Advice for Aspiring Speedreaders of the Future

Dear Aspiring Speedreaders of the Future:

If you are setting out to read a book each week, a task which requires you to read upwards of 50 pages each day, it may not be a good idea to select as one of those books a 640 page hardcover on jobs programs and welfare relief in the late 1930's. And if you were to select such a book, it may not be a good idea to select it during a week in which you spend three days attending a family wedding in the bucolic thumb-shaped portion of your particular landmass.

Back to work,


They Said It Was a Weather Balloon

Visting our friends Laura, Joe, and Nick in Eagle, WI.  Along with their two woof-woofs, a neigh-neigh, and a vroom-truck.

Nick, Sam, and Caleb draw up plans for a car that runs on Goldfish snack crackers.

Sam, with new shoes and a haircut, has his hat and hurries.

Sam, having had enough of the swimming, watches his brother in the pool and enjoys a snack.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, those ARE Spider-Man Water Wings.

Fearless and swimming. Aunt Karina and Uncle Tim eat wake.

Forever blowing bubbles.

The boys point out the news helicopters circling above the Summerfest grounds.

Caleb puzzles it out.


Brokaw Selected to Replace George Carlin

Townblog Wire

NBC announced Wednesday morning that Tom Brokaw, the former anchor of "NBC Nightly News," will step forward to replace the late comic George Carlin in all future ventures.

The popular comedian died June 22, leaving an important vacancy within the world of stand-up comedy and "counter-cultural" teen comedy films. Brokaw, who hosted NBC’s "Nightly News" for 22 years and retired four years ago, is expected to premiere "Sewriouswry," a live stand-up special, on HBO at the end of August. Representatives for Brokaw have confirmed that the special will contain the anchorman-cum-comedian's ground-breaking "The Seven Consonants I'm Unable to Pronounce on Televsion" routine, in addition to familiar ruminations on "wranguage and the absurdities of modewrn wriving."

Brokaw’s other upcoming duties will include roles in the movies "Bill and Ted’s Emergency Intervention" and "Car Wash 2: Why Didn't We Make This Years Ago?" as well as an upcoming yet to be written but already awful movie by director Kevin Smith.

Given previous announcements that Brokaw will be taking over the duties of Tim Russert, Bo Diddley, and Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party, the former newsman will be quite busy through what was once meant to be a quiet retirement and a gradual withdrawal from the public eye. Brokaw also has a new book in the works, his latest since May 2008’s release of Old People Are Better Than You. Brokaw’s forthcoming work, Generation X: You Can Have My Booming Economy When I’m Good and G*d-Damned Done With It, is currently being printed in the remote section of China devoted to Brokaw’s publishing efforts.


Full Disclosure: I stole the central premise for this post from my friend Dan, who's currently working in China and therefore unable to sue.


Continued Mostly Dark Tonight Turning to Widely Scattered Light in the Morning

I'm a modern man, a man for the millennium: digital and smoke free. A diversified multicultural postmodern deconstructionist -- politically, anatomically, and ecologically incorrect. I've been uplinked and downloaded. I've been inputted and outsourced. I know the upside of downsizing. I know the downside of upgrading. I'm a high tech lowlife, a cutting edge state-of-the-art bicoastal multitasker and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond.

I'm new wave but I'm old school, and my inner child is outward bound. I'm a hot-wired heat-seeking warm-hearted cool customer, voice-activated and biodegradable. I interface from a database, and my database is in cyberspace, so I'm interactive, I'm hyperactive and, from time to time, I'm radioactive. Behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve, riding the wave, dodging a bullet, pushing the envelope.

I'm on point, on task, on message, and off drugs. I got no need for coke and speed, I got no urge to binge and purge. I'm in the moment, on the edge, over the top, but under the radar. A high-concept, low-profile, medium-range ballistic missionary. A street-wise smart bomb. A top gun bottom feeder.

I wear power ties, I tell power lies. I take power naps, I run victory laps. I'm a totally ongoing bigfoot slam dunk rainmaker with a proactive outreach. A raging workaholic. A working ragaholic. Out of rehab, and in denial.

I got a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a personal assistant, and a personal agenda. You can't shut me up, you can't dumb me down, 'cuz I'm tireless and I'm wireless. I'm an alpha male on beta blockers. I'm a non-believer and an over-achiever. Laid back but fashion forward. Up front, down home, low rent, high maintenance. Super-size, long-lasting, high definition, fast-acting, oven-ready and built to last.

I'm a hands-on footloose kneejerk headcase, prematurely post-traumatic. And I have a love child who sends me hate mail. But I'm feeling, I'm caring, I'm healing, I'm sharing. A supportive, bonding, nurturing primary care giver.
My output is down, but my income is up. I take a short position on the long bond, and my revenue stream has its own cash flow. I read junk mail, I eat junk food, I buy junk bonds,I watch trash sports. I'm gender specific, capital intensive, user friendly, and lactose intolerant.

I like rough sex. I like tough love. I use the "F" word in my e-mail, and the software on my hard drive is hard core, no soft porn. I bought a microwave at a mini-mall. I bought a mini-van in a mega store. I eat fast food in the slow lane. I'm tol-free, bite-size, ready-to-wear, and I come in all sizes. A fully-equipped, factory-authorized, hospital-tested, clinically-proven, scientifically-formulated medical miracle.

I've been pre-washed, pre-cooked, pre-heated, pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze-dried, double-wrapped, vacuum-packed, and I have an unlimited broadband capacity. I'm a rude dude but I'm the real deal. Lean and mean. Cocked, locked and ready to rock. Rough, tough, and hard to bluff.

I take it slow. I go with the flow. I ride with the tide. I got glide in my stride. Drivin' and movin', sailin' and spinnin', jivin' and groovin', wailin' and winnin'. I don't snooze, soI don't lose. I keep the pedal to the metal, and the rubber on the road. I party hearty and lunch time is crunch time. I'm hanging in -- there ain't no doubt -- and I'm hanging tough.

Over and out.

George Carlin, 1937-2008

I Am Unstoppable

BRLP Book Six/Week Six:

If you're at the library searching for either a work of contemporary social critique or a fast-paced novel, you can do worse than to cross paths with Diary of a Bad Year, written by J.M. Coetzee. Most of its pages are divided into three sections, with short essays on contemporary issues (such as Guantanamo Bay, intelligent design, or The Seven Samurai and the origins of statehood) heading each page. The second third of each page forwards a story of the writer of these essays and his obsession with a woman he's hired as a typist, with the third section of the page devoted to the typist's discussion of this writer and his ideas with her lover.

These sections often don't fit neatly into the parts of the page devoted to them, so they sprawl onto subsequent pages, forcing some decisions by the reader as to how to read the book. Far too few books problematize the path through them, so there's an aspect of "Choose Your Own Adventure" to the work.

The author of the essays in the novel, like Coetzee, is a South African living in Australia; he earns the title Senor C as his typist early on mistakenly believes he's from South America. But while it's easy enough to see Coetzee himself as the "author of the essays," this complicates -- in an interesting way -- his being the subject of the third portion of the page. Add to this critiques and counter-arguements in that third portion of the issues addressed in the essays delivered above some pages behind, and that all of this inter-textuality and authorship-questioning is done in a serious and successful way (as opposed to, say, the metatextual gamesmanship of Robert Coover or John Barth late in the previous century).

Because DoaBY is a short at 231 pages, and because I'll be on vacation this weekend, I've pre-borrowed book seven -- the long(er)ish American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work by Nick Taylor. While I prickle a little bit at the double-colon in the title -- sentences, like people, should be limited to just one -- I'm interested enough in the WPA, FDR, and other TLAs* to put that aside. Our country once paid artists to make murals, writers to write, and teachers to teach and you know what? We spent our way out of a Depression. Might be a strategy to keep in mind

Page-to-Date BRLP page count: 1,824
Days-to-Date BRLP calendar count: 35 Days
Page-per-Date BRLP reading rate: 52.11

*TLA=Three-Lettered Acronym


All's I've Got Is Photograph

Sam hunting bugs.
In the Ball Jump at the Maryland Ave. School Fun Fair. Amelia Otjen watched, making further note of the recklessness of men.

Hyuk Hyuk Hyuk

In the hammock with Cousin Aidan at Uncle Eric's/Aunt Kim's.

Daring Young Men on the Flying Trapeze

Father's Day 2008, with my Dad and my sons.

Aidan mostly followed the order to aim only at feet and never at adults.

Power Stance Aidan Action Figure Comes Complete With Super-Soaking Aqua-Wand

Caleb, whose interest in water tables and hoses puts him here in his fourth outfit of the day. By the third outfit, we figured we could forego pants.

Aidan and Sam set out to make a mud stream. Because, you know, you can't get enough regional flooding. Sorry, rivers of the Midwest!

(My brother owned the Def Leppard record from which the post title is borrowed. I owned even more embarrassing records, but if he wants to reveal them he'll need to start his own dang blog.)


Tank Park Salute

I spend part of Father's Day attaching a stroller-carriage to my bicycle, which was one of those projects that tests my few mechanical and direction-following capabilities. The inaugural ride went okay, although Caleb spend the whole ride trying to remove his bike helmet.

I received from my wife a DVD she made of pictures of the kids from our first visit with them proceeding to how they look now. This was a fantastic gift, particularly since Kirsten is not the software nerd in the family (and Kirsten is even more direction-averse than her husband).

Here's the short version: The pudgeballs we first met.

The little boys we have to chase after now.

What tore me up, unexpectedly, were the pictures of the day they officially and legally adopted us as their parents. I'm not a person who believes in divine or karmic predestination, but it's hard to imagine that these two boys found their way into our lives simply by accident or a series of phone calls. As I often tell the boys, we're so lucky they found us.

And, of course, thanks to our Dads for their wisdom, humor, and counsel. And for making the moments above possible for us.


BRLP Book Five/Week Five:

Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is written in an egaging creole of urban slang, Spanish, and sci-fi allusions. There's a heavy involvement with the last century of politics in the Dominican Republic, including footnotes for unfamiliar readers like me, and with the last 40 years of adolescent male speculative literature, the references to which go un-footnoted. Interestingly, the authorial assumption that we can catch off-handed references to the Lord of the Rings or Jack Kirby but will not catch similar references to the Parsley Massacre or JoaquĆ­n Balaguer adds up to an accusation, and a just one, about where we choose to lay our attention.

America 1908, meanwhile, does not contain any information about the founding of Wolski's Tavern, which was founded -- it is an institution, after all-- in that year. It was interesting to read about the Wright Brother's patent worries and Admiral Peary's need for fundraising -- we tend to think of inventors and explorers as altruistic types, doing what they do for the good of mankind or in the name of science, when they are just as interested as us regular schmoes in making a living. Also worth reading for coverage of the Great Race, Henry Ford's ideas about what a car should mean, and the Giants vs. Cubs National League penant race. The solution to the problem of transmitting real-time baseball action from New York to Chicago (or vice versa) in an era before radio is particularly cool. (Hint: telegraph wires + this.)

Also, as I say in a previous post, Theodore Roosevelt was totally coo-coo, looney-bird screwball crazy. But loveable all the same. I'm eager to read a biography, once the BRLP is over.

Page-to-Date BRLP page count: 1,460
Days-to-Date BRLP calendar count: 28 Days
Page-per-Date BRLP reading rate: 52.14


Former Goldfinger Aide Supports John McCain

Townblog Wire

Jill Masterson, the gold-skinned former lobbyist for Auric Goldfinger, revealed that she has regular email contact with presidential hopeful John McCain in which she offers advice and consoles him after difficult debates.

The gold-skinned beauty said she had been communicating with the Republican candidate for months and was "amazed" that he always found the time to reply.

Jill Masterson, former Goldfinger aide

"You'd imagine that someone like the senator who is constantly travelling and constantly 'on' - how can he return these personal emails?" she told a reporter from Old Money.

"But he does, and in his off-time I know he also calls people who have donated large sums to thank them. Or, you know, arrange reprisals or collusion."

She described how after a particularly tough debate earlier this year, she sent an email congratulating him for "not entirely embarassing himself".

He responded that the questioning was "confusing" and he would have liked the debate moderators to "get the hell off my lawn."

The gold-plated blond woman, a former paramour of British MI6 agent James Bond, has made no secret of her deep admiration for the Republican candidate.

In January she told reporters: "I am engaged to John McCain. My heart belongs to John". This, she said, was misconstrued by leftist newsletter The New York Times to suggest that he may have had an affair, or more nefarious dealings with lobbyists that he'd claimed.

In the recent interview Masterson claimed that the nation's oldest ever presidential nominee is a fan of her work too and that gold was his favorite color. “Sometimes he slips up and calls me ‘Emmy,'” she admitted, flashing her 24-carat smile.

Reporters asked Masterson to address rumors that she died as a result of the application of gold paint over her entire body, thought to be the work of Goldfinger henchman Oddjob in the mid-1960’s. “Entirely true, actually,” Masterson said, “but the fact that I’m dead, I think, makes me more attractive to McCain and his supporters. That, and I’m covered in gold.”

Masterson also admitted that this is not the first time in her life that she and McCain had been close. During the cold war, her former boss Goldfinger served as the treasurer for SMERSH, the Soviet-era counterintelligence agency. “We had a lot of dealings with McCain in the late ‘80s; he was particularly involved with [SMERSH agent Charles] Keating and our work to subvert American banking regulations.”

Masterson hinted that she may also participate in more high profile fundraising events. "John has asked me to wear ‘McCain for America’ stickers over my private parts. And there are other ways, too – I could be used as a centerpiece in one of those $10,000 plate dinners or, you know, I could be melted down and used as a tax break for the top 1% of Americans.”

The apparently deceased gold-plated bombshell has not lost her sense of humor, however. “John always jokes with me that he’s going to put us back on the silver standard, just like we were when he was a kid in the nineteenth century. At least, I think he’s kidding. God, he gets so angry sometimes…”


I Wish I Was The Moon Tonight

Caleb feeds yogurt to Sam, who finds a way to watch Sesame Street uninterrupted.  So we've got sloth and gluttony covered.


Caleb afloat.

We have a crab apple tree in our front yard that drops twisted little berries (as Sherwood Anderson would have called them) all throughout fall and winter and early spring.  Then, on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, it sprouts these beautiful white blossoms which last about two hours and thirteen minutes until they are ravaged by wind and spring rain.  So Wednesday morning there are little white petals flitting in the breeze and scattering over the lawn like lottery tickets in a liquor store parking lot.


Highly recommended:  Neko Case live at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, CA.


And not to blather on too much about Obama, but it is a warm thing to know that I can tell either of my sons that they could grow up to be president one day without that being a purely conceptual argument.


Three Hypothoses

I put forward these three observations in the hopes that they might be swooped up by scientists, theologists, or Y.A. genre novel kid detectives for further study. (If used, please mention me in your dissertation, sermon, and/or Scholastic Books author review page.)

1. The sound my work computer makes when I get a pop-up error message ("ba-ding!") is the same sound featured in the Naughty by Nature 1991 hit "OPP."

2. Tracy Chapman's 1988 "Fast Car" is the same song as John Cougar Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane" from 1982, only with different lyrics and a different tempo.

3. Shane, the blond kid on the latest season of "The Next Food Network" star, has the same mouth as Jaimie Oliver.


BRLP Week Four/Book Four

The Yiddish Policemen's Union (464 pp) was the best thing I've read from Chabon, a profluent mix of alternative history and noirish dime novel. I liked it even better than Kavalier and Clay (656 pp), actually. YPU continues some themes of identity and alienation from that earlier book, particularly relating to Jewishness and homosexuality. It's kind of right and fitting, I think, that certain authors continue to track through and explore particular themes and tropes, as this sort of fits the way that we continue to construct and problematize our own lives. (A discussion along these lines with my friend Bayard led to him suggesting that Chabon may not let go of these issues, "the way that some people never get over Vietnam, or opening for Nirvana.")

Having read Phillip Roth's The Plot Against America (416 pp) earlier this year, I'm ready to re-enroll as an undergraduate English major so that I can write a 3 and 1/3-page term paper with this title: "It Could Be Worse: Alternative History and the Jews." (Or I could skip it, and save myself the B-.)

After three novels, I felt BRLP Week Four was high time to investigate some recent non-fiction. I was hoping for The Age of American Unreason (384 pp) or Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine (720 pp), but neither were available. I had a false start with a book of J.M. Coetzee's book reviews, which I recognized would be hard slogging and dry, so I returned to the library on Saturday for Jim Rasenberger's America 1908.

So far, fairly interesting, both for the comparisons between now and then, and for all the weird exploration stuff (flight, polar expeditions, the New York to Paris automobile race) that just aren't part of the culture anymore, seemingly. For one thing, I wasn't aware of the speculation in the press about Theodore Roosevelt's sanity. And let's face it, hunting bears and having that moustache and using exclamations like "Bully!" and "Capital!" and starting a Bull Moose party? Crazy. He went blind in one eye after a boxing match with one of his White House subordinates, and was an early proponent of simplified spelling. I'm a fan of his daughter Alice, though, of whom T.R. said: "I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both."

You'll also recognize Theodore as the only president to have a toy named after him, at least until someone develops a doll that garbles speech, mongers fear, and starts interminable wars for personal profit.


And Also...

"[G]enerations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless. This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. This was the moment when we ended a war, and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment, this was the time when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals."

...and this is the moment I fell in love with Michelle Obama.


Oh, and here's another thing, gleaned from the Down From The Tower blog at The Root:

Barack Obama's victory speech at the Democratic National Convention will take place on August 28th, 2008, which will be the 45th Anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. (And the 53rd Anniversary of the murder of Emmet Till.)

At Last

I want to live in the nation that can do this.


Tiny Bubbles

Yesterday, in the car:
Me: Sam, do you want to go to the park.
Sam: No.
Me: What do you want to do?
Sam: Bugs.
Me: You want to look for bugs?
Sam: Yeah!
Me: Do you want to look for bugs at the park?
Sam: Yeah!!
Yesterday, at the park:
Young Girl: (pointing to Caleb) He just ate candy off the ground!
Me: Did he? (Inspects mouth, finds small orange bean-shaped thing.) I guess he did.
Young Girl: That's nasty.
Me: He's two. He doesn't know any better.
Caleb: Mmmmmmmm.

Down By The Riverside

BRLP Update: Third Week, Third Book.

I heartily recommend Exiles to anyone interested in Jesuits, shipwrecks, nuns, or Gerard Manley Hopkins. It's a really interestingly composed short novel about alienation and lives devoted to God, with some very beautiful writing and the calamity of the shipwreck is rendered in a way that is simultaneously horrifying and graceful -- a quality I've admired in Ron Hansen's writing before.I'm now on to Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which is insanely fun. Word is that the Coen Brothers are putting up a movie version for 2010, which makes perfect sense -- there's a lot of Fargo in here. Aside from the conceit, in which the mid-century relocation of European Jews happens not in Israel but in the Alaskan islands, there's a noirish detective story with really crackling (not to say Coenic) dialogue. It's too bad Bogart can't star as the down-at-his-heels, existentially lost Detective Landsman.

I also snuck in Bryan K. Vaughn's Pride of Baghdad, a graphic novel based on a true story of lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo at the start of the current Iraq War. It's one of those rare talking animal comics for adults, and strong-hearted adults at that, since it doesn't end well. As an evening's read, it has a lot to recommend it, but its lessons were ones I feel I've learned already: war is savage, dehumanizing, monstrous, hell. I'm going to put on my long white robe, ain't going to study war no more. (Given the rules of the game, this book isn't counted as a book...)

Page-to-Date BRLP page count: 775
Days-to-Date BRLP calendar count: 15
Page-per-Date BRLP reading rate: 51.66