Friday, March 31, 2006

Brain Chew

On Gestation and Evolution
A recent survey shows that that average gestation for a human has, in the last 10 years, gone from 40 weeks to 39 weeks. My first thought was that we might be witnessing evolution in progress, since previous anthropoligical research has shown an inverse correlation between the gestation period of humans and their brain size (as our hominid predecessors developed bigger brains, the gestation period shortened).

But then I realized it's just that more and more women are "scheduling" their births based on what fits best into their PDA. No kidding.

Everywhere Signs
Yesterday I saw a neon sign that read "Customer Free Parking"

Wish I'd had my camera.

Ever Eat at Your Desk?
According to an article by Richard Hollingham in the December issue of New Scientist Magazine, our work desks are more filthy than a public toilet (containing more than 400 times the amount of bacteria, in fact). I was also delighted to learn that 41% of all communal kitchen coffee mugs showed evidence of fecal contamination.

Yum!

Robot Existentialism
I was attempting to access The Smoking Gun website when I inadvertantly stumbled upon the following text on a ghost site:

"The robot is not the problem. It is the connection to the biology which is broken. It is craving something sweeter. The lesson is to have the robot speak to the ear and sweeten the tongue."

I'm not sure I understand, but I get a real kick out of trying.

(I'd caution against visiting the ghost site — I have no idea who manages it, or why — but in the spirit of giving credit where it is due, you can find the full text here.)

How Do You Spell 'Misnomer'?

If you've ever visited the great city of Chicago, you know that — though quite beautiful in some parts and simply "cool" in others — it has some pretty rough patches. My parents still bear an almost irrational fear of the Windy City based on road trips there to watch the occasional Cubs or White Sox game when I was a kid. I don't believe we ever made the journey without finding ourselves lost on its infamously dangerous "south side." On one such trip, a 35mm camera had just been gifted to me for my birthday, and I was in awe of the graffiti, tattered buildings, old rail lines, etc. So I took out my camera and snapped shots through the window, only to hear my mother gasp in horror.

"You're going to get us killed!" she said. "Put that camera away!"

I complied.

We were in the portion of the city that's right along the Indiana border — probably not really in the city at all, but rather the greater area commonly referred to as "Chicagoland." I later realized that parts of the city's west side were also pretty rough... not nearly as bad as Gary, but not without the occasional bars-on-the-windows-don't-make-eye-contact hotspot.

And it's the city's west side that's been underprivileged in terms of public transportation. Awhile back the Chicago Transit Authority announced it was going to reopen a subway line there that hadn't been used in over 50 years. It was going to require extensive renovations, which would take a few months — just enough time to ask school children to "name" the line.

The results were announced yesterday.

So what "color" best defines a quentessentially urban area? When you think of a train line that runs through some pretty rough terrain, what color do you think of?

You probably guessed it.

The new line on the El will be pink.

Reason #4325 why we shouldn't have children plan cities... or make major political decisions.

(Not that they could be any worse than those currently at the helm.)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

For Just One Dollar a Day!

Where I grew up, National Public Radio meant nothing. I hadn't heard of it and, even if I had, there weren't any frequencies nearby that carried the signal.

In my neck of the woods (and I mean woods quite literally), you had the option of a couple oldies stations; two or three country stations; and two "pop" stations in nearby counties. If you hit one of the state roads and went anywhere near civilization, a couple alternative and hard rock stations would also make an appearance. But never NPR.

At least not to my recollection. It's always possible I channel surfed right past public radio during one of those commutes, but even if I did, I never stopped to listen. Here's why:

NPR is funded by public donations. They garner public donations via radio telethons. And I despise telethons — almost violently so. I've been reminded of this every day for over a week now, as my (now) beloved NPR uses precious airwaves to plead for money.

I started listening to this publically-funded station just over a year ago. It's nice to know that whenever another station goes on a commercial break, I can switch to NPR for news, insightful commentary, traffic reports, etc. And, on the weekends, I also occasionally indulge in the comical program Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me!. I enjoy "Wait, Wait..." quite a bit, as I do some of the lunch-time explorations of art, literature, music, etc.

But every time NPR does a radio broadcast telethon, I feel like giving it all up, if only to spare myself the occasional agony of listening to monotone, sleepy-time voices plead for money while cracking terrible jokes and fumbling for words. For me, it's the equivalent of nails scratching a chalkboard.

If you've never experienced this sound, or the joys of an NPR telethon, you might at least remember that Saturday Night Live skit, "Delicious Dish on NPR" with Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer. Alec Baldwin was often a featured guest, selling culinary treats such as his "Schweddy Balls" and "Schweddy Wieners." Remember the soothing, uninflectable (new word!) voices Gasteyer and Shannon used on the show? That's every voice on every NPR telethon. And I'm only exaggerating slightly.

Maybe it's because I'm a few pay grades away from being able to afford "a dollar a day" donation to NPR. Maybe it's because I hate that I take advantage of the programming without "pitching in" to help (we all hate guilty reminders!). Maybe it's that every few months, there's an entire week where I hear "Even if you can't afford a dollar a day, you can at least show your support for just $12.50 a month..." whenever I desperately need to hear the traffic report. Or maybe it really is just the irritation I experience by listening to those stale voices make their pleas.

Whatever "it" is, the fact remains... I loathe these campaigns. And though I won't claim to have a more compelling voice or well-defined sense of humor than these telethon jockeys... I do know there's got to be a better way. Surely just an occasional plug here and there? A mail insert pleading for cash whenever they're sending membership materials to donors from previous years (no extra mailing cost)? Working with schools to have kids sell "discount" cards that function primarily to raise money for NPR, but entice donations by offering discounts at the restaurant/store/et cetera of any corporate sponsor? A well-publicized Internet campaign that promises to NOT waste airtime begging for cash if they raise so many dollars on the web?

Or, at the very least, how about better integrating the "we need cash" discussion in with actual programming? Or having interesting people with real stories and funny jokes "make the ask"?

If any of the above were the case, I might actually throw in a couple twenties every year. Truth is, I like what NPR does. But one week every couple months, everything I like about them is almost completely undone.

End rant.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
(Movie Review)

"As long as there's no find, the noble brotherhood will last but when the piles of gold begin to grow... that's when the trouble starts." ~Howard in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre




This may very well be the only "western" I've actually enjoyed. Much like many other films I've watched the past several weeks, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) is another classic that makes many "top movie" lists. The film is one of the first to have been produced by Humphrey Bogart's own production company, and it was directed by John Huston (who cast his father, Walter Huston, in one of three lead roles).

Walter plays "Howard," an aging prospector who's down on his luck. After several mining expeditions, Howard regrets the greed that turned huge short-term successes into long-term failures. His spoken memoirs inspire Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) to enlist his services as they embark on their own gold-mining adventure. All three are presently homeless in Mexican territory: displaced Americans in search of food, money and work. They each determine that even a small find would equate to tremendous improvements in their lives.

Naturally, all of Howards recollections foreshadow the adventures of he, Dobbs and Curtin. What begins as a modest desire to break out of poverty turns into a exploration of the human psyche. From the very moment gold is struck, Dobbs questions the motivations of his companions, trusts no one, and finds himself even willing to kill an interloper who stumbles onto their camp. Men who were initially content with a $5,000 find are hesitant to leave the mountain even when they have over $100,000 in gold (worth millions, by today's standards).

As with Maltese Falcon, I was once again in awe of Bogart. His multidimensional character didn't have a heart of coal, though he certainly lost site of morals and ethics once he suspects his "goods" are in jeopardy. He attempts to cope with bad decisions by "talking" with his conscience and seems, as the film progresses, to be losing his mind. I found Bogart's portrayal of this downward spiral to be quite intriguing.

And then there's Curtin — who also has weak moments, but seems to be genuinely good until the very end. This is the case with the older and wiser Howard, too, who's already seen the damage the promise of wealth can bring.

And so, while there are Native American tribes, Federales and other American expatriates in Mexico that factor into the overall scope of this film, it's primarily a look into the darker aspects of human nature. What I often expected to happen didn't (I love it when films don't go where I think they're heading), but I was disappointed by the denouement: a nice moral to end the story, when I think it warranted something less full of hope.

The Red Queen (Book Review)

After almost a year of intermittent reading, I finally finished Matt Ridley's The Red Queen.

I put it down every time something else came along, often abandoning it for weeks at a time. And then, when I'd pick it back up, I'd reread it in part to help jog my memory.

It's never taken me so long to complete any book — and certainly never so long for a book that's only 350 pages. And while I wouldn't say my laziness was a result of disinterest, the book isn't always a "real pageturner," either. I was, by this design, literally living the Red Queen life even as I tried to read the text.

If you're familiar with the Red Queen of Alice in Wonderland, you already have some insight as to how Ridley goes about describing the evolution of human nature: the Red Queen is always in hurry, but she never really gets anywhere (rather, as she moves forward, the scenery also moves, essentially keeping her in the same place she was at the beginning). If that doesn't make any sense, imagine instead the futility and frustration involved in running on a treadmill. Your feet keep moving, but you never actually go anywhere.

I hate to reduce this to a highfalutin version of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (which I've never read), but the connection warrants a reference: Ridley essentially sets about to explain why men and women interact as they do, exploring the evolution of homo sapiens from its hominid predecessors. I summarized the text in this haiku, and don't really know that I could add anything more to it, except to say that I did find the actual discussion of human evolution to be quite compelling. And I don't even mind all those passages where Ridley makes it clear that man is just a highly evolved ape with animal instincts.

What did bother me — and what made it so difficult for me to get beyond the first half — were repeated allusions to the mating habits of everything from fruit flies to peacocks. While I enjoyed each of these individual accounts simply because of my interest in natural biology, there were so many descriptions, that the end result was a bit of a mess. Not only were there several gaps between theories, but when there were connections, they often seemed forced. So rather than get a clear picture of where Ridley was going, I was trying to sort through a cacophony of divergent images, theories and explanations of habits pertaining to a hundred different species of bugs, fungi and mammals.

If the purpose of all that had been to later demonstrate how man is just another animal... well... there had to have been a better way to say it. And the second half of the book — where humans and apes are the primary focus — is what really got my interest.

Which isn't to say I liked what I read from page 200 onward. It was well-written and made sense, but I didn't like what I was hearing: a clear description and explanation of a variety of stereotypes that are probably true, though we wish they weren't. Why men are interested in youth and beauty; why women want men who make money. Why men are more likely to cheat on their wives. Etc.

It's enough to make a person want to not be in a relationship. Enough to make you despise mankind for scapegoating animal nature, all the while understanding — with a reasonable degree of empathy — the unyielding human conundrum.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Haiku/Gesundheit (Volume VI)

on trying to drive a stick shift this weekend

bet you didn't know
your jetta could make that sound
what's this button do?



on discovering my lazy snail (aptly named) is dead like jude

moving was something
bartleby preferred to not
the water smells gross

The Maltese Falcon (Movie Review)

"Everybody has something to conceal." ~Sam Spade, Maltese Falcon (1941)



Lately I've been watching a load of classical films in which "trust" plays an integral role (in that the protagonist finds him/herself unable to trust anyone). From what I recall of American lit courses, the inability to trust is a long-standing issue in this nation's fact & fiction. But I'd extend that dilemma to mankind as species, or animal-kind as a kingdom. We are, to quote Lily Tomlin, pretty much "all in this alone."

It's this message again that seems to drive the suspense behind the film-noir hit, The Maltese Falcon (1941). I'll admit to having never read the novel and wonder if that may have flavored my appreciation for the film. But, as it is, I was pretty much in awe of Humphrey Bogart from beginning to end. He's the sort of guy the critics are talking about when they discuss someone who has "presence." He's more than a pleasure to watch on screen — he's larger than life, as is the case with few celebrities.

Bogart's character, Sam Spade, is a private detective whose partner is killed when a mysterious female, Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) spins a tall tale to get another man followed. Spade finds himself accused of that crime... and then still another crime when the man his partner was following also turns up dead. Eventually Spade encounters two other shady characters, each of which tells a different tale in an effort to secure Spade's loyalties in their quest for the Maltese Falcon (a mythical relic sought with the same fervor as, say, the Holy Grail). But they also each accost him at some point... trying to gain his trust with words, and then pulling out weapons the moment his back is turned.

(One of these characters even goes so far as to be willing to turn his right-hand man — who he considers to be "like a son" — into a patsy because "if you lose a son, its possible to get another" whereas "there's only one Maltese Falcon.")

But Spade isn't innocent in all of this. We learn he cuckolded his partner, even though he didn't have fond affections for the adulteress wife. Spade is a master of deceit, which makes him anything but a reliable narrator (and perhaps even more duplicitous than his adversaries). There are points, even, when the audience might suspect Spade is guilty of one or both murders — something we never fully want to believe, in large part because we are trained to see such battles in absolute polarity (good vs. evil; virtue vs. vice; etc.).

We're a culture that believes firmly in black print on white paper, unable to process the mess of gray smudges in the margins. Maltese typifies this, reminding me of just why I so often find myself smirking at news headlines, and the content of history books.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Typos Make the World Go Rotund

At my place of work, we tend to celebrate a person's birthday by dropping off cakes, cookies, chips and such in the morning. At some point in the day, it's tradition for said person to invite the rest of the department to stop by for some treats. One such e-mail was sent today... sort of.

The following was cut and pasted — and not in the least bit altered — from an e-mail sent by a co-worker to 150 people earlier this afternoon:

"Birthday teats - come and eat !!!!!"


[If you're not laughing, read it again... and more closely.]

Haiku/Gesundheit (Volume V)

a constant grievance of mine

the only thing worse
than calling them "panty" hose:
they're always tearing



on death
(or "an ode to the patron saint of lost causes")

your life was short but
it was good while it lasted
(jude swims belly up)



tips on using a public restroom at work
(part ii of a series)

toilet seat covers
aren't always easy-dispense
lines form behind you

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The First Bike Ride of "Spring"
(A Nevillian Adventure)

When I moved this past November, I went from a massive apartment complex with a creepy (but free!) gym to a small housing unit about two miles away from the nearest Bally's. My rent is considerably cheaper, which makes a gym membership affordable. But Bally's is two miles in the WRONG direction, and so a chore to get to. Not worth the $35 a month I'd pay to have to deal with getting there (and back) after an already too-long commute, the awkwardness of a public shower, etc. So I purchased an elliptical machine to get me through the winter. I also have a few (light) weights and some pilates equipment.... all decent stuff, but none of it gives me the endorphin kick offered by a great jog ourdoors, or good gym equipment.

This endorphin deficit has created quite a desire for spring weather, which brings with it the ability to jog outdoors without a snowsuit, and — even better — to march my bike over to the lake, and ride the paths along it.

I can't complain about this past winter too much, though. The climate was mild enough at times that I was able to go jogging 2-3 times a month. I'd cover myself first with my usual shorts and shirt (with the proper "support," of course), over which I'd throw some of that dri-fit stuff (keeps you warm without trapping the sweat). And still over that, I'd throw on wind pants, a long-sleeve shirt, and oftentimes a fleece or sweatshirt.

I'd do this on days when it was 30F+ degrees out. Still fairly cold, but once you get a decent jog going, your body temperature helps keep you warm. But it doesn't protect your skin from the bitter cold winds whipping off of the lake, and I was always amazed by how many "dedicated" joggers I'd see out there, wearing nothing but shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. They had considerably less weight holding them down than I did, but I couldn't help but secretly make fun of them.

"What loons," I'd think, noting their bright red legs as they passed me. "Don't they know it's only 15 with the wind chill?"

I'd shake my head, and keep on truckin' at my own (much slower) steady pace.

Occasionally, too, I'd see a serious cyclist out on the trail, covering their neck and face with gators, and the rest of their body with a tight, black spandex drysuit. These people, I decided, were especially nuts. It's already cold, and windy, and they're traveling at speeds 3X's faster than the average jogger. The wind chill they face, I decided, must border on torturous.

And still I envied them. For the past three months, I've longed for any sort of cycling — stationary, recumbent, mountain bike — anything. I was waiting for the first sign of warm weather to qualm my cycle-lust. I thought I found that yesterday afternoon.

It was about 50F when I was driving home from work. There was little wind, the sky was a bright blue, and the chirping birds seemed to be begging me to take my bike to the lake. But I knew I had to act fast, since sunset was only a couple hours away. I changed into my jogging attire (as described above), added a wrap for my neck, and walked out my door. The temperature by this point had dropped at least five degrees. And I wasn't even moving fast yet.

But I was still OK by the time I got to the lake (by which point, the temperature was probably 35). My body stayed warm — how could it not with the snowsuit I was wearing — but my toes, face and chin were miserable. Five miles into the ride, and I felt like going home.

But I had to ride home to get there. I stopped long enough to take the gator from my neck and stretch it out to the full head, face and neck wrap that it's capable of being. Coupled with the red bike helmet, I looked like a mental snow monster preparing to rob a liquor store. And I realized, as I turned around and began the journey back, that I was now one step closer to resembling all those cycling fanatics I had previously made fun of.

Only I was worse. I had on the mask to keep me warm (as they all do), but I also had something they didn't: 4 1/2 layers of clothes to make me look all the more ridiculous. I suspect most of the joggers and cyclists I passed were quite amused (and I bet their toes weren't as bitterly cold, either!). But I don't have the body for those super-tight drysuits. I mean, who wants to see that on a bike?

And so, silly as I looked, I've siphoned only one lesson from last night's adventure:

Next time, I'm wearing TWO pairs of socks.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Haiku/Gesundheit (Volume IV)

on being the only white person in a packed, inner city mcdonald's

people turn and stare
at the bathroom break white girl
i check my zipper



on purchasing a large backpack for camping trips
(a lesson in poor planning)

i can walk easy
with 20 pounds of sundries
or nine pairs of shoes



on matt ridley's red queen
(a summary of the text)

men want to conquer
women don't know what they want
everyone is screwed



on having matt ridley's red queen taken away with 20 pages left

it's not that i found
the book to be rivoting —
i just wasn't done

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
(Pseudo Movie Review)

Yes, I admit it.

Not only do I enjoy Harry Potter movies, but I also love the books. I was hesitant to indulge at first, myself being one of those people who snubbed pop (pulp) culture (yes, I still refuse to read The Da Vinci Code). But I had little choice five years ago when a professor assigned Book One for a children's literature course. There are few keen life insights, but, man, that's entertaining stuff (so much so in fact, that I've since purchased & read the rest of the series — before passing each book along to my father).

I also own each of the films, and await every installment with baited breath (gross!). The recent DVD release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was no exception. I re-watched it in full this past weekend and was, per the norm, very much amused.

Much like the past two films (Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban), I'd caution parents against allowing young children to view this movie. One of the closing scenes is particularly disturbing — certainly one of the darkest of all six books thus far. That disclaimer aside, I otherwise enjoyed this film. Even though it's not necessarily my favorite, I do think it was the best adaptation to date. As a book,Goblet is probably my least favorite (too much petty squabbling amongst friends), but the film version aptly captures teenage angst without allowing it to drone on for too long.

But these things are to expected in any "coming of age" novel — even if it is about witches and wizards and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named type villains. As a Bildungsroman, Harry Potter has a target audience whose age count is considerably smaller than mine. But I take great pleasure in knowing my fondness for this series was matched by several of my grad school friends. (I was pleasantly surprised when grad school, among other things, turned out to be a support group for closet Potter-holics).

(And no, I don't mean Herman Melville's Israel Potter — another great work, for very different reasons.)

In sum: Goblet book = least favorite of the series. Goblet film = not necessarily the best in the series so far, but easily the best adaptation. Don't let small children see it.

The end.

Monday, March 20, 2006

North by Northwest (Movie Review)

"In the world of advertising, there's no such thing as a lie. There's only expedient exaggeration." ~Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959)



Replete with hokey (but nevertheless risque) love scenes and countless "goofs," there's still something about Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) that makes it fun to watch. The action derives from a decent story line that pertains to an old irrational fear of mine: that I'll one day be accused of being someone I'm not (or just as bad, of doing something I didn't do).

For big city advertising executive, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), this equates to a comedy of errors when a big-time racketeer mistakes him for being a secret agent. To make matters worse for this ill-fated protagonist, the government knows he's been mistakenly fingered as the (fictitious) agent, but won't step in to clear his name — or protect him from further harm — out of fear of compromising the real agent. He's hunted by police and mobsters alike, as a result, and even his one ally (Eve Kendall, played by Eva Maria Saint) isn't all she appears to be.

There are some great scenes in this film that, even if you haven't seen it in full, you've likely caught in "film highlights" or seen on vintage posters. From Grant diving under a crop dusting plane in Indiana, to the chase at Mt. Rushmore, there are some intense, well-shot moments (when you consider this predates computer simulation, anyway).

But back to Indiana for a moment, if I may:

There are, as I said before, several "goofs" or "mistakes" in this film. When Thornhill embarks on a journey from Manhattan to Chicago to South Dakota, the big city shots seem real enough (i.e. shot on location), but the "landscape" in rural Indiana is laughable. Even if you allow that it's shot in the driest of all possible Midwestern summers, the (too) flat terrain has more dust that it does trees (I've never seen a Hoosier cornfield that doesn't have a row of deciduous oaks and maples standing behind it in the distance). In short: the scene the well-shot, but the landscape was all wrong.

Of course, with all the technology we have nowadays, even the cinematography is a joke by comparison to today's standard. But novel if you consider the time. And while I wouldn't term this a deep film that profoundly impacted my life... I was, at the very least, entertained.

Tidbit O' Knowledge: North by Northwest is number 40 on the American Film Institute's list of America's 100 Greatest Movies.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Shock and Awe
(Brought to You by Guns, Germs & Steel)

When it comes to the divide between those proverbial "haves" and "have nots," it isn't a simple matter of who has the best guns, the most toxic germs and the toughest steel. Rather, you have to go one step back to determine just how some groups came to acquire those things in the first place.

According to biologist Jared Diamond, in his book (and the resultant PBS documentary) Guns, Germs & Steel, it all boils down to geography. It goes like this (and forgive me if you've heard this before): everyone everywhere started off hunting and gathering. Those with the most fertile soil (i.e. first the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East and then — after another Ice Age left this area arid — other regions in Europe and Asia ) eventually took up farming, later extending their endeavors to include not just wheat and barley (or rice, in Asia), but also sources of meat and milk. And then, eventually, they learned how to use those animal's muscle power to accomplish farmwork (via the plough), which increased the annual yield and eventually relegated hunting to a hobby. People subsequently learned how to store these foods for months on end, which freed up a great deal of time for other pursuits. Writing then naturally followed, as did the yielding of steel into rapiers and other weaponry and technologies (which became necessary to protect communities and later... fiefdoms and empires).

Other groups didn't have the soil to support farming (as is still the case in Papua, New Guinea). Others had the soil, but not the crops capable of producing large, lasting yields. Both of these groups still exist today, and both continue to spend most of their time & energy on acquiring food. They're as astute a group of people as, say, the general population of any European town... it's just that their skillset is different, and they haven't the time for more leisurely (or scholastic) pursuits.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, those who had the time for technology had a bit of a superiority complex as they encountered the native people of the Americas, West Africa and such — whose reliance upon the land was mistaken for evolutionary stagnation (forgive the anachronism). Guns, germs and steel then became a means of forcing such people to the brink of extinction. It's the "delete" key of paternalistic exploits. Or to use the cliche: if you can't convert 'em — kill 'em, and take their gold.

In related news, the U.S. is celebrating three years in Iraq this weekend. And I'm wondering now if there's any connection between St. Patrick chasing the pagan snakes out of Ireland, and our "shock and awe" campaign. But the question remains: who is chasing whom, here?

Personally? I'm just surprised we didn't learn a lesson from Pizarro and Cort├ęs: kidnap the enemy's leader, and take advantage of the ensuing chaos.

Oh... right...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Made in China

last night, digging through my cabinets,
i found an old, glass vase (blue on
white ceramic; pictoral of a man moving
a boat through smooth waters)

and i remember when it was given
to me, years ago, after a friend
returned from china

"i got this in guangzhou,"
she said, "where it was made"

it wasn't until much later,
when another friend returned
from japan

and another from germany, italy
(and france)

that i become wholly aware
of the ridiculousness
of our perception

of that expression


(Question: if you travel abroad, you bring back something that was "made" there, and then later show it off to friends. But what, pray tell, do you buy when you go to China?)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Haiku/Gesundheit (Volume III)

to your boyfriend's ex-girlfriend's best friend
(and her sister)

i have an idea:
let's see who can stop talking
the longest today



introducing my new aquatic pets

shylock and jude swim
bartleby and pi suck (but
not in a bad way)



at barnes & noble today on my lunch break
(or "on growing old")

i saw a boy run
up the down escaltor
no smiles from mom



on going to a free guiness tasting

harp smithwicks and more
connoisseurs wait eagerly
i'll have water, please



tips on using a public restroom at work
(part i of a series)

what a crude thing to
do in polite company
avoid eye contact

Chuck Norris is Currently Suing NBC

"...claiming 'Law' and 'Order' are trademarked names for his left and right legs."

If you haven't seen the litany of Chuck Norris facts — and you could use a good laugh — go here. I first heard some of these on a syndicated radio show six weeks ago, but the host never bothered to plug the website. I only just learned of it last night.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Simpsons (Live Action Video)

Apparently some folks are upset that this video's pervasion on the 'Net is somehow contrary to everything blogging stands for. Why? Because it's been posted to weblogs more commonly managed by your Average Joe, though it was secretly produced by big money (Rupert Murdoch). It is, to quote one newscaster, a matter of "culture" meeting (and perhaps reappropriating) "counterculture."

Maybe so, but it's nevertheless fun to watch.

French Fry Flashback

Yesterday I was digging around my snack drawer for loose Starburst, and was amazed to find that — even when I thought I'd consumed the last one — still another would appear whenever I'd search for another. This drawer seemed to be the proverbial Santa's Sack of fruit-flavored goodness.

But somewhere between the Trident sugarless gum and the packets of green tea, I had a McDonald's drive-thru (childhood) flashback:

Digging into the bag after finishing everything in the corrugated container and thinking — hoping! — that just one more fry might remain. And there, in the corner of the bag, you'd almost always find at least one (sometimes two!). What is it about this fry that always made it taste so much better than all the rest? And why was it always so terribly devastating when your palm returned empty-handed?

I miss simple thrills.

The Third Man (Movie Review)

"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance; in Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock." —The Third Man, Graham Greene




What would you do if found out your best, oldest friend was possibly to blame for countless crimes against humanity? Would you support the police in their quest to implicate your friend? Or embark on your own investigation to exonerate him?

Holly Martins, the American protagonist in The Third Man (1949) finds himself in such a quandary when his best friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles), sends him a ticket to Vienna. Lime knows Martins has been struggling financially, and offers the hope of new work for this pulp fiction writer. But when Martins arrives in Vienna, he finds that Lime has just been killed in a gruesome car accident; following the funeral, he meets a British major who claims Lime is better off dead, having himself perpetuated crimes far worse than his own demise.

Martins is furious. He sets out to clear the name of his friend, all the while struggling to determine whether Lime's death was really an "accident." And what better place for such an investigation than a war-torn Vienna, partitioned off into "quarters," so designated by a divide among fading alliances.

It's a case of American naivete vs. post-war reality. Cold fact vs. Pulp fiction. Ideology and truth.

This polarity is most apparent in a scene where Martins is called upon to deliver a speech on the Crisis of Faith in literature. Having himself never studied critical theory, he simply knows (and writes) what sells. He doesn't know what to say to his audience, as a result, and the crowd abandons him as he fumbles to connect fact (what's happening with his friend) with fiction (his perception of the world). Even better yet: he's undergoing his own crisis of faith throughout the film.

In short: this is a good movie. Well-written (kudos to Graham Greene, whose novel The Heart of the Matter is among my favorites), and with camera direction that reminded me a bit of Citizen Kane. I enjoyed watching Orson Welles play the honest charlatan (oxymoron, I know), and the closing scene left a pseudo-smirk on my face.

My only question: what happened to the driver? If you've seen the film, let me know... there's a 4th man I'd like to know more about.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Haiku/Gesundheit (Volume II)

dear cockroach (an eviction notice)

my one bedroom flat
isn't big enough for two
please go away soon



on single ply toilet paper

it's half the thickness
i unravel twice as much
companies save big?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Conversations with My (Almost)
Four-Year-Old Nephew

on that game with rooks and pawns
"do you want to play chest?"

on baseball
"do you want to be the pitcher... or the fetcher?"

on spraying others with silly string
"this is fun!"

on being sprayed with silly string
"that's enough!"

on the clark kent/superman effect
"T! you look like a very different girl!"

on hearing me sing as a toddler
"can you stop that please? it's hurting my ears."

(It's only a matter of time before he says the same thing about my writing.)

The Merchant of Venice
(Pseudo Performance Review)

Ever wander into a theatre or cinema and wish it wasn't so unreasonably cold? Turns out the chills aren't without reason, after all: after a few days of insufficient sleep, I went to an 8 p.m. performance of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and had a dreadful time staying awake. It was dark... it was warm (but not too warm)... and the play was three hours long.

I caught Washington (also sleep-deprived) napping next to me, and two seats over my friend's girlfriend was also struggling with Morpheus. The worst of it was, the performance was actually quite compelling, and Merchant happens to be one of my favorites from the Bard (primarily because I "taught" it in a grad school class, which forced me to be more familiar with the material). I'd been looking forward to this play for weeks, but couldn't give it the attention it deserved.

In short: five actors from the London Stage played about 20 different characters. The set consisted of six chairs, a table, three boxes ("caskets") and a suitcase. It was minimalist, to say the least, and confusing at times (my groggy state made it all the more difficult to keep up when an actor or actress changed roles by simply donning sunglasses, a hat or the like). The acoustics were also a bit lacking, which encouraged my wanning attention span.

I was ashamed to be in such a state, as I had a sense the performance was actually quite good — acoustics aside. Shylock was just as sympathetic as I like him to be (I'm not fond of renditions that have him bemoaning the loss of his ducats without giving due attention to the agony brought upon by his missing daughter), and having so few players take on so many roles was fairly ingenious.

It's a pity I wasn't able to enjoy it as thoroughly as I otherwise may have.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Haiku/Gesundheit

"to toto, the maker of fine toilets"

toto makes toilets
although this isn't kansas
i flush anyway

"on e-mail storage limits"

don't know about you
but i remember when 4
megabytes was it

"on plagiarism (tsk, tsk!)"

college classrooms or
corporate america
always on my desk

"where is atropos?"

it's not that time flies
but that it's dangling by threads
just over my desk

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Random Musings (Part II)

The Lent Trap
Though I believe there are variations of this rule, I'm told if you give up something for Lent, Sundays don't count. Having been raised a Protestant heathen, I don't entirely understand this. Supposedly Lent lasts 40 days, but technically spans a 46-day period (hence the free Sundays). I understand the logic behind this, but I don't understand it. It's also wrought with paradox. Imagine, if you will, a person gives up chocolate for Lent. It's his/her favorite snack, though they generally only indulge on it a couple times a week. And yet, giving it up for Lent exacerbates the desire for chocolate (that old cliche about wanting what you can't have). And so every Sunday, this person gorges him/herself on cookies and Snicker's Bars, eating at least twice as much during Lent as they ordinarily might.

Something to think about.

On Shuffle
I currently have about 3,000 songs on my iPod. When I jog outdoors, I put it on shuffle. When I work out inside, I generally only use it about 40% of the time, which amounts to about 3 hours (45 songs) of play time each week. And yet, each week of all those 3,000 songs, my iPod shuffles on to Tracy Chapman's "Almost" at least twice.

Speaking of Music
If you appreciate the Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize??" as much as I do, you might actually like this Postal Service remake. Though I still credit the song's appeal to the lyrics, I kind of like the Service version. But, if you despise sentimentality and aren't familiar with either take... "Do You Realize??" falls into the category of Carpe Diem ideology, and you may prefer to listen to some NIN instead.

The New (and Improved!) Three-Second Rule
We've all heard of the 3 Second Rule, right? —If food falls onto the ground, and you pick it up within three seconds, it's "safe" to eat. Being a germophobe myself, I've never subscribed to this rule... in my universe, if something falls onto the ground, you feed it to the dog, throw it away, OR — if no one's looking — scoop it back onto the plate and serve it to someone else.

OK, so that's THE 3 Second Rule. But walking in the hallway at work this morning, I started to consider another (unspoken) 3 Second Rule: if you detect someone is about to walk past you — and you suspect it's someone you see every day, but not necessarily someone you know — turn your eyes to the ground. If you accidentally make eye contact, turn away. If eye contact last longer than three seconds, you must utter an obligatory "Hello" (or at least nod in recognition). To do otherwise could result in either being labeled a curmudgeon for the remainder of your career or, even worse, being forced to endure countless more awkward encounters (the rate of which increases exponentially with every glance askance).

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Random Musings

On Air
As though public restrooms weren't already bad enough: the paper towel dispenser at work, which is built into the same receptacle as the trash bin, has air cycling through it. Whenever I throw away my trash — and lean over the bin — I'm hit in the face with the gust of (what I assume to be filth-ridden) air. Can someone explain the thermodynamics here?

On Corndogs
No matter how old I get, the bread that's left on the stick after the rest of the dog is gone is still my favorite part. And, no, before you fear I've abandoned my health kick: the only corn dogs I eat these days (today's lunch inclusive) are made of soy. Low fat, decent protein content, and free of mystery meats... with the same great taste of processed intestines.

On Firefox
I experienced this little gem today for the first time. Works amazingly well with Blogger, among other things. I may even make the switch from IE to Firefox at home! It's free, if you want to try it.

On OCD
Yes, I alphabetized this list.

On Pickles
Why is it pickles are regularly designated as "kosher," though countless other foods, also kosher, are never so blatant in their labeling? What is it about pickles that demands such specific branding?

On Pistachios
Anyone else feel like you're eating mussels when you dig into these babies?

On Reviews
Silly that I write and post movie/book reviews, I know. My inspiration for this? After I finished White Teeth I couldn't remember the last book I had previously read. Writing about things helps me commit them to memory... one of the many things I miss now that I'm no longer active in academia.

On The Simpsons
According to a new, super duper scientific study, the average American has a better understanding of The Simpsons than they do the Bill of Rights. As an avid fan of this Fox marvel, I rattled off my First Amendment rights before I hastened to judgement. Do you know your rights?

On the Web
For kicks, watch this little fella. Cute. Disturbing. And a way to pass the time.