Monday, April 30, 2007


I abscond beneath the ashen knoll
lock the lucid sun behind
its long light grasps at my rabbit hole
and harries the dusty nooks of mind
casts shadows on the fitful sparking globe
races to find thought's chasm rent
compressed to microcosmic nodes
and exploded into firmament
where seraphs link their hundred arms
infiltrate the vast creation
quantum sparks, estranged and charmed
dancing cogs of divine rotation
Angels still hold crystal spheres aright
refracting certain speeds of light


I'd say this got about halfway to where I was trying to go. The angels are in the details, I think.

Nods to two of my favorite poet bloggers, and to the forgotten bards of Ægypt.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Angel in My Armor, Sister in My Soul*

I admit that I haven't been paying much attention for the last five or ten years. When Christina Hoff Sommers proclaimed a war against boys, and when the various pundits of that heady pre-2001 era chimed in about the denial of boyishness, I confess that that it struck a chord. Not because I felt particularly failed by the educational system (although it could be said that I'd failed it), but it was an affirming message to someone who was not very satisfied with conformity, not particularly ambitious about his career, had never really experienced this sexism thing at his level of the monkey tree, but who'd just suffered a pretty toxic dose of some nasty Andrea Dworkin-style feminism. I never did read Sommers' book, but followed some similar discussion in Salon, Camille Paglia and the rest, nodded a few times, and got on with life.

In a soberer frame of mind, I'd say the sensitive new age guy (SNAG) was already a caricature by the time he became easy fodder for punditry or parody (a fine line, there). If my keen analysis of popular culture is correct, then his intellectual heyday was between 1972 and 1983, precisely spanning Alan Alda's turn as Hawkeye Pierce, and, coincidentally enough, the first decade of my life. A bad guess, evidently: I just heard that the wussification of the American male has continued unabated. Not only is he growing up completely neutered, that emasculation is the cause of murderous rampages, not just here, but throughout the world. Cho's problem? Didn't have a manly outlet. That's the problem with the Arab world too. If only our young men could get some nookie beat their chest and fight stuff in a constructive way, all our problems with violence would be solved!

According to the NRO blurb (and thanks to IOZ for spotting it):

[Camille] Paglia believes the [high] school Cho attended would have been no better equipped to deal with frustrated young males. 'There is nothing happening educationally in these boring prisons that are fondly called suburban high schools. They are saturated with a false humanitarianism, which is especially damaging for boys...' Cho is a classic example of 'someone who felt he was a loser in the cruel social rat race,' Paglia says. The pervasive hook-up culture at college, where girls are prepared to sleep with boys they barely know or fancy, can be a source of seething resentment and alienation for those who are left out.

It's comforting for frustrated men (and their mothers) to attribute violence to (sexual) frustration. But the idea that we live in singular times of male impotence, or in singular times of American violence is (thus far) inaccurate. Not only is the cause unlikely, the alleged trend is the starkest bullshit. Here are some data I plotted for homicide rates in the last century (sources here and here**). In all of the articles I could find, my crackerjack cultural analysis of SNAG's ascendendance coincides neatly with a decrease in homicide. Oooops!

According to the papers I've found that play with these and other data, there have been three big violent crime surges in the last couple of centuries, starting, roughly, in 1850, 1900 (the start of my plot), and 1960. I'd be hesitant to ascribe any of those rises or falls to simplistic masculine ideals (I'm suspicious of arguments using abortion too), but wussification has correlated pretty well to the decline of the later one, falsifying the Paglia blather effectively. It's perhaps more likely that the hagiography of the Roosevelt- or Kennedy-esque big swingin' dicks is the bigger problem. A real man fights and kills. It took particularly senseless wars to collapse those silly avatars. Viet Nam birthed SNAG, and we remembered the Maine to the pointless expense of lives in 1898.

The obvious problem with Paglia's opinion--other than the pesky facts--is that it fails to observe that it's always been harder for the boys who aren't particularly assertive to get laid. Nice guys, they say (forgetting it's a marathon, this life), finish last. Eventually, my reaction to Dworkin feminism went somewhere other than Sommers suggested. The rebuttal to the blamers that I settled on--which has become one of my hobby horses, really--is that men suffer from ridiculous feminine ideals as much as women do from ridiculous masculine ones. Yeah, it sucks that women are held to images that center on the improbable body of a 16-year-old naif, and the mind of a 40-year-old hooker, but it also sucks that men are held to some unlikely ideal which is both entirely self-absorbed and also primally sensitive to women's needs. The sensitive rebel that can only be tamed by the right woman is equally unlikely as the sexually proficient madonna that can only be seduced by the right man. Both gender ideals are awful, and both genders suffer for it. Can a man be man enough in that paradoxical circumstance? Well, we aren't bombing the living fuck out of Iraq because our leaders felt they needed to live up to feminist ideals. I don't think the problem's wussification.

Most of my favorite people have managed to define themselves beyond the obvious gender ideals. Sure, some of my favorite men are shit-kickers (and some of my favorite women aspire to be hotties), and I have moments of toeing the turds myself. Nothing wrong with it. We're not immune, and there are bases for stereotypes. But while a role may sometimes fit, it's not the end-all. The machismo ideal bugs the shit out of me. Self-centered idiots really piss me off. I don't feel the slightest inadequacy regarding my empathy. I'm not at all uncomfortable with my "wussification". We all have a measure of each of the dumb ideals in us. Good thing for society.

My feminine side is on the couch watching Oprah, occasionally pushing aside a breast to scratch my knee. --Al Bundy
[Late note: this post does not really address gender equality other than in a personal fulfillment/social interaction sort of way. Certainly more positive attitudes about the diversity of gender roles are connected to equal treatment of actual gendered individuals. Maybe in some other post.]


*my anima is doing just fine, but there's no accounting for her taste in music.

** I found a data set from the U.S. Department of justice too, on violent crime rates in the nineteenth and twentieth century, but it was condensed, and I didn't want to explain to my IT guy why I needed the latest version of WinZip, stat. It contains historical data from New York City and England. Apparently it's been frequently used for gun control arguments, which is not anywhere I want to go today.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fear, Loathing, and I-95

[Has it been a week already? I'm going to lose both of my readers at this rate. Blame the weather--I've been busy performing hard manual labor.]

Trundling around the hamster wheel, I found hotheaded denial from Michael Chertoff that the War on Terror is so totally not some bullshit made-up campaign, like certain nutty former policy-makers might have you believe. No, those airplane hijackers were part of a global movement, and we must fight it! It's difficult to say which global movement, of course (unless you're bold enough to use the I-word), but it's war, dammit. Meanwhile, John McCain, once a maverickTM and now struggling to recall an identity that seven years of capitulation to the absurd foreign policy justifications took from him, told me on the radio this morning that he's got every confidence that if we don't succeed in the Iraq war, they (Isla-- shhhh!) will follow us home.

At another of my usual stops, twiffer became the 4,097,234th blogger to opine on the Virginia Tech shootings, noting, quite reasonably, that, um, this isn't exactly common and stuff, horrible as it is, and despite what editorialists would prefer to say, maybe we should avoid overreacting.

It's not common. Although Jake Weisberg latches onto the "regularity" of school homicides, school violence is pretty rare. There are, on average, about 20 school-related homicides per year (see the graph), and out of about 60 million Americans between 5 and 19 (according the U.S. Census bureau), that makes the rate of school shooting about 3e-7, on the order of a hundred-thousandth of a percent. A school homicide is nearly a hundred times less likely to occur than a murder in the workplace, according to these data (unsurprising? I see a tradeoff between immaturity vs. availability of weapons, especially for the under 10 set). I've got a thousandth of a percent chance of being gunned down by a disgruntled someone at work in any given year (although maybe a little better than that here).

Roughly speaking, my annual odds of getting killed in a traffic accident are about a hundredth of a percent, or one in ten thousand. That rate is enough that in a moderately-sized community, it'll make for an impressive headline every couple of months when it happens to (hopefully) someone else. I take this as a good point of reference for risk assessment, call it the I-95 test. Driving on the highway represents a sufficiently low level of risk to my life that I consider it basically beneath notice. How does a homicide at school shooting to driving on the highway? My kids are a thousand times safer there than in the car with me.

It's harder to generate a yearly stat on terrorism, of course, at least of the kind that John McCain thinks is lickng its jaws in New York harbor even as I write. How ridiculous depends over how many years you wish to average a one-time event. Even so, in 2001, you had a better chance of having a skyscraper fall on you than having your office-mate go postal, but you were still 200 times more likely to die in a flaming car wreck.

Who should we really be afraid of? It's not like history's got any shortage of shit going bad, and fast. If you're a civilian in Iraq, your odds of dying in combat are about 65 thousand/20 million/4 years, or about a tenth of a percent, a hundred times more likely than I am to rack up my Subaru. The annual odds of dying there as a result of the war is over ten times higher than that, better than one in a hundred, and that's to say nothing of the kidnappings, threats, desperation, poverty, and general lawlessness. You are probably acquainted with a hundred people. That's like taking half a dozen kids from every school in the U.S. and putting a bullet into them.

Anyway, the people telling you that we're in mortal danger over here are the same ones saying everything's just fine turning a corner over there. And no, I don't trust them.

Keifus (This is depressing. I'd never make it as an actuary.)

UPDATE: I guess no one's saying it's peachy in Iraq, and I should be careful about glib reasoning. Okay, early in the war, I remember bullshit about casualties being similar to Detroit murder rates, and just recently there was General Petraeus telling the Washington Post that "Iraq is going to have to learn – as did, say, Northern Ireland – to live with some degree of sensational attacks." But still.

Petraeus' comment is, however, a little hard to stomach, considering the United States' inability to live with any measure at all of sensational attacks is at least one reason we're so busy blowing shit up over there.

Yesterday's news also had an item about a bombing at the Technical University of Baghdad. The radio mentioned some 200 casualties there so far (trying to grab this from memory, OK), and reports have, unsurprisingly, the Iraqi University system in shambles. The casualty rate may be exceeding 1% among what's left of the intelligentsia, but people are still going to the University. Would an annual 1 chance in a hundred of getting killed be enough to keep you away? (Compare it to the roughly 0.00001% shot in the U.S.)

I suppose in Iraq, the odds aren't much better outside of university, and it's not like there's a lot to do. But still.

UPDATE II: I also submitted this article to Wikifray and (especially) Slate, thinking any resident pedants might see some holes in my admittedly rough reasoning. That version of the post ended up being a whole lot more coherent.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Disapproval Network

"You're such a whore, Phil."

"Keifus! How can you say that? Dr. Phil is not a 'whore'."

"Are you kidding me? Listen to him shill. What the hell is it this time? Some weight loss crap*? In the name of intervention? The dude's totally shameless...and not exactly the slimmest guy in the world, I might add."

"I don't care. He's not a whore. Look at that little girl crying. You can't fake that sort of compassion."

"Compassion? The knob's exploiting the poor kid's emotions on TV like that. If he really cared about these people, he wouldn't be embarrassing them on national telelvision. But you know, Sweetie, anything for ratings. The whore."

For some reason, my wife doesn't like watching TV with me very much.

I've got kind of a love/hate relationship with the medium. While I enjoy some television programming outright, I choose to apply a relatively high standard if it's purporting to keep my attention between the crass ad breaks. I'm for a free market (with some big caveats), but that doesn't mean that I'm not bloody tired of all the consumerism jammed into every goddamn crevice of my life. I hate the way TV shamelessly angles for the susceptible: those primetime ads at least attempt to entertain me between the allegedly superior programming, but children's telelvision, and the crap on the emotion-pandering-on-the-cheap world of daytime TV just offer up a barrage of inferiority complexes. So when I'm stuck in that hell, I take every perceived opportunity to unleash my inner prick. You know, make my own entertainment. And anyway, Phil McGraw is a fucking whore, and deserves to be called on it.

My libertarianism is more of a pursuit-of-happiness than a laissez-faire stripe. I'm all for that free speech, and for as little government power over individuals that can leave an overpopulated society still functioning. The government will make no law abridging the freedom of speech, but communities can still pressure people to behave, and national television makes the network homogeneous. The TV lessons range from acceptable (friends matter!) to sketchy (love the cops!) to awful (the solution to violence is more violence!). Since we have shit that needs to be peddled and TV, even with cable, is a broad brush, we get the lessons most easily absorbed by the most, and it reinforces the values of the dumbest of us. Sex is bad, says the tube (but we can't get enough--what are our neighbors doing?!). Ditto killin' people. Ditto our opinions on who's not to be trusted, and who can't be punished enough. Don Imus didn't survive this long because he had a good radio voice. He got adopted as some brand of jowly bullshittin' culture reinforcer, a dinosaur remembering the semi-mythical good old days when the uppity mice were kept away from the eggs.

Dr. Phil's message could be worse, I suppose. Self-actualization is one thing, but I could do without the busybodies chasing around the poorly actualized. One of the more odious Dr. Phil guests is a retired detective, who spies on and professionally confronts people. The segment I remember showcased a teenage bride in a sketchy (possibly illegal) relationship with an older man. The camera followed the citizen police into the home, caught his shouting match, filmed him dragging the young woman out to the car. Meanwhile, the mother tearfully milked the Nielsens back in the studio. It worked out well for the young person. On camera it always does, but how many wannabe citizen soldiers have been heartened to bust the doors down on nonconformists?

If the free market means that I have to put up with marketing, then the free exchange of ideas means that insecure people will constantly try to shame you with their loud voices. Good arguments wouldn't rule the day even in libertarian la-la land. Even then we'd have to listen to the chorus of the disapproval network. And don't get me wrong, it's not conservative ideas about community that I'm attacking here (although I'll happily single out a couple of 'em if pressed), but rather the means of reinforcement: by peer pressure, by accentuating insecurity, by barrage.

The prices of freedom, I tells ya.


*It was probably something else last time I was watching, actually, but the diet aid dominated the Google search. Phil-endorsed Shape Up! supplements were something he was actually called on by consumers. The handful of shows I watched had him hawking either his books or somebody's self-help or emotionally-sanctifying product of some kind. In Phil's defense, the books are a lot less bad than the television.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Doorways to Elsewhere III: Review of There are Doors by Gene Wolfe

Grade: A+ (what the hell)

"'You're a goddess.' It took some effort for him to force the words to his lips; he made the effort and they came. 'You live forever.'...

'There are many forevers'"

This is a beautiful book, a love story, a story of being lost and of lost love. Wolfe, recognizable here but playing somewhat against type, tries for lovely, whooshing prose, nailing the tone pretty much out of the gate. The narrative voice is lovestruck, lonely, bemused, but determined. It uses some strategic repetitions (you can see that above), touches some troubled or faulty memories, and never refers to the protagonist by name. These effects add to the somewhat ethereal sense of bifurcation, the airy remove of someone who's somehow watched himself step down the wrong path. There are Doors is less deliberately obfuscatory than some of this writer's work, but the plot moves about in a way that is like a coherent dream.

The story opens with a woman's goodbye. Her note, her farewell, tells the protagonist to avoid doors--it could be any topological hole really, anything closed on four sides, but some of these portals will be significant. Do not seek her through these portals, she says. He does anyway.

Given the title, and the opening warning, the theme of doors seems, at first, to be underplayed. It's one that holds some magic for me, that inadvertant passageways could take you somewhere quite unintended.* The woman is from a mirror earth, but Wolfe only presents a couple of the significant doorways to this Elsewhere world (much like our own, but with some nontrivial differences). But that's just the overt meaning--and with Wolfe you can usually delve a little--more deeply, doorways are how the plot works. On the other side, the protagonist travels through a lot of mundane versions of them, but each passage alters the setting dramatically. It's disorienting at first, as it's intended to be, as he ducks suddenly between psychiatric institutions, shops of Eastern medicine, theaters, cars, hotels, into and out of sleep. Between each portal is a little one-act play, and you can almost hear the behind-the-scenes clattering as some higher being seems to be swapping out the scenery for the next improvisational vignette. Elsewhere feels very much like a sophisticated, but ad hoc, set, transitions justified on the fly. Is his displacement a symptom of mental illness? Is his goddess real? I often like some ambiguity in these sorts of exploration, and I suppose there's still room to question the author's reality(ies), but Wolfe comes down as clearly as could be hoped for a story like this. If the explanations didn't gel at the end, this book wouldn't have been quite the same, not quite as good. It's so much easier to open mysteries after all. But for all that Wolfe can be episodic, he almost always knows where he is going. This one is well recommended.


*Damn you Gene Wolfe, you articulate bastard you. I wrote this story, even, almost, to the how and the why of it. Sure, the one I put together was pretty amateur, and you know, you wrote this one almost twenty years before that. But damn, it was my favorite.

Genre: , , ,

Friday, April 13, 2007

Doorways to Elsewhere II: Review of Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Grade: B+ (charitably)

If Ysabel failed due to the lack of a compelling narrative voice, then Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood succeeds on it, just barely. The premise is sketchy: there's a wood in England that's bigger on the inside than on the outside. It's driven one man to obsession, and threatens to do the same to his sons. The wood is inhabited by mythological beings, mythagos as indicated by the title, that are heroic archetypes, taken from the cultural subconscious. When the British Isles still were covered by the post-glacial Wild Wood, these heroes emerged from it, as needed, from the brains of the various cultures.

A background like that, and it's all what you do with it. Holdstock resists a sentimentalist's or escapist's approach, at least in the first half, and reveals the story as the compiled diary of the protagonist, Steven Huxley. The diary voice is fairly well done: Steven writes in a convincing nineteenth/early twentieth century mode (the story is set at the end of the second world war). The prose has the appropriate shadings of purple where expected, a convincing disaffection when describing emotion (which strikes me as English) but a lot of exclamation points. Better, the diary framework offers a nice unreliable narrator kludge to keep the story moving along, and to avoid dwelling overlong on the obvious questions that would trouble any sane person in a situation like that. It's sometimes nice not to have to dwell on every single doubt that flutters through a protagonist's brain.

The first half of the book unfolds pretty well: the wood is mysterious. It consumed Steven's father, who became some kind of mythic being himself, and then his brother. The mythagos it generates are real, people who speak and reason, and love. Attempts to breach its perimeter are rebuffed in convincingly creepy confusion, and time passes oddly for those who do pass through its borders. It recalled the genius of Crowley's Little, Big: the farther in you get, the bigger it gets. Which is something you can feel in the woodlands, where different views can appear a totally new landscape, fractal like a coastline, space filled up in twists and turns.

But when Steven gets in, all that suggestion unfortunately must be put though the paces of the plot. Too bad. Within, the wood is quite mappable, and rather than being complex, it is just huge, with various mythagos, whole societies of them, living in different parts of it. While the ambiguity worked fine in the first half, the second half suffers because Holdstock didn't reveal what the whole thing is. When the mystery of the place was stripped away, I wanted answers instead of haphazard musings: how do these roaming heroes deal with one another? Do they fight? How do they view themselves, the outside? How about other cultures? Where the hell is the ocean in these myths of the British Isles? Holdstock furthermore invents lost cultures at a rate to outnumber the remembered ones. They're not uninteresting, but with the wealth of actual ancestral lore, why not use it?

Steven, as he travels inward, becomes an archetype himself, the kinsman of the dreaded Outsider, with a destiny of his own. It's a fine Freudian mess he's gotten himself into (Daddy neglected him for the obsession, became a primitive woodland god, and his brother stole his mythago gal more or less to act out on the old man), and while it's sort of all there, Holdstock doesn't toy a lot with the psychological angle either. Too bad, it might have been fun to hold it up against the epic.

Genre: , ,

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pregnancy TV?

I read a Slate article today. Evidently, there's a pregnancy-themed sitcom on ABC in the works.

It sounds absurd on the face of it, right? A woman's pregnancy will only get you through a season of programming, unless you take a truly weird take in which she's eternally preparing her nest, or has a new one just in time for every sweeps week. It's not a cartoon: sitcom kids aging is part of the deal.

But it's not like focusing on a year in the life is an unusual marketing ploy. To move all those beauty supplies, consumers are pursuaded to twist themselves to a mythic ideal of an eternally 18-year-old body. Gotta convince the tweens they need to look older, convince the twenty-somethings they're too fat and wrinkled and the forty-something men they should still be rutting like rabbits (note to self: re-evaluate on 40th birthday). (Of course developing all those products takes chemical engineering as much as advertising, so I guess it's nice that something's driving the economy these days.)

We pass through those famous couple of years hardly realizing it, even those of us who are pretty enough to achieve the body ideal. Even shorter than the traipse though the adult/teen threshold are those ten or twelve new baby months. Yeah, the passage takes about as long, but the magic rubs off a hell of a lot quicker. Without marketing, the saccharine thrill of being new parents evaporates completely by the time Junior finally starts sleeping through the night. Sure, people may have more, out of biology or carelessness or love, but I don't think most second-time moms get pushed into spending a fortune on this stuff. (I could be wrong.)

But there's a whole pregnancy industry, a bizarre time-like loop that exists betweeen the moment you find out the blessed news and the time you decide you're sick of midnight feedings. There are pregnancy magazines, pregnancy books, pregnancy party supplies, and baby registries full of endless pregnancy products. It's a pregnancy lifestyle that they push. The magazines are surreal. Covers of celebrities shooting across the sky in their moment of pregnancy fame, doing their gravid photo spread. It's a lifestyle that no one lives in very long except for the editorial board. Maybe if they push it hard enough, women would want to get pregnant again just to relive the magic.

Can Underbelly last as a sitcom? They'll have to either get an audience of well-conditioned pregnancy groupies, or else replenish the demographic every couple of months. I'd call it an insane strategy, but outside of television, there's a pretty good record of it working.

Keifus (meh. I tried to make it interesting)

Monday, April 09, 2007


[I don't know about this one, I really don't.]

Like a flower, you advertise
clothe yourself
in brilliant orange.
You fill with moisture
a waiting womb, gravid
soon to be plucked
by a convenient lover
who won't be troubled
by your faithless seed.

I have no such compunctions.

I probe your skin with my finger
feeling for the point
that will yield.
I plunge into the breach
and strip you bare
spread and ravish you
without ceremony.
I fill my mouth with your soft flesh
my head with your floral scent
before devouring
and forgetting you for another.

Doorways to Elsewhere I: Review of Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

Grade: B-

This is the first of a series of four (or maybe five) book reviews. The connecting thread is meant to be about passages from the modern world into the fantastic, a theme cliched enough to have metastasized into a modern subgenre or two, and generally consistent with a vaguely western European Roman-era mythology, back before the Wild Wood got systematically hacked down for farmland and you could find hidden pools and spooky old oaks where spirits might still hang out. Some people's hearts crave the sea, but I like the trees, maybe heakening some ancestral memory (if you believe that crap). I'd rather see the sun turning the leaves to fairy gold than witness thirst-induced mirages in the distance on the endless open water.

I tried to pick books that didn't suck (I do as a rule: life is short), but the first two (or three) of them compare better as lessons in writing, a lesson in voice, than they do on mythic themes. Ysabel was the how-not-to example. Normally, I like Guy Gavriel Kay. He's not afraid to try for beauty in his prose, and in most of the stories I've read, he manages to serve up melodrama that doesn't feel cheap. It's a nice trick, but his normal milieu--writing mythologized versions of history (his last novel was a gorgeous retelling of the life of Alfred the Great)--lends itself to that operatic sentiment. His latest has a contemporary setting, from which he tries to peek into the magical corners of history. I was looking forward to see what he'd do with more mundane tools, and it was, unfortunately, a more mundane story. It starts out nicely enough, with light tumbling through the fields and forests of Provence, but the sun goes down a little too soon.

We find ourselves in the viewpoint of 15-year-old Ned Marriner, who spends his time jogging, joking with his cardboard gang, acompanying his famous father, learning about himself, and being a Basically Good Kid. It's Ned's point of view that really dooms this story. The kid observes far too little, and banters lamely far too much. The text reads like a not-particularly-inspired character exercise. There's nothing very remarkable about Ned's voyage and discovery (even though there are remarkable things he's discovering), and most of the supporting cast seem to be hauled up and out of the stock character bin. Ned feels like some safely realized version of a young person--he doubts himself, gets into some PG-rated trouble, finds an innocent love interest,* and is never, ever an insolent self-involved little prick. It reads like the author tried to write something safe for parents to give to their teenagers, and instead just made it boring.

The story here is that Ned stumbles on some magical rivalry that has been going on for a couple of millenia: back in the days of the old forest, a Roman and a Celt fell in love with the same woman, and have been returning to fight for her affection over many lifetimes. The mechanics of this affair aren't abundantly clear, but are developed enough for the conclusion to work, barely. The better parts of the novel are the historical musings on this theme (Provence has always been a battleground, coveted by rival cultures, and Kay remains a good historical researcher), and in the characters of the two men and their titular love. When Ned stumbles into supernatural settings, the plot seems to swing into gear again, and these bits are interesting too. More action, more of the interesting people the story's ostensibly about, more of the good description, and less of the dull protagonist voice would have saved this one.


* I did like this character, but that's because I was projecting a lot onto her. I like cute nerd girls. (Good thing.)

Genre: , ,

Friday, April 06, 2007

Notes to my boss

1. Friday morning wasn't the ideal time to suggest a complete structural format of the proposal. Telling me that you "don't see any way you can complete this today" both underestimated my imagination and overestimated the depth of the commentary.

2. I don't come in on weekends as a rule, not unless there's a good reason. I don't live very close by, and going through those motions doesn't prove anything I really want to prove. I do not understand the urgency of submitting this Sunday evening when the deadline is Monday afternoon. At any rate, I'm still waiting for your final review, so maybe I can, you know, plan stuff with my family this weekend.

3. Actually boss, we got hired to do a "science project." It'd help a lot with my ego if you'd find some other term to use as a pejorative. I realize we've got to please the people in the upper channels, that they want immediate resultsTM, but still, a science project is what we did in the first phase, and reasonable minds might think that completely ignoring the science project parts, could be grounds for dismissal out of hand.

4. "No one cares about all that stuff." Can you humor me by letting me assume that at least one technical person is going to evaluate this thing?

See you tonight, boss!



[Yeah, I'm being hard on the guy. If the data were at all impressive, we would have ridden that horse in.]

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Five More Thoughts (Psycho Smart Ed.)

Don't be threatened by the title, this post is meant to be about smarts, and believe me, it's meant to be ironic. If it makes you feel any better, you can snicker to yourself about the brilliance I actually display--it is mostly about me after all--but I'm aiming for unseriousness here. So what if it's Tuesday.

1. Brightness, after all, is a curse. I'm doing okay in the faculties department, at least relative to the general population, and in some rare cases, I even know when to shut the fuck up to avoid looking like a dolt. But I'd so much rather be a genius. It would make life so much easier.

Certainly, I'm no physical genius. I'm okay at some sports (and miserable at others), but certainly I'd be unlikely to achieve a competitive level even if I wasn't too old. Never had that killer instinct anyway. I play music, but even though I can bang out a tune, sort of, I can easily project an arc that has an asymptote well short of art (best I can hope for is a stuttering voice, which as it happens is good enough for me). I always wanted artistic skills, but even more than the music, my pen yields sketches that at best are "identifiable." In high school, I was bright enough to skate entirely, and even college required only select applications of effort. Grad school killed me though, as it was evident that I'd reached a level at which real study was required. If I were a brilliant scientist, then I'd have breezed right through that and right through a post-doc, publishing with reckless abandon, really making a mark. Even though I've managed to milk an occasionally clever streak, for most of my career I've had to slog hard for nuggets in order to succeed. Unfortunately, I'm not a genius of self-motivation either. No, there I'm totally retarded.

It's good to be a all-around above-average type and all, but I'm jealous of brilliance. I'd settle just for something really cool to stand out from my peers. I suspect any one of you I can point at can multiply big numbers on demand, read 200 pages per hour, recite the most obscure trivia, woo women (or men), aim, make the hard sell, memorize long numbers, perform convincing sleight of hand, bend your joints backwards, play brilliantly by ear, put people at ease, hold absurd amounts of liquor, find level and plumb by eye, bloviate. With six and a half billion people in the world, people with distinctive brain skills will rise up and concentrate to a high degree to the somewhat better levels of discourse, and stumbling awkwardly through them myself, I keep bumping into all you damned savants.

2. Well, maybe one thing I can claim is some minimal writing skill. One way I deal with my essential laziness at work is that when my schedule is full of desk tasks, I can crank out reports and proposals in a third the time that anyone else can, leaving me lots of time to scrawl crap like this.

Right now, I have a big one going on. I shouldn't be anywhere near the blog, but one thing about getting into a writing mode, is that it's actually hard to stop. I love it when my brain's in high gear--wish I could do it at will. When I go to bed tonight more words will be chasing each other around my skull. It'll stop when I get tired enough.

3. My older daughter keeps a journal for school. It's designed to keep the children in form for the writing assessment part of their evaluation testing, but it's cool, it's a good project, and my little girl--child of two engineers--is pretty good at it. I was looking through it recently, and here's what she had for her November entry:

"I'm thankful for my dad because there are already two monkeys in the family, and it's good to have at least one real person..."

Like any good father, I take every opportunity to compare my kids to lesser primates, but to tell you the truth, I don't find actual monkeys (by which I mean apes--chimpanzees--monkeys are more like squirrels that can smile) very funny at all. Staged simian hijinks always seem a little sad to me, the underlying coercion doesn't escape my notice. But the Platonic "monkey" is still pretty amusing though. The pure essence of monkeyness spends lots of time masturbating, chattering, and flinging poo. Comedy gold.

Amusing. I sometimes like to believe that I have muses. All those voices in my head, it's a barrelful of monkeys in there. Fun like that, and with a lot of flying turds.

4. That last thought was pretty shamelessly recycled, but I'm gambling that anybody who's gotten this far (either of you) didn't catch the original. If you're all tired of that thought, consider it scribed for posterity then.

We all have our own series of little performance routines, but depending on how big's your repertoire, how much you change it up, and how skilled you are at singing it, it can grating over time for anyone. One of the few upsides of meeting new people is the prospect of a fresh audience. Last week, I had such an opportunity, to meet some long-lost offshoot of my in-laws' hopelessly complicated family tree. It was fun to see my wife's parents pull out their classic material--hadn't seen it in quite a while ourselves--and be reminded that some people are best when you first get to know them. (A problem with knowing people for a long time is that you lose energy for the fun dances, or else you try your friends out as a focus group for dangerously untested material.) It was great to see them spewing out mock-philosophy with friendly enthusiasm, and just to see the general animation. Naturally, I held myself bemusedly above the fray, benignly aloof, accessible just outside the clamor. That's a big part of my act.

5. It's funny how we meet people, what with the few degrees of separation and all, contrasted with all the billions of us. I know I've read this before (probably from one of you crazy savants) that even if we find one person in a million worthwhile, that still makes for a handful of hundreds right here in North America. Blogging, and upon a time Fraying, it's like I'm chipping away at the several hundred who have similar interests and mindsets. I link to X bunch of people, who connect with Y, who… One drawback to this model is that folks like us probably pop up a little more frequently than in the ppm range.

But say there's a couple thousand that, by criteria I don't entirely understand, I'd really rather get to know, and a good couple million that I wouldn't mind in my general circle. It can't be done. Even with the help of the internet, our little communities can only reach so far. Couldn't even hope to meet a signifiant fraction of them.

This drives me batshit. In a way, it's like everything I've ever tried to organize. You'd really like detailed information for every entry, with proper cross-references, and detailed notes for all. In truth, you really end up filling those things as they're relevant. If there's anything that keeps me from going over the edge into obsession though, it's a profound sense of "good enough," call it a fundamental laziness or else call it (as I prefer) a measure of wisdom to be content in the first local minimum that's pretty comfortable and has a reasonably good view. Even though this makes me a poor carpenter and scientist, it does keep me more sane. Even though there's a maddening sensation in the back of my mind that so much is always left incomple