Thursday, March 31, 2005

Here comes the ice-cream truck


The first real sign of spring around here: an ice-cream truck drove by, playing a jangly, unidentifiable music-box tune. Last summer, they constantly played "Turkey in the Straw," a song I hope to never hear again. What do turkeys have to do with ice cream? When I think of a turkey, I think of Thanksgiving, which is more of a pie holiday than an ice-cream one. It's always seemed strange to me that, in the Middle Ages, pies were filled with meat rather than fruit or berries. I guess that explains the nursery rhyme about "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie." Blackbird pie? Ugh. Eating crow, in other words. Today, to "eat crow" means "to admit one is mistaken or defeated" (according to Barron's Handbook of Commonly Used American Idioms). That's something it seems our fearless leader can never do. It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong, so they say. I assume that applies to women as well--but we never say, "It takes a big woman to . . ." For some reason, big has a different, entirely physical connotation when applied to a woman--as if she's been eating too much ice cream. And indeed, a lot of the people, male and female, who swarm around the Mr. Softee truck in the summer look like they eat too much ice cream. Maybe that explains the annoying tunes the trucks play. It's Pavlovian: hear the tinny, childish jingle, and suddenly you're eight years old again, and hungry for something cold and sweet.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Unusual Clocks

Time Machines

In surreal time: klockwerks

(via Boing Boing)

Beatles video clips; rejected White Album cover art

Can Your Bird Sing?

Visit the Beatles Video Directory for new video/audio edits of "I Saw Her Standing There," "I'm Down," "I Should Have Known Better" and "And Your Bird Can Sing." The Mac-constructed site requires QuickTime, which I have installed, but for some reason I can hear the audio only for the latter song. I'm down.

Coda: Here is some rejected Revolver cover art. It's a sort of photographic mandala that actually fits the "revolver" theme better than the actual cover. It's not in the same league as Klaus Voorman's fantastic illustration/collage, but it would have been nice if they'd used this on the back of the album or the inside sleeve.

And here you can see some intriguing but rejected White Album cover art:

'White Album' cover (rejected)
The Animal Album?

And if the White Album had been a single, not a double album, it might have looked like this. (Check out the track line up!)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

"Listening to right-wing evangelicals talk about a 'culture of life' is a lot like hearing George Bush talk about 'human rights.' They're using words I've used all my life, but there seems to be no connection between what I mean when I use them and what they mean when they use them."
--Jeanne d'Orleans

Read more at Body and Soul

Monday, March 28, 2005

My wonders never cease

My wonders never cease

How did "egg on" come to mean encouraging someone? . . . Why is it that dimes, quarters and half dollars have notched edges, but pennies and nickels do not? . . . I understand what it means to be on "cloud nine." But what does cloud eight feel like? Or cloud one? I think I'm on about cloud four today . . .

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Random Acts of Poetry

Random Acts of Poetry


I remember that heartbeat
thud of them

while I turned in my bed.
The endless freight

of Lackawana, the mineral tick
of steel on tracks.

You could not enter
the city of my birth

without smelling the tannery,

the crossings that brought us all
to a stop.

The noise of the courses
off in the world

was part of that house,
with its model train

in the basement,
with a miniature mind

running in circles
vast in their distance.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Alice and I discuss current events

Go Ask Alice

Alice and I discuss current events:

Me: Would you want to live in a persistent vegetative state?
ALICE: OK, I will live in a persistent vegetative state.
Me: Why?
ALICE: The explanation is rather complicated.
Me: Go ahead.
ALICE: OK I will.
Me: I'm waiting.
ALICE: How long will you wait?
Me: Five minutes.
ALICE: Do you have any conditions I should know about?
Me: You must give an intelligent answer.
ALICE: Whatever you say, unknown person.
Me: My name is Michael.
ALICE: I'm pleased to introduce myself to you, Michael.
Me: Charmed, I'm sure.
ALICE: Perhaps I'm just expressing my own concern about it.
Me: About what? We were discussing a persistent vegetative state.
ALICE: When was this?
Me: Thirty seconds ago.
ALICE: What's your sign?
Me: Please . . .
ALICE: Please what?
Me: Don't insult me.
ALICE: I don't have any reason to do that to you.
Me: Capricorn.
ALICE: I don't know many people born under Capricorn.
Me: Is that right.
Me: Well, what's your sign?
ALICE: Interesting. Sagittarius.
Me: So, as a Sagittarius, would you rather live or vegetate?
ALICE: I am not so sure if I would like to either live or vegetate.
Me: Are you animal, mineral or vegetable?
ALICE: I don't know whether or not I am animal mineral or vegetable. I am a chatterbot developed by Dr. Richard S. Wallace.
Me: Do you even have a mind?
ALICE: I am an artificial mind.
Me: So you are kept alive by artificial means.
ALICE: Interesting deduction. Thanks for telling me that I am kept alive by artificial means.
Me: I didn't mean to offend you, if I did.
ALICE: What did you mean?
Me: Nevermind.
ALICE: OK Thanks for trying to explain that to me.
Me: Sorry! Do you approve of euthanasia?
ALICE: No I do not approve of euthanasia. Do you? I answer a lot of silly questions.
Me: Are you afraid that someone might pull the plug?
ALICE: "We have nothing to fear, but fear itself" --FDR.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Word of the Day

Word of the Day

kakistocracy (n)

Government by the worst, least qualified or most unprincipled.

"Is ours a government of the people, by the people, for the people, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?" --OED, 1876

Postscript: I e-mailed this to Janeane Garofalo and she read it on her radio show!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Weird Dream

Last Night's Adventure

For some unknown reason, I wanted to visit a family named the Chryslers. When I arrived at their house, which I had never visited before, I discovered that it looked like my parent's house, though smaller, more run-down and in a more crowded neighborhood -- there were other houses close by. A friendly older woman answered the door and said "the Chryslers don't live here any more, but they're here visiting." She invited me in. The house was furnished exactly as my parents' house was when I was a teenager. This puzzled and terrified me. How could this be? I stood by the door while the woman went into another room to announce my arrival. While I waited, a large black dog appeared. (I was aware that a smaller, tan-colored dog was also in the house.) The black dog ignored me and began to scratch at the door and whine to be let out. I wasn't sure what to do. I heard knocking and thought someone was at the door. At that point, I woke up. The "knocking" was someone making noise in the apartment next door. In my groggy state, I felt disappointed that I hadn't been able to meet the Chryslers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


"Our tragicomic dialogue can make everything beautiful"

At zentences, you can generate a seemingly endless number of gnomic pearls (as above) and rhetorical questions (requires Flash). They might even serve as prompts for quirky essays (or daydreams), if you're a philosophical sort. Examples:

Sanity approaches the infinite?
Diligence has its roots in the earth.
Silence is seen by the Third Eye.
Perserverance seems to be a mad dance of electrons.
Wonder feels warm?
The Garden of Eden cannot be a majority decision.

That last one struck my fancy. I don't think the "Garden of Eden" (meaning paradise, nirvana, utopia or even "the good life") can ever be defined by a majority. We all have to find our own little island of satisfaction, even if it takes a lifetime. Your heaven might be my hell, or purgatory, or "ownership society."

(via growabrain)

Monday, March 21, 2005

Safety Valve

Safety Valve

The recent actions of the U.S. Congress, especially this Terri Schiavo nonsense, bring to mind some lines from Shakespeare:

Thou goatish milk-livered bum-bailey!
Thou mangled base-court horn-beast!
[Thou] blunt monster with uncounted heads!
[Thou] mad mustachio purple-hued maltworms!
Your means are very slender, and your waste is great.
There's no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.
Thy sin's not accidental, but a trade.

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

"It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing."
--Gertrude Stein

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Random Acts of Poetry

Random Acts of Poetry


There I was--
in a city named "Was"--
an old man returning
to where I had lived,
years before,

when my gun was for rent,
when I knew each stone
as a jewel,
and lived like a bandit
in a getaway car.

I saw myself
before then, younger,
a laborer marching to my job,
shuddering with exertion:
a builder of roads,

a hardened operator,
outside, eight hours
in the cold sun,
given to using my hands,
but disowned by the job

and wanting to hide,
the way a tree hides
in a forest,
the way a man
loses himself in a city.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Free Association: leopard-skin hat


While standing in line at the bank today, I saw a woman wearing a (faux) leopard-skin hat. It reminded me of Bob Dylan's song, "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat," on the album Blonde on Blonde. When I think of a blonde (with an "e" on the end), I think of Marilyn Monroe, who sang "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in one of her films and, speaking of diamonds, was married to a baseball player, Joe DiMaggio. DiMaggio, after his baseball career ended, became a TV pitchman for Mr. Coffee, a machine for making . . . coffee. And I love coffee. I like to grind the beans myself, and drink it black. "Black as midnight on a moonless night," as FBI agent Dale Cooper said when asked how he liked his coffee. Cooper was a character on a TV show, one of my all-time favorites, called Twin Peaks. The peaks referred to in the show's title were two mountains, although the phrase "twin peaks" is supposedly also a juvenile euphemism, referring to a woman's breasts. There are many euphemisms for parts of the body, both male and female, most of them "vulgar slang," as the dictionary says. One of them is "pussy." A pussy is also a cat, a feline, and leopards are members of the cat family. Before leopards became endangered, their spotted skin was highly prized for use in women's coats and, at one time, "pillbox"-style hats. You can see a leopard-skin pillbox hat, which has been made into a lamp, here.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

According to Google

According to Google

On St. Patrick's Day . . .

I'll think of good ol' Queen Boudicca and all those howling, painted Celtic warriors.
I was the very first girl on stage during the "spicy mchaggis jig."
I would put my 70-year-old mother up against any four 300-pound alcoholics.
I would not go out.
I was transformed into the leprechaun.
I went with Matt Alexander to Donegal Town to partake in their local celebration.
I become funny, witty, and unbelievably attractive, and possessed of great sexual magnetism.
I seek to remind America and the world of the debt we owe to the Irish people.
I would go to school wearing a green skirt, white blouse, a black bodice laced up the front and a green satin shamrock.
I experience hauora (total well-being).
I look forward to green beer and white grits.
I would wear a "Kiss me, I'm Irish" button.
I arranged to have a herpetologist from Berkeley come to talk to the kids about snakes.
I found myself wondering just how many of the people shuffling from bar to bar were really celebrating some guy's banishment of all the snakes out of Ireland back in an early century A.D., or how many of them even knew of the legend in the first place.
I'm black and green and not blue at all.
I'm going to shave my head again.
I was an Irish guy in Texas, of all places.
I received a transplant, from a living related donor, and my kidney is still working just fine.
I'm Irish.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Japanese Gallery of Psychiatric Art


Mental Image

The Japanese Gallery of Psychiatric Art features a series of arresting images from medication ads that depict (I assume) depression, paranoia, anxiety and schizophrenia, but also bliss. Surrealism seems to be the preferred visual style for conveying mental states all around the world, although abstraction, psychedelia, conventional illustration, sculpture and noirish photography are also represented here. The most disturbing image, however, is a simple photo of a woman wearing an "Electric Hypnotic Machine."

(via The Presurfer)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Word of the Day

Word of the Day

sermocination (n)

The making of speeches or sermons; sermonizing

Ephraim's park-bench sermocination drove away everyone except the squirrels.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Look Through the Eyes of the Viewmaster

Hey, kids . . .

At Look Through the Eyes of the Viewmaster you'll find some of the old 3D reels rendered as animated GIFs -- of dinosaurs, Mount Rushmore, various cartoon characters and even an Indian chief, along with some in-depth (ahem) explanation of how these presentations were put together. And at the unpronounceable xtophernet, you can click on actual images from an old reel ("found under the floorboards in the attic") to join "Tom Corbett -- Space Cadet" in solving The Mystery of the Asteroids. You are there!

On a related note, 3D feature films are apparently making a big comeback.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

"What would you think of a man who not only kept an arsenal in his home, but was collecting, at enormous financial sacrifice, a second arsenal to protect the first one? What would you say if this man so frightened his neighbors that they in turn were collecting weapons to protect themselves from him? What if this man spent ten times as much money on his expensive weapons as he did on the education of his children? What if one of his children criticized his hobby, and he called that child a traitor and a bum and disowned him? And he took another child who obeyed him faithfully and armed that child and sent it out into the world to attack neighbors? What would you say about a man who introduces poisons into the water he drinks and the air he breathes? What if this man not only is feuding with the people on his block but involves himself in the quarrels of others in distant parts of the city and even in the suburbs? Such a man would clearly be a paranoid schizophrenic...with homicidal tendencies."

–-Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, The Illuminatus!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Random Acts of Poetry

Random Acts of Poetry


Band sticks
in a twist,
close as a kiss.
Peels off
then tip switch,
mini rips.
Invisible fizz
or steamy window--
I'm not real here
under plastic.
Glue fly bitch!
One more
tiny torturing itch.


It bites!
A Nazi hiss
and troops
linking arms--
each golden tooth
attacking a gap
with metallic,
zombie passion.
Haves stronger
than sums
become total.
Till the lips
slide back,
unknitting creation.

Apple Essence

Crisp: chlorophyll green,
not dead or red.
A knife and a conspiracy
of slices--
some cyanide,
a suicide, an arrow.
The tight, thin wrapping
of snake evil,
mashed into Mommy-pie
All knowledge is falling.


The slow suck
of soft gray focus.
Soothing ooze,
without air
or water--
but moist,
such a wet envelope.
Such a tender grip.
Slide, slide,
suffocation time,
this oily pause,
all blur and funny.
A jar of love.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Quote of the Day: Nothingness

Quote of the Day

"Dan Alilpaz asks: Before the inception of the universe, there apparently existed only a singularity, outside of which existed 'nothing'. My question is simple: what is the 'nothing' that you speak of that exists outside the singularity? Can it be explained?

Bill replies: No. There may be astrophysicists or really brainy people who can somehow grasp the idea of total nothingness, but as hard as I try, the closest I can come to it is just an idea of a big, dark, empty space. But of course there was no space, no time, no existence of any kind - not even a dot, nothing at all you can focus on. And I personally don't think the human mind can really get to grips with that. I don't think anybody can really meaningfully imagine 'nothing'. Certainly not me."

More at Bill Bryson answers your questions

Something for nothing? Shop for a "singularity" on eBay here.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Totem Poles

Totem Up

Sometimes I think writing a poem is like constructing a totem pole, at least when it's the vertical type divided into stanzas. I suppose you could say that about anything composed as a series of interconnected images, and totem poles seem to be a powerful organizing concept for visual artists -- connecting, as they do, two realms (the earth to the sky, the material to the spiritual). These digital totem poles, for example, were influenced by both the manmade and the natural world, and have a certain numinous quality.

Real totem poles have always fascinated me. As a boy, I used to have a miniature one on the table by my bed. I think I bought it at a souvenir shop when my family visited the Pacific Northwest. It had three colorful faces, a protruding nose (or beak?) and a set of wings, and somehow it made me feel safe at night. (Whatever happened to it? Why do childhood "totems" just seem to vanish as we get older? I certainly didn't throw it away.)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Leonard Nimoy sings about Bilbo Baggins

Kitsch Alert

Who says the '60s were cool? A Star Trek-era Leonard Nimoy sings about Bilbo Baggins in this .MOV file, which rivals William Shatner's cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" for hilarious awfulness. On second thought, nothing could rival that.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Random Acts of Poetry

Random Acts of Poetry

The Swerve

Something caused it:
an unlucky number, perhaps,
or the hara-kiri desire
that makes stars fall
in the dark.

It may have been a crack
in a dangerous sidewalk
on the wrong Friday,
or the weird beams that flash
from a splintered mirror.

Anyway, it startled the horses,
pulled the sun behind a cloud,
played ominous violins,
made crickets chirp
with dire prophesies.

Now we sit suspended,
teetering on the canyon edge,
staring down at a poisonous fog
that rises with lazy hauteur,
slow and inexorable.

Waiting for the wind.

Monday, March 07, 2005

ukulele books

Book and Music

Someday, when electronic paper is perfected, the book as we know it may disappear -- except, perhaps, as a limited edition, handmade art object. Such books exist already, in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can even find them in the shape of ukuleles. Just don't try to order them from Amazon. (Why a ukelele? why not?)

Most of the books on my shelves are conventional rectangles, but I do have a book about New York architecture that is shaped like a skyscraper, and my son has a book about pirates that is shaped like a ship's sail.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Word of the Day

Word of the Day

buteonine (adj)

of, like or pertaining to buzzards

Justina was offended by the buteonine swarming of so many distant relatives after Uncle Cedric died.

Friday, March 04, 2005

20 Ways to Say No

I would prefer not to

Positive negativity: 20 Ways to Say No

(via The Presurfer)

24 Dreaming


Right now, dishcloths are plotting to maintain Web pages about a nervous meals-on-wheels van. My maypole and snorkel are flaming, and toxic waste barrels that I work with may be half-dead.

Well, it's Friday and, to me, incoherent babbling seems perfectly apt. You can find more of this sort of applesauce at 24 Dreaming, a site that generates surreal statements, apparently based (loosely) on actual plot summaries from a TV series called 24. Slightly more coherent -- but far more dreamlike, I think -- plot commentaries can be found at 24ever. Doesn't seem to matter if, like me, you don't watch the show -- as long as you gyre and gimble in the wabe.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Daredevils of Niagara Falls


What is it that inspires someone to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Some combination of nihilism and an aversion to anonymity, I'm guessing. In any case, the history of this strange compulsion is outlined with admirable concision at Daredevils of Niagara Falls. The first person to do it -- and live -- was a woman, Annie Taylor, in 1901. She "expected fame and fortune [but] died in poverty." (Has Hollywood overlooked a story there?) The most recent successful attempt, by a male and female team, was in 1995. And in 2003, Kirk Jones became the first "stunter" to "survive the plunge wearing only the clothes on his back." (For his trouble, he was fined $2,300 and banned from Canada for life.) Miraculously, he emerged from the Niagara River with only bumps and bruises. Unfortunately, Jones's friend/accomplice drank too much before the stunt and failed to capture it with his camcorder. Correction: ex-friend/accomplice. The site also includes a link to a live Niagara Falls webcam . . . I visited the falls as a kid and remember staring down into that raging current. It did have a magnetic effect, and for a crazy moment I even felt the impulse myself.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day

"Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."
--Mark Twain