Friday, June 29, 2007

Sicko--Brief Observations

I went to see the movie today on a whim--got in the car about 3 minutes after deciding to go and walked into a showing just at the end of the previews--and a couple of things crossed my mind on watching the movie. The first thing is possibly going to surprise some of those familiar with the story surrounding my appendectomy, but I'm glad in a way that I had it in Russia. The severity of my case meant about 5 days in the Reanimation (their version of Intensive Care) ward and another 4 in a private room as I got over peritonitis. total cost for the procedure, the drugs, the awful food, and the private room added up to around $4500. I certainly wouldn't repeat the experience--I have but one appendix to give to the Russian Cause--but I certainly can't imagine how much an equivalent stay in an American hospital would cost. It certainly would have cost substantially more than $4500.

The second thing that made my mind go off on a parallel track for a minute or two occurred when the movie moved to HMOs looking to reduce costs. The easiest way they do this is to deny claims. Personal Disclosure Moment: Due to a facial injury I sustained years before in a motorcycle accident, a bunch of capillaries merged on my lip into something that looked like a blood blister. One winter evening, my chapped lips split, right over that damned thing. I bled like a piece of thawing liver for about two hours before I finally broke down and decided to go to an emergency room. Before I did so, I made sure to call the HMO to get "clearance." The gal, when she heard how long I'd been bleeding, told me to get the heck off the phone and go right away. The phone looked like a murder weapon, and the bathroom wasn't pretty at all by this point. So I went. The thing had to be cauterized to be got rid of. Twice, once by a specialist. My claim was denied. The reasons were idiotic even to my non-health-care-expert eyes. I had to write a long letter and my regular doctor did too before the HMO decided to--grudgingly--pay what they should've paid. They bank on the chances that you'll give up and just pay it yourself. It's their way of maximizing profit while you pay them to do nothing for you.

But the thing that struck me most was the number of handicapped spots in the theater that were occupied, the wheelchairs, elderly folks, and people with crutches that were in that screening room this afternoon. That spoke volumes. People may have their issues with parts of Moore's argument, but seeing the number of disenfranchised and directly-affected folks that are turning out to see the movie, there is little doubt that the system is not helping those it should be. Recommended viewing.

--Photo adapted from Anton Corbijn's video Never Let Me Down Again

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

And off into the Labyrinth

There are Detail people, and Big Picture people. I am, certainly a Big Picture person. I really go for finding connections between things rather than some sort of elucidation on one particular work. It's the connection that is somehow elucidating.
For example, the fact that, at the time I was most miserable at work, finding myself completely divorced from a part of myself that I was beginning to think was going to be difficult to ever regain again, I found the books I was reading, with no premeditation, all had something to do with doubleness. After learning how to read books so late in life, I was suddenly reading something beyond what the books themselves were saying. I filled pages with notes. Tonio Kroeger, Dmitri Merezhkovsky's DaVinci, Prince Myshkin in The Idiot, Dostoevsky's The Double, and Mann, whose work has so much that has that quality: "It is just that which I mistrust from my soul, this dual world; I do not understand the necessity for a breed whose purity can be spoken of only comparatively and in retrospect." Each book I picked up after I finished had something else to add--all tiles that became a mosaic.

Well, as of yesterday, it's down the rabbit hole all over again, and I find few things more exciting. I didn't want to work on windows in this heat, so, while surfing blogs, I found a link to selected scenes from The Shining on YouTube, with the mazelike hallways of the Overlook Hotel mirroring the mazelike 70s pattern of its hallway carpets, which forms a chord with the great maze chase in the snow, which reminded me of the great maze of Danielewski's House of Leaves. Here, mentally, the drops of water falling in the same spot on the floor did more than become a growing bead and started running somewhere. Nicholson the Minotaur. The influence of a dream world. That plus Kubrick led to surfing what available files there were on Eyes Wide Shut (which, incidentally, is the only movie with Tom Cruise I've ever seen), which led to thoughts on dreaming and descent into evil, which brought up the book on which Eyes Wide Shut was based (Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler), which brought up another book I'd read some nine years ago, La Bas by J. K. Huysmans, which has in it a similar secret group with dark motives, and then the water beads rolled off a variety of ways, to Demons of Dostoevsky, Demons of Heimito vonDoderer, all books I've not read for years. One of the bad Anatole France novellas I read two weeks ago, The Seven Wives of Bluebeard, links in with La Bas, which I am rereading, and now suddenly I have 2,000 pages of rereading to do.

Windows? What windows?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sans Sunscreen

I decided to get some RnR today, so instead of working on the windows, or the flowerbed, or the tuckpointing, I took advantage of the rather cooler weather and the still mostly cloudy skies to go to a nearby public pool to read, peoplewatch, and write down observations. I hadn't thought I'd stayed there very long. I read a couple of poems from a lit journal, wrote down some observations, jumped in the water once, actually climbed to experience the slowest, most boring water slide ever constructed, and then I walked home.
I am an incendiary device. I am a fritter. A chitterling. A glowing coal of dermal catastrophe. Having been out often this summer, I thought I was generally out of the woods regarding spontaneous combustion, but I was woefully mistaken. My sides where my arms were are still white, which, when I twist to look at myself in the mirror, makes me look like an enormous slice of nicely marbled bacon. I'll bet sleeping will be a breeze tonight. Last time this happened, I had to sleep with a wet tea towel plastered to my stomach and a fan blowing on it. Ah, bliss. In three days I'll be peeling like a gecko.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Avian Health--A User's Manual

Ok, from various sources, I've heard that the parakeet's name could be Sprite, Keats (which is quite ingenious), and Petey, and another option, which I find greatly amusing, is a nod to the Bible belt in which I live and especially Dorothy Parker, who had a parakeet she named Onan--because it "scattered its seed." This is certainly something my certifiably male parakeet does with alacrity, though not quite in the way the original Onan did. I have millet and grass seed all over everywhere at the moment. I've still not made any specific decision, as I'm sure there are many more suggestions out there, not to mention, this is a potentially temporary harboring of the Budgerigar.

Alice has been generous enough to let me borrow a cage, and has even brought extra food and bird toys for the parakeet. Once I introduced the bird to the cage, the bird hopped right in and since then will have nothing to do with me. It rather takes the joy out of bird ownership. Not that I was wanting the parakeet to crap on my picture frames and down my freshly painted windows, but now it's practically a goldfish. All lookie, no touchie. Sad sad.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Care and Well-being of your Parakeet

It's been quite a full day. I slept longer than I thought I would, with strange dreams I keep forgetting to write down when I wake up. This time, I woke to the sound of my neighboring vacant house's garage door opening. It appears the Bank sent the "preservation" crew the jerk talked about yesterday to winterize the house. But they did much more than that. The crew went in and threw everything in the house into a dumpster trailer. All her homey touches, her curtains, her 50's dinette. Things that actually had use and were nice, like a bookcase, a pet crate, unused storm windows, an air conditioner, the stove, a microwave. Had I known that that's what they were going to do with the poor dead woman's belongings, I'd have told the neighbors to come over the evening before. Possessing a key to the house, I'd have opened it up and let them take what they needed. None of it went to Goodwill or anything. A dead young woman's things in a pile to be carted off for the landfill.

While they were tearing everything out of the house, I found I needed to get myself busy on something to keep from getting uptight about it. I picked up the rest of my leftover aluminum siding that I hadn't sold for scrap, flattened it and put it in the trunk. Under the aluminum siding, when I was taking it off the house, was a layer of asphalt shingle manufactured to look unconvincingly like brick. The corners of this layer were finished off by angle iron, only for some reason the metal was solid copper, which I had decided to keep. I flattened that out and put it in the trunk too. I knew where the nearest scrapyard was, so I left the crew to their ransacking and set off.

The place was closed. Boarded up, even. I drove back home, my trunk lid crunching, in spite of tying it down, onto the raingutters. I found another option. Got into the car and drove there. After driving at geriatric pace to keep from incurring further damage to my trunk lid, I get there and drive up to the scales, hemmed in on all sides by huge equipment and trailers stacked high with flattened Oldsmobiles. A guard stops me. Not only did they no longer take aluminum or copper anymore, but, so the man told me, I'd cut line in front of that massive amount of huge equipment pulling flattened Oldsmobiles. I imagined them cussing me out from their high seats in their airconditioned cabs.

From my brief conversation, it appears that the scrap market in Indiana has had a major upset. You heard it here first, folks. One company has bought everything out. Scrapyards are closed down. This second one I went to worked in bulk and didn't deal with the likes of me and my trunkful of siding. I drove to another place the guard described and waited in line there. Sat patiently in line behind truckfuls of appliances. Wound my way over no-doubt nail-ridden gravel to a garage door, where I waited in line. A kid wheeled a high-power magnet around the cars to pick up nails, etc, but since this was the aluminum/copper line, it wasn't likely that there was going to be much he'd be able to pick up with that. I extracted my scrap; it was thrown on a scale. Outside all sorts of heavy machinery moved with the apparent carelessness of a traveling midway. A 4-clawed thing threw water heaters and stoves across a yard into a dump-truck or a steel container, all with the logo of this new scrap conglomerate; the only thing in fresh paint. The folks at the desk demand my ID. Demand I hand it to them, not just show it; it must be scanned into the computer--with the high price of scrap these days, people have been known to steal the siding off a house to sell for beer money. I get me receipt and cash for $56--copper sells now for over $2 a pound.

Sitting on the porch this evening, I finally get around to writing a letter. In between paragraphs, I look across the street and think as the occasional yellow-green leaf falls from the water-hungry tree that shades much of the east side of the intersection. One leaf falls and acts strangely, tumbles across the street in almost birdlike fashion. I stare at it, but it's hard to make out from where I am. I go back to writing. I look back up after a sentence or so. The yellow-green leaf hasn't moved, then with a breeze, tumbles up the curb to end up in the neighbor's lawn, which seemed to be a bit contrary to the direction of the wind. A bird, really? That color? I'd recently been on websites to confirm that we had a few mockingbirds in the area, had browsed around to see the other birds in Indiana. The catalogue of such bright birds was short, to my recollection. I leave the letter and my glass of wine and get up to investigate.

A lime-green parakeet. Stripping grass of its seed at the curb. It eyes me warily, but lets me feed it. The neighborhood cats will have this thing dead within the hour. With some struggle, I catch it and carry it into the house. It stands patiently on my speaker. Someone's pet, obviously. I canvass the neighborhood. No one has a bird.

I return to the house. I have no cage. I now have birdseed. I have no idea what to do with this bird. Once it gets on my finger, it doesn't want to go anywhere else. It is now sleeping on one of my picture frames. Does anyone have accommodations for a bird? It's truly a wonderful animal--walks like a drunken sailor up my arm and chirrups. I'm also pretty bad at names--a few years ago I found a pet rabbit in my yard, which I named Bunnybunny. I'm up for suggestions.

I read that parakeets need to be in a room where people are, so I moved it out of the back porch, which was evidently a bad room to start with, due to its big windows and so forth (I'd thought mainly of the fact that it has a linoleum floor and nothing I'd be upset about getting poo on) and brought it into the office, where it sat perched on the lip of a glass next to the computer keyboard. It then flew up for someplace to fall asleep, and is now, even as I type, as pictured, no doubt dreaming of pooing on my artwork.

*"Dreams" picture adapted from a still from The Life and Death of 9413, A Hollywood Extra

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Anatole France--Adventures in Uninspiring Writing

The most interesting thing about Jocasta and the Famished Cat is the title. And, upon reading the book, it turns out that the title is actually two titles. Of unrelated novellas. Shoved into one volume. Which changes everything. In both, characters come and go with no real purpose. One starts off with a somewhat interesting scene in which a woman inexplicably falls for a creepy vivisectionist out to prove the Stoics wrong. They were, he says, "dull maniacs who affectedly pretended to despise suffering. If I had one of the barbarians under my tweezers in place of the frog, he would quickly find out if one can suppress suffering by an effort of the will. Besides, it is a good thing for living being to be endowed with the faculty for suffering." The book then slumps into the well-worn track of the hazards of marrying for money. And what a handwringer the wife is: "Poor terrified Helene never ceased trembling." She ceases eventually, but it appears to be her hobby for 90% of the work. It turns out to be France's first book, written in 1873 or so. Well, that's that. Helene at least wasn't as annoyingly wimpy as Germinie Lacerteux in that novel by the Goncourts. I never wanted someone to finally go ahead and die so much as that one. She never appeared on the page without the back of one hand firmly affixed to her forehead. And the fact that she was based on a real person whose last name was Malingre simply can't be beat.

In other news, I decide for the first time all summer to go outside and lie in the sun so as to help fade the stark outline of a tanktop off my torso. Rather than put myself on display in my side yard for all passersby to admire, I chose to spread my blanket close to the neighboring house's garage. The area had plenty of sun and was screened off a bit. Since the house is vacant, my car is in the driveway, which further screened off any views of blinding white dermal reflectivity.

I am just drifting off to that blissful sunbathing stupor when I hear footsteps beside my car. Two people are standing there. With cameras. A bit slow on the uptake, I blink at them a bit, then think that they must be with the bank, which is selling the house. One of them looks at my setup, then at my car, asks, with a bit of are you kiddin me tone, "Are you staying here?" I tell him no. He then tells me that I can't park in the driveway or they will have it towed. This after being asked to park there by the relatives of the previous owner so that the house would look occupied. After more than a year of doing so, of mowing that lawn occasionally, it's don't park here or you'll get towed. Hey buddy, it's not my fault you don't feel self-actualized at work. Perhaps it's all for the best. Further exposure to the sunlight would increase my chances of melanoma. Just see if I mow that lawn again.

*Pix adapted from L'Etoile de mer by Man Ray

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pursuit of Tr-ths--a question of group dynamic

"The experts never get to the end of anything. It's not only that they haven't got to the end of anything today. But they can't even picture the idea of their activities ever being complete. Perhaps they can't even wish it. Can one imagine, for instance, that man will still have a soul once he has learnt to understand it completely and manage it biologically and psychologically? And yet that is the state of things we are trying to achieve...There it is; Knowledge is an attitude, a passion. Actually an illicit attitude. For the compulsion to know is just like dipsomania, erotomania and homicidal mania in producing a character that is out of balance. It is not at all true that the scientist goes out after truth. It is out after him. It is something he suffers from. The truth is true and the fact is real without taking any notice of him. All he has is the passion for it. He is a dipsomaniac whose tipple is facts, and that leaves its mark on his character. And he doesn't care a damn whether what comes out of his discoveries is something whole, human, perfect--or indeed, what comes of them. It's all full of contradictions and passive sufferings and at the same time enormously active and energetic."
--Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities, pp 254

An earlier-written refutation in Nietzsche:

"Joy in the herd is older than joy in the Ego: and as long as the good conscience is called herd, only the bad conscience says 'I.'
'He who seeks may easily get lost himself. It is a crime to go apart and be alone' Thus speaks the herd.
The voice of the herd will still ring within you. And when you say: We have no longer the same conscience, you and I; it will be a lament and a grief. Today you still suffer from the many,O man set apart: today you still have your courage whole and your hope. But one day, solitude will make you weary, one day your pride will bend and your courage break. One day you will cry: 'I am alone!"

While working at my previous job, I sat in the great grey glass room we ate food in, talking about books (a bit), and one of the other phone folks mentioned that there was such a thing as being too smart to be happy. That people who know more than they need to know in order to get by have made their happiness so much harder to achieve. She actively avoided such opportunities to learn new things--said so explicitly there at the table over her microwaved prepackaged lunch in its machine-pleated paper tray. I tried to tell her that the less a person knew the more susceptible they were to being manipulated, that the reason for the unhappiness wasn't that one knows too much, but that everyone else knows too little. Which strikes me now as rather arrogant and elitist. It also must mean I'm in the camp that Musil describes above. The woman I talked to is happily retired, had a fine career there in the cubicles taking phone calls, joked about other people taking so much time to learn so much; is now cozy in her house with Wheel of Fortune and her one evening Michelob Light. Perhaps I do have it all wrong after all...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Happiness is an Absence

"'Can't you hear? Can't you hear the uproar they make? My ears are bursting from it. They all talk at the same time...'" --Librarian Chaudesaigues, on his books

"Success brings hope, hope/ It's not good" --"Happiness" Tones on Tail

It's hot and dry here on the ranch. Hot and dry. My plants are scraping by. Finished up on a novella by Anatole France this evening while I waited on the porch for my house to cool down. As the evening went to night the air became the most luxurious rich wonderment I could hope for, and, in spite of the fact that my porch was essentially a lit stage for the neighborhood, I stayed there with a glass of wine and my book until I finished both, not too long ago.

Anatole France isn't read much these days--I'd found quite a bit of him in various used bookstores and then tapped the mother lode in Cincinnati where I found practically all of his collected works in translation for two to three dollars a volume. I found out later that he was officially banned reading material by the Catholic Church, which certainly upped his cache. At that time I'd read only Thais. Some of his output, certainly, consists of bagatelles, but he does dig down further. It's been hard making myself sit down and read anything, what with all the things to do, the caffeine, the things to do, the caffeine. After finishing a window today I said my next task was to read on the porch. I managed about 10 minutes before I got a brush and put varnish on one of my wicker chairs, started a mental list of things I should do tomorrow, estimated how much time doing another window would take, estimated if the empty flowerpots I had would amount to a full flat of flowers at the garden store. But finally I got to sitting on the porch with the breeze, the candles, the book, and couldn't imagine a better place to be.

The France novella hinged on finding the shirt of a truly happy man for its therapeutic effects on an ailing monarch. Which brings the reader to think on what actually constitutes "happy." It's rather difficult to categorize. The protagonists of the novella have a far harder job of it than they expected. Arthur Schopenhauer--not right about everything, admittedly--seems to be on the right track in stating that happiness is not a positive, but a negative state, meaning that happiness is not the result of the presence of something, but the absence of it: "To measure the happiness of a life by its delights or pleasures is to apply a false standard. For pleasures are and remain something negative; that they produce happiness is a delusion, cherished by envy to its own punishment. Pain is felt to be something positive, and hence its absence is the true standard of happiness."
Happiness in his eyes, then, is a vacuum of sorts. It isn't that happiness comes, it's that the things that bring unhappiness aren't around at the time: "A man who desires to make up the book of his life and determine where the balance of happiness lies, must put down in his accounts, not the pleasures which he has enjoyed, but the evil which he has escaped." In other words, we, in relation to happiness, "must begin by recognizing that its very name is a euphemism, and that to live happily only means to live less unhappily--to live a tolerable life." How north-German. But is he all that far off-base here for all his pessimism? Even Sherman Alexie, in his "pep" talk with us writers in that catacomb of a library section we have our readings in, said that we should not "expect" things or take them for granted once we get out into the great world of the professional writing circuit; to do so will only end in tears. It fits in quite well with Schopenhauer's statement that "the safest way of not being very miserable is not to expect to be very happy." Is the best way to avoid heartache to lower or remove our expectations? Even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his humongous Gulag Archipelago mentions that, upon arrest, Soviet citizens, to best survive, were best served by abandoning all thought of returning to the life they once knew. The reality they were in was their reality, piercing fleas with the pressure of a thumbnail. If doing so meant they were alive another day, that was enough. Is it?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Eyes are to Soul as Windows are to...

Another day, another 12 hours devoted to windows. Things are moving along. I'm reading Anatole France in the evenings, though I dont tend to read all that long, as I'm about ready to drop once I finally get to bed. The sun is up and the days are long and that's when I'm up and get things done. Manic manic Davo. Of course going in regularly to quench my thirst with two large glasses of iced tea doesn't make things less manic. Things are on a system, and when one is on a system, things get rolling. Here we have a before and after view. The original color scheme goes less for vertical and more for horizontal, which fits the lines of the whole house--the windows seem lower and melt away; actually looking more modern than when I bought the house, as seen in the picture--the details, such as the mullions, come out at night with the windows lit. In addition, the overall look indicates a much more wild and rustic setting than the 1950-era treeless manicured lawn setting currently seen in the neighborhood. I will perhaps get to that next spring. More plants and less mutant genetically-engineered lawn is good. I might as well roll while the novelty of seeing nice windows lasts. I'll do the remaining casement window in the library tomorrow, then will work on the double sash windows for the remainder of the week. After that, the kitchen windows are next, and they certainly need it. they don't stay open, they don't stay closed. The only thing that makes me happy is when I need them open. At least they're smaller than the others.

Not everything's been a success. Michelle Smith, a friend of mine from Corporate Hell, was kind enough to let me raid her front yard garden for hostas and ferns, but it appears that even the north side of my house is too sunny for any of them. Watering does no good. The almost solstice-strength sun is too much. They looked good for almost a week, but it's a matter of time.

In better news, the neighbor gave me some daylilies, and they appear to be doing quite well in spite of the dry and hot conditions. If only the garden (the dirt farm in front of the lilies) was doing as well. I've watered, I've worried on them, but the lettuces and chard and moonflower won't do a thing. I'll try replanting, perhaps.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Mason, a Glazier, a Candlestick-Maker

Well, when I'm not making random obser- vations about people in this world wanting to bring about Armageddon such as in the previous post, I work on the house. This week has been quite productive, and has more than likely done quite a bit to elevate the level of lead in my bloodstream. Earlier last week I could have been found squatting in various places beside my house, squishing mortar between the blocks of my foundation. The lime in the mortar dissolves what skin doesn't get abraded off by the sand. The mortar dye outlines each fingernail in black. My career as a hand model is officially over.

I've had to work on the windows for some time. Namely, I've needed to replace the putty that holds the glass in on the outside. Many of my windows look rather like this sad example from my back porch. I decided that I'd just go whole hog and do the full makeover treatment. Having gone as far as ripping my aluminum siding off and painting the house the original colors of 1926, I was disappointed that the aluminum storm windows stuck out. Instead of noticing the house, I'd only notice the fugly storm doors up front and the ugly storm windows. So, I pulled the windows out of the frame, heatgunned off the flaking paint, chipped out the putty, put new putty in, smoothed it so it looked nice, unscrewed the storm windows from the outside, pulled their insides out, and painted those with enamel. The reglazed windows have to wait until the putty hardens, which evidently takes a week or two. Once all the other stuff is dry, I reattach the storm windows to the house and reinsert the glass so I have at least some protection from marauding bugs. Meanwhile, the sash windows cure like hams in the garage. The three painted windows are above.

Before all this, on Monday, I decided to make the storm doors disappear. I've taken quite a few pictures of the front of the house, but found myself trying to block the view of the storm doors, as in the first picture. Pleased with the way the railings disappeared with the application of brown paint, I gave the doors the same treatment, which is an improvement. By tomorrow I should have the dining room windows done. From there, I move on around the house, hopefully finishing all this mess by the end of summer.

Monday, June 11, 2007

God as a Button You Push---a Tr-th

What you are about to read is hardly well-written or complete, but I thought I'd throw it out there. Let's say you're at a party. A big one, and you don't know everyone by a long shot. Not the most thrilling shindig you've been to, but, come to think of it, you really don't have anyplace else to go, and couldn't imagine where you'd go if you left. And you've been there forever, but the party's got enough to keep you going back to the buffet and to the bar, and there are plenty of folks to chat and interact with.

We've all been to such parties. The wine isn't great, but it ain't bad. Such a big party. Jazz music in the living room. Vintage honky-tonk on a boom box in the backyard garden, where people laugh and slap their calves against the mosquitoes. But for some reason you'd like to be out of the party. You'd like to be anyplace but here. You could make a scene. You could throw something from the balcony, potato salad maybe, onto the folks on the patio. You could scream, set the toilet paper roll on fire, be the person that kills the party for everyone else, but why? It's a party, and others are having fun, and that in itself makes the party enjoyable for you, if you think about it; even though you aren't currently talking to someone, are strolling about, looking at the photographs on the wall in the hallway, inspecting the freshly-dusted tchotchkes in the corner cabinet on the landing, hearing various people making unsubtle advances toward others in other rooms as you smooth out the rumpled runner. You're there and the wine is free and the cheeseball is only half gone, shedding its slivered almonds.

It's been a topic I've mulled over a bit in the past couple of years, but recent reading has brought it back from the backest of burners. It's the idea held in more than one religious camp that the final judgment, or the final rapture, or instantaneous transport to Paradise, the big end of the party, is a matter of placing the right events to come to pass in particular order. I am hardly an expert in these matters, but the opinion of certain experts is horrifying.

I'd read earlier someplace about a faction of Christian conservatives--here in the United States, among other places, and they aren't poor or uninfluential--that are actively [yet quietly] lobbying against peace in the Middle East. The reason? Peace in the Middle East, from their particular theological perspective, will get one nowhere toward the Final Judgment. According to scripture, the Jews need to be returned to Jerusalem, and not in a way that makes them good neighbors with people of other faiths next door. Returning the Jews to Jerusalem is one step in some ideologies toward ending things early. Jews and Muslims need to fight each other on a particular field of Megiddo, and with that accomplished, they have one of the fiery hoops one must set up and light in order to activate (surely there can be no other word) God to start His own rule, whereupon those that orchestrated this great slaughter on a patch of sand in the desert will expect to step to the front of the line for the Pearly Gates.

Of course, this is hardly the only example I could include here. The stories are easily available on the Interweb. Further examples of religion used as a wall or a weapon instead of a bridge or personal solace. God as a trigger, as a button one can push, once the stipulations have been fulfilled, to bring about the end of the world and give one Gold Star Status in the starry sky of a final reward. As if salvation can't occur any other way. As if God doesn't have a memory. An ultimately selfish, and therefore fatally flawed, bid toward heaven. People of faith, who proclaim to hold God above all things, reduce, in their arrogance, in the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of it, that very God into nothing more than an ancient mechanism, the potential energy that only a certain Rube Goldberg device (we've seen it in how many different action films of the past 15 years?) will enable to turn into kinetic energy to end the party, to transcend the party, to obliterate the party with another reality that isn't certain, but is certain only in one's faith that it will be. And in that reality one's enemies, whoever they are, will be obliterated, and one's compatriots, whoever they are, will all be spared, and the party can continue, on a different floor in a new building, with no uncertainty as to scruples or social dicta. This is the big After-Party in the sky, in the VIP lounge, where the drinks (not necessarily alcoholic, if that is forbidden) are all free, and the laughing goes on and on, and no irritating song ever comes up on the iPod mix...

Linkage action forthcoming..

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Difficult Listening Hour

I'm gearing up to write more reviews [No, the Haydn still hasn't been touched]. There is a stack of scores next to my bed as high as my mattress--I put my book on top of the stack instead of my nightstand last night. Instead of talking about boring stuff like what I've been doing on my house [tuckpointing my foundation, reglazing windows, stripping paint blah blah], I thought I'd share some things on music I've found during my endless peregrinations throughout the Interweb.

The first is a vid that has me ready to buy some Gyorgy Ligeti. Its a bit heavy on the visual effects, but the playing and the piece are electrifying. Well worth a watch. And the creepy undertone of the whole thing is essentially an ascending motif that anyone that had to do piano practice will recognize.

I find it amazing just what is ingrained in us. Looking Left-Right-Left when crossing the street, even when you're in London and you know better, for example. For those that haven't had the pleasure of enforced piano practice in younger years, and even for those who don't find themselves all that musical, it is amazing the inviolable space that the modern tonal system [temperament] has on each of our internal hard drives. Most of us, even those who can't carry a tune in a bucket still hear a melody that only counts certain tones and leaves out others. Of all the different frequencies in an octave, only 12 are chosen for play. Anything else sounds out of tune. In case you don't believe me, watch this, a performance of a piece by Charles Ives. One piano is tuned precisely a quarter tone up, which means that between the two pianos, there are 24 notes, not 12, to the octave. You get here a half-joking, half-serious piece that includes notes between the cracks. The wistfulness in the last minute is amazingly effective and unsettling.

And for those who still haven't had enough, I'll close with just about my favorite five minutes of piano writing of the 20th century, the first movement cadenza of the Prokofiev 2nd piano concerto. It isn't performed often, which is a shame. I looked all over for good sounding performances that didn't have synch problems, and this is the one I decided on, performed by Nikolai Lugansky, whose Rachmaninov Concertos I'm reviewing sometime in the next 35 years. He smooths out some of the angles in the piece--I like this cadenza as angular as it can get--I keep thinking to write something based on this cadenza, but haven't the slightest idea how. The piece plays as the soundtrack to my dreams, even. Something must be done.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Ok, I'll preface this with a disclaimer stating that I often revise my first impressions and that first impressions are not always right, but I've found the first 80 pages of Michael Chabon's new book irritating. This is my first experience of reading Chabon--I've heard nothing but good of Kavalier and Clay, but haven't yet read that book--so wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I definitely wasn't expecting what appears to be every single cinema Noir cliche to come marching out. In Alaska. An imaginary modern day Alaska. Is this his running shtick? Tell me what I'm missing, folks.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Out with the new...

These, bought at Lowe's, wouldn't even accommodate a new fluorescent.

This original fixture, which I repainted and handcut glass for, does much better.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Further Throwing-up of Hands

Ok, I have ditched the Jules Romains toward the end of Volume 5. There's only so many hundreds of pages of people's paths crossing and recrossing in the French capital in the year 1908 that I can handle before I start looking for something with more to it. Each volume is something like 200 pages and reading it has gotten to be rather like staring about a day too long at an ant-farm. More from proximity than just about anything else, I've picked up Proust, in which one can find interesting things interspersed between extended sections on manners. I'm in a bit of a dry spell where nothing really catches my attention or interest. And speaking of catching interest, I found this Proust bit on music, though it would also carry over to any artistic expression:

"And not only does one not seize at once and retain an impression of works that are really great, but even in the content of any such is the least valuable parts that one at first perceives."

In other words, it's all most likely my fault that it's not working out so well between Romains and me. But, going off for a bit on accessibility and what Proust wrote above, much of pop music appears to take the opposite approach--the hook is the best part of the song. Brit-Brit's Toxic certainly doesn't have much past the hook. In classical music, the slow movement in symphonies and other multi-movement works that modern audiences yawn through was considered the most important, the centerpiece of the work. Now, people focus on the catchy fast movements at beginning and end. Letters has the same issue, with focus on plot and flash. And supposed non-fiction has folks like Ann Coulter with her hot points, which obscure the main point of her argument (or what she later says is the main point of her argument) and tend to blind many to the fact that she can't write her way out of a wet paper sack. But it appears ideals have changed, as well as the values of culture. In essence, I'm restating, for the most part, Brian Dunn's Danielle Steele post of not terribly long ago, only with less polished prose.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Before and After

Once upon a time, Dave had a set of handrails with an accompanying house.

Now Dave has a house with accompanying handrails.