Sunday, April 29, 2007

Blue Reflections

The last post featured two gratuitous uses of the f-adjective in one sentence. What the f-word is wrong with me? I wouldn't care, but something happened today which brought the issue into a new light.

I was working the vendor desk. This means selling Real Change papers to street vendors for 35 cents each, so they can go out and sell them for a dollar plus tips. I've tried being a vendor. I suck at it. I thank the Great Whore Ananke that I don't have to do it anymore. Selling at the vendor desk on Saturdays for a fixed wage is better suited to my talentlessness.

Anyway, I was sitting there, talking idly with some vendors whose transactions were done. In comes vendor X, who is a tightly wound bundle of prejudice and bitter hatred born of fear. She tells me she wants 30 papers. I am counting them, and vendor Y walks in. Vendor Y is a tightly wound bundle of piss and venom born of fear. She is slightly better liked by the rest of the vendors than vendor X. Just slightly. Vendors X and Y often complain about each other but rarely come in at the same time.

Vendor X says something provocative on the order of "look what the cat dragged in." I can vouch for the fact that although she was insulting she didn't use any obscenities. Vendor Y, on the other hand, reacted by spilling forth a fine slop of crude language. She repeatedly referred to vendor X by a word which the online etymological dictionary defines as the "female intercrural foramen" (translation: woman's opening between the legs). It also says that 18th century writers called it "the monosyllable" and that it has been considered obscene since at least the 17th century.

My Mother never referred to her female intercrural foramen as a [c-word]. She used instead the t-word, a word which was once used by Robert Browning in a poem, who mistakingly thought it meant a kind of hat. Why my Mother would use the t-word to refer to it, or refer to it at all to her son, I'll be getting to in later posts.

Anyway, it so happens vendor Y also used the t-word. And the b-word. And the w-word.

Vendor Y's initial volley was all of maybe three clauses in one sentence. I listened raptly. This is what I've been thinking about. I wasn't the slightest bit shocked by the speech, and all I thought about the meaning of it was, why keep repeating [c-word] and [t-word] when they essentially say the same thing? I reacted to it as a writer. I thought, yes, repetition can be an effective device, but surely in this instance a variety of obscene insults would be most effective. I thought, [b-word] and [w-word] were a good start in that direction, but couldn't she do more?

At first vendor X took the high road and came back with psycho-babble jargon-based insults like "you're projecting." Then she passed into moral metaphoric language. "Your heart is cold and evil." But pretty soon she was firing off the same obscenities as vendor Y had started with, although she clearly didn't have the same mastery of the terms. I blame lack of practice, which I assign to her prudishness, which I assign to cowardice rather than ethics.

Vendor X also accused me of being remiss in my responsibility to rein in vendor Y. I didn't tell vendor Y to can it after her opening, but had waited until after her second move to do so. What was wrong with me?

Well, I already said it. I'm a writer. I wasn't thinking about the rudeness of the language. I was reflecting on the palette, the blue-within-blue.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Swimming Time

I forgot to say it, but I was born in, of all places, South Carolina. My Army Father was stationed there at the time. Within about two weeks he was transfered to the D.C. area and for the next thirty or so years I didn't come any closer to the Deep South than the northernmost edge of Arkansas. Think of the burden that's been on me. "Where were you born, Man?" "South Carolina." "Oh. So you're Southern." "No, I'm not." "No? How could you be born there and not be from there, Dude?" "I don't know, maybe I'm a fucking walking contradiction of logic and a violation of the fucking space-time continuum. I'm not Southern. How can you be so stupid and still utter English words, walk around, and breathe?" Etc.

Once we were in Washington D.C., my parents hooked up with some old friends who became my Godparents. Here's my Godfather on our right talking with my parents while my Mother holds me. Check out the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the background. I grew up with those. I was still writing "humour" until my forties.

The tension in my Mother's face was not unusual. Here's another creepy shot of my Mother holding me.

We were in D.C. a few months before going to Hawaii. I only have one memory now that I'm sure belongs to that time. My Mother and I are in a shallow wading pool. I'm put in the pool somehow, and she calls me to her. I remember dog-paddling to her. This is significant, because she told me years later that the only time she ever saw me swimming was before we went to Hawaii, before I was 6 months old. After that I became terrified of the water (we'll see why later.)

Music To Be Born By

I was born in 1949 and so was this.

The Alpha

I remember my birth. I haven't always believed that it was my birth that I was remembering. For a long time I assumed, as most people do, that no one could remember much of anything of their early pre-verbal life, much less their birth. But I've changed my mind.

The turning point regarding my belief in this thing came in the Spring of 1984. I was 34 years old, and I had always had a vivid detailed "memory" of being run over by a car on an early birthday. I could not only remember it, I could remember a sequence of dramatic events leading up to it, which would have needed at least an hour to transpire. I remembered suffering two blows to my head, one to the top, one to the side. I remembered a tire of the car rolling over my chest, forcing my lungs empty and pushing me deep into the soil. I remembered the trip in the ambulance to the hospital afterward.

I knew from documentary evidence, family photos for example, that the event, if it had actually occurred, could have happened no later than my second birthday. There was no way anything like that could have happened on my third or fourth or any later birthday. I had assumed until 1984 that it either hadn't happened at all and I had dreamed it, or it happened on my 2nd birthday.

Then I found a box of documents my parents had hidden from me all their lives. The box included doctors' reports and x-rays concerning the admission of a baby to Tripler Medical Center in Honolulu. The documents were dated in multiple places. The date of admission was July 9, 1950, my first birthday. I almost fainted when I saw that. Then I thought, no, this can't be, this must have been a brother I never knew.

I knew my Mother had given birth to a baby that died within hours of severe organic deformities. If he had lived, they were going to call that baby my brother Robert. So I looked again at the admitting documents, expecting to see the name Robert. The name was mine. The documents described how a one-year-old baby was picked up by ambulance after arriving at the scene at 9:05 PM July 9, 1950. The baby was admitted with evidence of two instances of head trauma, a fractured and dislodged skull, tire-tracks across his chest, and a story from the Native Hawaiian ambulance attendants, duly noted, that he had been lifted off the grass. Exactly as I remembered it.

I couldn't believe anymore that I had simply dreamed it. But that also meant that I didn't dream waking up in the hospital later with a detailed and accurate memory of not only the events of those few hours but of the previous year. I am convinced now that I was so shocked by what had happened that I became obsessed at that time with the earliest events of my life, going back to my birth, because I needed to know what went wrong.

I suspect that most any 1 year-old child could tell you of memories of his birth if only he could interpret them and articulate them. What I did was preserve them out of a desperate need to find an interpretation, until I could.

Here is that interpretation.

First, there was blackness and I don't remember any sound. Then there was a sound, but I don't feel like I noticed it. Then suddenly there were two sounds. I remember suddenly being aware of something for the first time ever. I was aware that there were two sounds. I'm sure that what I was aware of were the two sounds of my Mother's and my own heartbeats. I didn't know that one came from me and one came from someone else. But I was aware that they were distinct from one another. It was a first awareness that there were distinctions.

If a time passed after that I had no sense of it. But then all at once there was a point of light in my imagination. It was just there. Then below it there was an image of a flat surface. I'd never seen anything before. I'm sure I wasn't really seeing anything then, it was a vision. Other lights appeared above the surface. It was like a night sky over a still ocean. The other lights began to revolve around the first and still brightest one, like the stars revolve around the pole star. The stationary light became brighter and a filament passed from it to the surface. For a moment a kind of ball appeared there, as if floating. I thought the ball was me. It was the first memory I had of having a sense of being. I was the ball, the light had made me.

Then, the stationary light moved downward to the "horizon" and appeared to move below it. As it did, the other lights continued revolving around it and moved in unison with it. After doing this, the original image was restored and the movement downward repeated. It repeated once or twice more. Finally I had in my mind the notion that not only could the light move, but so could I. I could somehow follow it. No sooner did I have the idea that I could follow the light downward, then I felt movement. I was aware of moving muscles, and changing position. I felt that I was twisting about and diving at the same time. The idea of movement and the movement happened at the same time. I have a sense that I was both causing the motion and all at the same time being propelled by an external cause.

Exactly then there was a sound, which I couldn't interpret at the time. But I could remember it phonetically and later I could interpret it. It was English and by the time I was 3 I knew enough to know the words used. "John -- I think the baby just turned over."

In all this I still had very little sense of time. The movements had happened once and for all, there was no idea that there was time between them. Even the beats didn't seem to beat in time. But then I noticed that they were closer and farther, and closer and farther. They would match and then separate. I saw a point of light again. The heartbeats became more and more matched, taking longer and longer to converge and diverge, and simultaneously the point spread out into a line segment.

As soon as the line seemed to stretch out horizontally forever the heartbeats synchronized.

After this all hell broke loose. There were loud voices. Yelling. There was pushing. I was pushing. I didn't know why at first. Then I saw a light and I decided that it was the light I was pushing for.

I don't remember any trauma. The idea that nobody would remember their own birth because it would be too unbearable doesn't fit with me. I don't remember it being bad. I remember it being thrilling. It was an adventure.

At least it was until the doctor held me. I was afraid being held by that man. He smelled wrong. I think I was predisposed to fear anything that smelled like a man at the moment of birth.

The birthing room was a blur otherwise. Bright but no details. The first details I remember were of something that looked like a typical viewing room. I was laid on a crib. As I laid there I happened to see a wall clock in front and above me. I took it for a face and was immediately afraid. My eyes strayed from it and I didn't know how to look back where I had seen it. So I had to search the whole wall for the clock again. Gradually I was able to find it, lose it, and find it again. I did this over and over, and the clock didn't attack me. So I came to trust the clock and decided it was there to protect me. I think I briefly thought of it as Mother.

Then a nurse appeared and I was confused again.

Technorati Sucks, Week 5

Technorati inched toward an acknowledgment of a shred or fragment of my existence this week! They still haven't either written me personally about my complaints or solved my problems, but I was included in a customer survey. No doubt either all of Technorati users were included in the survey, or I was included only by luck of a pseudo-random draw, but this is wonderful evidence for me that I am on a list of creatures that have some feeble semblance of life and dealings with Technorati!

The survey was conducted by survey-monkey Zoomerang. I like saying "survey-monkey." Survey-monkey Zoomerang's basic professional price is $599 per year. Technorati can pay survey-monkey $599 per year to tell them in general how much they are loved, but they can't spend 3 cents for a pile of electrons with which to answer my complaints personally. Survey-monkey. Survey-monkey.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Funny Out of This World Stuff

For the first time since Mars landers demonstrated what an arid lifeless dump Mars is, astronomers have found a planet other than Earth that could be life-bearing. So what's the headline? "New planet may be habitable, but don't start packing."

We all know how condo prices are going through the roof, but that doesn't mean it's worth mounting a 20 light-year expedition to the nearest possibly habitable planet, because, oh, I don't know, IT WOULD TAKE MORE THAN A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS USING CURRENT TECHNOLOGY, AND YOU'D BE DEAD ON ARRIVAL?

NO! The article says, don't GO there, SISTER, because THIS planet, called Gliese 581c, by the way (it's name is also its tax status?!), circles its red dwarf star once every 13 Earth-days! You DO NOT want to add the years so fast -- that's over 27 "years" per Earth year! OUCH!

Not only that, but at 1.6 times Earth gravity at the surface you would be SO putting on the pounds! (And I DO know the difference between pounds -- which measure force, and would therefore increase! -- and kilograms, which measure mass, and therefore WOULDN'T increase!)

Funny, funny, stuff!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Literature of Exhaustion, Indeed

Wikipedia has this to say about Giles Goat-Boy:

"Giles Goat-Boy (or The Revised New Syllabus of George Giles our Grand Tutor) is an allegorical satirical postmodern novel written by John Barth. It was first published in 1966, and deeply reflects the American campus culture of the time."

It goes on to say that "numerous mythological and Christian allegories" make the fate of the hero, George Giles, a farm animal, "seem almost predestined, regardless of his innocence." It's available in a paperback version that runs 748 pages and has a shipping weight of two pounds. [Below right: The perpetrator. You may click upon him.]

The book was first published in 1966. I found it in the Willard Straight Student Union Library while I was a graduate student in math at Cornell around 1974, when I was homeless but still a student. Around that time I had been getting ready for the 3 hour oral exam that was necessary to guarantee a masters degree and let me to get on with a doctoral candidacy, and to even think about selecting a thesis topic.

The preparation for the oral exam was brutal. The deal was, your exam was scheduled at a time and place publicized throughout the math department, so all the professors could attend. Any professor interested in how you might do was welcome, including professors who were not on your doctoral committee. Even professors you'd never met or taken classes from were welcome to attend, and welcome to ask questions. The 3 hours of the exam was just a rough guideline.

You were told to prepare to answer any question in mathematics on any subject that any professor in the math department wanted to ask you. How do you?

You prepare by reading every damn book you can barely grasp in the math research library. You read day and night for months. You take thousands of notes. You realize that some jerk is going to ask you about his own research, so you try to dig up every pet paper of every self-centered jerk in the department, make some sense of it and at least learn enough to regurgitate some of the jargon to show that you tried.

Meanwhile, you want to be an educated literate human being. You like to read. You want to get away from it all, but you don't only want to escape to National Lampoon, you also want to gather up a little culture. Why not sit down in a nice plush easy chair in the the Willard Straight Student Union Library with a nice allegorical satirical postmodern novel and soak up some easy literary culture that way? Especially one that reflects American campus culture, so it should be familiar in spite of surreal elements.

[Above: How most Americans know Willard Straight Hall. Pulitzer Prize winning scene from the 1969 Black Student Takeover, before I arrived at Cornell. The windows of the library looking out on this entrance-way would be visible if the frame extended a few yards to our left.]

I made it to page 50 before my brain seized up. It wasn't that I wasn't up to the challenge of reading Giles Goat-Boy, in itself. It was Giles Goat-Boy plus 20,000 pages due Tuesday to be regurgitated in front of God knows how many or even which fish-faced math professor-torturers.

It was Giles Goat-Boy and surgery on compact non-simply-connected differentiable manifolds, Giles Goat-Boy and the use of spectral sequences to analyze the cohomology of Serre fibrations, Giles Goat-Boy and embeddings of this and immersions of that and oh god what if an analyst shows up because I have a reputation for being hot in analysis, and they want to know about p-adic analysis, because "everybody knows that topologists keen on analysis are out to apply p-adic analysis via localization and completion arguments but I have never cared about that because I have kept my interest in topology and my interest in analysis separate, why, WHY, had I never combined them? The exam IS TOMORROW!"

[Shown above: Someone else's random spectral sequence scratchings. Not to be confused with lovely colorful light spectra.]

I passed the exam on the first try, something that was rather unusual, but it took so much out of me it was a year before I could think of reading a postmodern novel again. When I felt ready, I realized that I would have to get back on the horse that threw me. I had to re-attempt Giles Goat-Boy. But after a year I had forgotten what I had already read. So I began again at page one.

And I made it to page 50, and my brain seized up. I couldn't absorb the story! Past page 50, I would need to reread page 1 and page 2 and page 15, over and over again. What was it about? I couldn't make sense of a postmodern novel anymore!

No other postmodern novel could be started until I could read this one. I bought my own copy. At first I retried it every few weeks. Then it became an annual ritual. Every year, around November, I would take my copy of Giles Goat-Boy out and make a brand new effort to read it, starting with page 1. Every year I made it to page 50, and then my brain seized up.

In 1983 I began seeing a psychotherapist for what I thought was an unrelated problem, having to do with lingering after-effects of childhood abuse I had survived. I saw her off and on for the next eight years, and in fact I still see her now once a month. But I separate out those first eight years for special mention, because they culminated in a breakthrough.

The breakthrough occurred in November 1991. One thing I realized was that the abuse had not been my fault. I think that was a big component of the breakthrough. But there were a lot of little incidental components. I realized for example that my stupid smoking habit was a means of subconsciously co-opting my parents' power. I realized that I could start over and re-negotiate my feelings for my parents in the light of my new understanding, and that I didn't have to have good memories of them.

And I realized that it wouldn't kill me to never have read Giles Goat-Boy. It was stupid of me to think that I had to. I gave my copy away.

Today I celebrate November 1991 continually with my personal slogan, which names my website: "Harnessing Stupidity Since 1991."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Limbus, Nimbus

My immediate reaction to the news that the Roman Catholic International Theological Commission had put down the concept of Limbo, saying it reflected an "unduly restrictive view of salvation" was to rejoice that this may be the loophole that gets me into the last big party in the sky.

After all, although I have been baptised at least four, possibly five times, most were against my will, and therefore couldn't have counted (surely consent matters) and the other time probably didn't "take" either, as the devil did not leave me screaming, and the wet spot didn't raise any welts.

So I've been thinking Limbo was my best hope. Maybe God would decide I was like the virtuous pagans who lived before Jesus and couldn't have heard of him. So at least I wouldn't fry.

Now though, the Commission was saying that God could extend his Grace more than had been dreamed of ever before, and whoa, maybe He might accept the heretofore Limbo-bound to Heaven.

Then Anitra "Freethinking Christian" Freeman pointed out the silly error of my reasoning, which only wishful thinking could have blinded me to, namely that I have heard of Jesus, and have had plenty of chances to install that program, and have repeatedly clicked the back button, so there is no question that I never was a candidate for Limbo at all, and frying has always been and always will be my only option.

I can only console myself with the fact that no one has promised pizza in Heaven anyway. So what good is it?

Which brings me to what I hate about the Commission's position. I LIKED that there was a Limbo, because it made the whole situation more interesting. Baroque good. Rococo better. The more stuff there is in your theology, the more stuff I get to play with. OK, I can't get to Heaven, but tell me there's pizza there, and some of it has pineapples and ham, which I wouldn't like, and some of it has anchovies, which I would. Someone might toss some cold leftovers down to Hell. I want to dream.

The Germans are surely behind this. With their revolt against Nouns triggered by the way their own written language rubs their faces in them all the time. So they keep trying to take all of our Nouns away from us and the Things and Places and People they attached to, to leave us with nothing but a world of be without any Thing or One to do the being, or any Place to do it.

Please Ratzinger, in your quest to escape the tyrannical Nouns of your literature, don't also take away the furniture and rooms of my English imagination!

[Baroque Good? Rococo Better?]

Friday, April 20, 2007

Technorati Sucks, Week 4

So here's the drill. Every Friday morning I will check my inbox and see if Technorati has responded by email to my complaints. I will also check to see if the problem is fixed. If not, I will post something like this with a title, "Technorati Sucks, Week [One More Than Last Time]". This will make a trajectory of posts over time, which I hope will be pleasing to me in the manner that I am accustomed to being pleased by modern conceptual art. This is possible as I have been to college, and have learned there to enjoy modern conceptual art, because there was little else.

[Shown: Piece by artist R. Mutt, alias Marcel Duchamp, 1917, that has been named the most influential modern art work of all time. I am in total agreement, because I have been to college.]

Thursday, April 19, 2007

An Image of Homelessness

Above is a sight we see all too often in our cities today. An old homeless man walks down a busy sidewalk, clutching a paper bag. He's probably headed for a city park nearby, to sit on a bench and drink before going back to panhandling to get the money for his next bottle. In a few hours, when night falls, he'll be too drunk to be admitted to any of the Skid Row missions, so he'll have only two options. He can sleep in an alley, or he can talk someone into calling detox for him, and he can sleep off his drunk on their hard concrete floors.

Did I fool you? Did you really think that old guy was homeless? He was actually my grandfather. It was a shot of him shopping for hardware for his farm in the big city, Springfield, MO, a year or so before he died. The shot with the cat shows the same man in his most flattering context, on his farm ten or fifteen miles from that city.

What does it do to our culture if an unfashionable old man walking down a city street is automatically assumed to be homeless? And what if he were? What if he just lost the farm and was homeless. Would you be able to see the farm behind the man when he walked the streets of the nearest city? Would you have any way to find out about his past, if you never asked him about it, and assumed you knew more than you needed to know about his present and future?

The prevalence of homelessness in our cities is distorting our views of the people around us. We are telling our own fellow citizens' stories in our heads over and over again, instead of letting them tell their own stories.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

YOU don't eat right.

[The subsidized apartment building I live in is called The Union Hotel. It's run by DESC, Seattle's Downtown Emergency Service Center. All the residents have been homeless. I write a column for the monthly building newsletter. The column is called Out of My Mind. I'm posting them here, because I can. -- wes]

I finally have the osteoarthritis I've long expected. This is mildly annoying. But it's not a total disaster thanks to glucosamine.

This brings to mind one of my pet theories. I have a theory that you don't eat right. Actually the theory is none of us do, but I like to say YOU don't eat right, because I want to maintain my creds as a certified public annoyance.

The theory goes like this. Humans evolved over millions of years to eat what they could back before the last Ice Age forced them to invent throwing big rocks in order to eat the giant hairy elephants, because everything else went south.

So what were apes with barely any hair, dull teeth, no claws, and flimsy sticks able to catch? Well for one thing they had prehistoric broccoli. Prehistoric broccoli tasted worse than now and it was tougher. There was no broccoli "head," it was all stem. So your Mama chewed it all day before giving you any to eat. This is when the expression, "no dessert until you eat your broccoli" really meant something.

In those times "dessert," of course, meant protein. As rice and beans had not been invented yet, and as cows, pigs, etc. were too big, fast, pointy or bitey to catch, protein generally meant eat your bugs and grubs. Even lame humans can catch bugs and grubs. Bugs and grubs are a great source of protein.

And here's the beauty of it, and why I'm bringing it up now. Bugs and grubs are also a fantastic natural source of glucosamine. So the theory goes, we are all coming down with arthritis in our not so old age because we aren't eating what we evolved over millions of years to eat. Instead of eating our glucosamine laden bugs and grubs we're eating cows.

And we aren't even eating the parts of the cows that might help. We are having butchers cut the cartilage off our cows so that chemists can process it and resell it to us as chondroitin and mix it at high cost into our glucosamine pills.

Excuse me. YOU are having the butchers do that. I just eat at McDonald's. Do they even have butchers anymore?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Technorati Sucks, Week 3

I sent emails to Technorati telling them that even though their software says I successfully claimed 2 blogs with them their stats never update properly for either site and their search engine can't find anything at either one. I got automated replies within one minute telling me that the emails were received. The automated replies said they would try to have an answer within a week. It's now been 3 weeks.

All they have to do to stop sucking in my judgment is to send me emails periodically, like more often than once every eon, to say something useless but reassuring such as, "We are sorry we are so slow fixing your very important problem." They could even say, "The truth is we haven't worked on your problem at all, we've all been too busy being strung out on dope and screwing ourselves, each other, and our dog, which we named after you. Catch you in the down time, dweeb." That would be better than being totally ignored. Technorati sucks.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Cacophonous Nudge

I just found out that April is National Military Child Month. It has been so since 2005. That means they started it about 43 years too late for me to enjoy it as an actual military child, but I'll take what I can get. Thank you, Congress. Thank you, American Armed Forces. I can't tell you two how much you mean to me.

I have a ton of memories to share about having been a military child for twelve years, but right now I'd like to share the one that always comes to the front of my mind in Aprils.

In April 1958 I was 8 and 3/4ths, going on 9. I was living in Taipei, Taiwan. My Father was working there and at a mountain-top base he ran far to the south. He was in Army intelligence. The base he ran sent unarmed electronics-laden planes over Red China to spy on them. His people also spied on the Republic of China, on Taiwan. The ROC Army spied back on him. I had learned all this in December when my Father's own ROC Liaison Officer told me. That was after I had been driven up to the mountain base with my Mother, in an Army staff car. We had been blindfolded most of the way so that, if kidnapped, the kidnappers couldn't obtain the exact location of the base from torturing us. That sucked.

All that was behind me in April. All I knew then was that the other kids were saying that the island was being shelled, along the Western coast. Or maybe not the island itself, but some outlying islands. The Red Chinese were getting ready to invade. Before they do, they'll probably shell Taipei. We had a bomb shelter in the back of the house. It was a hole in concrete. I thought I'd be safer standing in the middle of the street with my arms stretched out and my mouth open, waiting for a shell to fall on my tongue, as I would be in that hole to have the surrounding concrete pulverized and bury me.

I also knew that a partial eclipse of the sun was going to happen on Saturday, April 19, 1958. My parents told me it was going to be a great show, because the natives were going to try to drive away the dragon that was coming to devour the sun, ha, ha. Silly ignorant natives.

Someone, I don't remember who, but it might have been one of the American neighbor kids next door, said that there was a good chance the Red Chinese would invade the day of the eclipse. He said that it would be a good time, because everyone would be distracted by the dragon. I tried to ignore that idea.

The day of the eclipse came. I remember it was due to happen early in the afternoon. At the time I knew to the minute when the maximum eclipse would occur. My father gave me a piece of exposed film to use as a filter so I could watch the progress of the eclipse. I was determined to ignore anything else that went on. I wasn't into sociology. I was a scientist.

At first as the moon's disk crept in front of the sun, it was just my parents and I in the middle of the road waiting for darkness to fall. Then as the sky began darkening, strings of firecrackers were draped over every wall in sight, and hundreds of Chinese ran out of the nearby houses. All of them were beating spoons on pots and pans. There was such a huge racket, I couldn't help but take my eyes off the eclipse and look at the people making the noise. When I did I made eye contact with one Chinese man about my Father's age. He grinned widely and winked at me.

I looked back at the sky, and I saw what he saw. I counted down to the second of maximum totality. Birds preparing to roost for the night raised their voices. Skyrockets screamed and arced at the horizon. With a thousand confused birds, hundreds of Chinese beating pans, and the remainder of the firecrackers, the din was awesome. I could have imagined an invasion. Instead I saw the most beautiful dragon, just doing what comes natural to a dragon, and only needing to be gently nudged away, the way you nudge dragons.

Balanced Investigative Reporting

The Huan Hsu piece about Real Change was in the Seattle Weekly this morning. I read it on SW's website around 11AM, about two hours after this week's Real Change started being sold. I wanted to talk about Hsu's article a little bit this afternoon after I got home from feeding the kitty, but it wasn't on the website anymore. What's up with that? Oh well, I guess I can remember it well enough.

So let's see. What do I need to do here? I need to write a short article of my own. I will write a fair and balanced piece about Huan Hsu, to show how appreciative I am of the fair and balanced way he approached writing about RC. I'll call it:

Is Huan Hsu a Moron?

There's been a well-publicized shortage of writers at the Seattle Weekly, and Huan Hsu is one of the writers that's been recently hired to make up that shortage. It's been rumored that Mr. Hsu is a moron. We decided to do some investigating of our own, and see what we could determine regarding his brain power.

We didn't want to have to actually learn who Huan Hsu is, or research any of his accomplishments. We just wanted to raise our ignorant question about him and pretend to research it by asking people the answer to it. So we made our way downtown and asked some random interested parties.

The first person we talked to was Timothy H, a director of a local street paper. Timothy had strong words to say about Mr. Hsu. "Hsu? Oh yeah, he's a fucking moron alright. He's the fuckingest fucking moron this fucking city's ever fucking had."

Around the corner from Timothy was a hairy-faced man feeding a cat. The cat-feeding man insisted on remaining anonymous. He pretended to be somebody we've never heard of, Gabby Hayes, and said, "I sure do know Hsu, I named this here cat after him, yessireebob. What was the question, Sonny? Oh no, he's no moron, he's a writer. All them writer fellas is a little tetched in the head, but that don't mean they're stupid."

Since "Gabby" hadn't given us the answer we were fishing for at this stage in the story, we asked him to justify his answer. He said, "I guess what I'm saying is, if the man is getting paid to write, he can't be a total moron. Now if you want to see a total moron... " We moved on.

A short way down the street we found a vendor named Joey hawking some street papers. At first the vendor didn't know who we were talking about. Then we told him it was the guy who wrote in the Seattle Weekly about how some vendors make so much money they can afford apartments and asked if that was right or not.

Joey said, "He has to be a moron if he had to ask people if it was right. Anybody who's been a vendor can tell you it's not right. Look at me, I've been a vendor for Real Change for 3 months and I can't afford an apartment. If they'd just fire the ones that can, I could take over their business and I'd rake in the green too. Of course when I do they should fire me too."

So the consensus by then was 2 to 1 that Huan Hsu is a moron. We couldn't leave it at that and still say how balanced we were, so we picked on one other guy with a saintly disposition to ask the question again. The guy said "No." By the way, that last guy we asked just got out of prison last year, but don't let that make you discount his opinion.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Cultural Dissonance

Easter is my favorite Christian holiday because it makes no sense whatsoever to me, and I do enjoy senselessness, no matter how much I say to the contrary.

The whole death and resurrection story makes no sense whatsoever. If Jesus is God, it's no surprise that He can resurrect Himself. So where's the drama?

Then there's the Easter Bunny business. Who thought up that abomination of nature? A rabbit that lays colored hard boiled eggs with stupid little decals glued to them? Couldn't they at least be soft-boiled? I hate dried out yolks. You know, a little salmonellosis isn't going to kill most of us.

I think I finally figured out why they hide the eggs. The whole business of gorging on eggs at Easter-time isn't a pagan idea at all. It stems from the fact that the Medieval Church prohibited the eating of eggs during Lent. So when Lent was over there was a surplus. Hiding the eggs ritually displaced the blame for the unavailability of eggs from the real culprit, the Church, and dumped it all on the bunny. They were trying to make us hate the bunny and love the Church. But it didn't work. Nobody can hate the bunny. He's a cute bunny, yes he is! YES HE IS A CUTE BUNNY!

But why are the eggs colored? I read that the red ones represent the blood of Jesus and the green ones represent the renewal of plant-life at spring. What do the purple ones represent? Tinky Winky?

In order to convey to my Christian friends exactly how senseless Easter appears to me, I offer this video I found on YouTube which I also don't get, and which I hope will instill within others the same kind of cultural dissonance that I derive from Easter. It's a Bollywood film with Cajun French subtitles added "for educational purposes." I want to know what school uses this material in its courses, and how their graduates are getting on in life.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Not Into Auto-Marginalization

If you are one of the one or two readers of this blog, you may have noticed the Third Party Functionality device that was temporarily at the bottom of the right hand column of these pages. It held a link to Technorati and a search engine that didn't work at all. I pointed that fact out to Technorati in an email to them two weeks ago as of today.

They have not got back to me to say anything at all. I expected something by now like, sorry for the wait, we're still working on your problem, don't give up hope. I wouldn't have minded if it was an automated assurance, like the recordings between muzak when you're on hold on the phone. But I haven't got butkis (sp?) from them.

I also pointed out to them that in the over two months since I signed with them they haven't acknowledged one update of Adventures in Bloggery.

My theory is that their software wouldn't handle these blogs because something about them put them outside their parameters. And the software isn't set up to flag the user in that event.

Now, I am perfectly capable of writing in internet obscurity until I die. It suits my image of myself. Muse of Other, and all, Misunderstood Genius and all, I Belong In Exile In Paris, Damn Why Didn't I Take French In High School, and all ...

Ha, ha, no seriously, I want readers. Why the fuck would I care about Technorati in the first place? So I'll be trying other strategies that don't involve their worthless ass.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Great-Grandparents Get Down

A film made in 1955 featuring dance greats George Christopherson and Freda Angela Wyckoff:

Until just the last few decades, whenever prudes complained about how oversexed, vulgar, or promiscuous kids these days are, they always blamed the Crude African Tribalism the Negroes maliciously smuggled with themselves aboard the slave ships. You can still see the idea crawling out of the woodwork when emotions get heated. For example, "GO BACK TO AFRICA AND DO YOUR GAY VOODOO LIMBO TANGO AND WANGO DANCE AND JUMP AROUND AND PRANCE AND RUN ALL OVER THE PLACE HALF NAKED THERE," as was recently emailed by U.S. Army recruiter Sgt. Marcia Ramode, in response to a black openly gay man's correspondence, pretty much incorporates the theme.

In the video you've just had the opportunity to see, a couple of pre-boomers, old enough to be my parents, dance in a style they might indeed have learned in their youth after they snuck out of their houses and across the railroad tracks to the local African-American Blues joint. My real parents, who were older still, would have said their morals were corrupted, by the Coloreds.

Nice White girls don't dance like that, they would have said, and good White boys are respectful to ladies, and don't stare so inappropriately, no matter what the provocation. This young man should have fetched a blanket, they would have said, to throw over this horribly vulgar woman. If not for her sake, then for the sake of the innocent on-lookers.

Nowadays, the prudes can blame all the oversexedness, vulgarity, and promiscuity on Baby Boomers, who are alleged to have invented sex ca 1967. This way they can avoid charges of racism. Some of the most cynical among them know this, that they are replacing one scapegoat with another. They know it benefits them politically because, against all reason, the apolitical hippy movement has been identified with the New Left movement, which in turn has been blamed on liberals, even though it was only occasionally liberal (as when Eugene McCarthy drew on some of its energy).

The truth is, Blacks didn't invent sex either. Neither did Adam and Eve. And Mary wasn't a virgin, and you all know it, so cut the crap.

I would never charge prudes with racism. I would charge them with prudery, or more precisely, having their heads up their asses, and rubbing too hard.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

A Tale of Two Parents IV

There's some mystery about what my Mother did before she married my Father. After working as a clerk in a department store in Washington DC, she eventually ended up doing civil service clerical work, but I don't know what agency hired her. Between the department store and the civil service work there could have been any number of adventures. There could be as much as five years unaccounted for. There is even the possibility that my Mother was a WAC. The cemetery that has her ashes lists her as having been a PFC. I don't know who gave them that idea.

[Right: Did Mother have a
Star-Spangled Heart?]

What I do know about my Mother is what she looked like in those days, and I have a good deal of information about her later hopes and dreams, and a sense of the times tells me that her later dreams were entirely formed from the glamor fantasies that characterized 30s and 40s film and art.

Therefore, Mother's idea of the Good Life:

She trained herself to be sultry and innocent in turns, as necessary. She considered herself too smart to have to learn anything, that's what idiots do. Really clever people just trick the idiots into getting things done.

[Silky sultry Mother / Cottony innocent Mother:]

Her highest goal was to marry a rich man. When a rich man didn't come along, and the clock was showing age 34, the new goal was to marry a man with a promising career. Why not a budding Lieutenant with dreams of his own of being a General?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Anitra made me post this. Me doing Mary Had a Little Lamb as a chipmunk, thanks to sound editing.

Class on Diversity

Today I was one of the speakers at a class on diversity at the University of Washington. The class is podcast, here it is embedded. I'm the last 20 minutes or so.

Note that the first 40 seconds are dead silence because of a mic problem, so you might want to give the slider a slight nudge to the right at the start, if you aren't into that much peace and serenity.

The original page is here. We're talking about the April 3rd session.

Sunday, April 1, 2007


I see two general categories of spurious claims to universality. I could call them the exclusive and the inclusive, or the conservative and the liberal, but today I will call them the catholoid and the unitarioid.

The catholoid spurious claims to universality are those analogous to the claim of catholicity of the Roman Catholic Church. You might think that after the Great (East-West) Schism the claim of catholicity would have been adjusted. Perhaps they could have continued to speak of one holy and apostolic church of which heres your Roman Half. Officially the Roman Semi-Catholic Church. [Shown to the right: a representative of part of the other half.]

Catholoid spurious claims to universality are recognized in the extreme as leading to such things as inquisitions and crusades, holocausts and pogroms, physical genocides and mass conversions. Think armies of missionaries, concentration camps, McCarthyism, and the Red Guard. The point is that if yours is the universal church or universal ideology or universal property and economic arrangement, then any non-subscriber does not fit in your world at all. First they must be converted. Then, when that doesn't "take," they have to be removed, so as to make real in the remainder a universality that was previously a lie.

As I've implied, catholoid behavior is most often a failure of conservatives (I include communists among conservatives. They are only "liberal" until the Tsar is out of the way.) Liberals don't make the catholoid mistake of excluding those who disagree with them. Liberals who make spurious claims to universality do it in unitarioid style.

By unitarioid spurious claims to universality I mean unfounded claims of factual existing universality. Consider the following sentence. "We all know there's something out there, some mystery, that gives meaning to life, even atheists know that. You can call it God or you can call it something else, but in your heart you know it's there." Actual real people say things like that.

Actual real stupid people, who call themselves liberal thinkers, go around and claim to know what beliefs other people carry around deep in the hearts, without ever bothering to ask first.

[Shown: Assorted mystery shit that never did me any good.]

I, for one, don't believe any mystery can give my life meaning. And I'm not even an atheist. I believe in more gods than most self-proclaimed theists do. I just think if it's a mystery, then it's a mystery how it does me any good. In fact it's freaking moronic to think that a mystery gives you anything. And it pisses me off to have freaking morons tell me I believe their moronic ideas in my heart, knowing that I don't.

This is why, whenever three or more liberals come together, someone takes offense at someone else, and organizes an action.

Unitarioid behavior doesn't lend itself to the kind of overt dramatic oppressions that the catholoid ones do. But I believe that in the long run the harm done by papering over real differences of thinking and beliefs among us is just as great. By denying real differences we prevent real understandings based on a solid foundation of truly knowing one another that could lead to a kind of social progress we've never had, but need desperately.

Of course, as soon as I announce my contrary beliefs publicly for the edification of the unitarioids next door, the catholoids who live on the other side of me haul their rack out of storage. So we never get anywhere. Hence I am peeved.