March 31, 2009

Time and place are everything

First time I heard this song, I was in a rental car in Miami, Florida, in the eye of a relationship hurricane if you will, driving or riding--strange that I can't remember which--in sulking silence and listening to public radio. It must have been Sunday morning.

It's hard to describe ... even hard to remember ... how it struck me as something sublime.

The other classic Blind Willie Johnson recording is this one:


I hate it when perfectly nice people say irritating things. They might talk about the "drinkability" of some piss beer. They might say "and et cetera." Or they might describe things to which one might relate as "relatable."

When I'm sitting in a meeting of people (often not from the academic side of the house) who talk about this situation or that textbook as being "relatable," I just want to say, "Oh, it's relatable? Then go ahead and RELATE IT."

Look: the Iliad and the Odyssey are "relatable" in that they are stories that one might relate. "The Three Little Pigs" is relatable ... not because one might identify with this or that little piggy, but because one might relate, or recount, a children's story. First Year Seminar is not relatable. A Practical Introduction to Literary Study is not relatable. (Shameless, I know, but at least there's no hyperlink.)

My cousin, in contrast, is not relatable, relative though she be. E equals emmereffin' emcee squared isn't relatable, though it is related to relativity. Get it?

Folks, the boulder that is the English language is rolling down the hill, and all we can do is throw ourselves in front of it to slow its inevitable downward momentum. Come all you sissified Sisypheans: can you relate?

March 29, 2009

Help me, Spock!

Flipping through the channels at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning, you can get a real cross-section of the self-loathing to which advertisers pander. I didn't notice this until now, but when I was in Jordan earlier this month, I don't think I saw a single infomercial. Those poor, unenlightened, people.

It's funny ... people presumably watch TV for escapism, right? Yet every five minutes we're reminded how bald we are, how fat we are, how undefined our abs are, how untrusty and prone to malfunction our penises are, how mysterious our credit reports are, how clogged with crap our colons are ... how damned we are. What exactly are we escaping from? I guess the escapism lies in the dream that these conditions are correctable.

Oh, and uh, just for the record, when I said "we" in the paragraph above, I didn't mean me specifically ... I wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea about my credit report.

The other thing I've found is the episode of Star Trek in which Kirk, Spock, a mildly crosseyed Abraham Lincoln, and a vulcan named Surak or something take on Genghis Khan, a Glenn Fordish guy who, unlike Glenn Ford as far as I know, led a genocidal war on earth in the early 21st century (in a snazzy red jumpsuit), a wild woman with a nice looking midriff who conducted some kind of genetic experiments, and Somebody or Other the Unforgettable, the guy who introduced badness to the Klingons.

All at the behest of a giant steaming dog turd.

When I was a kid, I loved this episode, and I was horrified when Lincoln died at the business end of a pointed stick. As I watch it now, there are some problems with this episode, but none more glaring than the fact that the bad guy's strategy relies on Genghis Khan's relentless talent for ... mimicry.

I just skimmed the wikipedia article on the Mongol warlord, and I guess I need to head over there and add some information about Genghis Khan's most dangerous skill.

March 27, 2009

Who is this impostor?

I don't know who this "LeBrown James" character is, or whether he's trying to stalk me by taking on some bastardized version of my name and presenting a weak imitation of my skills, but it's really kind of sad.

March 26, 2009

Satan on skates

It's been a busy week so far. I went to a hockey game last night and felt like I was at home somehow. That's not a comment on the level of combat in my home ... maybe I should said I was in my milieu.

"Hockey arena" and "milieu" aren't usually adjacent in my thoughts, I must admit. But: while there I saw ads for "The Dead," who will be playing there next month, and yes, I'll be attending. I haven't been excited about the show, but en route to our seats we saw a poster, with a variation on the "steal your face" image, and I gotta tellya, it got me going.

They were also selling a lot of Celtic-themed Penguins merchandise, which needless to say I liked. Though not enough to buy.

The game was good. The Satan of my title is, of course, Miroslav Satan. Not the other guy. Anybody for a "when hell freezes over" joke?

Forgot to mention: I received a substantive comment on a past post. Check it out!

March 21, 2009


Hi gang ... Somebody named JB just posted a review of Twilight over at Whiskey Fire.

March 18, 2009

A nice short scary movie

Yes, I know I've been relying a lot on videos this month, but it's been a wee bit busy around here. The good news is, this is a nice little film ... very creepy. Not in the way the rabbit cartoon was, but yeah, a little. So ... enjoy.

Nota bene: there's some NSFW language in it ... F-words and whatnot.

I wonder if this is the kind of stuff the creators of Youtube had in mind, or if they really meant it to be mostly idiots lip-syncing or shaking their asses.

March 17, 2009

And It Stoned Me

Huh. Well, Van Morrison's people have done a good job of hiding his stuff from me. Ordinarily I avoid these Youtube covers like the plague--or indeed like the plaque, as you know from my references to flossing--but you know ... every now and then you get lucky. Check out this nice piece of Irish-ish music, and Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Here's another, with one obvious problem, but once you get past it, it's also very good. Can you tell I love this song?

March 16, 2009

Top o' the mornin'? To me?

The Today Show crue is in "Ireland" now, and sure and begorrah, were they offensive this morning. My theory is that the worse the economy is, the more Americans throw themselves into St. Patrick's Day. Where are the media analysts and cultural critics who will analyze this phenomenon (do doo, do do do) for me?

So they met Obama's Irish 8th cousin today. 8th cousin. I'm not a genealogist, but I'm descended from some (I slay me), and it seems to me that everybody's pretty much everybody else's eighth cousin (or less). Ridiculous. And the Irish Obama song was fun before the election, but dammit, the election is over. Today Show, quit campaigning for him already. How about holding his feet to the fire about these bailouts? Nah ... instead we'll walk around the gardens of "Ireland."

Are you wondering what the quotation marks around Ireland were for up there? Are you eager to jump on me for using them for emphasis? Well, sorry. I say "Ireland" to refer to the place where American telejournalists go in March. I would love to go to that "Ireland." It looks so simple, with people living amongst sheep and all. They presumably whittle their soap and all that.
Wear sweaters and cool tweed caps. That would be cool. I could live like that. Does "Ireland" even have electricity?

I think it must be a lot like the magical kingdom of OZ.

And really, who cares about the real Ireland, if there is such a thing? It's probably way too complicated.

March 13, 2009

Too Tired To Rant

I've heard and read about people falling asleep doing the strangest things. Well, the things they were doing weren't necessarily strange, but the fact that they could fall asleep doing them might have been considered surprising. But I can honestly say, whatever it is, this week I can imagine falling asleep during it.

When I was a kid, my dad raced stock cars at a nearby dirt track. I'd sit in the front row and cheer for him, and often I'd fall asleep during the races. And these races were loud ... not Nascar loud--should I have written that NASCAR, with the italics indicating speed?--but pretty damned loud.

I've also dozed off while getting a haircut--oh, geez, not another haircut entry!--and while having my teeth cleaned. I have some of the crookedest teeth in the developed world, and I floss them like the proverbial emmereffer. And I prefer the good old fashioned mechanical scraping to the screechy ultrasonic water laser thingy they tried on me once. Couldn't sleep during that.

I've fallen asleep at the movie theater, and I've fallen asleep during operas (sorry, Peggy). And I've fallen asleep during more afternoon sitcoms than I care to count (again, apologies where due). Last night I dozed, unapologetically, during an excruciating county band concert in which the progeny performed.

Wait, what? Did you think I said "The Prodigy"? Well, if you insist ...

Same time last year.

March 12, 2009

New Template

This will do, at least until St. Patrick's Day.

Brought into the 21st century by the underrated Daredevil film and My Name is Earl!

Wordpress Envy

Okay, no love for the format change ... I can understand that. I don't like it much either, especially since it has elements that I don't need and that don't work.

But I'm tired of the old, people. Let be be finale of seem, is what I'm saying.

So I'm thinking ... just thinking, mind you ... just kicking it around ... about seeing how Wordpress works, rather than Blogger. Because Wordpress looks a little cooler, a little more control freak-friendly. Just kicking it around. Any thoughts? any experiences?

By the way ... Bleak House is pretty damned good, it turns out. Especially on the Kindle (2)... easier to read in the growlery. If I must die (and empirically, I think I may be immortal ... so far so good!), one of the acceptable causes is spontaneous combustion. And if you've ever been around me when the Steelers are playing poorly, you know it's not that hard to imagine.

Just preferably not in the, uh, growlery, pace Elvis.

March 09, 2009

Don't leave me hangin'!

Wow, I can't believe that the template change provoked no comment ... if you can't say anything nice, right? OR my clever yet prurient allusion to David Lynch's masterpiece, Dune.

Come on ... what do I have to do to get a rise out of you people?

Oh, okay.

March 08, 2009

Oh, and ...

I hope you like the new template: creator credits are at the bottom of the page. I would have stayed with the old one if I could have figured out how to make the text part wider. But it was time for a change, I think.

Let's see if this works

Clicking should take you to the Picasa album, where you can view larger images if you prefer.

March 05, 2009

Penultimate night

I love the word "penultimate," because people misuse it, thinking that it means "more ultimate than ultimate." I really love the word "antepenultimate," just because I think it's weird that we need a word for "the one before the one before the last one." It's a hopeful word, and a word with a lot of syllables.

So ... today was spent in meetings, which was actually kind of relaxing after hiking all the f--- over Petra yesterday. Thing is, you can't stop. Everywhere you look, it's "Holy crap! Can you believe that? Can you believe that something like that actually exists?" And then, when you start thinking about the technology that went into it, it's really pretty unimaginable.

Also unimaginable is that up until pretty recently, people still lived in those caves ... and in fact, it looked to me like a lot of the vendors lived in there even now. Or at least they stay there a lot.

I'll post some pictures when I can, for those who are interested. In the meantime, this.

The highlights of the day for me were two: first, a conversation with a guy selling jewelry who told us a lot about the economy of the place, and claimed to have been raised in the ancient city. About that, I don't know. But he proved the gems were real and not plastic by holding them over a lighter flame, which I thought was pretty cool. When I looked at one item, he said, "Don't buy that; it's a fake."

Then, much later, when we were climbing the mountain path to an unspeakably spectacular view, a young woman called to me to come behind her table to look up because it was safer (I was backing up while looking up the mountain, and she thought I was going to step too far back, I guess). This was the only traditionally dressed woman to talk to me, and she did it without any self-consciousness at all, even though her mom was glaring. She asked me if I had kids, and I told her about them, and it turned out she's right between them in age: seventeen. This might explain her more outgoing attitude, as opposed to the older women, whose sales pitch is limited to "One dinar! One dinar!"

On my way back down she sold me a couple of necklaces made out of camel bone. She said, "Good, you came back. I've been waiting--it's time to go home. It's a long walk with my baby." Like an idiot I looked around for the baby, but he/she hasn't been born yet. If I'm being romantic, I'm thinking that kid is going to have an amazing life, living close to the land in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. If I'm being cynical, I'm wondering what opportunities the kid will have for education, etc.

If I'm being honest, I'm somewhere in the middle. I'll tell you this, though ... these people have some amazing eyes. I felt like Muad'Dib or something. Especially when Sting attacked me in his jock strap. Wait, that wasn't me.

March 03, 2009

If I could I surely would

Monday was a tourism day. We began by driving (being driven) out to Madaba, where there's a famous mosaic map of the region. That was interesting, but the drive out of town was much more so. People we spoke to told us about how real estate prices had gone through the roof outside of town, since many people who had left Iraq with lots of money "no one knows where their money comes from" had relocated there." We also drove past mansions owned by "nomadic" Bedouins, with their tents and livestock in the gardens. Times and fortunes change.

From Madaba we went to Mount Nebo, where Moses was granted his distant view of the Holy Land, and where he died and was buried by God. Needless to say, the view was stunning. The name of the country across the river never quite makes it into conversation, I've noticed: "That hill belongs to Jerusalem" is about as far as one gets.

Coming down from the mountain and heading toward the Dead Sea we saw some really dramatic scenery, and lots of tents without big mansions attached to them. Herds of goats on or near the roads, though I couldn't see anything around for even goats to eat. During a conversation about milking and/or goats, our driver told us, "Goat is the best lamb." My new motto.

On the road to the Dead Sea there were a couple of checkpoints: "What kind you got?" the soldier asked our driver in Arabic (it's great traveling with native speakers). I guess the driver responded with our nationality, since the soldier smiled and said, "Welcome to Jordan" in English. Along that road I saw camels for the first time, and the only armored vehicle I've seen as well. The Dead Sea was, well, still dead. There's salt just lying around down there, and interesting salt crystal growths on some of the rocks. Pretty cool.

Then it was on to the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. We met some British folks whose daughter lives just a few miles down the Susquehanna from us. Small world. Set foot in the Jordan river, which, slightly flooded from the recent rain, is barely a creek (and you know, if you know me, that that's pronounced "crick"). But across the river in the neighboring country was an impressive concrete ... thing? bunker? ... looming, impressively, with big flags flying. Assertively to say the least.

I've been asked to say more about the food, and I'll try to do justice to the dinner we had last night in a future post. I did have a revelation last night, not in the mosaic church, not atop Mt. Nebo, and not at the site where Jesus was baptized, but outside the shawarma stand back in Amman. Traffic is insane in Amman, but it works. People drive aggressively and with little regard for people behind them, as I guess is necessary in places where traffic is guided by circles, and where streets have grown organically rather than through planning, but it works. Everybody seems to know that everybody needs to get where he or she is going, and there is apparently some sense of fairness to the whole thing. Double parking is reasonable as long as the inconvenience to others is within reason. It makes some kind of sense.

I'll leave you with one final observation, a followup to not speaking the language: banal pop music on MTV is a lot better when you can't understand the words; it's exotic and compelling. So, that's something.

March 02, 2009

On not speaking the language

I don't know whether a language can be inherently beautiful, independent of the quality (dare I say timbre in a pretentiously French accent) of the speaker's voice or the content of the utterance, but if so, I'd say Arabic would be a good candidate for a highly beautiful language. Then again, maybe some world traveler is sitting in a hotel room in the states right now, marveling at the beauty of English as it trips off of Ann Coulter's treacly tongue. And yes, that's as close as I ever came to talking myself into throwing up.

I'm not much of a traveler in general, which is strange because I like being in places where I don't speak the language. I first noticed this at MLA in San Francisco many years ago ... no, not at a Derrida panel, but in Chinatown, where I wandered aimlessly for several days, interviewless. I was staying at a hotel called the Californian. Me making the reservation:

"So, let me get this straight: I can check out any time I like?"

"Yeah, but you can never leave. Ha ha. Never heard that one before."

Well, screw you, buddy ... it was new to me. Though I did adapt his response for use when people ask me if I feel good. "Oh, yeah, I guess he and I do have the same name. I never thought of that before. That's pretty funny. I guess I have a kind of funny name. Thanks for pointing that out."

I used that one once on the clerk at the BP--Sohio, it would have been then--on Lane Avenue right near Grad School U. It was about 3:30 in the a.m. and I was buying a half-price just-expired egg salad sammich with my gas card. The power of nostalgia is such that I look back at the time with a certain fondness. Anyhow, I continued to ask the clerk what his name was, forcing both of my eyes to focus at once on his name tag, which read "Miles."

"You have a kind of funny name too, Miles. Are you 'Kind of Blue'?" I said it just like that, with the hyperlink. He was edging toward the phone as I left.

As I think I've demonstrated, there's something liberating about being someplace where you can't speak the language, and I'm not talking simply about a calculus class or something. I mean a place where you can't even tell what sounds the letters on signs make, or when one word stops and the next one begins. How much of our brains is dedicated to parsing useless words in the background? People walking around wearing stupid slogans on their stupid shirts, car radios blaring, the television on 24 hours a day ... stuff like that.

If you can't understand a word spoken to you, it's probably a lot like being a cat.

March 01, 2009

Jordan, Day 1

Actually day two ... we got in last night, had a fair amount of line-waiting getting a visa and all at the airport, which was annoying after basically 24 solid hours of travel, but okay. The drive from the airport was dark and rainy, and occasionally interesting because the roads are not built here with drainage in mind. But our driver was equal to the task, and I was too tired to worry about it.

(In Paris, incidentally, I had the pleasure of introducing the Amazon Kindle to airport security ... yeesh. But I dig the thing immensely, especially since you can read pretty much anything from Project Gutenberg on it. And living an hour or so from the nearest full-service bookstore, the Kindle makes a lot of sense.)

So, after a good night's sleep (assisted by Charles Dickens's Bleak House, I must confess!), I got up this morning to be shown around Jordan, specifically the old city near the amphitheater. I took some photos that I think will look okay, but the damned Kodak camera will not play with Linux, and when the Wordshed goes on the road, we kick it Kubuntu, baby!

So the pictures will have to wait. Since it was raining, that's probably no great loss. Lots of stores, mostly.

We had lunch in a restaurant with no menu ... they just bring you food: hummus, falafel, and the like. Very satisfying ... even more so since the price for the three of us was JD 3, about five bucks. We ordered from one waiter, and when another came and started serving us, we asked him what was going on (since generosity seems often to be accompanied by the expectation of dinars); he informed us solemnly, "I am responsible for the falafel." I like people who take their work seriously.

The point is, I think we're going to beat the per diem. And that, my friends, is the first rule of travel.