Less posts, more content.


And a happy new year.


Merry Christmas to all.


Working like crazy. Goal is to finish the current chapter before the holidays.


Attempts to organize the Sorrento Street posse tonight crashed and burned (I miss those guys!—resolve to make time next weekend). But Lisa and I had a very nice dinner out followed by two eps of The Sopranos. Some figure skating deal was on when the tape ended. Not genuine Olympic skating: just The 1/3rd Annual Oil of Olay / Carvel Ice Cream Superstar Spectacular or something like that. Lisa called it “Friday Night Women-Without-Dates TV.” (She really is very clever, you know. I think I'll keep her.) “No fair,” I said. “What about Men-Without-Dates TV?” Flipped the channel and the original Terminator was on. Ask and ye shall receive.

We both had dates tonight, so I can be a little smug.


Game ideas?

CIA Jumble.


The fifties remain the haunted house of the American century.
—Greil Marcus



Number 2: We want information. INFORMATION.
Number 6: You won’t get it.
Number 2: By hook or by crook… we will.
The Prisoner

I just read a review article in Nineteenth Century Studies—yes, there is such a journal, and yes, I do read it from time to time—saying that the Next Big Thing in the historical field might be “the history of information.” As in, what did various historical figures know and when did they know it? What networks governed the flow of information in different places at different times? How has the distribution of knowledge determined the distribution of power? Sort of a combo platter of political, economic, and intellectual history with history of technology and communication thrown in. Sound like the work of anyone we know?

The review praised a book by C.A. Bayly called Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication In India, 1780-1870. Bayly has a good question for the more rabid followers of Said & Co. If the British were so out of touch in India, if their vision of the place was such a hopeless Orientalist stereotype, just how did a tiny minority rule unchallenged for nearly 200 years? His answer is: information. The Raj was anchored not by armed force but by control of the Indian press and postal links and existing intelligence networks—a la Kipling’s Kim.

Q: Do you like Kipling?
A: I don’t know, I’ve never Kippled.

There’s a Kim connection in Tim Powers’ Declare. Apparently Kim Philby, British super agent and Commie double agent extraordinaire, was named for Kipling’s little spyboy. Cool irony if it’s true. I’ve just started reading Kim for the first time. Yes, it’s white imperialist claptrap. But it’s really fun.

My friend Pete once had a dream that he should dress up as Rudyard Kipling for Halloween. So he did. I respect him for that—both for having the dream and obeying it.

Crouching Dots, Hidden Dashes...

The review article also covers a book on the telegraph in the modernization of 19th century China, Erik Baark’s Lightning Wires. The Manchu officials had huge headaches aligning their telegraph network with the principles of feng shui. (Let’s not even talk about converting Chinese characters to Morse Code.) In the end the telegraph the Manchus worked so hard to build was an instrumental tool of the Nationalists that brought down the final Imperial dynasty. God help me, but doesn’t it sound like the premise for a wuxia action RPG? White ghosts from Western Union whisper perfumed lies to the ailing Empress Dowager as the Wire Spider spins its web across the Middle Kingdom! Our heroes are the high-flying Fists of Heaven, masters of Morse Fu, bounding along telegraph wires and hurling staccato lightning from their Leyden jars!

Well, at least I started out talking about history. This is why I never get any work done...


Monday the new Thursday. Wine club.




Corporate entities. Leviathan?






Remembrance Day

Happy anniversary.


Red Madness.
Sloan on obsolescence: We will make our fortunes ... not on the satisfaction but on the dissatisfaction of the customer.


Poor little car.


Spizzwinks and Alley Cats
I enjoyed the book Joe College, by Tom Perotta, though it didn't take me much longer to read than it will to watch the movie. The blurb on the back calls Perotta (also the author of Election) “the American Nick Hornby,” which is a pretty fair description of the book's breezy Bridget-Jones-for-boys-style. Perotta's observations on college life—dorm food, erasable message boards, having dinner with your housemates' parents, student journalism, dancing badly to “Rock the Casbah”—will probably be familiar and funny to anyone who went to university between 1960 and, well, whatever year it is now. But it's the ways in which the story is not generic or universal—our narrator is a working-class kid from New Jersey, suspended between his Yalie friends and his blue-collar roots—that make the book deeper and more substantial (OK, a little bit deeper and more substantial) than “High Fidelity USA.” Funny that it took the American Nick Hornby to tackle class issues.

Here's an excerpt that made me giggle. Replace “Yale in 1979” with “Harvard in 1995” and this could be taken word for word from my own diary:

When I arrived at Yale in 1979, I'd been totally unprepared for the centrality of singing groups to campus life, the excitement that surrounded the news that so-and-so had been tapped to be a Spizzwink or an Alley Cat. ... I remembered wanting to laugh out loud the first time I saw the S.O.B.s at our freshman dinner, their heads bobbing up and down like pistons as they mugged their way through that stupid song about putting the lime in the coconut, then slowly realizing that nobody else at my table seemed to find this spectacle even remotely idiotic.

Police report.
Joe College.
Werewolves in their Youth.
Murakami article.
Food & Books. Crisis in Candyland.


Grand Theft Auto
Friday night L & I did dinner and a movie with Dan & MA. Dan and I have been friends for years, but somehow in the last two weeks it's like Lisa & Mary-Ann have lapped our friendship. The girls organized the dinner, the girls chose the movie, and when we all met up on on the Boston Common the girls were a matched set in their hip new leather jackets.

At dinner, we talked about whether class was still a meaningful concept in America, which is pretty funny considering our dinner for four cost around $200. On the way home, Lisa and I had a bizarre and surprisingly dispiriting experience on the Orange Line. This chubby little teenage girl was, well, dancing at us. Doing all these James Brown moves, but right in our faces. It sounds ridiculous, and it was, but that doesn't get across how hostile it seemed, and how pathetically unable we repressed WASPs were to deal with such a weird form of harassment. (OK, Lisa's not a WASP, but she is half-Japanese, which amounts to the same thing.) In retrospect, the best response would probably have been to applaud enthusiastically--that might have defused the situation. Stupidly (if characteristically) I tried to ignore her, which only drove her further up in to our grills, and then L asked, "can I help you?" in her teacher voice, a tactical misstep of colossal proportions.

When we got home, I was thinking all sorts of dark thoughts about class lines in Boston. I'm not certain I belonged at Maison Robert drinking $40 wine, but I also felt I didn't belong in the Roxbury T station with this angry young girl busting her moves in my face. And no, I'm not particularly proud of either sentiment.

The next morning I realized my car had been stolen off the street in front of our apartment.


When a man is tired of Nazi she-devils, he is tired of life.
—Samuel Johnson

So tonight was supposed to be the slam-bang climax to my Adventure! game. (Well, last Thursday was really supposed to have been the slam-bang climax, but that's another story.) But this week, for the very first time, I wasn't excited about playing. Five Wednesdays in a row, I've gone to sleep dreaming about robot apes and slavering green aliens and Nazi she-devils on Mars. Somehow, today, the slimy green butt-probers weren't doing it for me. Don't get me wrong: the game has gone great. It's been chock full of pulpy goodness. I'm getting my GM chops back, and I couldn't ask for a better posse of players. But I just wasn't all the way into it tonight. And frankly, you need 100% enthusiasm if you're going to pitch a story of Shambling Dark Young Mummies from Planet X inside The Nostrils of Doom.

Anyway, in the last half-hour, three of the five players cancelled on me! Any previous week this would've been a major bummer. (Aren't you glad you know a Harvard PhD candidate who still uses the term “major bummer”?) But given my mood, the bailout have been the ideal outcome. And tonight turned out to be a lot of fun. Jeremiah and Susan showed up, and we did something I've wanted to do ever since I met these guys, which is just hang out and talk some sustained, serious geek talk.

Jere, by the way, is a machine. He is a true polymath—at least in his chosen fields of interest, which include, but are not limited to: philosophy, epistemology, conspiracy, mysticism, espionage, the occult, electrical power generation, and the history of just about every place in the world at just about every time. I'm glad my game is a goofy genre pastiche. I'd be intimidated throwing any kind of occult-historical conspiracy at him. He goes without missing a beat from explaining how the Nephilim created humanity as a means of collecting celestial solar-ka, to why the IRA have been supplying semtex explosives to Columbian drug cartels since 1987. And on each topic he mentions five or six books that “you really should read”—all of which he owns, and all of which he will lend you without a second thought. (Susan is super nice and smart and cool too, I should point out, but it's easy for mere mortals to be overshadowed by the Jeremiah juggernaut.)

Be sure to tune in next week, when I'll be rested and ready for our robot-tastic, gorilla-riffic, Nazi-licious, Mars-a-pollooza conclusion!


Jere's game.
Happy Halloween.
Halloweenlinks from Mr. Pants.
All these require sound.


Oh heck, I'm two weeks behind on synopsizing my Adventure! game. In loyal service to my future psychobiographers, I present:

The Red Madness, Episode III: Death Cults of Mars!
I continued stealing blatantly from The Maltese Falcon (with Einstein's Brain as the Falcon), Star Wars ("I find your lack of faith disturbing."), The X-Files (the SS agents on the zeppelin were named Mueller and Sculli, though I'm not sure if anyone caught it), and this week from the classic D&D adventure Pharaoh. The PCs crashed somewhere in the red sands of Mars, along with Eva Hauptmanvogel (a Prussian version of Tintin's Bianca Castafiore). The players can't stand her, but for some reason, I'm very tickled by the image of this plus-size Prussian opera singer trudging across the Martian desert in long pigtails, Viking helmet, and pointy metal bra. Has that image been done somewhere before? They must call it "Space Opera" for a reason.

They didn't go to the Moon so I didn't get to do my Casablanca rip-off:
"Why did you come here?"
"For the atmosphere."
"But the Moon has no atmosphere!"
"I was misinformed."

Anyway, the gang wandered the desert, kept seeing things "just over the next dune," got attacked by giant starfish, befriended a Martian saucer pilot, got captured by a bunch of Martian cultists, and carried off on their sandskates to be sacrificed at the Face of Nhee Ghee (you know, that big face on Mars, the one NASA says doesn't exist).


Look at my pretty new computer!


Return of the King.
I had an extremely vivid dream last night: I was a second banana on a late night talk show. Letterman, I think, which I guess makes me Paul Schaeffer. In this dream I was finally getting my own shot at hosting the show, while Dave and all the writers and crew were on hiatus. But the only help I had in putting it together was me, a second banana of my own, and an overweight janitor. The talk show set was my parent’s basement rec room circa 1979, avec le orange plaid couch and les simulated wood-grain plastic walls.

It was awful. Not the set, the show. I couldn’t read the cue cards, the jokes didn’t make any sense, and there was no way to cut to a commercial. I was absolutely tanking. And of course somehow I knew it was live TV. It was like one of those I’m-back-in-school-and-didn’t-study-for-the-exam anxiety dreams cranked up into overdrive. My only guest was Burt Reynolds, who was supposed to do the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. Burt came out in some ridiculous doublet trimmed with white tiger fur. My sidekick, some raspy voiced dame-of-the-world in the Sandra Bernhardt vein, made a crack about Siegfried and Roy that got more laughs than anything I’d said all night. Finally Burt took center stage, but somehow he’d gotten the wrong mineral water back stage and lost his voice. He croaked out a few hoarse syllables, then went utterly silent. I was panicking, in a cold sweat. The show was a disaster.

Then the overweight janitor stepped onto the stage. When he pushed Burt out of the spotlight I (and the audience) realized the janitor was none other than Elvis Presley, returning to the limelight after all these years.

Elvis grinned. A hush fell over the audience. Then he recited the soliloquy from Hamlet. And he just nailed it. It was absolutely brilliant. A blistering performance. The TV-watching millions went berserk.

This is how Elvis started:

To be or not to be, Mama
That there’s the question.
Well, I’ve tried them both
And Mama, they’re both the same.

I woke up feeling fantastic, and went right on feeling fantastic all day.


The Red Madness, Episode II: Sky Fortress Under Siege!
Hot on the trail of Einstein's Brain, and desparate to cure Dr. Jones (yes, that Dr. Jones) of the fearsome Red Madness, our heroes did battle with the mighty Ro-Kong (a giant radio-controlled King Kong cyborg with a 1930s-style cabinet radio for a head—you know the type) in a high-speed vertical chase up the mile-high New Empire State Building. Mr. Immortal lived up to his name after plunging down the 555-story elevator shaft. Lulu (torch singer by night, secret agent by... well, I guess they're both by night) did her best Fay Wray imitation. Galina, Susan's plucky “girl scientist” PC, managed to subdue the beast by jamming the tango music that the Nazis were using to provoke its murderous rampage with soothing lullabies. But Nina Göring, the diabolical Nazi agent, escaped with Einstein's Brain. So our intrepid gang went undercover on a mighty German ether zeppelin as it set sail for Nazi-occupied Mars.

These players are great. Everyone is diving right into the campy pulp genre and chewing the scenery with gusto.

Best in-character line: Nina Göring and Andromeda, Jessica's imperious Venusian jungle goddess, were having a staredown, a kind of “this blimp ain't big enough for two cruelly beautiful ice queens, sister!” moment. Göring, being a no-good Nazi stinker, was giving Andromeda some attitude about bringing her blue-skinned Venusian lackeys on board the master race's luxury cruise. Göring says something like, “I am a ranking officer of the German Sternwaffe!” And Jess comes back with this: “I am royalty. You're just some frigid bitch with Venus envy!”

Best out-of-character line: The Nazi space blimp gets attacked by a fleet of Martian flying saucers. The players are taken aback, thinking all the bad guys were in cahoots. “Oh no,” I say. “The Nazis and the Martians hate each other.” And Michelle chirps, totally straight-faced: “Just like in real life!”


SeanBaby on weblogs, diaries, online journals, etc.:
You spend 24 hours a day with yourself! Are you really interesting enough to read about yourself at the same time? That's like garnishing your steak with another steak: how fat do you need to be before you find a hobby? Diaries are two things: a written confession used as your parents' testimonial in the case of them against you going to the prom, or a dramatic turning point that turns the Brady family's potato sack races into a spiral of dark secrets revealed. Anything else, and it's just too much, god damn you! Lose the little journal and get on with the comedy, dickhead. I've got a million homepages to get through today.

The Red Madness, Episode I: The Great Brain Robbery!
We started playing my Adventure! game, The Red Madness, last week. It's set in an alternate 1963 which represents the future as seen by the sci-fi pulps and serials of the 1920s and 30s. Ray guns and rocket planes! Square-jawed heroes and luscious dames! The first session introduced our heroes: a dashing rocket pilot, a Venusian jungle queen, a hulking mercenary, a gangster's moll / secret agent, and a lovelorn mad scientist. They met Marilyn Monroe (she's a scientist), beat the crap out of Richard Nixon and G. Gordon Liddy (they're Nazi stooges), and blew up a drooling, bug-eyed Martian (it was a Freemason). Now our heroes are hot on the trail of the evildoers who stole Albert Einstein's brain, but that trail leads directly into the clutches of a giant, headless, radio-controlled, robot King Kong. Fun? You betcha.

Logged some good sittin time, though.


Beth & Scott's. Fur and drool free-for-all. No distinction b. toys for baby, toys for dog.

Adam. Best in years. Funny stories about shit he's been through.

TO. Sometimes visiting those guys is great, sometimes it seems I just missed the exciting stuff. Cats dying, appearing, transsexual porn, puke, etc.


Jamie's. House. Fun. Bring it. Spidey. Cookies and everclear.


Thanksgiving. War.


These are the fruits of thirty years of culture war. Hell-bent to get government off our backs, you installed a tyrant infinitely better equipped to suck the joy out of life. Cuckoo to get God back in the schools, you enshrined a god of unappeasable malice. Raging against the snobs, you enthroned a rum bunch of two-fisted boodlers, upper-class twits, and hang-em-high moralists. Ain't irony grand.

Tom Frank is kicking ass as usual. Check out his latest salvo, The God That Sucks, over at The Baffler.


Mordecai Richler died yesterday. Many thoughts of Duddy Kravitz and Jacob Two-Two today.


Does anyone ever find themselves raring to go, or is it always rarin’?
—just something that tickled me from the archives of James Lileks, the man who brings you the Institute of Official Cheer

Highly Recommended:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
The Authority.
Kiki and Herb.


Hail to the King
I'm reading a novel called Elvis and Nixon, by Jonathan Lowy. It is, by all accounts, the better of the two Elvis and Nixon novels published this year. The other one is by William F. Buckley, if you can believe it.

Elvis thought, in answer: Bullshit. He was no musical thief, no sir, that missed the goddamned point of everything. Listen: Junior Parker moaning “Mystery Train” never got the girl, just whimpered watching that train chug away with his lady in tow. Listen to Smiley Lewis, one repentant guilt-ridden hombre after that “One Night of Sin.” Listen to Hank Williams, or the good old Carter family, bowin’ and scrapin’ for one brooding-ass God, heavy into damnation, working stiffs, and doom, doom, doom. So what did Elvis do? Oh, only jumped that train, searched out that night of sin and reveled in it, laughing ... God was never gonna wreak vengeance on Elvis Aron Presley. God wasn't no petty-ass prude keepin’ score of transgressions. His world was a joyride. That was the message, the new gospel... Fun was not Evil, Sex was not Bad, not in this land of fast cars and bobby sox, not with so little time, so many girls. A foot on James Dean's shoulders, the other on Brando's, he'd overthrown the God of Junior Parker, Smiley Lewis, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, the Carters, and lived.


Our Heroes Carry Fruit Pies
Well, I can't mention the Legion of Doom without a couple of links to the Amazing SeanBaby.

SeanBaby on Wonder Woman and Aquaman:
Wonder Woman's unofficial job on the team was giving Aquaman a ride to any place that wasn't along the water. If you want to see how often that might have been, try to travel by boat to every place you go in the next week. That's probably why Wonder Woman could never finish getting dressed-- she was busy playing taxi for the damn fish idiot.

SeanBaby on Solomon Grundy:
You know, Solomon should go to the mall even if it's not to get a better crime outfit than his Frankenstein halloween costume. He might finally be able to win a fight when the two fat guys with badges and walkie talkies try to kick him out of Cinnabon.

SeanBaby on Hostess Fruit Pies:
In the seventies, villains weren't as deadly as they are now. All it took to be evil back then was a pair of bellbottoms with matching turtleneck and headband. Maybe an afro, maybe just some panties and a cape. One or two of them thought just being ugly would bring the world to its knees, and most times it almost worked. But there was one thing those evil bastards never counted on. Our heroes carry fruit pies.

P.S. Today is Father's Day. Call your Dad and tell him you love him.


To The Battle Robot Mecha-Chickens!
So I’m addicted to Jon Morris’ Online Sketchbuk. He's a wanna-be comic book artist who keeps a semi-regular weblog of his sketches and the stories behind them. His style is clean and fresh and fun, but his ideas are even cleaner/fresher/funner: adorable rave-girl superheroes, even more adorable zombie Frankenstein kids, and fearsome (if not particularly adorable) battle robot mecha-chickens. Currently he's redesigning all of the most idiotic villains from the old Saturday-morning Superfriends cartoon to try and actually make them cool. This may be a Sisyphean task: we're talking about demented bargain-bin rejects like Solomon Grundy, Gorilla Grodd, and Captain Cold (aka the Killer Eskimo). But I love it when intelligent (if perhaps understimulated) people pour hours of effort and creative energy into such noble yet pointless pursuits.

Sound like anyone you know?

(You also have to love someone who imagines the Baroque painter Rubens complaining, "Mama Mia, I was a master of-a form and-a lighting! Why-a you remember me only for-a da fat chicks?")


It's a strange world... Let's keep it that way.
Planetary is my new favorite comic book.



Tenacious D-Day.


The lovers, the dreamers, and me...
Revealed at last! The Hollow Earth / Mojave Desert / MIB / Psychic Vampire / Bermuda Triangle / Philadelphia Experiment / Hopi Indian / UFO / Shangri-La / Nazi / Illuminati / JFK Assassination / Dulce / Dero / Inca Gods / Lost Tribes of Israel / Minotaur / Horlock / Reptile Man Connection. And that’s all on one page!


All Your Erotica Are Belong To Us
There is a perfectly! legitimate! reason! that I found the following link*, but nobody is ever going to believe me when I tell them that. So once you've got all your smart remarks out of your system, why don't you just order yourself up a mess of Weird-ass Japanese So-Called “Erotica”. (Despite what your browser may tell you, you do not need Japanese text support to understand this page. Understanding this page would require a lot more than just that.)

*It was posted at the Amazing Mr. Pants.

Hee hee hee. Common Relationship Misconceptions by David Sedaris:

3. If I buy her a down jacket, she'll let me watch while she gets it on with another woman. “This common ‘wives’ tale’ took hold in Canada and has slowly but surely made its way across the border,” says Clifton Spears, popular speaker…


American Nervousness IV: The Revolution Will Not Be Carbonated
I thought I was done with patent medicines, but this week’s Sunday NYT (5.27.2001—I'm backposting) had an interesting article about the booming market for New Age “energy drinks” which combine gingko biloba and anti-oxidants with massive infusions of good old fashioned caffeine. You know the ones: they come in containers designed by Salvador Dali and have names like Cherry Chakra and Serenity Now. They are, I guess, the new patent medicines: five kinds of pseudoscience in every can! Further proof we are living in the Neo-Gilded Age.

Also: I know I have to stop linking to Grant Morrison, but he’s got another rant about what caffeine and refined sugar and fast food and television and the internet and the Whole Damn Spectacle might be doing to us as a species:

Imagine the Fear and the Fever, spreading out from sweaty white skin to everything it touches. Imagine an entire population sat on its arse, superinjected 24 hours a day with anxiety-generating hypersounds and high-speed images. Every light becomes a frantic manga blur, every face you look at is cartooning into at least one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Imagine everyone’s out to get you but that’s okay because you’re out to get them. Road Rage. Fast food. Acid head execs and Silicon Valley stoners turning trailers and car ads into perfect, screaming recreations of their hallucinogen-fuelled R&D sessions and firing them at your living room. Imagine all the symptoms cranked up to twelve as a way of life. Now. Open your eyes and look around.

If you look past the freaky Morrison-speak, it’s funny how much this sounds like George Beard, ruing the impact of steam-power and the mental activity of women, way back in 1881.

Though Dr. Beard rarely used the term “squirting a little bum-ink.”


The Original Odd Couple
He's a shy vegetarian shaman for the 21st century. She's a virginal bisexual queen of the dead fleeing from a Satanic cult. They fight crime!

He's a short-sighted skateboarding jungle king on a search for his missing sister. She's a mentally unstable green-skinned angel in the wrong place at the wrong time. They fight crime!

He's an ungodly dishevelled ex-con trapped in a world he never made. She's a blind cigar-chomping schoolgirl who inherited a spooky stately manor from her late maiden aunt. They fight crime!

This site is too much fun. I’ve got to send the URL to my buddy SeanR, with whom I have concocted many ridiculous genre-bending ideas for games, stories and screenplays over the years. Think of the time this would have saved us!

Hee hee. When I first posted this it said “many ridiculous gender-bending ideas for games.” Larf.


Big News.
I asked Lisa to marry me. She said yes. I am the luckiest boy in the world.

That is all.


Overheard: George Harrison? What's he ever done? He's like the “Ringo Starr” of the Beatles.


American Nervousness III: The Real Thing
Tell you what. If we come back, and everyone’s been slaughtered, I owe you a Coke.
—Monty Burns

Saturday was the 115th birthday of Coca-Cola, first served at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 5, 1886.

I was talking before about patent medicines. I’d love to see a movie—no, better yet, a musical!—about the weird world of travelling quacks and cranks in late 19th century America, peddling the cure for all ailments in a little brown bottle. The star of our tale, or perhaps the villain, could be Doctor John Pemberton, a student of herbalism and “botanico-medicine” in the antebellum Georgia hills. On this date in 1886, the good doctor went Vino-Kolafra one better, mixing wine and coca (not cocaine as we know it, but yes, the plant from which cocaine is extracted) to make Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. He took out the wine a few years later when the Temperance movement hit town; his successors removed the cocaine in 1903 when the drug became associated with black crime sprees (again with the drunken negroes!) and replaced it with cola extract to maintain the kick. Hey, presto: Coca-Cola is born.

Funny that of all the cures for “American nervousness,” the one that stuck with us was caffeine.

Corporate entities are worth studying. They and other ghosts like them rule our world. So... figure out why the Coca-Cola spirit is stronger than the Doctor Pepper spirit. What great complex of ideas, longings and deficiencies has the Coke logo succeeded in condensing into two words, two colours, taking Orwell’s 1984 concept of Newspeak to its logical conclusion?
Grant Morrison

I can’t believe Morrison didn’t know the answer to this one. Coca-Cola = America. What greater “complex of ideas, longings and deficiencies” do you need? William Allen White called Coke “a sublimated essence of all that America stands for.” Sublimated essence, eh? In one of his Suppressed Transmission columns, my hero Kenneth Hite points out that that sounds like alchemist talk, and launches into a caffeine-fueled jitterbug on the occult-conspiracy history of Coke as the American Elixir of Life.

But even without Black Helicopters and Appalachian witch potions, the true history of Coca-Cola is interesting and a lot of fun. Check out Mark Pendergrast’s book, For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, for everything from the coked-up early years, to the Santa Claus connection (the modern image of Santa Claus is primarily the product of Coke ads from the 1930s), to Coke and the Cold War (Coke as symbol and instrument of America’s cultural and commercial domination of the world).

So happy birthday to my favorite black-magic CIA-financing American-imperialist teeth-rotting heart-palpitating diuretic.


I Feel Like A Hindu Sex God
Grant Morrison is going to be writing the X-Men. A few pages are already available on the web: page 1, page 2. Sample dialogue:

Sunspot activity. Manic depressive mood swings. I feel like a Hindu Sex God, Jean.


John, I love you, and I want you to become a golf pro.
—God, to Johnny Fever, WKRP in Cincinnatti


I’ll be squeezing my Bobo in no time.
—Monty Burns

I had a lot of fun reading David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise. It’s one of those sticky-meme books like 13th Gen or The Tipping Point that seem like bubblegum sociology, but when you sit down to read them, they absolutely colonize your way of thinking about things.

“Bobo” stands for bohemian bourgeoisie. The basic idea is that bohemian counterculture and bourgeois materialism have merged to form a new ruling class that is simultaneously both. “Hippies with clean fingernails,” my Mom said. Like 13th Gen and The Tipping Point, Bobos loads you up with catchy labels for things you see every day: latte towns, one-downsmanship, the adventure gap. And it is very clever. Here's Brooks riffing on the upscale Bobo grocery store:

The visitor to Fresh Fields is confronted with a big sign that says ‘Organic Items today: 130.’ This is like a barometer of virtue. If you came in on a day when only 60 items were organic, you'd feel cheated. But when the number hits the three figures, you can walk through the aisles with moral confidence.

Also like 13th Gen and The Tipping Point, Bobos is much better at pointing stuff out than telling you what it means. At heart, Brooks is a conservative, and for all the zingers he scores off the Bobocracy, the book is essentially a celebration of the status quo. Instead of “Meet the New Boss, same as the Old Boss,” it's “Meet the New Boss, so much more fashionable than the the Old Boss, hooray!” It could have had a lot more impact if it had even a little bite, if there’d been some Tom Frank-style critique of the Bobos. But then I guess it wouldn’t have been very Bobo.

From an email I received on an academic discussion list:
I've been working on a project about women and their bowel habits, the movement of substances through bodies even as bodies are located in and moved through larger social systems; the peristalsis of consumption/elimination as well as of consumer capitalism, etc. ... Any scholars out there with similar interests?

Donna Kossy's classic Kooks Museum seems to be AWOL. Has she been silenced by the Communist Gangster Computer God?!? If the Francis Dec link below doesn't work, try this one instead.


Looky. Here’s Douglas Coupland offering the same advice (as Grant Morrison in my previous post, below) in Life After God:

Why not interpret your everyday life as though it were a dream? Say to yourself, “A plane’s flying overhead now—What does this mean?” Say to yourself, “It’s raining so much lately—What does this mean?”

Wouldn’t it be cool if everything did mean something? In The Invisibles, Jack sees words of power spray-painted on subway walls and hidden in the logo for a music video show. In Borges’ story “The God’s Script,” the spots on a jaguar’s back spell out the secret name of God. In my old conspiracy screenplay, it was a newspaper crossword puzzle that contained the secret to life, the universe, and everything.

Suppose you're thinking about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly, somebody'll say, like, “plate,” or “shrimp,” or “plate of shrimp,” out of the blue. No explanation. No point in looking for one either. It's all part of the cosmic unconsciousness.
—Miller, Repo Man

I’m attracted to ideas of secret connection and subterranean meaning, because I do see coincidences every day that seem to demand some explanation. I’m not sure why. It’s like spotting the number 23 everywhere or hearing Jewel breathe while she sings. Once you start seeing the weird hotlinks that thread through your life, you just can’t stop seeing them.

But I also know that that way lies madness, or at least stupidity. The Kabbalist finds meaning in every anagram, acrostic, and equation. The stoner insists it can be no coincidence that the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz flops on the ground just as Pink Floyd sings “the lunatic is on the grass.” Francis Dec... Well, Francis Dec is in a league by himself. The point is, the key to magical thought (and to clinical paranoia) is to reject coincidence or contingency, to believe that everything happens for a reason.

So the real question is, who put those fossils there in the first place?
—Phoebe, Friends

I guess the answer is to be aware of patterns, but remember that they are constructs of your own mind. It is tempting to believe that the patterns you see were put there on purpose. But the only purposeful intellect acting, in most cases anyway, is you. You cannot confuse your own prodigious ability for pattern recognition—and pattern creation—with the mind of God (or the mind of Roger Waters).

But as long as you (and when I say “you” I mostly mean “me”) keep this in mind, Morrison’s “magic” is a nifty little mental exercise. It opens a pipeline, not to the Universe, but into your own thoughts. You actually can find out a lot about what you really think, what you really want, by opening yourself up a little to these kinds of crazy patterns and connections. The sigils you see in flights of birds, the names spelled out by spilled scrabble tiles: they’re not messages from the Infinite, but they can be messages from inside your own head.

To which Morrison would probably say: what makes you think there’s any difference?

That’s why they pay him the big bucks.


Bring Your Own Wand
The Great and Terrible Grant Morrison has a new column on his website. As nonlinear and brilliant and stupid as ever: Uncool is the new cool and counterculture is shopcounterculture. Anything weird and cool you need to see will be sourced, bled and copied into the next Robbie Williams video, better than the original. You can stop looking now. There’s nothing to see. Nothing will ever make you weirder or more culty than Geri Halliwell is.

But listen: what you should really read on Morrison’s website is Pop Magic. This is his bastard crossbreeding of Tony Robbins and Aleister Crowley for the 21st Century. The intro is very funny. And there might even be some actual Secret Wisdom hidden away in there...

As a first exercise in magical consciousness spend five minutes looking at everything around you as if ALL OF IT was trying to tell you something very important. How did that lightbulb come to be here exactly? Why does the murder victim in the newspaper have the same unusual surname as your father-in-law? Why did the phone ring, just at that moment and what were you thinking? What's that waterstain stain on the wall of the building opposite? How does it make you feel?

Interpret everything you see on the way as a message from the Infinite to you. Watch for patterns in the flight of birds. Make oracular sentences from the letters on car number plates. Look at the way buildings move against the skyline. The noises on the streets, voices cut into rapid, almost subliminal commands and pleas.

Five minutes of focus during which everything is significant, everything is luminous and heavy with meaning, like the objects seen in dreams.



Speaking of Gilded Age nervous disorders and the mental activity of women: remind me to tell you the freaky-ass story of “twilight sleep” some time.


American Nervousness II: The Cure for the 20th Century
So with all these new “diseases” afflicting the land, late nineteenth-century Americans went looking for new cures. They flocked to sulphur springs and Turkish baths, they tried new diets and exercises. Sylvester Graham prescribed crackers and cold showers; John Harvey Kellogg pushed corn flakes and enemas.

But the most popular remedies for the ailments of the day were patent medicines. Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Eddison’s Electrical Emulsion. Simpson and Son’s Revitalizing Tonic. In the decades spanning the start of the 20th century, patent medicines were everywhere. Their slogans were in newspapers and magazines, but also posted on barns, nailed to trees, painted on rocks. Travelling salesman covered the country peddling potions and nostrums. If you were stressed, the medicines were supposed to take the edge off. If you couldn’t keep up, they gave you pep. The cure for modernity in a little brown bottle.

Never Grow Old. We Guarantee Rexall Americanitis Elixir Will Make You Feel Younger. … Especially Recommended for Nervous Disorders, Exhaustion, and All Troubles Arising From Americanitis.
—ad for Rexall Americanitis elixir (1903)

Caffeine and alcohol were probably the most common ingredients, but nineteenth century patent medicines also commonly contained morphine, laudanum, heroin or cocaine. Pretty hard for crackers or cereal to compete with that, no matter how much they snap, crackle and pop.

Many patent medicines combined a depressant and a stimulant, for that fun I-know-I’m-fucked-up-but-I-don’t-know-what-hit-me feeling. Sorta like Rev, that blue raver caffeine-beer that made a splash in Toronto last summer. (We were drinking it ironically, you understand.) But our era doesn’t have a monopoly on ingenius marketing strategies. One of Rev’s direct ancestors, a cola-wine combo called Vino-Kolafra, was advertised with the can’t-miss slogan: “A liberal dose will sober a drunken negro in half an hour.”

(If any of this is at all interesting to you, you might check out David Courtwright’s Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World or Tom Lutz’s American Nervousness, 1903).


T.V. Horror Host Gallery
If the House of Frightenstein link below whetted your interest, click here for a gallery of local horror hosts from Vampira to Dr. Ghoul to Bruce Dern (?). All they're missing is Count Floyd.


American Nervousness I: The Past, Tense
Gilded Age America was a funny place. The country was united, ingenious new inventions were remaking daily life, and business was booming like never before. In 1891, Frederick Jackson Turner declared the closing of the frontier; American energies were poised to explode outward in the imperialism of the Spanish-American war. And were the American people chipper on the verge of the American century? Were they confident? Bursting with vim and vigor and pioneer spirit?

Well, actually, they seem to have been a nation of jittery hypochondriacs.

Medicine was making real strides in this era, but the doctors just couldn’t keep up with the onslaught of new “diseases” appearing among the wussy and well-to-do. Neurasthenia, hysteria, vapors, ADD… (oops, wrong century) All these ailments and complaints were lumped under the umbrella of “American Nervousness”—or, more grandly, “the Empire of Sickness.” And the notion spread that it was the fast pace of American life—and in particular the spread of new technologies—that had created all these new disorders. Here’s the prominent American physician named George Beard explaining the roots of American Nervousness in 1881:

The modern differ from the ancient civilizations mainly in these five elements—steam power, the periodical press, the telegraph, the sciences, and the mental activity of women. When civilization, plus these five factors, invades any nation, it must carry nervousness and nervous diseases along with it.

You said it, Georgie. It’s that “mental activity of women” that gets me every time.


Joey Ramone is dead, alas.


Woke up. Smelled the coffee. Awaiting further instructions.

If you were a Canadian kid watching Saturday morning TV in the 1970s, click here.


Gorgeous Borges.
I’ve been reading Jorge Luis Borges. For the first time ever. How did I go so long without discovering Borges? Borges is cool. Borges rocks my world. I just like saying Borges. Borges, Borges, Borges. Wait: how do you pronounce Borges, anyway? Does it rhyme with gorgeous? Or with smorgas (as in smorgasbord)? Or is it like boar-hey?

Ancient Chinese Secrets
Here’s Borges (hee) describing an ancient Chinese encyclopedia called The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge:

On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.

I love that. The arbitrariness of classification systems. I love that name, too: The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. Maybe that’s what I’ll call this website. Since Fat Chicks in Party Hats is already taken.

Cincinatti Riots
Last week, I wrote: “To see America clubbing, gassing, shooting its own sons and daughters is Powerful Stuff.” I guess I should correct that to read: “its white middle-class sons and daughters”. What happened in Cincinnati this week is Powerful Stuff, too, but sadly not nearly as rare.

I looked for an article to link this too but wasn't happy with anything I found. You can get very different versions of the story if you Google for “Cincinnati riots” or for “Cincinnati police violence.

Guinness is Good For You.
Sat down in a comfy chair in Lamont Library and read A Positively Final Appearance, by Alec Guinness, in one sitting. It’s Guinness’ journal for the last few years of his life. I recommend it; like him, it’s wise and funny and clever and only a little bit sad. The 80-something Guinness was weary of his unshakeable association with Star Wars, but still plugged in to the popular culture: he was addicted to The Simpsons and had good things to say about the Leo diCaprio / Claire Danes version of Romeo and Juliet. There are lots of funny stories, in the Peter O’Toole raconteur vein. In fact O’Toole and Guiness were buddies, from the same generation of gin-soaked British actors up to no good. Highlights include:

The story of a scandalous stage production of Peter Pan in the 1930s in which Nana contracted syphilis from an affair with Smee. Nana, if your memory needs refreshing, was the dog.

The fact that Marlene Dietrich used to drive out into the California desert every New Year’s Eve for a date with “a well set up gentleman from outer space”—when Guinness asked Dietrich asked her what the spaceman looked like, she said, “Handsome, darling, and dressed all in silver.”

Some nice, unfashionable fondness for the Royal Family, and impatience with the beatification of Princess Diana.

And of course, the following tale:

A refurbished Star Wars in on somewhere or everywhere. I have no intention of revisiting any galaxy. I shrivel inside each time it is mentioned. Twenty years ago, when the film was first shown, it had a freshness, also a sense of moral good and fun. Then I began to be uneasy at the influence it might be having. The bad penny dropped in San Francisco when a sweet-faced boy of twelve told me that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times. His elegant mother nodded with approval. Looking into the boy’s eyes I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form and I guessed that one day they would explode.

‘I would like you to do something for me,’ I said.

‘Anything! Anything!’ the boy said rapturously.

‘You won’t like what I’m going to ask you to do,’ I said.

‘Anything, sir, anything!’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?’

He burst into tears. His mother drew herself up to an immense height. ‘What a dreadful thing to say to a child!’ she barked, and dragged the poor child away. Maybe she was right but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.

I love that story. I’m going to start telling it, and end with the punch line, “… and that boy grew up to be … me.”

“A fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities”—that’s another good name for this web site.


Dria—I don’t know if that’s an acronym, or a company name, or the name of her 7th level half-elven ranger, or what—o hell, her name’s Deb, I’ll just call her that—is waxing non-nostalgic about the special “gifted” class in which I met her and Derek (and many others, but they don’t have URLs) way back in the Reagan era:

The problem, you see, is that “gifted” children are often smarter than the people who are put in charge of their intellectual development. The consequences are disastrous, but predictable. Certainly painful for everyone involved. They turned us into elitist little monsters for years, and then, just when we were most vulnerable, they threw us to the lions. I don't know if I've mentioned lately just how much I despised High School.

She's entitled to her opinion, of course, and yeah, being “mainstreamed” when the program ended was a shock to the system, but I just can’t bring myself to resent that class. I loved it. I was miserable and bored before finding that class of elitist little monsters. And a few of them are still among my best friends in the world.

I should probably email Deb instead of just reading her diary and commenting on it like a weasel.


The Second Biggest Arrow I've Ever Seen
At the movies last night with Dan & Co. Dan asked: “Where is the behind-the-scenes book on the creators of The Simpsons?” Not “behind-the-scenes” in the sense of dishing dirt, but in the sense of getting into their heads, seeing if there's any way we can catch a glimpse of where the brilliance comes from. Dan rules—he always gets right to the Important Questions of Our Time.

I cannot find such a book, but about a year ago, the New Yorker had a great profile of George Meyer, the mad genius (& Harvard boy) behind the show. Here's Meyer talking about the sitcoms of his youth:

When you and I were kids, the average TV comedy was about a witch, or a Martian, or a goofy frontier fort, or a comical Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. That was the mainstream. Now the average comedy is about a bunch of people who hang around in some generic urban setting having conversations and sniping at each other. I remember watching, in the Sixties, an episode of “Get Smart” in which some angry Indians were aiming a sixty-foot arrow at Washington, and Max said something like “That's the second-biggest arrow I've ever seen,” and I thought, oh, great, shows are just going to keep getting nuttier and nuttier! I never dreamed that television comedy would turn in such a dreary direction, so that all you would see is people in living rooms putting each other down.

Read the rest here.


Lisa is in China. I miss her.


She's my Rushmore, Max.
Lisa is asleep about three feet to the right of me. In about four hours, she is leaving, with half a dozen of her students, for China. One week in Shanghai, one week in rural Anhui province—described by her as “the Arkansas of China”. She can sleep through anything. The lights are on, I’m listening to music, now I’m speaking right into her ear. No response. HEY! HEY LISA! WAKE UP! Nothing. HEY! WHEN YOU GET BACK FROM CHINA, I'M GOING TO ASK YOU TO MARRY ME!

She is so beautiful, so cool, so sweet, so smart. Boy do I love her.


Can you if it see go. Head your with fucks totally it! (Seinfeld of episode backward old the like of kind it's.) *Backwards* goes it and thriller noir-film a it's. "Memento" called movie cool very a saw just I.

From: Past. Re: Blast.
Hey, keen! One of the first girls I had a crush on has a weblog, which I discovered via Derek’s online diary.

Loose Lips Sink Ships
The IMDB has the following blurb up for the upcoming movie Pearl Harbor:
Pearl Harbor takes place in a cluster of islands in the Pacific at a crux of world history with a planet embroiled in war!

Um. Kinda vague, don’t you think, fellas? “A cluster of islands in the Pacific”? “A planet embroiled in war?” Gosh, that sounds like a good movie. I wonder which islands they mean? I wonder which war? (I wonder which planet?)

Possible explanations for this mysterious coyness:
1. All that boring history shit = box office poison.
2. They’re afraid of offending Japanese moviegoers, for whom the film is being released as Generic Action Pilots (Not Japanese) Are Sneaky (Definitely Not Japanese) Bombing Team Go!
3. Tojo's spies are everywhere.
4. The copywriter wasn’t sure which islands, or which “crux of world history,” the movie is about. As there was no possible way to find out, he decided to play it safe.
5. Michael Bay (Armageddon, The Rock, Coyote Ugly) is an enigmatic genius known for his devious, cryptic subtlety.
6. They don’t want to give away the ending.
7. The true details of this legendary battle have been lost forever in the distant mists of time.

That reminds me: I saw But I’m A Cheerleader in the local Video Trust outlet the other day. The back of the box describes the plot of the movie without saying “gay” or “lesbian” or mentioning homosexuality in any way. The blurb reads like a freaking game of “Taboo.”


The War at Home
Today we showed our class a documentary on the anti-war movement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison called The War at Home. None of this stuff is really new to me, but it still hasn't lost its impact. To see America clubbing, gassing, shooting its own sons and daughters is Powerful Stuff. I look forward to hearing the reactions of Generation Y on Friday.

The funny thing is, my parents were at UW-Madison at exactly the time all this was going on, and I’ve never heard any of these stories from them. I guess they were insulated by being a) Canadian, b) grad students, and c) new parents. Still, I can’t connect the idyllic community they’ve described to me to the film's portrait of a nation tearing itself apart.

The IMDB's page on The War at Home concludes by saying “if you like this title, we also recommend The Marx Brothers in a Nutshell.”


Quintuple-O Seven
And still MORE about James Bond: Remember what I said before about James Bond only being cool in the early 1960s? Maybe I was thinking too narrowly. This week’s head game: let’s transfer everybody’s favorite superspy into five different centuries. To make it more interesting (well, harder, anyway—whether it’s more interesting is up to you), let’s say that we can’t alter Bond’s essential Britishness: each alternate 007 still has to serve the British crown.

1587: On Her Majesties’ Sorcerous Service
This is the kind of true historical fact that keeps me up at night. John Dee, the 16th century English alchemist/sorcerer/magus/scientist/astrologer (but he hates labels) actually did do secret espionage work for Queen Elizabeth I. Along with Sir Francis Walsingham he was involved in establishing England’s very first Secret Service and—this seems to be for real—his magical sigil was two circles (signifying that he was Elizabeth’s secret eyes) followed by the mystical number seven. Get it? 007.

I actually set out to write a story a few years back about “Dee… John Dee,” pitting the 16th century superspy against a SMERSH composed of villainous Spanish Inquisitors. My overly ambitious plot involved witch-burning, the Golem of Prague, the invention of cryptography, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But my favorite part of the story (and really, the only part that got written) was the James-and-Moneypenny-esque flirtatious banter between Dee and Queen Elizabeth. Unlike the long suffering Moneypenny, the Virgin Queen finally did get it on with 007, in my story’s final scene. She throws him onto the royal bed, tears off his doublet, and silences his protestations with: “Close your eyes, and think of England.”

1777: The Man with the Golden Musket
What looks like some grubby colonials whining over a three-penny tax on tea turns out to be something far more sinister: an American Revolution plotted by dastardly Bavarian secret society known as the Illuminati. Will the mob triumph? Will the colonies of Good King George fall victim to the tyrannical doctrines of democracy, equality, and freedom? In London, the Grand High Archmasons dispatch Sir James Connery Lazenby Bond, the seventeenth Lord Fleming, to the wild outposts of Boston and Philadelphia. It’s high adventure on the colonial frontier as the Golden Pimpernel beats down a thug with wooden teeth, seduces the luscious Martha Washington, garrottes the squealer Paul Revere, and saves the day! (God save the King.)

1887: From Calcutta with Love
James Bond by Gaslight is a natural. Picture the foggy streets of London at the height of the Victorian age. The cramped warrens of Limehouse. Bond in a deerstalker hat. Mycroft Holmes as M. 007 matches wits with Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde, Fu Manchu. But this kind of story’s actually been done, and damn well, too, in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. That’s OK. I said Bond had to serve the English Crown. I didn’t say he had to operate in England. Try this on for size:

It’s 1887 and foreign powers lust for India, the brightest jewel in Queen Victoria’s imperial crown. In the twisting streets of Calcutta, the Russian Tsar is arming Thuggee cultists. Agents of the Kaiser are planning an uprising that will make the Sepoy Mutiny look like a cricket match. And some skinny young nutjob from Benares is preaching nonviolent civil disobedience. Only one man defends the Raj: James Bandhi, the ultimate high-caste superspy. Cliffhanging action on the slopes of the Himalayas! Tantric sex by the steamy Ganges! The many arms of Vishnu! And the immortal lines: “You expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bandhi… I expect you to die! And, considering your atrocious karma, to be reincarnated as an offal-raker, I shouldn’t wonder.”

1977: License to Funk
Yes, of course there were Bond movies in the 70s, but they weren’t really of the 70s, if you know what I mean. (Possible exception: Live and Let Die.) I submit that when Sean Connery hung up his Walther PPK, the producers could have made a casting choice that was a little more daring: James B is James B, sucka! Soul brother number 007, the hardest working man on Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He takes his orders from M (stands for Mothership) and drops da’ bomb on any rat-soup eatin’, insecure-born mofos that get in his way. Good God! Hah! (He likes his booty both shaken and stirred.)

2007: You Only Rave Twice
The year is 2007. James Bond Junior is the coolest teenager to walk the earth. Q is a 13 year old Korean hacker. Blofeld’s grandson is a mad Eurotrash electronica DJ with a shaved head and lots of piercings. He’s brainwashing the next generation of swinging young royals with viral subliminals mixed into the jungle techno he spins. The girl in this one is named Ecstasy Goodrave. (Picture a younger Ursula Andress sucking on a pacifier, with pigtails, fairy wings, and a baby-doll tee.)

OK, so maybe that's kind of lame. Tell you what: just listen to Moby’s remix of the James Bond theme and toss some shit together with nanobots and cyberspace.

That was fun! Next time: Alternate Elvises. The time after that: Alternate Popeyes. (Just kidding.) (Probably.)

ps Other people play this kind of game too. See Kenneth Hite’s groovy Six Flags Over Roswell.


Understatement of the Year Award:
Lisa: “It’s very hard to teach Taoism to learning-disabled ninth-graders.”


Bonding Experiences
Renton: He’s always been lacking in moral fiber.
Swanney: He knows a lot about Sean Connery.
Renton: That’s hardly a substitute!
Trainspotting (the movie, not the book) (the book's cool too, though)

Still more about James Bond: Remind me to tell you sometime about a conversation I had with Sean about how our love for Bond (when I say “our” I mean his and mine—your mileage may vary) is somehow psychologically bound up with our love for our fathers. Not because our Dads necessarily remind us of 007, but because they introduced us to the books and movies, and we have all these memories of watching 007 kick ass at our fathers’ knees.

[insert more lucid explanation at later date]

We’re not the only smart-asses from suburban Southern Ontario to have this experience: Mike Myers says that he created the character of Austin Powers for his father, who raised him on British spy movies. Alas, his father never lived to see the movie. There ya go. A little pathos with your Swedish Penis Pump jokes.

Tangent: On the subject of Sean’s Dad: When I was in TO over the holiday, Sean was mulling over a Dave Eggers-esque memoir he might write about his father. Working title: “Jobs My Dad Has Had and Things He’s Set on Fire.” Hee hee. (I know the former category includes the Navy, publishing, and being a private detective; I think the latter includes the car, most of the lawn, and maybe a family pet or two.)

Erotic Tibetan Etchings
Finally read Our Lady of Darkness, by Fritz Leiber. It transplants Lovecraft from the Puritan-haunted New England of the 1920s to the gas-grass-or-ass San Francisco of the 1970s, yet somehow makes it work. It’s kind of sexist but cheesy and fun in a “you must come up to my pad and see my erotic Tibetan etchings” kind of way. Made me think fondly of our old Mage campaign.

Speaking of a 1970s take on Lovecraft, have any of you seen The Dunwich Horror?

Also read Greil Marcus’ latest book of essays, Double Trouble. Marcus is ostensibly a rock critic, but his essays wander deliriously through a bizarre range of topics: the dark heart of character actor J.T. Walsh, the true meaning of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a patent medicine from 1903 called “Rexall’s Americanitis Elixir”… Double Trouble is no Mystery Train, but I had fun with it. Sometimes it’s complete horseshit. For instance the equation at the heart of this collection, which is basically that Bill Clinton = Elvis Presley. But it’s always lyrically written, and you have to love a guy who devotes so much searching thought to even the smallest of objects and ideas.

Speaking of the late great J.T. Walsh: I love this site.


You Expect Me To Talk?
You think Rockford Files is cool
But there are some things that you would change
If it were up to you
So think about your masterpiece
Watch the Rockford Files
And call to see if Paul can score some weed…

—Ben Folds Five, “Battle of Who Could Care Less”

One of my, um, less useful habits, neatly skewered in that Ben Folds verse, and in more than a few Simpsons episodes featuring the Comic Store Guy, is pontificating as to how TV shows, movie franchises, etc. could be wildly improved if the peabrains that run the Industrial-Entertainment Complex would just listen to me for a change. (Make my day sometime by asking me about how The X-Files should have ended, or my ideas for a Lost Boys sequel.)

Anyway, one of my perennial puzzles is: how could they make James Bond cool again? I don’t know why I have so much invested in this, but it pains me to see the series stagger on and on as it does. The new Bond movies may not be as wretched as the last few Roger Moore flicks, but does anybody anywhere even pretend they’re in the same league as the Connery years?

The first thing they should do is set the movies back in the early-to-mid 1960s.

I'm totally serious. Listen: I love James Bond. But the whole franchise is as much of an anachronism as the unfrozen Austin Powers. It has been since, well, probably around the time the Beatles’ hair first grew down past their ears. Doctor No came out forty years ago. Trying to make the Bond movies “current” by sticking in “hip” elements only draws attention to the problem. I feel pain—actual physical pain!—when I see Bond, say, skateboarding or trolling a video arcade. At best, he comes across like Action Yuppie. At worst, he’s like somebody’s deranged Grandpa in do rag and parachute pants trying to prove he can still shake it like the youngsters. (I spent much of the 90s in mortal fear that they were going to dress 007 up in plaid flannel and a goatee.) So, anyway, my solution is to put Bond back where he belongs. 1960-1964. For that four year span, 007 was the Acme of Cool. The Cold War was in full swing, the whole Kennedy/Sinatra/Rat Pack playboy thing was happening (the Bond books got a big sales boost in 1960 when president-elect Kennedy said they were his favorites), and men could still wear tuxedos without looking like dorks. That’s my prescription: return him to his proper era, recapture the cool.

(“The Acme of Cool”—that’s a good name for a website. Or “Acme Cool Factory.”)

We are now approaching the point of this story!
I have more ideas (hire certain directors, bring back Blofeld, get Shirley Bassey to sing the theme song) but I’ll spare you. (Actually, Shirley Bassey is Sean’s idea, but I enthusiastically agree.) The point is, I've put some thought into this. More than is healthy, no doubt. But I do realize—the above 300 words notwithstanding—that the world at large is not particularly interested in my thoughts on this matter. So: imagine my surprise and envy when I had dinner at Bill & LisaL’s last night, and dinner was interrupted by the telephone. Bill took the call, listened politely for a minute, then managed to extricate himself and hang up the line:

LisaL: What was that about?
Bill: (returning to the table) It was some telemarketer, doing a survey about what I’d like to see in the next James Bond movie.
LisaL: Oh no. Them again? That’s the third time this week.

Aarrgh! The marketing people are pestering nice folks like Bill and LisaL, who, being well-adjusted grown-ups with rich fulfilling lives, probably couldn’t care less if the next James Bond movie was in Claymation and Esperanto. But there’s me sitting across the table, and I would have talked that girl’s fucking ears off if I’d had the chance! There’s no justice.


Life... You're Soaking In It
The quicksand is deep around here.
It is life.
A leather ashtray filled with the Queen’s cigars.
It is life.
Dropping a thousand beanbags out of an airplane.
It is Leif Garret... I mean life.
A snowcone's skeleton displayed in a hologram.
A football stadium filled with pudding as aiplanes lower the giant spoon.
Robotic Sausages that can roll and beep.

How much do I miss Sifl & Ollie? I cannot count the ways.


The Yellow Kid
I bought a Yellow Kid poster to commemorate all the synchronicities. This precipitated an awkward exchange with Lisa: when I showed the poster to her I immediately started explaining who the Yellow Kid was. She said, annoyed, “I know who the Yellow Kid is.” I said (stupidly) “Oh, I guess I already told you about him.” Duh. Wrong thing to say. Moral of the story: never underestimate how cool Lisa is / how much cool shit she knows.

But she likes the poster and even discussed where it might hang on our walls (currently her walls) when we move in together. A historic moment! The first item of mine to be approved for our future décor.

Oh, I also have a funny story about John Mack I have to tell you.


A billion Chinese don’t give a shit.
More Asian content, this time courtesy of my dissertation writer’s group. We met to discuss Felicity’s chapter on the use of folk art as propaganda by the Nationalists and the Communists in the 1930s and 40s. It was called “Door-gods and demon-quellers,” which sounds like the title to some old school fantasy roleplaying game. Felicity brought slides: lots of great folk art images, many looking (understandably) like something from Chinese Ghost Story or a hopping vampire film. My favorite was the American Airman Doorgod, with the fierce American airman dropping from the sky to squash the demon Japanese.

This got us talking about Chinese myths and legends. The traditional Chinese picture of the afterlife is an infinite and eternal bureaucracy (it’s true, I read it in Deities & Demigods!). Many legends end (happily?) with fallen heroes taking their place as civil servants in the great beyond. Tianshu said that, according to popular superstition, Chairman Mao had ascended to the Celestial Bureaucracy after his death as some kind of assistant under-secretary of transportation. The taxi drivers in Shanghai now hang his portrait from their rearview mirrors like a St. Christopher medal.

Assistant under-secretary of transportation? That’s all Mao rates? Chairman fucking Mao? He took over the largest country in the world! He bent a billion people to his will! (He lived 80 years without brushing his teeth!) And he doesn’t even score a corner cubicle in the great office space in the sky? This is a country that is not easily impressed.

Hardwired for Geisha
Finished Tokyo Suckerpunch. How much of my life have I spent reading plotless “mysteries” in which a wise-cracking sleuth stumbles around randomly annoying thugs and dropping bon mots until the whole puzzle falls open before him like one of those deep-fried blooming onions? Great opening line, though: “I’m hardwired for geisha.”


Yellow Fever
Surfed the web tonight when I should have been working, tossing elements of the hypothetical Patty Hearst novel at my new favorite search engine and seeing where they took me.

What do you call it—serendipity? synchronicity? or just sanity loss?—when everything fits together, when every link you follow takes you back to where you started, when all the weird connections out in the world mimic all the weird connections in your head, until you start to think they were all laid out there just for you to find. Yellow Journalism, the Yellow Menace, the Yellow Kid, the King in Yellow… it’s all yellow, and it's all connected, baby.

Memo to myself: read something by or about Ambrose Bierce.

Speaking of yellow fever: I started reading a hipster mystery novel called Tokyo Suckerpunch that’s clearly targeted at chopsocky-loving gaijin like yours truly. Oh, and I just finished reading Yellow Jack, a novel about a daguerrotype artist in decadent, plague-ridden 1830s New Orleans. It's a little slow, but atmospheric, and ends up being (at least in part) about historians and how they piece together historical truth (or fail to).

Ewok Holocaust
OK, it’s not exactly a news flash that there are people obsessed with Star Wars. Nevertheless we can still gape in wonder at the energy they bring to their obsessions.


Weird Historical Fact Department:
Henry Ford didn’t like depending on Asian rubber growers to supply the rubber for tires on his cars. So in 1927, he carved a massive rubber plantation out of the Amazon jungle. The plantation, on a tract of land three times the size of Rhode Island, was named—wait for it—Fordlandia. Besides the rubber factory, Fordlandia had a town with schools, churches, and a golf course. The Fordlandians stuck it out for nearly twenty years before rebelling. In the end, blight struck the rubber groves, the workers quit, and the jungle reclaimed Fordlandia.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair. :)


Mars Needs Guitars
New word for the day: “Porno-tropics.” An imaginary, libidinized version of the far east, onto which the West projects its sexual desires. The idea is classic Edward Said, though the term itself comes from Anne McClintock’s charmingly titled Imperial Leather.

I just read Instruments of Desire, a history of the electric guitar by Steve Waksman. Waksman was here at Harvard just a year ago. The book was his PhD dissertation in 1998 and it won the Gabriel Prize for being the year’s best dissertation in American Studies. (When you win the Gabriel Prize, you can get a publisher like Harvard University Press to publish your dissertation a year after you graduate.) I can see why it won. It’s a tight set of variations on a simple riff that brings in everything from electrical engineering to racial and sexual politics to economics to biography to music appreciation. Plus Back to the Future, Aleister Crowley, and the aforementioned Edward Said. It’s smart, it’s cool, it rocks. It’s exactly what I think the history of technology should look like. (Okay, the chapter on Led Zeppelin gets a little Freudian, but if you don’t get a little Freudian talking about Jimmy Page’s guitar, you’re probably missing the point.)

There’s a great chapter on Les Paul and Mary Ford, about whom I previously knew nothing. Paul seems to have been the quintessential musician-as-engineer, up to his elbows in resister coils and humbucking pickups, striving for “the new sound.” (I know a few people like this myself.) Talking about technological enthusiasm and electric tinkering, Waksman cites the excellent chapter on amateur radio operators in Susan Douglas’ Inventing American Broadcasting. There really is a direct geek culture lineage from the crystal radio boys in the 1920s through the high-fidelity freaks of the 50s and 60s to today’s music mixers and electronic DJs. I wonder who the pre-1920 progenitors of the species would be…


Suddenly I have a feverish desire to own the domain name www.blibdoolpoolp.com.

Shout Outs to Feetla, Grubblick and Blibdoolpoolp
Something else I meant to tell you about my new niece Helen. Until she was actually born, Beth and Scott were jokingly calling her “Feetla.” I love this. The name was simultaneously:
a) a corruption of the word “fetus”
b) a reference to her energetic kicking feet
c) a reference to the leader of the evil Slave Lords, in the old D&D adventure Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords

How perfect a marriage is that, that both husband and wife should remember fondly as obscure a reference as the leader of the freaking Slave Lords?

Last time I was in Canada, Beth & Scott & I were trying to remember the names of all five Slave Lords. The Slave Lords were the villains in a series of D&D adventures from back in the day. And in time honored D&D tradition, they all had astoundingly stupid names. I don’t know why the Slave Lords made so much more of an impression on us than the other D&D villains. Okay, maybe there are a few hard-core game geeks out there who remember going toe to toe with Lolth or Orcus. But be honest: who here remembers Acererak, or Keraptis, or Ogremoch, Grubblik, or Blibdoolpoolp?

The Slave Lords: Five Neat Guys
Anyway, there were five Slave Lords pictured on the cover of module A3. The hunk on the far left with the Tom Cruise-in-Risky Business coif is Nerelas, the assassin; the twelve-year old with the grey skullcap is Ajaxtu, the wizard. In the center is Feetla, working the tight-panted-pirate-in-leg-warmers look. And I think the guy on the far right with the top-knot is Brother Millerjoy, the monk. But who is the bearded guy in green? WHAT IS HIS NAME?


You Are My Green Density
Lisa & I finally got to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, along with Dan, Maryann, and probably the entire Asian faculty of L’s high school. What can I say, the movie was beautiful, breathtaking, a vision. But did it really have the same impact on me as, say, the first time I saw Iron Monkey or God of Gamblers back in the summer of 1995 at Toronto’s late, lamented Golden Classics Cinema? Regretfully, no. Mainly because this time I knew what I was in for. Discovering those movies that summer was a joy—a great, giddy “Dude! That dude is totally FLYING!” feeling that came from learning the world was far bigger and stranger than we had believed. Plus, we were baked out of our trees.


Rice Cakes in Hell
My friend Dan just started a draconian new diet, one that seems to involve eating cardboard and regular “struggle sessions” of verbal abuse from his Diet Sensei. Not knowing this, we dragged him to dinner at the B-Side Lounge, which is a very hip, if slightly calculated, place that serves expensive versions of unhealthy comfort food. I, for instance, had chicken-fried steak ($16), mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob and drank two pints of beer. It was so damn good. Dan, on the other hand, had one cup of weak tea. I think there is now an endless buffet of rice cakes and sand waiting for me in Hell.

Tangent: That there is one dadgum fancy website for an alleged dive restaurant.
Another tangent: After you visit the B-Side, you can visit their urinal. Yes, this is a website featuring photos of urinals.


Hi. Long time no see.

The love of a good woman is all that keeps me sane.
—Adrian Mole

So I’ve been busy 24-7 writing The Chapter That Would Not Die, which I finally put to bed last week. Many nights without sleep, much back pain, RSI kicking in. I’m not writing this to sound noble or hard-done-by. Quite the opposite. There is something very selfish, even decadent about working like that, to the virtual exclusion of human interaction and other activity. It’s not unlike going on a bender. Anyway, I got very cranky and whiny and was really not fit for human interaction. Yet Lisa was a saint through it all. I love her.

I do not love EndNote. Oh, no, no, no. It would be one thing if it just offered a hideously cumbersome and nonintuitive way to do what I could have done so much easier by hand or with standard (non-bibliographic) database software. But now I realize that it is actually getting my citations WRONG. And wrong in subtle ways, too, so I had to spend FIFTEEN HOURS (no lie) digging through my notes to recheck each one of 200+ footnotes.

A black death on the employees of Niles Software and all their progeny.


Buttah buttah buttah makes the bowl!
—Parappa the Rapper

How was your New Year's Eve? Mine was boss to the nth degree. In 1999, after a string of annoying, disappointing NYEs, I declared that I would stop observing the holiday after the big Y2K. (Remember how much fun it was to say “Y2K”? Y2K, Y2K, Y2K. How many times do you think you said it in 1999? How many times have you said it since?) With that pressure lifted, of course, I had a fantastic time at Y2K. But if it’s possible, I had an even better time this year. This NYE was for me the exact opposite of last year’s festivities—a huge chemical-soaked future rave with several thousand people in shiny superhero costumes. This year, Lisa and I stayed home, gooey and affectionate after two weeks apart and not at all fit for the company of others. I made her a candlelight dinner, and we didn’t interact with anybody. Not even Dick Clark. Best New Year’s Ever.

The dinner I made was Indian Butter Chicken. It came out great. The secret ingredient is: more butter.

Ignore the date above: I actually wrote all this on

Which is a pretty cool date to start a weblog / journal / diary / commonplace book / whatever. (But I hate labels). I wonder how many people in the world are doing exactly the same thing today. I wonder how many of them will keep it up until 01.01.02 or 01.02.01 or 02.01.01. I wonder if I will?


Gosh, can you stand the suspense?

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.
Look Ma, it’s the 21st century! Bring on the ray guns, the flying cars, the shiny silver unitards… We’re living in The Future, baby.

Thirty Helens Agree
My family is celebrating a new beginning this week that’s actually a heap more significant than the rollover of the Great Gregorian Odometer, though the synchronicity is cool. Beth (my big sister) had a baby around 9 am yesterday morning—the last day of the twentieth century. So Jamie and I are uncles, Amy’s an aunt, my parents are grandparents, and Beth and Scott are a Mommy and a Daddy. Wow! Even if the flying cars were a little late in arriving, this really does feel like we’re living in The Future.

Hi, Baby Helen! Your Mom and Dad are going to be absolutely fantastic parents. They are so fun and so smart and so warm and they just radiate happiness and love and everything always goes right for them. You’re named after your great-grandmother, your mother’s father’s mother. If you inherit even a fraction of her strength and goodness, you’re going to do just fine. You’ll never really know the century she lived through—seeing as you spent about fifteen hours in it total—but, hey, who are we kidding? Your century’s going to be pretty damn cool too.


OK, that was a little sappy, but what are the odds that somebody is going to scroll all the way down to the beginning of my weblog?

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