Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Usually this time of year makes me nostalgic, thinking back to the good and bad of the year gone by, trying to assess the year and make plans for the year to come. This year, my only reaction is: So long 2002, good friggin' riddance, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. I hope everybody's 2003 is better than my 2002...

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Two more books down on the Western reading list. The Underground Man is a Lew Archer mystery from Ross McDonald. It's functional, but I prefer the hard-boiled amorality of Chandler or James Cain to the somewhat less cynical version here. With the L.A. locations and P.I. protagonist, I couldn't help but keep thinking this was a watered-down Chandler. But if you're more of a mystery fan than I am, it's probably worth a look.

The second book is Ethan Canin's The Palace Thief, a mid-1990s short story collection, with the title story the inspiration for the recent film The Emperor's Club. The book consists of four pages of about equal length, my favorite of which was the opener "Accountant", in which a middle-aged accountant with one last chance at a major business coup instead opts to walk off with a memento he believes that he is earned. The whole story revolves around the accountant's thinly veiled anger toward a former high school friend who has found great success with the hard work that he himself has put in. All four stories are strong, creating protagonists who are not easily likable, but through whom Canin demonstrates the small obsessions that stick with us and the brief, seemingly minor moments that haunt us. If one thing connects these stories, it is that their very different male protagonists make discoveries that bring both clarity and a type of disappointment that will linger, though not deep enough to bring on despair or catastrophe. Knowing the characters must continue to deal with these disappointments on an ongoing basis is perhaps the only truly depressing part.

I also took time out to read my second David Sedaris book. If you haven't read anything by Sedaris yet, run don't walk to the library or bookstore to pick up one of his essay collections. Yes, now. I'll wait...

Friday, December 27, 2002

Two commercial updates:
1. Thanks to Mike for sending along a link that might help explain Matthew Lesko, Superpatriot.

2. I figured out the third annoying commercial. It's the one where the guys are arguing over the relative footspeed of the $6 Million Man and the Bionic Woman, and then the woman driving pulls over and says, indignantly, "Guys, it's a TV show." To which I inevitable scream back, "NO, it was TWO TV shows!" If you're going to get indignant, get your facts straight, dammit!

P.S.: Yes, my mother pointed out that both characters started on one show, but then they very quickly each had their own, so I'm not conceding the point on this one.

P.S.S.: Yes, my 59-year-old mother could probably average 15 points a game at the right trash tournament.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

PTA 1980

On a weekday autumn night in 1980 a 37-year-old mother, her 5-year-old son having just entered the first grade, went to her first and last PTA meeting.

On the agenda for that evening, the Association for the elementary school was to decide how to spend a $1,000 surplus that it had somehow accumulated. In truth, the meeting would not so much “decide” as it would ratify a proposal on the table to buy $1 Christmas ornaments for each of the 900-plus students enrolled in grades K-6. Only the lone aforementioned mother stood up with an alternate suggestion: wouldn’t it be nice, she proposed, if we could use this surplus for something educational, such as a computer. This na├»ve proposal met not merely opposition, but open hostility, and the proposer was literally booed back to her seat, while the main proponent of the ornament plan proclaimed her a Scrooge, while saying that for some of the poor rural district’s students, the ornament might be the only present they received that Christmas. It is not known whether any other parents or teachers secretly approved of the dissident proposal, but if they did they kept their heterodoxy to themselves.

For the 23rd consecutive year, the Wright family 2002 Christmas decorations include a flat, perhaps 6-inch tall, gold-colored ornament depicting two pajama’ed young children hanging stockings on a mantle. The annual placement of this ornament has long been accompanied by a chuckle, with mock teary outbursts of, “This might be the only present some poor kids might get this year,” and with laughing speculation that such poor kids might have actually been happier with no presents as all. This ritual was repeated for nearly 20 years, but in the last few years the placing of the ornament has gone by without much comment (though new visitors are still guaranteed to hear the whole tale); still, however, the now 27-year-old recipient of this $1 gift still insists on having the ornament on the tree, and insists on placing it himself. And at some point the recipient came to realize that, were he able to save just one of the family’s traditional decorations, he would have little trouble choosing the long-derided bauble with which he will forever associate his mother’s fruitless defiance—a cheap gold-plated ornament with the prominent inscription: “P.T.A. – 1980.”

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

I'm completely choking on sweetness and sugar right now. No I'm not talking about cookies or pie--mom insisted on watching the last hour and a half of Pollyanna today, and I now truly understand one more English adjective. Scariest part of the movie: Except when you get a good schnozz closeup, Karl Malden is the absolute spitting image of Brian Billick.

Part of today's X-Mas festivities (more on that later this week) involved watching VH1 Classic's day of Christmas videos, about which I can only say that they are no more or less screwed up than music videos in general, which makes them alternately highly appropriate or highly inappropriate for holiday family viewing. Some highlights--the early video era Squeeze's "Christmas Day", which was both one of the most religious songs and also the most mammo-centric video; seeing "Christmas at Ground Zero" twice, as only Weird Al could do a song simultaneously about Christmas, love and nuclear holocaust; Hall and Oates looking especially gay on "Jingle Bell Rock" in sweater-vests; and the always awkward Bing-Bowie collaboration on "Little Drummer Boy", a good song and nice version, but the dialogue on the video was more forced than Abner Louima's confession. I just couldn't get the image out of my mind, either, of Bowie taking Bing to Studio 54 afterward so they could get coked up and get oral sex from Mick and Bianca Jagger alternately.

I know, I have issues.

Three commercials that have been driving me insane in recent months/days:
1. ALF and Emmitt Smith. Not all of them, just the one where Emmitt says, "We both give a lot back to the community." HUH?!?! What kind of charity work has ALF THE FREAKIN' PUPPET been doing lately? Acting as a chew toy for homeless dogs? Being a warm winter coat for poor kids?

2. Matthew Lesko, superpatriot. Matthew Lesko, the free government money guy, was extremely annoying by himself. Now we should buy his book not just to help ourselves and Mr. Lesko, but to help out our country by developing our talents to the fullest. Troubling.

3. Dammit, I forgot the third one. Hopefully I'll remember for the next entry, which will hopefully also feature one or two more book commentaries, and a little (true) holiday story I've been working on.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Weird access stuff the last few days--a demi-power outage in the house, ongoing foibles with trying to get DSL set up, etc. Thus no posting in a few days. Not a lot to say now either I guess, though I will recommend this site for quick but fun daily puzzlers, and Quiddler in particular turns out to be a very good family game.

Rooting for a tie yesterday in Cleveland-Baltimore was interesting. "OK, it's 7-3 Browns. Go Ravens! OK, 10-7 Ravens. Go Browns!" In the early fourth quarter with the Ravens up 13-7 I said to DEK, "We need Awesome Phil from Dawsonville to be really good (2 FGS) or really bad (missed PAT)." Browns win, Browns win, which turns out to be the second-best of three possible outcomes. Steelers make it moot by beating the Paper Bucs tonite.

I saw Gangs of New York on Saturday. I knew in advance I'd be watching as a historian rather than a movie fan, and as historian I was impressed. My anachronism quibbles were very minor--mostly I suspect there were more Chinese women in Scorcese's movie than in all of early 1860s New York. (I'm thinking back to this very good book on the subject.) There are two things I particularly liked about this movie, things that many reviewers seem not to have liked. One is that the movie embraces the fact that it is more about spectacle than plot or story; I have no problem with this, and in some ways I prefer it for a period piece such as this one. Secondly, it is only a very small and vague spoiler to say that the climax of this movie illustrates something that movies never do--it demonstrates that sometimes we set up our narratives and our stories within our own narrow contexts, but they ultimately end up resolved not by much of anything that we do but by the larger context of where and when we are. It is a rare movie that sets up a conflict between two characters, and then resolves that conflict largely in terms of bigger events happening around them instead of a simple climactic battle. Some might find this anti-climactic, and on the wrong day I might as well, but it struck me as appropriate at the time.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

If you really want to make your head explode, tune in to this ongoing VH-1 series on the '80s airing this week from 9-11 p.m., and sure to be repeated ad infinitum. Some scary stuff. It had me during the 1982 show when I was practically jumping up and down and pointing at the screen yelling, "Oh my god! I remember that!!" when they showed a 1982 PSA cartoon showing kids how to make healthy snacks by pouring juice ("orange, or grape, or pomegranate") into ice cube trays, putting in toothpicks, and freezing. My head has been hurting all day, and come to think of it that may be the cause.

Nasty, British, and short
My latest completed read is Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. This is a morbid little book about life for Brits in barely post-WWII Hollywood. The general idea is that the British community in Hollywood at the time had a tacit agreement that the movie business was the only appropriate business for expats, and community members under the auspices of the Cricket Club quietly attempt to force unsuccessful Brits to return home because their presence is unbecoming. Dennis Barlow, once the great hope of young Brit poets, now has a very unbecoming job--working at Happier Hunting Ground pet cemetery. After his elder benefactor is dumped by his studio and subsequently commits suicide, Dennis makes arrangements at a very different final resting place--upscale Whispering Glades, a resting ground for the stars and well to-do--where he falls for makeup artist Aimee Thanatopolous, who herself is infatuated in a strange way with chief mortician Mr. Joyboy. The resulting love triangle is resolved in a particularly cynical fashion, which is par for the course for this book, and from what I've gathered for Waugh in general.

The fun of this book is in cynical black humor of a particularly wry sort, and the British, Americans, and Hollywood itself are all open targets here. If you require at least someone in your books to have redeeming qualities, then avoid this one. But it is a short, quick read, and is very much in the line of cynical Hollywood novels, but not so hard-boiled as say a Chandler or Cain. If this review hasn't scared you off, then it's probably worth a look-see.

Off to see the answer to why they let Dan Aykroyd in...

Monday, December 16, 2002

This is a do-over after yesterday got eaten. Has anyone else noticed that trying to blog regularly means deciding between writing aobut the things you do, and actually doing them? Bummer. Maybe the DSL we're supposedly getting this week will help.

Omigod, like, gag me with a spoonerism!
Saturday my brother and I discovered that our cable company has benevolently decided to give us about 7 new MTV/VH-1 stations, including VH-1 Classic. Nevertheless, I have managed to leave the house a couple of times. But I discovered that, while my brother and I don't have a lot to bond over, an '80s marathon including acts such as Belinda Carlisle, Tiffany, and Whitesnake as well as conversation about Nightmare on My Street is high on that short-list.

Now up to H-J working my way through my CDs, I hit Merle Haggard today. I think Haggard appeals to me because he speaks to universal themes that touch us all. Most notably:
1. I'm drunk
2. I'm in jail
3. I'm drunk, now it's closing time, and I have nowhere to go
4. I'm out of jail, but that just means I'm homeless
5. I'm in jail, therefore I can't drink
6. I'm drunk, but there's so much pain that drinking no longer helps
7. I'm from Oklahoma

Congratulations to DEK on a hard-won semifinal fantasy victory that will hopefully not be lorded over me for more than a decade or two. Since he gave me a Steeler ticket yesterday for the second time this season, I guess I can't complain.

Friday, December 13, 2002

"No Child Wants A Charlie in the Box!"
Life is good, and it's officially Christmas time--Rudolph's on!! Damn those elves and deer for standing in the way of Herby and Rudolph's self-actualization!! And those poor misfit toys. And of course, the most important lesson of all--Bumbles bounce!! The scary thing is I'm really not being sarcastic at all--I do love and have strong feelings about this special, and it's not quite Christmas when I miss it. Now if only I could find Christmas Eve on Sesame Street...

Two Thoughts On Pete Rose
1. Here's the thing that bugs me about the whole Pete Rose Hall of Fame debate--no one even brings up the question of whether Rose belongs in on his merits. OK, the hits number renders that moot for many people. But if you chalk that up to playing at least three years after he was a remotely capable player and look beyond it, you really begin to ask some questions. Here's a guy with the same career batting average as Mike Greenwell, who, oh by the way, finished his career with a 47-point higher OPS than Rose--.831 to .784. And Rose only finished with 160 career home runs. For a player who played mostly at 1B, 3B, and OF, these are by no means Hall of Fame numbers--unless you don't agree with SABRmetricians that counting stats are the least useful kind.
2. OK, this is a Pete Rose/Trent Lott thought. Making no comment or judgement on their individual missteps or indiscretions, I find the talk about apologies in recent days to be fascinating, and in some ways mind-boggling. More than half the people on an ESPN.com poll said that Rose should be forgiven even for betting against his own team if he apologizes. And the Lott controversy seems mostly to revolve not around his remarks but the strenuousness and sincerity of his apology. A third controversy I'd point to is the flap over Garrison Hearst's comments that he wouldn't want a "faggot" for a teammate. Again, the apology became the ultimate issue. Is it actually the case that you can get away with saying (and maybe doing) anything nowadays if you just apologize afterward. I find this troubling. I mean, if you legitimately misspeak I can understand, but for someone to make a comment one day and then retract it the next--are we supposed to just take the apology at face value and pretend the transgression never happened? I find this highly discomfiting, though I can't directly put a finger on why.

Wondering if I could get a job putting stars on Christmas trees, and if I'd have to get all my teeth pulled to get it...

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Survivor just ended, and I don't really like the final four, though I guess I dislike Helen the least. However, I don't want her to win, because middle-aged women always seem to manage to. Clay would be OK from a TV perspective, since it would be cool to have the Total Bastard (buh-bye, buh-bye) win. And Brian's got the cool Skin-emax past going for him. So in short, I'm rooting against Jan. My prediction: Helen.

When I returned to work at the coal mine yesterday, the unisex restroom for non-miners had changed its sign and is now the women's restroom. This means that peeing now involves a reasonably strong chance of seeing a middle aged guy showering. And job satisfaction took another severe hit.

Last night I finally finished Earth Abides by George Stewart. It is apparently a classic in the "one guy emerges from the woods to find that most everyone else on Earth has been wiped out" genre, and Stephen King's The Stand is a clear successor. Written in 1948, it seems to me that at least implicitly it reflects tensions from the early Cold War, or even resilient anxieties from WWII. The plot, in short, is that once the above event happens, "Ish" (the central character) travels around the country, settles back in the East Bay, finds a wife, and gathers a small community around him. We follow this first year and the 22nd year intently, while getting quick takes on a much longer span of time. My opinion is that this is one of those "novels of ideas" that is better as a book of ideas than as a novel. Stewart's points about how quickly civilization would fall apart and about what might be needed to start rebuilding are well laid out and seem reasonable. (The proliferation of computers--not just in homes and offices, but as components of so many things--may make some of these ideas even more obsolete, however.) The prose, though, is often awkward and stilted, and many points are either beaten to death or hinted at to death. You can keep telling us that Joey is the only hope, George, and that he is very frail, and that there are a lot of dangers about, but don't expect us to be shocked (SHOCKED!) when something happens. The more we get Ish's thoughts, the less real any other character becomes. For me, this book is best as a historical relic and as some meditations on the possibility of the sudden fall of civilization; if you're looking for a good yarn, you can do a lot better...

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

I got back from Washington DC this afternoon, where I had gone for a job interview, networking, and to see some friends. The interview seemed to go well--it was a group then individual thing. I'm more experienced than the other guys they talked to, who were straight out of college types. I have a good feeling about this one, but then again I had a good feeling about this one and this one, so who knows what that means. Perhaps more importantly, an old friend and colleague from Pitt set up a lovely dinner party/blatant networking session for me Sunday night, and that also seemed to go very well. With a bit of luck, I will soon be inflicted on our nation's capital. The seeing of frineds, of course, also went well because (after all) they are friends. I also learned that an Aerobed will experience significant deflation overnight when someone of my size sleeps on it, but that's another story altogether. I also learned that it's possible to give up 47 yards and lose by 18, and good Lord do I not want to talk about that any more.

Now I get to look forward to commuting to the coal mine tomorrow in an ice storm. Ice storms are not fun--well, except for this one.

Friday, December 06, 2002

I can dispense with two of the books I've read from the aforementioned Chronicle list pretty quickly, and at once. Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing In America and Ishmael Reed's Yellow Back Radio Broke Down are both experimental '60s novels. Brautigan writes about both the topic and apparently also a character named "Trout Fishing in America" in a series of brief and only somewhat related meditations. Reed deconstructs American racial and progressivist ideologies and histories in his "anti-Western" novel. These are both quick reads, and I was happy to dispense with both quickly, as neither really caught my fancy. I appreciate what Reed is doing but it's been done better elsewhere by others, and works better as academic prose or a movie than in a novel where it's hard to keep anything straight--though I suppose that's the idea. Brautigan's book is appealing as nature writing and is almost poetic at times, but again I can't say that I enjoyed the experience of reading such a disjointed book. So I wouldn't recommend either of these books unless disjointed, experimental prose is your bag, or if you're particularly interested in the subject matter.

In addition to the reading list, my other ongoing "project" of sorts is that I decided that I wanted to work my way through my CDs, so I am taking them alphabetically. I have a 288-CD wallet that holds them all, and a 24-CD wallet that goes in my car, where most of my music-listening takes place. Thus I've been loading up the 24, and today I finished the second batch, meaning that I've gone from ABBA to John Denver thus far. (Yes, I also have some artists in there that other people might actually like.) Part of the idea is to shake up my usual small rotation of heavily-used CDs, and part is to see if pruning needs to happen. And inevitably part of it is trying to figure out what I was thinking about when I bought some of these things. I mean, OK, it's possible that what I really need to do is find myself a brand new lover, but does that mean that I really needed Dead or Alive's Greatest Hits?!

Speaking of bizarro popular culture (and, frankly, when am I not?), if you ever need to kill some time in Wal-Mart while your oil's being changed, I highly recommend the 2 for $10 DVD bin. Today I saw, in addition to such "classics" as Switch, House Party 2 and Protocol, two things particularly jumped out. One was the strong presence of films from the Burt Reynolds ouevre--specifically, Stroker Ace, Hooper, and Sharky's Machine. The other was seeing at least half a dozen copies of Dead Bang. If this title doesn't ring a bell, I'll start describing it, and you tell me when it just sounds horrible and unwatchable. Ready? "Don Johnson stars as..." That's what I thought. If you're really curious, it's a 1989 movie based on the premise that people liked Miami Vice, so maybe they'll like a movie where Don Johnson plays a cop. If you're morbidly curious, click here.

Until next time, I'll be here singing quietly to myself.

"Your sweet nature darling was too hard to swallow, I made my decision, I'm leaving tomorrow..."

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Snow Day!!!
The Beallsvonian is publishing today in spite of six inches of snow on the ground. This was my first winter storm in five years at least (seeing as this is my first winter in five years), and I had forgotten some of the fun and had never experienced other parts. Specifically, this was the first time I've owned a car during a winter storm. I got up this morning, showered and ate breakfast as if I was going to work, and then--in the words of Julia Sweeney--God Said Ha! I spent over 10 minutes cleaning off my car, which is about one minute for every 10 yards I got before I discovered that my car had no traction and was Bartleby-like in its refusal to move. This is a bad place to make that decision, since it's on a hill with no turnaround and a blind curve not too far further up said hill. Luckily, the truck coming down the hill as I made the awkwardest 180 since Oliver Miller last tried a reverse jam got more traction than I did, and was able to stop without plowing (or slamming--pick your pun) into me. Three minutes later, I was on the phone with the mine letting them know I'd be staying home--a good decision since (a) the farther south the deeper the snow this time, and (b) this was actually the most major road I'd be travelling on. The day was spent productively napping and playing cards.

While flipping briefly to the Hawks/Bucks game on TNT, I caught the halftime on-court interview with Glenn "I stole Antoine Carr's nickname" Robinson, who said this was a big game because it was against his former team and because "if we win, we'll be in the 8 slot". "THE 8-SLOT?!" Dude, it's freakin' December! Early December! Most people won't notice that the NBA season has started for 2 more months!

This Sunday I'm headed for DC where in 48 hours I need to see two people I haven't seen in years, one I haven't seen in months, one I haven't seen in a month, and oh by the way interview for a job. Wish me luck! I'm going to need a weekend to recover from my weekend...

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

I saw the headline on ESPN.com that the Dodgers were trading Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros to the Cubs, and my first reaction was, "OK, but what do the Cubs get in return?" Then I saw that they are sending the Dodgers Todd Hundley. Has there ever been a trade in the history of sports that was immediately a successful addition by subtraction for both teams? One of the most dubious sports "achievements" I saw live was the night Eric Karros was recognized as the all-time home run leader for the Los Angeles Dodgers, surpassing Ron Cey (for whom I have always had a fondness because the first baseball glove I ever had was a Ron Cey model; let's just say the other kids were underwhelmed), but never mind the fact that Duke Snider had over 200 more for the Dodger franchise as a whole!

The one thing I've posted so far that got the most feedback by far was the political stuff about the left-wing, so I'll be coming back to that regularly I think. One of my thoughts on something that could help the left re-emerge is that I think we need to find a way to make the case to redefine some key terms. "Big government" is one, and I think this one has to do with people's fear and lack of understanding of complexity. Why does "big" equal "bad"? It's not clear. The only halfway smart idea I remember from my wasted time studying PoliSci was from E.E. Schnattsnyder (or something like that) who said that a big society with big institutions and big business needs a big government to manage it. Yes, big means slow and plodding at times, but it beats the alternative. Somehow, someone needs to get the idea out that "government" does not equal pointy-eared bureaucrats in Washington wasting time and money, but it's people who get roads paved, food inspected, etc. The idea that government somehow causes the societal problems it was created to solve is a dangerous one--as is the idea that government screws up everything it touches while business somehow always manages total efficiency. How much evidence against that do we have now?! And yet somehow this idea persists, most recently in the President's idea of privatizing large portions of the bureaucracy. And yes, a big government means some taxes, which are another thing we need to redefine, but more on that another time.

One thing I forgot to mention about the coal mine yesterday is how scenic the area around it is--seclusion will do that. On one of my first days there, we actually saw deer and wild turkeys wandering just about up to the parking lot, and they were barely out of the woods. The woods all around here are very stark now that they are leafless, but there is a strange beauty in that too. Not that you can relish that beauty for long, of course, because it is currently about 10 degrees. Yes, Fahrenheit. Can someone please remind me why I left SoCal again?!?!

Monday, December 02, 2002

The Co-Temp is leaving!! I found out today that the Co-Temp will be starting a full-time job after tomorrow, so I will finish my current assignment in blissful solitude. And if she can get a job, good Christ something can't be far off for me. I don't know what I'll miss more, the incessant questions about my opinions on her own personal matters, the horrible country music in her car, or the barely competent way in which she accomplished very basic tasks. (Data entry ain't brain surgery, folks, but at times you wonder.) God speed, Co-Temp--I guess I'm at least happy that her kids will eat.

It wasn't all wine and roses at work today though; wow do I hate happy Mountaineer fans.

People have asked me what the coal mine is like. It's on a country road 12 miles south of the only decent-sized town in Greene County, a few miles north of the Mason-Dixon line, off of a small two-lane road. A quarter-mile-long winding driveway heads up to the mine entrance or portal. (I technically work at the Kuhntown Portal of the Blacksville #2 mine.) The building is a long one-story cinderblock building, a building that could house any small industrial concern or even a few small offices. On the inside it is similar--filled with offices with fairly state of the art computers and also filled with men (almost exclusively, few women) who know how to use them. For instance, I work in the outer of two connected offices, and the man in the inner office supervises all the union people in the mine and monitors a network of 25 interconnected computers monitoring who-knows-how-many systems running throughout the mine.

It just so happens that at one end of this modernish office building, there is an elevator that takes you 80 stories underground in 90 seconds. As a result, most everything and everyone around the place ranges from dusty to filthy at all times. Not knowing appropriate dress etiquette, on my first day I showed up wearing khakis; that night I commented to my folks that I was the only one in the place not wearing jeans, and if I did my laundry over the weekend, I'd probably be the only one wearing clean jeans on Monday. In short, the mine is not exactly what I envisioned, it's a hi-tech operation, the men are blue-collar but are blue-collar technicians rather than laborers in the traditional sense, and yet at the same time they are almost exclusively from West Virginia and in many ways are as redneck-y as I'd imagined. As my dad said when I got the assignment, it may not be my dream job, but it will be something to tell the grandkids about. For better or for worse, it will probably last me through next week, with Monday and Tuesday off for a very strange job interview in Washington, DC, but more on that later...

Sunday, December 01, 2002

The Trojans salvaged the split and my sanity by annihilating the Irish last night. This is extra nice because it has the potential to further weaken the BCS's credibility if the Irish are chosen for the Orange Bowl anyway and USC settles for the Holiday. It also puts Trojan fans in the awkward position of cheering on the Bruins next week against Washington State if we want to be Rose Bowl bound. On the Panther front, I now have to root for us to get technically screwed by Virginia Tech beating us out for the Insight.com Bowl bid (in Phoenix, where I definitely cannot travel to) so that we go to the history and pageantry that is the inaugural Continental Tire Bowl (in Charlotte, which I suppose I can drive to).

It's a little late, but read The Story of Thanksgiving, more or less.

I promised to start talking some politics, and I'll start by saying that what really got me thinking about these issues again was the GOP success on election day in general, and then this George Will column in particular. A key premise of the column is that "liberals" (a sneaky, slimy word that we should work to eliminate from our politica vocabulary, but more on that another time) believe that The People do not know enough to properly govern themselves and thus need guidance from above. Perhaps this was true of the left-wing of Adlai Stevenson's time as Will asserts, and I still think it's half-true. Of course The People don't know enough to properly govern themselves. But here's the rub--as a dyed-in-the-wool post-modernist, I strongly believe in the notion that the more you learn, the less you know. What a more post-modern leftie such as myself thinks is that, in fact, no one actually knows enough to govern an enormous, complex government/society. I believe that the left in this country understands this, but it is very hard to take this message to an electorate. The success of the right-wing in this country, I believe, has a lot to do with putting out the opposite message--the world is not complex, it is not shades of gray--it's black and white, right and wrong, and anyone with "common sense" (a truly despicable term that usually means "something I believe but have not bothered to look up or test in any systematic way") can see that. I'd like to think this problem isn't intractable, and I'd like to think that the Left can make a comeback without the Right doing something catastrophic in the meantime. I'm not sure how that can happen, but I do know that for once the mainstream media actually has the proper take on these things--if the Democratic Party is going to regain relevancy let alone power, it's going to have to do it by establishing and getting out a message, and that message has to be more substantive than "We're the not-Republicans" or "The president isn't very smart". But if the Democrats are to truly create a message it's going to mean not a renewed play for the center-right as the party has tried in recent years; instead, it's going to mean looking to the left to reinvigorate the party and the country's political culture with fresh ideas. I'm not optimistic on this front, but the promotion of Nancy Pelosi is a small step in the right direction. And to get back to Will's column, isn't it interesting that no one ever calls people from overwhelmingly and disproportionately conservative Republican districts out of touch. Just one more example of our national media's conservative bias--and don't let Republican lies convince you otherwise.

On a happy note, I should be back with more fun, happy-go-lucky stories about the coal mine and the Co-Temp next time...

Saturday, November 30, 2002

Stupid #$%^ing Backyard Brawl! Grrr... Today I was thinking about starting to write some political stuff about where a left-thinking person like myself thinks American politics, and particularly Democrats and left-wingers (two groups that are increasingly disconnected) should be going. But I just can't deal with it. Now I have to hope that my Trojans beat the living snot out of the Irish tonite to salvage a split for the alma maters on the day. Losing the Brawl and the Shillelagh on the same day could spawn a massive ugly binge of consumption and self-loathing. Oh wait, Thanksgiving and life have already conspired to bring that about. So that double loss would actually just spawn a lot of cursing at the TV. Still, not something I want.

On the book front, I crossed one more off the aforementioned (see 11/26 entry) S.F. Chronicle list today, Anne Lamott's Crooked Little Heart. This is a story about a 13-year-old in a relatively affluent Bay Area suburb, a girl who is a solid juniors-level tennis player and who is struggling with the onset of her teenage years. I enjoyed things about this book, particularly the tennis stuff, since I played as a teen and went to (and got killed at) a handful of local tournaments. Rosie, the protagonist, and her mother Elizabeth, step-father, and best friend/doubles partner are all complex, well-drawn characters. Without meaning anything judgmental by this, however, Crooked Little Heart is clearly a book written by women for women, as we spend most of the book in Rosie's or Elizabeth's heads as they struggle with being mothers, daughters, wives, etc. While adults can read this book and enjoy it, I would also classify it primarily as "young adult" fiction with all of its coming of age themes. Two things about this book bugged me a bit. One is that I am always offended by even hints of cultural snobbery (although I can be guilty at times too), and it struck me as sonbbery or at least sloppiness that adults listened to "Schubert's Trout", "Mozart", or even "Judy Collins", while Rosie listened to "rap" or "loud music"--as if Rosie's music was an undifferentiated mass but adults' music choices were more subtle and required specificity to understand. Secondly, almost every character in the book--male or female, adult or teen--is obsessed with the sexuality of Rosie's friend Simone in the sense that they all feel her allure deeply. The hint of lesbianism and pedophilia doesn't so much bother me--the book consistently deals with the theme of how we deal with uncomfortable and unacceptable feelings and impulses, and why choosing more normal actions is often wise. What does bother me is the open conversations among adults discussing this fourteen-year-old in highly charged tones, as if such discussions were as routine as talking about the weather. I know authors putting their ideas in characters' mouths is a major element of fiction, but in some cases it can be eerie and can also ring very false. If all this sounds interesting to you (and not pruriently--looking to this book for that will leave you disappointed), then I would recommend this book to you. Personally, I'm going to have to reassert my masculinity by reading a Western or something hard-boiled.

And I promise that the political stuff is coming, but until football is over it is clearly the thing I am most likely to rant about...

Thursday, November 28, 2002

This has been my first Thanksgiving at home in five years, and for the most part it's been very nice. All the standard fixin's and whatnot, but with some points off because my brother raised a bit of a ruckus. About seven years ago my parents' oven stopped working, and instead of fixing it they've used a convection oven and other stopgap measures. This makes some amount of sense--the oven is built into the wall and would be a bitch to fix or replace. However, it also means that baking is out of the question, which is only really an issue around the holidays. So today, it was emphatically made an issue. Nevertheless, a solid turkey say, all things considered.

After turkey, the main thing that goes with Thanksgiving is of course watching Lions and Cowboys games--a tradition that I vehemently believe in maintaining, in spite of the current uproar to rotate Thanksgiving Day hosts. Two things about this years games really got me going. One was the Patriots breaking out the old red uni's, which always put a hop in my stop. They are my favorite NFL uniform that has gone out to pasture, and there is no close second. Also they made for a strange realization around the second quarter when I realized something was amiss--neither team was wearing white! The second thing that got me going was seeing Darrell Green not only at cornerback but even going back as the second deep safety on the Redskins' last-minute punt return. I'm not going to say Darrell Green is old, but in his first Thanksgiving Day game the opposing quarterback was Squanto.

Thanksgiving football has been somewhat diminished in my mind, though, because I now associate it with my worst Thanksgiving ever, which I also consider the nadir of my four-year Southern California sojourn. Thanksgiving Day 1998 I arrived at Gabe's Bar and Grill, my favorite Socal Steeler bar, in time for the 9:30 a.m. PST kickoff of the Steelers and Lions, to see a crowd of maybe half a dozen that swelled to maybe 15 at its height. At halftime we were served an ugly parody of Thanksgiving dinner--no one ever went to Gabe's for the food--that ruined my first-ever major family holiday away from home. Oh yeah, and that was also the Luckett-Bettis coin toss game, the less said about which the better. Just a depressing day to be 2500 miles away from home and not yet settled in to a new social network of any kind.

SoCal Thanksgivings did get markedly better from there, it should be noted. In 1999 and 2000 Kristan and I, being the only ones in our group without holiday plans, went to the Covina Hometown Buffet and then theater-hopped at the AMC Covina 30. We saw 5 movies in those two years, including Toy Story 2 and The Insider if memory serves. In 2001 five of us saw the late morning show of the first Harry Potter movie at the incomparable Grauman's nee Mann's nee Grauman's Chinese Theater, and then four of us drove all over Pasadena and points east looking for an open restaurant, finally ending up at Black Angus, strangely enough again in Covina. That was my first non-turkey Thanksgiving dinner, and I'm in no hurry to have a second.

Speaking of which, I think it's about time for a sandwich...

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Oh yeah, email me or not...

So as I mentioned yesterday, I am currently temping at a coal mine a couple thousand yards from the West Virginia border. There are pros and cons to this job, as you might imagine. Here are some:

PROS: I will make my next car payment. I am out of the house. I like driving on back roads. For a temp job, the work is not too bad and the pay is not abysmal.

CONS: The TV right outside the office I am working in plays CMT most of the day, and CMT seems to be on about a five-song rotation of music I hate anyway--definitely not "The Good Stuff". The Co-Temp.

The Co-Temp will remain nameless, but oldies fans of The Cufflinks might figure out that everything she does bounces me off the ceiling, and not in a good way. We are carpooling because she cannot handle the directions, even after two weeks. The Co-Temp also is one of those people who is constantly telling the nearest person (for 10 hours a day: yours truly) all of the current dilemmas of their outside life and asking for that person's opinion on every decision--however minor--that they face. Since these decisions involve a separation, two kids under the age of four, a court appeal, and various job interviews/offers, you might think that a virtual stranger's opinion would be beside the point. But not the Co-Temp. Also, the Co-Temp is one of those people who has developed a feigned stupdity about most things as a defense mechanism against having to make any decisions or do anything. Am I being a bit harsh? Perhaps, and I can empathize with someone trying to raise two young kids on her own. But I also have a pretty good idea of why she got that way. And besides, this is my place to vent--I'm never anything but civil in person. But enough about that unpleasantness--four days off will hopefully soothe the mind on this issue.

My latest read on the aforementioned booklist was #15 On The Road by Jack Kerouac, one of the most famous books on the list. I really enjoyed it, although it didn't strike me as transcendentally great or anything like that--maybe a B+. I don't know if my 8 one-way trips across the country have jaded me to the experience and/or made it less exotic, or if the adventures are a bit dated. I particularly enjoyed the parts with Old Bull Lee--a thinly disguised William S. Burroughs; the fact that the scenes with his wife occurred shortly before their little William Tell game is a bit creepy, though, and probably should not be dwelt on. I do know, however, that this book should contain a warning label for those who are prone to wanderlust and/or those who are unhappy with their current physical location.

On a final note, a friend from collegefrom whom I hadn't heard in years emailed me yesterday and asked if, presuming the Backyard Brawl goes well, I would like to go to the"Toyota" Gator Bowl. Very, very good times.

Well, so far so good on the "Daily" part...

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

"It's Blog, It's Blog, It's big it's heavy it's wood;
It's Blog, It's Blog, It's better than bad it's good.
Everyone loves a Blog, you're gonna love my Blog!"

I find that it's always good to start a new venture with optimism and a sub-sub-subreference. So there it is. The plan is that this will be your standard issue Blog, perhaps a bit short on the links until I get a job (more on that later), get out of the house (much more on that later), and get a faster connection. But otherwise, diary, commentary, reviews, rants--all the standard issue stuff I guess.

Before getting too far, I suppose I should note that the title of this shindig comes from the name of my hometown and current place of residence. It's a tiny hamlet that exists only because of Henry Clay. It's not without its charm--unfortunately it's without just about everything else, so I will be leaving again as soon as I can get regular employment.

You know your life has taken a strange turn for the weird when you have an advanced degree (OK, an M.A. in History--but that counts, dammit!) from a reputable university and your current job involves nothing more or less than working in a coal mine doing data entry. And, for that matter, going to lunch means driving into the nearest town across the Mason-Dixon Line.

One other thing I'll mention for now is that during my unemployment I decided I wanted to find some new authors and new books (new in the "if you haven't seen it, it's new to you" sense). In that vein I came across this list, of which I had read seven already and have now read 18 and counting. Watch this space for reviews or at least some meditations as I proceed.

Thanks for reading; more to come...