Thursday, May 31, 2007

Do I Smell Symmetrical?

One of many advantages of insomnia is the fascinating television programs that you come across. This morning I watched transfixed as Sharon Stone explained to me in her sultry voice the Science of Beauty on Discovery HD Theater. Apparently women at the peak of their fertility cycle can pick the hottest guy without even seeing him, simply by smelling his BO. Isn't that awesome?

Here's how it worked: scientists took precise body measurements of men, checking for symmetrical, masculine features. Then they had these men wear t-shirts for two days and asked that they avoid strenuous physical activity, strong-smelling foods, and alcohol. Finally, they presented the t-shirts to ovulating women. They discovered that the women consistently selected as most appealing the scent of the shirts worn by men whose features are most symmetrical. Damn natural selection.

I wish I had a grant to do this kind of research.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hot Fuzz + Grindhouse

I saw two fun movies in April that I never got around to writing about - Hot Fuzz and Grindhouse. Now that I think about it, I still haven't written a meaningful review of Pan's Labyrinth either. Yikes, that's getting to be a while ago now. Damn, I'm behind. And not in a good way.

Anyway, my April movie outings rocked! Hot Fuzz is the perfect spoof of a cop buddy movie. There were a few bits that dragged, but on the whole the filmmakers nailed the genre. This film works both as a comic send-up of every cliche you can think of, but also as a genuine action flick. Yarp!

Grindhouse was a total gas. Go with a friend, grab a box of popcorn, and prepare to get bloody! The first installment, Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, was the better of the two features. First off, va-va-voooom! Rose McGowan was smokin in that movie. What was I saying..? Oh ya. The movie delights in goofy, gross-out situations made famous by those classic 1970s splatter exploitation films. And are there any filmmakers alive who care more about what happened culturally during the seventies than Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino? I don't think so. Why aren't they featured on I Love the 70s?

Tarantino's offering, Death Proof, had hot cars, more hot babes, and the incomparable Kurt Russell. But somehow it fell a little flat. Whenever Russell wasn't on screen, the movie sagged. That said, it was still fun, and Russell's presence was menacing and comical and crackling with energy. It might have been better if Death Proof had been the warm-up to Planet Terror, rather than vice-versa, because anything after the mayhem in that movie is bound to seem like a letdown. I wonder why they ordered the films the way they did?

Monday, May 28, 2007


A couple of months ago I told the tale of my daughter's trampoline. Sadly, the fourth trampoline was extremely short-lived - the damn thing BROKE! It only lasted a month or so. She was bouncing on it and the weld on two of the legs gave way. That could have been tragic! I hate to contemplate what could have happened. Our neighbor, whose back door is near the trampoline, saw the twisted metal and actually did fear the worst for a few hours. Then he saw Daphne walking around the house in a torpor.

I disassembled it a few weeks ago, and we ordered a fifth from the web - a standard spring model, rather than one with those nifty straps. We couldn't find another one like that. Oh well. Long story short, number five up, and my daughter is happy again. And it seems to be working ok so far. The materials and construction seem sturdy, but then again, I thought that about the last one.

Friday, May 25, 2007

City of the Dead

Last week I spent time in Savannah, Georgia and Hilton Head, South Carolina. I'd never been in the South, unless you count Florida, which somehow seems separate from what I think of as "the South." Probably because of its drug lords, theme parks, retirees, and crazy Cuban expatriates. And Katherine Harris.

I went south to attend my cousin's wedding, who last Saturday married a fine young gentleman from Georgia, whom she met in college. He seems a kindly, if somewhat reserved chap. To his credit he smiles broadly and warmly and often, which are always handsome features in a person. I wish them well in all their future journeys! At the very least, I hope that they need never again endure the maudlin drunkenness of groomsmen.

Hilton Head Island, where we stayed, is not a real remnant of the Old South - there is nothing historical about the place. It is a giant gated community set in the midst of golf courses and surrounded by docks berthing sea-faring luxury fishing boats. Truly, a creation of leisure, affluence and modern technology. The island did have one thing to offer, however: I got a chance to ride a rented bicycle on a lovely day, and its natural beauty was arresting.

Across the South Carolina border, perhaps an hour from Hilton Head, lies Savannah. This is a city steeped in American History. Walking its streets one can almost reach back to colonial times and even back to the Old World and our European heritage. The city was fought over during the Revolutionary War, and one macabre tour guide intoned solemnly that it is "difficult to take more than a few steps in Savannah without stepping over someone's bones."

On the urging of my mother, while in Savannah, I made the pilgrimage to Bonaventure Cemetery to see some of the artifacts represented in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil. I never read the book, but I did see Clint Eastwood's film version. The cemetery was made famous by an iconic statue within that appeared on the cover of said book.

Incidentally, the so called "Bird Girl" statue has since been removed from Bonaventure. People couldn't resist the urge to paw at this wistful, serene figure, and apparently it began to rapidly deteriorate. It can now be seen in an art museum in downtown Savannah.

The cemetery is not gigantic, but its moss-covered live oak and its secluded location make it a remarkable place. Savannah had a large Jewish population from the earliest days of its history, and the cemetery possesses a sizable division for the Jews interned there. And one simple stone marks the spot where the ashes of 344 victims of the Holocaust are buried.

The remains of some of Georgia's most famous citizens lie in Bonaventure. But the most entertaining sites to visit are certainly the graves of Johnny Mercer and Conrad Aiken. Aiken was a poet whose stone is actually a bench, inviting people to sit and have a martini with him (one set of visitors were doing just that on the very day we went!). His epitaph reads "Cosmos Mariner, Destination Unknown" and beside that, "Give My Love To The World." As for Johnny Mercer, you may not know the name, but he wrote some of the indelible songs of the mid-20th century.

If it seems I have written a lot about the cemetery, it is because history holds a fascination for me that is awakened in such places. I find myself imagining the lives of the names on the stones, how they lived and died, their funerals, and even their subsequent visitors. In no way is this better illustrated than in the story of Gracie, a girl who died at the age of six in 1889. The daughter of a wealthy and successful hotelier, she was the delight of the guests who stayed at her father's inn. She was stricken with pneumonia and died, and her grieving father commissioned a statue of her to mark her grave. It is a vivid portrait: its cherubic, angelic face undimmed by more than one hundred years. A moving tribute of a family's love for a life cut short.

Before I embarked on this trip, I got into an argument about the South with some friends of mine. They were intent upon berating the denizens of that region as red-state, ass-backward hicks. What bears remembering is that Republicans win 55-45, 60-40 in those states, and Democrats win 55-45, 60-40 in the so-called "blue" states of the North. We're not as different as some people want to believe. One can find fascinating people and culture and history almost anywhere!

That said, I did have two experiences that can only be described as surreal. The first was while taking a tour in Savannah. We entered the Sorrel Weed House, where a man from Youngstown, Ohio gave our tour. He asked the group, "are you Lee fans or Sherman fans?" Most of the small crowd seemed dumbfounded by his question, but I quipped, "I am a fan of neither!" Astonishingly, the mark of the Civil War is still felt in the South, so much so that it compels a young man from the North to claim allegiance to a long-dead general of an unhappy conflict. I would love for someone to explain this phenomenon to me.

The second experience was even more bizarre: at the wedding, there was an all-black rock/soul band that played covers of "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Play that Funky Music White Boy." The all-white crowd danced gleefully to both songs. Oye. Maybe I should have passed on the vodka cranberries and went for the Southern Comfort.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Wow, keeping up with the blogosphere is a lot of work! I took a week off and I find that I'm woefully over-matched by the mountain of data that has appeared. I hate to miss anything! I don't know how I'm going to find the time to get up to speed on all of the news-sites and blogs I frequent. How do other people do it? I'll try my best to get up-to-date.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Seen on the Interstate

On the road between Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, I spotted this billboard:

I've studied the sign many times. I'm wondering what it means.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Somewhere In My Soul There's Always Rock And Roll

The handsome devil over at LLTK "tagged" me, and now I must write out the following assignment: List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what they are. They must be songs you are presently enjoying. Then tag seven other people to see what they’re listening to.

I've actually been trying to think of a topic befitting an inaugural post - I need to christen a new "Stuff and Things" category on music. This seems as apt as any. So here it is! Thanks TK! On to the music...

Teenage Fanclub - In My Mind, Man-Made. The drony, mellow sound of TFC has a hypnotic, dreamy appeal. I was immediately captivated the first time I heard this song two years ago. It still draws me in every time I listen.

The Lanes - No Not Lately, Five Acts to Follow. I totally dig The Lanes! And not just because Mikey is one-fourth of the Strummones. I've been grooving on the Dutch Maniac's sound for more than ten years, and his latest album features his usual witty, smart pop sensibility. I keep coming back for more of this song: a rich tapestry of sounds and thoughts.

R.E.M. - Strange, Document. Never mind that this song is a cover of a cover of a cover. The classic three-chord progression never gets me jumpin much higher than this. Somehow Mike Stipe's whiny vocals seem perfectly suited to this sing-a-long rocker. And since I mentioned the Strummones, maybe we should add this tune to our set as an interlude. I think it could be a crowd-pleaser!

Elmer Bernstein - Main Title And Calvera, The Magnificent Seven Soundtrack. My daughter has been rehearsing this stirring score since January for her school's spring concert. She's got it stuck in my head! Luckily it is a truly great piece. She plays the flute, which accompanies the main melody. But now, after all of that, I find that the night of the concert I'll be out of town! Dammat, I'm so bummed. Her school puts on only two concerts a year, and I am loathe to miss either of them. They are so spirited and engaging. A lot like this title theme.

Robert Gordon - Flying Saucers Rock n Roll, Robert Gordon with Link Wray. I have a secret passion for 50s rockabilly, the real original punk rock. Gordon's 1978 tribute album was an unforgettable introduction to this music at a young age. And while every song on this album kicks complete ass, this song has it all: fast, raw, sexy, and fun as hell!

XTC - Are You Receiving Me? Go 2. I've been rekindling my love affair with this brilliantly quirky band. They always had a wry, cutting edginess. This song defines early 80s new-wave at its best: a lapel-grabbing pop hook coupled with cynically tongue-in-cheek lyrics.

Junior Murvin - Police and Thieves, Police and Thieves. Jimmy Cliff was the first reggae I ever heard. It was at the very tender age of eight. I remember being mildly intrigued, but I didn't really "get" the music until a few years later, when I heard the Clash's recording of this Junior Murvin hit. At first I didn't realize that their version of this seminal track was a cover. But I soon learned that they were standing on the shoulders of a giant. And thirty years after it was put to vinyl, Murvin's original is still as poignant as ever.

That was fun, I'll have to do it again sometime. And now to pass the torch. While I am uncertain as to whether I actually have seven readers, I tag the following unfortunates: Amanda, Rocky, GeistX, DAV, Patty, Basil, and Winter Crow. And if there happen to be other readers out there lurking in cyberspace, feel free to weigh in! I'd tag you too if I knew you were there.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Black Forest, Black Heart

I am deeply saddened by my visit to the Black Forest last night. Growing up it was a favorite of mine - my dad used to take me there for my birthday and for other occasions. The food and atmosphere were a palpable connection to my German heritage, something I was very proud of as a boy. For some reason, though, I never frequented it as an adult, and it had been probably seventeen years since I'd been there. After last night, I probably won't be going back any time soon.

The restaurant still has gobs of charm: I love the painted interior, the warm wooden bar is classic, the beer list is solid, and it possesses one of the best patio dining spots I've ever seen. Stepping inside really does take one to another place. But the food is less than I remember (though the potato salad is still great), the portions are underwhelming, and worst of all, the prices are outrageous. Twenty dollars for an average-sized plate of middling beef stroganoff! Ridiculous. I had to order the potato salad and another beer just to fill myself up.

As we were eating, one friend speculated that they are attempting to skim off of the popularity of the nearby Azia, which by many accounts is also maddeningly overpriced. I hope that's not the case, but the theory unfortunately fits the facts. Black Forest is basically an ethnic greasy-spoon in with an eclectic neighborhood charm. It has no business charging downtown hipster prices like that. I doubt it will be a successful strategy in the long term. More's the pity. Because The Forest is a Minneapolis classic.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Sick Game

A quick update on world affairs: the U.S. has taken to blowing up primary schools in order to get at insurgents. No word on how effective that strategy is yet. Meanwhile, al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a recorded statement in which he mocks U.S. plans for troop withdrawal. "We ask Allah that they only get out after losing 200,000 to 300,000 killed, so that we give the blood spillers in Washington and Europe an unforgettable lesson," he said. If this statement is any indication, killing Iraqi schoolchildren probably won't be the United States's best plan for defeating an ever-evolving extremist organization.

Al-Zawahiri's statement is nothing more than a playground taunt writ on a global scale. Should we fall for it? Should we play this deadly game any more? Given al-Qaeda's apparent truculence, is it worth our lives and our resources to pursue such a course of action? And even if we could somehow roundly thump all the agents of al Qaeda (a fantastically unlikely proposition at best), what then? Al Qaeda's political goals do not exist in a vacuum, and real poverty and desperation exist in the Middle East. Eradicating al Qaeda will not address the grievances, real or imagined, that they purport to address. From that perspective, destroying al Qaeda accomplishes nothing.

We are shadow-boxing in Iraq now, fighting a bully that can't really be hit, but that gets stronger with each misstep we make. I've said it before: bring the troops home.

Monday, May 7, 2007

I Wanna Break Something

You know that scene in Pulp Fiction where Butch has a temper-tantrum about his watch? That's exactly how I feel right now. My configuration file that I spent the last three months fine-tuning has been corrupted, and my deployment is screwed without it.

Did I title this post "I wanna break something"? I already did.


Sunday, May 6, 2007

More Words I Like

Part two, baby! In part one, I simply listed my beloved words without comment. That was fun, but looking back, I'm sure it made for a weak read. So I thought I'd better say a bit this time.

According to one source, the English language is closing in on one million words. Holy buckets! I had no idea it was that high. I thought the number was somewhere around 600,000. I assume that many of the newer words in English are actually borrowed from other languages as global communication and culture develops. From that perspective, it would be fascinating to travel forward in time, say five hundred years or so, and discover whether a truly global language has evolved. I wonder if philologists have begun to contemplate the impact that the internet, email, and cell phones will ultimately have on languages around the world.

Incidentally, This series was inspired by a friend of mine who called me a "word nerd." Now, I took it as a fine compliment, but the truth is that I am not a word nerd, at least when compared to some. Next to some folks I know, I am a mere "word apprentice," unworthy of the title among the astonishing linguists and remarkable human dictionaries with whom I converse.

I should add that my favorite words aren't chosen solely for their meaning or their rarity or uniqueness . Some are selected for their sound, or for the mouth shape made when saying them, or for the way they look on the page. I also chose some because of a fond memory for the original context in which I learned its meaning, or for a delight in a particular author's or lyricist's turn of a phrase using the word. You'll have to decide which is which. Or you can just ask. Or you can just skip to the next post. Anyway...

blitzkrieg feast cloying breast entreat sinewy fiction vacuous paradigm solipsism wizard champion league pump thumb earnest schadenfreude tautology thwart grab ass legion wise nipple regent steward insipid game throat supple gonad lumbar demigod boner bottle ache placate humble lord sordid liquid crimson star

Saturday, May 5, 2007

This Rules

H3 Hummer... $33,225
New rims... $2,396
Custom paintjob... about $10,000

Wheels stolen, vehicle ticketed by police, and fugly party-ride dragged & towed away by two trucks... priceless.

Friday, May 4, 2007

I Scream Koan

A friend of mine started a meditation class recently. It follows her pilates workout. She has been been looking at chakras and koan cards and working on all manner of breathing and relaxation techniques. From her descriptions and her apparent satisfaction, it seems to be a great class.

I have studied two forms of martial art, learned about several religions and philosophies, and even dabbled in alternative spirituality, but I have never taken a course specifically for learning meditation. So I have been listening with interest to the things that she has revealed to me about her sessions. The other day she shared one of the thoughts on her koan card, and it stuck. I've been turning it over in my head for the last few days. On the front of the card, it said:

"Make medicine from suffering."

On the other side, the card read:

"Abandon your judgements and concentrate on healing yourself so that you can cease to be a patient and become a doctor. Suffering heals separateness."

The meaning seems clear to me: the koan entreats us to look upon hardship as a way to learn lessons about our own nature, and to use those lessons as a salve to heal ourselves and grow beyond our apparent shortcomings. I like this sentiment. As a response to life's trials it is neither passive nor unrealistic. It invites us to become agents in our own salvation, which in turn will make us vessels for rendering aid and comfort unto others.

The last part of the koan troubles me, however: it comes uncomfortably close to the glorification of suffering as a sacred rite of passage. "Suffering heals separateness"? That sounds like a Catholic Christian concept, one that I grew up with and that I find to be very distasteful. Suffering is not an agent. It does not "heal" anything. It does not "do" anything at all: it is a result, an outcome. At best, suffering is a random misfortune that befalls someone. At its worst, it is caused by the evil and/or greed of another human being. Our response to tragedy, to adversity, to suffering... that is what sets us apart. Not the suffering itself.

It is possible that the teacher who wrote that koan intended for students to contemplate such an avenue of meaning. I cannot presume it didn't occur to that person! After all, I am ignorant of the author's goal, and of the broader philosophical and spiritual context taught in the class. But throughout the ages philosophers and theologians have considered human suffering, and have struggled to assign meaning to it. So it upsets me to see suffering couched in terms that lend it an air of mystical purpose. I want to believe that a person's redemption lies in the choices he makes, not in the sorrows that befall him.

I'll have to think on this more. Maybe I'll bug my friend again - perhaps there will be a clue in next week's koan... Meantime, I'll embrace hedonism.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Abject Failure

I'm supposed to be wallowing in my own self-pity, like any self-respecting tortured artist. But I don't have time for that, thanks to all these dumb-shits who keep piling on. Stupid Sons-of-Bitches! So all I can muster is righteous indignation. To wit: the NYT reported Sunday that some of the most highly-touted Iraqi reconstruction "success stories," such as the maternity hospital, are actually crumbling masses of rubble, and that one expert remarked flatly that reconstruction is "doomed to failure." Kinda makes you all warm and fuzzy inside, don't it?

Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Injustice, Solomon Grundy says shit like "Why is winning in Iraq so important? [Because] in my view and others, al Qaeda has made Iraq the central front in their war with us." Yeah, right. Fact: Al Qaeda did not operate in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion. We practically invited those jackasses into the country by fucking it up so royally! Hell, that was exactly what al Qaeda wanted: to immerse the West in a polarizing conflict with Islam. Mission Accomplished! Iraq is now the perfect terrorist recruiting station and training ground. Well done, Bush Administration! Goddamn Legion of Doom motherfuckers.

Here's another one that makes my head spin: wonks keep calling the current (now vetoed) budget bill on Capitol Hill "funding for the troops." Can't play politics with funding for the troops. Let's put the fun back in funding for the troops! Blah blah blah. Now I haven't read the bill, but I'd bet real money that our soldiers' pay comes out of the Pentagon's base budget. It damn well better, or I might have to become a tax-protester. But whatever. We all know that this funding bill is for the war, not the troops. And there's a big fucking difference between the two.

Civic Pride In My Gut

Gotta love a hometown food write-up in the New York Times. There are some terrific places to eat in the Twin Towns! For our size, I like to think we are on par with the big boys, like San Fran and NYC itself. Go Minneapolis! Just a few weeks ago Salon ran a piece on Hell's Kitchen. They have some damn good food. Amazingly, I haven't tried any of these joints mentioned in the Times article. I have some work to do!

The last place I tried was The Craftsman - I had a brilliant appetizer - pork rillettes with crostini. Oh my god does that sound good right now. They also great selection of local brews. However, if you go, I recommend that you skip the chorizo pizza: though the sausage was suitably dry and spicy, the pie had too much potato for my palette.

Dammat, now I'm hungry again...