Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lost, Season 2, and its O.C.ish tendencies.

I've now watched through the second season of Lost. It was certainly weaker than the first, although everyone had warned me of a decline, and I was expecting it to be much worse than it was. The strengths continue to be, week-to-week, a tight, imaginative, well-paced narrative, engaging, plausible characters, and mysteries that make my mouth water.

One weakness is a lack of payoff-for-expectations on some of these very-promising mysteries.

An even bigger weakness, though, is the need to make characters act like juvenile delinquents in order to push the plot forward. This often happened several times in each episode, and the most egregious offence is the old "do what I want or I'll wave a gun in your face" trick. With 21.6 such incidents per season, how can you take any of these people seriously? And why can't they ever call the bluff? These repetitive/sloppy/strongarm tactics reminded me a lot of latter-day The O.C.. In Lost's defense, the writing is better than it ever was on The O.C. post-season-one. In The O.C.'s defense, its characters actually were juvenile delinquents. At least they had an excuse.

I'm looking forward to when Season Three comes out. Then I can catch up with everyone else.

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Diary: In July, 1996.

One of those times I tend to look at historically (as I've also been reading about the Roman Republic and Empire this month):

I was absorbing the changes and developments of the last year, and gearing up for the powerful effects of the year to come.

That is:

I was taking a trigonometry class as Mott Community College so that I'd qualify for Precalculus as a senior that year; it was the second most-advanced class my high school offered.

I was also playing "Friend Hare" in the Flint Youth Theatre production of Bambi, which was a lot of fun. It was a surreal, ephemeral, dark-tinged version of the story, compared to the Disney version that everyone is more familiar with. During this month I'd gotten over my relationship with She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (Swomunoben) and my crush on I-Can't-Tell-You to develop a new crush on a girl named Diana. She lived in Woodcroft, in a massive old house that once belonged to a General Motors CEO. Her parents were lawyers, I think. There were big Doric columns under the porch out front, and the halls were narrow, the ceilings fifteen or so feet high. I went over to visit with Demetrius and Perrico and Josh and the others, and we'd watch TV. Diana was never the slightest bit interested in me, and I was only broken up about it for a week at most. I started to notice a girl named Lori instead. I asked her out and she said "yes," though we only went out for a week. She was jealous of my friend Katie, which was silly, and by the time September rolled around, Lori disliked me enough to key my car.

July was also when I got the Admissions packet from the University of Chicago and read their propaganda book (Dreams and Choices ? – was that it?) while riding up to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp to visit my brother and sister. The book electrified me – it was the first collegiate sales pitch that defined study as a vocation, and a passionate vocation at that. All of the others had stressed their state-of-the-art facilities (Northwestern), progressive teaching philosophy (Sarah-Lawrence), study abroad (Kalamazoo), and career incentives (University of Michigan). For four years I'd had my heart set on Northwestern, but the book changed my mind in an afternoon. And I think anyone with a brain in their head would agree that the U of C was a better fit.

On the 4th Demetrius and I went to see the fireworks in downtown Flint, but we were almost set on fire when we jumped a fence by the river to take a shortcut through Riverbank park, not noticing that rows of sparklers had been strung up right over our head. I spent a lot of time driving around with Perrico and Demetrius and Josh, a lot of time at Paul's. We went to the mall to buy the Tonight, Tonight single and ran into Swomunoben in the food court. I was so startled that I walked off leaving my at the table Taco Bell. Back at Paul's house, we ate pizza pockets instead. Later that month we got into our first argument in about six years. A week later I went for a ride with Katie (was this the incident that made Lori so jealous?) and told her that I couldn't get over Swomunoben, and that I wished I'd never met her. Katie told me that this was silly, which surprised me. She had a strong dislike for Swomunoben and I thought she'd indulge in my admission. But she said it was the only real romanic event that had ever involved me, and so whatever I thought about the end of the thing, I ought to be grateful for the experience.

I had spent a year preparing and taking notes for Urbantasm, and I started the first draft sometime during the month. I wrote sixty pages, taking John Bridge up through the end of sixth grade.

It didn't seem like such a momentous month at the time, or even recently, but looking back on it now... I have to say...

Where were you in July, 2006?

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Event: Between the Medicis and Lucifer...

...tell me, tell me which you prefer?

New York Times: Bancrofts Back Dow Jones Sale to Murdoch.

Lauras 10, 30.

- When I got home from work yesterday, I found a couple of stowaways crashing my apartment. Fortunately, we'd cleaned the place the night before. Cody and Catherine hung out and talked for awhile, then went for a walk. We walked through Fort Greene Park, on up to Habana Outpost, up Fulton to the Downing Street cathedral, and through the Pratt campus on the way home. Not sure what they're up to today, though. I'm at work.

Pick beans when pods just reveal the beans inside.

"Anger cannot be dishonest."
- Marcus Aurelius

You are obliged to erase one song from your memory forever. You can never hear the song again. If it plays, you won't notice. So what song will you choose to forget?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Lauras 9, 30.

- This week, in brief: Writing contest and short story submissions, Axis and Allies with Marco and Scott, the completion of Season Two of Lost, the Early Roman Empire, and getting ready for Cody and Catherine's visit. On Sunday I went to the evening mass, and it was so dim and warm inside, that I almost fell asleep where I sat. Today: Physical exhaustion and mental energy. Diplomacy? Season One of Deadwood? The Late Roman Empire. July -> August. Late summer (?) always feels a little bittersweet, I think. Maybe I'll read some Ray Bradbury.

Today in Weather History: During Tropical Storm Brenda, 4.5 inches of rain fell in 11 hours on New York City, 1960.

New York Times: Ingmar Bergman, Famed Director, Dies at 89.

What high school extracurricular activity had the most impact on your life today?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Diary: Submission Rejection #2.

I received Submission Rejection #1 in 1999, so it's been a long time since I've been through this process. Within the next few months, I'll probably accumulate a large number of rejections and, one hopes, a few acceptances. That's the way it works. But I consider this moment, more than anything else, to mark my formal entry into professional writing:

Dear Mr. Coyne,

Thanks for submitting "The Fifth" to XXXXXXXXXX. With regret, I must inform you that we've decided not to purchase this work. I'm afraid the volume of submissions has made it impossible for us to comment on most rejections. Nevertheless, best of luck with this story and with all your writing.


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Lauras 6, 30.

- Well, yesterday I received my first rejection notice in several years. It was for The Fifth, one of the Silurians stories. It was nice to receive this rejection letter. I'm sure it will lose its appeal soon enough, but right now it reminds me that I am "in" the game... that I'm sending out my writing as a valid product worthy of investment and distribution. There's a seriousness that comes with receiving a rejection letter. I'm proud to be in this business right now.
I also had a dentist's appointment and found out that I need another root canal. I'm lucky enough to be in decent health, but man do I have crappy teeth.

When silk flowers get dusty, put them in a paper bag with several tablespoons of salt and shake gently for two minutes to clean them.

Mick Jaggers birthday was yesterday, but I forgot.

Falkland Islands (United Kingdom)

"I am so bored that I..."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Event: Flint crime rate improves, but why?

The Flint Police Department is making much out of the decrease in crime so far this year, extrapolating on wide reaching economic and cultural differences to account for the change:

Increased patrols, the reopening of the city jail this year and increased partnerships with other police agencies have all contributed to Flint's improved numbers, Hagler said.

While these are all promising developments, Flint is not large enough to cancel out the margin of error due to such adjustments. I suspect that the circumstances are more local than Police Chief Hagler suggests. Last year's murder spike, for example, was largely related to a rap feud that involved four or five homicides in a two month period. The crime rate isn't usually that bad. This year's decrease is just as likely to be determined by policy externalities. Certainly the economoic solvency of the city and funding of municipal services (like the police department) haven't changed so dramatically as to account for the extent of improvement.

I'm not critical of the policy adjustments that the administration has made for 2007, but I think that the resulting rhetoric is DIY to a reckless extreme. Flint's best-case scenario crime rate is abominable compared to rest of the country. As such, we should concentrate ongoing pressure to alleviate the economic conditions that prompt violent crime in the first place. That is, in the long run, the only solution to Flint's crime woes.

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Lauras 5, 30.

- I went to the Guerrilla reading last night, and got punchy and belligerant. But Yvonne read, and I really liked her work.

Squirt fresh lemon juice on windowsills and the bottom of doors to keep ants from coming into the house.


Roman Townhouse, Dorchester, Dorset.

The picture above ("the month is Lauras")... what do you suppose it is?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Diary: 10 Reasons why Certain New Yorkers should Move to Chicago.

10. It's true that East Coast girls are hip (I'm sure you dig those styles they wear), but the Mid-West farmer's daughters really make you feel alright.

9. Why eat this when you could be eating this?

8. CBGB's was priced out and closed down. But the Double Door, the Metro, and the Vic are still going strong. Bonus: The Brew N'View on the North Side and DOC Films on the South Side.

7. Rent: $750
Neighborhood: Pilsen/ Little Village
Bedrooms: 2BR
Bathrooms: 1 bath
Pets: Cats OK
Parking: No
Map: 2137 W. 18th Place, 60608
2137 West 18th Place. Pilsen two bedroom, one bathroom available immediately. Bright, clean, laundry, near park, blue line and bus stops. Cats OK. $750/ month plus security deposit. Utilities not included. Call Matt, 630-854-7743

6. Waterfront, the middle of NYC. Waterfront, middle of Chicago.

5. One of the greatest skylines in the world (the difference between the New York and Chicago skylines is the difference between quantity and quality).

4. The World's Largest Free Blues Festival, its equally impressive jazz festival, and Lollapalooza.

483 miles to this.
302 miles to this.
263 miles to this.
237 miles to this.
166 miles to this.
0 miles to this.
317 miles to this.

2. No Yankees (and effectively no Yankees fans).

1. You'd Get To Hang With Connor And Jess!

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Event: Meanwhile, at the Slow Roast...

... the Democrats have turned up the temperature about one degree. At this rate, the Bush administration will be two years out of office before anyone's actually cooking.

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Event: News(?) from Flint.

Nice to know that the Flint Journal's on top of pressing matters in Flushing, Michigan.

On the other hand, Andy Heller is taking a break from Moon Dimple to post about some all-too-real features of Mayor Don's record.

All this understandably makes me very excited about my visit this August. I'm tired of this crap.

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Event: Daily Kos vs. Bill O'Reilly.

The Daily Kos as responded to Bill O'Reilly's attacks via his own logic. Kind of fluffy, but good for a smile if your day is slow.


Lauras 4, 30.

- Yesterday I played Axis and Allies with Marco and Scott. I was the U.S.S.R.,

You may travel abroad in a carriage whose name read backward or forward is always the same.


The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (very large picture).

How much coffee do you drink?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Body: Driveby on Newton, Evolution, and the Boston Globe.

Sam sent me this Op-Ed from the Boston Globe and this more coherent rebuttal.

Here's what I contributed to the discussion:

You are 100% correct. And here's the real irony. Newton would surely have rejected today's creationism both with and without the benefit of today's better science.

I say "with" because as a scientist Newton understood the need to look at evidence impartially and objectively. In his day there was compelling evidence that the earth revolved around the sun, though the Bible essentially states the opposite. Newton accepted this, however religious he may have been. There was, however, little of the compelling evidence available today that suggested evolution or the age of the Earth, which is why he (and pretty much everyone) was a comfortable creationist.

I say "without" because the premise of a "young-earth" today is not what it was a few hundred years ago. Taking every word of the Bible literally is largely a product of the 20th century - most typically the latter 20th century, and has more to do with politics than with an honest wrestling with the word of God. In the 1600s, a lot of the Bible was accepted as metaphorical and allegorical, as invested with truth and not necessarily fact: camels through the eyes of needles and all that. Todays' creationism is an abomination that flies in the face not only of accepted science but also of respectable and rigorous theology. I think that Newton would be repulsed by creationism today.

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Concept: Harry Potter as Great Literature.


After finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I wasn't quite ready to separate myself from the subject yet, so I went to a number of websites reading reviews and the like. Among these I came upon the AV Club's blogged-as-read report by Genevieve Koski and Tasha Robinson. It was replete with comments like "These books aren't great literature, they're just kind of fun, and I'm more interested in the whole phenomenon than in deifying Rowling as a great writer," and "a lot of people, on this site and elsewhere, have complained that the Harry Potter books aren't great literature and don't deserve the kind of attention and devotion they've gotten."

This is a common criticism – certainly among my New York friends – and I think it is absurd. Instead of conceding that someone isn't a great writer and then cortorting our argument into all sorts of weird shapes to justify why we love it so much (because I can't believe that there's any reason for people to be fascinated by the Harry Potter phenomenon as opposed to, say, the Titanic or Pokemon phenomena), doesn't it make more sense to admit that we do find someone a great writer, and then examine our definition of "great writer"? We can either find our emotions or our assumptions in error, but either way I think the examination is more honest as a result.

The conclusion I've drawn is that such backhanded complements to Harry Potter are first and foremost a product of academia and the sort of literature it has sought to produce and endorse: that which we euphemistically call "literary fiction," and which is supposedly distinguished from genre writing by its lack of "conventions" and popular writing by its appeal to individual examination over universal sentiment. I don't buy these distinctions. "Literary fiction" is embodied by oh-so-reliable tropes of political ennui, childhood remeniscences, extramarital affairs that are prompted by assorted personal vacancies, and obsessions over prosodic minutae. These are all as present as the conventions of genre fiction, and their most convincing effect could be (almost) agreed upon as in accordance with an organizing principle, if not universal sentiment. Literary fiction isn't bad for that fact; it is simply conventional. It is literary by virtue of the fact that an academic community has named it so. It are not deprived of craft or novelty or relevance for this reason; it shares with popular and genre fiction the opportunity to extend relevance beyond a simple application of convention.

I'm not saying here either that I think that Rowling's work is flawless. Each book has had its flaws. Books One and Two lacked the complexity and intrigue of all that followed. Sometimes they've suffered from too much exposition, perhaps, and who can forget the angry (and annoying) ALL-CAPS HARRY from Book Five. But even great writers have peccadilloes. Samuel Beckett is essentially a one-trick pony; his trick is good enough that we forgive him. Vladimir Nabokov has many tricks up his sleeve, but only one plot, and if you've read Lolita and Pale Fire you've gotten the gyst of it. Getrude Stine is startling and magnetic with the power and beauty and majesty of her voice, but not in her off-putting theories on personality and nationality.

Rowling is a master storyteller. She makes an economic use of narrative inflection and description to establish setting and characters as both subtle and rawly imaginative, and immediately kicks into plots with myriad intersecting arcs. Like Dantè's terza rima the atoms of this device overlaps and stagger. This means that there is never a comfortable resolution until the end of the book, and maybe, ultimately, the series. It's as effective as good noir for page-turning, and given the manipulation of information from earlier books, the abundance of both red herrings and legitimate clues, it's authentically a masterful creation.

My problem with reviews such as the AV's is that they make automatic provisions for and distinctions between good writing and good storytelling. And yet: between these two modes of writing – if the social and political situation of the text is just as interesting, if the prosodic and thematic vocabulary is just is sophisticated, if the modes of creation and the distribution of the work are essentially identical – is there any objective basis on which to prefer "good literature" over "good storytelling"?

I don't think so, myself.

This week and next I will be writing three posts on this subject. In each I will choose an element, theme, or device that Rowling uses in the Hally Potter books generally and Deathly Hallows particularly. I will try to argue that these deployments are can be well-argued to be as nuanced and deliberate as those used by "master writers" of the last century. We have begun a process by which writing indigenous to the non-Western world – Ferdousi's Shahnamah for example, or the stories of Rabindranath Tagore – is being critically explored as equal in nuance and deliberation to our Western canon. We ought to examine our assumptions within the field of Western literature itself.

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Diary: In July, 2001.

This was the kickoff to the gloomiest, grumbliest year of my adult life, but the summer itself wasn't bad so much as fraught.

Throughout July I was working at the Chicago Park District's Theatre on the Lake at Fullerton and the lakeshore. It was a fun job, and very mellow. It was balmy and hot in there, and the hours, Wednesday to Sunday, 3 to 9 PM, left something to be desired. But I was working with Curt and Veronica, and it was a lot of fun.

I soon discovered that it took an hour to commute from my apartment in Humboldt Park (Division and California, ish) and so I started taking the hour-and-a-half walk each way. Three hours of walking each way wasn't that bad, and took me through Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Lincoln Park. I never really loved those neighborhoods as much as I did that summer. Sean and Ben and I were living together. One reintroduced me to the Legend of Zelda and Radiohead, and the other explained to me the principles of maintaining a covert rooftop garden. I drank a lot of iced coffee and stomped cockroaches. When I needed to get away, I went down to Hyde Park and visited with Jess, Milligan, Cate, and Amber. I was also taking ASL classes three day a week, because I was trapped as a student at the U of C. (And as I said, this was the good part of this year for me).

I also worked on reading some books – I don't remember what – and entertained thoughts that my career was on the verge of launching. Unfortunately, I profoundly failed to develop those thoughts, so I shouldn't have been surprised when nothing came of nothing.

Where were you in July, 2001?


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Lauras 3, 30.

- Last week was all rain and headaches.

To prevent moss from forming on a roof, mix up a solution of 2 capfuls of bleach and 1 gallon of water. Apply it to the shingles with a sponge.

"Hasten slowly."
- Augustus

Invent a syllogism.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Diary: Looking for a friend.

I've lost all the contact info for my friend Katie Cawood, and other channels haven't panned out either.

If anyone can help me get in touch with her, I would much appreciate!


~ Connor Coyne


Lauras 2, 30.

- On Friday at midnight, Jess and I went out and picked up Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We stayed in pretty much all weekend, reading to each other and eating Indian food and tortilla soup. We finished up on Sunday night. So expect me to be gushing about that later this week (although I won't casually post any spoilers...).
Today it's rainy and I'm tired and grouchy.

Today in Weather History: Sheridan, Wyoming, got drenched by 4.41 inches of rain, which washed away some railroad tracks, 1923.

New York Times: Ruling Party in Turkey Wins Broad Victory.

On Friday I posted 100 Places I'd Like To Live outside of my own country. Go ahead and put up your own list (it doesn't have to be 100 if you don't want... any number is okay.)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Event: The Pentagon vs. Senator Clinton.

You know, I think I've done a good job speaking my mind and separating my emotions... at least I've taken what provisions I'm able to. I'm as passionate as my friends and family, but I've always maintained that demographics and contexts have to be considered in any political discussion... that we cannot genuinely persuade someone unless we understand them. By that reasoning, any argument or bias that requires that half the population of Red States is irredeemably stupid or irredeemably selfish is not only unproductive, but smacks of arrogance. I've maintained that the Left is correct on most of these issues, but I've always thought that respect had to be maintained against all sorts of odds (and among all sorts of frustration) to make any progress.

But I'm angry about this.

I know, it's a strange time to start taking things personally, and there are probably more pressing issues for me to take personally. But I can't help the fact that it really pisses me off. Why this?

It's not what's said in these arguments/chastisements/evasions as much as what is lacking.

Whether it's the Bush administration or congressional Republicans or the Department of Defence or conservative bloggers, even amid the (too hard won) concessions that (duh!) Iraq is not going well, there is little or no talk of accountability. And an Undersecretary has the audacity to flame a member of the Armed Services Committee about "abandoning" allies in Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq?!








I'm just saying.

It makes me literally want to scream sometimes.

Fortunately, this blog allows me to spare my neighbors.

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Body: 100 Places outside of the U.S. I'd Like to Live (2007).

I do this once a year, 99% from memory. It's a fun exercise, and it's interesting to see what changes from year to year. I choose 100 places outside of my country (the U.S.) that I would like to live for at least 3 months. This assumes food/clothing/shelter, and some discretionary income. I pick places based on how interesting they seem. If I think I can learn more from a place I've already lived, I put it down too. If you want, you can leave a comment with a list of whatever-number-you-like of interesting 3-month homes from outside your own country.

Accra, Ghana
Adamstown, Pitcairn Islands (United Kingdom)
Ambon City, Indonesia
Asmara, Eritria
Athens, Greece
Auckland, New Zealand
Baghdad, Iraq
Baia Mare, Romania
Baku, Azerbaijan
Basra, Iraq
Beijing, China
Beirut, Lebanon
Berlin, Germany
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Bucharest, Romania
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Cairo, Egypt
Calcutta, India
Cape Town, South Africa
Cardiff, Wales
Cartagena, Colombia
Chennai, India
City of Rhodes, Greece
Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Constanta, Romania
Cusco, Peru
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Delhi, India
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Dublin, Ireland
Dunedin, New Zealand
Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha (United Kingdom)
Ennis, Ireland
Gdańsk, Poland
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Havana, Cuba
Heraklion, Greece
Ho Chi Minh City, Vienam
Hobart, Australia
Hong Kong, China
Iasi, Romania
Irkutsk, Russia
Istanbul, Turkey
Jakarta, Indonesia
Jerusalem, Israel
Karachi, Pakistan
Kiev, Ukraine
Kingston, Jamaica
Lagos, Nigeria
Lahore, Pakistan
Lhasa, Tibet (China)
London, United Kingdom
Lusaka, Zambia
Managua, Nicaragua
McMurdo Base, Antarctica
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Medina, Saudi Arabia
Mérida, Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico
Moscow, Russia
Mumbai, India
Muzari Sharif, Afghanistan
Nairobi, Kenya
Naples, Italy
Neuquén, Argentina
Nouakchott, Mauritania
Paris, France
Perth, Australia
Placencia, Belize
Ploiesti, Romania
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Prague, The Czech Republic
Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Rome, Italy
San Juan, Puerto Rico (United States)
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Seoul, South Korea
Seville, Spain
South Pole Base, Antarctica
Sparta, Greece
Srinagar, India
St. Petersburg, Russia
Tallinn, Estonia
T'Bilisi, Georgia
Tehran, Iran
Timbuktu, Mali
Tokyo, Japan
Tulcea, Romania
Uummannaq, Greenland (Denmark)
Vancouver, Canada
Venice, Naples
Vilnius, Lithuania
Vladivostok, Russia
Weno, The Federated States of Micronesia
Windhoek, Namibia
Yakutsk, Russia
Yellowknife, Canada
Zanzibar City, Tanzania

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Lumas 29, 30.

- I spent a few hours exploring and reading at the New York Public Library yesterday. I'm almost inclined to call it the awesomest library I've ever been in, but the fact that their literature and tour guide were so cocky in asserting their awesomeness cheapens it a bit. Still, good times, good times.

The U.S.S. Machias, first steel-hulled ship built in Maine, commissioned, 1893.


The Golden Age of Greece lasted for two short generations between the Persian and Peloponneasian Wars. Roman letters peaked in the century prior to Christ, when the Republic was falling apart, but its cultural and material prosperity peaked during the Principate. The great monarchies of Western Europe, France, Spain, and England foremost, achieved their most uniform success during the 17th and 18th centuries, and remained the dominant world powers until the mid-20th century. Assuming that these statements are more or less correct, and that these "golden ages" are all political hegemonies (Athenian/Roman/European), 1) would you call the post-WWII era, and particularly the post-Cold War era an American hegemony, 2) do you think that material prosperity correlates to cultural ferment, and 3) where in this arc would you situate the U.S.?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Concept: Rolling Stone agrees with me too.

The other day I talked about how I thought Zeitgeist was pretty sweet, and today Rolling Stone agrees with me. It's nice not to be entirely in the minority on an artistic opinion for once.

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Lumas 28, 29.

- My, but yesterday was a crazy day for New York City. I didn't do anything special, though.

If you're trying to stop smoking, try taking a teaspoon of lemon juice whenever you're tempted.

The Cicero Homepage.

If you went forward in time 150 years and discovered all sorts of exotic flavors of ice cream, what flavor would be your favorite?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Event: Wait. Is that a Double-Stuffed Pillow?


...is this it?

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Event: To Win a Pillow-Fight, Stuff Two Pillows Into One Pillowcase

It's a step in the right direction.

But make no mistake: it's a small small step. I was hoping that this was a committed attempt to ratchet up pressure. Senators are battle-hardened political campaigners, and if their successful political careers demand a sleepless night every now and then, I'd appreciate their playing the part to the hilt. How disappointing, then, that Harry Reid announced a break from 1 to 5 AM. These are the crucial hours of any all-nighter. They surround 3 AM, which Ray Bradbury described as the "soul's midnight" in Something Wicked This Way Comes. If this is political theater, then the Democrats didn't commit to their reading.

Robert Byrd knew how to bring the fight.

The problem is that when the Democrats get "tough" they're still far too "soft" by Republican Standards.

If you're going to force an all night session, then make it an all night session.

* * * * *

Of course, alan1 is always ready to supply a case in point. As I was drafting this post he emailed me, writing:

On election night, before the polls closed but after it was clear that the Dems were taking Congress, Trent Lott went on one of the network news channels and called the Dems a "lame duck" Congress, and explicitly (if I remember right) admitted to a "scorched earth" policy in which the Repubs would win back Congress in two years because they would have shut down the
government and blamed it on Democrats. He said this, on the record. So why is there confusion as to what is happening now? Why aren't there ad campaigns going on right now in which Trent Lott tells America that the Republican party has a pre-emptive policy of obstruction developed before
they lost power? Why isn't that video being played on the Senate floor?

Does anybody know why?

* * * * *

When I used to have Dungeons & Dragons slumber parties with my nerdy Flint friends, we'd also have a number of pillow fights. These weren't you're typical giggling kids jumping on a bed fights, though. We aimed for the head, and since we were all fighting at once, the faster you could drop numerous opponents, the more likely you were to win. One kid, Chris, had a decisive edge. He was larger, stronger, and slower than the rest of us, but he maximized his advantages by stuffing two pillows into one pillow-case. It gave him an added impact: two or three direct hits from Chris and you were down for the count. Of course, the fact that he started whacking us with pillows while we were asleep almost made him a bully, but it was all in good fun, and any way, the stakes are low.

Now the Democrats are a majority in congress, but they still haven't claimed the authority in congress in a meaningful way. They are debating Iraq deployment, so the stakes are definitively not low. This slumber party was Harry Reid's idea.

Couldn't he please stuff two pillows into one pillowcase?

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Lumas 27, 30.

- Yesterday after work, I sat in Union Square and read. Today I got wet on the way to work, because it was raining buckets. Also: two more days until Harry Potter Book 7 comes out.

Today in Weather History: Aurora, Illinois, received 16.91 inches of rain in 24 hours, 1996.

He totally didn't see it coming.

What's your favorite flavor of ice cream today?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Event: Lady Bird Johnson.

The New York Times has a nice page with articles and an obituary of Lady Bird Johnson here.

Concept: Zeitgeist, by the Smashing Pumpkins.

The cardinal sin that almost every review (positive and negative) of Zeitgeist has committed so far is interpreting it strictly as a referendum on Billy Corgan and his other efforts to date. Certainly that history is significant (you can read it all here), but it is an oversimplication to simply denounce the new album as Billy Corgan's personal hand at work, or to rehabilitate it because the same has always been true.

What ought to be interesting about Zeitgeist, and what's been scarcely mentioned at all so far, is its conscious effort to move thematically away from the Pumpkins' earlier work. From Gish through Mellon Collie, their emphasis was always upon self-abnegation and redemption through bitterness and love, respectively. Adore and Machina took small steps away from this with their gothic and concept album stylings (again, respectively). But nothing in the earlier catalog suggests a break as conspicuous as Zeitgeist, with its blatantly political artwork and song titles such as "Doomsday Clock" and "God and Country." Lyrically, the break isn't as great – even the most political songs contextualize themselves around a personal struggle (ie. this isn't System of a Down) – but the overall effect is to situate the album solidly in a political dialogue in a way that the Pumpkins have never attempted before.

Unsurprisingly, the politics themselves aren't all that nuanced. The album cover itself is the most striking on this front, with its Statue of Liberty drowning in red water as she faces away from the setting sun (I suppose; the statue looks to the east in real life). So we've got the environment debased, we've got allusions to war and civil liberties withheld, and we don't have enough said about either to do much more than guess how the band votes. There is a purpose to the political content, but I'll return to that.

It is not the only recalibration.

On the scale of the album, they have recorded eleven tracks between 3:17 and 4:20 long, and one that is 9:52. The latter is a political opus titled "United States" and anchors the album at track #7. The first half of the album is loud and aggressive, and most closely approximates the Pumpkins' cybermetal on the Zero single. The second half tends more toward pop melodies and synthesizers (a là 1979). This architecture only becomes apparent through listening to the album, however.

On the scale of song, the band has largely eschewed the loud-soft format of their earlier work for more one-dimensional dynamics, though songs still vary considerably from each other. However, solowork is front-and-center, and Jimmy actually has drum soloes in two songs (United States and Starz).

In terms of texture, Zeitgeist certainly has its own sound. While the sound is just as layered as earlier work, the layers are easier to distinguish and more cleanly cut. This comes across most strongly in the cybermetal songs, and most particularly "7 Shades of Black." Some of the sound effects are unique to this album. On numerous tracks, Billy's voice has been overlain a few dozen times creating the unsettling effect of a chorus of Billys. It mostly works, oddly enough. There are plenty of electronic squicks and bloops, not unlike the mainstay of The Future Embrace, but this is by-and-large a guitar hero album. In fact, Roy Baker produced about a third of the tracks, including "Starz" and "Bring the Light," two of the best songs. The cumulative effect isn't a "wall of sound" so much as a cathedral during midnight in the middle of a blizzard.

The question, however, is:

Is the album any good?


It certainly belongs in the Smashing Pumpkins canon.

If Zeitgeist hasn't attained the spark and complexity of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie it is musically almost on par with Adore and Gish, and has probably catchier riffs than either. It is conspicuously better than Machina on all counts.

* * * * *

To go off on a tangent for a moment, a friend of mine and I were discussing the natural life expectancy of rock bands. They seem to fizzle or decay after a half-decade or so, and we speculated on why this must be. We tried to think of rock-and-environs acts who have creatively and creatively prospered almost forever, and the closest I think we came was The Who and maybe Lush-that-could've-been. My friend grew up with Gish so he's going to think I'm writing a travesty here, but I believe that we unfairly undermine our bands' efforts when they get older.

Raw chemistry is going to be expended as a band achieves zenlike equilibrium (Pearl Jam) or rips itself apart (Alice in Chains). Passion is going to be mitigated by material success (Jane's Addiction). Energy will be diffused into side projects (Radiohead). New tricks will be expended and the music will sound old (Nine Inch Nails). Musicians will simply get old (R.E.M., U2). New bands will appear, and they will be new and novel.

As if all this weren't enough for our idols to contend with, we, their loyal fans, are subjectively biased against them. This is because we have a nostalgic attachment to the band's earlier work, and especially the moment when we discovered them. In fact, we impose the double handicap of disappointment in anything that betrays the spirit of the original, and the expectation of the freshness of our first encounter.

Our teenage heroes are in an almost unwinnable situation.

What we should be doing with albums like Zeitgeist, like Year Zero or the American Doll Posse is look for positive qualities that are rare in "young" bands.

The slight-of-hand partition of Zeitgeist is supple and surprising. The day/night theme of Mellon Collie was comparatively heavy-handed and seemed to beg for an interpretation that was never supplied.

A younger politicized Billy Corgan might have attempted to route his politics through one issue at a time (perhaps one track per issue) and that would have been a pretty obnoxious album. Instead, here he manages to make the political personal, confrontationally but not didactically ("Freedom shines a light ahead. I'll lead the last charge from bed.")

Perhaps, having been treated to two decades of speculation and media drama, the Pumpkins will stablize internally, and focus their energies more carefully on the music they create. This, in particular, is something I will be looking for.

We don't have to forget that he is one and not three.

We can try to find a messiah in that trinity.

And yet: Shot down, he stood, and withstood his neighborhood.

I'll say it again: This is an exciting, arresting, unique piece of music.

Labels: , ,

Lumas 26, 30.

- Yesterday was obscenely frustrating. But at least I finally finished the first volume of the University of Chicago's Readings in Western Civilization: The Greek Polis which I think I first started in 1998.

Of what use is it for a cow to give plenty of milk if she upsets the pail?

"If your woman steps out with another man,
and she runs off with him to Japan
and the IRS says they want to chat,
and you can't explain why you claimed your cat,
and Ma Bell sends you a whopping bill
with eighteen phone calls to Brzil,
and you borrowed money from the mob
and yesterday you lost your job,
well, these are the breaks."

When you were seven, what was your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Event: Mayor George W. Williamson.

Concept: Enabling Technorati.

Lumas 25, 30.

- I was busy this week, but writing and revising. Not things really that interesting for me to talk about or for you to read. I did see Harry Potter on Friday, and Jess and I hung out with Marco and Scott several times. And I explored Roosevelt Island.

Bees will not swarm before a storm.

New York Times: North Korean Reactor Is Shut, U.N. Confirms.

If you won $156 million dollars, who would you tell first, and how long would you wait to tell them?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Concept: Hey! Join my mailing list!


So no. 1, between my dumb self and my dumb computer I do not have a solid list of emails for People I Know in Flint and Chicago.

No. 2, I have started a comprehensive mailing list for my writing projects. If you want to join, you need to respond to this message, and give me your email address. I will use this mailing list to send out updates and attachments more reliably than I have in the past. This very weekend you will get the first six Silurian stories. In a few weeks you will receive the latest revision of Hungry Rats (complete) and later this fall, the draft of my most recent novel, Notes For Students. There will also be announcements about readings and other projects. I've got a lot of exciting stuff going on right now and I want you to be in on it.

So if you are interested *please* respond to this message with an email addy and I'll hook you up!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Lumas 22, 30.

- I explored Roosevelt Island yesterday, including the abandoned Smallpox Hospital and the Octagon. In between were massive pomo housing blocs. It was very strange. It felt vaguely communist in an endowed central planning sort of way. Everyone had their own three-hundred square food garden. It was possibly the least New Yorky place I've been in New York. But not unpleasant at all. I liked it.

Born today: Frank Ramsey (basketball player), 1931.


Today is Friday the 13th. Are you taking any precautions?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Body: 100 Places in the U.S. I'd Like to Live (2007).

I do this once a year, 99% from memory. It's a fun exercise, and it's interesting to see what changes from year to year. I choose 100 places in my country (the U.S.) that I would like to live for at least 3 months. This assumes food/clothing/shelter, and some discretionary income. I pick places based on how interesting they seem. If I think I can learn more from a place I've already lived, I put it down too.

For today's question of the day, do this exercise yourself choosing whatever-number-you-like of interesting 3-month homes from your own country.

Albuquerque, New Mexico
Anchorage, Alaska
Atlanta, Georgia
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Austin, Texas
Baltimore, Maryland
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Boston: South, Massachusetts
Charleston, West Virginia
Chicago: Rogers Park, Illinois
Chicago: Edgewater Beach, Illinois
Chicago: Uptown, Illinois
Chicago: Pilsen, Illinois
Chicago: Bronzeville, Illinois
Chicago: Back of the Yards, Illinois
Chicago: Bridgeport, Illinois
Chicago: South Shore, Illinois
Chicago: Roseland, Illinois
Chicago: Pullman, Illinois
Chicago: East Side, Illinois
Cincinatti, Ohio
Cleveland, Ohio
Davenport, Iowa
Denver, Colorado
Detroit: Denby, Michigan
Detroit: Boynton, Michigan
Detroit: Downtown, Michigan
Detroit: Corktown, Michigan
Detroit: Van Steuban, Michigan
Emporia, Kansas
Eureka, California
Fairbanks, Alaska
Flint: Downtown, Michigan
Flint: Carriage Town, Michigan
Flint: Hall's Flats, Michigan
Flint: Civic Park, Michigan
Flint: Eastside, Michigan
Flint: East Village, Michigan
Flint: Sugar Hill, Michigan
Flint: Westside, Michigan
Flint: Glenwood Hills, Michigan
Flint: 3rd Avenue Neighborhood, Michigan
Flint: The Hole, Michigan
Flint: Mott Park, Michigan
Hamtramck, Michigan
Harrison, Arkansas
Harrison, Michigan
Hilo, Hawaii
Holbrook, Arizona
Homestead, Florida
Honolulu, Hawaii
Houghton, Michigan
Iota, Louisiana
Jackson, Wyoming
Kalamazoo, Michigan
Kansas City, Missouri
Lake Lure, North Carolina
Little Rock, Arkansas
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Los Angeles (Echo Park), California
Louisville, Kentucky
Marquette, Michigan
Memphis, Tennessee
Meredith, Michigan
Miami, Florida
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Nashville, Tennessee
New Orleans, Louisiana
New York City: Alphabet City, New York
New York City: Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York
New York City: Harlem, New York
New York City: Inwood, New York
New York City: Jackson Heights, New York
New York City: Coney Island, New York
Oakland, California
Omaha, Nebraska
Pahokee, Florida
Pentwater, Michigan
Philadelphia: South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Portland, Oregon
Providence, Rhode Island
Raleigh, North Carolina
Rapid City, South Dakota
Reno, Nevada
Saginaw: Westside, Michigan
St. Louis, Missouri
Salt Lake City, Utah
San Francisco, California
Savanna, Georgia
Seattle, Washington
Suttons Bay, Michigan
Traverse City, Michigan
Washington, District of Columbia
West Hollywood, California
Wheeling, West Virginia
Yazoo City, Mississippi
Zanesville (South Side), Ohio
Zion, Illinois

Labels: ,

Lumas 21, 30.

Freshen smelly sneakers with a liberal dose of salt.

Black Holes: Gravity's Relentless Pull.

See next post.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Event: Iraq / Vietnam / Support for a Universal Draft.

Daily Kos: No Chips In This Game

I've thought for a long time now that we ought to (that all democracies ought to) have a universal draft. On a practical level, it would solve almost innumerable problems. An expanded military could approve shorter deployments and distributed them more reasonably. In peacetime, the large number of personnel would also allow for the service to take in essential understaffed civil service jobs, disaster relief, and so forth. Again, the numbers involved allow a built-in flexibility to this arrangement, depending on the needs of the military and various civil sectors. Despite all this, mandatory length of enlistment could be reduced across the board. One year following high school, for example, could be a standard, with options tailored to individuals' post-high school plans. A universal draft would also mean that the military would contain a more representive segment of the U.S. population, meaning a two-way investment of each in the other's policies. The political cost of an unpopular war would soar if virtually every 18-19 year old American was involved in some way. It may not be a prescription against unjust wars (– we would, in fact, have to wrestle with a tendency toward an even greater military hybris –) but conscription would certainly work against waging frivolous wars (eg. the war we're fighting now).

Changing tacks a little:

The DailyKos post above objects to the notion that the draft decisively contributed to the urgency of Vietnam protests... the poster thinks that this was a diminution of the prosters' efforts. As for "decisive contribution," I think that the fact is so evident as to not demand an argument here. At any rate, admitting that the draft was an impact does not, itself, repudiate Vietnam protests. First, the fact that protest is self-interested does not render it illegitimate. The presence of an uneven and unjust draft gave protesters an investiture in the consequence of war that most of us lack today. From that perspective, today's antiwar movement is more emaciated of nuance than that of the Vietnam war. It follows that we cannot talk about the lack of energy of today's antiwar movement relative to Vietnam without acknowledging the effect of a draft. While a selective draft – whether fueled by paid exemptions (a la the Civil War) or de facto paid exemptions (a la Vietnam) – is fundamentally unjust, it is in effect scarcely better than the informal military caste system at work in the U.S. today.

The similarities between these two wars and the different responses they've provoked (across the political spectrum) reveals a split on the part of both parties from their ideology. Pro-war holdouts, traditionally in favor of a robust military, spending increases, and often a more aggressive foreign policy, will say what they will to shore up their votes, but on the whole, they don't want a draft. A draft involves the public in a contentious debate. They (pro-war Republicans) are, after all, a minority now, but they've still gotten to have their war. Likewise, Democrats, in confronting military policy en toto, must embrace a superficial check on personal liberty - the draft - in order to liberate civic duty from the bias of class and situation. Any nation requires a nominal check on its citizen's civil liberties. It is therefore important not to merely constrain these limitations as much as possible, but also to see that limitations and duties are distributed evenly and fairly?

What am I saying?

In a tangential sense, I'm saying that the antiwar movement needs to up its game, because it isn't showing much so far.

My larger point, though, is that I would support a universal draft, and you should too.

Any truly liberal outlook involves a commitment to a balanced share of privilege and responsibility among citizens. With respect to military service, this can only be reconciled in something that either ammounts to conscription or to the abolishment of armed service altogehter. Since I think we'll agree that the latter is impractical, we have to find a way to make its alternative fair and acceptible.

Jeff Danziger: 9/6/2006

Lumas 20, 30.

Today in history: U.S. space station Skylab, in orbit since 1973, returned to Earth and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean, 1979. (A moment of silence for Skylab.)


The Smashing Pumpkins in their new configuration.

In what year do you expect to die?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Concept: My First Big-Time Permalink (is not a bang but a whimper).

So Spin Magazine has linked to Blue Skies Falling about the Smashing Pumpkins. Pretty cool, huh?

Well, not really.

Did they link to my nuanced and rigorous exploration of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness via Holocaust narratives? No.

Did they link to my incisive and penetrating analysis of Zeigeist on the eve of its relase? No.

They linked to this from here.

"Looks cool. I wonder if it's going to be political..."

Couldn't they maybe have picked something more inane?

Lumas 19, 30.

- Don't expect much from me today: I'm Zeitgeisting. Last night Jess and I ibought from iTunes the first episode of Lost Season 2 and watched it on her iPod. Pathetic, huh? I also saw the Pumpkins perform Tarantula on Letterman.

If you're trying to rid your home of roaches, use different poison with each application. Roaches adapt.

"Dead sons rule dead air, but heaven is everywhere."
- The Smashing Pumpkins, Starz

What is your favorite song from Zeitgeist? (Indulgent question, I know. I'm probably the only one answering. Oh well.)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Concept: Thoughts about the Zeitgeist.

I read more than a couple reviews of the Smashing Pumpkins' Zeitgeist today, and for awhile they had me in a near panic. About 4 out of 5 thought the piece was better-than-expected-if-still-not-great, and the remaining 1 of 5 would think it was crap-crap-crap. Then I wikipediad some reviews on The Future Embrace and felt a lot better. I thought that The Future Embrace was an anachronism – it really did belong in the mid-80s – but it was also a fine album that stretched Corgan's abilities both forwards and backwards. If the critics could think it was crap, and they liked Zeitgeist more, than maybe my concern is premature.

This is a strange situation for me, by which I mean that I am so biased via the Smashing Pumpkins that I don't feel that I can offer much objectivity whatsoever. In general, I don't take a pomo hard line... I think that with a concerted effort bias can be mitigated (or even overcompensated for) and that it is possible to situate oneself at least relative to different object. But that relativity means that there have to be exceptions. In the case of the Smashing Pumpkins, I have been using their music, their albums, as a concrete model for emulation for over a decade now. If I like their new album, I am clearly making a extraordinary effort to suck as much out of it as I can. If I don't like it, it is clearly very, very personal. It is, perhaps, appropriate for me to talk about all of this ahead of time, because I can make these statements independent of the music itself. Consider it to be me getting the baggage out in the open.

So, some generalizations:

  • The reviews seemed to have massive spread in terms of the songs they liked. When I say that, I mean that almost every review named some songs as being equal to the Pumpkins' earlier work, and other songs as sub-par or sucking. The thing was, they couldn't agree on which songs. This is very encouraging to me. I went back last week and read a bunch of Rolling Stone reviews of Rolling Stone albums, and all of the big ones got five stars. And yet, I can't imagine that, in the day, Sticky Fingers and Beggar's Banquet and Let It Bleed were all fifteen for fifteen, just as Rolling Stone magazine gave Mellon Collie (I think) a rough three-and-a-half out of five in 1995. Music reviews seem to be ridiculously inconsistent. Hindsight may be twenty-twenty, but foresight from likes as austere/admired as Rolling Stone and Spin are at best ten-twenty (twenty-forty? I forget.) Point being: If all the reviews had agreed that the same songs sucked, then that speaks of an album that is one-half black coffee and one half sour cream. Differing opinions from reputable sources suggest at worst disarray among reviewers, but at best it suggests and album that challenges listeners. That leads listeners in new directions. When I listen to Zeitgeist tomorrow, I'm going to listen for the latter.

  • There is a lot of talk about Smashing Pumpkins Redux, but I will be a hard sell on the fact of recapitulation. Two of the three most prominent approaches to this album speak to this fact. First is the actual subject matter of the album. That is, a lot of the reviews attacked (while a few lauded) the Pumpkins' new political bent. While I admittedly don't have high expectations for a trenchant analysis of American values or a repudiation/plea of/for American realpolitik, Corgan had to realize that the 100,000ish units he does regularly sell is all from his dedicated fan-base. (It wasn't newcomers who walked into Virgin and walked out with Zwan or The Future Embrace.) As much as his famous ego and pretension is now (and always will be) a part of his projects, this is a risky departure. Contrary to reviewers who always speak of Corgan's megalomania as coexisting with commercial savvy, I can only see it as an extension – and possibly an overextension – of artistic integrity. In fact, Corgan will probably never get the credit he is due for this. And yet the political direction of Zeitgeist is so at odds with the earlier material the Pumpkins recorded that I do believe they are challenging themselves artistically. That is a great reassurance.

  • Lastly, I was talking with my friend alan1 (who no matter what you say is not me, I promise so please stop emailing and asking about it), and I said that I am looking forward to their next album more than Zeitgeist. I didn't do a good job putting this into words, but he said:
    In a sense, he is relaunching a brand as opposed to reforming a band, and while I think that helps in terms of having already defined the aestetic and direction of the project, in terms of developing a sort of creative momentum, or what I might call a favorable creative context, there is a lot of work to be done. Bands rarely find their stride on their first record (and I think for these purposes we can consider this a first record), and the ones that do tend to not go on to a second. There are obviously a large number of exceptions, but I think that (and I hate to put it this way) Billy Corgan needs to prove that the Pumpkins are still a viable business model, both literally in terms of sustaining interest and profitability and figuratively in terms of sustaining creative energy. In short, this will either be a swan song (unfortunate) or a transitional work on the way to something... great

    That pretty much how I feel about this album. It isn't Smashing Pumpkins' first album, and it has more in common with Gish then Machina II. Hopefully it will be their self-titled Fleetwood Mac album (Landslide included), or even better, their Their Satanic Majesties Request.

Essentially, I'm cautiously optimistic about this new Smashing Pumpkins thing. I doubt it will be their best work, but I do expect to hear something new, and at the very least, I admire the integrity and creativity with which Corgan has invested this project. Far from his critics who sometimes accuse him of lacking in creativity or vision, if anything, I think that he applies them to a fault.

But I'll write more when I've actually heard the stuff.

Diary: July, 2003.

In July, 2003, I was Jess and I were living on Maryland Ave., on the Eastside of Flint. The neighborhood had changed pretty dramatically since I had last lived there. In the 80s it was poor and crime-infested, in the 90s, it was just poor, and by 2003 it was crime infested again. That summer a gun went off next door and we found a body down the street one night. On the other hand, we were a close walk to all sorts of good food, the cultural center, the river, two great parks (Kearsley and Whaley). We liked our neighbors and our landlord.

I worked parttime down the street at Angelos as their weekend night-shift dishwasher, which meant that I witnessed the slow nightly progression (9 PM - 6 AM) of teenagers, college students, ravers, prostitutes, and schizophrenics, in roughly that order. I was able to take liberties with that job that were unprecedented before and after. I listened to a lot of James Brown, drank a lot of coffee, and ate a lot of coneys.

Frankly, too much happened that month to cover anything in too much detail. This is the short version. Jess went to visit her family for the 4th, and I went up to Lisa's mom's in Traverse City for a couple days. We explored the abandoned asylum on the edge of town -- a huge complex that had just begun to be converted into condos -- and then her cousin flew me back to Flint. I took the bus home, and took a nap. That same night I look my longest nightwalk ever: 37 miles around the entire perimeter of Flint's city limits. I left at 4 PM and got back at around 7. I walked to Richfield and Center and headed north from there. I stopped for dinner at the Atlas at about 10. At a little after midnight, on the golf course near Woodcroft, the bateries died, so no more Eminem. It was an incredible, epic undertaking, and more happened than I can describe here.

When I got home, we had a problem. Fleas. They'd been left by the house's previous resident, who had evidently left his door wide open for any and all strays looking for shelter. I got some powder from the landlord, but these flease were so angry and muscular that it only pissed them off. I had my brother pick me up in the middle of the night. During the next couple weeks Colin came to visit to help put together a Flint-based Scavhunt, but with all of our flea problems, we didn't advertise very well, and when the time came, nobody signed up. So it goes. We did, however, have a good time watching two full seasons of the Adventures of Pete and Pete.

This was also when I met with Rev. Friedman to explain that I wasn't a Unitarian anymore. I asked about a friend of mine, and she told me that he had recently died. The funeral was to follow the next day. After Jess and I saw Colin off, and she set off to her new job (at the mall), I walked to the UU church for Hal's funeral, and from there, on to K-Mart where I bought clothes for the upcoming excursion to California. I got several striped and Hawaiian shirts, and spent most of the afternoon and early evening at Borders, six miles from home, reading the plays of Lee Blessing. Why? Well I was going to assist him, wasn't I? I finished my coffee and book and started home. I'd made it as far east as Knight, when a girl across the street, with a thick accent asked if she was headed toward Center road. I told her that Center road was a five miles the other way, and we started walking together. On the way she explained that she was from Newark and was touring the country as a "magazine roady" of sorts, hawking zines door-to-door. We had an interesting debate about Flint vs. Newark (which town was tougher) and drank a couple beers at the Double Day before her ride arrived and I started home.

The next morning, Jess drove me to Bishop, and I flew out to California. Hallie picked me up at the airport and we stopped for lunch in Oxnard on our way to Ojai. We took the Pacific Highway out, and it was beautiful. I spent the next week with the marvelous likes of Ted Levine and Abigail Deser as we worked on Lee Blessing's new play for the Ojai Playwrights Conference. Daniel and Michelle and all of the actors I met, all of the interns, the events, this weird, warm, dry place called California with lizards running all around! It was a fitting and eventful end to a fitting and eventful month.

Where were you in July, 2003?

Concept: The Times liked the new Pumpkins album.

Relatively speaking.


Lumas 18, 30.

This entry will be brief because I've spent most of the morning reading (with great anxiety) the misgiven rumblings about Smashing Pumpkins' Zeitgeist which will be released in twelve hours, give or take. Oh my, oh my, oh my, oh my. The weekend was relaxed, which was nice for a chance. We finished the first season of Lost on Friday and played Axis and Allies with Marco on Saturday. We took a couple of nice walks, and stayed indoors with the A/C.

Clean manual can openers by feeding a paper towel through it.

There's too much news to sort through. How about this:
Flushing, Michigan is hosting the statewide nasty shoe contest.
Flint Journal: Stench in your kid's shoes may actually be worth cash

What is the most refreshing drink you can think of right now?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Lumas 15, 29.

- Yesterday I tried to write some, but no dice. I watched some Lost with Jess and read some Aristotle.

Musician Louis Armstrong died, 1971.

Cook Islands

Which country (other than the country you live in) do you think has the coolest flag?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

EVENT: Thoughts on the 4th of July.

First, I don't got much this week (fireworks shock), so you should read this.

Second, just because of what week it is, I'm thinking about the age old question of patriotism vs. nationalism. Gemma has written about this a number of times, and I've basically agreed with everything she's said on the subject. The idea that it is possible to have a pride – a wholesome, useful pride at that – in one's country, without slipping into an irrational and destructive sense of entitlement and superiority. How does one best define each term, and where does one draw the line? More, how is it possible to have a sense of pride in something as abstracted (if not abstract to real-world consequence) without that pride implying at least a sense of entitlement and superiority?

This is frequent line of inquiry for me. My extended family, while spread somewhat broadly along the political spectrum, has always been basically patriotic. They have worked for large American companies, and multiple generations have served in the military (my generation is the first in recent memory to do neither). And this is the time of year to be patriotic, after all.

On the other hand, this is a week in which the supreme court has shot down over fifty of a desegregating precedent (first enacted during the Eisenhower administration), over one-hundred years of an antitrust precedent (enacted during Theodore Roosevelt's administration). Conservative senators have shot down a proactive, sculpted-by-committee-and-compromise, and above all necessary immigration reform. Most insignificantly, but most prominently in the news, the president commuted the sentence of the sole member of his administration who has had any commupance whatsoever for their long list of illegal and sabatory actions. It may not be comparatively significant, but it is still enough to make me grind my teeth. It is, therefore, a difficult week on which to be patriotic.

I am, ultimately, patriotic.

All the way back to Plato, we are culturally primed to make a sharp division between theory and manifestations. In terms of patriotism, or religion, or art, or any number of other fields featuring the collision of ideas and their expression/execution, we gain flexibility if we can recognize the value of an execution that is automatically flawed. This isn't a political argument per se; I'm not getting into that whole evolution vs. revolution thing. I'm saying that if we are willing to accept compromise as an inherent feature of any manifested system, an expected trait as opposed to undesired flaws or noise, we pick up some flexibility as to what we can say and who we can be. And, honestly, I think we have a more accurate picture of the world we live in.

An easy example of this flexibility is one that most Americans use reflexively.
After all: the 4th of July is a commemoration of July 4th, 1776, the year in which we declared our separation from the British Parliament and poor, old, deranged, taxing-and-searching-and-seizing King George III, which the Declaration condemned in a list of "he has" that went on at length. And yet, while the colonists were subjected to a genuine deprivation of civil liberty, George III's "search and seizure" couldn't hold a candle to our two hundred year legacy of treaty beaking with Native Americans. Nor did his deprivation of Free Speech really deprive American colonists of their "inalienable rights" so much as the colonists themselves did through their continuance of chattel slavery. Slavery has been a common feature of most of recorded history, but the American system was particularly dehumanizing in that it legally and explicitly denied the humanity of slaves, which is how we produced such abhorrant legislation as the 3/5 rule. For that matter, our much-lauded support from France and elsewhere is nothing to wonder at; they were British rivals who wanted to compromise England's naval and economic power. A couple decades later the French were ready to declare war on the U.S. themselves. Let us not forget that American unity was fermented as an economic interest, since the colonies had a mobile and powerful middle class who would benefit from shedding the strict British taxation. They therefore initiated a democracy that defined and protected their rights more broadly than a monarchy, but still narrowly enough that only one in approximately fifty citizens was allowed the vote. The whole American Revolution, from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, embodied so many contradictions that it could (and often was at the time) labeled hypocritical by its opponents.

The other side of it is that almost all of the good things that we say about the American Revolution are also true. Western Civilization hadn't produced a functioning democracy since ancient Greece and perhaps some Swiss city-states (I say "functioning" because we are technically a republic, not a straight democracy). The constitutional protection of civil liberties for all citizens had been virtually unheard of. Certainly, there had never been a functioning democracy taking in such diversity and numbers of people over such a large area. While France struggled to follow in our footsteps, their own revolution stalled after bloody insurrection, and their own "functioning democracy" was postponed for another century. On the other hand, our own victory against England was a legitimate David vs. Goliath case. For this reason, we were the default model for aspiring democracies, and even where they improved upon our system (eg. losing the electoral colleges), flaws are conspicuous in any prototype.

Intuitively, these two paragraphs essentially contradict each other. I ought not to forget the former nor to neglect the latter. Both arguments ought to be anticipated and considered as two sides of the same coin. The United States was brought into the world as a power immediately competing with more powerful states overseas. These were grappling with social unrest of their own, in fear of insurrection, and so the establishment of the United States posed a double-risk: economic/cultural and cultural. In the United States itself, this sense of tenuous existence, of maneuvering along a brink, coupled with a slave-based economy on the south, a land-starved economy in the north, abundant natural resources to the West and the capacity to seize them whenever we wanted.
I'm not writing to justify any of our past sins, but to place them in context. Where/whenever the first functioning democracy was, it was bound to be heavily circumscribed by mitigating circumstances. I can feel shame, therefore, regarding the founding fathers and the creation of this nation for everything they did wrong, for the problems they did not fix, and for those which they increased. That is, perhaps, what a diligent and faithful and patriotic citizen ought to do on the 364 days. And yet, looking back at this group of people, and at this nation at a whole, and at what they accomplished together, it ought to be possible to acknowledge and to take pride in all of the positive. To exemplify and to try to live it. Patriotism ought not to be an oversimplification of history or an abjuration of guilt. It ought to be a shared and acknowledged pride in just intentions and just actions. Patriotism ought, above all, to strive to expand and purify and participate in the most rigorous, self-reflective, honest, and humble of the qualities that emerge in the basis of our shared heritage. That, itself, is sufficient justification for tracking a heritage at all.

Lumas 14, 30.

I'm having a coding problem in Internet Explorer whereby none of the posts appear. I've spent about an hour looking for this problem in Blogger and have tried several solutions and have written Blogger Help (they haven't responded). If anyone wouldn't mind taking a look at the source and suggesting any solutions, I'd really appreciate it.

- Happy 4th Everyone!

It's been a good-if-not-abundantly-productive couple of days.
Work let out early - two o'clock - on Tuesday, so I picked up a Steel Reserve (and bag, and straw) and went down to the park outside Stonewall to sit in the shade and read Aristotle. I finished his Constituion of Athens grabbed a slice of pizza, and headed over to Marco's for some Forgotten Realms with him and Jessica. We went back home around midnight (Jess has her bicycle now, which we took on the subway) and watched two episodes of Lost. I didn't sleep well, though.
Yesterday morning we watched two more episodes, and lay around for most of the day, although we did go out for lunch at Kinara's. At about half-past-three we took the bus to downtown Brooklyn and met Marco again to see Transformers.
Transformers... many of my friends are already sending out emails describing their disappointment, and in a couple cases, their awe. Whatever. I liked it a lot. It probably doesn't rank very high in terms of film quality (the script certainly left much to be desired), but I don't think we're reasonably looking for that. It's a big, expensive film about sweet cars that become robots and fight each other. Cool CGI and sound effects. How bad could it really be? I thought the transformation sequences were mesmerizing. Starscream was especially effective. Despite the script's limitations it was well-enough acted (both by actors and CGI) that character came through vividly. I won't post separately to analyze it more, but I thought that I got my eleven dollars worth. Actually, I'll take that back: I thought it was totally sweet.
After that we all went to a party at Peter's house where we barbecued on the roof. It ended up raining, but we were able to stand under a tarp for shelter. The view was incredible, with all the trees just reaching over the lips of the brownstones, the Brooklyn skyline a mile away, then, to its left and a mile further on, the downtown Manhattan skyline. The fireworks were launched from between these, so of course we were a bit far away, but the epic scale (and having just seen Transformers) made the whole thing feel very epic. After that, we walked Marco back to the subway, and continued on home. The End.

Soothe a sunburned face with buttermilk.

Transformers: Official Website (toys).

If you were a Transformer, 1) would you be an Autobot or a Decepticon, and 2) what would you transform into?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lumas 12, 30.

- Last night was unremarkable, except that I did get around to writing in my journal, did not get around to cleaning, or writing anything substantial, and did get around to watching an episode of Monk with Jessica. Which was fun.

Keep conscience clear, then never fear.

"There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots - suspicion."
- Demosthenes

Describe your first kiss.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lumas 11, 30.

- Quite a week: I can't keep up. Unfortunately I didn't draft even one Silurians story; something I'll have to make up for this week. I did, however, read a lot of Greek History. That, and Jess and I have been watching Lost. We're halfway through the first season. On Wednesday I went to the Guerrilla Lit reading series. The real story of the week, however, is of the weekend.
On Friday morning, after some two hours of sleep, Jess and I got up and took a cab to LaGuardia Airport. By arrival, we cut it a little close, with the plane boarding as we arrived at the gate. While we flew, Jess slept and I read Demosthenes. That crazy Demosthenes! We got off the plane and rode the 55 into Hyde Park, where we met Hallie for breakfast. Around noon, she gave us a ride up to Sam's on the West Side, and we visited with him and Sky, watching Transformers trailers during the day. Then, we took a nap and got ready for Sean and Aleja's wedding. Jess and I were early so we stopped at the Medici Bakery for a snack and the Reynolds Club. I went up to UT and had a surprise encounter with Dan Stearns. On the way to the wedding, we ran into Judd, and at the wedding itself, I quickly reconized about half of the people present: Sean's family, Alex and Luda, Pat and Tievsky, and Ben Buckley. Dave Schultz was the Best Man, and Mark joined us at the reception. Sam was officiant of course, and everyone looked eager and cute standing before our crowd of an odd hundred. The reception, of course, was glorious, with a spectacular open bar, good music and conversation. We closed it out, and at about two in the morning, Jess drove us back to Sam's. She, at least, was fit to drive, and later said riding up Lake Shore Drive was her highlight of the weekend. When we got back, Jess went to bed. Sam and I were starting to sober up, so we had an MHL and watched videos on You Tube.
Saturday, we slept in. When we woke up, we languished around the apartment and hung out with Bill and Sam. I took a walk to get Jess a slice of pizza and she worked on her application essays, but the afternoon was pretty relaxed. Finally, Sam was ready to go. His sister has had a difficult operation in Ann Arbor, and he wanted to go and visitor. He dropped us off in Hyde Park, and we touched base with Jim (our host that night) at 57th Street Books and met up with Lisa. We walked down to the lake, talking about Harry Potter and writing and whatnot, and finally all lay down in the grass by the lake. This might have been my favorite moment of the trip. On the way back, we called Gemma to meet up, but our phone died and after spending an hour trying to locate her number and call her back, we almost missed her completely. It turns out that, with the help of a Reynolds Club employee and Lisa's phone, we caught her just as she was readying to leave. We had a quick snack on that patio of the Med, the upshot of which was we also got to see Kennedy and Thalia, and pass out greetings along to Jen. Unfortunately (sadly) we didn't get to see Meridith. We left Lisa and Gemma (and, unfortunately, the power cord to our laptop) at Lisa's car, and walked with Jim back to his apartment. It's right across the hall from my apartment from 2000-2001. And we walked up to the Falcon for drinks and conversation and Cholie's with scavhunt judges of past and present. We got back at two and, another long day, went right to sleep.
Sunday we got up at seven and rode the 55 out to Midway. Again we cut it close and arrived to the gate in the middle of boarding. After the second smooth flying experience in a weekend (unprecedented!) we rode the bus and subway home. I went to church that evening, and Jess spent most of the day preparing her application essays. We both, however, took breaks for guacamole, quesadillas, and Lost.

- Today in Weather History: Northeast Texas was pelted with softball-size hail, and Dallas experienced wind gusts of 90 mph, 1989.

- The New York Times: In Steps Big and Small, Supreme Court Moved Right

- Do you like wearing sandals?