Friday, April 29, 2011

Epigram, Unh! What is it Good For?

Orin's special conscious horror, besides heights and the early morning, is roaches. There's been parts of metro Boston near the Bay he'd refused to go to, as a child. Roaches give him the howling fantods. The parishes around N.O. Had been having a spate or outbreak of a certain Latin origin breed of sinister tropical flying roaches...”

David Foster Wallace, INFINITE JEST

The next time you step on a cockroach, think about this: the tiny brain you just crushed is loaded with so many antibacterial molecules that it makes prescription drugs look like sugar pills...Cockroach molecules, while being so lethal to bacteria, aren't harmful to human cells...But many issues need to be hashed out before cockroach juice hits the drugstores.”

David DiSalvo, Mental Floss magazine

We continue to call for a true peaceful uprising against the means of mass communication that offers nothing but mass consumption as a prospect for our youth, contempt for the least powerful in our society, and for culture, general amnesia and the outrageous competition of all against all...TO CREATE IS TO RESIST. TO RESIST IS TO CREATE.

Stephane Hessel, INDIGNEZ-VOUS!

In Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), after a medical false alarm, Mickey (Woody Allen) has a crisis—he quits his job and nearly commits suicide, but then he wanders into a showing of the Marx Brothers' DUCK SOUP and finds it funny. He thinks, "What if the worst is true? What if there's no God, and you only go around once and that's it? Well, you know, don't you want to be part of the experience?"

Juliet Lapidos

Rufus T. Firefly: Lieutenant, why weren't the original indictment papers placed in my portfolio?

Bob Roland: Why, uh, I didn't think those papers were important at this time, your excellency.

Rufus T. Firefly: You didn't think they were important? Do you realize I had my dessert wrapped in those papers?


Friday, April 22, 2011


There's been a spate of articles about the Civil War as we've reached the sesquicentennial of the opening salvo on Fort Sumter. It's reopened the debate on race, as well as the nature of the union, and of course it's fascinating to think about why a black president was categorically impossible at the centennial point in 1961. But it made me think about the nature of debates now and then.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates just before the momentous election of 1860 were even more focused on slavery-related issues than our midterm elections were on the economy. And they established a pattern of official rules still used today for school debates, but they also were a good study in the rules of the game: finding isolate facts selected to buttress the case; appeals to emotion (usually fear) and ideology; invented facts and sometimes baseless assertions; and various levels of character assassination. Lincoln was very aware of being in a transitional realm between his moribund former party the Whigs and the emerging Republican party, and Douglas was aware of needing to alternately reassure and provide selective fearmongering for his Democratic base, which included Know-Nothings from the preceding years, arguably something like the Tea Party of the time in a way:

"The next question I put to [Mr. Lincoln] was, whether he was in favor of prohibiting the admission of any more Slave States into the Union. .. I asked him to answer me and you, whether he would vote to admit a State ...with slavery or without it... He did not answer that question. He dodges that question also, under the cover that he was not on the Committee at the time..."

And for every such thrust, Lincoln has a parry, and a similar thrust. Time-honored means keep repeating:

"The only concrete proposal in the President's plan that he'll roll out today is his plan to raise taxes, and I find that very unacceptable given we're several days out from tax day in this country. We don't believe that raising taxes is the answer here," - Eric Cantor, R-Va.

"As the President made clear, Democrats have a different view. We believe that the responsible approach is to make sure the wealthiest Americans contribute their fair share ..." - Harry Reid, D-Nev

What's interesting now, of course, is that all of the thrusts and parries are preserved forever on one or another web server just awaiting a query from all and sundry. Not only that, but there are a bevy of online debate sites operating within the classic structure, but adding the wrinkle of moderation by anyone, and participation by anyone. One difficulty now, as then, is distinguishing which elements are ideological first, and which are primarily a matter of pragmatic manipulation. For instance, many Republicans oppose in particular higher tax rates for the wealthy or big business first and foremost because they believe that those who have achieved success deserve to keep every penny. They may or may not pay lip service to the supply side argument of the inherent putative benefit of the most prosperous getting more prosperous, more jobs, and more spending creating more jobs. And Democrats tend to believe that the wealthy are predominantly greedy and power-mad, and in need of trammelling. But they'll tend to talk about idealistic social programs they want to use all those tax-the-wealthy dollars for rather than their mistrust of Big Oil.

Wouldn't it be a treat to see a site like, with its nifty side-by-sides and results rollups, have a debate on the deficit plan between, perhaps, Paul Krugman and Robert Samuelson, with voting by various knowledgable parties?

There's no reason, however, you couldn't press them into service for other pressing issues like the recently posted "New Heinz Ketchup Packets Or The Old Ones?"...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Return of Casey

The action wasn’t groovy for the Endsville nine that day,

The beat was 4 to 2 with just one chorus more to sway,

And when old Cooney conked at first, and Burrows also sacked,

A nowhere rumble bugged up all the cats who dug the act.”

from Mad Magazine

It was with great, groovy joy that I attended a baseball poetry reading last week to kick off the 2011 baseball season. What a night: nine women reading an incredible range of poems, with a couple of token guys thrown in for good measure. The whole event was inspired and breathtaking. Highlights included Ann Menebroker's always thrilling triple plays and chin music, Peggy Kincaid's surprising rookie explosion on the scene with new work and riveting execution, and the ninth inning antics of home run slugger Viola Weinberg, resplendent in eye-gear that hinted at Winged Eel Fingerling, with verbal gymnastics and spoken jazz/rock to match. The seventh inning stretch featured one of the above mentioned dudes, who recited portions of about a half dozen variations on Ernest Thayer's Casey at the Bat, including my personal favorite, Mad Magazine's Cool Casey at the Bat. And then, as an extra innings treat, one of the women (whose name I must confess I don't have), who arrived late and didn't even hear the Casey Variations, took the batter's box and recited the original Casey at the Bat in all its amazing, dramatic glory! Ah, baseball bliss!

As I listened to her rendition of the great baseball poem, some memories came flooding back from many years ago, memories that I hadn't thought of in years. I actually began my performing life in elementary school, around the sixth grade, reciting Casey at the Bat. It must have been a school talent show. I remember getting up on the multi-purpose/cafeteria stage and emoting my way through a stirring rendition. The crowd went wild and I was hooked, setting out on a path of performance that I have maintained, although lately much less, to this day. At the time, I wasn't really that interested in baseball or any other professional sport; I loved to play, but never followed any sport. I can't say why I picked Casey at the Bat; it wasn't until 15 years later that I began to come under baseball's spell, eventually becoming hopelessly addicted after moving to Los Angeles, very close to Chavez Ravine.

And what happened after that was called Baseball Diary, a zine I published and edited, devoted to baseball and art (!), whose back issues will begin to be posted here in the next week, and whose new incarnation will also begin here within a few weeks. Play ball, indeed.

Friday, April 8, 2011


When you are around 60, there are certain things that are completely terrifying. One of them is that you have made the wrong choices in life, and now it’s too late to do anything about them.

- Henning Mankell

I'm painfully aware that I will never have another hit record ... Believe me, it took me years to get comfortable with that conclusion... But once I was comfortable, I could look around at my life and be pretty happy.

- Janis Ian

In April 1951 a woman probably thought, as her fourth child arrived, that he probably was as good a marker of her transition from Bohemian living to prosperous, suburban living as any. He was his grandfather's namesake due to his birthday being two days away, close enough under the circumstances.

In April 1961 the boy had left behind suburban living, that was gone as he entered fourth grade; the houses in his part of Tuolumne County were an acre or more apart, and the neighbors lived in a log cabin and brushed their teeth with salt and soda. The boy in that family, roughly the same age, was adept at catching rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the granite boulders in the fields. But the log cabin family seemed fairly stable; something was wrong in his own family. It was clear the marriage was in trouble, money was short, and his father had difficulty holding a job or sustaining a business.

In April 1971, the father had been dead for years, a casualty of bad habits. The boy had gone to college, and its fascination had been undercut by the erosion of the counterculture - higher education was just another means of co-opting some imagined natural state. The remnants of the Aquarian Age in Nixon's presidency appeared to be the results of the water-bearer dumping a huge vat of bleach over America, and for awhile most things seemed gray, desiccated bones were everywhere.

By April 1981, however, the thirty-year-old was still pursuing rock-n-roll dreams in Los Angeles. He was on the verge of a new career, though, and there was a girl...

April 1991 saw the man in a high-tech maelstrom, married and with a young daughter. Technical things made the day go quickly for a man well-established as a nerd in early life, but the singleminded ambition and acquisitiveness of his colleagues seemed oppressive.

Shortly before April 2001, his wife was diagnosed with cancer, and was undergoing aggressive treatment. The trio, happy and prosperous enough as the year began, faced an uncertain future.

April 2011 found the healthy couple with old friends exploring train cars a short distance from where the young rattlesnake hunter plied his skill. Their daughter was launching her career, making discoveries. It appeared that fate had conspired to smooth the rough edges, illuminate just enough the dark corners, and provide abundant entertainment along the way. And perhaps it wasn't too much of a stretch to imagine that each decade had its object lesson, its annealing factor. And perhaps that annealing is what keeps the terror at bay, but perhaps only for the fortunate.