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.