Information Sickness

It's certainly no great fun to learn horrible things about people one admires.

Ted Mooney's 1981 novel Easy Travel to Other Places introduces the idea of "information sickness," whereby the collection of information only leads to an increased need for more information, and this process -- somewhat like an intenstinal worm -- leaves us hungry and sick.

And cultural critic Neil Postman pointed out that there was a higher rate of literacy in the 19th century than there is now(*), and that this by no coincidence coincided with the golden age of American newspapers and with public debate (ala the Lincoln-Douglass debates circa 1860). (* This does not include Al's idea of "aliteracy," whereby people know how to read but avoid it at all costs. I imagine, given continually declining book sales and newspaper subscriptions and libary membership, that most people are now aliterate or perhaps exclusively "e-literate.")

Anywhoodles, Postman argues that debate creates urgency and allows for the purposing of information and the establishment of meaning, and that good debate creates this in a clear and honest way. Most information, after all, contains an argument -- note the difference between saying, for example, "The country is under attack" versus "Several planes have hit buildings of fiscal or governmental significance."

So if I can match these ideas to the links in the first sentence above, I guess I want to generate meaning from debate by asking:

What does it mean when American's Greatest Playwright is -- at best -- an even worse parent than those in his plays?

What does it signify when the young hip handsome rich and famous actor can still feel despair?

Why do the closet cases always turn out to be rightie politicians, and can't we extrapolate from that either the nature of or the result of the prevailing conservative attitudes towards homosexuality?

(Along with the above, we were also asked this week to consider Mother Theresa as a supposed agnostic and Frank McCourt as a lousy teacher. Is it Slaughter Your Heroes week or what?)


Sam and Caleb's First Birthday

Exactly six months late!

Footage from February!

(I've been busy. But now I know how to do this!)


It's Not Easy Being Green

August 14, 2007

Mattel, Inc.
333 Continental Boulevard
El Segundo, CA 90245-5012

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to thank you for the inclusion of African-American superheroes in your DC Super Friends line. As the father of twins with African-American heritage, it’s very important to my family that their world (and their toys) reflect and respect their identity. As a fan of comic books from way back, I’m doubly happy that I can share my fondness for Superman and other superheroes without giving the impression that such heroes are always and exclusively white men. (It would be nice to have some female characters in the line, too.)

I hope that you continue to consider this kind of inclusion a market value as much as an act of civic responsibility or “political correctness.” I have tracked down and purchased all six figures in the DC Super Friends line, and I’m fairly certain I would not have done that if not for the presence of the African-American Green Lantern (and the promise of a Cyborg to come).

In any case, I thought I’d let you know that I find your heart to be in the right place even in the midst of recent recalls. (I’ll refrain from the opportunity to suggest that housing more operations in America might allow greater oversight and bring some manufacturing jobs back to our shores…)

Best wishes and a speedy recovery,


Nerd, Father, and Citizen


Risky Oval Rage

Bon Voyagey, Rove. Don't let the door hit you on your way out!

I suggest enjoying this news with a tall glass of something fishy.

My guess, disguised in an anagram: A Costly Edge.
(Go ahead, cheat.)


Summer in Wisconsin

Sam drinking beer. Both of the boys are crazy about bottles and cans, which has meant a proliferation of beer-bottle pilfering at this summer's barbecues. (Note to Child Services of Wisconsin: the bottle was empty when he got to it. I blame their Grandma Cathy, who is conveniently pictured.)

Caleb wearing a State Fair cream puff. Last weekend, we took the kids to a fish fry at Lakefront Brewery, complete with polka band, stein beers, and -- on Sam, anyway - lederhosen. Not satisfied with the one Wisconsin tradition, they went to the State Fair the next day to judge this year's livestock and marvel at the butter statues in the Dairy Pavillion. Grandma Glenda brought home a six-pack of cream puffs, and we brought out the camera.

Not pictured: enjoying the awesome Wisconsin sweetcorn and cucumbers, and awaiting the tomatoes. (White bread + mayonaise + two slices of never-refrigerated sun-dappled tomato + black pepper = nirvana. Same but with cucumbers instead of tomatoes = whatever is right next to, but not surpassing, nirvana.)

Next weekend, we go to Minnesota. All they have is lakes and public radio.


Making Movies on Location

In response to my request for movie suggestions, I got 5 comments! From 2 people! This either makes or ties my record for internet popularity. (As opposed to internet unpopularity, which peaked back in June.)

Here are some responses to my responders:

Joel. You promised five bad movies and listed three titles. This suggests either (I) your state-endorsed education was a bust; (b) each of those movies is so bad that they average 1.66 times the worth of other movies; or (3) both.

The Capture of Bigfoot: I could save up the $8 + shipping to get a copy of this that I could watch, or I could just watch the copy you surely must have hidden somewhere. I'll bring the beer. By the way, the Weekly World News is no longer available on newstands -- where will Northern Wisconsin get their news now? Fox?

The Cabin Boy: I saw this in a movie theatre and remember parts of it. As I recall, it co-starred a then unknown Andy Richter. I never totally got that Chris Elliott's humor -- seemed to be a lot of mugging. (You should buy the latest CDs from this Chris Elliott, by the way. The site features archaic web design by yours truly.)

Howard the Du... You can't be serious. I refuse to watch any quote-live action-unquote movies featuring anthropomorphized and/or talking animals (or infants). Some height-deficient actor in a creepy part-robotic duck suit? I think I'll save that ninety minutes. I say, leave talking ducks to the cartoons.

But then you liked that Kenneth Branagh version of Hamlet, too: "With God as my witness, I'll never go hungry again!" Which brings me to...

Cheryl. We never once saw a good movie together, as I remember, but I won't apportion blame... We tried.

Francois Ozon: I've seen Swimming Pool and Sitcom, and wasn't crazy about either, so I'm siding with Tom here. Re: Swimming Pool -- the attempt to film the act of writing or the gathering of the inspiration for writing never works for me. There's an unwritten essay in this, but I think there's a good reason why successful biopics about writers (Capote, Henry & June, Mrs. Parker...) barely touch writing and focus more on circumstance and personality. The attempt to capture the process of writing, as Swiming Pool does and as the desveredly cancelled Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip did, always strikes me as a variation on how the Billy Crystal character "writes" in Throw Mama From the Train (i.e., pacing, taking to oneself, anguishing over inconsequence). The act of writing is almost entirely internal, and film is too visual to capture it. Writing is also -- as some of us know too well -- agonizingly difficult, and the filmic trope wherein a blocked or unsuccessful writer witnesses something that allows them to write something supposedly brilliant or interesting can imply that writing is mere transcription of one's lived life. Which is so "write what you know" wrong as to infuriate. Yeah, so generally, as the more the act of writing is shown or rumniated upon in film, the less interesting the character and the movie become.

Sitcom was fun -- giant rats and incest and bondage gear -- but I couldn't really suss out what it was meant to achieve. I suspect it was trying to say something about society and/or sitcoms, but ultimately it just seemed rather French.

Capturing the Friedmans: Man, do I love that movie. I could talk about this one for an afternoon and a half. This is what's exciting me about investigative documentaries, really, is that they contain so much, and by eschewing the format of drama, they approach what good (written) fictive drama can do. As a friend once said, Hamlet contains the universe -- it is so wide ranging as to comment on politics, the supernatural, modern psychology, etc., and remains problematic and difficult to entirely understand. Which is why we continue to try to resolve and understand it. Since I first saw the movie over two years ago, I continue to try to resolve and understand Capturing the Friedmans (and it's mini documentary on clowns).

Another example: Errol Morris' documentary Vernon, Florida, which one could view as a Laughing-At-Them lampoon of rural Floridians or as a investigation of how plainspoke Americans struggle to find and make meaning in their lives. Or possibily both. (American Movie has the same dichotomy.) If I was to revert totally to my graduate school self, I might point out how these movies "problematize" understanding, knowing, and perception. You're watching a movie about how to watch a movie! Squee!

(I mentioned above that film is too visual as to be interior -- this is not the case in documentaries, which opperate on the same principle as the talking cure. But don't get me started on Freud.)

Mad Hot Ballroom: Kirsten saw this in the theatre, and from her description, it sounded kind of girly. But then I bawled my bleeding little heart out at the end of The Yellow Brick Road.

Scorsese's Blues documentary is one that I've added to my Netflix queue -- and isn't it cool that we Americans can use "queue" now? The Bob Dylan documentary that aired on PBS a while back was quite good, and I'm a Scoresese fan, but I somehow missed this one.

(By the way, in April of 2006 I got about as close to a fist fight as I've come in my adult life. The topic at hand was the film Capote, the location was Sedona AZ, and the combatant a welterweight Daniel Baig. When he heard about this fight, the abovementioned other Chris Elliott gave me this book. Who says we're a culture in decline? )


"A census taker once tried to test me..."

In our continuing coverage of Keith Richards, we'd like to make note of Keith's clarification today he did not, in fact, snort cociane mixed with his father's ashes. Keith explains:

“The cocaine bit was rubbish,” says “Keef”, who is penning his autobiog­raphy. “I said I chopped him up like cocaine, not with. I’d opened his box up and said, ‘Jesus, I’ve got to do something with dad, y’know, plant the oak tree.’“I pulled the lid off and out comes a bit of dad on the dining room table. I’m going, ‘I can’t use the brush and dustpan for this’. So you just gotta like, put it together. “What I found out is that ingesting your ancestors is a very respectable way of… y’know, he went down a treat.”

See? Snorting dad like cocaine = "very respectable." Because mixing the coke with dad's ashes, that would be insane. Or at least less respectable.

As for his own demise, hellraising Keith – who was recently told he had “perfect” liver, heart and kidneys by shocked doctors – hasn’t given it much consideration.

Keith then enjoyed them -- the liver, heart, kidneys, and shocked doctors -- with fava beans and a nice Chianti.


Minneapolis Blues

The New York Times wrote this today:

A steam pipe explodes near Grant Central Terminal, a levee fails and floods New Orleans, a bridge collapses in Minneapolis.

These disasters are an indication that this country is not investing enough in keeping its vital infrastructure in good repair, engineering experts warn.

Without hyperbole, I think it's fair to say that the flooded 9th ward and the collapse of 35-W are the consequences of twenty-five years of predominantly Republican rule. This is the outcome of the work they've done to convince the American citizenry that our taxes fund Maplethorpes and Tinky-Winkies rather than levies and bridges. This is what happens when you paint liberals as gullible wimps with absurd ideas about our civic interdependence.

"Government" is not just something into which we dump money and with whom we file bureaucratic paperwork. Government builds and repairs the highways that allow you to, for example, live in the suburbs and still take advantage of city services. We probably don't often think of highways as publicly funded programs for the common good, but that's what they are, and even more so, I would hazard a guess that they are disproportionately utilized by corporations and the middle/upper classes.

The same Times article says that the Federal Highway Administration issued a report last year that rates over 25% of highway bridges as either “structurally deficient" or “functionally obsolete." This is a problem that could use some federal money, too much of which is currently routed to Haliburton and other no-bid military contractors. (I lived in Boston during the Big Dig, so I'm familiar with how much graft and budget-swelling happens in domestic construction, and yet I seem to remember balanced federal budgets in those years...)

This should be a major talking point for Democrats in upcoming debates.

Here's three things you can do to assure bridges stop falling down:

1. Bring the boys back home.
2. Vote for Democrats. Even pork barrel Democrats. Because at least they'll spend money in their districts.
3. Make peace with higher taxes for upper classes, but demand accountability for how the money is spent.

A discussion of road welfare may even lead into valuable discussions on mass transit, "white flight," and public schooling.

Someone might even suggest that we probably have the technology now to create a sliding scale toll system based on usage (if not ability to pay), such that Wal-mart and other trucking-based corporations pay more for our highways than, say, little old me. It's an idea, anyway...


You Got The Silver

Keith Richards is working on an autobiography. Because we have an avowed interest in Keef, we've requested and received an advanced copy of his work-in-progress. Here are some excerpts:

...from Chapter 23: The Making of Exile on Main Street...
It was some kind of castle or sumfink. I don' remember. I plugged my guitar into the toaster, Ronnie was passed out in his own filth, and... Wait a minute, didn't one of us drown in the pool?

...from Chapter 37: Muggles and Squibs...
So while the sorting hat clearly put me in Derek and the Dominoes, Dumbledore's plan was to keep me in the Rolling Stones for another thirty years. This was the first time that Dumbledore had directly contradicted the Hogwarts School's talking wizard's hat. Personally, I didn't understand a word...

...from Chapter Eleventy-Three: Several Blood Transfusions Later...
People fink I fell outta that cocoa-nut tree, but 'ats not what happened. Me, Ronnie, and Johnnie Depp were all abducted by some whatcha call aliens. They were little fellas what kind of looked like Mick if you increased both air pressure and the density of the earth's core (and thus gravity) by a factor of, say, 1.253 -- enough to condense and thicken Jaegger but not so much that he couldn't move, you know. Anyrate: after some really good hash and a not-half-bad anal probe, the aliens dropped us back to earth, me less gently than the others. Depp felt it might raise suspicions if we mentioned aliens, so Ronnie came up with the "fell out of a tree" bit, which is sometimes also reported as "run over by a jet ski."

...from Chapter I Lost My Place, So Let's Just Call It Fifty: In Which Doris Gets Her Horse...

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...from Epilogue: The View from the Future...

Here on the precipice of the year 31279, all of that 20th and 21st century mumbo jumbo just seems like a frolic in the sun. We were all so innocent, so unsuspecting, so naive. People thought the drugs would kill me, but who's laughing now? Remember: these are the same people who thought polar bears would die out within the next century. I do sometimes wonder what some of those early thinkers -- Al Gore, Ralph Nader, Lindsay Lohan -- would say now, when the only thing that stands between humanity and total species eradication is me? Around me lies the ocean, cold and no higher than it ought to be. In front of me, an army of highly evolved and heavily armed pissed-off polar bears. Beneath my feet: the surprisingly bouyant carcass of Ronnie Wood. I write this in squid ink -- almost of out squid now -- on fronds from the cocoanut tree. The bears advance