Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Stay the horse

What was that about not changing horses in the middle of a war? Wasn't continuity of leadership one of the key reasons cited by some for leaving Bush in charge? Now Tom Ridge is going, after Powell, Ashcroft, and four more cabinet level people. Ashcroft, in particular, can burn in hell as far as I care, the less prominent others may be scarcely more defensible.

But continuity we ain't got. Nothing like it. Imagine how down we must be to be excited about keeping Arlen Specter in place.

The Democratic Party needs to get its money in order and see if it can't hire Karl Rove.

From the look s of him and his background, Ridge would seem to be well-suited for Joe Paterno's job.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Thanksgiving dish, by dish

- High-end pate, smelly French (or "Freedom") cheese. Not so Atkinsy a bunch as to be done without crackers.

- Delicious and moist, a rarety for the other other white meat
- A 20 lb bird, though the literature said 1 lb per person would do. Others were sold out. Kosher. Moist and delicious, though the perennial problem of cooking breast to 170 degrees and thighs to 180 (or something like that) occasioned some stress.

- This year, cooked outside of bird, because of my sister's kids Daniel and
Caroline's allergies to the wonderful milk products in it. That is, butter. Tasty enough, containing plentiful sausage with seasonally appropriate quantities of sage, though the stuffing longed for the cavity, where it so likes to commune with bird and juices.

- Shiitake mushrooms, butter, cream, fresh herbs, turkey stuff. Say no more.

- These were my responsibility, and here's where the sad part starts
- I boiled them for too long, so they were a little extra glutinous
- I used all the Yukon Golds, where Daniel and Caroline could have had them for lactose-free baked potatos, but they had to settle for the less-festive Russets (no public protest was registered)
- Then, as the meal approached and Graham was crying and Natalie called out for dinner and I was trying to nuke the taters to get them ready, I realized I was about to get them more than kid hot and decided to serve some for Natalie. But because the bowl barely fit in the microwave, I accidentally pulled out the glass "turntable" from the oven, shattering it on the floor, creating a child hazard. This was a stressful moment for your blogger.
- Then, when I put the potatos on the table as we were trying to assemble dinner, petals were knocked from the chrysanthemums in the centerpiece into the taters. Stressful moment #2.

String beans
- With walnuts and garlic, tasty and low-impact

- Strawberry, for the kids
- Pecan, for us. Crust made from scratch with real butter to avoid non-festive transfats. Made from my grandmother's recipe, which my mom had emailed to me for me to print. But I haven't set up my new printer yet, and have no paper, so mom had to read from my laptop, which she left perched precariously with kids running round. Delicious.

Key learning
- The kitchen is too small for that many people, especially with the peninsula counter thing situated as it is.
- The glass things at the bottom of microwaves are not shatterproof

Joy of joys

There's something rather scary about the pictures of people, most of them women, poised at dawn and glowing transcendentally, ready to burst into WalMarts and other stores the day after Thanksgiving. What is so exciting, so fulfilling about dashing out like droids to do the bidding of Bentonville? And yet, there they are, smiles etched on their faces, pushing and shoving each other gently to go out and blow their hard-earned dollars on mind-numbing ephemera. If Wall Street could take a cue from Madison Avenue and develop an asset-accumulating product that elicits some of the excitement as these vapid cashflow dissipators, we'd be in much better shape.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Decibels no zero sum deal

Anyone who stresses out about the 2nd law of thermodynamics and the finiteness of resources has never considered the problem of the noise-production capacities of small children. This becomes apparent to me whenever I take a day off from work, and particularly when the weather is crappy and we're stuck inside. Natalie is particularly prodigious in this capacity, although Graham has, since birth, been blessed enormous excess lung capacity. It would be great to securitize this surplus capacity and set up an exchange, even if only OTC.

This would seem to account for some of Mary's ersatz axe-murderer tendencies at the end of the day. Not that we own an axe.

Thankfully, the relaxing holidays are upon us. We'll just throw together a little something to eat and kick back and enjoy ourselves. Yeah right.

That reminds me of a fine tale of the duelling linguists. One of them was holding forth, saying how remarkable it was that while double negatives were everywhere construed as having an affirmative meaning, the opposite was not true: double positives were nowhere understood to be negative. To which the other responded: "Yeah right."

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Seasonal Classics

New laptop and wifi in the home now, so blog should burgeon more.

Thinking this morning about the emotional feasibility of showing Pieces of April over the holiday to the assembled family led to reflection on the greatest seasonal pictures of all time.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday.
Jacques Tati's classic B & W, semi-silent film about a dorky Frenchman's week at the shore. Incisive but measured satire of everybody mixed with filigreed physical humor and a beautiful picture of a vacation culture we'll never know. On another level, straight out of Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, Apollonian vs. Dionysian.

Fall / Thanksgiving
Pieces of April
The best Thanksgiving movie ever. Touches a myriad of family issues (estrangement, alzheimer's, Reliant station wagon with fake wood siding, cancer, food issues) and at once an allegory of America on a single stairwell. If you don't want to cry, don't watch. If you don't cry, see shrink.

Winter / Christmas
Auntie Mame
Rosalind Russell in a pure classic. From umpteen makeovers of an East Side apartment to Beaurigard T. Beaurigard in the would-be antebellum South to the sugary cocktails of Danbury, a movie every child and parent should watch once a year. I don't know why I see it as so Christmassy, but I do.

They show it all the time for good reason. One of the top 10 Hollywood movies made in my lifetime.

Spring is tougher. The mind runs to Being There, or maybe Kusturica's coming of age classic When Father Was Away on Business.

While thinking of Tati, one scene comes to mind. At the end of Parade, something he did in 1974 for Swedish TV, after a couple of hours of filming his trained circus performer types do tricks, the by then oldish Tati trains his camera on two toddlers with a ball, and films them for a few minutes. You can just feel what's going on, this old guy, who's staged some of the most incredibly complex sight gags in history (the restaurant scene in the 1965 Playtime, for instance), lingers on the pure improvisation of youth. A physical comic who began as a ballplayer watching kids learn the rudiments of his initial metier.

Two weeks ago out at a pony ride, goats, and donut farm near Princeton, I saw an octogenarian guy sitting in the shade in a fold-up chair just watching kids and smiling broadly. I think he was on the same wavelength as Tati, having arrived at the point where the entertainment he needed was pretty elemental and elementary. We should all hope to get there.

Monday, November 22, 2004

In the cleavage of nature / culture

The Times' "Week in Review" section had some duelling banjos going on. On one page, it cited an essay on sustainability from spiked-online stating that "Environmentalism can be seen as a counterattack against a key premise of the Enlightenment: that a central part of progress consists of increasing human control over nature." It's a good old argument: man is set off from nature by consciousness, and therefore should seek to surmount nature wherever possible. Culture over nature.

On the Times' next page, in an article about whether kids should be encouraged to achieve or whether they should all be tracked together, some woman from the American Enterprise Institute weighed in that schools should let boys play at Lord of the Flies because "boys are hard-wired to compete." Now, her techno-metaphor notwithstanding, this is nature over culture. Culture can't hold the natural alpha dog-testosterone forces of these little boys back.

They're both on the Right, but they're arguing at cross purposes.

It would be easy enough to end there, and say that the Right needs to get its act straight on the nature / culture question. But the fact is that rare is the person who takes a consistent stand. Everyone is always negotiating some sort of compromise between nature and culture. Say you drive a Prius. You're still despoiling the environment. Is it defensible to drive it to the grocery store but not the convenience store because of unit environmental impact? People actually think about this stuff, but they're always arriving at compromises. The Unabomber was probably as good an example of a naturalist purist as your going to find, and look at him. At the other end of the spectrum, science fiction has thematized, from Blade Runner to Spock to C3P0 and R2D2 and onward, the persistence of an irrational human element in the machine and machine-like. And it is always the irrational that provides a hope of salvation and transcendence.

So nature / culture is a continuous sliding scale. The problem is when you start trying to build policy off of it.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Pull out of Iraq?

Thomas Friedman this Sunday considers, on the op-ed page of the Times, the age-old question: should we pull out of Iraq? No one of any degree of responsibility has, to my knowledge, ever advocated pulling out of Iraq. Just like nobody ever said that we shouldn't support the students at Columbine just because we disagreed with Klebold and Harris on the subjects of weapons usage or how hard high school can be.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Mad rush

"Mad rush, huh," I heard a guy comment from behind me as I approached the steps up to 7th Ave coming out of Penn Station. I think he was referring me and the fact that I was walking fast through the crowds, in my own little passing lane. "Uh huh", said his buddy.

Until the summer of 1990, I had never heard anyone say "Don't work too hard," and then all of a sudden I heard it everywhere. Not people talking to me, just talking in general, mouthing plattitudes, showing solidarity to one another in a generalized resistance to the Man. Another favored variant is "Are you workin' hard, or hardly workin'," which always elicits a good belly laugh and a hand slap. And of course, the general idea is very close to ashes to ashes, dust to dust, stop to smell roses, etc. If you work too hard, you miss out on the fine things in life.

Like donuts. Or talking about sports. Or the high-quality special effects in the latest mega-release. Or Howard Stern and his crazy hi-jinks. This predominantly male office small-talk, can be pretty depressing. All the more reason to bust ass and make some money so you can stop going to work. Or, honestly, to can the blog, for the same reason.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Gasping for words

Or, rather, logorrhea being a more or less endemic function for the fingers a typin, the lack is, once more, on the level of thought. It's cold and dark, and all I do is work, where things are as grim as they can get at a "generalist" consultancy, where generalist means that we just sort of flail away and eventually something sticks.

I would be so much better off with a completely blind, anonymous blog where I could just rail on, or hold forth on, everything. I was once jealous of Andrew Solomon, for the courage he had to publish his goofy first book where he lived with alternative Russian artists in '89 and they fed him disinformation. "I should have been the one writing that book," I said. "We have friends in common. The jerk doesn't even speak Russian." Years pass. Solomon publishes more and more. Finally, out comes The Noonday Demon, the most mind-blowingly, heart-rendingly self-baring memoir of depression ever, where he talks about being so depressed that he runs out seeking anonymous gay sex in hopes of contracting AIDS. And fails to do so, even as he roars as a writer.

And it became clear to me that I couldn't have written the Russia book, let alone the depression one, because I don't have the boldness to take those kind of risks. Instead I took the slow-burning risks of a PhD in the humanities, which may yet prove to be the death of me, and the attendant risk of largely accomodative restraint. In the great state of New Jersey.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Entropy, Flux, Contigency, v1

Finally had a good leaf pile day Sunday. One in the front yard, one in the back. Everybody piled inside getting covered with leafy brown goodness. Natalie dumping stuff on Graham's head.

Later, though, I had to get the front yard one up so it wouldn't "suffocate the grass". These Mexican guys from the soon-to-be shutdown flophouse across the street were looking at me like I was crazy, out there with my rake and my tarp, leaving all kinds of brown interspersed with the green. I know what they were thinking: "Why is that gringo over there working so hard with that rake, when he could pay us $8 an hour for us to blow it away with many decibels."

The thing is (and you knew there had to be a thing), aside from giving you a little workout, using the rake is good because it keeps you in touch with the yard, and with the cyclical and paradoxical nature of all kinds of stuff. Leaves fall. Clean them up. All green. Great. Save for the fact that you're pulling out matter which could biodegrade and enrich the soil right there. Do you fertilize later? But hell, it's the Garden state, ever in need of care.

Nothing is so striking in New Jersey as the piles of plant matter hauled to the curb for pick-up. Everybody's got a little (p)lot, all with plants. We'll be damned if chaos will take over, in the form of plants growing the wrong way. So order is continually inscribing itself on the landscape, spitting disorder out in the form of branches, leaves, and other vegetal detritus, pushed to the curb... (only just starting to get deep)

Friday, November 12, 2004

Dressing the part

One of the pivotal moments of the campaign, for me, was when some of Kerry's staff were on the front page of the times. There they stood, languidly leaning against door frames all tricked out in Armani, with a variety of wet-looking hair products gracing their follicles. And then, on election night, here's Terry McAuliffe with some curls and a mildly casual look, staring at the camera like something straight out of a Hogarth. Out of touch with the mainstream? Stylistically, yes. Idiots.

Time was, if you were in politics, where you stood didn't matter. You dressed to the middle. Button-down collars. Lame-assed ties. Plain blue suits with conservative lapels. And then you could say whatever you want. It was a way of saying to middle America: look at me, I look like you, and therefore the positions I'm taking can't be too alien either.

Somewhere along the way somebody forgot about this and the Democratic Party started dressing like it was headed in to work at Goldman Sachs. Good thinking!

On the other hand, the by now syllogistic assertion that a Northern Democrat can't win the White House (could Pataki or Giuliani, for that matter?), while true and pragmatic, is pretty sad. If the North abides Southerners in the White House, why can't the rest of the country live with a Yankee? Because we're catering to the least tolerant amongst us, that's why. "John Kerry, it's like he's from another country." Yeah right. I don't know what planet John Ashcroft is from. At least he's gone.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

For Google -- Dino John Geanokoplos

Sadly, I just googled Yale's old Professor of Byzantine History, Dino John Geanokoplos, and found zero entries. Zero. Which is a shame. It's hard to find a good Byzantinist these days. Who will chronicle the doings of Theodora, the she-bitch of Byzantium? Who will inform younguns of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, author of The Divine Names and The Celestial Hierarchy, the very founder of apophatic theology, no less? That guy is googlable.

Dino was no softy. The guy gave me a B+ on my term paper, which in today's market would probably be an A- plus a bonus step for not having stolen it. And that one extra A would have made me magna rather than just plain cum. Drat.

I think Dino passed away not long ago, but there's no mention of it on the Yale.edu domain. Equally shameful. Purveyors of knowledge that recondite are not just employees, they're bearers.

We'll check back tomorrow on google and see if I've resurrected him.
Dino John Geanokoplos Dino John Geanokoplos Dino John Geanokoplos Dino John Geanokoplos

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

History receding

Big topics just not popping into head. Has the election just left a vacuum, the sort of "post-historical" space like what held forth between Fukuyama and 9/11? I mean, Ashcroft left, you gotta like that. Moron. If I were Powell I'd get the hell out of there myself and try to get on Jon Stewart and mend my image a little. But really we're sort of in a void now, a space where it doesn't really seem like getting worked up about anything. Fat lot of good it did us during the campaign.

Nor do I have anything funny to add.

My house is cold as well. If anybody out there is thinking of buying and you hear tell of "masonry frame walls," look out, that means no insulation and therefore c-o-l-d. And we're too damned cheap to crank up the heat.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Stupid blog

The stupid blog thing ate my post. Hit the "publish post" button and got a 404. Galling.

At least I have a fine quote from Paul Krugman cut to be pasted:

"The nation's interior is supposedly a place of rugged individualists, unlike the spongers and whiners along the coasts. In reality, of course, rural states are heavily subsidized by urban states. New Jersey pays about $1.50 in federal taxes for every dollar it gets in return; Montana receives about $1.75 in federal spending for every dollar it pays in taxes."

It's a well-known fact, but worth being reminded of.

That makes for some pretty cheap electoral votes, if you ask me.

15 minutes wasted, so sadly.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Would be deep

Had some deep thoughts from last night's cocktail party at the Ekstrom/Rosen household, that's right, the same Esktrom as in "My President is Lisa Ekstrom," a would be bumper sticker, a party peopled by various intellectual luminaries including some tall, handsome McGreevey-looking guy whom everyone was complementing for a recent article in Slate. From the sound of it, I probably wouldn't have published it, but hey, I'm not Microsoft (which is probably a good thing, as far a software robustness is concerned).

Speaking of McGreevey, an article in the Times about his wife yesterday brought back a classic line from that little episode back in August. This guy at my client says: "How can he be gay? His wife is totally hot." His wife Dina, indeed, is not unattractive, very much like Courtney Love on Prado instead of heroin, but that's not really the point. Indeed, in recent questions on gay marriage, has the issue of gay people marrying heterosexuals under false pretenses been raised? Is it not an abomination, worthy of smiting?

But right now can hardly think, because Natalie is rattling on continually, to try to drown out any noises Graham might make. People without kids really can't imagine how strong the instinct to drown out and dominate the baby is. Natalie has remarkable stamina for running mouth, singing little songs, making messes. Must go outside and make leafpile.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Limpid grousing

Had planned to rail on flatlanders some more on environmental issues, but instead am mostly just sapped of spirit by trying to read through some Microsoft documentation. Not even Microsoft proper, meta-Microsoft, people writing about Microsoft stuff in an ostensibly user-friendly way. Not even.

And now I have to go home and sponge sand the walls in a house temporarily without heat because the painters quietly decided that sanding somehow wasn't included. A long story.


Thursday, November 04, 2004

Man of the people

While on the subject of McVeigh and values, I thought it might be worthwhile to have a look back at what he believed in, and compare it to the wonderful values we've heard so much about over the last couple of days. Read an interview with McVeigh from Time, which for some reason made an exception to its policy of not providing mass murderers with a soapbox for the greatly admired McVeigh.

It all just makes me want to write a country song.

Regression testing

The Times today quotes some thumper whom I won't dignify by naming him as saying that the country is "'on the verge of self-destruction" as it abandons traditional family roles." OK.

So the secularism and perversity of the blue states threaten the heartland?

No, no, and no. Rather, the opposite is true. Fundamentalism and autocracy threaten enlightenment and 0pen society from Tacoma Park to Beslan, from Dearborn to Turin, from Hamburg to San Diego. Bin Laden and Rove are touching similar nerves in apparently differing populations, just as Bin Laden and McVeigh -- a cancerous offshoot of the heartland politics of value -- shared a metier. Berlusconi, Putin, and their ilk aren't doing a lot to help.

Lets go back and recall this jamming exchange between Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson on 9/13/01:

JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we're responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.

JERRY FALWELL: Pat, did you notice yesterday the ACLU, and all the Christ-haters, People For the American Way, NOW, etc. were totally disregarded by the Democrats and the Republicans in both houses of Congress as they went out on the steps and called out on to God in prayer and sang "God Bless America" and said "let the ACLU be hanged"? In other words, when the nation is on its knees, the only normal and natural and spiritual thing to do is what we ought to be doing all the time - calling upon God.
I'm so sure that's all the heartland does while it's on its knees.
But seriously, one problem is that the Enlightenment (i.e. back to Voltaire, Jefferson, etc.) no longer knows how to sell itself. Post-structuralism and theory in general may not have truly complicated things, may have only recognized existing complexity, but it certainly didn't make anything easier. Only rarely can the Left look you in the eye, say that it's right, and simultaneously believe it and convey it. That's why Barack Obama is a gift. He does all those things at once. The Democratic Party should put a security detail on that guy, because he's a threat and a target.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Like a dog

"His glance fell on the top story of the house adjoining the quarry. With a flicker as of a light going up, the casement of a window there suddenly flew open; a human figure, faint and insubstantial at that distance and that height, leaned abruptly far forward and stretched both arms still farther. Who was it? A friend? A good man? Someone who sympathized? Someone who wanted to help? Was it one person only? Or were they all there? Was help at hand? Were there some arguments in his favor that had been overlooked? Of course there must be. Logic is doubtless unshakeable, but it cannot withstand a man who wants to go on living. Where was the Judge, whom he had never seen? Where was the High Court, to which he had never penetrated. He raised his hands and spread out all his fingers.

But the hands of one of the partners were already at K.'s throat, while the other thrust the knife inito his heart and turned it there twice. With failing eyes K. could still see the two of them, cheek leaning against cheek, immediately before his face, watching the final act. 'Like a dog!' he said: it was as if he meant the shame of it to outlive him."

Kafka. The Trial

What a great frickin last line. That's what I thought of last night watching the returns, K. getting skewered like a dog, but the shame living on.

What shame, you may ask. The shame of calling the election early and then being wrong, like I did yesterday? Hell no, the problem is we didn't call the election early enough. The Republican talking heads made these poker-faced claims for a Bush victory night after night, and then they went out and made it happen. The Democrats equivocated and analysed the conditions under which a Kerry victory might be possible. Very few ever really believed Kerry could win, which is debilitating in aggregate.

No. The great shame is living in a country where that man is president, where 58 million people all got organized to go and vote for a guy and a party who lied to them about an adventurist war which is killing our troops, making us progressively less secure and destroying our reputation the world around. For a guy who is dedicated to the continual evisceration of the environment and civil liberties, along with an aggressively expansionist government financed by loopy deficits. Shame that 10 more states found it in their hearts to go and ban gay marriage.

What is the heartland so afraid of that it should close up upon itself so tightly?

How can I explain it all to my kids?

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

All hale the chief

Congratulations to our new President, John Kerry. Yes, that's right, you heard it here first, long before the polls close, Kerry will win and win big enough to let us sleep.

How do I know this, you may be asking? Because there is order in the universe, which means that right will out and what must happen must happen, and W must go. He's an embarassment to us all. To Yale. To America. Perhaps even to Texas, though that would be hard.

So Kerry's election is a syllogism. He has won because he needed to, which is comforting. Now new questions arise: will Kerry let Edwards preside over the Senate, or will gavel-pounding look like just too much fun after all these years on the other side? How will Theresa take to the White House? Will it strike her as too modest? ("Honestly, John, living up over the shop, it feels so lumpen.") I suspect that these and other barnburners will call out for answers over coming days.