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.