Friday, April 28, 2006

Yes, Sir, That's Our Senator

Via Digby, extensively quoting Ezra on a profile by Ryan Lizza in The New Republic, Virginia Sen. George Allen: racist, sadistic, abusive asshole. "George saw himself as disconnected from the culture in which he lived. He hated California and, while there, became obsessed with the supposed authenticity of rural life"....

(Ouch. Close to the bone, there.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dammit, I Want Some Henchmen

I'd dress 'em up in Neddie Jingo uniforms -- straw boaters, Tattersall vests, white sack suits (after Memorial Day) an' string ties with the "NJ" crest on 'em. Arm garters. Sharp!

They'd follow me around, awaiting my every nefarious bidding. I'd tell 'em, "Do this! Do that! Beat up that superhero! Rustle me up some eggs!" And they'd do it, 'cos they're my henchmen. They'd have to. Help with the yardwork, too. Vacuuming.

They'd hench like it was going out of style. Henching, henching, all the livelong day. I'd pay 'em good money, too, for their henching services. Give 'em a percentage of the take. It's what good arch-villains do. Good henchmen don't come cheap.

In my lair high atop Gotham City, I'd gather my henchmen around. "Lefty," I'd say, "Is the Jingomobile gassed up? Have you polished the chrome on the Atomic Osterizer that we may accomplish world domination in style and elegance?" And Lefty would grit in his Bowery growl, "Yeah, boss." "Highpockets, have you phoned Commissioner Gordon and and guilelessly informed him of the spurious rash of break-ins in the Diamond District, that every blue-clad boobie be bamboozled into browsing for bogus baddies?" And Highpockets, agape at my alliterative skill, would reply, "You bet your bippie, boss!" "Then, henchmen, let us unfold our evil plans! Away! Careful of the tilted floor! These camera angles are murder!"

Or maybe some dacoits. Turbanned demons from the deepest reaches of the Subcontinent, maddened on hashish and heathenism, awaiting their master's every depraved command. Yeah. Dacoits.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hoary Plaintain

Feeling guilty because I haven't posted in a few days. I often let the weekends go whistle, promising myself I'll hit the ground running on Monday with all the loamy fecundity I've built over the weekend. But the only thing I hit this Monday was a busload of unexpected work. Body parts everywhere.

Al Franken is wont to end his radio show with a jokey segment called "What We Learned Today," and as I've had an educational few days, I thought I'd share something similar.

What I Learned in the Past Few Days
  1. Any reasonably responsible caretaker of a lawn will be able to tell you: the catalog of weed names on the back of a bottle of Ortho Weed-B-Gone are Pure Comedy Gold, a treasure trove of deliciously ridiculous Anglo-Saxon grunts: Beggartick, bindweed, boogerwort, bristly oxtongue, crapthistle, cocklebur, St. Timothy's spurge, tickmustard, bastard mallow, Spanish flywort, povertyweed, hairy fleabane, hawkweed, Russian pigweed, redstem burgoo, poorjoe, sneezeweed, hoary plaintain, milk vetch, tansy sprue, spatterdock, needleprick, lambsquarter, scarlet pimpernel, gentlemen's relish, cudweed, knotweed, creeping jenny, bustle-smirch, Judas' drawers, Upson's daisy, toadflax, spiny cocklebur, stinkweed.

    (I may have made a few of those up. Your job: Which ones? I'll even let Cherfas play, although he's got a bit of a head start on the rest of you.)

  2. Hairy fleabane does nothing -- that's nothing -- to repel fleas. Makes 'em hungry. Sneezeweed doesn't sneeze. And povertyweed is the richest weed on earth. Prolly named that for tax purposes.

  3. If you outsource complex Web design jobs to snooty-assed Noo Yawk boutique design firms, it is a mortal lock that the job will come back half-assed, poorly thought through, and (it goes without saying) over budget. Why these crapthistles keep doing it, never learning their lesson, and burdening their in-house designers with fixing the dreadful design problems introduced by these tiny-glasses-wearing, fussy-facial-hair-sporting, unlikely-piercing-displaying, expensively dressed, fingersniffing needlepricks is quite thoroughly beyond me. Cudweeds.

    Don't ask me how I know this.

  4. As a direct consequence of #3, I may be extremely busy at work, and consequently on a restricted blog-posting schedule, for a couple weeks. Please bear with me. I promise I'll privately share a link to the finished product, which will kick Creeping Jenny's ass.

Friday, April 21, 2006


In the spirit of spring, the time of renewal and loamy fecundity, I want to welcome a new voice to the Jingo Blogroll. Blue Wren has been commenting here for some time, and she's decided to strike out on her own. She has a lovely centeredness in her voice and I look forward to great things from her.

Most recently she administers a dressing-down to The Decider that I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of.

Welcome Wren, everybody! All together, now! Hip-hip: Loamy Fecundity!

Th' Process

Bobby Lightfoot has an absolutely stunning series of posts going on, in which he blogs in exquisite detail th' process of composing, arranging and recording a song-in-progress, titled "I Could Try." I don't know how long th' series is going to be -- he's up to th' fourth installment now -- but right now he's tracking th' rhythm section and planning th' bass part. In th' end, we'll get to hear th' finished song.

I guarantee it'll be as exquisite as the rest of his stuff. (You can sample a few songs in his right column, under "Streaming Bobby".)

It's a master-class in musicianship, like watching over Brian Wilson's shoulder and having him explain at length his thinking and the technical process of creating a beautiful thing. Don't be put off by the music-theory jabber -- just let that wash over you if you don't talk Muso.

Way worth it.





Thursday, April 20, 2006

This Anthropomorphizing Has Got to Stop

Frankly, I think any of us would be, under the circumstances.

(Photo of sign taken in a little-traveled hallway at work.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Ah, Scotty, source of so much fog,
Take a seat, have a gargle of grog.
It must have been a long, hard slog:
Not easy being a thrice-whipped dog.

Were you pushed or did you jump?
Dignity or garbage dump?
Did the landing raise a lump
Upon your secretarial rump?

Investigation's still ongoing:
It's a bitch, this never knowing.

Monday, April 17, 2006

And How Are You?

A cow-orker passed me on the way into the building this morning, and gave me a smile and a wave. "How are you?" he asked.

"Fine, thanks. You?"

"Oh, fair to middlin'."

Niceties observed, we continued on our ways. Probably the only words we'll speak all week.

But as I continued on my way to my desk, the thought occurred that my answer had been, well, not a lie, exactly, but certainly incomplete. In these parlous times, when flat-out mendacity, dissembling and prevarication emanate daily -- hourly! -- from the highest reaches of government, when religious fanatics on every side justify lying in the name of what they deem a higher purpose, when employers, moneylenders, advertisers and PR weasels tell the most baldfaced whoppers to advance whatever crappy agendas they themselves have been lied into believing, it becomes a sacred duty for we ordinary folk to preserve, protect and defend the Truth no matter how much discomfort it may cause us. Thus do we defend our jackboot-crushed Reality.

Let's try that conversation again, shall we?

"How are you?"

"Gassy. Woof. Just blowin' like a Roman candle. You do not want to get in my truck cabin right now, smells like the whole Red Chinese Army used it for a latrine. I cut my palm Saturday rassling plywood, that throbs a bit, looks a little red and angry. Prolly oughta get some Neosporin on it. Felt this weird twinge in my gut on the drive in, right side, maybe my liver. Or more likely just that gas. Temperature's right where it should be, blood pressure's OK. Been drinking a little too much lately, which might indicate emotional emptiness, or could just be high spirits, I don't know. Got laid Saturday, so I'm doing OK on that front. Could do it again right now, but no urgency. I've got four screen-mockups to do by COB today, but I'm a pro, I can handle it. Right sneaker's tearing a bit at the sole, prolly oughta shop for some new ones. Not living paycheck to paycheck, socking some away, hitting the credit-card bills OK, nothing to complain about there. 'Course, being naturally frugal with the fripperies helps on that score. Got the taxes in on time. The boy sprained his ankle on the halfpipe we built together, so I've got some guilt going over that. Had a flying dream last night, which I think is good. Don' t know for sure. Hating this cold rain, but the garden sure could use it.

"And how are you?"

The instant my interlocutor opens his mouth to speak, I turn on my heel and stalk away. The defense of Truth can only go so far.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Freddie Drops In

All the really great construction projects of history came in late and over budget. It's pretty much a requirement. The Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, Hoover Dam, Joan Rivers' face -- I bet quite a few of the hieroglyphics on the Great Pyramid of Giza, when Rosetta Stoned out, are actually just little satirical cartoons of a perplexed Cheops remonstrating fruitlessly with tiny little highly amused accountants and engineers.

That's why I don't regret the winterlong construction delay in Freddie's halfpipe. The plans called for a certain amount of plywood and two-by-fours, and if Daddy Pharaoh transposed the four sheets of 3/4 inch plywood and the 12 sheets of 3/8 inch, ending up with eight sheets of weathered too-thick plywood wintering over leaned up against the screened porch, well, that's Daddy Pharaoh's prerogative.

Be all that as it may, after several arduous double-overtime shifts, this weekend marked the Grand Opening of the Great Halfpipe of Cheops. In the photo above, Freddie is doing his first drop-in, testing out the camber and foot-feel of this marvelous construction project we carried out together. Doesn't the body-language of that kid just shout Look at me! I have the coolest Dad on the planet! We may ruefully note the absence of a couple of essential ingredients in the photo: No, the railings haven't been put on yet -- they're coming -- and Freddie isn't wearing a helmet or pads. But doesn't he just beam with pride, though!

Unfortunately, something else set his face alight about an hour after this photo was taken. Assaying his first Heelflip Sex Change (don't ask me), his normally goatlike footing slipped and he faceplanted hard. When the dust had cleared and the wailing subsided to a minor-key moan, his ankle began to swell pretty alarmingly, and off to the Emergency Room did we ollie.

Now, Alanis, is that ironic?

X-rays didn't show a fracture, but the poor kid's on crutches for at least ten days. Daddy Pharaoh wishes he'd built a nice, safe abattoir instead.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Christ You Know It Ain't Easy

This business of The Gospel of Judas is not new. The idea that Jesus engineered his own martyrdom, in league with his disciples and others, in such a way as to be seen by his contemporaries as fulfilling Old Testament prophecies, has been around for quite some time. Christ's intentionality certainly informed my own studies of the New Testament in my undergraduate days, in a class on the Synoptic Gospels taught by Prof. Donald Rogan, an Episcopal minister of great wisdom and deep faith. I'm not a Man of the Book, and perhaps because of this I reject the idea that this hypothesis does violence to the social gospel of Jesus -- which is, after all is said and done, the truly important teaching of Christianity.

Some forty years ago, a great sabot was thrown into the theological machinery of the day upon the publication of The Passover Plot, by Hugh J. Schonfield. Schonfield, a respected biblical scholar and translator of The Authentic New Testament, contended that Jesus truly believed that he was the foretold Messiah, and provoked his own crucifixion the day before Passover so that he would be taken down from the cross after only three hours -- before the onset of the Sabbath in accordance with Jewish law. Schonfield speculates that the sponge soaked in vinegar that was given Jesus just before he died actually contained a soporific that would make him appear dead. Brought off in this way, the Resurrection would have had an entirely earthly and humanist explanation: He woke up.

My thoughts turn to The Passover Plot not only because today is Good Friday and Judas is riding the zeitgeist. The incident last week when a friend sent me a link to the radio-scan of New York stations the night John Lennon was murdered sent me (after I recovered from the newly gashed-open wound, the grief, the nostalgia) to my collection of Beatle-books, where I pulled out The Lennon Companion, a compendium of primary-source articles, essays and critical reviews about Lennon and the Beatles.

This anthology contains the famous Evening Standard article by Maureen Cleave in which John, in a casual 1966 interview, lets slip his notorious comment:
Experience has sown few seeds of doubt in [Lennon]: not that his mind is closed, but it's closed round whatever he believes at the time. "Christanity will go," he said. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first -- rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
The paragraph concludes, "He is reading extensively about religion."

A later biographer would reveal that the book he was reading that particular day -- a day on which he inadvertently managed to provoke a Golgotha of his very own -- was in fact The Passover Plot. It was in many ways the Da Vinci Code of its day -- although any comparison ends there, as it was a scrupulously sourced general-interest work of nonfiction by a revered biblical scholar and not a sniveling hack.

I've found a riveting essay by Matthew Schneider of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Chapman University about the influence that The Passover Plot had on Lennon in the mid-Sixties. Schneider makes the point that "The uproar that erupted over John Lennon's statement that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus" demonstrated for [Lennon] that outbursts of hysterical celebrity worship -- like the Beatlemania that greeted the group around the world from 1964-66 -- originated in the same psychic and cultural forces that in the past had produced periods of mass religious fervor."

About The Passover Plot's relevance to the Sixties, Schneider says this:
As Christianity spread after about 300 C.E. to an increasingly educated and intellectually sophisticated populace, the need for a stable originary narrative--capable of withstanding the skepticism of friend and foe alike--became more urgent. Schonfield argues that the early church stabilized the myth of Jesus' life and worked first by obliterating any lingering traces of the Passover Plot, and finally by mining the Old Testament for every possible prophetic detail until the two parts of the Bible, taken together, constituted a seamless cosmological narrative. To Schonfield, though, in the end this is just a story, carefully and tendentiously abstracted from a chaos of events related only by their having occurred in roughly the same region at about the same time. Those events are capable of being woven into a different narrative, and this is precisely what Schonfield did.

This is what struck Lennon more than anything else in Schonfield's book. The insights John took from The Passover Plot were more cognitive and historiographic than theological: at no time did Lennon state that he believed Schonfield's hypothesis in all its particulars. Rather, as the Evening Standard interview suggests, reading the book seems to have impelled Lennon to consider his own fame and the phenomenon of Beatlemania in their broader cultural and historic contexts, and to conclude that the psychic, political, and cultural forces that went into the making of Christianity had been revived by Beatlemania. The world of Jesus' birth was characterized, in Schonfield's words, by "an extraordinary fervour and religiosity in which almost every event, political, social, and economic, was seized upon, scrutinized, and analyzed, to discover how and in what way it represented a Sign of the Times and threw light on the approach of the End of The Days. The whole condition of the Jewish people was psychologically abnormal. . . . People were on edge, neurotic. There were hot disputes, rivalries and recriminations".... George Harrison has said that in the 1960s, "the world used [the Beatles] as an excuse to go mad, and then blamed us for their madness."
Lennon rather famously came quite unhinged during the breakup of the Beatles -- we're informed by more than one biographer that he revealed to the other Beatles that he believed he in fact was Christ during one of their ugly breakup meetings in 1969. Yet given that he and his bandmates were the subject of the most tumultuous outpouring of adulation the newly established Global Village had ever seen, and given the myths and conspiracy theories that grew up around the band -- the "Paul Is Dead" legend being the most potently suggestive of religious overtones -- is this such a mad idea after all? When you see your own life "seized upon, scrutinized, and analyzed, to discover how and in what way it represented a Sign of the Times," what would you conclude?

Closing In

Getting ready to gird the loins for another day at the coalface this morning. Wonder Woman is in the shower, I'm brushing my teeth.

Chattering sound in the sky. Helicopter, flying very low, directly over the house.

From the shower: "Oh, my God! It's Facility!"

Married that woman for a reason.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Puzzling Evidence

Things have been going pretty OK on the Rampant Paranoia front since the last time They attempted to communicate with me through their innocent puppet Brad. I managed to evade Their evil clutches that time, by means of a fiendishly clever subterfuge involving running away very quickly and hiding under my bed, but I see now that They just don't give up.

I arrived at work this morning to find this chilling message on the arm of a comfy chair that sits directly outside my cubicle:

Facility was notified.

I have never until now appreciated the expression "the hair stood up on the back of my neck," thinking it a strange, atavistic cliché dating to early humanity's hunter/gatherer days on the African veldt, when we were rather more hirsute and spinal hair-erection may have served some evolutionary purpose. But when this missive, this eldritch tableau, reached my eyes, my hand reached convulsively to my neck, and sure enough, my knotted and combinéd locks had parted and each particular hair stood on end. To liken them to quills upon the fretful porpentine may be laying it on a bit thick, but I would accept a comparison to the slightly less fretful, though no less paranoid, hedgehog. Pushing my two eyes back into their spheres whence they had, like stars, started, and clutching my chest to still the shooting pains that emanated outward from my chest and down my left arm, I staggered into my cube, sat down heavily in my chair and began Cheyne-Stokes breathing into a paper bag I keep handy for just these occasions.

Facility was notified. Dear God in heaven, will They never rest?

I have spent the morning scrabbling frantically through web sites and wiki-thingummies searching for ways in which the presence of Ming the Merciless, whose dread Saturnine figure anchors the paper to the chair, might be interpreted. Have They at long last, through Mephistophelian secret back-channel diplomacy and hideous dissembling, joined forces with the minions of Planet Mongo to bedevil my days? It shakes me to my very core to admit that all evidence points inexorably in that direction.

Facility was notified. Of what? I can't help but ask. What unknowable offense have I committed? What Unwritten Law have I transgressed? What unspeakable horror have I unleashed upon myself, that They would see fit to inform me that Facility -- with what banal euphemisms True Evil cloaks itself! -- was notified?

I start at every ring of the phone. Every e-mail that dings its arrival in my querulous Inbox causes me to leap backwards as if touched by fire. Every passing conversation in the hall outside takes on hidden meaning, couched in codes as impenetrable as Linear-B. Comings and goings in my AIM Buddy List tell dark tales of secret meetings taking place, meetings in which inexorable fates are decided, sub rosa alliances confirmed, horrid markers are called in.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Neddie,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

With infinite stealth, I pack my knapsack, packing the laptop in just so, and the notebooks in which my multifarious secrets are kept. I will reverse direction several times on the way home, taking great care to see who follows. Caution forbids me from saying where I'm going to ground, but I hear you can live on dustbunnies and dog-hair for days.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


George Packer has a long piece on Iraq in the April 10, 2006, New Yorker, in which he describes a US military unwilling, unable, and in deep denial about applying basic principles of counterinsurgency for the duration of the war -- mainly, Packer asserts quite convincingly, because Pentagon leadership, under the masterful guiding hand of Donald Rumsfeld, didn't want to admit that they actually faced an insurgency.

The human face for the article is Col. H. R. McMaster, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry, a West Point graduate who earned a Silver Star in the 1991 Gulf War. His regiment, according to Packer, "greatly reduced the violence" in Tal Afar using counterinsurgency techniques, which consisted, in large measure, of not treating the locals like hostiles: "When we first got here, we made a lot of mistakes. We were like blind men, trying to do the right thing without breaking a lot of things.... You gotta come in with your ears open. You can't come in and start talking. You really have to listen to people." In Packer's words, "The classic doctrine, which was developed by the British in Malaya in the nineteen-forties and fifties, says that counterinsurgency warfare is twenty per cent military and eighty per cent political."

McMaster earned a doctorate in history after the first Gulf War. His dissertation, which raised quite a few very powerful eyebrows, was titled, "Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam." Says Packer,
The book assembled a damning case against senior military leaders for failing to speak their minds when, in the early years of the war, they disagreed with Pentagon policies. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, knowing that Johnson and MacNamara wanted uncritical support rather than honest advice, and eager to protect their careers, went along with official lies and a split-the-difference strategy of gradual escalation that none of them thought could work.
The guest on this morning's Diane Rehm Show was Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Commander in Chief of CENTCOM (1997-2000), plugging his book The Battle for Peace. He added a detail about McMaster that made my ears perk up:
Rehm: All right, and here's [an email] from Ken, who says 'Our generals and admirals are certainly subject to civilian control, but must be expected to speak out -- even if it costs them -- when there is so much at stake. The current crowd around the Defense Secretary look and act like a bunch of whipped dogs. It's frankly disheartening. What can be done to straighten out some general officers' spines?' First of all, do you agree with that?"

Zinni: Uh, no, not exactly, and I'm not going to criticize people that are making decisions, and I'm not part of the process to understand it -- but I will say this. When I was a four-star general, our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shelton, sent us a book -- seventeen four-stars -- sent us a book entitled Dereliction of Duty. It was written by a young Army officer and it was the story of how the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior generals kept silent during Vietnam when they knew the conduct of the war was not being done in a militarily sound way. And later they regretted that silence, they kept quiet. That book was given to us to read, we were called to Washington and at a breakfast we had young Major McMaster, who wrote the book -- now a fine colonel in the Army -- and he described what went on. General Shelton in a very angry way, said that that will never happen with this group while I'm here as Chairman. If you feel strongly about something, you come to me or you go directly to the Secretary of Defense. You express your honest views to Congress when called on.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Et In Arcadia Ego

It does the heart good to see that justice has prevailed in the copyright-infringement lawsuit brought against Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown and his publisher by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The suit was, without doubt, an audaciously barefaced attempt at publicity-leeching in anticipation of the upcoming Ron Howard movie.

As this silly imbroglio fades into the rearview mirror, I'd like to announce that I am contemplating a lawsuit of my own, for pain and suffering incurred when trying to read Brown's cackhanded prose. I approached the book several years ago without much prejudice. I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail somewhere in the mid-Eighties and found it an engrossing, if academically highly suspect, read. I went on to steep myself in Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, a far more rewarding wallow in paranoia, and that, I thought, was that. When I read that Brown, of whom I had never heard, had written a novel that appeared to recapitulate Baigent and Leigh's basic premise -- that a historical conspiracy had suppressed hidden knowledge of a royal bloodline that began with Jesus and Mary Magdalene -- I made a note to see what the fuss was about.

I suppose reviewers of contemporary trash fiction have hardened themselves beyond any trace of sensitivity to dreadful prose. I edited quite a large swath of the stuff myself decades ago, and I know at first hand the pressures that bear on editorial workers at mass-market houses to pump out product. If I'd kicked up some high-minded fuss about the fundamental oafishness of some of the authors I was expected to "clean up" -- Clive Cussler, Clive Barker, and John Gray among them -- I'd have found myself on the street, replaced instantly by someone plucked from the bottomless fund of idealistic recent college grads eager to toil for slave wages.

Reviewers of The Da Vinci Code said nothing that led me to expect writing as dismal as what awaited me. Blurbs on the jacket might have tipped me off. My old migraine Clive Cussler calls it "one of the finest mysteries I have ever read"; given a genre that encompasses Poe, Conan Doyle, Du Maurier, Sayers, P. D. James, and Hammett, it's impossible not to impute such an assertion to either spectacular incuriosity or profound dishonesty.

I was thus unprepared for the dull throbbing at my temples that was set off by Brown's opening sentence:
Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery.
"Renowned curator"?

OK, fine. Start your novel with a breathless action sequence that sets the pace for an international chase across Europe. No problems there. But why in the name of shrieking Peter Wimsey do you begin your first sentence with a detail as mindbendingly dull as the fact that the subject is a "renowned curator"? What the hell does this add? Surely the expository fact that he is a curator at the Louvre can be saved and inserted a few sentences later when the action has been fully established? And the fact that he is "renowned" in his field is hilariously irrelevant in an action sequence.
He lunged for the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio. Grabbing the gilded frame, the seventy-six-year-old man heaved the masterpiece toward himself until it tore from the wall and Saunière collapsed backward in a heap beneath the canvas.
Joining the two clauses "it tore from the wall" and "Saunière collapsed" with the conjunction "and" is simply a schoolboy's error, a classic run-on sentence. The fact that Saunière's name is repeated rather than the pronoun "he" suggests criminally sloppy editing: No other characters have yet been introduced -- "he" could only possibly refer to Saunière! "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams Gregor Samsa found Gregor Samsa transformed in Gregor Samsa's bed into a gigantic insect." There: Perfect! Print that sucker!

All this in the first paragraph in the book -- three sentences that a less blithering stylist and more diligent editor would have sweated over until they were perfect.

A few lines down:
On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly.

Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils.
Again Saunière's a curator! Nice to get that relentlessly established! I forget: How renowned is he? Another solecism: you can't simultaneously freeze and turn your head. You just can't. Try it: Stop all movement (freeze) and now slowly turn your head. Hah! Caught you! You're moving!

So while Saunière is defying the laws of physics, the narrative voice continues on its clodhopping way. From Saunière's point of view, a silhouette appears. We'll leave aside the fact that a silhouette can't "stare"; instead, let's observe that Brown's narrator jumps in the space of two sentences from the subjective (what Saunière sees -- a black outline) to the omniscient (a detailed description of the very person Saunière can only make out as a sihouette).

This, my friends, is a master class in Awful Writing. This stuff just goes on and on and on, pages and pages of clangorously dull plod. These fundamental editorial mistakes are analogous to a piece of music in which the instruments are out of tune and playing in different keys, a film where the actors can't remember their lines and the cameraman trips over small objects on the floor, a ballet performed by stevedores. Its wretchedness may entertain for short periods, but eventually the sheer, blistering clumsiness of it makes one pine for a horde of lawyers at one's disposal.

I'll probably see the movie, though. It can't possibly be worse.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Life's Rich Pageant

The Washington Post, Loudoun Extra (Sunday, April 9, 2006)

Loudoun Postings: Animal Watch

Woman's Bird Seed Replenished

Leesburg, Cypress Ridge Terrace, last Sunday. Leesburg police called animal control regarding a report of stolen bird seed. A resident had run out of bird seed but thought that it had been stolen. It was determined that the woman had Alzheimer's disease and that her caretaker was away for the weekend. The animal control officer delivered seed to feed the birds until the caretaker's return.

Big Cows on Campus

Sterling, Augusta Drive, Tuesday. An animal control officer investigated a report of cows running on the football field at Dominion High School. The officer found that the cows had come from the field next door and that the owners had arrived and were herding them back.

Case of Beeping Bat Is Closed

Leesburg, Washington Street, Monday. An animal control officer investigated a report of a bat in a home. The homeowner told the officer that the bat was behind a couch and making a lot of noise. When the officer looked behind the couch, he found a beeping toy. No bat was found.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Chatter overheard between two clerks in a bookshop this afternoon.

"Ugh, I just can't shake this cold. I've had it for weeks, now."

"I bet I've been sicker than you."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Oh, yeah. Years ago, after my grandmother died, her place out near Winchester sorta went to hell. The barn collapsed, and so did the corn-crib. My dad wanted to sell the place, but first he wanted the collapsed buildings cleared, so buyers wouldn't be scared off. He sent me out with the truck and some tools. When I got there, I found out the corn-crib had been infested with rats for years--"


"Oh, yeah. I had to clean out years' worth of rat corpses and droppings. It was a disgusting job, and a couple days later I got real, real sick, coughing up blood, high fever. I went to the hospital, and they freaked, 'cos I had the Plague."

"Get out!"

"No, for real. Isolation ward, Bubble Boy, the whole deal. Obviously I got better, but now whenever a doctor reads my medical history I can always tell when they get to that part of the story. They go real quiet."

Thursday, April 06, 2006


I heard about it from Howard Cosell.

Probably quite a few of us did, that evil Monday night in December, 1980. Cosell's pompous tones reached into my life and ripped my heart out by the roots.

In the intervening years I thought I'd grown a few layers of exoskeleton over that raw, bloody wound.

But no. I hadn't. I simply became numb.

A friend sent me this link tonight -- no particular reason, no anniversary or anything -- and it's just opened it all back up again, ripped away whatever protection -- cynicism, hardness -- I'd built up. I've just noticed that my t-shirt sleeve has reached saturation and won't accept any more tears.

This will never be OK. I'll carry this grief to my grave.

A month later, Reagan was inaugurated. More than a rock star died that night. Much, much more.


I seem to be undergoing a blog-content dry patch. Apathy combined with Outrage Fatigue and a few slow news cycles has drained the Jingo Well: I open a browser, nose around the Net for inspiration, and... Squadoosh. Meh. Yawn.

I'm sure this will end soon enough, but while the intellectual drought holds sway I will sit back, gather some wool, and let others do the fascinating and the scintillating and the monkey-tricks for a bit.

Helmut at Phronesisiacal has had the life I promised myself I would have, back before the mortgage and the kids and the pets. His photographic travelogue through Nepal fascinates and scintillates to beat the band, and there may even be a monkey-trick or two in there. Go read it now.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Music for Viruses

Or, Before and After Medical Science

Miraculous cure.

Simply miraculous. All you do is open your throat and sing the fucker out of your lungs.

In a period of false remission this weekend, I weeded a few vegetable beds in a state of the sort of mindlessness that invites Mindfulness. When I'm like this, bits and pieces of the most wonderfully irrelevant nonsense come flitting across the landscape. Snatches of music, unfinished and open-ended conversations, bits of verse (learned from books or made up on the spot), anything and everything is likely to -- indeed welcome to -- pop up.

As I pulled nascent clover out of the pea-patch, I began to feel a rhythm-glyph brewing. Just a little thing: Schwack-ack-ack-ack-ack, it went. An Eighties thing, a snare drum hooked up to an echo machine set at a song's tempo, so the schwack is the drum being hit, and the ack-ack-ack following is the reverberations from the delay machine.

As I let this thing play in my head, I began to hear other things along with it, the rest of the drum part, then a bass line that oscillated between two chords a whole-step apart. Finally it dawned on me what I had just dreamed up: It was an arrangement of Brian Eno's "No One Receiving," from Before and After Science.

I went inside, fired up GarageBand, and within a few short moments I had the arrangement noted down.

Then I went and got Bad Sick again. Round Two. Couldn't face anything, least of all The Music.

Came home early from work yesterday, decided I would try some Play Therapy. Extended the basic groove out to song length, put down a live bass to buttress the synth riff, played the rhythm guitar part underneath everything. Kitchen-sink percussion.

In the early evening, the time had come to sing the thing. It's not a difficult melody, even for someone of my limited range, but remember I've been pretty goddamned ravaged by lung trouble for a week. As I was beginning to sing, I started hearing low rumblings in the microphone monitor, and noticed that a spectacular thunderstorm was playing outside. Screw it, I thought, saved my work against a power failure (not at all an uncommon thing here) and kept on. My voice was terribly wobbly at first, but as I vocalized at full throat I felt strength coming back. A few takes and I felt absolutely wonderful, better than I have in days, and when the storm had passed I am prepared to swear it took that goddamned virus right with it.

The guitar solo. Ahem. Yes.

You should never -- that's never -- do what I did, which was to clap on closed headphones, plugged the Les Paul into the GigaSchmertz Hyper-Frenobulator, set the Fripp-o-Matic Phaser Doohickey on the ultra-secret, never-to-be-used-except-in-dire-emergency "Tom Scholz Must Die" patch and shredded my tintinnabulaceous cochlear bones into a fine dust. As I say, you must never do this, and I only did it because I'm a trained professional and I only do it about once a year. When, say, you want to chase a particularly pernicious viral infection from your body. When bombarded with shreddage like this, ain't a microbe on this or any other planet wouldn't pack its bags and leave town in a hurry. I notice now that it was so loud that I lost track of the chord progression for a few bars, but screw it. It's an awesome, frightening thing to make a noise like that come out of a guitar.

Here's the thing, then: No One Receiving (pops).

And now I'm healthy.

(Thank you to Matt for reminding me to finish it up.)

The Winners Are In

The Koufaxes have been distributed, the confetti's been swept up, the drunks are passed out in the potted palm trees and the limos are back in their garages.

While By Neddie Jingo! alas did not win the nod from the Academy (it would have been delusional to the point of gibbering idiocy to have expected to win in that competitive field), I'm nevertheless profoundly grateful even to have been a finalist, and thank you thank you THANK YOU to my scrotum-tickling friends who voted for me in both the preliminary and the finals.

Congratulations to Digby, who won the Best Writing category. Also to Susie Madrak, the runner-up. You both beat a flippin' Contributing Editor to Vanity Fair. Think about that.

Go check out the winners list at Wampum. Drop a groat into the tip jar on your way in.

Monday, April 03, 2006

This is Wal-Mart. Expect the WORST.

This viral thing, whatever the hell it is, has really knocked me for a loop. When my body is not trying to reject a lung, my digestion leads me on a merry chase for 36 hours. No sooner than that subsides, suddenly I get the symptoms of an ear infection. Then that goes away and it's back with the lungs again. Been almost a week with this shit now. Uncle! Uncle!

So not much inspiration on the bloggery front, I'm afraid. Hard to come up with the boffo readables when you're covered in muck-sweat and the everpresent taste of Hall's Mentho-Lyptus is beginning to make you long for a quick and painless death.

Like a knight to the rescue comes eRobin bearing Content, sweet Content.

A worker bee at a Florida Wal-Mart has been keeping a blog -- tart-tongued, acidic, occasionally venomous, and frequently very funny. I sure hope none of you treat service-worker folks like the subjects of some of these stories.
"Do you sell compression hose?"

The noise level from all the people talking and this one screaming child (dear God, leave it at home if you can't control it) is deafening, so I ask her to repeat what she asked for. She gives me one of those "ARE YOU STUPID?" looks and says "Compression hose - you wear it on a plane."

I tell her honestly that I don't know and that I've never returned one. If we do sell it, it will be in the Pharmacy, which is open until 6 p.m. And I tell her that the Pharmacy is just past Register 23.

She moves in closer, then barks. "I want you to call up and ask if they have it."

Now, I try not to sigh at this, because I can tell that this witch would have me fired for "not helping her." So I call. They tell me what's up.

I get off the phone and tell her this. "Ma'am, they have a very small selection. It is on a display rack right next to the pharmacy window."

That wasn't good enough for her. She fires back. "Why didn't you ask them what brands they had and which sizes?"

I give up at this point, and make a passive-aggressive move to get her to go away. "Ma'am, do you need me to repeat the directions to the pharmacy?"