Thursday, October 28, 2004

Weird Science: QuickTime animations

Weird Science

Some mind-bending (and head exploding) QuickTime animations based on computer algorithms are online at Ron Fedkiw. I couldn't get all of them to play, but even the still images are intriguing. It all has something to do with "dynamic implicit surfaces."

Word of the Day: Barmecidal

Word of the Day

barmecidal (adj)

Presenting only the illusion of abundance

Zenobia had a vast collection of wax and plastic fruit, which she called her barmecidal feast.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

"Like father, like son.
One term and you're done.
As it was for forty-one,
so it is for forty-three.
This is my will;
so mote it be."

This is what we're supposed to mutter to ourselves as we vote on Tuesday, a pagan friend writes. Might be worth a try.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Random Acts of Poetry: 6:30 AM (fragment)

Random Acts of Poetry

6:30 AM (fragment)

Already the sky is graying.
He pulls the blanket over his head,

cradles a steaming cup.
Cold bones unstiffen, limbs relax,

dreams falter.
He sips the dark

as his head powers up, caffeine
slowly swirling down to his fingertips.

He refuses, for the moment, to acknowledge time.
It is put off.

Bell and trains,
keys and lists can wait.

His hot breath fills a womb.
Nothing owns him now.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Thoughts on The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Strange Days Indeed

I just got back from seeing The Manchurian Candidate (the original 1962 version), which I'd never seen before, at the local film revival theater. What a great movie. The plot--which revolves around the notion that someone can be brainwashed to kill and then forget about it--is absurd, but the movie works brilliantly as surreal political satire. The famous film critic Pauline Kael called it "the most sophisticated satire ever made in Hollywood." I couldn't help noticing the almost spooky contemporary resonances. The villains scheme to exploit a terrorist act designed to "[rally] a nation of viewers to hysteria, to sweep us up into the White House with powers that will make martial law seem like anarchy." Yikes. If you've seen the film, you may remember one of its most puzzling aspects: the character played by Janet Leigh (her last name is "Chaney"), who seems to serve no purpose at all to the movie's plot, but says and does some very peculiar things. Definitely a film to see more than once, I think.

Earlier in the day, I attended a Halloween fundraising/costume party, organized by my wife, at my son's school. I was in charge of taking the admission money at the door, and I wore a conical wizard's hat (complete with stars and crescents). Typecasting, I know.

Nobody told me there'd be days like this.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

"By the way, is anyone else as startled as I am by how much time many of us spend these days peering into glowing screens? Digital cameras, Palm Pilots, cellphones ... We're spending an amazing amount of our lives staring at backlit screens -- we're like a nation of people transfixed by gods-in-the-form-of-lightbulbs. It's as though we're expecting to find something in our backlit screens that's really significant, something more than a mere phone number or spreadsheet.

What do you suppose we're hoping to find in there? Perhaps with just one more click, we'll find Meaning Itself."
--"Michael Blowhard" at

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Word of the Day: Pinchbeck

Word of the Day

pinchbeck (n or adj)

Something cheap or counterfeit; an alloy of zinc and copper used to imitate gold

Magdalen was counting on the sale of Aunt Philomena's wedding band to finance her trip to the Azores. It was Mr. Dash's sad duty to inform her that it was nothing but a pinchbeck curtain ring.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Random Acts of Poetry: Premonitions

Random Acts of Poetry


Comes the night,
several super-people
say they've heard
all about you.

They carry
knives, they live
in tiny rooms
above a loud cafe.

Feet pound
outside the door
before falling down
an abandoned mine.

in your head breathe:
you might as well
give up.

A little child says love
doesn't bleed enough--
she's hidden her innocence
in the dark.

A far-away bell
rings, the front page
cries results
are in doubt.

Monday, October 18, 2004

In Godzilla's Footsteps: Academic Conference

Now I've Heard Everything

"To commemorate the King of the Monsters' fiftieth birthday, the University of Kansas Center for East Asian Studies is hosting a conference in which scholars from around the world will consider the Godzilla films and their surprising impact on global culture."

In Godzilla's Footsteps: Japan's Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Write to a swing voter

Influence the Outcome

The upcoming US election will undoubtedly have quite an impact, one way or another, around the globe. But people who live outside the US (and I know there are some who read this blog . . .) don't have any say in it. Or do they? The Guardian newspaper in Britain has set up a program whereby people from outside the US can write to "swing" (undecided) voters in key states and encourage them to do the right thing. Here's the link: My fellow non-Americans ...

Friday, October 15, 2004

Short Stories

Abbreviated Tales

In "Brief encounters" author William Boyd classifies what he believes are the seven types of short stories. He laments that the market for these works has pretty much "dried up" in recent decades but, oddly, doesn't mention that the Web has become a new venue for short-story writers (though generally not a paying one).

He lists the following "Ten Truly Great Short Stories in no particular order":

"Spring at Fialta" by Vladimir Nabokov
"My Dream of Flying to Wake Island" by JG Ballard
"Funes, the Memorious" by JL Borges
"Prelude" by Katherine Mansfield
"The Dead" by James Joyce
"Mrs Bathhurst" by Rudyard Kipling
"Day of the Dying Rabbit" by John Updike
"In the Ravine" by Anton Chekhov
"Bang-Bang You're Dead" by Muriel Spark
"Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway

I've only read two of them!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

"At times, to be silent is to lie."
--Unamuno (Spanish philosopher)

(Via William Gibson's recently reactivated blog, by way of Maud Newton)

Zoom In by Zip Code

Time Well Wasted

Yet another nifty Flash utility. Zoom in further and further, digit by digit, on any US geographic location while typing its Zip Code: ZipDecode

(via 3 Bruces)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Word of the Day: Hobbledehoy

Word of the Day

hobbledehoy (n)

A gawky, awkward youth

Young Alec hated being called a teen-ager (too "corny," he said) or an adolescent (too "clinical"). "Hobbledehoy!" he said one day while perusing the dictionary. "That's what I am!" He promptly scribbled the word down the length of his leg cast.

Monday, October 11, 2004

R.I.P. Derrida: The Idiot's Guide to Deconstruction

Deconstruction for Dummies

Rest in peace, Jacques Derrida. About a century ago, I went through a structuralism/ post-structuralism phase that included plowing through some of Derrida's writings (or "texts" as he would call them). I never felt that I grasped his deconstructionist thought entirely--though I'm sure he would point out that words like "grasped," "thought" and "entirely" are fraught with difficulty. As Derrida once said in an interview, " 'Thought' means nothing: it is the substantified void of a highly derivative ideality." Ahem. If you'd like to try your hand at deconstruction, here's a very simple (relatively speaking) guide to tearing anything apart:

How to Do Deconstruction

(via things)

An excellent article on Derrida in the New York Times (free registration required): What Derrida Really Meant

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Random Acts of Poetry: Psalm to the Lamp

Random Acts of Poetry

Psalm to the Lamp

This lamp is my lodestar,
I will not fall

asleep before dull angels.
It draws me a pale pool of fire,

throws shadows away.
It shows me a moon's worth of eye sheen between flickers.

The mind's tricks depend on a high chandelier
of meanings, filaments reflecting bead-chains of notions.

A lamp drives out bleakness, and light lives--
but can fail in a thunderous click.

Pray the light holds back this suffocating evening's bag of somber velvet;
may all night's children abide within this circle.

Surely its lambent beam will follow the labors of my dreaming hands
and a shimmer of reverie will fill the lit room.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Imagine John Lennon at 64

Birthday greetings, bottle of wine . . .

John Lennon would have been 64 today.

In "Imagine John Lennon at 64", several people who knew him -- really knew him -- speculate on what he would be doing today.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Mr. Wonderful Talking Doll

Mr. Wonderful

"The ball game really isn't that important. I'd rather spend time with you. Why don't we go to the mall? And let's talk about our relationship."

Every woman's dream come true?

Quote of the Day: Unending Crisis

Quote of the Day

". . . What made these misrepresentations seem more grave in 2004 was the larger misrepresentation: the fact that the administration had taken us, ineptly, with the aid and encouragement of those who had 'never thought,' or who had 'misunderstood,' or who 'didn't realize,' into a war, or a 'noble expedition,' or a 'grand historical experiment,' which was draining the lives and futures of our children and disrupting fragile arrangements throughout the world even as it provided the unending 'crisis' required to perpetuate the administration and enact its agenda. 'This is a great opportunity,' the President was reported by Bob Woodward to have said in an NSC meeting on the evening of September 11, 2001. That large numbers of Americans continued to support him could be construed as evidence of their generosity, but it was also evidence of how shallowly rooted our commitment to self-government had turned out to be."

--Joan Didion, "Politics in the 'New Normal' America"

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Wouldn't it be nice?

According to Google

Wouldn't it be nice if . . .

US elections could be as fraud-free as those in the so-called third world?
the world was Cadbury Chocolate roads and trees 'n' birds 'n' bees . . .
we were older?
it were raining. Then we couldn't see the trees explode . . .
it were over?
this problem would just go away?
my display would automatically resize . . .
your web site visitors could get in touch with you? Instantaneously!
Gallagher were dead?
there was an Open Source version of these MS products?
Sandy used some facts instead of inflammatory rhetoric?
all the Muslims studied Christianity before they became Muslims.
we could all go back to the good old days of kindergarten?
your boss had to run for re-election?
there was not a monopoly on beer?
the Internet were as simple and effective as television and the telephone?
I could be David Letterman?
my friends and I weren't always tempted with so much sex in movies and TV?
I didn't need as much sleep at night.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


Psychedelic Barbershop

I've never been much of a Beach Boys or Brian Wilson fan and, until recently, owned exactly none of their albums. After reading some of the rapturous reviews of SMiLE, the "new" Brian Wilson album that he began working on in 1966 and then abandoned for 37 years, I decided to buy it, however. I'm glad I did. How can I describe it? Try this: a melodic meditation on American history, childhood and the four elements, as meditated upon by a psychedelic barbershop quartet, using multi-layered, four-part harmonies and surreal lyrics. Words are inadequate, but that may give you a hint of what this strange pop masterpiece is like. I wonder what its impact would have been had it been released as planned in 1967. It doesn't sound like a 60s relic, nor like anything on the current pop-music scene.

Here's an entire website devoted to SMiLE (past and present), which is often described as the most famous and legendary "lost" album in popular music history: The Smile Shop.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Word of the Day: Nescience

Word of the Day

nescience (n)


"Your nescience never fails to impress me," Abigail cooed whenever Mr. Dumas offered yet another of his outrageously ill-informed opinions. He would then grin at what he assumed was her admiration.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Random Acts of Poetry: Apple Picking (October 2004)

Random Acts of Poetry

Apple Picking (October 2004)

No one here but trees shedding their apples--
apples hanging like kamikazes, but underfoot mostly.
A battlefield of dead apples, and a mountain
heaped up in the distance, interrupting the sky.

Apples like ruddy people, their dark bruises
soft to the touch, little wounds.
Why pity the fallen; it's too late for them.
The pail fills quickly, a mob of bald heads.

Dogs bark into a shrill wind, and there's a smell
of burning leaves blowing in.
The seller flaunts indifference:
Apples are sold by weight, not perfection.

They ride with me in the front seat.
I eat them, dirty as they are, biting,
throwing the cores out the window, wondering,
in the end, if even their black seeds matter.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Quote of the Day: Stalinist and Capitalist Attitudes about Writing and Blogging

Quote of the Day

". . . As I have said many times before, blogging and the Net amount to a folk revolution. It fills working stiffs and employers with dread because it refuses to define itself based on market surveys. What I like about bloggers is that they define their product for themselves and are grateful for any attention they get. To blog is to be free to mispell, break the rules of grammar, and metaphorize, to be vivid where others would be dull, to be original where the market suppliers resort to cliche’."

Read more at Pax Nortona -- Stalinist and Capitalist Attitudes about Writing and Blogging.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Pictures from an Exhibition: Yoko Ono

A Really Big Shoe

Pictures from an exhibition: Yoko Ono's "Odyssey of a Cockroach".

(via Boing Boing)

Bushisms from the debate

Say What?

One of my favorite Bushisms from the "debate" -- um, uhh, it's "hard work" to choose just one -- was "That's why it's essential that we make sure that we keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of people like Al Qaeda, which we are."

People like Al Queda. That Al -- he's such a troublemaker. Somebody should take him down a peg or two.

(The reference to "Al" struck me as funny, because my son is currently under the impression that the math he's studying in school was invented by a guy named Al Gebra.)

Then there's that other mischief-maker, "Warren Terra." Can't somebody find that guy, dead or alive?

Other gems:

"I see on the TV screens how hard it is." Good to know he's not completely out of touch with what's happening on the ground in Iraq.

"The moo-lahs." Sounds like a bovine singing group.

"Mixed messages send the wrong signals." There's something about that sentence that just makes my brain hurt.

"Don't forget Poland!" Remember the Alamo!

"It's hard work to try to love her as best I can." This rather creepy statement was in reference to meeting the widow of a soldier killed in Iraq. Such an ordeal for him! Being president really must be hard, hard work. I guess that's why he spends so much time on vacation.

Bush also mumbled something about trying to keep "a leash" on his daughters. Incredible. Has he already forgotten about "Apu Giraffe"?