Thursday, August 24, 2006


In two and a half weeks, my friend Amy will finally be coming for a visit. We've been trying to schedule a visit ever since I left Ohio in 2004. I miss Amy.

I'm very lucky to have a lot of good friends. But not all of them share my rather abstract interests. Different faiths, economics, law, string theory, literature, etymology... I'm frequently overtaken by random whims of rabid curiosity. Amy shares my interest in literature and words. She understands my fascination with words that have fallen out of the common vernacular or words that are just plain fun to say. Inevitably, if Amy and I are out drinking, we will start demanding that the people around us tell us their favorite words. Our demands have only ever been met by either confusion, amusement or enthusiasm. Amazingly, no one has ever told us to f*ck off, despite how we tend to disparage those who choose lame or cheesy words.

So, my plans for Amy's stay include a visit to the Algonquin Hotel. Sure, we'll be ordering alcohol from the bar not sneaking nips out of flasks but we'll be channelling Dorothy Parker and the rest of the Vicious Circle just the same. If you see us, remember, words likes love, hope and peace are "bad" but words like funicular, persnickety, niggling, dunderhead, fallacious, balderdash, supercilious and the like are "good."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Quizmasters would not be thwarted by my closing my MySpace account

I received an odd email this weekend; it had a near frantic quality to it. It read, "What happened to your myspace account?" "Did I say something to piss you off?" "Why are you no longer on my friends list?" "Do this quiz!"

In order: I cancelled my MySpace account about 7 months ago. My canceling the account had nothing to do with you; I just lost interest so when I had to list all my email addresses and web pages for an employment background check, I just decided to close the account. I'm no longer on your friends list because I closed my account. I'll do the quiz because it's about books but don't take it as any encouragement to start emailing me quizzes with questions about who I've made out with and upon whom I currently have a crush.

What are your favorite books?

1. One book that changed your life:
"The Paragon" by John Knowles; it's a little weak in the rereading but it was very important to me in high school

2. One book that you've read more than once:
"The Drifters" by James A. Michener

3. One book you'd read in one day:
Lots. I read when I fly to distract me from the fact that I'm 30,000 miles off the ground

4. One book that made you laugh:
"Indecision" by Benjamin Kunkel

5. One book that made you cry [or feel really sad]:
"Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi and "Five Past Midnight in Bhopal" by Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro

6. One book that you wish you had written:
"Franny and Zooey" by JD Salinger

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
"The Informers" by Bret Easton Ellis

8. Author's career you most admire:
Saul Bellow

9. Author's life you most admire:
Martha Gellhorn (except for all the affairs with married men)

10. Which is the most overrated literary classic:
"Finnegans Wake" by James Joyce

11. The last book you finished reading:
On the subway - "Memories of my Melancholy Whores" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
At home - "Lord Vishnu's Love Handles" by Will Clarke

12. One book you're currently reading:
"Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn" by Caroline Moorehead

13. Books you've been meaning to read:
"A Thousand Suns" by Dominique Lapierre and "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" by Marisha Pessl

14. Books you recommend to friends:
Nonfiction - "All the Shah's Men" by Stephen Kinzer
Fiction - "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell

15. Best book recommendation someone recently gave you:
PJ, a summer intern at my office, recommended I read "Time and Again" by Jack Finney, when we were on a tour of the Bronx and I said that I wish I could have seen New York during the 20s, 40s and 60s

16. Literary character you would most like to have as a friend:
Salinger's Glass children or Phineas, aka "Finny," from "A Separate Peace" by John Knowles

17. Last book you received as a gift:
My friend Amy sent me "Freakonomics" by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner and "Tokyo Cancelled" by Rana Dasgupta for my last birthday

18. Last book you gave as a gift:
"Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire" by Chalmers Johnson

19. Last book someone read to you:
I remember my friend Steven reading me an article out of The Economist but I don't remember anyone reading to me from a book

20. Now tag five people:
Don't need to, I'm posting it to my blog instead


Saturday, August 19, 2006

I want to trust you but you've lied to me before...

I once had an about-to-be-boyfriend mislead me about his political affiliation. That was back when my politics were a bit irrationally black and white. So, I really couldn't begrudge him thinking he was improving his odds with that slight misdirection.

I'm generally not that forgiving about dishonesty. Usually, one lie is enough to queer the deal; enough to destroy the trust so sufficiently as to undermine the whole relationship.

I've been feeling that way lately about our federal government. This morning I read an Associated Press article about a claim by President Chavez that four American spies were found operating in Venezuela and that the CIA is actively working to destabilize his government. US government officials denied these claims and I wish I could say that I believed them. But, history encourages my disbelief. Government officials have made these same denials in Iran, Chile and Cuba only to later have the statements exposed as lies, wrapped in claims of national security and tied with a communist threat bow. George Washington foretold this future in his farewell address when he cautioned Americans to "avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which under any form are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty."

I'm not one of those people who pounds their chest and claims deceit when government doesn't advertise the minutia of its decision-making. I happen to agree with our Founding Fathers about the value of a representative democracy and I don't think that sunshine laws should apply to everything, all the time. But, it seems to me, that our System of Checks and Balances is grossly off-kilter.

The administration withholds information from the legislators because the legislators will call a press conference and release confidential information to the media to build the name recognition they need to get reelected. The publicly-traded media outlets will in turn sensationalize the stories to increase ratings and attract advertising dollars resulting in a populous whipped into an underinformed frenzy. The populous will then vote good elected officials out and bad proposals in, depending on the spin of the story. When a bad proposal becomes a law, some attorney will challenge its constitutionality before a Supreme Court where the judges were once nominees who were subjected to endless investigations and inappropriate questions about their personal beliefs and private family decisions, instead of simply having their past rulings scrutinized for evidence that personal beliefs, not letter of the law, had influenced case outcomes.

Things have blatantly gone astray. James Madison was clearly right to be concerned about the future of the republic. I really don't think term limits help. They insult the few voters that actually bother to educate themselves, plus they perpetuate a system wherein a candidate must always be campaigning and therefore always pandering to the media, special interest groups and big checkbooks. I don't know how to fix things and I don't think that there are any quick fixes. Higher offices can no easier be achieved by the unconnected, unobligated or unwealthy than an industrial art student with a good design can roll thousands of new cars off an assembly line and into showrooms across America.

Even more important than policy changes, is a society change. Our society is showing all the signs of a decay. We believe we are entitled to everything and responsible for nothing. So, let's begin by taking more responsibility in the voting booth. Voting is a privilege; educate yourselves so you are worthy of it.


Friday, August 18, 2006

I always suspected that techno was bad for me...

I have a morning routine. I get out of bed, stumble to the kitchen for a glass of water and then sit down at my computer and check my email and the weather report. The Weather Channel is linked to my MyYahoo! home page, as are a few newspapers, Yahoo Maps, Movie Showtimes and yes, my Daily Horoscope.

If I have the time before I need to leave for work, I'll check out the news headlines. Today, I had the time and the headline "Researchers link music tastes to HIV risks," caught my attention. I have an acute fear/respect for AIDS likely due to losing a friend, a coworker at my first job, to the disease back when I was still in high school. Therefore, in spite of the wacky headline, I was going to take the time to read it.

The article opens with the sentance, "US boys hooked on gospel, techno and pop are more at risk of HIV infection than devotees of other musical styles, including "bling, bling" hip hop, according to a new study." I found it odd that Michel Comte, a reporter out of the AFP office in Toronto, decided to aggregate gospel with techno and pop but what the hell... I'd already started reading the story.

Evidently, Miguel Munoz-Laboy, a researcher at Columbia University, has isolated supporting evidence that musical taste provides clues to rates of HIV infection. The researchers interviewed boys aged 16 to 21 about their listening tastes and attitudes toward condom use and sexual activities. According to the article, the study focussed on three neighborhoods in New York City. At present, New York City has the highest AIDS case rate in the country, with more AIDS cases than Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Washington DC combined. In fact, HIV is the 3rd leading cause of death in those below the age of 65.

The study by no means implied that listening to certain types of music causes HIV infection but it did clearly illuminate links between genres and risk factors. "We often blame youth for their behavior without understanding it," Munoz-Laboy said. "(But) there is a complex story about sexuality, masculinity and culture here." The behavioral analysis divided participants into two musical groups: hip hop, reggae, rap and rhythm and blues; and rock, heavy metal, pop, techno, electronic and gospel. Munoz-Laboy conceded that, "Kids would be appalled that we grouped them this way but this is how they mapped out in the mathematical analysis."

The researchers found that young men who listened to hip hop music were more likely to have vaginal intercourse and have more partners; but, boys with strong church ties or who were active in New York club scenes took the most sexual risks. "Boys who listened to hip hop had more sex and more partners, but it did not impact condom use," said Munoz-Laboy. Comparatively, "those who are part of religious culture or the club scene used condoms inconsistently."

Take that, George Bush and all the other hymn-slinging, abstinence-only advocates. Give the kids in the choir some damn condoms!

Now, on to the public service announcement portion of this blog post.

If you are sexually active, get yourself tested not only for HIV but for other common, yet sometimes symptomless, sexually-transmitted diseases like Hepatitis C. Free and confidential STD testing is offered in New York City, along with most other cities across the country. You really do owe it to yourself and to your partners to get tested.

Moreover, unless you are in a relationship AND you are 100% positive that you are both healthy and sexually monogamous, use condoms. Yeah, I know... most condoms suck. They are thick, smell and the manufacturers generally take a one-size-fits-all approach to the male anatomy. However, if you extend your search beyond the drugstore, you'll find condoms with greater sensitivity, no smell and in styles and sizes to fit everyone plus... with equal or higher rates of effectiveness.


Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mike Wallace, I expected better from you...

Mr. Wallace, you went to Iran as a cultural representative of the United States. You don't have to agree with him but if you can't treat the Iranian President with a little respect, why should the Iranian people have any expectation that the US would treat them respectfully... would have any inclination to honor their culture and beliefs? Really, what reason do Iranians have to believe that anything has changed since the CIA took the lead role in the overthrow of the democratically-elected Mossadegh administration and the subsequent installation of a dictatorship under the Shah? Certainly, not our active support of Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran.

Is it because you are now "retired" that you think it's OK to be snide and condescending when you interview elected officials from other countries? And, what's with all the ancillary bitching about scheduling issues? Elected officials do work; has your notoriety so gone to your head that you believe an interview with you is more important than running a country? Things actually do come up...

If you missed 60 Minutes last night, follow the "Link" below and be sure to play the video. It's edited but they couldn't quite edit out all of Wallace's attitude.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Terrified by John Updike's new novel "Terrorist"

Like "Close to Shore" by Mike Capuzzo and the Jersey Shore and "the Informers" by Brett Easton Ellis and Los Angeles, "Terrorist" can scare the heck out of the reader (well, me at least) when read in the wrong locale. And, because fiction can often provide illumination in a way that fact cannot, living in America particularly NYC got a little scarier after reading this novel.

Ahmad, Updike's protagonist, is the teenage son of a poor, freethinking Irish-American mother and an absent Egyptian father. Perhaps in rebellion against his mother, a misguided means of connecting with the father who abandoned him or just in want of someplace he could belong, Ahmad turns to Islam. Unbeknownst to him and his mother, the mosque that he joins has terrorist connections. For seven years, Ahmad may have questioned the depth of his imam's faith and his interpretations of the Qur'an but he never suspected that the imam had ties to terrorism.

The imam sets the stage for Ahmad's seduction into terrorism by spinning verses from the Qur'an into reasonable sounding arguments. Although Ahmad's school counselor feels that he is a good candidate for college, the imam convinces him that an American university education will jeopardize his faith. Knowing what he does of college life, Ahmad believes him and follows the imam's suggestion to get a commercial driver's license (CDL) and pursue a career as a truck driver. Ahmad's mother doesn't have the money to pay for college tuition; so, she doesn't attempt to dissuade her son from his plans. Once Ahmad gets his CDL, he is offered a summer job delivering furniture for one of the imam's connections. The camaraderie Ahmad feels with his new coworkers, after years of feeling isolated, completes the seduction and leads him right into a starring role in a plot to blowup the Lincoln Tunnel.

If Ahmad's character had been born African-American, we wouldn't be shocked if he joined a gang. We wouldn't be shocked if then as a gang member, Ahmad went on to engage in activities that resulted in the destruction of property (graffiti, arson, collateral damage from gun fire, neighborhood disinvestment resulting from fear of the criminal element, etc.) and the loss of life (gang wars, drug deaths, innocent victims caught in the crossfire, etc.) we might be outraged or saddened but not shocked.

However, we are shocked when we read in the news about American citizens funding or joining terrorist organizations. But, is it really so shocking? I think the same underlying environmental and psychological causes that can attract an individual to a gang or cult would likely make them susceptible to joining a terrorist organization.

I also think that there are, here in America and obviously elsewhere throughout the world, sincere supporters of change in the Middle East... the true believers. After all, Irish-Americans funded Irish Republican Army (IRA) activities for decades. It's even an open secret that Irish-American elected officials used to host fundraisers in major American cities to help the IRA buy weapons. I'll concede that there is a difference between Irish terrorists firing guns in Northern Ireland and setting off bombs in England not in New York, but innocent civilians still lost their lives. Nevertheless, my point is that Americans, generations removed from Ireland and its conflicts, still identified enough with the IRA's cause to help pay for it.

It's not any literary technique to build suspense that makes "Terrorist" so frightening. It's the elucidation that the person in line behind you at the grocery store or next to you in traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel could be a terrorist and that you would have no way of knowing.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

What's the F*cking Deal?

Is this some sort of wacky masturbation technique? I'm referring to a man sitting in a chair with his feet on the floor about six inches apart, vigorously flapping his knees back and forth (slapping his thighs together?).

Why in the midst of a business meeting would someone engage in such bizarre behavior? Why did I schedule the meeting in my office where there is no conference table to hide the show? I've noticed a few men doing this over the years out in public but I've never seen a woman perform the seated "funky-chicken."

Men appear to be most comfortable seated with their knees apart. I assume that it is due to a couple of the physical differences between men and women. Therefore, I reason that this action of moving the knees back and forth, quickly and repeatedly, must create some sort of motion, friction, something... marginally pleasurable.

If someone's "package" just needs to be repositioned for comfort purposes, wouldn't it be more effective (and far less distracting) to stand, smooth out one's slacks (not a euphemism) and then sit back down?

I find the behavior very disturbing. In a meeting, it's about as bad as the person standing up and flapping his arms. On the outside chance that my conclusion is flawed, I at least hope that the perpetrators of this behavior will start to worry that others will think that something untoward is going on and stop the enthusiastic public knee-knocking.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Parallels in History: You do the math...

1. In 1773, a financially insolvent but politically influential East India Company appealed to the British Parliament for assistance. It received a monopoly on tea exports to the colonies; an act that precipitated the American Revolution.

2. Popular thinking has it that “evil” governments get overthrown. However it is weak governments such as the English presence in America in the 1770s, not tyrannical ones, that are more likely to be toppled.

3. In the American Revolution, the British had to fight a war across an ocean, on unfamiliar terrain, against an enemy whose concerns were not truly understood and who could be a friend in public and a foe behind their back. Yet England pressed on, confident that the Americans could not stand up to British moral and military superiority and fearful that a loss would trigger a “domino effect."

4. After the French and Indian War, England decided to station an army of about 10,000 soldiers in North America to safeguard the colonies and "manage" the Indians. This generated tremendous resentment. Americans feared the soldiers would abuse the populous and the army undermine their liberty.

5. In various American cities there were "riots," which included the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party.

6. In 1765, a multi-class alliance of American merchants, intellectuals and workers organized the Sons of Liberty to coordinate resistance.

7. During the American Revolution, there were American propagandists who wrote pamphlets to further the cause of Independence. The most prolific of those writers was Thomas Paine.

8. Both the English and the Americans provided incentives to secure the affiliations of regional peoples and leaders. The Native American tribes that depended most heavily upon colonial trade tended to side with the revolutionaries.

9. England considered American revolutionaries insurgents and criminals.

Were there Americans, as well as those from other nations, that sought to exploit the political upheaval for their own profit or fringe ideology? Sure... but sometimes revolutionaries are just revolutionaries.

"Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it." - George Santayana


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Getting introspective "West of Jesus: Surfing, Science and the Origins of Belief"

I first met Steven Kotler in the late 80s. I had asked our mutual friend Wahru to introduce us and I still remember a few bits and pieces of our first conversation. In spite of being in a loud and crowded nightclub, we ended up discussing quantum physics, Taoism, Alan Watts and I believe, Fugazi... I was intellectually enamored and a bit relieved to learn that someone else shared my somewhat eclectic interests.

One of the things that has always impressed me about Steven is his ability to achieve the goals that he sets for himself. Beyond "Surfing, Science and the Origins of Belief," setting and achieving personal goals is the current that propels "West of Jesus" through its point breaks and eddies.

Disillusioned by modern medicine after a lengthy and debilitating battle with Lyme disease, Steven found himself searching for a reason to live... He finds a reason in a rather unexpected place for a still fragile, born and bred Midwesterner - surfing. However, the journalist and skeptic in Steven can't just accept the new raison d'être at face value. So, he consigns himself over to curiosity, reserves a spot on the quest and proceeds to rack up frequent flyer miles in search of the holy "why."

Early sections of the book contain some of the most precise and insightful sentences that I have ever read. The very first paragraph ends, "...because the stories I told myself had begun to fail;" a realization that has its roots in not only in Steven's personal life but in the politics of creation and Joan Didian's "White Album." The first chapter ends with, "I can say that at the time that I went to Mexico I was thirty-six years old and the things that I was choosing not to do were starting to add up into a whole other life that I was choosing not to live." At the time I read them, those sentences synthesized for me aspects of my own life. Although, I could not have expressed them so succinctly. And, if you'll indulge me just one more quote, "I am now thirty-eight years old and often find a direct and peculiar conflict between my personal mythology and the real world."

The book is a well-crafted, free-associating combination of thirty-something coming of age story, adventure travelogue, forensic history, myth study and scientific inquiry. The book is well... a lot like a conversation with a good friend. One of those conversations where you don't even realize that you've been awake all night talking until you notice the sun coming up.

To purchase the book through Powell's Books, click on the word "link" below. You can buy it through Amazon but I prefer to support Powell's; an independent book store based in Portland, OR and I think, one of the happiest places on earth. My luggage is always 50 lbs heavier whenever I return from a trip to Portland.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Link to a nearly accurate, animated representation of my time in CA

Being a Bitch-Hermit - Queerest of the Queer

No eBay... I just resold all the books, which I was continuously purchasing due to the poor local library system, at Acres of Books.


If you must shop Key Foods in Park Slope, stick to the household products...

The Key Foods on 7th Ave. at Carroll Street has some of the slowest, most unhelpful, unknowledgeable retail clerks with math skills that could make anyone, not only inclined to support overhauling the US educational system but willing to stand in line at Key Foods to pay for it. My latest bitch about Key Foods is that I think that it transferred stock from Queens locations affected by the blackout to the 7th Ave. store. Stock, that is, that had already sat unrefrigerated in the sweltering NYC summer heat. I've long suspected that keeping expired food on the shelves is a key component of Key's profit model; so, I always pay particular attention to expiration dates when time of day and convenience draws me to its disorganized aisles. Anyway...

Two nights ago, I purchased a tub of Horizon low-fat sour cream with a mid-September expiration date. When I got home and opened it, I found a vigorous penicillin colony glowing all green and fuzzy inside. It was 11 PM and I doubted the staff's capacity to process a return. So, the sour cream, which only Alexander Flemming could want, went into the trash and the trash went out to the bin.

Key Foods? Caveat Emptor...


Friday, August 04, 2006

Brooklyn Artist-Illustrator Vanissa Chan

I was hoping to buy some student art to fill the bare areas on the walls of my new apartment. While doing an online search, Vanissa's site caught my attention because she had Cleveland artist Derek Hess listed as one of her interests.

My favorite products of Vanissa's contain the "James got Drunk" graphic. Who among us does not know a few James and Jamesettes? I have the shirt and I bought my friend Amy the tote bag.

If you're the one with the drunk dialing affliction; good news, S. Korean cell phone manufacturer LG will soon be releasing the LP4100 in the US. Users will be able to set up the phone; so, on certain nights and after a certain hour with a certain blood alcohol level of .08, they will not be able to call certain people in their phone book... think ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.

Vanissa's products can be purchased online. Just click on the word "link" below to start shopping...

For the phone, because Safari doesn't support Mac users inserting in-text hyperlinks and I don't feel like making the effort to do it manually, just Google "LG LP4100."