Tim writes: "this is what happens when you're a punk rock fan in Mississippi, where no band has ever come and where no one else likes what you like."
It's been a heck of a year for me, really, and to cap it off, King Dork has somehow managed to infiltrate the Entertainment Weekly's top ten books of the year list. I know, I was surprised, too. It's not on-line as far as I can tell, but Steve took a picture of it in case anybody's interested.
Doesn't this book have an amazing cover?
The title is not metaphorical; the story is actually about a houseboat on the River Styx, a houseboat populated by all the great thinkers from Diogenes to Confucius to Doctor Johnson...
UPDATE: As Tim points out in the comments, the book can be read for free as "etext" from Project Gutenberg. First chapter: Charon Makes a Discovery...
I hope everybody had a good Christmas. No, seriously, I do.
I haven't read either of Sam Harris's anti-religion books - a situation that is unlikely to change any time soon - so it is possible that I've got the wrong impression about their contents. I have heard Richard Dawkins endorse them, and I believed the two of them were on pretty much the same ultra-materialist page, i.e. the page that reads: faith in things unsupported by physical evidence is manifestly stupid and, being based on lies, usually pernicious. Dawkins emphasizes the stupidity, while Harris emphasizes the perniciousness. (Do I have that right?)
There is an indication in the James Wood review-essay I linked to here that the otherwise virus-free Harris allows a kind of tepid, rationalized New Age mysticism to "infect" the later chapters of his book. Still, in view of what I thought I knew about Mr. Harris, I was pretty surprised by this video of a segment of the Beyond Belief conference at the Salk Institute in San Diego last month.
Around 21 minutes into the clip, physicist Lawrence Krauss notes, as he has before, that there is a difference between saying "there is no evidence for design and purpose in the universe" and saying "there is no design and purpose in the universe"; he avers that to shift from the former to the latter is to step "beyond our role as scientists" and notes that things "inevitably become emotional" and unbalanced when that step is taken, adding "you [Harris] wouldn't preach as much against Buddhism as you would against Islam because you like Islam less than you like Buddhism." Harris concedes he has a point there. Then Krauss tries to get Harris to allow that the doctrine of reincarnation (which Harris has cited as a source of non-pernicious behavior among Buddhists), like the other beliefs he is famous for ridiculing, ought properly by his own standards to be reckoned "nonsense." Even if you like it, it's still nonsense, right?
Harris replies: "reincarnation, who knows? I mean there are these spooky stories... I don't have the time to do the meta-analyses or the statistical expertise, so I'm awaiting the evidence."
He might have to wait quite a while indeed for measurable material evidence of metempsychosis, I'd think (and I say that in my capacity as one of those not-quite-all-the-way-atheist morons the "brights" find so distasteful.) As I said, I haven't read Harris's books; and I daresay I'm not entirely au fait on reincarnation, so there may be some subtlety I'm missing. But to my tiny brain it sure seems as though the idea that souls can transmigrate presupposes the existence of a non-corporeal soul; and that the existence of a non- or extra-corporeal soul pretty much gives away the whole radical materialist show. If that, why not Zeus? Let us await the evidence...
Dawkins was on the panel and in the audience, but he made no objection. The Brights on Dawkins's website are evidently quite taken with Harris ("Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are MY HERO!!!" says one, lamenting how lonely this world can be for those with "working brain.") If this soul stuff is (as you'd think) a Bright deal-breaker they make no mention of it at all in their discussion of the panel. Is "I'm awaiting the evidence" concerning "spooky stories" really a get-out-of-Dawkins-free card? Problem solved, then?
Semi-related: H. Allen Orr on The God Delusion in the the NYRoB.
Clive Davis, filling in for Andrew Sullivan, has been running a series called "Old Books of the Year" in which he has asked a few bloggy friends and associates to write about newly discovered or recently re-read books and has posted their responses. It's an illustrious group, including Robbie Millen, Tim Worstall, Reihan Salam, Tim Montgomerie, and first but not least the novelist Susan Hill.
Believe it or not, I crashed the party too, and here's my entry.
I can't remember this many little earthquakes "in a row" at any time in my life.
as the audience filed into the lobby after the new-music ensemble of Vacaville Christian High School performed a work dedicated to Nikola Tesla, "there was a huge explosion,'' reports Diane Roby. "One of the band's TV monitors fell face-down and the vacuum tube popped and sent smoke up.''(via Sandra - thanks!)
Count me among those bewildered and bummed by the news that Bethanne Patrick has been laid off and will no longer be AOL's Bookmaven. She was a bright spot in the publishing blogosphere and an all around good egg in a world of not-so-hot eggs. (Here's her interview with me on a Bookmaven podcast a ways back, by the way.)
Clive Davis, subbing for Andrew Sullivan, scans the reviews of the short-lived Broadway adaptation of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and finds a humdinger of an unintentional double entendre:
best of all in this show is Will Chase's pitch-perfect performance as a winning kind of guy who keeps on losing. Impressive last year as the best of the Lennons in the musical "Lennon," he sings and acts with a truthfulness that makes you want to jump right up and buy a 45.
I'm actually not sure I don't prefer the botched version of the joke, in the end, but the correction to this NYT obituary of comedian Sid Raymond, which adds insult to injury by screwing up his final punchline, is kind of priceless:
Because of an editing error, an obituary on Sunday about Sid Raymond, a comic actor, rendered one of his jokes incorrectly. It was about a son who sends a prostitute to his widowed father, still a self-proclaimed ladies’ man in his 90s. The prostitute tells the father that she is his birthday present and promises to give him “super sex” (not that she promises to give him whatever he’d like.) The father replies, “I’ll take the soup.”
Erika of Little Type tells me she's getting lots of Christmas orders for autographed books and Sam Hellerman shirts and so forth. Which is great to know, and thanks and everything. But I figure it can't hurt to slip in one more plug, and a reminder that you should order by 12/17 if you want your order to arrive by the 25th.
James Wood writes critically, sympathetically, and brilliantly on contemporary atheist polemics.
Hey, I just got a Christmas present from Will Ferrell! Or rather, from Gary Sanchez Vineyards: "Making adequate wine since the bloody revolution of 1972." Sweet:
Here's a review-poem I found on the internet:
wnt off to hg mall.
rotted at the library.
read this king dork book.
but highly entertaining.
cos tht dork is funny.
he IS retarded.
so i kinda lik laughing at him.
of cos not loudly.
else ppl might think im insane.
plus im by myslf.
thr isnt any reason to do so.
unless im in love w tht bk.
which im obviously NOT.
im jst reading for im BORED.
and im reading cos you cant SLP.
libraries shd store beds.
i wld frequent thm oftn.
And here I am being interviewed by a librarian from the North Suburban Library System in Wheeling, Illinois.
The picture is a student-generated poster that was on the wall of the library at Scoop Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Washington, where I did an appearance a few months back.
I'm not turning into a catblogger, I promise. But you would be surprised at how many requests I've received for more pictures of Matilda, and I'm feeling kind of Christmas-y and sentimental so here she is once again, freshly microchipped and recovered enough from her ordeal in exile to have reassumed her customary position, demonstrating the means by which it is possible, if desired, to watch her and Diagnosis Murder at the same time:
Chris Brown found this on Post Secret and wondered if it may have been about me:
Mi2N is the "Music Industry News Network," a for-real music trades news site that apparently fell for a Stop the War/SWP gag:
Tony Blair, has re-formed his old university group "Ugly Rumours" and is putting a track out on the 1st of January 2007 in a bid to become the highest charting British Prime Minister of all time.
He's teamed up with his friends at Stop The War Coalition to record a pro-peace song which is a very credible re-recording of Edwin Starrs Classic "War-What is it good for?"
The track aims to be the first number one of the New Year and also the first track ever to go to number one on downloads alone.
George Galloway will also appear in the video with 20p from the sale of the download going directly to the Stop The War Coalition. Its is hoped that all the people who went on the peace marches over recent years will show their support once again and buy the track for 0.79p in what will is being billed as a musical referendum on the Governments policies abroad.
Kind of pathetic, which is the best kind of funny....
Cindy & Bert perform Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" with lyrics rewritten in German to tell the story of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" on German TV circa 1970:
Ten Quick Questions with Dr. Frank on Faster than the World.
For Christmas, Krista, my editor, presented me with a fancy leather bound King Dork. I believe it is a unique item. It has gilt lettering and pages and those swirly marbly end papers and one of those bound-in ribbon bookmarks so it looks kind of like a Bible or something.
Richard Dawkins on Elvis:
I should have known better because of course practically all Americans of that class are religious maniacs. But when I discovered that Elvis was religious I went back on to religion for a bit.(via Norm.)
I was just teasing with the worship/warship crack earlier, but sometimes teasing gets results. To wit, this brand new, orthographically correct Elephants of Style artwork from our own Todd Purse. Sweet.
So Matilda (the cat who ran off and has been missing for the past week) is back.
We did all the usual things, putting up fliers, staking out shelters day by day, knocking on doors, talking to neighbors, and roaming the streets at all hours calling her name. The last seemed in many ways the most pointless and pathetic, and I felt like a bit of an idiot doing it, but in the end that's what worked.
Remember when Bobby and Cindy got lost in the Grand Canyon, and the rest of the Bradys hiked about yelling "Bobby! Cindy!" only to learn later that they had been befriended by an Indian boy who didn't want to tell his old fashioned Indian chief father that he wanted to be an astronaut rather than a regular Indian? Well, it was kind of like that. Minus the Indians, as far as I know. The rain helped, because there was a lot less activity on the street and it was quieter than usual. It's kind of scary skulking around people's yards in my neighborhood in the middle of the night yelling "Tilda!" Still, that's what needed to be done, and at one of the apartment houses down the street, we heard what sounded like a meowed response. Or was it an auditory "mirage"? (There have plenty of those over the past week, that's for sure.) It could have been a delusion, or somebody's pet inside one of the apartments, or it could even have been somebody else's cat trapped underneath. But eventually, astonishingly, Matilda's little face appeared behind one of the little screens at the base of the building. We had to cut her out, in the rain, making a Tilda-sized hole in the screen. She was bedraggled, scared, squirmy, and devilish hard to hang on to, but in the end we got her inside.
She is clearly traumatized and exhausted and jumpier than usual, but not injured physically, and it looks as though she will be all right.
Thanks so much to everyone who offered kind words, sympathy, and advice. It was very much appreciated. Everyone said not to give up too soon, and had stories about cats who came back after months or even years, and I'm so glad to have one of those stories of my own. I'll tell you one thing, though: if you're going to lose a cat around here, try to do it in Berkeley/Piedmont/Emeryville rather than Oakland. Berkeley Animal Care Services is a kinder, gentler shelter, in complete contrast (as in so many situations) to the squalid, nightmarish Oakland PD Animal Control Facility. It was, in fact, the Berkeley people who provided the tip about calling for her late at night and listening. It is obvious, I suppose, especially now, but I doubt it would have happened if they hadn't suggested it earlier that day.
Anyhow, I cannot begin to tell you how relieved and overjoyed I am to have her back. It looks as though we won't have to cancel Christmas after all.
You may have noticed that I've been posting photos of people reading my book. It all started with this picture posted by Anarchie on her Suicide Girls blog, which I then posted here. After that, people just started sending them in and it became a kind of "tradition" that somehow wound up including, amongst others, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Mick Jones of the Clash, Rhea Perlman, Jim Testa, a guy from Dubai, my nephew Zach, and a cat or two. Pretty cool and fun, I've always thought. (I love an excuse to link to that Rick Nielsen photo, as it is, like, King Dork's finest hour or something.)
Anyway, I've been meaning to gather them all in a web gallery for some time, and I finally got around to it, so here it is.
Assembling the materials, I realized that somewhere in the process of the last few rounds of computer issues I managed to lose quite a few of the original files. I still have the smaller edits I made for the blog (usually with a width of 450 pixels and "saved for web") and that's what I used in such cases - so that's why the "click to enlarge" process sometimes doesn't actually enlarge some of them all that much. Anyone who still has the original photos, go ahead and send them to me (if you feel like) and I'll switch them in.
And send more, if you got some and you want to.
The reading at Moe's went quite well, I thought. I read the bit about the first band practice to feature Sam Hellerman's mail-ordered bass. When the part came up, I played the chorus of the song "Losers Like You" instead of just reading it, which I have never done before; and it got some laughs, which is always a relief. I was surprised that most of the requests were for reading rather than playing, including some from people who just said "read more." I'd never heard that before.
There are a few small chunks of info about the movie situation in this East Bay Express article. (And I have to say, Chris Henchy really does give good quote, once again.) By the way, the show listing in the article says I'll be reading from King Dork at the Porchlight Christmas show on December 18th. Actually, I'll just be one of many doing a walk-on and playing a song or something.
Still no Matilda, sadly. I believe putting up fliers and going door to door to ask for the help of the neighbors last night might have interrupted a drug deal or two, but fortunately no one was shot. That I heard anyway.
I never in a million years thought I'd ever be doing a post like this, and I'm sure this is the longest of shots, but...
I am looking for my lost cat, Matilda. She is a long-haired tortoise shell with stripey tabby legs and face. She ran off on Sunday around 9 AM, headed towards Ruby near 40th St (a couple of blocks up from Telegraph) in north Oakland and hasn't been seen since. I know it sounds a bit silly to be so worried, but this is by far the longest she has ever stayed away after escaping.
She has a light blue collar (not the yellow one in the picture) and a tag that says Matilda with a phone number.
I know there is at least a handful of local folks who read my blog. So anyone in the area, can you keep an eye out and let me know if you see her? I doubt she would have ranged very far from Ruby/40th, and if she hasn't been killed or catnapped she is probably hiding out under somebody's building or something. I daresay she'll just come trotting in at some point, and I will feel mightily silly for freaking out. Till then, though, all will be panic and misery...
Just a reminder about my reading/show/thing at Moe's tonight. Come if you can:
Moe's Books in Berkeley on Tuesday, Dec. 5th. 2476 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, CA, 94704. 510 849-2087. 7:30 PM.
I am migrating all my stuff to a new computer, and I've come across some items in my email that I don't remember seeing. Among them are some King Dork reader photos I may post soon and this piece of album art for one of Tom's and Sam's bands, which came from somebody from here. Belated thanks.
As you may know (and if you don't know you will know very soon - just wait till the end of this parenthetical phrase... here it comes... and: now!) I have a little arrangement with Pat and Erika of Little Type: they sell autographed copies of King Dork for people who can't get them in person. This means that every now and again we have to get together so I can sign some copies and replenish the supply. Sometimes we do it at a bar; sometimes we do it out on the streets of Oakland. Last night, I went over to their house for some book-signing and glögg.
Glögg is this traditional Swedish Christmas drink. Half port wine, half Everclear, steeped and heated with herbs and fruit, set on fire, and served in tiny glasses that say "glögg" on them. Imagine John Houseman saying the word "glurg" - that's approximately how you pronounce it. The morning after several of these little glasses of glögg have worked their magic, you look like this:
And you're not all that sure what the heck you inscribed in all those books. At least, that was the effect it had on me.
These autographed books make great gifts, as we have attempted to demonstrate through this festive diorama:
Note the glögg glass and the Dalahäst. See what I mean?
OK, I'm going to have a lie-down...
The Queen officially owns all the swans in the UK, so if she wanted to go out into a public boating pool and stab one with a kitchen knife and possibly even bite it to death, I guess she'd be entitled. But no one else is allowed to do that. Not even this guy, whose response to the charge of unlawful swan stabbing was: "I hate the Queen."
Kathy Shaidle marks the occasion by digging up this clip of the Queen Haters segment from SCTV's Mel's Rockpile. I haven't seen this in years, and it's even better than I remembered it: