Saturday, December 29, 2007

"They don't got no manners"

I love the Baltimore Sun:

"Guess I won't be riding the bus in Baltimore."

--reader comment on story, website feature "Talk about it: City Bus Attack"

"The Dec. 4 attack on Sarah Kreager was the first of four violent incidents this month aboard MTA buses. Two passengers on a No. 64 bus in Brooklyn were attacked by five men Dec. 10. Eight days later, a girl was stabbed in the arm on a No. 51 bus near Mondawmin Mall. And on Dec. 26, a 14-year-old boy was shot and wounded on a bus in West Baltimore."
"According to her account, she sat in the rear of the bus and was threatened by a teenage girl who said her friend wanted the seat. Kreager said she went to sit an another part of the bus with Ennis and said to him, "They don't got no manners," causing one of the girls to take a swing at them"
"The attack on Kreager in the 800 block of W. 33rd St. led to the arrests of nine Robert Poole Middle School students. The six boys and three girls, all 14 or 15 years old, were charged as juveniles with aggravated assault and destruction of property. Kreager, who has been put in a witness protection program, suffered broken facial bones and other injuries after being punched, kicked and dragged off the bus."
'Yesterday, Ronald Brown sat slumped in his sister's West Baltimore house with an electronic monitoring device attached to his ankle. Brown, one of the juveniles charged in the attack, said he is not allowed to step outside. He said a tutor comes to the house three times a week.
The youth said he was not involved in the fight. He said the students had been laughing at Kreager because she had a black eye. He said words were exchanged between Kreager and one of the girls, but he said he did not hear what was said. Kreager's companion used a racial slur, and a brawl erupted, he said."
Felicia Dorsey, Ronald Brown's mother, said she is upset with how the incident has been handled. She said she was never notified that her son was at the juvenile facility until he didn't come home that night, resurrecting memories of her 3-year-old son, who was fatally shot in 1992 in East Baltimore.
Dorsey, 49, said she had to move out of her East Baltimore home to live with her daughter in West Baltimore because she has no phone service and couldn't hook up her son's monitoring device without it.
"This is too much," she said. "These kids are young and under a lot of peer pressure. I believe my child, so yes, I believe it was [Kreager's] fault."
Hell of a lot of peer pressure these days.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Also Overheard in the Parker Household

Ted: (petting Wuvvy's snout) "Wuvvy you have a beautiful muzzle."

Hal: (petting Wuvvy's legs) "And look at her furry stalks."

Overheard in the Parker Household

Hal: "Ted, give me a jelly bean."

Ted: "Never"

Hal: "Ted, where's your Christmas spirit?"

Ted: "In this bag of jelly beans."

Three Things To Do Before I Die

1. Finish Proust.

2. Heroin.

3. I guess I thought there would be a third thing.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Everybody Loves Aphorisms

1. "Intellectual engagement" -- always spoken as if it were a novelty.

2. The road to Damascus goes two ways.

3. Oatmeal is the breakfast of hypocrites. It pretends to be healthy and fibrous, but everyone I know loads that sucker up with brown sugar.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Letter to a Young Orator

It is advisable that you adopt a position of the most uncompromising and stringent severity with respect to whatever field you adopt. Whatever your expertise, dispense it with the greatest authority you can muster. Your familiars will be invigorated by your forcefulness, and your opponents, who will assuredly react by becoming the more extreme, will find their followers dismayed.

Never imagine that your crowd is naked, in their underwear, or otherwise curiously arranged. Your powers of imagination, which you ought strengthen that your rhetorical flourishes may be the more impressive, will assuredly overwhelm you, and your well-reasoned speech on human justice will devolve into a tirade against leggings.

Part your hair on the right.

Develop a slight head tilt, and your left eye should be only the slightest bit more open than your right.

Friday, December 14, 2007

An observation

On my left: Dish soap and "A History of Orgies"
On my right: The Gonzo fist symbol thing.
In front of me: A function definition I wrote, named "cumActionUtility"
Behind me: A chair covered with dissheveled clothes.
In the air: The Hives playing Declare Guerre Nucleaire

Letters to a Young Debater

1. The way to handle your opponent is you take him into the desert, you take him into the desert and you leave him there to die.

2. Jesus, kid, why are you goddamn disputatious?

3. Shut up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

That is just stupid

What does "baby," mean, anyways?

Computers are tools. A tool is measured by its effectiveness. Provided someone is able to accomplish their tasks without difficulties, and reasonably quickly, what is being "babied"?

Perhaps you are referring to Apple's penchant for what, to somoene whose eyes grew up on MS products, appear to be cutsy or somehow un-serious graphics. This is a reasonable complaint, I do in fact find a lot of things on the Mac unenjoyable to look at. But, for general artistic style, I think Mac does have the upper-hand... certainly people will 'play' with their Macs much more than with their PCs, which, while I think they have a cleaner and more useful interface, are decidedly un-fun to use.

But, again, baby? All that could possibly mean is that they let you do complicated things without exposing the complexity. But that's impossible. You can't hide the complexity of a truly complex task, if you can, then the task isn't complicated. You might, perhaps, complain that a Mac "hides" all the good stuff, and to my eye it does, but I'm sure someone who is very well acquianted with the Mac knows where to find all the appropriate system settings. And the CLI is close enough to bash that I've never had any trouble with it (or is it bash? They did get Leopard certified as a Unix, so it may well be. I dunno).

Macs Baby U

Macs baby you.

Why? They just do.

'nuff said.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Roland, blow your horn!

Recently a number of people have been talking about this article. It's good; you should read it. Every few years an article like it appears. People talk about it. Nothing happens.

One of the things mentioned in the article is how the Bush administration recently shelved virtually the entire statistics-gathering arm of its drug program. Literally and figuratively, the war on drugs has become a policy divorced from results -- whose effects, success, and failure are immaterial to its rationale.

This struck me because a number of years ago, I wrote an op/ed for the Prince (yeah I know) saying some similar stuff. Looking back it, I was amused to see some of my writerly tics in action. Tics, however, is like the understatement of the century. Let's take a look.

A sentence about Nixon's escalation of the drug war:
He wanted a comfortable and reassuring mass of facts stamped with the imprimatur of experts and organized under a hypotaxis of preconceived conclusions advocating the continuation of current policy — proscription, prohibition, punishment and propaganda.
Alliterate much? Four 'p''s in a row was, shall we say, pushing it. "Hypotaxis"? I'm guessing I had read Auerbach like the week before; the word figures prominently in his work. Hypotaxis refers to a grammatical-semantic (grammatico-semantic?) instance of subordination, typically linked by phrases like "in order to" or "although" To use it metaphorically as I did is to suggest that the ostensibly neutral nature of data-gathering was compromised by the ideological persuasion of those who wanted the data for their own preconceived, nefarious use.
It is true that smoking one joint is the carcinogenic equivalent of smoking four cigarettes (due to respiratory technique), but this also means that to duplicate the familiar metric of the pack-a-day smoker a single marijuana smoker would have to smoke five joints — a feat so rare as to be commendable.
..."a feat so rare as to be commendable." How was this published?

In the almost thousand years since Le Chanson de Roland appeared on the planet, countless things have been written and spoken about it. This is the stupidest:
The reigning prohibition of marijuana has nothing to speak for it save the aborted cries of its historical and contemporary failures — as if any abatement or discontinuation would send "the wrong message." Such thinking recalls the behavior of Roland in the 11th century French epic, "La Chanson de Roland." Under attack by vicious hordes of Moors, Roland could not bring himself to blow his famous horn whose sounding would instantly bring help. Impelled by pride and a bizarre code of honor, he delayed use of his instrument until too late, and so perished albeit bravely (albeit foolishly).
A bizarre code of honor, eh? Way to get at the essence of what motivates Roland.

And at last the stirring peroration:
It behooves us — ethically, pragmatically, medically — to legalize or decriminalize marijuana. End this unjust prohibition. Cease this absurd war. Break off this long extenuation of an abject failure. Dissipate this malign ideology. Roland, blow your horn!
I actually still really like the ending EXCEPT the sentence, "Dissipate this malign ideology." It's such a ridiculous thing to say -- I imagine a sorcerer stretching out his hand and incanting Latin as he impressively "dissipates" some dread "ideology" -- that it sort of ruins the whole thing. Dissipate is a weak word in an otherwise strong series of verbs ("end" "cease" "break off"). The Roland tie-in, though, is great -- who would have foreseen such a thing?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Why I didn't like I'm Not There

I almost never advance much of an opinion about a movie because I really don't have valid opinions about movies. But after having this movie floating around in my head, and then reading Anthony Audi's pretty solid review of it in the Nass in the Anti-Issue, I figured out what bothered me about it. Or, things that bothered me about it. The movie isn't really a single entity, nor are my gripes with it.

In short... it's not that it's bad, it's that I don't even know what it was doing. And that might have been a good thing, but it wasn't.

For instance, the tarantula crawling around Blanchett/Dylan. It's not exactly an inside joke that Dylan wrote a book called Tarantula. So what was the point of the reference? Just the visual effect of a tarantual crawling around the trendy white room in which Blanchett/Dylan is breaking down? It was cool, it worked as such... but why?

And, further, the whole Blanchett portion of the movie. She's fantastic, and it's in main good (I think the Ballad of the Thin Man montage was overwrought, but it's enjoyable), but it was weirdly and ineffectively self-referential. You have the Dylan-fanatics running around who have the songs and stories better memorized and more studied that Dylan had them, and Blanchett breaking down with the weird strain of satisfying the demands of an irrational public... ok. You could make a lot of great movies about that. But the weird thing is, isn't that exactly what this movie is? A weird, semi-obsessive, inside-jokey paean to a mythological Dylan? Or is the movie intended to be reflexive, to break down under investigation and questioning, just as it's not really the point to sit there freaking out about what the hell the hand-made blade or the child's balloon are, except precisely what they are?

But see, that's the problem. Dylan is seductive because there IS a depth to it, something brilliant and visionary and visceral in the music, the language. Blanchett's Dylan can't deal with the expectation of more, he doesn't know what the hell more there is to do, anyways. But the movie doesn't achieve that, at all, because, after all it IS a biopic. The tarantula running around on the screen is a cool image which would just be what it is, except that it's obviously also a reference to the book.

Anyways, so almost every little vignette of the movie is awesome, even the weirdness of the Richard Gere sequence, and it's extraordinarily well done (even the self-consciously over-wrought "going electric" at the Newport Folk Festival, replete with axe wielding, crazed Pete Seeger). But, in sum, what justifies the self-conscious references, the built-in absurdities? It's a biopic. It's about Dylan. But there's just not enough there.