Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Rudolph the Nasally Empowered Reindeer

"It's true that from birth Rudolph was a unique individual, that his luminescent olfactory organ made him different from (but not inferior to) the other reindeer in his age category, and that they often maliciously taunted him about his supra-nasal capabilities. Some reindeer caregivers, concerned that his nose had resulted from radioactive fallout or was somehow contagious, warned their fawns not to play with him."
--from Politically Correct Holiday Stories by James Finn Garner

Someone gave me Garner's book for Christmas, and it's a hoot. It also contains such stories as " 'Twas the Night before Solstice" and "Frosty the Person of Snow," as well as PC versions of "The Nutcracker" and "A Christmas Carol."

Poor Rudolph. I always identified with him, especially when I was a spotted teenager with braces on my teeth.

Speaking of politically correct holidays, we now have Festivus as an alternative to more sectarian celebrations.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Signifying Significance?

The annual convention of the Modern Language Association is held this week, and, as usual, some of the panels and papers presented by the attending academics have titles that are priceless. Some of my favorites:

"She Must Be Raggin'!': Children's Literature and Menstruation"

"Jethro, Mama, Sassie Sue, and the Midnight Plowboy: Hillbillies, 'Common Sense,' Urbanity, and Blaxploitation Film"

"Dude, Where's My Reliable Symbolic Order?': Gross-Out Comedies and the Rewriting of the Expressible"

Something tells me the titles of these presentations are their most entertaining elements.

Read more at Signifyin' at the MLA.
Word of the Day

quidnunc (n)

A nosy person; busybody.

"Close the blinds," Mildred commanded. "Do you want every passing quidnunc to know you're a beer-swilling couch tuber?"

Monday, December 29, 2003

Night Light

My most unusual Christmas gift this year was this, a green light bulb covered with pointy silicone "fingers" that my sister gave me. I've been trying to think of what it brings to mind. Some kind of undersea creature, perhaps -- an electrified anemone? A radioactive potato with prehensile roots? Or it could be an evil phosphorescent plant out to replace me with a pod person. Nah. It gives off an numinous glow at night, not strong enough to work or read by, but inducing a slightly meditative state, like staring into a candle flame. I've decided I like it.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Flake Philosophy

We're like snowflakes, I suppose, each of us condensing from the same cloud. We each have our unique, crystaline, six-pointed structure for a while. We filter down, flipping and gliding in our various eccentric ways. Some of us clump together. Then we all melt into the same puddle -- which evaporates, becoming a cloud again.

What a strange thought.

There's time to think about such things right now. These days between the holidays are like time suspended. We watched The Day the Earth Stood Still on American Movie Classics last night, and that's how it feels right now, everything at a standstill -- though somewhere, half a world away, people are being blown up as usual.

We can feel despair about such things -- or not. Happiness is a decision. Moods are not like the weather. They aren't something that happens to us; we get to decide how we feel. That's one of the few things I've learned.

So many things to say, but I don't know what they are.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Saturnalia Sentiments

Here's a Christmas poem I wrote a couple of years ago, probably when I was feeling a bit stressed out by it all. I'm not always so "bah, humbug," but I think this expresses one aspect of the holiday. Hope yours is merry.

Fa la la

Red, green, red, green--
your lights nictitate like
arrogant cop cars,

making my eyes throb
as your garlands drip
Yule-shine onto the crust

of this decomposing snow.
All night you're dreaming of
the right Christmas--

gilded styrofoam,
tinsel and trash beneath a tree
of wires strung like nerves.

Let's admit that you're dying
to get it over with,
the frozen fa-la-la

for that suckling in the cow trough,
who will someday wander
the tepid Israeli hills

in dusty sandals,
knowing nothing
of such nonsense.

(Originally published by Melic Review)

Monday, December 22, 2003

Give Peas a Chance

I've always had a taste for "weird" music -- I'm the only person I know who has actually purchased a Yoko Ono album, and I have a thing for obscure film scores. So I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the mp3 samples available from the The First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. The orchestra "consists exclusively of vegetable-based instruments, although where necessary, additional kitchen utensils such as knives or mixers are employed."

The mp3s I listened to all had a nice beet (sorry!). Rather than an orchestra, the music made me think of a chorus of joyful mutants on some very damp alien planet.

(via boynton)

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Rings and Things

The Washington Post has an interesting article on J.R.R. Tolkien's Universe Of Inspiration. Though I enjoy the movies, and will probably see Return of the King over the holidays, I've never read LotR. I tried once, but couldn't get past the first few pages -- apparently it just wasn't the kind of literature I needed at the time. I did read some of Tolkien's inspirations in college, though, including Beowulf (a struggle for the modern reader) and this antique gem, as described by the Post:

". . . for most of his life Tolkien was best known as the editor (and later translator) of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' -- the most enchanting (and sexy) Arthurian tale in Middle English. In it Gawain finds himself tempted, in multiple ways, to break his oaths of knightly honor in the face of certain death. Not the least of those temptations is a gorgeous woman -- the wife of a mysterious nobleman -- who repeatedly sneaks into his bedroom and brazenly offers herself to him. Despite its serious themes, the whole story rejoices in an almost Mozartian lightness and charm. Appropriately, it is a tale set at Christmastime."

(via Incoming Signals)

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Double Vision

Apparently, I have a doppelganger.

At an office I was visiting the other day, one of the secretaries, a motherly type who looked about 60, kept smiling at me and shaking her head. I finally asked her what the problem was. "You have a twin," she said. "You do. You have a twin."

"No . . . I don't have a twin," I said, thinking, you have some kind of mental problem, lady.

She went on to explain that a frequent visitor to their office looks "just like" me, and that she at first thought I was him.

I don't think I like the idea of somebody out there running around town with my face on and causing who knows what sort of mischief.
Random Acts of Poetry


The sticks are broken, the coals have faded.
Smoke offers speculation. Your mirror shivers,

and the moon squanders its silver.
A tilted house is sleeping.

You rehearse the passions of Thursday.
The sharp lines of glass--

instants, appetites, lessons
revolve in the cobalt. Everything

fragments to jazz, futile words,
a pack of dogs chasing their tails.

An onion unpeeling its burdens.
You remember

blurred photos, three siblings, the old Chevrolet.
Lost books, days of inertia.

Now pencil light sketches an horizon.
Pigeons complain

on the frosted sill. The stale roar of traffic
builds its illusion of normalcy,

the radiators tick and exhale
a warm assertion of morning.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Read any good books lately?

I sat for over an hour in a doctor's waiting room today, but didn't mind the delay -- I was happily reading a book. Most of the other people in the room were slumped in their chairs and staring into space, like glum sheep. A stack of magazines went untouched. I felt like a weirdo as I turned the pages. A guy who reads: imagine that.

Whenever I know I'll be in a waiting situation, I bring along something to read. I can't fathom why so many other people don't. I think more people did years ago--people read more newspapers, anyway. Now they're more likely to bring along a video game or conduct their personal business via cell phone, as if no one else could hear them. Thank you for sharing . . . .

". . . books are like horses -- very handy in their day, but superseded by the technology of the camera/engine, and now their only function is as nostalgic weekend hobbies," says a Guardian article. "That's why people never turn films into books; it would be like downloading your iPod on to an eight-track. And again, why no toxic shame? Why not even the hint of sheepishness in the admission that reading is a little bit tiring compared with sitting and gawping at something?"

(link via Maud Newton)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Word of the Day

alible (adj)

Having nutrients; nourishing.

"I care not how alible it is," Humphrey hissed as he tossed his Christmas gift, a colorful fruitcake, out of the window.
Haikus from the Headlines

Got him! Got him! Yes!
Got him! Got him! And, Got him!
Television news.

The Guardian sponsors a weekly haiku contest in which readers compete to compose the best 17-syllable ecapsulation of the news or contemporary culture. Some of the submissions are head-scratchingly British, some are universal, and some, like Mike Capay's above, use just three lines to say it all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Words and Pictures

The moody images at the photo/poems blog, also known as p/p, incorporate random (?) lines of text on strips of paper. It's sort of like magnetic poetry (or a kidnapper's ransom note) elevated to surreal eye candy -- or even art.

(via boing boing)

Monday, December 15, 2003

Green Eggs and Spam

I am spam.

That Spam-I-am.
That Spam-I-am.
I do not like
That Spam-I-am.

Do you like
E-mail spam?

Read a Seussian take on everybody's least favorite form of online correspondence at Spam I Am. Then read more nonsense at:
The Dr. Seuss Parody Page. (More serious Seuss scholars may prefer to visit the Center for Seussian Studies.)
Random Questions

How much would that Saddam Hussein tongue depressor go for on eBay?

Should I get a flu shot if I've already been exposed to someone with the flu? (I've heard they take two weeks to take effect.)

Why is it that to shut down my computer, I have to click on "Start"?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Word of the Day

marplot (n)

A stupid and officious meddler whose interference compromises the success of any undertaking.

As each project dissolved into chaos, his predicament became agonizingly clear: he was working for a marplot.
Don't Know Dick?

Philip K. Dick is one of the few science-fiction writers I can stand to read these days. His stories, which never seem dated, revolve around a few basic subjects I find endlessly engaging: false realities, humans vs. machines, entropy, the nature of God and social control. I'm not the only one, of course--aren't these the obsessions of our time?--and Hollywood has made some blockbusters from Dick's novels and stories. The most successful so far has been Minority Report, which grossed $132 million in the US alone. It was based on a short story published in 1956, for which Dick was paid . . . $130. He died shortly before the release of Blade Runner (based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) in 1982, essentially penniless. The latest Dick-based film, Paycheck, with Ben Affleck, opens on Christmas day, and the trailer looks intriguing.

The story of Dick's sad, ironic life is detailed in a Wired article: The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Random Acts of Poetry


Tonight I hear the brutal music
of temples crumbling

behind the eyes.
This is the penalty

for thinking too jagged,
too acetic.

The train that hauls the twilight away
has finished the track.

Forever is a night
or a question, no?

Who can freeze
the tumbling stars,

or this idle banjo jangle,
echoing, echoing?

This reckless wind.
Whoever you are,

strike me a holy candle flame,
set this house to blazing.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Self Portrait

At 5 PM, December 11th 2003:

Wearing my winter jacket and logo-less baseball cap, I exit my building carrying a fluorescent-green laundry basket. Inside is an inflatable plastic flamingo (pink), with leis of multi-colored polyester flowers wound around its tubular neck. The basket also contains two bottles of champagne, a package of Hawaii Aloha Mix dried fruit, a fresh pineapple, two coconuts, paper "Happy New Year" napkins and plates, a bag of Mrs. Fields Macadamia Nut Premium cookies, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and "Holiday Entertaining" crackers, Kraft Easy Cheese in a spray can, and a videocassette entitled Club Med Party Dances ("Learn your favorites!").

Outside, the wind is gusting at 40 miles per hour and the leis are whipping my face. I balance the 20-pound basket on one arm while I fumble for my car keys. I'm hoping the macho guys who hang out in front of the plumbing supply store down the street aren't watching as I load this flamboyant assemblage into the car, but it appears they've all left for the day.

I drive away thinking about how much my wife likes making holiday gift baskets for her friends--and how easy it is for her to cajole me into delivering them.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Chevy marries Chrysler, fathers little Toyota

More and more, US babies get global brand names from their parents, says the BBC. According to Cleveland Evans, a psychology professor quoted in the article, one reason for the popularity of brands as names is "a growing desire on the part of parents to mark their children out as different." A child is named Armani or Chanel to reflect the parents' "material hopes" for the child, he says: "It is no different from the 19th century when parents named their children Ruby or Opal... it reflects their aspirations."

Evans has found that, over 25 years, seven boys were named Del Monte, 49 boys were named Canon (after the camera), almost 300 girls were burdened with the name Armani, six boys will have to explain the name Timberland for the rest of their lives, and seven boys were branded with Denim (which seems a bit downscale). Car models are popular, this being the US, after all: 22 girls got the name Infiniti, 55 boys are "Chevy" and five girls will answer to "Celica." Six boys were named after Courvoisier cognac, and two boys were named . . . ESPN. And the trend is increasing.

Name me Cynical, but I suspect that, in some cases, there may be more to this than just "reflecting" favorite brands. I could see GM hiring someone named Toyota to pitch their products, or little Denim starring in a GAP ad. By any other name, would they smell as sweet?

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Words and Pictures

Reading poetry creates images in your mind, but if that seems like too much work, or you're just in the mood for a surreal slide show, you may want to try Visual Poetry. The site "translates any text into a series of images by looking up the words on Google image search . . . . You can use it to view your favourite poem as a series of images from the Internet to amuse yourself or let other people guess which sentence or poem is displayed. Or you can just marvel at the weird pictures streaming from the Internet to your computer."
Word of the Day

sudoriferous (adj)

Producing or secreting sweat.

"It is absurd to expect a man of my capabilities to engage in sudoriferous efforts," declared Dr. Smith as the Major handed him a shovel.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Freeze Frame

The elves are busy this time of year.

The bespectacled, red-haired clerk behind the window at the local post office wears a green Santa hat, trimmed with white fur. The name "Kevin" is spelled out in shiny script on one side of the hat. Kevin, who might be 35 or 40, wears a dark green vest over his uniformed, slightly chubby torso. The vest is festooned with pins and medals: tiny wreaths, silver bells, buttons that say "Happy Holidays!" He wears a tie that portrays a crowd of jovial snowmen of all shapes and sizes.

Most of the women customers at the window make similar comments about his attire: "You look wonderful," "It makes me happy just to look at you," "I love your tie; where did you get it?" The men stare and smile, but most say nothing more than "I need a dozen stamps" or "I'd like to send this package to . . ."

The clerk works rapidly, stamping packages, fetching boxes, poking the cash register. He is sure of himself and efficient, and behaves no differently than he would if dressed normally, except that he keeps saying "have a great holiday," in a practiced theatrical voice, over and over again.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Home Alone

The most wonderful time of the year? Thoughts on holiday loneliness.

(via boynton)
Slush Hour

Suddenly, everyone around here is a ballet dancer, leaping over pools of slush. Either that or they're doing the old-man shuffle along crusts of unstable, cracking ice. You have to feel grateful at a time like this for a patch of concrete or a narrow canyon that someone has carved through a snow bank. Single file, everyone. The winter wonderland of the weekend is already dissolving into a gray, dripping mish-mash. But over the usual urban sounds you can still hear the frantic whine of tires spinning and the dull rhythm of digging, digging, digging--and (heads up!) the crash of ice falling off a roof.
Quote of the Day

Life is very short, and there's no time
for fussing and fighting my friend.
I have always thought that it's a crime.
So I will ask you, once again,
Try to see it my way . . .

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Think Small

Read some excellent advice on writing well from The Rabbit.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes


Machines speak to apparitions.
The clerks are all mechanical,
their equations glistening.

Above a portrait of inertia
the messages load endlessly.
A search stirs a mad question.

The motion of a bug
tempts the man mercilessly.
He eats a peanut.

His hand studies his forehead,
his office disappears.
Calm waves tap the silken sand.
Word of the Day

testudinate (adj or n)

1. Of or pertaining to a turtle or tortoise.
2. A turtle or tortoise.

I looked out of the bedroom window and felt a testudinate desire to pull the covers over my head.

(This is literally true. We are in the midst of a way-too-early-for-this blizzard here in the northeastern US. I've already shoveled the steps and sidewalk three times, and sprinkled sodium chloride around, but it looks like I've done nothing.)

Friday, December 05, 2003

Just Do It

Go to the main Google page and type in "weapons of mass destruction" (in quotation marks). Then click the "I'm feeling lucky" button.

After that, do the same with "miserable failure".

Hot and Not

The top 10 gaining search queries, according to the Google Zeitgeist page:

1. michael jackson

I guess this one is obvious enough. See what I had to say about MJ below. By the way, go here if you want to see what Michael would look like today if he'd left his face alone.

2. kellie waymire

A nice name. It has a ring to it. Who is she?

3. paris hilton

I enjoyed an episode of her new reality series, The Simple Life (and I hate reality shows). A spoiled heiress spends a month working on a family farm. It reminded me of one of my favorite TV comedies, a Beckett-ish study in rural frustration called Green Acres. Could Paris be the Eva Gabor of the new century? (No, I haven't seen her sex tape.)

4. jonathan brandis

Sorry, Jonathan, I have no idea who you are.

5. rugby world cup

To me, rugby is like (American) football, without the pads and helmets. Testosterone city. Are they brave or crazy?

6. the bachelor

One of those execrable, contrived "reality" shows.

7. australian idol

Who do Aussies idolize?

8. paulina gretzky

Wayne's wife? No idea . . . (Postscript: I've been informed that this is his daughter, and she's a singer.)

9. phil collins

What's HE done lately?

10. coupe du monde de rugby

Using my high-school knowledge of French, I've determined that this is the same search query as #5 above. Le rugby est chaud -- c'est tout dire.
Blog Me Do

Today is December 5, 1963, and The Beatles Are Coming! Aaahhhhhhh!!

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Character Flaws

I usually don't like those web quiz pages, but here's a mildly interesting one: What is Your Shakespearian Tragic Flaw?

It seems I'm a "Hamlet," to wit:

"You have a hard time dealing with tough situations, and with growing up. You also have a tendency to fly off the handle at the smallest thing, but let major problems be."

I'm not sure I agree, entirely, as the multiple choice answers are rather limited in scope. A lot of them have to do with killing people and baking them into pies. (I guess the site's creator is a Titus Andronicus fan.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

That's a Thought . . .

A fellow who calls himself Don the Idea Guy is inviting submissions of "the weirdest ideas you've ever come up with" for inclusion in his projected e-book, Unusually Creative -- Weird Ideas From Weird People. "During every brainstorming session (if you're doing it right) you amass a lot ideas that are just too 'out there' to make it past the first round of the evaluation process," he says. "The concepts that made everyone laugh, roll their eyes, or literally groan out loud. The ideas that got crossed off the list first for being too outrageous to implement. Those are the ideas I want."

Unfortunately, most of my weird brainstorming ideas involve illegality or story plots that are best forgotten.

(via Goatee Style)
More Poetry Outtakes

The Seeds

The seeds multiply under leaves
while bystanders, with their truths,
study you carefully; you ignore them.

The light arranges a gallery of porcelain.
Ah vague
dove, the lover of confusion,

feathers, humble minds--
every second this
day has vibrated,

like a tumbleweed solstice.
Your fingers form a flower, the languid
willows praise your cheek.

They promise
to convey you to a radiance
inner and secret, a rich knowledge.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Story Time

Other People's Stories is a site that collects tales the contributors have overheard or been told by someone else. New stories appear every Tuesday, and I found today's engrossing and weirdly uplifting: Davy Rothbart on the lady with the mannequin arm.

(via Jerry
Word of the Day

consanguinity (n)

Relationship by blood or by a common ancestor.

Consanguinity forced Millicent to endure Martin's endless reminiscences of Christmases past.

Monday, December 01, 2003

The Man in the Mirror

My free, non-professional legal advice for Michael Jackson:

1. Sell Neverland and move into a modest apartment in LA.

2. Eat more and work out at a gym. Gain 50 pounds as fast as possible.

3. Cut your hair short.

4. Get rid of the eye-liner and lipstick. If your pallor really is due to a skin condition, use a bronzer, or something. If possible, get a more realistic nose. (You apparently know a plastic surgeon.) Try to look like the good-looking black man you once were.

5. No surgical masks. Wear jeans and T-shirts, or a suit and tie.

6. Surround yourself with mature adults who aren't paid bodyguards. (Not just Liz Taylor--some "real" people as well.) Do not appear in public (or in private, for that matter) with children other than your own.

I know what you'll say: "You're telling me not to be myself." Not really, Michael. A sense of self comes from within.
More Poetry Outtakes

Night Ritual

Around, all around, the shadows gather.
My dread grows as doom's scythe falls against my heart.
It severs me, and darkly my
essence drips
to the thirsty earth.
In a frenzy I cry out, Why?!
while oblivion takes my hand.
Now alone, my vitae falls upon cold eyes.

This is your love.


Awful, isn't it? That one was generated at the Create Your Own Darkly Gothic Poem site. (I swear I've never used it before . . .)

(found at The Word Foundry)

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Head Game

You, too, can be an cubist at Mr. PicassoHead.

Never judge a person by the cover of his book?

I recently realized that I was reading a novel--a literary novel, in fact--that I didn't want anyone to see me reading. I only read it when I'm alone. Why? Let's just say that I'm not part of the demographic group the novel is aimed at. Apparently, I'm not alone in feeling uncomfortable about this type of situation. Here's what writer Armando Iannucci has to say:

"Reading, though intimate, is a horrific social minefield. For an internal act, it's so often the focus of external and often poisonous judgment, even if those judgments are more imagined than real. I was recently on a train reading the novel Independence Day--Richard Ford's accomplished meditation on the middle-aged confusions of the suburban American male--when it suddenly dawned on me that the people opposite might think I was reading the novelisation of the film about aliens invading Earth and blowing up the White House." More here.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Thanksgiving: The Rules

From a list at The New Yorker:

12. Vacating the premises before Thanksgiving dinner is served in order to "get a breath of fresh air," "check the pressure in the tires," or "watch for shooting stars" will now be considered a desertion of familial responsibilities, punishable by talking college football with an in-law for thirty minutes without the aid of an alcoholic beverage.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Word of the Day

fulgent (adj)

Shining brilliantly; radiant.

Unable to sleep, he wandered the hills that night, under the fulgent moon.
Create your own X files

The web is a pornucopia, but if you just can't get enough lascivious persiflage, there's always the pornalizer. This randy little site turns any web-based text into "bad words," as the kiddies say. I tried it on one of my cousin Bill's pages (his "mission and values" statement). Most amusing. I'd copy it here, but this isn't that kind of blog.

(via boynton)

Monday, November 24, 2003

All Together Now

Let Them Sing It For You is a site that brings some of the world's greatest pop stars together to sing your lyrics--yes yours--or anybody else's you care to type in. Some people have way too much time on their hands . . .

(via Ludic Log)
No Comment

Penis Enlargement Web Ads Prompt Spam Rage

"SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Call it spam rage: A Silicon Valley computer programmer has been arrested for threatening to torture and kill employees of the company he blames for bombarding his computer with Web ads promising to enlarge his penis . . . ."
It's a strange world, isn't it? (Chapter 347)

Overheard on a radio call-in show today:

"I have ADD really bad. If I'm talking about one subject, I'll start talking about another subject and then forget to go back to the first subject. So now I keep a pad with me all the time and write down what I'm talking about. I can't even go to the movies, because I get bored real quick."

Excuse me, but if your ADD is that bad, you need to be on medication. It does exist, you know. I just hope you don't drive a car.

(By the way, the topic of the show was not ADD.)
Have yourself a creepy little Christmas

Is Wednesday Addams on your people-to-shop-for list? Then you may want to check out this disturbing doll gallery. It brings to mind Twilight Zone episodes and some of the weirder things I used to do to my sister's dolls when I was a little monster. Is there really a market for things like this?


Sunday, November 23, 2003

Word of the Day

morigerous (adj)

Obedient, compliant, submissive.

"A robot should be morigerous," grumbled Captain Spacewell when he learned of the android mutiny.
More Poetry Outtakes


After a night
of shifting in his doze,
like a pupa
encased in winding sheets,
he slowly realizes
ruddiness, translucence,
the lids of eyes.

The empty immensity of sleep
collapses to a pause, is over.

A window appears,
framing a toy city,
its tiny lights
floating in a pearl aura,
till the sun ignites the rooftops,
the day inflates,
and he remembers what he is.

He rises, feeling cleansed,
as after a warm rain.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Freeze Frame


A teenage boy (13? 14?), dressed in black, standing on a street corner and firing a noisy toy machine gun at cars and passers-by. When he catches me observing him, he shoves the end of the gun into a parking meter's coin slot and fires a few rounds.
"I know you are, but what am I?"

Right-wing debating techniques are catalogued at the Wingnut Debate Dictionary.


Extreme Leap - [A] Democrat [says]: "I think there might be better ways of dealing with this situation." Republican response: "So you would rather see Saddam in power."

(Thanks to Ishbadiddle)
What Not to Do

Sometimes we can learn from the mistakes of others:

Web Designs and Writing by Myrtle

Be sure to read the writing samples.

(Thanks to Joe Clifford Faust at the Word Foundry)

Friday, November 21, 2003

Lone Gunman

PBS repeated its excellent Frontline documentary, "Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?" last night. The program never really answers the question--Oswald himself couldn't answer it--but it's a stunning piece of investigative work.

Unlike most people, I think Oswald acted alone, and that was pretty much Frontline's conclusion as well, despite some continuing mysteries. Oswald exemplifies a classic American type: the pathetic "nobody" who has to be "somebody," even if (paradoxically) he has to die trying. Ultimately, a gun becomes the answer for this particular species of obsessive misfit, which represents the negative side of the Horatio Alger myth.

An odd, disturbing moment in the program: a series of Oswald's baby and childhood pictures, in which he wears that same smirking Alfred E. Neuman expression he so often had as an adult.

Recommended reading: Don DeLillo's terrific novel about Oswald, Libra.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Dear George,

The Guardian has published a collection of letters from 60 Brits and Americans (and one Iraqi) to, as one writer addresses him, "President" Bush. It includes some tart verse from poet laureate Andrew Motion, a sneer from playwright Harold Pinter and a stinger from the ever-cheeky Salam Pax, also known as the Baghdad Blogger. An excerpt from the latter:

"Listen, habibi, it is not over yet. Let me explain this in simple terms. You have spilled a glass full of tomato juice on an already dirty carpet and now you have to clean up the whole room. Not all of the mess is your fault but you volunteered to clean it up. I bet if someone had explained it to you like that you would have been less hasty going on your Rambo-in-Baghdad trip."

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Think Negative

"Lots of nots": You can negate just about anything by putting a picture of it inside a red circle and slash, as this page of "Do Not" and "No __" signs from around the world shows. This simple icon seems to have inspired a lot of creative thinking. No trampolines?

(Found at Incoming Signals)
Word of the Day

bosk (n)

A small wooded area or thicket.

Laura felt mysteriously drawn to the dark bosk behind the house.

Monday, November 17, 2003

This is not a subhead

Here a subhead, there a subhead, everywhere a subhead. If you read magazines and newspapers -- or even some nonfiction books and websites -- you may have noted the exponential proliferation of the "pesky and thoroughly unsexy little copy-breakers" that editors call subheads. (I used to work for an editor who called them "slugs," an old typesetting term that may have indicated how they were originally viewed.)

Head Count (this is a subhead)

It's all part of the dumbing down of reading, says writer Jim Walsh in his article "Commence Skimming" -- i.e., a straining to make it more like television. "For inspiration, sometimes I go to the archives at the library to look at old newspapers," he writes. "No subheads. No splashy graphics. No color. No fancy fonts for headlines. Just words. Gray. Dull. Fabulous. Words."

The dirty little secret of the magazine world, I was once told, is that many (maybe most) "readers" don't read articles at all. They glance at the headline, look at the pictures and graphics, and read (at most) the captions and subheads. People don't have time to actually sit down and read anymore, all the page designers say. We're in big trouble if that's true, I say.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes

Here are a few lines composed on a windy day:

November 10th

A storm from the west
swept the streets,
wind wrestled with everyone
and the slightest particulars:
papers flying and diving
like hysterical gulls
invading the city.
Hats flew, umbrellas escaped.

The trees writhed and strained
at their roots -- desparate, mad things.
Shrill whistlings came from nowhere,
while the rushing sky
rattled panes and nerves.
Wires unhooked, and rage
became madness, eating all,
gnashing the season.

Here are the same lines after a few trips through the
Babelfish translator, from English to Spanish, French and German, then back to English:

A storm of the west
swept the roads,
the wind, with each one was fought
and the lightest details:
Papers, which are plunged to fly
and as a gulls hysterical,
that they penetrate the city.
The hats flew, the stored umbrellas.

The trees writhed and filtered
in their ready roots, constrained things.
Whistlings of the chillones came from any part,
whereas the sky, which was caught crystals
of konfuse and the nerves.
The lines separated and the fury
became the verruecktheit and ate all
and gnashing the station.

I like the "caught crystals," image. But what are "chillones," "konfuse" and "verruecktheit"? Babelfish doesn't seem to know.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Quote of the Day

"The days when we follow the secret voice of diversion are those chosen by chance to show us its ways."
--Philippe Soupault
Concept Albums

Here's a collection of clever album covers, including one for Arnold Schwarzenegger's new CD (if he had one), from the folks at They've seen fit to publish one of my short stories here, by the way.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Last Words

Some of us can't live without e-mail -- and some don't want to die without it either. For a small fee, a service called promises to deliver a final message from beyond the grave to your entire grieving address book. I can't decide if this is ridiculously morbid or an opportunity to do some deep thinking about what really matters. But it seems to me that whatever one might say to loved ones in such a message ought to be conveyed--in some way--while still alive.
Word of the Day

caliginous (adj)

Dark, misty, gloomy.

"You dare to come to me for a heart, do you? You clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk!" (I'm not sure why Oz would describe the shiny Tin Man as caliginous, but it's a great piece of alliteration. I used to think that "caliginous" meant something like "miscellaneous," which would make more sense in context.)

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Whatever, Em . . .

Impossibility, like Wine
Exhilarates the Man
Who tastes it; Possibility
Is flavorless

Something pithy and/or inscrutable always pops up at The Emily Dickinson Random Epigram Machine. (Thanks to Maud Newton)
You do not want to "aggravate" me!

Is it "farther" or "further"? "Allude" or "elude"? In my thrilling and ultra-lucrative work as an editor, I come across plenty of malapropisms, and they sure are . . . irritating. Or should that be "aggravating"? No -- irritating. I try not to get too worked up over them, though. When I find them in a text, I just heave a sigh, shake my head, and change "than" to "then" or "infer" to "imply." And when I'm talking to a Mr. or Mrs. Malaprop, I don't laugh at or correct them. I've learned to keep a straight face and only chuckle internally. (Life is so much simpler that way.) There are limits, though, and here's a writer who sounds like he's reached his over words and expressions commonly misused by insipid brothers-in-law.

(Thanks to Drugs Make Me Cool)

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Freeze Frame


A thin, one-legged man on crutches, with the bottom of one pant leg pinned to the waist of his pants, pausing on the sidewalk and then mumbling into a cell phone.
Word of the Day

astonied (adj)

Being in a bewildered state; dazed.

Pavel had never been on a roller coaster before, and he exited the Scream Machine looking astonied.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Listen to the music playing in your head

I often hear music in my head--usually Beatles tunes or, sadly, commercial jingles. Maybe you have a jukebox in your brain, too, or maybe you'd like one. Here's a new gadget that simulates the experience, called the Hypersonic Sound device. It "streams [sound] in a precise, laser-like beam for up to 150 yards with almost no degradation in quality or volume," according to Popular Science magazine (the favorite publication of geeky sixth-graders everywhere, or at least it used to be). That means that when you're standing in the beam, you can hear the music, but someone standing next to you will hear nothing at all (and will probably think you've finally flipped). Alas, there are advertising applications for this technology. You may soon hear the sound of cola being poured--or some viciously seductive jingle--every time you pass a Coke machine.

(Thanks to Maud Newton)

Monday, November 10, 2003

Why, you little devil!

The disappointing thing about Victorian and early 20th century postcards and ads is that so many of them are so cloyingly sentimental. But that's not a problem with this collection of devils, imps, and demons. Talk about the return of the repressed . . .

(Thanks to Quiddity: More fun than $240 dollars worth of pudding.)
Word of the Day

antepenultimate (adj)

Second from the last; third from the end in a series.

Harold blamed his antepenultimate finish in the 100-yard dash on a stone in his shoe.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Hot and Not

Here's an interesting section of the Google website that I'd never encountered before: Google Zeitgeist. It's a list of "gaining" and "declining" search queries. For example, the following search queries were the Top 10 Gainers for the week ending October 27th (I assume sex-related queries were eliminated):

1. elliott smith

I have no idea who that is . . .

2. diwali greetings

What are they? It sounds like an African counterpart to Hallmark.

3. halloween costume ideas

A not-surprising seasonal query.

4. daylight savings time

Why are people searching for that? Is it so hard to remember "fall back, spring forward"?

5. california fires

Of obvious topical interest.

6. dia de muertos

The Day of the Dead. Another seasonal/holiday query.

7. spencer tunick

Who? Any relation to Walter Turtleneck?

8. concorde

Another "in the news" item. Now I'll never cross the Atlantic at supersonic speed . . .

9. scary movie 3

The box-office champ, for a while. My wife and son saw it. He liked it; she thought it was "stupid."

10. south beach diet

Stay away from those carbs . . .

The Top 10 Decliners included "David Blaine"--recently released from his aquarium--and the World Series also-rans: "chicago cubs" and "red sox."

I guess I'm really not part of the zeitgeist (which is German for "the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era"). I've never searched for any of the above topics.
More Poetry Outtakes


Fear touches me
as I stumble
through a square of black,
sensing a sad tune
floating along like fog--
not heard, but felt,

creeping along,
clinging to walls,
embracing statues.
A music for the eyes,
no longer heard;
a memory of music.

A flicker in a window dies,
and the night
becomes a graveyard--
each dark obstacle
sprawling before me
as a corpse of these hours.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Father Knows Best

"Trying to eliminate Saddam...would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible.... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq.... there was no viable "exit strategy" we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."
--George Bush the First, in his 1998 memoir, A World Transformed
Gobble, gobble, glug, glug, glug

Here's how to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. You might say this recipe requires plenty of marinating.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Are You Crazy?

We may well ask. Here's an amusing piece of graphic-arts history, part of a collection of hygiene and mental-health posters in the University of Minnesota's Social Welfare History Archives. It depicts a blind-folded man above the caption "Is Your Mind Diseased?" Apparently, the U.S. Army Educational Commission, which created the poster in 1918, wanted to encourage soldiers to get a mental check-up--or at least to keep their minds on the task at hand. The man has a slight smile on his lips, and the thoughts depicted in his brain are all of . . . semi-naked women. I guess we're all insane.

Here's another poster on "How to Bathe." You are advised to do it "often."
Circular Flow

When I was a wee gossoon--er, I mean, lad--I used to spend hours drawing complex spirals with a thing called a Spirograph. It was a set of plastic gears and colored pens that allowed you to draw fantastically detailed concentric figures--as long as you had a steady hand. Now you can draw these mesmerizing mandalas online here. The electronic version of the Spirograph makes the process much easier--and all the more hypnotic. It's an amusing time-waster and might even be a stress buster.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Word of the Day

gossoon (n)

A boy; lad.

"I never send a gossoon to do a man's work," declared the prodigiously erudite Mr. Webster. "Or a baboon, either," he whispered as Elmer stumbled into the room.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Freeze Frames

Things noticed in the last 24 hours:

A woman picking up yellow leaves from the ground and knotting the stems together into a bouquet.

On a gray day, a man in work clothes carrying a bunch of shiny copper pipes: sunlight congealed to metal.

A furry, rotting jack o' lantern that now wears a sad, wrinkled face. Halloween is over.

A woman absorbed in a book while vigorously twisting a strand of her hair. A suspense novel?

Monday, November 03, 2003


Get yersef o'er t' Pirate Speak an' be quick about it! It's a site that'll translate yer prosaic prose into colorful sea dog talk. I'd like t' say more but I'm shippin' out soon . . .
Word of the Day

nisus (n)

Effort; endeavor; exertion; impulse.

Surprising everyone, Alphonse, with great nisus, did a headstand. "Clears my sinuses," he explained.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Harry Potter and the Never-Ending Story

Here's a report on a new childhood affliction: the "Hogwarts Headache," sometimes accompanied by neck pain. It's caused by the increasing length of each new Harry Potter installment. (The latest weighed in at 870 pages.) Children are spending six to eight hours a day plowing through and getting headaches in the process, according to the august New England Journal of Medicine. The young reader at our house gave up on the lastest book at about the 400-page mark. "I'll wait for the movie," he said, exhausted.

But how will they ever make films of reasonable length out of these obese tomes?

Are you listening J.K.? Prolixity is not literature. Save the trees!

Saturday, November 01, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes


Once again for the first time,
my eyes darkening or squinting shut,
freezing a moment, stopping a now,
for a shirtless vagrant, a cold dump

without socks, soap, dignity.
They all had people once,
cuddled in the holds of ships,
then bone-fingered in sweatshops,

on glinting streets that rambled
to this nourishment of stones.
What can I do,
fettered with a thousand taboos,

dazed by the blank-eyed walkers
jingling the change in their pants,
but glance and remember
the filthy number of his face?
Word of the Day

consuetude (n)

Custom; usage; habit.

Mr. Vanderhoople wanted to revive the old custom of tipping one's hat. Mrs. V reluctantly reminded him that he would first have to revive the ancient consuetude of wearing a hat.

Friday, October 31, 2003

B O O !

Above, an example of my jack 'o lantern carving skills. (Yes, it's a self portait.)

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Give 'em hell

Seething over those mud-slinging, self-serving, demagogic right-wingers? Then fight back by generating some steamy political invective at Insult a Conservative. Here's a good one: "You craven school-prayer-supporting forest-cutter!" (And here's a handy e-mail address:
Word of the Day

habile (adj)

Generally able or adroit; handy.

Professor Allenby fixed the roof himself, and thought he'd proved "habile" with a hammer and nails. Then the first rains came.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

String Thing

I watched The Elegant Universe, a documentary about string theory, on PBS last night. (For the unenlightened, string theory is the latest attempt by physicists to explain, uh, everything, including gravity, electromagnetism, the weird compulsions that hold atoms together and--I suppose--why my socks disappear in the washing machine.) It's nearly incomprehensible to the mathematically challenged, like me. But it's still fun to think about, in a gee-whiz sort of way, as it involves eleven dimensions, parallel realities, a universe made of vibrating "strings" and other seemingly science-fictional notions. You can have some fun trying to imagine "other" dimensions at the show's website here. And if, like me, you're attracted to spirals and mandalas, you might also enjoy some of the graphic depictions of colliding sub-atomic particles here. Most of them look like colorful, abstract paintings.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Word of the Day

coriaceous (adj)

Of or like leather, especially in texture.

To Maurice, the coriaceous steak was simply "well done."

Monday, October 27, 2003

Watch in horror as a torrential rain of journalistic clichés reportedly wreaks havoc

Catch phrases -- they're the enemy (or crutch) of non-fiction writers everywhere. You'll find a bumper crop at - The 100 Worst "Groaners".

A sample: "Aftermath . . . Do you know anyone who says 'aftermath' in normal conversation? When we were kids, aftermath came recess."

I have to admit I've used some of these clichés myself, especially that handy weasel word, "allegedly." And some of them--"staffer," "amid"--actually provide a shorter way to say something that can help the reader, I think. I have to agree that most of these groaners should be avoided (ahem) like the plague, however.
Word of the Day

operose (adj)

Industrious; diligent.

Before his morning coffee, he's comatose; afterward, he's operose.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Burning Bush

"Above the empty vapor that is President Bush swirls the incredulity of those rational Americans who simply cannot fathom how anybody aside from war profiteers, religious fanatics, corporate vultures and environmental predators could possibly vote for the re-election of such a dangerously unsuitable man . . . And what about the pretender himself? Vindictive, pampered, childish, petty, semi-literate -- surely not the sort of man who should be leading the world's lone superpower. Yet there he sits, a poster boy for nepotism, smirking and strutting and playing Napoleon, despoiling the office that rightly belongs to the honorable Al Gore. Do we not want someone in the Oval Office who is engaged in the drama around him, who appreciates history and culture and nuance, who doesn't feel the need to play dress-up on a flight deck or burnish a faux cowboy image at a stage-managed Texas 'ranch'? Have our presidential standards really sunk this low?"

Read more at The Smirking Chimp.

(Thanks to Words Mean Things.)

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Fortune Cookie

Be not afraid of growing slowly;
be only afraid of standing still
--Chinese Proverb
More Poetry Outtakes

Mad Agnes

Cooing and hooting,
her stepsister lives among the winding vines
of Victorian bedposts.

Agnes dresses in black.
The scars hardly show;
every contusion receives compassion.

She bathes in ancient waters,
where merciful friends share philosophies
with octopi and slime.

Ideas coil like tentacles in the sea.
All night she murmurs,
"Do you think I don't know this?"

Friday, October 24, 2003

A Real No-Brainer?

Today's guest blogger is my son, 12-year-old Philip, who has some things he'd like to tell you about himself:

When I was born on planet Zeytox, I was a very smart alien baby. I was so smart that I said my first word when I was two days old. On planet Zeytox, we learn everything in the same grade. We finish school at age 2. When I finished school, I was so smart that my brain overflowed my head. So they had to take it out of my head and replace it with a computer. And that is the story of why I have a computer instead of a brain.

A chip off the old block, but I wish he wouldn't pretend to give away our family secrets. We're really not from Zeytox, you know. We're from . . . France . . . yes, that's it . . .
Word of the Day

crepuscular (adj)

Of or like twilight

After reading Dracula, the crepuscular sky filled him with dread.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Auto Eroticism


According to a Reuters article, General Motors will be renaming its Buick LaCrosse in Canada "because the name for the car is slang for masturbation in Quebec, embarrassed officials with the US automaker said Thursday." I guess that would be like calling it the Buick Jerkoff in the US. Given the reputation of some General Motors products, that might at least be more honest than slapping a pretentious Francophile name on an American clunker.

Let's see . . . "LaCrosse" is French for "the stick" . . . oh. Now I get it.

I wish GM would just bring back the late, lamented Corvair (in a safer incarnation). That name had a sporty ring to it, had flair.
Ready, Set, Grow!

We live in a very competitive society. It seems there's a contest for almost every endeavor; now there's even one for growing facial hair: The World Beard and Moustache Championships, to be held November 1st in Carson City, Nevada. Some of the bizarre images on the contest's categories page are almost enough to make me want to go utterly clean-shaven again. I never knew there were so many categories of chin fuzz. The "Garibaldi"? The "Musketeer"?

I suppose growing a beard or moustache is an accomplishment of sorts, and one of the few that's still exclusive to men. That is, men with enough testosterone in their veins. I remember trying to grow a moustache in college, and only being able to muster the Hitleresque style--not a popular look then or now, and I quickly shaved it off. Those were the days.

(Thanks to Goatee Style)

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Word of the Day

desideratum (n)

Something considered necessary or highly desirable

He was a man of simple tastes, and a cup of coffee--hot and black--was his only morning desideratum. Hers was a mocha coconut frappuccino.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Word of the Day

conglobate (v)

To form into a globe or ball

He decided to conglobate all the string he'd collected into a sort of weird planetesimal.
War Without End

American writer Susan Sontag recently received the peace prize of the German booksellers' association and gave a most interesting acceptance speech about the current (strained) state of US-European relations.

Sample quote: "Americans have got used to thinking of the world in terms of enemies. Enemies are somewhere else, as the fighting is almost always "over there," Islamic fundamentalism having replaced Russian and Chinese communism as the threat to "our way of life." And terrorist is a more flexible word than communist. It can unify a larger number of quite different struggles and interests. What this may mean is that the war will be endless - since there will always be some terrorism (as there will always be poverty and cancer); that is, there will always be asymmetrical conflicts in which the weaker side uses that form of violence, which usually targets civilians. American rhetoric, if not the popular mood, would support this unhappy prospect, for the struggle for righteousness never ends."

(Via the Literary Saloon)

Monday, October 20, 2003

"I am composed of thousands of tiny pixels"

Tube talk: You might be surprised to know what people were overheard saying on the London Underground.

It reminds me of something I once heard on the New York City subway: "I'd rather sing about a car than write a song about catfood." Who wouldn't?
Word of the Day

sudoriferous (adj)

Producing or secreting sweat

He considered any sudoriferous effort beneath him, much to the annoyance of the shipwrecked crew.

Sunday, October 19, 2003


Taiwan's recently completed Taipei Tower, at a height of 508 meters, is said to be the tallest skyscraper in the world. (Converted into US customary units, it measures 1,666.66666666 feet -- I'll let religious fundamentalists ponder what all those sixes might mean.)

As a kid, such architectural achievements made a great impression on me. I was thrilled to visit the observation deck of the Empire State Building, for example, and look down upon all the ant-like people and toy cars below. More recently, I've become somewhat ambivalent about tall buildings, with reason. (I live across the river from lower Manhattan.)

Where will it all end? The current plans for New York's "ground zero" are to build -- you guessed it -- the tallest building in the world there. This will only encourage even taller buildings to be built elsewhere, of course. Maybe someday we'll be able to take an elevator from street level to Earth orbit.

My wife says all of these super towers are just national phallic symbols.
Word of the Day

ensorcell (v)

To bewitch

"You'll never ensorcell me," said the skeptical Herbert. But the hypnotist soon had him dancing like a dervish.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes


On a day full of holes,
all I see is a sky full of you.

In the dry air, hissing with static,
your voice is a chime

clearing the stuck hours,
ringing away dull rage.

You may be a mistake,
you may be a poisoned flower.

You may be a stone’s shadow
or a contagious flame.

Nevertheless, nevertheless
your consolations could marry my spaces.

Give me my name.
Word of the Day

lacrimation (n)

Also "lachrymation." Secretion of tears, especially in excess

Once again, his team lost, and the whole city was filled with lacrimation.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Haiku 6135

I need batteries
But all the millionaires say
You can fly, buddy

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Word of the Day

peregrinate (v)

to journey or travel from place to place

"I wish I could peregrinate around the world," said Will, "and still sleep in my own bed."
Shades of Gray

The (((D+CON/trol))) online photo gallery is currently showcasing the evocative, somewhat mysterious B&W and sepia-toned photographs of Doug Kim -- scenes of people and places in China, apparently.

But it's the gallery itself that's most interesting, I think. Its design proves that web pages don't have to be strictly linear conglomerations of sidebars and text boxes (like mine . . .)

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Word of the Day

oscitancy (n)

(1) The act of yawning; (2) the state of being drowsy or inattentive; dullness

She began to describe her shopping trip, but he couldn't hide his oscitancy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Random Thoughts

I sometimes regret that I don't write about what I'm really thinking, probably because I think it would be too embarrassing. But what the hell. Here are some things that crossed my mind today:

October is the month of constantly opening and closing windows, and putting on and taking off jackets. It's very confusing. Still, it's better than July and August, when I feel like I'm living at the equater when I'm outside and living in a refridgerator when I'm inside.

How many photographs of Marilyn Monroe exist? There must be millions of them. I'm always seeing photos of her in magazines, on TV or in shop windows, etc., that I've never seen before. She must have been the most photographed person in history.

Why does my voice sound so different on tape than it does in my head? I record interviews with people for articles I write, and when I play them back, I think I sound like a neurotic adolescent. Or is it just that the tape speed is slightly too fast?

Why does the TV picture get better (or, sometimes, worse) when I move closer to the TV? What kind of weird electrical fields am I generating?
Word of the Day

enucleate (v)

to explain; elucidate

"I will now enucleate the parameters of neuroimmunomodulation," declared Professor Bourguignon to a sea of blank faces.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Word of the Day

caitiff (n)

A despicable coward; a wretch

When a bear cub wandered into the campsite, Mr. Jones pulled the children in front of himself. "Oh, you caitiff," cried 10-year-old Penelope, the winner of the school spelling bee.
Convaht English text t'enny of sevahal comic dialecks

The Dialectizer convahts English text t'enny of sevahal comic dialecks, includin' Red Neck, Jive, Cockney, Elmer Fudd, Swedish Chef, Moron, Pig Latin or Hacker.

Th' Dialeckizer takes text o' other web pages an' instantly creates parodies of them! Fry mah hide! Try it out by seleckin' a dialeck, then interin' a URL o' English text. Eff'n yo' haf quesshuns about whut The Dialeckizer does o' how it does it, please see th' "Info'mashun" seckshun toward th' bottom of thar page.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes

This Moment

a hitchhiker
imitates the wind.
cover the moon;
pummels the mountains.

I eat
an apple
in the dark.

Neither your
palace of wisdom
nor Einstein's equations
can explain
this moment.
Word of the Day

asseverate (verb)

To declare earnestly or solemnly; affirm positively

My three-year-old would frequently asseverate any recent use of the "potty."

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Word of the Day

sedulous (adj)

Diligent; painstaking; industrious

All of his sedulous efforts came to naught when a meteorite crashed through the roof.

Friday, October 10, 2003

W's Greatest Hit

Red Symons, a "presenter" on ABC (Australia) Radio, has taken audio samples from one of W's serenely illogical Iraq speeches and set them to music. Hear fearless leader "sing" here (requires RealPlayer). He's about as good a crooner as he is a poet. Most amusing. "The situation could not be worse" indeed.

(Thanks to boynton)

Thursday, October 09, 2003

John Lennon, October 9th 1940 - December 8th 1980

There's nothing you can do
That can't be done.
There's nothing you can sing
That can't be sung.
There's nothing you can say,
But you can learn how to play the game.
It's easy.

There's nothing you can make
That can't be made.
There's no one you can save
Who can't be saved.
There's nothing you can do,
But you can learn how to be you, in time.
It's easy.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Visit Lunatic Park

A man's home is his castle (presumably this applies to female homeowners as well). And if he's far enough away from uptight neighbors and zoning boards, he can do what he wants with it. This concept has been taken to new extremes by the "self-proclaimed King-o-Luna," Ricky Boscarino. Mr Boscarino, who describes himself as an "artistic genius," has transformed his "Luna Parc" home in the New Jersey countryside into a psychedelic chalet at the center of a surreal wonderland. The house is festooned with multicolored "gingerbread" detailing and fantasy mosaics of glass, tile, concrete and painted metal; the yard is crowded with weird, colorful sculptures. It has to be seen to be believed, so take a look here.
Word of the Day

pyknic (adj)

Short, stocky, endomorphic (fat)

"If you don't stop feeding table scraps to that dog," she warned, "you'll soon have a pyknic Pekingese."

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Word of the Day

afflatus (n)

A creative impulse; an inspiration.

Walter's window faced a brick wall, so, seized by a sudden afflatus, he leaned out and painted a landscape on it.
More Poetry Outtakes

Forgive Them

Just as I'm stepping into the shower,
scenes from old home movies
flush me down the drain.

Forgive them
for they knew not what they did.

Do it without emotion--
if necessary--
do it in slow motion.

Do you understand what it means
to be a polished stone, or a purified ingot

of mirror metal?
To be clean?
We have dishonored logic.

Monday, October 06, 2003

"May you always be as vivid as your hallucinations"

Generate some feel-good juxtapositions at The Surrealist Compliment Generator.

(Thanks to Maud Newton)
Word of the Day

skyey (adj)

Of or from the skies; resembling the skies; lofty

She built skyey castles in her mind, even as her sneakers trod the linoleum.
Terror has a new face

Halloween is getting oh-so close. Time to buy a pumpkin and sharpen your knives. And if you want to get really creative this year, you can visit Attack of the Zombie Pumpkins! and download some free jack-o-lantern stencils to use as carving guides. Patterns you can choose from include Old Hag, Demon Goat, Evil Clown, Freak Ryn, Space Monkey 3000, Devil Gargoyle and Pan-O-Lantern. There are even a few celebrity freak stencils, including an Ozzy Osbourne.

We really get into this at our house. (We have Addams family values here.) Sometimes we even have a pumpkin massacre party, complete with the musical soundtracks from The Day the Earth Stood Still (love that quavering Theramin) or Psycho playing in the background. Wholesome fun for kids and grown-ups alike.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Word of the Day


Resembling or characteristic of a squirrel

The nuts spilled onto the floor, and there was much sciuroid scurrying to pick them up.
It's a strange world, isn't it? (Chapter 927)

Never take a 12-year-old boy to a French restaurant (unless he’s actually French). My wife thought it would be a good idea yesterday to eat lunch at Madame Claude’s, a little Gallic eating place tucked away on a grimy side street in Jersey City. She wanted to go there because some of her friend’s art was hanging on its walls, as part of the annual Jersey City Artists’ Studio Tour. (I won’t go into why restaurants are included in a studio tour--because I don’t know why.)

When we entered, I noticed that there were no other children present, just a lot of people who looked more like they should be on the Left Bank than in post-industrial Jersey City. I heard a lot of foreign accents, more Russian than French, I think. We had obviously stumbled across the local center of intellectual expatriate life. I suddenly felt like a tourist in my own town.

A very French waitress showed us to a table and gave us menus.

There was indeed a lot of artwork on the walls, and my wife promptly got up and went around eyeballing it while standing over people’s tables to get a close up view. Being much too self-conscious to do that myself, I opened the menu. No pizza. No hamburgers or hot dogs. Fine by me, but I could tell that my son, whose favorite restaurant is Le Roi de Burger, was going to go hungry this afternoon.

The waitress came back to take our orders, but I could only shrug and gesture helplessly toward my wife, who was still interrupting conversations here and there as she sidled up to each table and stared at the wall.

Actually, none of us were particularly hungry, so when she rejoined us we decided to skip the meal and go straight to the dessert. I decided to order a fruit crepe. "What’s a crap?" my son demanded to know in a loud voice. I imagined all the Euro-yuppies staring and snickering. "It's sort of like a big Pop Tart," I hissed. "Now keep your voice down."

He decided, after perusing the Franglais menu, to order the only thing he recognized: a glass of lemonade. When it arrived, he was surprised to find that it actually was what it purported to be: a drink freshly squeezed from real lemons, not the frozen, sugar-sweetened facsimile he’s used to. "This tastes awful," he said.

My wife suggested he add some sugar to it and try again. After dumping in half the sugar bowl and maniacally stirring the drink--ice cubes clinking loudly--for several minutes, he decided it was drinkable enough to take a few sips.

"I want to go home," he announced in a loud voice, just as our crepes arrived. "Just be patient," my wife advised. "Want a bite?"

He made a face and repeated that he wanted to go home. "Look at that," I said, pointing to a mechanical fish sculpture that hung over our table. "What do you think of that?"

The fish machine had a crank attached, and my son reached up to turn it. The fish's tail swished back and forth and its head bobbed up and down. Despite the turning gears, it was remarkably quiet, and he amused himself with it while we wolfed down our crepes.

We paid and left. I'm sure they weren't too sorry to see us go. A bientôt? Non.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Word of the Day

palter (intr. v.)

To talk or act insincerely, use trickery or equivocate.

He had faked illnesses before, so I couldn't tell whether he was paltering or faltering.
More Poetry Outtakes


You're down to nothing now
but wet matches and dead tickets.
Last night you slept in a shack.

Today you follow a railroad track,
flaunting your indifference
like a peacock's tail,

as half-remembered faces wail
platitudes or spit conundrums
from the I Ching.

You'd give anything
for a cup of coffee,
some whiskey or dry socks.

as the roar of traffic mocks
your freedom. Is it possible
you were born for this moment?
"Nobody Died When Clinton Lied"

Who is the freeway blogger? Someone, or some group, in California is posting anti-Bush slogans on handmade signs along the Golden State's crowded freeways. You can read some of his/her/their handiwork here.

Friday, October 03, 2003

God and W

"I am the Lord thy God and he is the Son of George, not the Son of God. I will have him spending eternity parking cars in Hell's VIP lot as soon as I get my hands on him."

"God" has plenty to say about our fearless leader, and right-wing craziness in general, in Michael Moore's new book, Dude, Where's My Country? Amen.
Word of the Day

postiche (adj)

Added superfluously or inappropriately. Artificial.

To his mind, a postiche portico made his cottage a mansion.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

I went for a walk . . .

. . . actually a seven-mile hike through Palisades Interstate Park today. An agreeable companion and I walked the narrow trails, stone steps and few paved sections, stopping at several lookouts to take in the panoramic vistas. These were of jagged cliffs; dense strips of forest; the New York skyline; the immense, looming George Washington Bridge; and the Hudson River's wide, green expanse, wrinkled by the wind. We topped it off by walking out onto the bridge and looking down at the water, far below, which gave me momentary vertigo.
Word of the Day

pettifogger (n)

A petty, quibbling, unscrupulous lawyer.

Football hero to B-movie actor to homicidal maniac to full-time duffer: a phalanx of pettifoggers ensured his acquittal.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Haiku 55301

The fried egg sizzles
Stares at me like a big eye
Cholesterol kills
Word of the Day

nutation (n)

A nodding of the head.

The audience's collective nutation finally convinced him to cut the fifteenth act.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Weird Jerseyania

I've lived in New Jersey since 1989, and I've heard a lot of stories about strange goings on in this unusual state. Case in point: The Gatherers, a spiritual sect, naturalist commune and survivalist group located in the Pine Barrens, a forested area in the southern part of the state (which is also home to the legendary Jersey Devil). Here is their mission statement:

"We take human beings, born in captivity, re-educate them, and re-release them into the wild. In this way, we strive to teach people to become caretakers of the planet. Our efforts will allow the Great North American forest to be restored to 60% of its original size within the next 100 years."

Ambitious, no?

Part of what's interesting about this group is that they've created their own unique language. As detailed in a recent article in Weird N.J. magazine, they call a plantain a "910nagzmih" and refer to the land underneath their thatched huts as the "qckinz9zc." The numbers in their words have assigned sounds; for example, the number 4 "sounds like tl, a click Donald Duck would make using the tongue blowing air through the cheek." Uh huh.

"Mediocrity is the enemy," it says on the Gatherer Institute's home page. No doubt.
Word of the Day

lagniappe (n)

A small gift presented to a customer with a purchase.

Sid: "Welcome to Burger World. May I take your order?"

Nigel: "Yes, my child would like one of those children's meals that includes a lagniappe, please.

Sid: "I'm sorry, we don't serve Italian food here."
More Poetry Outtakes

2 A.M.

A mouse gnaws inside the wall--
or the ghosts of old lovers
whisper from the corners.

Take your pick.

'Snuff out the candle,'
old demons hiss,
even though they don't exist.

Somewhere music is playing,
and you can't remember
what the question was.

This way lies
the slinking blankness,
the surrender.

Monday, September 29, 2003

A Friend Writes . . .

Dear Mike,

Consider reading this as your penalty for all those lovely new "word of the day" entries on your blog:

For all you lexiophiles (lovers of words)

1. A bicycle can't stand alone because it is two-tired.

2. What's the definition of a will? It's a dead giveaway.

3. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

4. A backward poet writes inverse.

5. In democracy it's your vote that counts; In feudalism it's your count that votes.

6. She had a boyfriend with a wooden leg, but broke it off.

7. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

8. If you don't pay your exorcist you get repossessed.

9. With her marriage she got a new name and a dress.

10. Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft and I'll show you A-flat minor.

11. When a clock is hungry it goes back four seconds.

12. The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.

13. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

14. You feel stuck with your debt if you can't budge it.

15. Local Area Network in Australia: the LAN down under.

16. He often broke into song because he couldn't find the key.

17. Every calendar's days are numbered.

18. A lot of money is tainted. 'Taint yours and 'taint mine.

19. A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.

20. He had a photographic memory which was never developed.

21. A plateau is a high form of flattery.

22. The short fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

23. Those who get too big for their britches will be exposed in the end.

24. When you've seen one shopping center you've seen a mall.

25. Those who jump off a Paris bridge are in Seine.

26. When an actress saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she'd dye.

27. Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead to know basis.

28. Santa's helpers are subordinate clauses.

29. Acupuncture is a jab well done.

30. Marathon runners with bad footwear suffer the agony of defeat.

Hydrophobic ally,


Saturday, September 27, 2003

A Generation Lost in Space

Interested in an out-of-this world pad? If you have enough squandros--and space--you can live on the Jupiter 2. The Lost in Space Forever set is now for sale.
Word of the Day

relume (tr. v.)

To make bright or clear again; illuminate again.

"Open the blinds and relume this domicile," the pretentious Mr. Wexfordcromby commanded. "It might help if you removed your sunglasses," Millicent retorted.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Lying and Dying

"You lied, they died," US parents tell Bush. Perhaps they have a point? Where are those imminently threatening WMDs, anyway?
Word of the Day

volitant (adj)

1. Flying, or capable of flying. 2. Moving about rapidly.

When Mother gets violent, frying pans get volitant.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Word of the Day

misoneist (n)

Someone who hates change or innovation.

We suspected that poor Grandpa had been reading the dictionary again. "Call me a misoneist," he said, "but let me keep my Victrola!"
Would you, could you, in Latin?

Green Eggs and Ham, the Dr. Seuss classic, has now been translated into Latin, under the title Virent Ova! Viret Perna!! Rather than literally translating the classic, Latin scholars Jennifer and Terence Tunberg rewrote the book in the style (ad modum?) that Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) might have if he were fluent in neo-Latin. Sounds cool, if a bit kooky -- who would buy such a book? The target audience is Seuss fans (are we not legion?) "who took Latin in school and have a fond remembrance of it," according to the publisher. Two previous Seuss-into-Latin translations, of The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, have sold a combined 60,000 copies. De gustibus non est disputandum.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The Future Was Then

Everything had a point in the 1950s -- or at least came to one. You can explore the visual trappings of this transitional era at the Tack-O-Rama Home Page. Included are advertising images, fonts, decor, design, pin-ups, stock photos--and more! (as they used to say). Yes, it is possible to feel nostalgia for a time you never knew.
Word of the Day

Omphalos (n)

Anatomy. (1.) The navel. (2.) A center.

"You have the cutest little omphalos, surfer dude," she said coquettishly. He cocked his blond head, grinned and said, "How do you know?"

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Word of the Day

Syllabub (n) (Also spelled sillabub)

A drink or, with gelatin added, a dessert, consisting of wine or liquor mixed with sweetened milk or cream.

"Hey, Bub, I'll have some more of that delicious syllabub if you wouldn't mind passin it over this way. No, the syllabub. Syllabub! Don't you know English?"
More Poetry Outtakes


He is always somewhere else,
but he keeps it a secret.

He’s like a man
reeling in a big fish

when he has a new idea.
A marble saint springing to life,

egged on by a whipping wind,
by an inexhaustible tide,

till it all falls in on itself,
scattering the cards,

opening an absence.
There is no cure for the sadness.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Word of the Day

Ambry (n)

A storeroom or cupboard; pantry; closet.

"Stuff it in your ambry," she advised. I felt mystified and vaguely insulted.
A Man Around the House

According to Reuters, a Russian entrepreneur has started a rent-a-husband business. No, it's not an escort service; it's all about meeting the demand for Mr. Fixits. A soaring divorce rate in Russia has left many single women feeling they need someone, if just for an hour or two, to fix leaky faucets and electrical outlets, hang wallpaper and shelves, etc. In Russia, even more than in the West, it seems, these types of tasks are considered "men's work."

Two months after Nina Rakhmanina opened for business, she has 10 "husbands," ranging in age from 27 to 45, on call. The service has become so popular that bookings have to be made at least a day in advance. Sometimes men rent "husbands," too, Rakhmanina says, because they're tired of hearing their wives complain that they are "good for nothing."

Can "rent-a-wife" be far behind?

Sunday, September 21, 2003

What If

H. G. Wells was born on this day in 1866. He wrote The Time Machine, the best science-fiction novel (and one of the best novels period) ever written, in my opinion. The War of the Worlds is pretty stunning, too. These were called "scientific romances" when first published, since the SF label hadn't been invented yet.

The Time Machine ends with this remarkable sentence: "And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers--shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle--to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man."
Word of the Day

Empery (n)

Meaning absolute dominion, sovereignty, empire.

This may look like a crummy apartment to you, but it's my empery.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Word of the Day

Scandent (adj)

Botany. Meaning climbing, as with a vine.

Scandent tendrils of ivy seemed to have consumed the old house.
Weather Report

Hurricanes have a way of clearing the air. Since Isabel blew though (we only got the edge of her here), the atmosphere has felt cleaner and somehow thinner. I think the storm sucked all the pollutants and humidity out of the New York/New Jersey skies, at least temporarily. She also brought us some beautiful cloud formations, like something dreamed up by an English landscape painter: billowing piles of ephemeral, mashed-potato castles. They blow past quickly, as if in a hurry to get to some utopia over the horizon.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Word of the Day

affictitious (adj)

Meaning feigned; counterfeit: The forger was caught despite his masterfully-crafted affictitious signatures.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

If . . . you become . . . naked . . .

The hottest news in Pepperland is that the Beatles--those who remain--will soon release a new version of their problematic swan song, the Let It Be album from 1970. See:

Beatles Strip and Clean 'Let It Be'

Phil Spector's "wall of sound" overproduction of the album will be removed, allowing what was originally intended as a "live" set to sound, well, livelier.

I've always liked the individual songs on LIB, though I never felt it worked as an album. The combination of live recordings overdubbed with an orchestra and a celestial choir (though some songs were left "raw") just seemed bizarrely incongruous. It will be interesting to hear the fabs "as nature intended," which is what the old album claimed to offer but didn't.

The tentative title for the CD is Let It Be Naked.

Monday, September 15, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes

Dream 9,000

You float over the edge,
and someone who doesn't exist
falls in love with a memory.

She turns to dust before your eyes,
while, dimly, the radium moon
paints a landscape of silver.

The wind, or something,
is calling your name.
Moaning, sighing.

This is only the intermission.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Quote of the Day

"Only in America could a guy who struts in an action-hero's Hollywood costume and barks macho lines from a script pass for a plausible political leader. But if George W. Bush can get away with it, why should Arnold Schwarzenegger be pilloried for the same antics?"
--Frank Rich

G.I. George: A new doll (excuse me--action figure) based on W's visit to an aircraft carrier last May to celebrate victory in Iraq.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes


We keep company with blood.
Come back from the dead,
With an iron fist,
To the rhythm of a tango.

During the applause,
Some rather old belief systems
Get tangled in my hair.

Now the music has stopped.
There's a trembling beneath our feet.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Why Americans Can't Think

Here's a review of a "pseudo-novel" about the American "Middle Mind." Sounds like a bad novel that nevertheless contains some interesting insights.

Sample quote:

"The [American] Middle Mind is platitudinous, afraid to make distinctions and poor in imagination. Thus, it is helpless before the corporate entertainment industry, our techno-rationalized' economy and the sleepwalk-into-disaster of our foreign policy."
Eye of the Storm

An artist visits Baghdad and keeps a journal.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

His World and Welcome to It

There's a wonderful profile by Robert Gottlieb of the late James Thurber (ostensibly a review of a collection of his letters) at the New Yorker website. I'm not that familiar with Thurber--I read some of his humorous short stories and enjoyed some of his cartoons when I was in high school, but I don't think I've read a word of his since then. Maybe I will now.

Whenever I hear the name "James Thurber" I think of a short-lived TV sitcom from the 1970s that I loved, called My World and Welcome to It, which was loosely based on Thurber's life as a writer and cartoonist. I wish one of the nostalgia channels (TV Land?) would show it again some time.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

PC Whines and Spirits

Here's an explanation from a coven of witches on why your computer keeps crashing. And here I've been blaming Cousin Bill for that dreaded blue screen. Turns out "vaettir"--nature spirits--are the problem. What can be done? Among other magical strategies, "Do what you can to make the computer feel welcome in your home. This includes talking to it, naming it and even offering words of encouragement." Maybe I should try that. Lately, all I do is swear at it.

(Thanks to

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Hope Springs Eternal

Have you ever wondered who actually buys the outrageously dubious-sounding wares that spammers hawk?

According to a Wired News article, a lot of them are people who should know better.

A spammer called Amazing Internet Products accidently left its order log exposed on one of its websites. The customers named there included the manager of a $6 billion mutual fund; a restaurateur in Boulder, Colorado; the president of a California firm that sells airplane parts; the coach of an elementary-school lacrosse club; the head of a credit-repair firm; a chiropractor; a veterinarian; a landscaper; and several military officers.

The product these upstanding citizens purchased? Pinacle herbal supplements--generically known as penis-enlargement pills.

About 6,000 people, including "numerous women," responded to the spam ("Make your penis HUGE" was the subject line); most ordered two bottles of Pinacle at $50 per bottle.

What was that P.T. Barnum quote?

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Interior Monoblogue

What if James Joyce had a weblog?

It might read something like GENEALOGE.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes

Still Ticking

After the hurricane
Growing old is a relief.
Even if the light is too golden to be real.

As sunset bleeds into the lake,
A yellow star falls to the horizon.
A hand soothes the moment away.

I will fear nothing, knowing
All time must pass.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Quote of the Day

"I think that gay marriage is something that should be between a man and a woman."
-- Arnold Schwarzenegger

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Is your children learning?

You can generate a genuine-sounding--that is, only partially coherent--W speech at Bush Speaks. Apparently, the program recombines random sentences from Fearless Leader's actual utterances, grouping sentences that seem vaguely related into paragraphs. The scrambled, stream-of-consciousness results sound eerily similar to Bush's actual off-the-cuff remarks.

Here's a sample:

"You know, in this town, sometimes people don't shoot straight with you. They kind of come in and tell you something and then they leave, and you're wondering what they said — or if they said something, whether they mean it. I can tell when they mean it. History has called us to action. I have asked all Americans to commit at least two years — 4,000 hours over a lifetime -- to the service of our neighbors and our nation. I've learned that you cannot lead by dividing people. I'm a uniter — not a divider. It is your duty to unite and love your neighbor like you would like to be liked yourself."