Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Warmed cardiac anatomy

I spent much of last year studying anatomy. It occurs to me that I never learnt what the cockles of the heart are.

Whatever they are, mine are warmed by seeing yet another headline beginning, "Bush defends...."

At this rate, eventually he'll get even more confused and start defending things he's agin.

There Is Hope for the USA

For a minute there, it looked like the national news was going to end with a tie between good and bad. The good news came from an administration that has proven once again that it can't get out of its own way. The bad news came from South Dakota, which seems determined to take on Kansas for the title of Neanderthals of the new century.

Then, the U.S. men's curling team took the bronze medal
. I take this as a sign that this nation is about to get over itself, grow up, relax and be more tolerant.

It is no small metaphor for the US; never mind the medal. Americans have had a poor record participating in, and watching, sports that require patience as much as violence, from the audience as much as the participants. (The exception is golf, but I don't recognise golf as a sport. I hardly acknowledge it as a pastime. Mark Twain came closest by calling it " a good walk spoiled.") Americans likewise have done very badly in accepting that many other nations care very much about sports few Americans understand. U.S. fans have followed the lead of sports media in trashing such activities. Even before this win, I was pleased that NBC had more coverage of cross-country skiing than I can ever remember, just as it appears the skiing powers are ready to pay the sport some real attention.

Now granted, curling is, well, odd. As a Canadian friend points out, it combines two very important aspects of Canadian life: ice and beer. Looked at that way, curling stops being quite so long as you don't put the ice in the same glass as the beer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

On the Mountainfront

Happens I have a friend, a Master's level skier, who knows
Bode Miller. She is cut from the same old money bolt as Miller,
and thinks his behaviour is cute. I thought the conduct she
described was arrogant and spoiled, months before he brought
his show to Torino.

Discussing Miller at work, one colleague said he figured you
had to have attitude to get to that level.

I'm not old money, but I've met or been acquainted with seven
Olympic athletes: two skiers, three swimmers, a cyclist, and
a runner. Five of them are medalists (one is just beginning her
career, and we'll see what she does). Not one of them had a
trace of the childish, arrogant, smartass attitude that Bode
Miller has tried to pass off as a requirement for athletic
greatness. What they did have was the focus and self-
discipline that comes with years of working very hard to get
where they were and are.

Location, birth and breeding made certain that Miller has never
had to work very hard for anything, and probably never will.
It shows. The spoiled rich kid, who grew up with a ski area in
his back yard, might have become one of the greatest skiers of
all time if he had paid his dues.

He is now doing what spoiled rich kids always do when
they lose: whining.

In On the Waterfront, Terry Malloy's self-pity sounded much the
same as Bode Miller's. However, the character of Malloy added
two final phrases which, in self-acknowledgement, so far
surpass Miller that, once again, he's left behind, tangled
in the gates:

"You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I
coulda been somebody,
instead of a bum, which is what I am."

Twilight, my patootie!

A story like this one from is supposed to get your
attention not by what it contains, but by what it implies,
and by what its headline promises but doesn't deliver.

Blogs over as a business? Another way to looking at it is to
question whether blogs as a business have ever really got off
the ground. Slate doesn't ask that question. I don't expect
any other media to ask the question.

I suggest this is another variation on the old media game of
"bash the new kid." Probably the first ones to play the game
were monastic scribes. I can see them now, scribbling
away at the rate of a page a day, when movable type appeared.
Something like this:

It's an untried technology, a bubble driven by
reckless speculation. All these resources are
put into a product without regard for market.
After all,hardly one person in
twenty can read,
and most of them are us.

It's dangerous, too. Young children get
hurt around
those big presses! Look! Here's another example! One
apprentice injured for every 20,000 sheets
of production! And that type is made of
lead, you know.
Who knows how much lead you'll absorb every time you
pick up
one of those books?

The subject here isn't really blogs as a business, but the
threat blogs pose to other news media. Blogs as business put
that into a form the competitors can understand and fight.
Blogs without the business model drop back into the category
of amorphous fear, an informational thing that goes bump
in the night.

If I were betting, my candidate for failure would be
It now focuses excess energy on non-stories, none at all on
stories of real substance, and does it all with a sort of rote
weltschmertz that fails to entertain, inform or enlighten.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Have we heard this before?

bin Laden : You'll never take me alive.
Bogart: You'll never take me alive, coppers!
Cagney: NYAAA see! You'll never take me alive, coppers!

Crikey, the man can't even get a quote right! All the same, that's the bad guy's line just before the law splatters him all over the real estate. If Osama is trying to inspire his followers, he needs another cliche.

Once again: what's Dubya's worst nightmare? Why, winning what he hoped would be a perpetual "war."

Friday, February 17, 2006


Thinking about the term DINO from a detached place.

Aren't they all?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A little raw hype

One of more interesting jobs in my so-called career was running a Freedom Trail historic site. It was there I discovered, first-hand, that a significant portion of the American public is unable to tell fact from fiction.

One of my more disgraceful occupations was the several years I spent in public relations. ("Please don't tell my mother I'm in public relations. She thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.")

Both of those career paths came together with the announcement of Opus Dei's concern about the forthcoming film of The DaVinci Code, and its concurrent efforts to tidy up its image as a bizarre, masochistic cult of multi-millionaire religious fanatics.

Opus Dei cleaning up its image is akin to Dick Cheney teaching hunter safety.

Opus Dei appears to be worried about all those millions of people who can't tell fact from fiction because it too can't tell fact from fiction. No surprise there: they've been dealing in fiction from the day they were founded.

Perhaps they should consult the Jesuits for a reality check.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Curling around the point

The gym at my new place of work is a modest affair. Along with other small deficiencies it lacks TV. This is important at the moment because one only sees curling on American television during the Winter Olympics, and then between 4 and 7 a.m. on obscure cable channels.

Curling, you may recall, is that sport which requires participants to sling a large rock across a sheet of ice, accompanied by people with brooms. (The rock is, not the slinger.) As far as I can make out, the point of this is to oblige the winning team to buy a round of beer for the losers (or is it the other way round?) Whatever, it appears to be the most relaxing thing one can do on ice, apart from certain forms of ice fishing or driving a Zamboni.

I believe thoughtful Americans need to study curling. It is a metaphor for some essential cultural differences between ourselves and Canada. It may be the secret to creating a mellow and tolerant society. It could be a way to get a free beer every now and then.

Football fans especially need to watch more curling. They will never again call baseball "slow."

Until you see the reds of their eyes?

Ahh, gunplay has entered the public arena at last. I think we can believe that this really was an accident because the victim was a) rich, b) Republican, c) socialising with Cheney. I guess c) follows logically from a) and b), but never mind.

Crikey, I hope somebody frisks the VP before his next press conference. Imagine if he'd been shooting at a Democrat.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Indifference vs....

My gut response to the continuing blather about the Danish cartoons is to arrange for every media outlet outside the Muslim world to display them simultaneously, perhaps in company with selected Robert Mapplethorpe photography and a free choice of any other non-Muslim bit of blasphemy.

Of course, that wouldn't do at all. It's inconsistent with my stated position toward all of the desert religions, which is "ignore them, and they will go away. "

The space and time devoted to this nonsense does seem to be dwindling. We can shortly move on to whatever it is that is offending some other group of faithful people. The Muslims can then try to figure out what it was they were importing from Denmark that made all this seem so important.

All this does make me glad the Westboro people haven't discovered automatic weapons. When last I looked, they hadn't even discovered gunpowder.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Language Barrier

I grew up in Northern New England. Even after a generation of this horseshit, I can't get used to the idea that a foot of snow is news. Of course in summer, the same broadcast media manage to make thunderstorms news. Snow in winter, rain in summer: wow, what a shocker!

It's all in how you phrase things. Not long ago, we had brush fires (if they burnt brush) and forest fires (if they burnt trees). Now we have...breathless pause...wildfires. Never mind that my dictionary says "wildfire" is any fire out of control: it's the term that inspires fear, so go with it.

Some special punishment ought to be reserved for the inventors of the oldest weather hyperbole of all, one that incorporates hysteria and solecism as well as fear-mongering. I speak of "nor'easter."

Friendly and unfriendly students of New England speech agree that no New England dialect (at least in the English language) has ever dropped its "th:" mangled it, yes, but never dropped it. The late Carl de Suze, a Boston radio announcer for many years and a solid student of New England dialects, believed this beastly word began in New York. He argued that it was a survivor of a whole range of failed efforts by Manhattan journalists to render Yankee dialects in print. In recent times broadcast journalists, who believe anything they hear, picked this faux pas up and have apparently made it permanent. They seem to have done so in the innocent belief that mispronouncing dialect made them more folksy.

The appropriate pronunciation, at least along the coast, is "nutheastah." The rest of us just called them snowstorms.

Friday, February 10, 2006

More of that Ol' Time Religion

In the same 24 hours, intimidating Muslim protests draw a rebuke from the
Guardian UK
which is a few bricks short of a bastion of the status quo.
One also reads that many US states have had their fill of the Vestboro Vermin
and are seeking ways to muzzle them.

There is no patience. There is a reason that institutions as superficially far
apart as American fundamentalist Christians and pick-your-own flavour of Muslim
are acting much the same way. It is that they are sensible of the same threat,
that more and more of the world doesn't take the message of their faith
seriously. There is no patience, and their response to indifference (perhaps
the underlying message of the Danish cartoons) is threats. The threats get
attention, all right: they unite Western interests in a response
escalating from annoyance to revulsion. Neither group could choose any course better calculated to hasten the demise that is their greatest fear.

That demise is just below the horizon. Recently, I had a conversation with a
medical member of the coming generation whose thinking has blown light years
past atheism. I admit freely that it's a struggle at times to be content with giving the desert religions the indifference they deserve. While the rest of us are struggling with
understanding and tolerance, this bright young clinician hopes to establish a diagnosis and treat the desire for religion as a disease.

In the meantime, note to whomever is burning Alabama churches. If you belong to
another religion, rock on: I love dissension. If you're agin religion, stuff
it. Don't forget, the desert religions thrive on persecution. Deprive them of it
and they die.

I wonder if the packers of Danish ham are quaking in their boots at the threat of a Muslim boycott. I also wonder how many Afghans even know where Denmark is.

Anger Strategy?

Rank me with those who think the Democrats will do only until we can assemble something better.

Rattled by Republican "anger strategy? " Holy shit, the answer is on the evening news for anyone who cares to watch and and listen carefully. McCain has already lost it several times. Cheney goes right to the brink every time he opens his mouth. Dubya? Turn down the volume sometime and just watch his body language. That man is past his eyebrows in anger. When he does go over the edge, I hope there will be no weapons within reach...or nose candy either.

An opposition with a spine would be yanking those chains at every chance, until one of them loses it. It would then keep yanking until they have all popped their corks. Damn the decorum, full speed ahead!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Product of My Times

So, the first the mayor of LA knew about a 2002 thwarted terror plot against his city was today's announcement? Hmm.

Rove is back, for sure, but Rove may be a little out of the loop if he still thinks fear trumps all.

What I remember is how plausible the Tonkin Gulf incident appeared at the time.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Cah Cah Part Deux

Well, that didn't take as long as I expected. This assumes the insurance company pays up punctually.

Thursday I cleaned out my former ride. It seemed likely (from the gleam in his eye) that its next owner will be the industrious mechanic who was in charge of straightening things out for the appraiser. Capitalism, Lesson 1: Anything's cheap if you have the right skills. Our mechanic can buy a totalled car from the insurance company for a tenth of what they pay out for the loss. Once he scores a secondhand tranny, a weekend of sweat equity gives him a six grand car for about one grand. That leaves $5000 for the sound system that he might instal in the trunk.

By the middle of last week, I was expecting to hear the T-word and had already done my online car shopping. We had established our automotive parameters, which were part practicality, part social responsibility, and part psychotic delusion. We wanted something that would carry two kayaks or bikes, have the road noise of a Rolls Royce, the crashworthiness of an Abrams tank, the fuel economy of a bicycle, and a price tag that would leave us with a bank balance.

Gad I love online car shopping! What a delightful tool for making sopranos out of car salesmen. By early Saturday we knew what we wanted, where to look, and the history of the principal suspects. Lesson 2: in a contest of tech vs. horsetrading, tech rocks.

The car business looks like horse trading because the first car salesmen were horse traders (I am not making this up). All of the habits and tricks of the horse trade moved entire from the one business to the other. Lesson 3: there is no momentum like institutional momentum.

So, we sallied forth armed with internet quotes, book values and Carfax histories, representing tech. However, this venture also involves my dear spouse. She's from a family of horse traders (not making that up, either) and there is nothing so endearing as watching her corner unwary car sales types and beat them to a pulp. The combination of Web data and this peculiar gene ought to be bottled. By Saturday evening she had swallowed whole three salespeople and a finance manager, leaving us to think out Sunday tactics that would keep us ahead of the automotive rumour mill.

I have to say Sunday scored one for tech and the geek who hates horse trading. The question of the day: was the first car I had spotted online still there? It was. Would the dealer stand by the Internet offer, which was near as don't matter to book? They would. I threw in a bit of good old marketing puke smarm (remembering the salesman and reminding him he had sold us the legendary Grape, nearing 160,000 miles and happily chugging along). Voila: an adequate deal. Not perfect from either standpoint, but done neat, quick, and with no gunplay.

I still think the whole business would run better if buying a car were like buying a fridge: here it is, this is what it costs. Apparently that's a minority opinion, and too many people take it as a sport to give my plan traction. Maybe there's something in it: after all, remember the Yugo.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Accessorising crime

It has long seemed that the homophobes of the world like to draw a fine distinction between gay-bashing and other forms of assault, battery, and homicide. Gay-bashing, you see, may be deplorable, but it's perfectly understandable. Ya sure.

Jacob Robida may have done the world a favour by blasting the living crap out of the argument. When a homophobic gay basher on the run spreads the joy by shooting a cop and, as it now seems, a woman he had conned into coming with him, it becomes nearly impossible to sustain that miserable distinction.

The archbishop, MassNews, and their ilk recklessly encourage hatred of the most convenient difference within reach, because such people can exist only by fostering hatred of difference. Inevitably, their message enters the mind of hostile losers who take it to its literal conclusion. At that point, the hate-mongers want to retreat in righteous silence from the consequences of their actions.

I wonder if AG Reilly would have the stones to suggest our institutional homophobes might be accessories to this rampage. Never cojones.

It does seem like time to draw another line: between Point A (the hate mongering) and Point B (the assaults and the homicides), and draw it in indelible ink.

Cah Cah

A couple of weeks back I had a dispute with a truck tyre lying in the middle of a busy Boston artery. The referee's review took ten days but the verdict went to the tyre, which totalled my car by scoring a five inch crack in the tranny block.

Things I don't like about such situations:

1. I don't need one more person to tell me how lucky I am. One is rather busy in the moments before impact making good luck, or one is busy dying.

2. One should be grown up enough at 58 not to be jumpy when driving the same highway.

3. I really hate buying cars. More exactly, I hate shopping for them.

Watch this space as I observe this bastard child of capitalism in action.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The harm

One of my favourite regular reads online is The Skeptic's Dictionary and one of my favourite features there is called What's the Harm? This irregular item reports on the latest horror perpetrated in the name of religion, hokum, fanaticism or whatever.

Well, here in Cloudy Mass. we got a taste of "what's the harm" this week, when a disturbed 18-year-old went into a gay bar in New Bedford and started objecting to gay rights with a gun and a hachet.

THAT's what the harm is. That has always been what the harm is. How fucking hard is it to understand that?

Romney is silent. The saintly bearded archbishop is silent. The assholes at MassNews, etc. are silent because they never have anything to say anyway.

If there is a gay agenda, it is to stop the fucking bleeding.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Doom and Gloom

I find the sources MassMarrier cites in his Can Darwinism Rescue Dems? troubling for several reasons. One is that I'm now living on a medication that includes depression amongst its many side effects. Another is that I don't look back on the repression of the fifties with any nostalgia or pleasure, with or without pills. Whenever I get over my initial fears of a lust for authoritarianism in the modern age, I recall that that sorry era is the destination of today's unhappy public fantasies, more than, say, the France of Louis XIV.

Why should the fifties be the good old days? Let's think. Gee, could it be the demographic predominance of my somewhat idiotic generation? Apparently most of my peers had a
wonderful time growing up, or at least a good enough time to enable repression of the undesirable features. We also have the demographically modest Generation X, hard-wired to react negatively to the period of their childhood even as they emulate many of its features. There is a new generation rising, though, and I wonder to what extent they will carry on the trends that environics sees in my peers. They have no exposure to either the imagined sweetness of the fifties, or the imagined evils of the Age of Love. For once their general lack of historical knowledge is a blessing, since most of them know both eras solely through oldies tunes.

Surely, a good number of the new generation have bought into the disturbing mainstream mindset that environics detects. Many others, though, care little for the issues that so energise the American mainstream. They don't care what other people do in their bedrooms and don't think government should, either. They appear more interested in more public values issues, such as corporate and political corruption. Their religiosity very often takes the form of inchoate spirituality, New Age, or alternative beliefs, rather than the rather stale nostrums of recognised
faiths. A good number don't seem to be especially religious. (Environics seems to have spoken with their parents, not with them. I'’m not as old as all that: I remember having opinions put in my mouth by trendspotters talking to my parents.)

If the Democrats mean to recover some momentum, they need to consider both the immediate situation and the future. Environics seems to have tabbed the grim present rather well. All this lot are very good at projecting the present indefinitely into the future. Such forecasts nearly always incorporate the implicit or explicit disclaimer, "if present trends continue."

Present trends, however, never do.

The new generation has been eligible to vote for several years, and boy, are they pissed. I suspect that many of those who passed on the 2004 election, either from self-absorption or due to John Kerry's chronic inability to inspire, won't make that mistake again. Don't listen exclusively to my peers. Listen to our children, and listen now.

Offlist, the Marrier provided comfort to the gloomy in the form of an apposite Garrison Keillor review of 'American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville,' by Bernard-Henri Levy. Trust the Prophet of Lake Wobegon to skewer the absurdity that distinguishes punditry from more ethical forms of expression.