Saturday, June 28, 2014

Monastic Saturday Random Ten

The Beautiful Mystery is the second Inspector Gamache novel I've read. Based on the evidence I've seen, Louise Penny is quite a good crime writer. She has another virtue, though, especially evident in this. The entire book is set in a Gilbertine monastery in Quebec province. The Gilbertine Order was dissolved with Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. In addition, they were an English order, so placing them in the traditionally French part of Canada is a leap.

I like that.  Popular fiction is always throwing in little cheats that the author hopes no one will notice.  But creating a murder mystery - an unusual one in itself - in the confines of a religious order almost 500 years gone?  To invoke Martin Luther, that's sinning boldly
1. Elvis Costello & the Attractions - White Knuckles
2. Paul Simon - Outrageous
3. Broadcast - Michael A Grammar
4. The Velvet Underground - Here She Comes Now
5. Neko Case - Lion's Jaws
6. Fairport Convention - Crazy Man Michael
7. Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley - Happy Talk
8. Reading Rainbow - Must Be Dreaming
9. New Order - Leave Me Alone
10. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross - Farmer's Market

Friday, June 27, 2014

The illuminating meeting of Drs Seuss and Freud

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is a Dr. Seuss movie.  You can tell.  You really can tell.  That's one of the things that makes it unique.  Seuss worked in two dimensions, masterfully.  This was the one venture he made into rendering his visual world in live action.  The effect is somewhat dizzying.

The plot is simple, when you get down to basics.  Bart Collins is a boy prone to fantasizing.  In order to teach him discipline, his mother has signed him up for piano lessons with Dr. Terwiliger, a perfectionist who demands extensive hours of practice.  (All children raised by tiger mothers are playing the world's smallest violin, and playing it more beautifully than you ever could.)  He's more drawn to the kindly, commonsensical plumber, Mr. Zabladowski. 

So he falls into another dream, one where he's kept prisoner in Dr. T's sprawling surreal academy.  His mother is under hypnosis, forced to do Dr. T's bidding.  Seuss and director Roy Rowland don't get too gross with it, but Dr. T does intend to marry pretty mommy, and she doesn't object to him locking her in a gilded cage.  Zabladowski is in the dream too, installing sinks so the school can open on time.  Bart wins the wary plumber to his side, becoming blood brothers with him and in nearly the same breath exacting a promise to become his new father.  Together they set out to bring down Dr. T and his evil musical schemes.


What this movie gets right about dreams is that they're not a reflection of reality.  They're a reflection of us, and elements of reality make a cameo here and there.  In what we see of Dr. Terwiliger (played by Hans Conried, probably best known as the voice of Captain Hook in Peter Pan) in real life, he shows no sign of being anything more sinister than a humor-challenged martinet teacher.  Since that's bad enough for boy like Bart, in dreams he becomes a Flash Gordon villain.  Similarly his mother Heloise shows no attraction to this somewhat asexual piano geek in the real life scenes.  The battle of good father vs. bad father is going on only in the boy's head.

But that's the thing.  Children learn quickly that life isn't fair.  They're slower to find out that they themselves aren't fair.  But that unfairness is buried deep in the subconscious, of grownups too.  In certain doses it can be therapeutic.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Songs of summer

I've bitched before about how lots of songs have disappeared even from oldies radio, meaning that they gradually fade from cultural memory altogether. And honestly I'm not sure if this makes me sound like Proust or like Abe Simpson. (There's probably some hubris in even asking.) Still, enough barbarities from the past survive that you want to see the good, gentle things survive, if they can.

It's a little hard to believe that this group was produced by Kim Fowley, who later put together the Runaways, the jailbait hard rock group that introduced Joan Jett. Or maybe not unbelievable, just weird. The choruses are almost supernaturally sweet. The lead vocal is also sweet, but in a very human way. While the song may be kitschy, it's not impersonal.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Give it up

After being waylaid by some kind of stomach ailment yesterday - either it was dehydration or something I ate really didn't agree with me - I came to the conclusion that throwing up isn't the worst thing in the world.  Waiting to throw up is.  You could call it Vomlet.  The Danish Prince of your stomach can't make up its mind, and until it does you can't go anywhere or do anything because you're trying not to upset it.

So why not take the opposite tack and force things to a head?  I decided that the next time I'd at least want to have the knowledge on how to do so, and I don't like forcing things down my own throat.  So there was this page on the World Wide Web, and one particular item.
7. Watch Someone Else Throw Up
Seeing someone else throw up can often trigger the same response in your body. Though watching someone else throw up can be disgusting, that’s the point – you need to trigger that feeling in order to do it yourself. You can find videos of people throwing up online and use this if necessary. It might not work, but if it does, it will work very quickly.

Can see the practical applications, but making it work seems awkward.  I live alone.  If I had a roommate, even a friendly one, I can't see being comfortable enough to ask him to yak in front of me.  If I had a live-in girlfriend... well, same thing, really.  There are almost certainly websites you can go to, but I'm not sure I want them in my browser history.  So it's probably ipecac or one of the other options for me.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Seriously, a Friday Random Ten

Some people including some at work, think I never tell a joke or say anything funny.  Which isn't quite accurate, but it's proof that you only know what you see.  I'm sure I've misjudged my friendss at some point, which is pretty much a universal.

1. Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley - A Sleepin' Bee
2. The Cramps - Voodoo Idol
3. Neko Case - Dirty Knife
4. Fats Domino - My Girl Josephine
5. Fairport Convention - Percy's Song
6. Pink Martini - Pana Cand ne tu Iubeam
7. Beck - Don't Let It Go
8. Velvet Underground - Sister Ray
9. St. Vincent - Psychopath
10. Nat King Cole - Tenderly

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The OC

If my girlfriend were a former child prostitute I'd first seen on a kiddie porn site, and if she were an annoying person in general, I probably wouldn't stay with her that long.  But that's me.

In case you're wondering where the hell the previous sentence came from, I'm reading Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake,  It's a very successful novel, overall.  The near future dystopia is depressing in part because of how credible it is in light of the present.  A little beyond that is the post-apocalyptic part.  That's weird, very weird.  It is, at the same time, a doubling down on the pessimistic parts of the chronologically earlier parts, while also being a relief from it. 

Also weird is the way this thing just zips right by.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Silicon Valium

There would seem to be two wildly different, even opposite reactions to technological change in the popular media.  "Seem to be", yes, but this is an illusion.  For the most part there's only one.  But it wears two faces.

The first face is frown of resigned worry.  It's going to take all our jobs.  There's no stopping now.  The momentum is too great.  The machines want what they want.

What these jeremiads miss is that technology doesn't want your job.  It doesn't think or wish.  Despite some recent manias , we haven't developed artificial intelligence.  If we do I have to assume it will be intelligent enough to know that it doesn't need to pay for food or shelter, and thus doesn't need a shitty job washing dishes at TGI Fridays.

No, technology doesn't want your job.  Your boss wants to not pay you.  And yes, lots of people's bosses have the tools to make that decision or are in the process of acquiring them.  But we in America - and not only America, really - make it easier for them by valuing capital so much higher than labor.

That's the deflated, pessimistic side.  The face of desperate optimism is something that Maria Bustillos Maria Bustillos and Andrew Leonard deal with in recent articles.  Bustillos, always one of my favorite writers to link to, sees the way that Silicon Valley magnates such as Marc Andreessen promise that Big Tech development and startup money will revolutionize that society and points out what a blinkered revolution it is.

The classification of human inquiry into the Sciences and the Humanities is a rough but useful one. In essence, the part that concerns itself with what can be measured, we call "science," and that concerned with what cannot be measured, we call "the humanities”. The former field of study provides us with the means to operate more effectively in the material world. The latter (and the latter alone) grants us the ability to judge what goes on out there. This is a question of balance. The study of the humanities is for judgement, and it’s judgement that our age is sorely lacking. We seem to have forgotten that we even need it.
These two ways of looking at the world and considering our actions therein are like the right and the left hand of human consciousness. It's far easier to navigate the world with the full use of both. But the irrelevance of the humanities is trumpeted through the media on a daily basis. We live in a scientific age, we are assured. Everything must be tallied, measured, "explained" (LOL until I die a thousand times) with a chart or a bunch of incomprehensible psychedelic blobs on an MRI scan. We no longer need the fuzzy, meaningless mumbo-jumbo of philosophy or history, or the airy-fairy study of literature, impractical ivory tower disciplines for people who “don’t live in the real world”!
Perversely this is another side effect of the disappearance of unskilled labor jobs.  The more education people need to aspire to even the most basic jobs, the more education is tied to certain job skills.  Leaves little room for the disinterested pursuit of truth and beauty.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Late night with...

It's late and there's a bird outside, singing. Was trying to figure it out. Nightingale? Thought maybe. Found a few nightingale videos on YouTube, but for some reason all YouTube videos are muted now. There's a site with a bunch of bird songs, nightingale among them.  Couldn't make a positive match, though.

Then I decided that surfing around looking for positive proof of the bird's identity on the web was very much beside the point.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Just keep going: Friday into Saturday Random Ten

Most of the song titles below belong to music I heard on Friday.  Didn't get around to compiling on Friday night, though.  Why?  Well, they say that you can't take a catnap at twelve midnight, and that turns out to be true. 

Yesterday was the last day for one of the psychiatrists where I work.  I didn't know her all that well.  The shrinks tend to be with patients for most of the time they're in the office, so you don't see all that much of them.  Nice lady, though.  Her farewell party had food, including several kinds of meat.  Not sure if any of that added to the drowsy factor.

1. Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Strict Time
2. Fats Domino - It's You I Love
3. The Beastie Boys - Shazam!
4. Neco Case - Margaret Vs. Pauline
5. Lambert, Hendricks & Ross - Farmer's Market
6. Beck - Morning
7. Brian Eno - St. Elmo's Fire
8. Morphine - Sheila
9. St. Vincent - Digital Witness*
10. Nat King Cole - That Sunday, That Summer

* So New Wave has become part of our shared cultural heritage, and a lot of young bands and musicians not born at the time tap into it.  The artist formerly known as Annie Clark has a fairly unusual twist here, though.  The song kind of sounds like Oingo Boingo with Lene Lovich on vocals.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Shadowy personal reading

Since I write - with varying levels of private success - short fiction, it's important for me to read it as well, at least some of the time.  And often I enjoy it too.  Some of it more than others, but I like to think I learn a few

That being the case I thought it might be interesting to go through an anthology of short stories and compare the impressions they made on me.  Not really a review, as this is my personal blog and not a review site.  Okay, that's not proof of anything, but I'm not really playing criitc here.

The anthology in question is Shadows 10
, edited by the late Charles L Grant.  Grant was a proponent of quiet horror, that is macabre fiction using subtler effects.  This has an appeal to me, and the shadows books have some fine examples of it.
Might try this again in the future.  We'll see.

* "Jamie's Grave" by Lisa Tuttle: An English mother is worried about her growing son pulling away from her.  She resents that he's not her baby anymore.  He starts digging "a grave" in the backyard, which gives her more reason to fret.
~~ This one has a pretty good build of psychological tension.  The mother's character is clearly "off", but in subtle (there's that word again) ways.  She's got just a little bit of a reverse Norman Bates thing.  Then there's a twist ending redefines all the relationships.

* "Apples" by Nina Downey Higgins: A drifter tries staying in one place for awhile, living off of his stepsister.  His dishonesty and curiosity combine to lead him into danger.
~~ As far as I can tell this is the only thing the author ever published.  It's not outstanding, but all told it holds together pretty well.  Your mileage may vary on the shock ending.

* "A World Without Toys" by TM Wright: Urban Archaeology as a couple of anthropologists find an old house in a storm sewer.  The house is elusive, and strangely stocked with toys.
~~ Has a kind of Twilight Zone feel, and in fact a couple of TZ stories explored similar themes.  Still, Wright is a good enough writer to carve out his own space here.

* "Law of Averages" by Wendy Webb: A man is picked up in secret, wears a disguise, and acts as executioner on death row.  Then he makes plans for what to do on his own time.
~~ Could have run in, say, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, which isn't a bad thing.  It's an effective little crime story.  I'm not sure it's accurate as to the logistics of the death penalty.  If you don't know who the executioner is how do you pay him?

* "The Fence" by Thomas Sullivan: Four college kids, formed into couples, drive home after exams and get on each other's nerves.  Then they drive into a mysterious barren area with a long fence and hungry people behind it.
~~  Yeah, I liked this one.  It starts with a pretty average group of kids and puts them in a surreal nightmare.  It seems like there could be some social commentary here, but it's not obvious.

* "Moonflower" by Melissa Mia Hall: A disappointed academic moves back home to Texas and has a strange encounter with the old woman who lives next to him.
~~ I wasn't really keen on this one.  Near the end there's a supernatural female-on-male rape (or something) scene, and it seems to hijack the story into a place where the author can't go to get it back.

* "Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming" by Bob Leman: A well-off widower buys a country home and starts seeing his late wife inside.  His daughter and mother-in-law see the ghost but insist it's not her.
~~ Love this one.  Easily my favorite in the book.  What really sells it for me is that Leman keeps a consistent tone here, and it's perverse.  The narrator never admits that there's anything scary about this.  That doesn't stop the story from being creepy as all Hell.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

* "The Finder-Keeper" by Ken Wisman: Things keep getting lost in a family's new home.  The daughter says it's a magical sprite called the Finder-Keeper.  The mother's old friend has heard similar tales.
~~ Pretty well drawn characters.  There's also an intelligent mix here of supernatural and physical scares along with economic anxiety.

* "Just a Little Souvenir" by Cheryl Fuller Nelson: A young woman hears a story of love and murder from her elderly friends.  Her wannabe boyfriend goes from "bored" to "interested for all the wrong reasons."
~~ More paranormal romance than horror as such.  Well told.  The would-be boyfriend character is a decades-ahead-of-its time portrait of male entitlement.

* "Like Shadows in the Dark" by Stephen Gallagher: A young Russian couple make plans to flee to the west together.  On their train trip to Finland they get separated and fall prey to odd things.
~~ Interesting that this is one of two Iron Curtain stories in the volume, considerng this book came out in 1987, when Cold War Classic was almost over.  I found the story itself muddled, though. 

* "Office Hours" by Douglas E Winter: A comer of a lawyer works late, gets a Kafkaesque runaround from the senior partners, becomes unhinged.
~~ Strange story for any genre, but not ineffective.  My educated guess is that the one violent scene is imaginary and the protagonist is just losing his mind.  But I could be wrong.

* "We Have Always Lived in the Forest" by Nancy Holder: A woman lives in the middle of nowhere with her children.  A fugitive comes to her door and his shocked by what she does with these children.
~~ Something of an oddity in that the story seems to have a dystopian sci-fi setting.  Kind of take this as a black comedy.  It works that way.

* "Just Like Their Masters" by Mona A Clee: Bullies - not teenage bullies, grownups who should know better - pick on the quiet town eccentric.  And his dog.  Not a good idea.
~~ Fairly well written bit of small town literature.  As a story first published in a horror anthology it ends up pretty much where you expevted it would.

* "Pigs" by Al Sarrantonio:  A man in Poland hears he's wanted by the Soviet-aligned police.  He flees, but his travels take him to a sinister hotel.
~~ The second and better of the book's Eastern European set stories.  It's more surreal than scary, but the world needs surreal.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The parent hood

Hey y'all.

First of all, shadows.  That's basically a note to self.  That's a post I intend to write but I started getting groggy tonight.

I read this poem during some downtime today, and I love it.  I have no idea if raising children is actually boring, not having attempted it myself.  Actually I know second hand it has its ups and downs.  But the poet is onto something.  And while I know not to take it literally, the last line provides a jolt.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Beetlemania Friday Random Ten

Tonight I came home and was doing some writing, but not writhing, at least not yet.  A beetle had gotten into my apartment and flew into my hair.  I swatted it away.  A few minutes later the beetle hit my head again.  This time I put on a hat, despitne the heat.  Then I saw the beetle on my dresser/functional desk.  I'm not a violent man, but the bug didn't make it.

1. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - Tell Me
2. Elvis Costello & the Attractions (with Glenn Tilbrook) - From a Whisper to a Scream
3. Brian Eno - In Dark Trees
4. Cannonball Adderley - Teaneck
5. The Squirrel Nut Zippers - Hell
6. Fats Domino - My Girl Josephine
7. St. Vincent - Bring Me Your Loves
8. The Beastie Boys - Oh Word?
9. The Dirty Projectors - Fluorescent Half Dome
10. Lou Rawls - Your Good Thing (Is About to End)

Many happy returns

Saturday Random Ten coming up later tonight, but I just wanted to highlight this story.

& also show off - not that it's mine to show off, but you know what I mean - another example of Watterson's work on the strip.

This is pretty epic stuff.  Calvin and Hobbes wowed me back in the 80s, when I was a teen, and it always struck me as being a little outside of time.  That is, Watterson looked as if he were working according to some bygone standard of craftsmanship combined with a sense of play, one that his contemporaries didn't really pay attention to.  And yet it wasn't quite nostalgia.  The strip didn't look like any comic from the past and Watterson couldn't be said to be copying the style of any past master.  (If there was a point of comparison it was Charles Schultz, but as if Sparky had started with the same borderline primitive style he had in the beginning and evolved in a different direction from the one he actually did.)  In this way Watterson's brief-for-now return leaves him essentially where he came in.

It should be noted that while Pearls Before Swine creator Stephan Pastis has a more limited art style, he is a very savvy comic (in both senses) writer.  I can see why these two got together.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A killer? Not quite

I started my bordreline official - meaning "not official at all - tonight with Divorce, Italian style, or Divorzio all'italioano.  It's about a man from waht appears to be a  dading aristocartic family.  He hates his wife, longs or at least lusts after hsi cousin, and has many fantasies of killer the former in the arms of anothermen.

The film seems to have a great critical reputaion.  The DVD case name drops Marin Scorsese as a fan.  It's not really for me, though.  The antihero isn't that compelling, even if Marcallo Mastroianni always has this cool thing about him.  Also the jokes - this is a comedy - hit the same beasts too often.

So I didn't finish this one.  Better luck next time, I guess.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Furry fellows

Mick Peter : Almost Cut My Hair from arts-news on Vimeo.

Just sort of came across this. And that's probably the best way to encounter these sculptures which resemble cartoons from the New Yorker say forty years ago. The element of surprise helps them. I don't know what the hardened gallery goer will say about them, but it seem like the kind of thing kids'll love.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

... !!! ...

A world-weary, spiritually hungry man joins a monastery.  They let him in on the condition that he take a vow of silence.  He's allowed to speak two words every seven years.  After the first seven years he says "awful draft."  After seven more years of silence he says "bad food."  Another seven years pass and he says "I quit."  The abbott says to him, "That doesn't surprise me.  You've done nothing but complain since you got here."

I only recently came across that joke, so I didn't realize what an old chestnut it was.  I told it to a friend of mine tonight and he knew it beat for beat.  That does figure.  He's very devout and probably knows most of the Catholic jokes.  Except maybe the obscene ones.