Archives for November 2010

Calling All Novelists with a Penchant for Describing Cracked Marble Slabs, Burning Secular Temples and Limping Towers of Power…

Not that we want to indulge the weirdly self-cancelling (and cell-cancelling) Mr. Hitchens on all his whims, but on this one he seems on the money.

Though I don’t know why he misses the obvious first step in the right direction.

And why no mention of Allen Drury ?- He may not be in Henry Adams’ league, but he’s surely got a bit more sand than Baldacci, Clancy, et al.

Godsbody: More Today’s News Yesterday!

So Rep. John Conyers recently spent some quality time with Playboy whilst on an airplane. Reminds me of this bit from way back. Which, as it happens, I worked up into a proper Today in Porn segment for Book Two. What follows is a trifle icky, read at your own risk…


For a while there, comedian Tom Green made a career out of making people uncomfortable, doing with relish the sort of things that might cause reg’lar folks to blanch. So I’m sure he won’t mind if I enlist his imaginary help here.

Picture Green in a major airport – say, O’Hare in Chicago. It’s noon on Friday in July – lots of businessmen headed home, lots of families headed out on vacation. He stops into a Hudson News, wanders over to the magazines. For a while, he feigns interest in Harpers and The Atlantic. Then he reads the cartoons in The New Yorker, puts it back, and gets down to business. Slowly, methodically, he takes a copy of every porn mag on the rack: Playboy, Playboy Book of Lingerie, Penthouse, Hustler, Club, Gallery, Penthouse Letters – the whole shebang. Gets in line behind a mom and her two kids; smiles, says hello when she looks at him and his selections.

Next scene: on the plane. Green has a middle seat, between a youngish businessman and a woman in her fifties. Casually, he reaches into his bag, pulls out his magazines, and begins tearing off the plastic wrappers. The man and woman stare at him, goggle-eyed, but say nothing. Then he starts paging through, the magazine laid flat on his tray table. After a while, he starts making appreciative noises. “Mmm. Mmm-hm. Whoa. Whoof. Geez, will you look at that.” He turns to the businessman. “Will you look at that? That’s incredible. I mean, isn’t that incredible?” Businessman rolls eyes, looks away.

The fiftysomething woman is offended as hell, but can’t bring herself to say anything to Green. She’s too embarrassed to even speak to him. So she gets up, goes to the rear of the plane, and talks to the flight attendant. Flight attendant approaches Green.

“I’m sorry, sir, I’ll have to ask you to put those away. You’re making the other passengers uncomfortable.”

“’Making the other passengers uncomfortable?’ If I smelled bad, would you bring me deodorant and make me put it on?”

“Sir, you can’t read those here.”

“Who says I’m reading? Look, there’s nobody under 18 next to me. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to look.”

“Sir, it’s inappropriate material for…”

“If you’ve got a problem with porn-o-graph-ic the material, take it up with the people at Hudson News. This stuff is for sale in every airport in America, and you’re saying I can’t enjoy it on a plane? I’m not hurting anybody, and I’m not doing anything illegal. Leave me alone.”

“Sir, if you won’t cooperate…”

“Oh, now you’re threatening me? You’re thinking you’d maybe like to take this to court? No – never mind. Forget it. Fine. I’ll put it away. Bunch of fascists.” He closes the magazines, stuffs them into his bag, disgusted.

After a couple of minutes, he pulls out the Penthouse, gets up, and heads for the lavatory. He waits his turn, goes inside, and stays inside. After a while, he begins to moan softly. “Unnnnnnnnh. Ooooaaaaah. Mmmmmm.”

The passengers in the back row get agitated. They speak to the flight attendant. She knocks on the door. “Sir?”

“I’m not FINISHED in here!” snarls Green through the door.

She turns to the passengers, her face full of helpless misery, and shrugs. A couple of minutes and one or two loud cries later, Green emerges from the bathroom, relaxed and grinning. He wipes his hand on his shirt, lets out a contented sigh, returns to his seat, and falls asleep.

If you were a passenger on the plane, would Green’s actions have made you uncomfortable?

[Thanks to JOB for the Conyers tip.]

Godsbody: Today’s News Yesterday!

So, “a casting director has been fired from The Hobbit after placing ads in New Zealand newspapers specifically calling for actors with ‘light skin tones’ and dismissing another actor by telling her she was ‘too dark’ to appear in the film.” The AV Club, God bless ’em, notes that “Peter Jackson’s production company released a statement clarifying that the casting director had acted totally alone, and that it had never made any explicit specifications that they should only be auditioning white people. All it ever did was make three Lord Of The Rings films without any black people.”

They should have listened. [Scroll down.]

More Good News from Congress

They have a way to go, though. Woid on the street has it that Chris Christie keeps his digs in a Dunkin’ Donuts washroom somewhere on the outskirts of Trenton.


“Lukas points out that one of the beauties of his Bally is that it is asymmetrical. Early pinball machines had symmetrical playfields – symmetrical thumper-bumpers – but in time they became free-form, such as this one, with its field laid out not just for structure but also for surprise. Lukas works in this room – stacks of manuscripts on shelves and tables. He has been working for many months on a book that will weigh five pounds. It will be called Nightmare: The Dark Side of the Nixon Years – a congenially chosen title, implying that there was a bright side. The pinball machine is Lukas’s collaborator. ‘When a paragraph just won’t go,’ he says, ‘and I begin to say to myself, “I can’t make this work,” I get up and play the machine. I score in the high range. Then I go back to the typewriter a new man. I have beat the machine. Therefore I can beat the paragraph.’ He once won a Pulitzer Prize.

“The steel ball rolls into the ‘death channel’ – Lukas’s term for a long alley down the left side – and drops out of side off the low end of the playfield, finished.

“‘I have thought of analogies between Watergate and pinball. Everything is connected. Bumpers. Rebounds. You light lights and score. Chuck Colson is involved in almost every aspect of the Watergate story: the dirty trucks, the coverup, the laundered money – all connected. How hard you hit off the thumper-bumper depends on how hard you hit off the slingshot depends on how well you work the corners. In a sense, pinball is a reflection of the complexity of the subject I am writing about. Bear in mind, I take this with considerable tongue-in-cheek.’

“With another ball, he ignites an aurora on the scoreboard. During the ball’s complex, prolonged descent, he continues to set forth the pinball philosophy. ‘More seriously, the game does give you a sense of controlling things in a way that in life you can’t do. And there is risk in it, too. The ball flies into the ellipse, into the playfield – full of opportunities. But there’s always the death channel – the run-out slot. there are rewards, prizes, coming off the thumper-bumper. The ball crazily bounces from danger to opportunity and back to danger. You need reassurance in life that in taking risks you will triumph, and pinball gives you that reaffirmation. Life is a risky game, but you can beat it.”

– from John McPhee’s 1975 Essay “The Pinball Philosopher,” collected in his book of essays Giving Good Weight. Lukas goes on to an illegal(!) best-of-five match against New York Times film critic Tom Buckley in the game room of a Times Square peepshow hall. It’s an epic contest, and a wonderful essay.

The Kickapoo’s answer to Flannery…

UPDATE: If you’re at all piqued by this rural Mona Lisa, you might like this.

From the March 24, 2004 Globe Gazette out of Iowa somewhars….
By Dick Johnson
VIROQUA, Wis. — An old bachelor from Viroqua once offered Pearl Swiggum advice about her weekly newspaper column, “Stump Ridge Farm.”
“Nobody will ever read your stuff but women,” the bachelor said.
He took another look at the stories, most of which detailed a lifetime of farming adventures in the hills of southwest Wisconsin.
“Then he read it himself,” Pearl said, “every week.”
Since 1989, Pearl has hooked Globe Gazette readers with those tales of curious farm animals, sunny and not-so-sunny childhood memories, making do in the country and surviving in the city.
She has written the folksy column for 46 years overall.
Now she’s ready to relax. Her final “Stump Ridge” columns is published today (it also appears in the Wisconsin State Journal and in four weekly papers in the La Crosse area).
Pearl has a perfect right to retire. She turned 90 — a very young 90 — this past Wednesday. A birthday party is set for today.
“I guess it means not having to meet deadlines,” she said. “And I don’t want to travel. I would like to see Norway — but if they bring it here.”
Pearl was born in the unincorporated village of Towerville, about 12 miles from Viroqua. Her family subscribed to the La Crosse Tribune and Pearl liked to read features about interesting people.
“So I just started taking pictures,” she said. “This first editor (Glenn Hagar, of the Crawford County Independent in Gays Mills) told me I like long words. He said, ‘Keep it plain.’ Pretty soon I was selling.”
Pearl’s weekly column, ever humorous, had different names until Pearl and her husband, Tillman (“Punk”) Swiggum, purchased Stump Ridge Farm from Pearl’s uncle, Carl Stevenson.
The farm near Towerville was named for a stretch of land between two highways, on which a horse-drawn sleigh once rammed a tree stump and deposited its passengers in the snow.
“I wanted to live on the farm all the time when I was a kid,” Pearl said. “I would beg to go stay overnight with a friend on the farm, and she wanted to play with dolls and I wanted to be in the barn. I would give in, but gee, I wanted to be in the barn.”
Pearl moved to Viroqua in 2001. But she often returns to mow the grass at Stump Ridge. The farm is now owned by her son, Jim.
Retirement means ditching her nemesis — new-fangled technology.
“That’s at least half the reason that I’m going to quit writing, is that computer,” Pearl said. “Last week, whatever my little finger did, everything moved halfway off, to the right. I don’t touch it for the column, unless she’s (an “office girl” at her apartment complex) here.
“But I do think that once I quit, I’m going to get a game on there. Then it wouldn’t matter if I goofed.”

Someone remind me why I live here.

I know. It’s because the houses in California aren’t insulated, isn’t it? Yeah.

Advent Meditation: Thanksgiving Edition

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

James 5:7-8

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Dignity

House of Words tie-in.

Christmas Soup for the Atheist Soul

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Read January 1996. A fun little ride, including a fun little made-up religion called Bokononism. But not very fleshed-out. A fun little end of the world, but Vonnegut seems tired, like a tired Tom Robbins. What I liked the most: (1) the excerpts from the Books of Bokonon, and Bokononist concepts such as the karass (which is a genuine but mysterious and mystical connection between certain people) versus the granfaloon (which is a false connection between people, like being fans of the same sports team); (2) the little ironies brought out in the chapter headings.


Today we Google ourselves to see what the world knows about us; tomorrow we’ll just watch the ads. The outlines of this can already be discerned in Gmail’s sometimes tactless data mining of your emails: write a friend that your cat has died and you learn, cruelly, of discounts on litter. And the extension of precision-guided advertising into social life is also there to be seen in Facebook’s “friend recommendations,” where, once we’ve added all our close friends and colleagues and vague acquaintances, we see nothing but ads for people we know of but can’t possibly ask to “friend” us—exes of significant others, secret crushes, CEOs. Personalized advertising will first solicit our minimal discretionary income and then, accidentally, show us what we badly want but can’t have.

Chastity’s Tassles

The all-girl Catholic punk band out of Soldier’s Grove, WI.

Birthday hangover haiku

Yesterday was Quin’s
birthday. Quin’s the Catholic blog-
osphere’s Hugh Hefner.

Before there was Google, there was Arnobius…

Sestina on Six Words by Arnobius of Sicca

Cuius rei tesimonium argumentumque fortunae, suis prodidit in carminibus Vates Thracius;
talos, speculum, turbines, volubiles rotulas, et teretes pilas, et virginibus aurea sumpta ab
Hersperidibus mala. (Arnbobius, The Case against the Pagans, 5.19)

In olden days, the bones of men were knuckled dice
The gods of sacrifice played on their mirror
Of smoke to beat the human race. Like spinning tops
Ingenious men took crops from clouds, invented wheels
And stole fire from the sky. Hercules even had the balls
To run away with Hera’s golden apples –

Of course resisting Eden’s read on fallen apples,
Does theogony fail as theophany dies?
Defiantly, emboldened tongues mute the mere roar
Of divinity with the whispering mystery that tops
Off the Golden Age, eclipsing Ezekiel’s wheels.
See, as vaulting Atalanta rolls on the balls

Of her feet and falls off her balance. How she bawls
Her golden tears! – her heels all smeared with apple’s
Amber pith. She stumbles like tumbling dice;
Malanion her out-of-breath admirer
Receives her into his hands. Then he easily tops
This feat: his wedding copse pays out in nuptial weals.

Alas, how the victor feels the slow, revolving wheels
That crush golden cider from vintage apples –
And fresh blood from ancient justice (just as leaden balls
Will roll from balance dish to cannon’s prejudice)!
Let it suffice that these newlyweds’ chose, more or
Less foolishly, Jupiter’s temple to crop the tops

From chastity’s tassles. Stopped in their tracks – their tops
Became the golden manes of regal commonweals
And avatars of the first public court of appeals.
But Atalanta and Malanion are no more oddballs
Than any other exiles – as the Hesperides’,
So other gardens yielded up the same error.

Even today, we outdare the gods to mar our
Universal complexion – pulling out all stops
To foreshorten the finish line. But victory wheels
Around and smacks us in the gob. Our greed appalls
Even vice’s piety – but rolls many more balls
With less friction than any old paradise.

So Eden’s apples in winter winds seem to mirror
The clicking clack of dice – but eyes are crystal balls
That see hubris not spinning tops but spinning wheels.


Amazon writes: “We’ll run a four-hour Black Friday Lightning Deal on “Mad Men” seasons one through three at $7.99 each on DVD and at $9.99 each on Blu-ray if we get 50,000 people to click the ‘Like’ button on the Movies & TV Facebook page by Thanksgiving.”

So far they’re up to around 13,000. Just letting folks know.

ALSO: I once used the microfinance site to finance part of a comic-book project I was working on. A couple of days ago, I heard from this fellow, asking if maybe I could help spread the word about his project. It seemed interesting and ambitious. Here’s the video:

Based in Dripping Springs, TX!

So now you know.

Toward Sustainable Coal Mining

What will they think of next?


 ARTS & CULTURE – Succinct, Not Pithy – Poetry – Ciara Shuttleworth – Sestina – The New Yorker