Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mmmm centipede

This creature, my last surviving cat, Wilbur, joined me in the bathroom this morning (as he does every morning), and the two of us were joined by a small centipede. Wilbur captured and ate the centipede.

Yes, this is what passes for drama around my house these days. If it helps, I'll add a little spice to the story: Wilbur toyed with the centipede for a minute or two before finally eating it. He crippled it, watched it squirm, crippled it some more, and then finally chewed away its pain.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Snake butt

Today's MAX ride home brought an unexpected revelation: a young woman sat down next to me and, a moment or two later, found a reason to lean and reach forward, exposing her well-tanned lower back with its big coiled snake tattoo. Gaudy? Yes. Something she'll regret later in life? Probably. A snake drawing worthy of a biology textbook? Hardly. But I've discovered there's a place in this world for big coiled snake tattoos under leather jackets.

I said nothing, of course. Later-in-life regrets might have been a good topic of conversation.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Suddenly, Fantastic isn't good enough

I hate Safeway more than ever now that they've decided to stop carrying the fake taco and sloppy joe mixes by Fantastic Foods. While they're at it, they're dropping all the rest of the Fantastic Foods offerings, some of which I've never even tried.

Now I'll have to trudge half way across town and pay even higher prices at Whole Foods if I want the brown powders without which fake tacos and fake sloppy joes are impossible.

This is my answer for the next several dozen times a Safeway employee accosts me with, are you finding everything all right?: No. No! A thousand times no! I want my fake tacos and my fake sloppy joes. Give them back.

Dammit.

Title change

I still don't hate "melancholy and its uses," but this new title sounds better to me today. Something tells me this won't be the last change -- I am nothing if not fickle when it comes to blog titles. Everybody says so.

Remembrance of Thelma


Our elderly and sickly cat, Thelma, a.k.a. "The Bunny," finally died yesterday. By the end, she was 15 years old, nearly toothless, unable to control her peeing, unable to keep herself groomed, prone to vomiting, and otherwise an unpleasant wretch, so it's a relief to see her suffering end.

Still, she will be missed. She was a remarkably perceptive cat -- an expert at gauging our moods and as mindful of our daily schedules as we ever were. Where most cats are simply headstrong, she knew when to stop pushing our buttons and asserting her own agenda. She knew when it was time to jump in our lap for some petting, and when it was not.

My favorite memory of her is the time she escaped to the outdoors and was found, hours later, in a state of zen-like calm in the neighbor's back yard along with two very large, very barky dogs, who were also as calm and quiet as could be. How she achieved this contemplative moment remains unknown, but it speaks to her je ne sais quois. She was not just another cat.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Duuuuude, daaaaaark

A Saturday like this one calls forth these thoughts from the Steiner character in La Dolce Vita:

I'm afraid of peace more than anything else. To me it seems that it's only an outer shell and that hell is hiding behind it. I think of what my children will see tomorrow. 'The world will be wonderful,' they say. From what point of view? When a phone call can announce the end of the world.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why, yes, I still do ride the MAX

Yesterday on the MAX, the slightly scary human entertainments took on a stereo effect: in one direction, there were the concussive snores and weezes of the dirty fat guy crumpled, as on most mornings, into a death-sleep crouch in his favorite window seat. In the other direction, there were the half-spat mutterings timed with air-kung-fu moves with which a meth-addled Jesus lookalike was overcoming a foe only he could see. Crank it, crazies!

While Snoring Dirty Fat Man is a longstanding fixture on the MAX, Meth Jesus and his hallucinated fisticuffs ministry is still enough of a novelty to keep the three seats on either side of him clear. And I claim nothing special for myself here: I wasn't seated very near him either, and if I had unwittingly taken a nearby seat, I would have done exactly as the "this lunch box is not gay at all" guy did upon making the mistake, namely, quietly but quickly rise to find another seat.

Giant squid!

Finally someone has caught a truly huge squid! I am very excited. Next: someone needs to snag a Nessie.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Idiocracy: too close to home

T, my fellow insurance bureaucrat and balding fountain of despair, referred me to this article about America's severe credit card indebtedness.

Depending on my current mood swing, I am disgusted at Americans for taking on this level of debt, disgusted at creditors for enticing people with such 'easy' money (that isn't easy in the end), or issuing a fell curse on both their houses. Suffice to say that Idiocracy, the latest Mike Judge documentary following in the tradition of Office Space, looks less and less like parody with every passing minute.

Watch Idiocracy -- you'll laugh when you watch it. In the days and weeks after, you'll think back on it, look around, and the laughs won't come so easily.

Dilated, probed, blown on

Today I had an eye exam, my first in many years, and it turns out I do not have perfect vision. In fact, I have pretty substantial far-sightedness, and my optometrist, what's-her-name, was appalled that I spend my entire workday sitting in front of a computer monitor, and even more appalled that I spend time in front of a monitor at home too. Well, maybe she can waste her life on the internets without a monitor, but I can't! I need one to see all the B.S. I'm typing!

She "dilated" me, which is to say, she dilated my pupils, which left my vision even blurrier than it was before I arrived. What a f__ing rip-off! She also used that machine that blows a puff of air directly into each eye. I tried not to flinch, really I tried. And I blew back.

She also asked me the following question repeatedly: "1 or 2?" Normally I'm a 2 man, but today, 1 was looking better more often. I have to give it up to 1. 1 was the better sight adjustment today.

I should be forgiven for my jaundiced view of eye exams: last time around, in the closing days of the 1980s, slight far-sightedness was seized upon as the reason I was falling asleep while reading (wrong!), so I was given weakly corrective lenses in regrettable, huge, teal blue frames. Those glasses were left in the attic crawl space of my previous house, where they'll never bother or embarrass me again, and where, moreover, they'll continue to be as effective as they ever were in overcoming the effects of my narcolepsy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Worth following

Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan are engaged in an ongoing debate about faith, reason, and the legitimacy of religious belief. This is certainly one to follow.

Bush is dumb

I was going to post something here commenting on the stupidity of George W. Bush but it occurs to me the point has been made abundantly. Moving on ...

Anonymous comments

In response to whimpering from a certain guy named T, and in the interests of free-flowing insults, I've enabled anonymous comments on this blog. Comment away!

Monday, February 19, 2007

My hopes for climate change

From time to time I have been the victim of my most cherished hopes, and this may be a case of that, but I want global climate change to shift the migrations of red crabs to Portland.

Yes, it is asking a lot of the biosphere. But surely it is not too much to ask of the fantastically creative Darwinian, techtonic, and meterological processes that gave us echolocating bats, plankton-snaring baleen plates, spider-hunting wasps, the badlands of Utah, and humans -- the latter of which has developed spoken language and reliable chicken sexing techniques.

I want to look out my windows and see a wriggling sea of red carapaces, and I want it now.

Predident's Day

I have only this outstanding question about President's Day: why does NPR's Scott Simon pronounce "president" as "preh-duh-dent," and why does the sound of that pronunciation keep ringing in my consciousnesss? Is there a name for this condition?

Beijing 2008, here I come


This is the first trinket I've actually won in my running career -- everything else has been the stuff they hand out to everyone who shows up and makes a convincing show of having paid the entry fee.

Now I have a taste for victory and if I don't represent team USA in the 2008 Olympics I will consider myself a miserable failure.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Jesus Camp

The completely heterosexual Ted Haggard is among the Christian fascists featured in the documentary Jesus Camp, which I highly recommend to everyone, and mostly to anyone who detects something exaggerated or histrionic in the term "Christian fascist."

Sinclair Lewis was right: "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross." It's here, and that's exactly how it is dressed.

Those were sonic booms, not farts

In today's Springwater Cruise 10K (results)in scenic Gresham, these comically short legs of mine delivered a faster finish time than I had allowed myself to hope for: 37:51, for a per-mile pace of 6:05.

This time is by far a personal best over the 10K/6.2 mile distance, and I reluctantly accept the training lesson this performance has imparted: eat and drink to excess the night before a race. I can't argue with success -- nor, apparently, with the appeal of fig bars, peanut butter cookies, and tempranillo.

The race was not without its controversies. The halfway turnaround point consisted of a few delphic chalk scratchings in the asphalt, and more than a few runners, including yours truly, failed to divine its meaning and ran past it. I realized my mistake after about 20 yards thanks to some helpful yelling of runners I'd later pass, but others may still be out there on the trail, wondering how 3.1 miles can seem so far.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Olive Garden sucks

I know it is well past cliche to observe this, but it's true: Olive Garden sucks. The food is what it is, but what's really bothersome is how it's every teenager's and every toothless rube's idea of a "fancy" night out with girlfriend/boyfriend/inflatable lover. I was there last night, and I can't remember being anywhere with so many well-used Starter jackets. Go Miami Dolphins! Now let's have some mystery-meatballs and bottomless fat sticks!

To be fair, I don't hate their minestrone.

iPod contents as of this very moment

I'd like to find a way to generate this list automagically; there are probably a dozen utilities that will do exactly that. Anyhoo, in no particular order, my iPod contains:

"A Comet Appears" (The Shins), "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (Bob Dylan), "A Lack Of Color" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Alone And Forsaken" (Neko Case), "Anesthesia" (Luna), "Angeles" (Elliott Smith), "Australia" (The Shins), "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" (Bob Dylan), "Behind The House" (Neko Case), "Between The Bars" (Elliott Smith), "Big Guns" (Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins), "Black Wave" (The Shins), "Blacklisted" (Neko Case), "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" (Bob Dylan), "Bob Dylan's Dream" (Bob Dylan), "Boots Of Spanish Leather" (Bob Dylan), "Brand New Colony" (The Postal Service), "Brothers On A Hotel Bed" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Buckets Of Rain" (Neko Case), "Bullet Boy" (Massive Attack), "C'est Ce La" (DeVotchKa), "C'est Ce La, Part II" (DeVotchKa), "Cayman Islands" (Kings Of Convenience), "Charlotte Mittnacht (The Fabulous Destiny Of...)" (DeVotchKa), "Clark Gable" (The Postal Service), "Commerce City Sister" (DeVotchKa), "Corrina, Corrina" (Bob Dylan), "Crooked Teeth" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Cry, Cry, Cry" (Johnny Cash), "Cuba Libra" (The Devotchkas), "Curse Your Little" (The Devotchkas), "Danglin' Feet" (The Devotchkas), "Dark Eyes" (The Devotchkas), "Darlin Song" (The Watson Twins), "Dearly Departed" (DeVotchKa), "Death By Blonde" (DeVotchKa), "Death Of An Interior Decorator" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Deep Red Bells" (Neko Case), "Deep Red Bells" (Neko Case), "Devotchka!" (The Devotchkas), "Dirty Knife" (Neko Case), "Dreaming" (Yo La Tengo), "Excursions Into "oh, a-oh"" (Stereolab), "Expo '86" (Death Cab For Cutie), "False Flags" (Massive Attack), "Favorite" (Neko Case), "Favorite" (Neko Case), "Fox Confessor Brings The Flood" (Neko Case), "Friend And Foe" (The Watson Twins), "Furnace Room Lullaby" (Neko Case), "Furnace Room Lullaby" (Neko Case), "Gasoline Serpent" (The Devotchkas), "Ghost Wiring" (Neko Case), "Girl From The North Country" (Bob Dylan), "Girl Sailor" (The Shins), "Hardly Undone" (The Watson Twins), "Head Honcho" (The Devotchkas), "Hex" (Neko Case), "Hex" (Neko Case), "Hey Porter" (Johnny Cash), "HighSchool" (The Watson Twins), "Hold On, Hold On" (Neko Case), "House Of The Risin' Sun" (Bob Dylan), "How It Ends" (DeVotchKa), "I Against I" (Massive Attack), "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)" (Bob Dylan), "I Wish I Was The Moon" (Neko Case), "If You Knew" (Neko Case), "Imagine" (John Lennon), "In California" (Neko Case), "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" (Bob Dylan), "It Ain't Me Babe" (Bob Dylan), "John Saw That Number" (Neko Case), "Karmacoma" (Massive Attack), "Knock Loud" (Neko Case), "La Llorrona" (DeVotchKa), "Lady Pilot" (Neko Case), "Life Is Short" (The Devotchkas), "Lightness" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Like a Rolling Stone" (Bob Dylan), "Look For Me (I'll Be Around)" (Neko Case), "Lunnaya Pogonka" (DeVotchKa), "Man Of Constant Sorrow" (Bob Dylan), "Marching Bands Of Manhattan" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Margaret Vs. Pauline" (Neko Case), "Maybe Sparrow" (Neko Case), "Miette" (DeVotchKa), "Mood To Burn Bridges" (Neko Case), "Natural Anthem" (The Postal Service), "Needle in the Hay" (Elliott Smith), "No Need To Cry" (Neko Case), "No One Is Watching" (DeVotchKa), "North Country Blues" (Bob Dylan), "Nothing Better" (The Postal Service), "O Valencia!" (The Decemberists), "Ocean Of Lust" (DeVotchKa), "One Last Vow" (DeVotchKa), "One Too Many Mornings" (Bob Dylan), "Outro With Bees" (Neko Case), "Pam Berry" (The Shins), "Passenger Seat" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Phantom Limb" (The Shins), "Protection" (Massive Attack), "Province" (TV On the Radio), "Queen Of The Surface Streets" (DeVotchKa), "Recycled Air" (The Postal Service), "Red Rabbits" (The Shins), "Reprise" (DeVotchKa), "Restless Farewell" (Bob Dylan), "Risingson" (Massive Attack), "Sadistic" (Stereolab), "Safe From Harm" (Massive Attack), "Saint Simon" (The Shins), "Sea Legs" (The Shins), "Shankill Butchers" (The Decemberists), "Shoot The Lights Out" (The Watson Twins), "Slash Your Tires" (Luna), "Sleeping In" (The Postal Service), "Sleeping Lessons" (The Shins), "Someday You Will Be Loved" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Song To Woody" (Bob Dylan), "Sons & Daughters" (The Decemberists), "Soul Meets Body" (Death Cab For Cutie), "South Tacoma Way" (Neko Case), "Southern Manners" (The Watson Twins), "Split Needles" (The Shins), "Start Again (iTunes Version) [Bonus Track]" (Death Cab for Cutie), "Stinging Velvet" (Neko Case), "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (Bob Dylan), "Such A Lovely Thing" (DeVotchKa), "Such Great Heights" (The Postal Service), "Summer Skin" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Summersong" (The Decemberists), "Sunrise on Cicero" (The Devotchkas), "The Ballad Of Hollis Brown" (Bob Dylan), "The Crane Wife, Pt. 3" (The Decemberists), "The Crane Wife, Pts. 1 & 2" (The Decemberists), "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" (The Postal Service), "The Enemy Guns" (DeVotchKa), "The Jaws of the World" (The Devotchkas), "The Man With 100 Cells" (Stereolab), "The Needle Has Landed" (Neko Case), "The Oblivion" (DeVotchKa), "The Perfect Crime No. 2" (The Decemberists), "The Race Is On Again" (Yo La Tengo), "The River Of Water" (Yo La Tengo), "The Sound Of Settling" (Death Cab For Cutie), "The Times They Are A Changin'" (Bob Dylan), "Things That Scare Me" (Neko Case), "This Place Is A Prison" (The Postal Service), "This Place Is Haunted" (DeVotchKa), "Timber" (Neko Case), "Time Of My Life" (The Watson Twins), "Tiny Vessels" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Title And Registration" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Too Tired" (DeVotchKa), "Tragedy" (The Devotchkas), "Transatlanticism" (Death Cab For Cutie), "Turn On Me" (The Shins), "Twenty-Six Temptations" (DeVotchKa), "Twist The Knife" (Neko Case), "Unfinished Sympathy" (Massive Attack), "Vengo! Vengo!" (DeVotchKa), "Viens Avec Moi" (DeVotchKa), "Waltz, No. 2 (XO)" (Elliott Smith), "Wayfaring Stranger" (Neko Case), "We're Leaving" (DeVotchKa), "We Looked Like Giants" (Death Cab For Cutie), "We Will Become Silhouettes" (The Postal Service), "What'll I Do" (The Watson Twins), "What Sarah Said" (Death Cab For Cutie), "When The Ship Comes In" (Bob Dylan), "When the War Came" (The Decemberists), "Whiskey Breath" (The Devotchkas), "Wolf Like Me" (TV On the Radio), "Working Class Hero" (John Lennon), "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" (The Decemberists), "You Didn't Have To Go All The Way" (Junior Brown), "You Love Me" (DeVotchKa), "Your Heart Is An Empty Room" (Death Cab For Cutie)

DeVotchKa!

Oh how I love them! I say they're a mix of the Pixies, the Flaming Lips, Camper Van Beethoven, and the national music of a European or South American nation-state that doesn't exist but should.

A fellow insurance bureaucrat turned me on to them a few weeks ago and I have listened to them constantly ever since.

More on DeVotchKa ...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bureaucracy idiocy

I am a software developer in a large-ish financial-ish company, i.e., I am a private sector bureaucrat. I work on "projects" for and with people who are certified in something called "project management." If these terms mean little or nothing to you, consider yourself lucky. For me, it means I am entangled in absurdities like the one that has unfolded over the last two days:

T, a fellow private sector bureaucrat who is presently ensnared in one of the same projects I am, stopped by my cube yesterday (interrupting my e-mail writing) because he wanted to discuss some upcoming work for our project. By the end of our delightful hour together, we had a shared understanding of the broad outlines of the work, and had agreed on a tentative estimate of the amount of time it would take to complete the work (40 days).

The next day, today, T presented this estimate to the project manager, who then took the estimate to my boss to get her approval to enslave me for these 40 days. My boss agreed only to lend me out for 24 hours per week.

Whereupon the project manager came back to me to ask if I could tell her whether or not I could finish the work by March 5.

I already gave my time estimate. We all work from the same calendar, and we all define terms like 'hour' and 'day' the same way. I don't know. Can I? Why are you asking me? Do the math.

This bothers me on a few levels, but mostly because I am implicitly being asked not just to re-issue but to fabricate my time estimate such that I'll finish by the magic date of March 5. The hour T and I spent was a fucking joke at our expense. So why should I treat the future hours any differently, I am tempted to ask.

Indoor plumbing is for suckers

Gawd dambit! I have just spent an hour of my precious precious life trying to unclog the shower drain, only to find, as usual, that my homespun plumbing methods are utterly useless (digging hair out with my fingers, lots of yelling, some use of the wet vac). I'll give denial another day to work, and then call the plumber out on Saturday to remove the clog and all my money.

5K overlooking the crystal-clear Willamette

Hey stalkers! I was heavily photographed during last Sunday's run -- the photographers were as thick as pigeons!

Here are the photos of me. My finish time was 20:03, for a pace of 6:28. So zippy! Official results at http://racecenter.com/ -- look under Valentine Fanconi Anemia 5k Run.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Milan Kundera, aphorist

Milan Kundera has a wonderful gift for weaving a sparely worded but nevertheless detailed narrative around philosophical insights, and I've often wondered whether he conceives the narratives or the aphorisms as the Trojan Horse enabling safe passage to the other. I unashamedly take the greatest pleasure in his digressive insights, such as these, plucked from Ignorance:

"Everyone is wrong about the future. Man can only be certain about the present moment. But is that quite true either? Can he really know the present? Is he in a position to make any judgment about it? Certainly not. For how can a person with no knowledge of the future understand the meaning of the present? If we do not know what future the present is leading us toward, how can we say whether this present is good or bad, whether it deserves our concurrence, or our suspicion, or our hatred?"

"I imagine the feelings of two people meeting together after many years. In the past they spent some time together, and therefore they think they are linked by the same experience, the same recollections. The same recollections? That's where the misunderstanding starts: they don't have the same recollections; each of them retains two or three small scenes from the past, but each has his own; their recollections are not similar; they don't intersect; and even in terms of quantity they are not comparable: one person remembers the other more than he is remembered; first because memory capacity varies among individuals (an explanation that each of them would at least find acceptable), but also (and this is more painful to admit) because they don't hold the same importance for each other ... an unjust and revolting inequality."

I have read criticisms of Kundera suggesting he overdoes this mixing of narrative and rumination, that he deprives the reader of extracting and abstracting meanings by supplying his own so directly. I disagree. He interjects these pieces lightly, often giving no more than an evocation. In any case his authority over 'what it means' is no greater or lesser for having suggested or even demanded a conclusion.

Can we disagree with the author over the meaning of his own work? I say we can! I say, at times, we must!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I [heart] Neko Case

Saturday night's Neko Case show was great. She sang beautifully and dodged my thrown gifts with angelic grace; seeing her move like that was totally worth running myself out of underwear. A handful of rowdies a few rows up did not appreciate her talents, apparently -- they couldn't resist bickering loudly among themselves during the first two or three songs, first over the use of a cell phone, and then over who should and should not "shut the fuck up" and, crucially, in what sequence. It didn't take long for the sweet granny ushers to close in and shut them down, but for what I paid, I feel I was right to demand a more violent response.

I know what you're thinking -- rowdies? At a country music concert?!? Yes. I was there. I experienced it with my own three senses.

She has an amazing ability to recreate exact vocal phrasings across performances, so much so that it makes me wonder if she has really ever pushed the limits of her voice -- remarkable considering what's she has been recorded doing with it. She closed with a vocal tour de force, "Look for Me (I'll Be Around)," her cover of the Dee Sylvia / Guy Wood song, and it was delivered with every bit as much power, control, and range as she showed in the studio version on "Blacklisted." I was almost in tears (there and elsewhere), but I hid it, not wanting any rowdies hatin' on me.

My only disappointments: she didn't play "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" or "Furnace Room Lullaby," two marvelous title tracks.

She was, somehow, the opening act for Merle Haggard. Every question I had about Merle Haggard (and I had many) was answered when the dude sitting directly in front of me sat down in his newly-purchased Merlet-shirt emblazoned with insipid patriotic slogans of a sort that would make even the robot Toby Keith blush with shame. That's when I started to reflect so wistfully on the recently-circulated internet-based footage of hicks damaging themselves, and despaired that they weren't selling Merle Haggard swords.

Oh well, that's what suggestion boxes are for. I have nothing else to say about Merle Haggard's performance as I didn't stay for a single note of it.

It's small of me to point out that Neko's drummer looked and played like someone they pulled in from a high school jazz band. If I didn't love Neko and drumming more, I'd let it go.

The show was terrific, absolutely terrific. I scored a Neko Case concert t-shirt that I'll probably take off one of these days.