June 30, 2005

Boycott Gay Jews?

I disapproved of the AUT boycott of Israel for all the customary reasons, as might have been predicted, even though I willingly concede that there were well-intentioned ingenues amongst those who disagreed.

However, this proposed boycott of an Israeli gay pride event seems to stretch absurdity even further than even I can entertain for the sake of argument or the benefit of the doubt. The interior monologue where I try to describe why has just turned my mind into a pretzel, but Norm and Engage take a shot. Appalling and confusing.

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June 29, 2005

I Always Wanted the Smart Kids to Fail


Found in Oakland.

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Meaning Well, By Whatever Means Necessary

On the eve of Live 8, Prospect's David Rieff revisits Live Aid, and the vexing topic of how politics and the behavior of totalitarian regimes can complicate the ethics of even the best-intentioned relief efforts:

Did the mobilisation of public opinion through celebrity endorsement really play the positive role with which it is now credited? To ask this question is emphatically not to turn hagiography on its head and to demonise either Geldof or Live Aid. There is no smoking-gun evidence demonstrating that Live Aid achieved nothing, or only did harm. But there is ample reason to conclude that Live Aid did harm as well as good. It is also arguable that Live Aid may have done more harm than good...

The [Ethiopian] famine was the product of three elements, only one of which could be described as a natural event—a two-year long drought across the Sahel sub-region. The other two contributing factors were entirely man-made. The first was the dislocation imposed by the wars being waged by the central government in Addis Ababa against both Eritrean guerrillas and the Tigrean People's Liberation Front. The second, and by far the most serious, was a forced agricultural collectivisation policy pursued with seemingly limitless ruthlessness by Mengistu Haile Mariam and his colleagues in the Dergue (committee) who had overthrown emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 (and officially adopted communism as their creed in 1984). This collectivisation was every bit the equal in its radicalism to the policies Stalin pursued in the Ukraine in the 1930s, where, as in Ethiopia, the result was inevitable: famine.

It was this policy that western aid would unwittingly assist, even as it saved lives...

There's also this jaw-dropping (and revealing) quote from Bob Geldof, who blithely imagines a kinder, gentler World War II, in which a Live Aid-like organization would "help people" by delivering supplies to Auschwitz:

If Live Aid had existed during the second world war, and if we'd heard that there were people dying in concentration camps, would we have refused to bring food and assistance to those camps? Of course not!
There's the flaw in Geldof's worldview in a nutshell, perhaps. Of course, he means well. But maybe we need some smarter saints around here.

(crossposted on SG.)

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Good Morning, Rockers

If you can think of a better way to start the day, I'd love to hear it, but I sincerely doubt you could do better than this:

Eurodisco masters Dschinghis Khan performing "The Rocking Son of Dschingis Khan" on a German TV show.

This is arguably even better than the well-known Eurovision entry "Moskau," because of the storyline. The long-haired mustachioed guy steps into the spotlight to portray the titular son of the Mongolian Emperor. Unlike dad, he's not much of a fighter. In fact, he'd rather be a writer. And he spends much of his time in seclusion, quietly studying the work of his idol Ringo Starr. Meanwhile, his father, portrayed by the tall Rasputin-esque dude who is usually the group's frontman, sits on a throne in the back, pointing to this and that, and occasionally standing up, but seeming to withhold his approval of this new, rock and roll-oriented direction of the Khan dynasty.

"Look at me, Daddy," says the rocking son, before demonstrating just what he can do on the drums. The gals are impressed. "Isn't he sweet?"

Finally, dad is won over, and rises from his throne for a few "yeahs," some "rock and rolls" and a final chorus with a hip-swinging dance that brings it all home.


(via WFMU.)

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Heavy, man

The WSJ examines YA novels with "heavy themes."

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Elizabeth, You Ignorant Slut...

A few days ago, I linked to Elizabeth Clementson's attack on MFA programs.

Now writer Steve Almond responds to Elizabeth with a full-spectrum fisking. (It's down the left-side of the main Moby page.)

Almond makes his distaste for Clementson and her ilk abundantly clear. As for the defense of the institution of the MFA and its value to aspiring writers, I'll leave it to you to decide whether his faint praise is sufficiently damning. I'm starting to think that spending your MFA money on seventy months' rent instead might be the wiser course...

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June 28, 2005

All right, everybody stay in focus...

Found in Berkeley:


Unfortunately, I'm getting a Ring vibe here...

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June 27, 2005

The Meme Police, cont.

Sheila O'Malley celebrates "one of the greatest female characters of all time."

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Beyond Parody

The editor of The Age thinks Douglas Wood should be more solicitous towards his kidnappers:

I was, I have to say, shocked by Douglas Wood's use of the a---hole word, if I can put it like that, which I just thought was coarse and very ill-thought through and I think demeans the man and is one of the reasons why people are slightly sceptical of his motives and everything else.

The issue really is largely, speaking as I understand it, he was treated well there. He says he was fed every day, and as such to turn around and use that kind of language I think is just insensitive.

Sounds like a fun time, but I guess you can't please everybody. Come on, Doug: they're doing the best they can. Give 'em a break.

(via Tim Blair.)

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June 25, 2005

The Brit's Eye View

Harry takes on Eric Hobsbawm.

Meanwhile, Guardian columnist Mark Lawson visits America, watches some TV, and concludes that this country really has become a theocracy to an "astonishing" extent.

Last week an 11-year-old boy from Utah disappeared during a scout camp. After four days in the wilderness, the child was found, thirsty but perky. It's true that even British phone-ins in these circumstances would have freely invoked a "miracle", but the public comments of the boy's relatives and family friends resembled scenes from Iran of the ayatollahs unexpectedly dubbed into American.


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Leave house 12 30pM

Beth sends along this transcription of a note she found on her way to church earlier this week. "I enjoy its almost poetic normality," she writes. So do I.

(upon lined spiral paper, as written)

Shake Well

TAKe measuring cup
and glass cup or plastic
225-250 ml cup
a little less thAN
1 cup-pour into
Empty container
Leave house 12 30pM

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On Being All the Way Out There

From an interview with Daniel Pinkwater:

Someone once said that no book has ever been written that could not be subtitled, "How to Be More Like Me." I am conscious never to write a book that could be so subtitled. My rules of writing are: Do not show off. Do not indulge yourself. Do not kiss the reader's ass.

I once got stranded on some rocks alongside the Hudson River. On the Jersey side of the Hudson River, there are these 450 foot cliffs, and I was hiking. I saw a sign that said "Danger! Do not proceed any further." But the sign looked old. I decided it was some old danger, so I proceeded further, and I found myself encountering a rock slide that I had to traverse. It looked quite easy, but as I got into it, I realized that the shore curved away and it got into a really complicated bit of mountaineering where there were boulders as big as houses that I had to haul my fat body over. I was all alone. You could lose your footing and fall into a hole, or you could break your leg and be drowned by the tide. No one would ever know you were there. In fact, I half expected to find somebody's skeleton. It took me all day to work my way down to a place where there were stairs cut into the cliff. There were pleasure boats on the river. All I had to do was call to a boater to come close to shore, jump in the river, swim over, and make it to safety. I couldn't do it.

As I finally came off this tortuous rock slide, I was in an area of trees and greensward. It was like a Disney movie; all the little animals came right up to me. I had spent all the aggression that was in me and the animals - chipmunks and squirrels and birds and things, said, "Here's a chance to look at a human close up. He's not going to hurt us." They were all gathered around my feet. I felt like Snow White or something. Each step I took, they'd move over and hop along with me. It was eerie. I contend that you can do this as a writer. And it's safer. Which is why I don't outline. The pleasure for me is to be all the way out there.

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June 24, 2005

The Hunting of the Snark

Is criticism too "snarky" these days? Or is everybody too nice? Those age-old questions have been revived and batted around by a certain art-focused segment of the blogosphere recently.

I think it began with Neal Pollack's New York Times account of his "break-up" with Dave Eggers. Or rather, it began with Eggers's lengthy "small correction" to that piece. (Read the Pollack piece, at minimum: it's funny.) Anyway, Eggers envisions a literary environment that is caring, encouraging, and mutually supportive all around. Which is a nice thought, but also kind of a dippy one, as some have been unable to resist pointing out, and in a manner that really isn't all that caring, encouraging, or mutually supportive.

These people have a point: earnestness in search of niceness is funny, irritating, and often quite lame. A common target of such criticism is the literary journal The Believer and its surrounding culture, described as "the literary equivalent of Up with People" in this article about Nick Hornby, and embodied in this famous manifesto contra crabby reviews. (The current Believer is the music issue, which includes a CD of artists covering each other's songs. That strikes some as obscenely smarmy and mutually-supportive - I guess if this is your first encounter with the covers comp. concept, it might seem that way.) As this New York Times piece points out, the blog The Shins Will Change Your Life, a collection of excerpted gushing music "criticism" presented without comment, is a kind of antidote.

The creeping niceness infects not only the critics, but those they criticize. Everyone has joined forces in a dippy, soppy, mutually-supportive mess. Except for a few bold critics of the critics who aren't afraid to stand up and be counted. They've never met anyone, they'll tell you, who didn't understand a slap across the mouth or a slug from a 45. Matthew Wilder ties it all together, denouncing the "new male infantilism" exemplified by Conor Oberst, Jonathon Safran Foer, and Wes Anderson. Everyone is a "Smurf Boy" these days. Where have all the tough guys gone?

Now, the hard-drinking, bar-brawling, womanizing, cigar-chomping, tough son of a bitch novelist is just as much a cliché as the supposedly-neo sensitive-artist figures caricatured here. And earnest nostalgia for an imaginary world populated primarily by these guys is funny in its own right. It's pretty common, too. There's always someone who will, for the sake of contrariness or as a cry for help, dismiss the year's entire book list as too effete and express the fervent wish that Norman Mailer would just come over and slap everyone around. "Don't make me come down there," they imagine Hemingway saying from his heavenly, rough and tumble cloud. You all better watch out, they say. Hemingway's coming. And when he does, he's gonna cut you.

It's the same way with music. The frail, bespectacled free-lance writer who once sold a piece to Rolling Stone and now works for the local alt-weekly can be seen down at the club, cowering in the corner and madly scribbling in his notepad: "where's the threat? where's the danger? Rock and roll is supposed to be about fucking and fighting. Fucking and fighting! Fucking and fighting! Its center of gravity is located in the hips, not the brain. It's the siren song of the switchblade, the muscle car, hard drugs, and paternity suits, not some weeping adolescent's bedroom. Where is this band's third leg? Oh, God, I hate myself..." Similarly, rock writers in Britain want you to be "American," or you don't compute: and by "American," they mean a kind of cave man. It's a dreamy fantasy.

As for whether criticism is too nice or snarky, it depends on whose ox is gored. An over-the-top hit piece can be enjoyable in its own right if it's done skillfully enough, even if you like the thing being trashed. But as a rule: if you like the target, you get irritated, and if you don't like the target, you say "hear hear" and forward it to your friends list and post the link on your blog.

And if you are the target? Well, you pretend to be a good sport about it. And then you put this critic on your personal enemies list and fantasize constantly about his or her destruction. And you never forget. Years later they call your publicist and ask to be on the list for a show, at which they try to pal around with you like you're old friends who've been through a lot together. Most of them don't seem all that concerned with keeping an eye on their drink just in case someone might put something in it when they're not looking. Which is mystifying.

Anyway, when it comes to criticism of the criticism, poisoning someone's drink is, perhaps, a bit over the top. Understatement and irony are far better, which is why The Shins Will Change Your Life is the perfect criticism criticism. Read the whole thing and laugh heartily. Because someone, somewhere, is laughing at you.

(cross-posted at Suicide Girls.)

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June 23, 2005

Teach Your Children Well

Michele reports on what appears to be a truly awful children's book.

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The Folly of One's Youth

The author of The Anarchist Cookbook disavows his own book on Amazon.

(via Fimoculous.)

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London's Burning

Ambulance chiefs today urged the public not to ring 999 if they felt “hot and sweaty” after a 25% increase in calls...

Liz Howarth, the service’s director of corporate development said: “Many people are calling with complaints that they are ‘hot and sweaty’, which is to be expected in this weather, and we would ask people to consider other forms of help and advice before dialling 999."

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Yet Another Way to Suffer for Your Art

Elizabeth Clementson's "Down with MFAs" guest column on MobyLives (down the left-hand side of the main page) has sparked vigorous disagreement from various MFA-holding readers, as well as a plaudit or two.

It seems that many people feel that what they learned from their MFA programs was indeed worth the money. And even though "writing by committee" doesn't sound all that swell, if the program teaches you how to harness the horses and drive them, and instructs you how to kill your darlings effectively, then it seems a possible, if financially inefficient, way to get there. I doubt many of the students in these programs come to the table with a perfect Ulysses or To Kill a Mockingbird that cannot be improved upon. I also wonder whether assigning the blame for commercial "plotlines" to the MFA workshop teaching method isn't a bit misplaced, since much "literary" fiction these days doesn't seem too concerned with presenting a story - for many people, that's what makes it seem "literary" in the first place.

All that aside, though, being saddled with $70,000 of debt and the dubious notion that you can take care of it with your first big advance doesn't sound like a wonderful way to begin a literary career. (Of course, if writing is merely a sideline to your teaching job, that's another story: one letter-writer, in defending the institution of the MFA, insists nonetheless that it's only worth it if you get it for free, as many who are already in the academic racket can apparently do.)

As for what the world looks like when you actually have an MFA? Well, my impression from idle, unscientific, wholly cursory, and more or less unsubstantiatable observation of publishing folks is that people with MFAs have a slight disadvantage in one way, in that everyone assumes that anyone who has one will be insufferable, difficult, or otherwise annoying. Journalists tend to roll their eyes in pretty much the same manner when it comes to J-school degrees. So maybe that should be factored into the cost-benefit analysis in some way.

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Hot Salmon Action

Robin Cody has bowdlerized his own coming of age novel, cutting out the juicy bits in a new edition for teaching purposes.

In one, the book's main characters -- all teens -- spend the night in a hotel room in The Dalles. It's a comic scene that has been one of Cody's favorites for out-loud readings. But it involves alcohol and sex, and Cody understood parents' and teachers' discomfort with the messages the scene might send to high schoolers.

Cody removed this scene and toned down another that occurs in the woods near some mating salmon. He also replaced a few expletives.

"It looks like I'm caving to right-wing pressure," he said.

But in fact, Cody said he felt the book did not depend on those elements and regretted that they would cause students to miss some other important themes.

(via Bookslut.)

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June 22, 2005

Civilization is Trying to Find a New Way to Die

For those who might be interested, here's the first real advance review of King Dork. Warning: includes excerpts, spoilers, and Who lyrics.

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New Jobs for Actors

I got a kick out of this anecdote about a "live commercial" for British Airways on the tube to Heathrow:

...on the train back to Heathrow, two men stopped in my car and started talking about how one of them wasn't going to make his flight. The man insisted that he was going to make his flight because he'd checked-in online way before hand at BA.com. The conversation/argument went on for about a minute and a half before the BA.com stuff got out of hand and it turned out that the guys were actors paid to make us think about BA.com. They went to the next car and began again.

Stayfree's Charles Star connects this to the wartime "whispering campaigns" of the 30s and 40s. I can see the connection, but to me this sounds more like a formal commercial, as though the people on the TV just popped out of the screen and into your train. Since I love TV, I'd probably enjoy being the audience of something like this, at least the first few times. (As long as they're not shouting like that Oxyclean guy - that would be annoying.)

In fact, this is done informally all the time, in that people re-enact commercials on their own in real life as a recreational activity. My sister and I, as kids, used to go up to people and say things like "ooh, ring around the collar." And then one of us would say "those dirty rings. You try scraping, and scrubbing, and you still get..." OK, we were a little weird, but I know we weren't the only ones.

We were dedicated amateurs. I wonder how much a pro gets paid for a gig like that. Maybe Whisk owes me some money...

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A Whole Joke Genre, All about Me

Kendra turns up a pretty good solipsism joke, and a couple of funny websites.

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June 18, 2005

Here we go...

Wow, King Dork's first joke Amazon review.

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The Book Police

OK, I'm not "meme"-happy all of a sudden or anything. I feel a little embarrassed that I'm doing two in one month, but Ted Barlow "tagged" me so graciously that I feel I ought to be gracious back.

Here it is:

What fiction did you read as a teen/young adult that you have re-read as an adult (or would like to)? What pieces of fiction meant something to you? Put up your list, and pass it on to 2-3 people.

Even discounting the "adult" books I read as a kid, and standard age-transcendent stuff like Tolkien and Narnia and Watership Down, this would actually be a very, very long list for me. I count a number of YA novels among my favorite books period and I've reread a great many of them several times. There is a widespread notion that there's something weird or inappropriate about reading "teen fiction" as an adult; and that books dealing with adolescent themes or characters are somehow "beneath" adults, and not as good or worthwhile as "adult" books; or that YA books aren't quite the same as "real" books. I think that's totally crazy. But then I guess I would, wouldn't I?

(Seriously, though: if you applied the same logic to music, you'd have to stop listening to "Can't Explain" as soon as you reach drinking age - that's not a world I'd like to live in. In fact, just a sec, I'm going to play "Can't Explain" really loud for the next two minutes and four seconds.... and we're back. I don't care how old you are or how legal your drinking is - it's still hard to explain stuff.)

In fact, I find much contemporary "adult" "literary" fiction pretty unreadable. If you haven't picked up a novel with a plot in awhile, you might want to try some of these, even though many of them are intended for "pre-teens":

The Silver Crown, by Robert C. O'Brien. This is the author of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, but I've always preferred this one. A young girl spends the early morning of her birthday playing in the park, and when she returns she finds that her house has burned to the ground in her absence. "Kid, nobody lives here," says a cop when she tries to tell him it had been her house. "They'll be lucky if they find some bones." As she is stalked through the country by dark, sinister figures and elusive phantasms with green faces, she begins to suspect that it all may have something to do with this silver fabric crown she found on her pillow when she woke up that day, which she had assumed was a birthday present. It's a bit Lord of the Rings, a bit Trial/Castle, and, admittedly, maybe just a bit Escape to Witch Mountain as well, but it's a great book. And even though it's tagged for ages 9-12, it was genuinely scary and suspenseful when I reread it last year.

(George), by E. L. Konigsburg. A precocious sixth-grader struggles through his troubled home and social life aided and hindered by the voice of a repressed second personality named George ("a little man who lives inside me.") All of Konigsburg's books are great, but this is the most powerful.

The Collected Works of Ellen Raskin. They've never actually been "collected" as far as I know, but they're all terrific "puzzle-mystery" books of varying degrees of wackiness. The Westing Game (as good as any "adult" mystery); The Mysterious Disapperance of Leon (I Mean Noel) (aptly described as a sort of "psychedelic detective book for kids" by an Amazon reviewer); Figgs and Phantoms (a deep and well-plotted surreal literary mystery); The Case of the Tatooed Potato and Other Clues (which I can't find on Amazon - must be way out of print. A series of art-related puzzle stories.)

I Am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier. A first-rate psychological thriller, and also a subtle exploration of the complex adolescent emotional landscape. There are few novels as powerful and moving as this. All Cormier's stuff is great, and he kept going right up till the end: try Tenderness, or After the First Death. (I have to admit I had a little goofy "wow-I'm-speechless-and-blown-away" moment when I realized that Cormier and I had the same publisher - Delacorte.)

Lizard Music, by D. Manus Pinkwater. A surreal tale of a young Walter Cronkite fan who tries to get to the bottom of a mysterious late-night lizard TV show that no one else seems able to see. One of my all-time favorite books.

I could list hundreds of books, but I'll stop.

I'm sorry for being a bad meme-citizen, but now that it comes down to it I don't think I can bring myself to "tag" anyone. (This was started by John Cole, and Michele did it, too.)

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June 16, 2005

Found Sound

Regular readers know that, like a lot of people, I collect "found" stuff. Usually that means written material, like letters, notes, shopping lists, that sort of thing, though it can include photos and other anomalous objects as well. Over the years, I've amassed a pretty decent collection, and I've posted some of it here from time to time.

It's rare that music figures in these finds, but here's one in which it does:

So I'm walking through my local cemetery (Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland - it's a great place to walk and a fun place to hang out in) and I notice the sun reflecting off something in the mud. It turns out to be an unlabelled CDR. Nearby, there is a single tracklist page from a SONY CDR package:


On the other side of the page, in off-kilter psychotic-looking lettering, it says: "rivendell" and "riven" curving down and to the right:


I wasn't sure the CDR would play. It was covered in mud and kind of scratched. However, I cleaned it off and was able to play it. It began with an ethereal recorder played over an acoustic guitar strumming some crazily not-usually-played-within-the-key minor chords. We're talking "Stairway to Heaven"-style here. Soon synths and martialistic drums came in, taking us more into Black Sabbath territory. Track 2 began the same way, with the recorder/synth/acoustic Renaissance Faire-ish sound with the same music theory-defying minor chords where you least expect them; then came the drums and heavy guitars. A Cookie Monster vocal alternates with some Wizard of Oz Monkey-style chanting and it all becomes more traditionally black metal-ish from that point on.

Well, after some googling, I'm pretty sure that this is the CD I've been listening to: The Ancient Glory by Rivendell. Info:

Just like the name and the song-titles imply, the Austrian one-man-project RIVENDELL is taking on JRR Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings". And looking at the fact that they are signed to Skaldic Art, the musical direction already is almost given as well, as it is the label of Vratyas Vakyas, mastermind of FALKENBACH.

Hence the solitary member Falagar is following their trail, but without being a pure copy, varied vocals, melody-leading keyboards and compositions, which partly are deeply rooted in Black Metal, but then also having folky intrusions, make sure of that.

It also appears on this list of Awesome Heavy Metal Worth Buying by one Jaron, Professional Musician.

It just goes to show how it pays to notice what's lying around on the ground. If I hadn't been looking, I would have gone to my grave never having heard the crazy chord progressions of "Aragorn Son of Arathorn," or "Durin's Halls" by Rivendell. And I never would have known about the Oakland Middle-Earth Elf-rocker who "still has some more receds," but, somehow, lost one of them at the Mountain View Cemetery. I would love to know the story behind that, though I'm sure I never will.

(Cross-posted at suicidegirls/news.)

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June 15, 2005

Yet Another King Dork Update

As far as I know, this is going to be the front cover (plus spine) of King Dork:


Here's the full drawing "underneath" the "torn off" corner:


I say "as far as I know," because there's still a chance it could change. Apparently, they change the covers of some books right up to the final weeks before publication. And every cover of every book these days has to be approved by Barnes & Noble (the most powerful entity in publishing) and I 'm not sure where my book is in the Barnes & Noble approval process. (My agent says one book he worked on recently went through 65 different cover designs before it was finally published.) But this is what it is at this point, and it's what's on the galleys or "uncorrected proofs," so it feels pretty "real."

I'm reviewing the typeset version now. I have to say, it's pretty weird and cool to see it in galley form: it looks like a trade paperback. But they're not kidding about the "uncorrected" part. Mine has like a thousand Post-its stuck all over it.

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June 14, 2005

Dating Holden Caulfield

On re-reading your childhood:

I’m currently re-reading The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. The last time I read this book, I was 18. I know this because I write my name and date inside the front cover of all of my books each time I read them. This leads to an interesting tree-trunk look at what I deemed worthy of underlining at different times in my life. The majority of these underlined selections make me think “Uh, okay?” For instance, in 1995, on page 77, I underlined the sentence, “I am Jewish by instinct. We share the same exile.” Wha? Did that really resonate with me, an 18 year old girl in the Midwest? A girl who spent her entire summer before college depressed in her bedroom, completely wasting her youth and her time but more importantly, her long tan legs? That girl was some kind of asshole, let me tell you.

Last year I revisited some books from my adolesence, and not all of them stood the test of time. To Kill A Mockingbird was even better at 26 than it was at 15, but Franny and Zooey made me roll my eyes a lot. I always regretted not reading Salinger until I was 20, which is way too old. I mean, I can appreciate it, and I’ll always have a soft spot for For Esme, With Love and Squalor, but you’ve really got to be barely legal in order to make Salinger stick for a lifetime. Had I read Catcher in the Rye at 16 like everyone else, I might have fallen in love with it, but at 20, I’d already dated Holden Caulfield a few times and was sick of his shit.

(via Bitter Girl.)

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Lucy's Letter to the World

Lucy Elmann had to get something off her chest, it seems, and a review of Francine Prose's A Changed Man was as good a forum as any:

American sentimentality may once have seemed endearing, but now we know it's just another instrument of evil. Every aspect of American culture has begun to stink of the grave. The pizzas and hamburgers: this is how world tyrants fuel themselves. The cars, the drugs, the music, the TV: this is how they distract themselves from their crimes. But how can they still think they're right about anything? Their children are deep-fried, drug-soaked numbskulls, the adults hapless lemmings in their SUVs, heading straight into the back-end of the American dream. Where is the guilt - and where the apology?

Norm Geras cites this as an example of how "recent world events have unbalanced the judgement of a lot of people of the well-meaning, right-thinking classes." I keep imagining Francine Prose, reading the review on her laptop, shaking her head in a kind of disbelief. (I'm not Francine Prose and I'm still shaking my head in a kind of disbelief, hours after I read it.) "How was I supposed to know," Francine would say to her husband or co-worker, "that in order to get the Guardian seal of approval my novel would have to be structured around an apology for the crime of being American? Why couldn't they have assigned the review to a less, um, unstable reviewer? And have you read this bitch's book? Just what the world needs, more tedious chick-lit. It's really sad that you weren't the PRETTIEST girl in the class, honey, but I sure am glad you landed ON YOUR FEET in the end..."

That's how reviewees tend to react to unfavorable reviews and the reviewers who write them. It is.

But what's striking is not the fact that the review is unfavorable - that "goes with the territory," as the saying goes; what's striking is that it is psychotic. Lucy Ellmann is presumably capable of empathy in a general way as far as psychotic book reviews are concerned. People, as she's probably aware, keep careful track of such things, and they never forget. And she has to know that she has made an enemy for life here, and for no point.

Toward the end, Elmann also appears to blame American Sentimentality and the US Marines for the Holocaust. Truly weird.

(via Gary Farber.)

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June 13, 2005

The Young Visiter

I am utterly charmed by the excerpts from the teen-written Harry Potter-y novel described in this article:

The wind howled like a pack of wolves on the hunt and the ocean rolled fiercely, tossing a small, battered boat around in its rage...

The author plans to invest her book deal money in a horse.

(via Book Ninja.)

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June 12, 2005

The Way Things Are


This diagram of how the world works was found taped to a lamp post in Santa Monica in 2004 by frequent commenter and longtime associate Wes Biggs, who generously forwarded it to me.

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June 10, 2005

Was that a Secret Message?

This kid's Napoleon Dynamite impression in the middle of a spelling bee is way funnier than it probably ought to be.

(via the Corner.)

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June 09, 2005

Hiding Forever

It is the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Judy Blume's Forever, prompting this interview-article. There's an amusing anecdote about Margaret Drabble's navel-genital confusion, and some interesting observations on the state of public morality, popular culture and publishing.

Like this, for example, concerning the fate of the allegedly-erstwhile "sexual revolution":

The expectation in late 1970s America was that this process of liberalisation would continue. If anything, the reverse has been true. The rise of the religious rightwing is evident today in the ubiquity of pressure groups such as True Love Waits, who preach sexual abstinence until marriage; President Bush's administration has doubled federal funding for abstinence education programmes and introduced the partial birth abortion bill, seen by the pro-choice lobby as a move to limit the control women gained over their bodies following the landmark Roe v Wade case in 1973.

Honestly, I don't think this is true, neither with regard to publishing nor with regard to the culture at large. I don't know if there's a way to quantify it properly, but can these folks really believe that American society and pop culture in 2005 is more prudish than it was in 1975? It seems to me that the "process of liberalisation" has indeed continued, and continues to continue like gangbusters. Certainly, there are those who don't like it, who complain about it, who try to ban this and that, but such campaigns have always existed. I'm sure Judy Blume would know better than me, but I have a hard time believing the Dark Age/Golden Age 2005/1975 schema.

This is borne out inadvertently by the article itself, which begins thus:

My copy lived under the mattress; my sister kept hers in a locked desk drawer; my best friend's was buried under a pile of too-small clothes at the back of her wardrobe. I was 13 or so when overnight it became de rigueur for every girl in my year to have - and hide - a copy of Judy Blume's teenage classic...

I doubt many teens have to bother to hide their Forevers these days.

And as Blume herself mentions, YA novels and other teen lit published these days tend to be far more risqué than anything in Forever, and I doubt anyone would dispute that. It's a convenient way to slip in a slap at this or that political hobbyhorse, but as actual cultural criticism, the analysis doesn't quite compute.

(Many middle class Britons really do believe that the USA has become a totalitarian religious-prudish police state which has already destroyed all that Judy Blume has achieved. I mean, they believe it literally, or at least, I've met many who do. Some stateside paranoiacs seem to believe it, too, though I doubt their experience of day to day life or prime time TV can have really borne it out. Then again, I'm from the Bay Area, where we are far more tolerant and liberated than anybody else, and it may be that I've been blinded by our own awesome superiority. That happens to us all the time over here.)

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Sex, Death, Music, Fiction, Comics, Cars, Babes, Morgues

An idea whose time has come.

(via WFMU.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:50 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Come for the Naked, Slightly Metallic, Alterna-girls - Stay for the Witty Blogging of Unbelievably High Literary Quality

Or vice versa, maybe. Anyway, I've started posting music-related stuff on the suicidegirls.com "newswire." They're restructuring it to make it more "blogospheric," and along with their usual crew they've signed up me, Wil Wheaton, Susannah Breslin, and Michael Totten (though he's been with them for a while, as it turns out.)

I've never done anything like this before, and even though I'm not known for working well with others, it's been fun so far. It's more or less a blog, not quite a job - it's: a blob!

Anyway, if you want to read my snarky posts on this or that vaguely music-related thing, you can follow this link. (The blog part of the site is "safe for work;" the rest of the site may or may not be, depending on where you work, I guess.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:25 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Good God Almighty! That Woman is a Sewer!

An auction house is flogging items from Ayn Rand's personal library. The listing for Rand's copy of Mary McCarthy's The Humanist in the Bathtub includes transcriptions of several humorous marginal notes, one of which is the title of this post.

If you've got $600-900, you could also try to pick up Ayn Rand's copy of Jonathon Livingston Seagull.

(via Moby.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

June 08, 2005

Oh, the Humanities, Part II

Remember that call for papers on "the gendered construction of public toilets"?

Well Alex Beam actually interviewed the co-editor, Olga Gershenson, who sticks by her story: the project, she insists, is a "very serious project in an established field of inquiry combining feminist architecture and feminist design."

Feminist architecture?

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In the comments to the post immediately below, Kendra asks for more Father Feeley stories.

This isn't exactly a story, and I'm pretty sure Kendra has heard it before, but here goes;

One job you have as an altar boy is to hold this gold-plated dish called a platen under the host as the priest places it on the communicant's tongue. That way, if the priest fumbles the host, or if something else goes wrong, the altar boy can catch it on the way down with the platen and prevent it from touching the ground. (Or it used to be that way - now they have Communion in the Hand. It seems like the same principle would apply to this method, but I haven't seen an actual platen in a long time, for whatever reason.)

When you're a short altar boy, and there are tall communicants, this job can be challenging. You have to reach up, sometimes stand on your toes, while keeping the platen level and in position. Sometimes you screw up and accidentally hit a communicant in the throat because you can't really see what you're doing up there. It can be a bit stressful.

Now when the priest gives the host to the communicant, he says "Body of Christ." He will usually say it like a question, for some reason: "Body of Christ?"

And the communicant says "Amen." (Which is spoken as though in answer or confirmation of the BoC question - I don't know why it is, but that's way it sounds.)

Anyway, this Body of Christ/Amen cycle repeats till everyone has received.

But I was so bad at the whole platen thing that "my" masses sounded more like this:

"Body of Christ?"


"Under the chin, boy, under the chin!"

"Body of Christ?"


"Under the chin, boy, under the chin!"

And so on.

Father Feeley delivered the "under the chin" admonition with tremendous gusto. You know in the musical Oliver, when Mr. Bumble and the Widow Corney say, alternating: "Catch him! Snatch him! Hold him! Scold him! Pounce him! Trounce him! Pick him up and bounce him"? Well, that's a pretty good approximation of the tone and attitude with which Father Feeley used to say "under the chin, boy, under the chin!" To this day I can't attend mass without hearing this phrase echo in my head.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:36 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Father Feeley

Andrew Sullivan posts an old, recycled, but still more or less funny Catholic joke:

Leonardo Boff, Hans Kung and Benedict XVI all die on the same day. They arrive at the Pearly Gates and St Peter welcomes them and says that Jesus wants to see each of them individually. Boff is first to go in to see Jesus. After half an hour, Boff comes out, shaking his head, and muttering, "How could I have been so wrong?" Kung is next. Same deal. After a while, Kung too emerges, head in hands: "How could I have been so wrong?" Benedict is next. After half an hour, Jesus himself comes out and groans: "How can I have been so wrong?"

This is the sophisticated, high-brow Jesuit-y version. I used to hear it told about St. Francis and Mother Theresa, with the altar boy "coach" at my parish in the starring role. He was kind of a mean guy. His name is the title of this post, and I'm not even kidding.

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For complete authenticity, descriptions and comments on the drawings have not been edited

"This website features a series of drawings made by children who were abducted by aliens for the alien purpose of creating a new race of alien/human hybrids."


(a) Drawings of aliens by the children the aliens abduct;

(b) Drawings of humans by the same artists for comparison..

(via Michele.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:44 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The Eye of the Beholder

There's not much to note about this review-blurb of Robert Stone's SLA documentary other than the fact that it appears in the Socialist Worker.

Because of the deadpan irony I discussed in my pseudo-review a ways back, this film has managed to play all sides against the middle to a degree: those attempting to discern an editorial position on the part of the filmmaker have come to quite different conclusions. Some felt Stone was too indulgent and sympathetic to his subjects, that he let them off the hook too easily. I believed that the ironic technique of simply displaying them without comment against the TV and film footage was a fairly devastating indictment in itself. Others seemed to feel that the film's criticism of the SLA was not clear or pointed enough to distinguish their particular brand of idiocy and depravity from that of more beloved 60s radical terrorists like the Weather Underground. (This sort of unspoken agenda, I believe, often lies behind criticism of the SLA by those who are generally sympathetic to or nostalgic for the "armed struggle" facet of 60s radical chic. Such criticism can be quite harsh, but the intention is to assert that the SLA were wholly alien and unconnected to the supposedly more cuddly hey-you-had-to-be-there tradition of 60s radical "political" violence. Some of the criticism of Stone falls into this category, I believe. I'm planning a more extensive post with links to examples - I really find it fascinating.)

At any rate, the Socialist Worker has its own take: Stone "remains sympathetic to their aims whilst showing up their limitations."


Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:58 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 07, 2005

A Present for Mama


Found in Rockridge.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 11:49 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 06, 2005

CGI Woes

Sorry about the (more or less) duplicate entries below. The url for the mp3 had a space in the wrong place, and editing it somehow created another post. I've tried to delete that, but:

I can't delete posts because most of the buttons in my MT pages (the ones at the bottom that say things like "delete," "check all," etc.) don't work for me for some reason. (That has been the case all along with this version of Movable Type, by the way.) The only one that works, I believe, is "save." I also can't use the preview function without all hell breaking loose, which is why I ended up with a misplaced space in the first place.

Basically, the cgi over here at Dr. Frank's What's-It is totally FUBAR, and this seems like as good a time as any to ask if anyone has any idea if it can be fixed. Anyone?

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:37 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

I Know Who Your Friend is, and I'd Love to Go to the Dance with Him. But not Unless He Asks Me Himself!

Perky over-the-top PBS-style audio-acting and crazy Canadian accents are featured in this awesome edit of highlights from the cassette that came with the late 80s boardgame Girl Talk: Date Line.

(From WFMU.)

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This Hurts Women, Apparently

Lisa Carver reads around a dozen pieces of "chick lit" and lives to tell the tale:

Have you seen this girl? She shops, talks, slogs through life, wielding her sense of humor like an itty-bitty knife. She specializes in the small: the muttered joke, TV references, lipstick names, and the analysis of every hilly rise and dip of emotion. She is the second- or third-best-looking girl at the party. At work, The Bitch (a.k.a. the best-looking woman) takes credit for her hard work. But it's just as well because, as it turns out, only a second- or third-best-looking girl is decent enough for an intelligent, funny, dark-haired man to make her whole with his love, and show her that her true voice is the one she's always had — small, cute, neurotic, basically incompetent and not so ultimately important, but still good.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:43 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Fraternal Order of the Alphabet

I don't usually like these "meme" chains, but this one appeals because of the randomness. Put your iTunes in alphabetical order by song and note the first track for each letter.

Michele did it, and came up with a much tougher list than mine.

Apparently, the artist who appears most frequently on the list is the "winner," so for me it's a tie between Snoop Doggy Dogg and Pete Shelley. How about that.

A Bar on the Piccola Marina - Noel Coward

B + A - Beta Band

C.O.D. - AC/DC

D-7 - Wipers

E.F.S. No. 99: "CAN CAN" - CAN

F the CC - Steve Earle

G Funk Intro - Snoop Doggy Dogg

Ha Ha Ha - Flipper

I Ain't Done Wrong - Yardbirds

J'ai Maintes Foi - Ensemble PAN

K. C. Blues - Frank Hutchinson

La Cherite - Soft Boys

Machine Gun Ibiza - Prefab Sprout

Naggin' Woman - Kinks

O ganso - Astrud Gilberto

P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up) - Parliament

Qu'est-ce que c'est que ca? - Pete Shelley

Rabbit Chase - New Lost City Ramblers

S.N.A.K.R.O.C.K. - Go-Nuts

T.H.I.N.K. - Fastbacks

Ubangi Stomp - Warren Smith

Vacuum Cleaner - Tintern Abbey

W Balls - Snoop Doggy Dogg

XL1 - Pete Shelley

Yardbird Suite - Art Pepper

Zabadak - Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Tich

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:02 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

June 05, 2005

The Final Victory

A former Nazi graphic designer named Borg has embarked upon an insane quest to get credit for his role in designing the VW logo:

According to his lawyer, Borg presented the first draft in June 1939 before joining the German military. That autumn he got a letter saying plans for the design were postponed until after final victory.

Since the letter was destroyed some time later, Ciresa said, Borg has had to rely on other documents including an early draft of the logo he found in his cellar and testimony from an army comrade and fellow art enthusiast who had seen the letter...

Just as insanely, perhaps, VW is fighting him all the way, in what appears to be a public relations-savvy bid to ensure that the company's Third Reich origins remain firmly in the public consciousness at all times. The patent for their logo, they argue, was secured long before the "final victory":
A Volkswagen spokesman denied the claim, saying the logo had been submitted to the Third Reich's patent office for copyright protection in May 1938 and was later registered in April 1939.


(via Stay Free.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

That Jesus is One Swell Gal

In re: the previous item about the Girl Power Gospel, a commenter over at the Anchoress mentions a story from a 1971 issue of National Lampoon entitled "The Story of Jessica Christ," by Tony Hendra.

Her last breath at crucifixion: "Men!"

This is so thoroughly up my alley that I can't believe no one has ever pointed it out to me before. It's what I want for Christmas this year. Just so you know.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 04, 2005

A Genre Tweak

The title of the book is: Judith Christ of Nazareth: The Gospels of the Bible Corrected to Reflect that Christ was a Woman.

Not only do we get a Jesusetta named Judith, but there's the Prodigal Daughter, and The Lady's Prayer. And the publisher's name is allegedly "Billie Shakespeare." I can't find anything definitive about the publisher, "LBI Institute," but I imagine it's a self-publishing outfit of some kind.

I've got to say that, as great (read "retarded") as this story is on its own, the Amazon reviews make it even better. It's been getting panned with a lot of one-star reviews, some outraged, some amused, and some where it's a bit hard to tell.

"This book," writes one reviewer, "is straight from the pit." Several warn the authors of their impending eternal damnation. And, getting into the spirit of the thing, a few reviewers identifying themselves by various Devil-aliases chime in with glowing reviews.

I'm not at all sure whether or not to read this one as sarcasm:

Sensitive. Insightful. Nurturing. Thank you for this wonderful book.

And then there's Brandon who, in one of the most enjoyable Amazon reviews I can ever remember reading, cries foul:

None of these 54 or so people who have so dramatically panned this book has actually read it. Half of them admit as much...

As far as the book goes, I've read it. It's nothing special. It's a genre tweak. The language is nearly as dry as the gospels. It's not all that innovative, and in a way it's a one-trick pony.

Brandon concedes that those who think the Corrected Bible is a bit too innovative are entitled to their opinions - "however wrong-headed." But he has reported them to the proper authorities. Next time you want to criticize the Bible, read the damn book first, OK? Come on, people!

(via The Anchoress, who, God bless her, gives the matter a great deal more serious thought than it probably deserves.)

UPDATE: as Eric of the Sonic Dolls points out in the comments, it can be diverting to read the Amazon reviews of other editions of The Holy Bible. He says it's like MRR in a lot of ways, and he has a point. I particularly like this anti-Bible guy, who appears to have spammed the same seething denunciation to each of the thousands of Bibles on sale. "Mind loops of futility"! I thought it was a pretty good read myself...

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It will cost you nothing

Take a section from a Harry Potter book. Replace the letter "d" with "g" in the word "wand" each time it occurs. Watch the hilarity unfold.

(via Gary Farber.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:47 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 03, 2005

How much d'ya think he got for that, then?

The Turner Prize committee is slipping: they actually short-listed a painter this time. Of landscapes and still-lifes, no less.

The artist's work explores "the fundamental properties of painting," they say, by way of justifying their rather shocking choice. After years of celebrating the exploration of the fundamental properties of rooms full of trash, unmade beds, dead cows, flickering lights, and big piles of rocks, Britain's art world was due for a shake-up. But the notion of a non-goofy Turner Prize winner doesn't seem quite plausible. Colo(u)r me weirded-out.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:32 PM | TrackBack

That's Hott

Robert Stone's SLA documentary (which I wrote about here) has been released in the UK. Here's an article-interview with Stone, who proffers this analogy:

It was like Paris Hilton getting kidnapped by Al Qaeda, turning to Islam and becoming a terrorist.

Kind of like. Don't give them any ideas, Robert!

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:07 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Novel News

I just learned that, as of now, the official publication date for King Dork is April 11, 2006.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:39 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

the monosyllabic grunts and the Americanised slang that passes for adolescent language

I've found that the best way to enjoy this teen-speak lexicon from the national website of Wales is to imagine the phrases and definitions being spoken in a Welsh accent. Especially "you're a right homie," and "talk to the hand 'cos the face ain't listenin'."

(via Bookslut.)

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Mr Armstrong's first preference would be the return of his hair

Neil Armstrong's legal team is on the case.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 01, 2005


A lot of people were taken aback by Tom Cruise's baboon-like God's Quarterback as Care Bear with Tight Trousers performance on the Oprah show last week. ("Something happened to you... Something happened to you...")

In fact, though, I find this clip from Access Hollywood a great deal more interesting and disturbing.

It takes a great and powerful actor to put this much menace into words like these:

I care, man, I care. I care about you. I care about your children. I care about these people in this room. Every one of you. And I mean it. That is not just some words to me. That is a promise.

Hold me.

(both via Sheila.)

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Squirt: Something a Girl Wears

This appears to be an elementary school kid's homework, found in Oakland.

Emerson Elimentry
monday may, 23. 2005

Spelling List

1. quit: stop doing somthing

2. quack: a duck making noise

3. quick: somthing fast

4. quiet: not making noise

5. quite: somthing about the same

6. squid: IS an tipe of sea animal.

7. squint: you half way close you eyes.

8. squirt: somthing a girl whers.

9. square: a shape [after several erased attempts, Andrew manages to draw a shape with four sides - ed.]

10. squeak: noise

11. sqestion: somthing you want to know

12. squeeze: hold

13. squirrel: an animal

14. quality: spend time whith someOne

15. quilt: is a blanket almost.

16. handkerchief. a small clean

17. bouquet:

18. babushka: somthing you whear on your head like Rushan

boanus Education: an old gre [sic]

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:32 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Spader Smells the Stars...

...so you won't have to.

James Spader describes his "very graphic, explicit, loving" sex scene with William Shatner for an episode of Boston Legal:

You can tell a lot about a person by that first impression, that first smell. He had a very sort of, a strangely very attractive sort of pungent sort of gamey, sort of a venison or a lamb sausage... and a little bit of rosemary with a touch of ranch dressing.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:06 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

6th Grade with Ashtrays

Psst. If you take Stanley Fish's English Composition course, you don't actually have to write any English compositions. Pass it on.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:51 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Don't Mention the War

According to this, the re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar (to commemorate its 200th anniversary) will tactfully refrain from revealing that the French lost.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Ordo Templi Orientis

John Whiteside Parsons embodied the supposedly counter-intuitive intersection of three related currents in the southern California culture of the '30s: Ritual Magick, Science Fiction and Rocket Science. It's about time someone wrote a book about him. More here.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:04 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack