

"The only place where a policeman's job is easy is in a police state."

As you can see above, Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine cut the late Charlton Heston down to size. And that was a good thing for both of them. As infamous as the scene came to be, there's very little posturing. It's just an imperfect but bracing exchange of ideas, with some facts and emotions that won't fit in the box. Heston here is neither the bold conservative hero nor a gun lobby shill. He's a man with some interesting ideas and no answers. But his comments on Americans having blood on our hands indicates that while he's starred in Hollywood Westerns, he doesn't believe all the myths of the Western frontier.

Heston, of course, died Saturday. He is much memorialized today. Both Ty Burr's flawed yet sincere elegy in The Boston Globe and Self-Styled Siren's penetrating blog-essay are worth reading. I'd just like to clear up a couple of points.

First of all, it's easy to make too much of his playing a Mexican in Touch of Evil. For most of its history, Latin actors in Hollywood have hidden their roots, and some Anglo or otherwise Northern actors have taken lead parts written as Latin. Cesar Romero and John Gavin are two cases in point. On the other side, so is Romero's sometime lover Tyrone Power, who played the California Spanish adventurer Zorro. And only a few years before TOE that Huguenot-Irish Marlon Brando got an Oscar nomination* for playing Emiliano Zapata.

No, Heston's accomplishment was not in playing an ethnicity, and thankfully he does not straitch out hees vowels, senyor. Rather, he captures a type, a strong moral absolutist who believes in right behavior, clear distinctions, and no shortcuts. Orson Welles, by contrast, is a moral relativist like most of us are. His tragedy is that he has power to back it up, and you know what they say about power.

Heston's seriousness was also not all it seemed. Onscreen, he did have the presence of a preacher and a prophet. And yes, he leant this quality to projects he believed in. But it was both an effect and an affect, and he was aware of this. For Heaven's sake, the man starred in an SNL skit called "The President Has Mustard on his Chin."

His history with the "Planet of the Apes" franchise also shows a skilled tongue in cheek. The 1968 original had a goofed-up premise, but was played absolutely straight, and for the better. Tim Burton's remake played it mostly straight, but not as well. Heston made a memorable cameo, however, as an angry and dying chimp patriarch, one traumatized by the humans' firearms (!). He and Paul Giamatti as the orang slave trader provide signs that the film would have worked better as a fantastique comedy throughout.

Actors in general are not as fascinating as the ink and photons spilled on them would indicate. But some notably make the movies and the world more fun. Charlton Heston succeeded here.

*Much to my embarassment and Elia Kazan's chagrin, Brando didn't actually win. Thanks to Michael in comments for fact-checking.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Where is this town and what are the rents like?

More good stuff from the bestest stick figure site on the net, xkcd.

A triumphant Friday Random Ten

A competitive field, today.

1. TV on the Radio--Dreams
2. Bobby Conn & the Glass Gypsies--Style I Need
3. Neil Young--Sedan Delivery
4. Charlie Parker--These Foolish Things
5. The Who--Our Love Was
6. Fishbone--Change
7. Elvis Costello & the Attractions--Moods for Moderns
8. The White Stripes--I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart
9. Nick Drake--Hazey Jane 1
10. The Fiery Furnaces--Black-Hearted Boy

Thursday, April 3, 2008

He got a diploma?

Lawyers, it is said, consistently rank among the lowest professions in terms of public respect. This is almost certainly unfair, as any one of use could be in dire need of an attorney tomorrow. It is hard, though, to imagine needing John Yoo, at least in a legal capacity.

The released Yoo memos (no doubt there are unreleased/destroyed ones that are outside our purview) have drawn comment for their most obvious traits, ie sadism and cold evil. But what may be even more disrurbing is the crudity of Yoo's thinking. He seems not to have been a Machiavellian counselor in the Kissinger mode so much as an armchair torturer who happened to have a degree. Case in point.

The document disclosed, for example, that the administration's top lawyers had declared that the president has unfettered power to seize oceangoing ships as commander in chief; that Congress has no ability to pass legislation governing the interrogations of enemy combatants; and that federal laws prohibiting assault and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives.

One section discussed to what extent the president might be allowed to legally maim a prisoner, such as through the use of a "scalding, corrosive, or caustic substance." A footnote argued that Fifth Amendment guarantees of due-process rights "do not address actions the Executive takes in conducting a military campaign against the Nation's enemies."

With that last sentence, in place of "do not address" a sane person might say "do not make exceptions for." The thrust of Yoo's arguments could be refuted by anyone with a copy of the constitution and a working knowledge of the alphabet. Which may be why his federal clients like to stay away from non-rigged trials.

As to why this man is teaching at Berkeley, I can only assume he plays an excellent game of squash.