Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Joy Of Bubbles

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dear Poet, Please Consider These Peanuts.


why are all of your poems about death?
even your poems about sex
are about death.
and so are your poems of longing
and the universe and youth. Death
follows your verse like pigpen’s dust cloud.
you carry death around like linus’s wubby.
you pounce on it’s keys like Schroeder’s piano.
poems about bright red yo-yos that go up
and down on a snowy white string
evade you like the football that Lucy pulls away
from Charlie Brown in the last second.
i can see death has even gotten into this poem.
he is in the room with me now, picking at his
tooth with a long bony finger.
he’s saying something to me now,
but I can’t understand him
through his warbly and distorted adult voice.

from Mule & Horse.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Local Kid Makes Good, part 2


Okay, my first official trial run. I practiced balancing in my spare moments throughout the week, using crutches in place of training wheels. The guy at the bike shop suggested I use ski poles, but I don't have any of those, so it was crutches. Balancing on a unicycle was more difficult than the girl at school made it look, but it was fun to get the equilibrium down: "Life is a great balancing act", as the great man said.

So, I'm rolling now. Nothing spectacular (I did bite the dust a couple of times), but I'm on my way. Hopefully by next month, I'll have the training wheels off, and still have a face.

video

Willie: I hope I'm not moving into your territory too much with all of this cycle talk.

Ebert Scores Again

How I Believe In God, By Roger Ebert. With the exception of the last sentence, the bottom line of this essay is a very close replication of my own feelings.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Having Your Heroes Handed To You



My wife and I finally sat down last night to watch Milk. Overall, it was what I expected. Sean Penn turned in another solid performance, as did Josh Brolin (Brolin turns in one of the most convincing drunk scenes I've ever seen). The film was shot skillfully, and I was sympathetic to the subject matter: I'm about as liberal when it comes to sexual politics as you can get. But something in me refused to budge for the movie, and I went to bed feely oddly ambivalent; not about Harvey Milk or gay rights, but about the film.

I think there are two reasons why.

First, and perhaps most superficially, I feel like the movie focused too much on the the political Harvey Milk. Sean Penn's portrayal of him was compelling, and it would've been interesting to see more of his life. I know it probably wouldn't be such a great idea in our A.D.D. culture, but what this movie really might've needed was an extra hour.

The second factor may not be the movie's fault, although I suspect maybe a little of it is. The Zeitgeist message about this film seemed to be something along the lines of, 'This is an important film. You will watch it, you will admire Harvey Milk, and you will expand your consciousness on the issue of gay rights.' I was ready to believe. In fact, I was sure I would believe. But I didn't.

I admire what Harvey Milk did, and I appreciate his position as the first (openly) gay man elected to U.S. high office. Harvey Milk was a patriotic American who risked--and ultimately lost--his life to advance the rights of his fellow citizens. But I don't believe in saints, secular or otherwise, and I don't like having my heroes handed to me.

I can't put my finger on exactly why, but I am also bothered in a fairly profound way by the mythologizing of human beings. George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harvey Milk...all men who made themselves consequential, all men who engaged the world in the name of something bigger than themselves. There's just something about the way that we choose to remember them that robs them of their human status, that makes them seem like demigods. In our mythologizing, we forget that Washington was a slave owner, or that Lincoln loved to tell dirty jokes. We forget that Dr. King struggled with the bottle, and with marital fidelity, and, while I don't have the full story on Harvey Milk yet, I got a clear sense of things the movie wasn't telling me about him. If you ask me, the aformentioned aspects of these men make what they ultimately did seem even more incredible. That a guy like me--some shmuck with weaknesses, appetites, and doubts--could aspire to change anything at all is absolutely inspiring. It makes me wonder why we erase these parts of our heroes' lives. Is it because if we accepted that they too were fully human, then maybe we'd run out of excuses as to why we haven't engaged our lives as fully as possible? Or is it that if we hollow out these men into mere symbols we can suddenly stuff them full of the things we want, turning them into monuments to our own ideas, aspirations, and biases?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I'm learning how to handle ambiguity.

" Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is possible that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never had much temptation to be human beings." -George Orwell

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wednesday

Me: Lou, Could you help me over the hump?
Lou: It's all hump, baby. Buy a better pair of shoes.
Me: Hm.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Happy Things

I was going to steal an idea from Molly Gaudry, and make a list (in paragraph form) of things that make me happy, but then I realized that I kind of already did that, and would probably just be heavily plagiarizing myself if I did it again. I can make a few additions to the list however (think of them as bonus tracks) : Unicycles and Slinkies. Very cool things. The Unicycle is self explanatory if you follow this blog at all, but the slinky is pretty new. On the way home from school today, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some ingredients to make vegetarian chili with, and somehow wound up in the store's meager toy aisle. They had some play-dough, some coloring books, a few board games, and two Star Wars action figures (Lando Calrissian and some old guy in a grey suit). But they also had the Slinky. Several Slinkies. I bought two of them in a fit of inspiration, and brought them home for my sons. We spent the evening racing them down the basement steps. What's better than that?


Teabags to the Future

Look at all the nooses. They hung them in a flurry, anticipating a revolution that never came. All of those empty-eyed nooses, they’re winking at us baby; because we didn’t go crazy

or buy a gun.

The would-be insurgents all feel silly now,with their stashes of bibles and bottled water.

Were they really going to do it to us?
Were they really going to burn it down?

A revolution staged at Waffle House. A revolution of riding lawnmowers. A revolution so efficient, everyone was home in time to watch C.S.I.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Local Kid Makes Good

Well, not yet, but I'm on my way. My New Year's resolution was to learn how to ride a unicycle, and now stage one of the process is complete. I've made the purchase:


Now, it's just a matter of learning how to ride the thing.

Short video clips of me falling on my face will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Medicine Cabinet Recommends

A few items that have recently caught my eye:

1. Michael Shermer on Why Darwin Matters to Creationists.

2.Dan Gilbert talks about the evolution of Happiness:



3. David Horowitz talks about the backlash he got from suggesting that his fellow conservatives should start thinking rationally about their opposition to Barack Obama.

4.The Equestrian in the Can, by Rebecca Schjumeda

5. Christopher Hitchens takes Mos Def to school, but I don't think Mos will be graduating:



6.Doubt. I just got around to watching this movie; great performances, great writing. It doesn't waste a moment, and is still with me the day after.

7.50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice, by Geoffry K. Pullum

8. Bill Frisell's Ron Carter. Enjoy yourself:

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Sushi Chronicles

Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies. I started--like many people--with homemade spaghetti sauce. It took me awhile to come up with just the right mix of spices, oils, and other chopped up ingredients, but the final product was worth it, and is ever evolving. After conquering spaghetti sauce (does anyone really ever conquer spaghetti sauce?) I began to experiment with a variety of world dishes and vegetarian styles, and came up with a few inventions of my own; I'll work on a dish pretty regularly until I get what I feel to be an authentic thumbs up from my wife and kids, and then will move on to the next thing.

That next thing is Sushi.

My wife and I have been hitting this little sushi joint near our house for about a year now on our weekly dates, experimenting with all of the different variations, and learning all kinds of cool new words. It's fun to sit at the bar and chit-chat with the chef as he does his thing, and the food is delicious.

For some reason, it had never ocurred to me that I could make sushi. It just seemed really complicated and intricate, and I've always been a little touch-and-go with rice based meals. But one day, I said what the hell; I googled sushi, got a recipe, and went down to our local Asian market to get all of the necessary ingredients. Not much to it at all, it turned out. Boil some rice, lay down a piece of seaweed on a slab, chop up your desired ingredients, spread a thin layer of rice down on the seaweed, top with vinegar and the ingredients, roll tightly, cut and eat.

It took me a couple of tries to make it not look (or taste) totally amateurish, but I think I'm on my way. I had to realize that you need to wet your knife frequently while cutting up the rolls, in order to prevent tearing. Another good lesson learned was to roll the sushi pretty tight, so the seaweed absorbs some of the juices, and isn't too chewy.

My most recent attempt:

It's not there quite yet, but the family seems to dig it:

Next up: Nigiri!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Exactly

Sometimes the only proper way to end a long day is with a glass of scotch and the Tord Gustavsen trio:



Of course, you'll have to supply your own scotch.

Monday, April 6, 2009

zzzz...

I went to bed last night at nine o clock and woke up this morning at seven. A miraculous ten hours of sleep. I don't think I've done that since high school. I was able to achieve this magical sleep because the kids are on spring break, my wife is on vacation, and I don't have work or school until one pm. In fact, I'm the only one awake right now. I'm sitting in my living room in a comfortable chair, wearing sweat pants and listening to the local classical station. The smell of coffee is wafting over me, and I can hear birds singing outside. This feels like a small coup.

I took all of the amazon ads off my side bar because 1.) There was something wrong with the code in one of the htmls, and it was causing error messages to show up on several people's computers when they visited my site, and 2.) because Amazon is seriously scaling back it's affiliate program, and 3.) I wasn't making any money off of those ads anyway.

My decision had nothing to do with personal integrity, I assure you.

What a day lies ahead of me! It rained last night, so I'm not going to mow the lawn this morning. I haven't done any yard work since Spring has arrived, and the inevitability of it is looming, but no worries. I do have a little bit of reading to do for a class today, and there's a psych. of personality class later, but today will largely be a day hanging out with the family.

I don't know alot about classical music, but I can pick out a few people. Bach is noticeable for the most part, as is Schumann, DeBussey, Mozart, Vivaldi, and Beethoven. I have a CD by Gavin Bryars, and one by John Adams that I listen to occassionally, but overall, I don't think my brain is patient enough for classical music. I play it sometimes during get-togethers or dinner (as white noise), but I become fidgety when I sit down to listen to a long orchestral piece. Two exceptions to this are Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which rivets, and a CD of Mozart pieces that Uri Caine put out a couple of years ago that is a little jazzed up, but still mostly true to the author's spirit. Overall though, I'm a classical philistine. My feelings towards classical music are similar to my feelings towards sports: It's nice to get dressed up and go out to eat, and then go see a performance with some friends, but in my private moments, it's far from the first thing I reach for.

The song on the radio now is by John Williams. I can tell because I have an overwhelming feeling of destiny sweeping over me, like a battle is in the offing, and I'm going to be a key player. Some kind of odds will need to be overcome, and there will be a damsel that is going to need rescuing (but more importantly, kissing). Somebody's going to need to rally the troops with a stirring speech.

Since I'm the only one up right now, I guess that duty falls to me. I hope there aren't going to be too many slow-motion scenes, because I get nauseous very easily.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How Should Man Relate To God?

My little sister tells me this anecdote: When she was very young, someone asked her whether or not she worshipped God. Having picked up that—colloquially— “worship” is inappropriate, i.e. Betty ‘worships’ New Kids on the Block etc, she told this questioner that, ‘I love God, but I don’t worship him.’

It was a funny anecdote when she told it to us a few years ago, because in our culture worship is typically the only acceptable way for man to relate to God. My sister’s anecdote works on that level: An innocent child raised in a lukewarm religious environment hears all of the prohibitions on worshipping things, and thus applies that prohibition to the one place where it’s acceptable.

The anecdote was funny then, but as I look back on it, it seems absolutely prescient.

Being that there is no empirical evidence to support divine authorship of any of our religious texts*, how should we humans position ourselves in relation to a possible God? Religion as a whole has not provided anything but flowery diversions to support its claims about the nature of God, so, the impetus for proof being on the claimant, we can feel comfortable about telling Religion to come back and talk to us when you’ve got something a little more substantial.

But God is a different thing than religion. Why is worship our natural response to God? Maybe that’s not what he wants. He made us with these questioning and capable intellects. Maybe he wants something else. Maybe he doesn’t want anything. He certainly hasn’t made any unambiguous requests. I’ve heard many skeptics say something like, ‘If there’s ever evidence, I’ll be the biggest churchgoer there is.’

But why would discovery of the existence of God lead you to worship? We’re still thinking within the boundaries established by revealed religion, which is dubious at best. Worship and submission are useful to bind communities together, and to bolster the leadership of the community that employs it. God, being a greater intelligence and beyond our current grasp, is probably not threatened by our independence, and—from the apparent lack of intervention in this world—may not even be interested in binding our communities. If God exists, he’s established a universe that works by its own materialistic laws, without his direct aid. This is a wonderful accomplishment, and is the hallmark of someone somewhat aloof from the situation. I had a manager once that told me his work principle was to do his job so effectively ** that he would become redundant. This also appears to be God’s work principle, and he has succeeded at it smashingly.

So, in respect for this skilled craftsman who prefers his privacy, I am going to honor his possible invention in this fashion: I won’t kneel and contemplate intentionally obfuscating mysteries, or tithe to a church (although I’ll tip generously at restaurants), or preach the questionable virtue of blind faith to my children. Instead, I will attempt to live this life with all of my attention. I will be contemplative. I will be considerate of my fellow creatures. I will examine evidence, and not shut off my mind to contrary information. I will also prefer ambiguity to falsehood. A prayerful*** and awake life is the only fitting tribute I can imagine to a creator so skilled as to leave no trace of himself in his creation.

If I can leave this world having made it only a modicum better, having left the landscape of my relationships relatively undefiled, I will have been successful in emulating the model left by the one that [may have] pushed over the first domino.

If there was an intelligent first cause, it covered its tracks. The best way to give this cause due props may be to pass over consideration of it altogether, and to live as fully in this world as we can; as if it were the only and best one we could ever hope for.





Joe Henry performs 'God Only Knows', from his CD Civilians


*Science of course (as a verb), is the only method by which we can make any good-faith claims at all about the nature of things.
**Our job was to troubleshoot the system to make production more seamless.
*** “Absolute unmixed attention is prayer.”-Simon Weil