Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Sneezing - a window on the soul

I was in a meeting the other day at work, and sitting across from me was this elegant woman, replete in an impressive - nay, intimidating - business suit, tasteful jewelry, impeccable makeup. Had I passed her on the street, I would've bowed my head and not met her eye in that unconscious gesture of deference we all exhibit for someone seemingly above our station. (Though, to be honest, my wife can achieve this corporate warrior aura via clothes and makeup, too. But even when she does it, I tend to speak in more formal tones to her.) I was glad I didn't really have to actually say anything to her in this meeting. But then she sneezed. A really violent, healthy one that rocked her head back and forth, made her jewelry rattle, and make her chair squeak.

Even though it was a very poised sneeze, as much as can be mustered, it still was a whole body wobble with that humorous range of expression while in the grip of an involuntary body maintenance spasm. I think that's why we pardon someone when they sneeze. It's not so much for us, but for the dignity of the victim.

Nearly all other unwelcome and inconvenient events visited upon us by our person are either considered controllable and therefore rude, such as gas, itches in private places, etc., or they are rare and exceptional and therefore, though humiliating, forgiven, such as vomiting.

So sneezes, and perhaps hiccups (though those might be in the category of "take it elsewhere"), are our sole tolerated public display of involuntary reflex. And they are so personal and distinct. You could pick your spouse or child out of a crowd by hearing them sneeze - or even from seeing them partially through a crowd from behind, their body language during a sneeze being unique to them as well. Number of sneezes are telling, too. I almost always sneeze just once. A buddy of mine sneezes three times without fail. My daughter sneezes just twice.

Maybe if we thought about it more, we wouldn't think we really knew someone very well until, amongst other indicators of personality, saw them sneeze a couple times.

And it certainly goes a long way towards humanizing someone intimidating when we witness them spasm, scrunch up their face, bark out a raft of air, and then regain composure. After the ritual of "bless you!" and "thanks!", don't we all feel just a bit more at ease, after that sneeze?

Monday, March 29, 2004

Recent Fiction Consumption

Read Chuck Palahniuk's Diary. I had a torn experience with the book. Chuck is a great stylist, and his ideas are probably some of the most unique I've encountered. Buuuuuuut... It just wasn't a page turner. I don't know if it's because there wasn't really any tension to drag me forward, or if the characters were not compelling enough, thus making it hard to care, or what. I enjoyed the reading of the words, and elements of the story made me think "wow," but it was a chore to read it. I'm reading a potboiler by a renowned hack right now, and it pulls me from page to page; I wanna know what's going to happen even though there are no likable characters in this book either - they're just interesting. Fans of Palahniuk claim Diary is not one of his best works, so I'll not give up on him yet, since his writing itself is vivid. I liked Fight Club, but since I'd seen the movie first, all the best stuff was no surprise. I can't even begin to guess if I'd have liked it had I read it cold. So the next Palahniuk I'm gonna read cold. I'll get back to you on it.

Read The Body by Hanif Kureishi. Meh. It smelled like a bid to write the screenplay. Hanif wrote the screenplay to My Beautiful Launderette, which I can't recall whether I've seen or not. Nevertheless, I think he wants to make another movie, and this feels like a sneaky way to attain a script contract. The premise is intriguing: A guy pays to have his brain transplanted from his 70 year old body into a young, pretty body. And the premise is totally wasted, if not downright avoided for the most part. I can't conceive of a shallower treatment of the topic. It's as if the writer believes the seat of all meaning is in the flesh itself rather than the mind (leaving aside entirely any spiritual considerations - this is a modern novel, after all, we can't possibly discuss the soul). Or, he only thought to answer the question, what would it be like to get a new body? But even THAT isn't really explored interestingly. For example, another character tells him that he should go out and have wanton sex with impunity, because since it's a new body, it isn't as if he's cheating on his wife. Evidently, the writer thinks (or is just assuming the position for the sake of the fictional piece) that sex and fidelity reside entirely in the genitals. I think even a horndog 16 year old boy would be able to punch a hole (har har) in that flawed viewpoint.

That aside, the primary sexual encounter and relationship depicted in the book is with a 60s militant gender feminist who hates men. There's no discernable reason why she suddenly seduces this hunklet (seemingly) half her age in a way that even Mrs. Robinson would consider a bit lacking in subtlety, and then gets all bummed out when he flees. Of all the problems with the story, this was the most unbelievable, and the most mysterious. It didn't seem to have a purpose or meaning.

The rest of the book is vapid self-examination with no conclusion or results. Quasi-sci-fi about body-swapping is not really the vehicle for directionless nihilism or half-baked existentialism. If you're gonna retread The Stranger, don't channel "Quantum Leap" to do so.

Finally, I did an "interesting bits" read of The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK's Assassination by David R. Wrone (just skimmed for good stuff, looked at the pictures, and ended by referencing the index for stuff I'd missed). When Peter Jennings did his report on this recently, it convinced me that it was Oswald alone, but now I'm all ready to believe (again) it may have been a plot. The Amazon reviews are dry praises mixed with moments of screeching from those who apparently know something the rest of us don't, but are an interesting mini-cosm of ideas surrounding the events. My guess is that it was political in origin, and it's related to the current neocon movement that's comprised of individuals who think it is their right to rule American the way they want to, legitimately or not, and Lord help anyone who gets in their way. The fact that Bobby was whacked, too, is why I think this may be the case. It's just too coincidental to not be related somehow. And clearly the Kennedy brothers were taking American in a completely different direction than the neocons want(ed), and the changes the Kennedy's envisioned would have made it nearly impossible for the neocons to get any traction - it would have been over for them. So, I think they had them killed. Alas, we won't really know until all mysteries are revealed.

Have you read anything new and interesting lately?

Thursday, March 25, 2004


Last night as I lay in bed looking out the window at the night sky, I contemplated what simple creatures we are. On everyone's list of simple joys is looking out the window at the earth and sky, not counting the agoraphobics of course. It's funny to what extent we sometimes go as a people to deny that simple pleasure. Convicts often report that not being able to look out a window is sometimes worse than the other deprivations and degradations of prison.

Those of us who work in office buildings typically have a few stories related to window conquest, denial, and political jockeying.

The most outrageous chain of events I've witnesses regarding windows was in a huge flat building dedicated to the production of microfiche, films, and data CDs. This place was so large that you literally could not see the far wall of the building from any other wall. Not that the curve of the earth prevented the viewing of cubes in the distance, but it certainly felt that way. As I made my way to my cube located in the quasi-middle of the building every morning, Bob Seger's "Feel Like a Number" would come on in my head in full surround. Naturally, windows were dolled out at a premium at that facility. They actually had rules in the employee manual about what pay scales and ranks could actually be considered for placement next to a window, and it was taken as seriously as pay and vacation benefits.

Once, Human Resources (And doncha just hate that name? Could they come up with a more dehumanizing moniker for it?) was moving to some posh new digs that had just been built for all the executives and non-production departments that felt it wasn't proper to be in the crude, flat, expansive building with the worker bee peasants. After they vacated, a new worthy department was elected for taking possession, and cubes started going up. (They tore down the original configuration HR had because everyone had HUGE cubes, and they knew the new tenant would not rate such space.) So the cubes started going up. They were nearly complete when some Chicken Little pointed out in a snit that no one in the new department qualified for a window, and the whole area was lined with windows. So, they tore down all the cubes, and ordered new cube walls that were high enough to cover the windows. Construction of the new cave-like cubie farm WAS complete when a higher-up strolled through on his way to somewhere else and inquired as to why they had covered up the windows. When the explanation was proffered, he flipped. "Are you fucking kidding me?" I believe is a direct quote. The walls came down, and the original (smaller) cube configuration was put back up. Still, the smaller souls in the company continually groused about that department having windows when they weren't supposed to have them according to company rules.

The company that laid me off last year played this game, too. When I started, I was part of the development team, and thus was in a windowed area with roomy cubes. I didn't have a window right in my cube because I wasn't a programmer, but one was just a veal pen or two away, so I got the light and could lean out of my enclosure to check the weather, see if the sky was still there, and so on. As the company began its swirl down the bowl, my kinds of positions were moved under another department as the result of political and budget wrangling to avoid laying off actual programmers, meaning we were the expendable ones. Apparently, it was to be blatantly obvious in the org. chart when cuts came as to whom the honchos - who had never even been to our building - should nuke without cutting programmers. So, I was moved down to a cube as far from any window as was possible. Understand that the floor I moved to was practically vacant, and of the possible 100 or so window cubes available, only 4 were taken. Yes, I started sending out resumes with that big clue, but no one was biting as the economy was beginning its big downward spiral, too.

These days, I have a window. In fact, everyone does. This place was built with all the workspace placed around the edge of the building and all utility space, for printers and storage, is in the center. Thus, it just cramps my nougat when I encounter someone who always keeps their blinds shut. I can see closing them once in a while, or maybe part of the day when the sun's blaring in. But, the earth turns, and natural light is a good thing. To me it's comparable to working somewhere that buys you a healthy lunch every day, yet a podnoid or two still makes the run to McGarbageburger and lays down good money. You just want to stage an intervention.

Anyway, I lie there, watching the stars stroll by, happy that I can look out a window any time I want these days. Small pleasures, doncha know.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

OK Computer

One of the few album reviews I ever enjoyed reading, as most of them are barely disguised bids for coolness in a popularity contest that was over on high school graduation day, was for Los Lobos' first big album, "Will the Wolf Survive." The reviewer said something like: "There had been a pressing error, so what I thought was going to be an Al Jarreau album was really the new Los Lobos. I turned to get myself a drink and this nasty rock and roll snorted out of the speakers. 'Gee,' I thought to myself as I pulled my socks back up, 'that rocks.'" In a spasm of synchronistic irony, that same week one of the roommates returned home with what he thought was the new Rickie Lee Jones album, "Pirates." In a printing mixup, it was really the new Al Jarreau. That reviewer had no idea how lucky he was that it was Los Lobos emerged from his speakers and not Al. We had gotten really high in anticipation of new Rickie, all big fans, and when Al's voice greased out of the stereo, you'd've thought someone had teargassed us.

Anyway, I had the pleasure of that reviewers experience last week. I had picked up a bunch of CDs from the library, and wasn't paying much attention to what I was previewing, and suddenly this gorgeous soundscape burst from my speakers. I think my jaw literally swung open. I pawed through the stack to find what it was, and it ended up being Radiohead's "OK Computer." My Cliff Claven font of knowledge reached back into the time when the CD was first out, and emerged with all the rave reviews that it received and it's hanging on the charts for a long time. At the time they had a video out for "Paranoid Android," a purposely badly animated grossout about some guy in a stocking cap. It was even blurred in places because they had drawn nipples on the guy, and evidently cartoon guy nipples were just too beneath the standards of MTV, once again displaying their consistent striving for the high road. The vocalist had a reedy voice that whined along underneath the underwhelming music. I sat through it once, wondering what the big deal was.

Well, I had made two mistakes. I let the video influence my own perception of the song. Watch the video for Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" if you want to experience that kind of a conceptual gap. The song is about screwing, the video is, well, not that. Second, I had previewed a song over TV speakers. Many of your basic throwaway pop hits are compressed and equalized so they sound great on a little paper speaker, but some music is just too big for that. "OK Computer" sounds like an ocean. I'm still perplexed on how they got that expansive feel to the mix. This is definitely something you play on a full range stereo system cranked to the nuts. The singer's reedy voice still floats under the sound, but it's floating in so much sound, it works.

When a big album like this gets past me, I have to retrace my steps, find out what happened, make amends, resample my experience at the time as though I were a character in a Philip K. Dick story. So I went out to Amazon to read the reviews, looking for clues.

Every other review compares "OK Computer" to either "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" or "Dark Side of the Moon" or both. Here's an example:

One of the greats!, February 26, 1998
Reviewer: An Amazon.com Customer
I place this album on a pedestal with Sgt. Pepper's and Dark Side of the Moon. Never have I been so transfixed by a CD. It gives me great hope in the future of music. (I was a little bit worried for a while that music was dead.) Though it requires numerous hearings to do it justice, I found it instantly inspirational. It is good to know that someone in the music world understands modern life. No more of all this ridiculous bubble gum music that trivializes our existence. Life is difficult and often futile, and it's time we acknowledged it. END

I have to agree that the comparison is apt. However, saying that bubblegum music somehow trivializes our life leads me to think this guy could use a Gallagher show or two. Lighten up, mang. Music means only what you let it mean, grasshopper. Still, he's not as bad as this guy:

Could have been the next Sgt. Pepper, May 7, 1998
Reviewer: An Amazon.com Customer
I'd say this is one of the best albums of the decade. I think it says a lot about the "religion of youth" in the United States, what hope (or lack of hope) we have for the future, and how paranoid we all are or would be if we saw how flimsy our social structures actually are. "I'll take a quiet life a handshake of carbon monoxide.. no alarms and no surprises.." There is a dry humor to this that is frightening. We rely on the humdrum of our daily lives and the noise of television, radio, commercialism, and now world wide web (instead of wasting time in front of the tv, I now waste plenty of time in front of a computer screen sifting through meaningless content for the occasional good stuff) to block out our fears and unhappiness, instead of striving to do something more with our lives. Meanwhile, the world falls apart.

Whoa. Have you seen those commercials with the little hopping oval creatures with cowlicks and mood problems? Well, you are they. Call your doctor.

One well-adjusted guy incredulously decodes the major reference/influence of the piece:

Douglas Adams anyone?, March 14, 2004
Reviewer: likethedove from warwick ny
People wonder where Radiohead concieved of there strange album names and song titles. Ive never heard anyone mention this but it is so blatently obvious that i had to put it out there. In the series "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams there is an annoying computer that people always respond to sarcastically "Ok Computer" there is a character named Marvin the Paranoid Android and there is a homesick alien character and there are innumerable references to these books in Radioheads material. If you are a diehard Radiohead fan or just looking for an amazing quirky read of british humor check out Douglas Adams's "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy".

Being a huge Adams fan, I kinda slapped my forehead and said "Well, Doi!" at myownself. I can be kinda thick at times, but this was embarrassing. After that connection was make for me in big, black indelible ink, it occurred to me that portions of some of the songs are reminiscent of the theme music from the BBC "Hitchhikers" show.

And, of course, we always have our contrarians:

I have to be honest, June 24, 2002
Reviewer: Martin Lawrence from Here, there, everywhere
I know I'm virtually alone in my opinion, but I have to come right out and be honest, this CD is not good at all. Radiohead disappoint me with each release. The songs they release to radio are enjoyable, but once you delve deeper into their music catalog, there just isn't anything there. I know everyone in the world is supposed to just LOVE this album, critics have been telling us we like it for so long, and you may think "Oh, that reviewer is just musically unintelligent, he can't appreciate such complexity." Well, one of my favorite bands happens to be the band Radiohead are often compared to: Pink Floyd. I love concept albums, when they are done right! But what's the point of non-musical music? Is OK Computer supposed to be some sort of "art?" Sorry, but music isn't just an abstract painting where you can just throw random things together and get a meaning out of it. Plain and simple, Radiohead lack the ability to write songs and they have fooled you and the entire world into thinking that they are musically competent. This CD is bad! Pretentious! Plain! Dull! This is not music.

My favorite remark of all is this one (culled from the middle of his actual review):

Reviewer: goodmuzak (see more about me) from Littleton, CO United States

If you don't already own this album, you are just the kind of person who should own this album.

I can't wait to use that one at a party.

Saturday, March 20, 2004


Well hell, that sucked. One internet provider scratched. "Wow. That's really weird. I don't know what to tell you. Obviously it's not your hardware or your software. You should be able to log on. Hmmm. Sorry." <-- Actual quote from support person, even though she was a sweetheart.

In theory, I'm back. I hope you come back, whoever you are.

And all these wild things have happened. Big Gay Al got voted off of Survivor for - besides being an asshole - probably rubbing his peeny on I'm-Gonna-Sue. Both of them, maroons. I hope either Kathy or Rupert wins. Hopefully someone beats the crap out of Rob M. ("M" for "motherf***er - what a creep!) Stephen King is recycling a horror soap opera from somewhere in Europe, using his encounter with a van collision as the catalyst. My thoughts so far: Meh. Fleetwood Mac is once again re-re-re-re-releasing their magnum opus "Rumours" in yet another version, remastered and expanded - and yes I'm going to buy it. (This will make it the 6th time, counting: Cassette (twice - wore the first one out), Record (half-speed master), CD, DVD (surround - which played on every DVD player I have, EXCEPT the one actually attached to the surround stereo), and now CD again. "Friends" is almost gone - most likely Ross and Rachel are gonna finally commit for real - uh, TV real, that is. "Fairly Odd Parents" will take the chalice as the funniest show on TV when that happens.

Got lotsa movie, music and book reviews in the hopper. Away we go! V 2.0!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

I'm under attack!


Since about two Tuesdays ago, I haven't been able to log onto the web with my computer. My wife's computer still logs on with no worries. Mine acts like I'm being hacked.

After trying my ISP support about three times, and continually getting the help desk dweeb from SNL, I decided to trouble-shoot it myself.

I've ended up wiping my PC entirely (down to fdisk a few times) to see if that made a difference. What's odd is that sometimes I could log on right away after reloading everything, and other times it acted like it did after a few logons. Either way, by about the 5th time I tried to logon, I got "unable to establish a connection" over and over.

I have tried two different modems - one hardware, one a PCI card (winmodem). When I used the hardware modem, I had the identical setup to my wife's machine, which still logged on just great, throughout this whole time. I have also checked the wall jack, the chords, everything.

I think what's up is our webstalker has managed to get some hacker to mess with us - though I have no way of knowing this. What makes me suspicious is that I could log on initially a couple times after a wipe of my system, but then reacquired the problem. Lately, after the problem has started, I've tried loading www.yahoo.com, because it's the best test page for a fast load - they've always been fastidious about that page loading like lightening, bless their little digital hearts. But now when I try to load it, I get this weird pause, and then I get about 8 quick "clicks" (I have a sound event for every "link" I make, which also happens when I'm redirected) and then it says the page is unaccessable. Now why in the hell would it do that if I weren't being messed with?

If anyone has any ideas, please share. I want to get back to being able to use the web! Post blogs! Etc.!

Goodnight Stormy Night ... Goodnight Moon ...

Though not meaning to, Sally created havoc when she lifted her skirt in anticipation of getting off the escalator. Petticoats, bloomers, and an unmoored bustle billowed in an unseasonal snowstorm of lace and white cotton as the edges caught between the moving handrail and metal safety guard; emergency lights flashed, and the machinery ground like a Datsun's transmission as it slowed and stopped. Had it been a simple cotton number, it is likely that no one present would have remembered Sally's name or, indeed, her existence.

Aghast, Mrs. Smythe-Johns from Ladies Undergarments and Fine Lingerie came dashing over and said, "Has Zell Miller gone completely insane?"

Sally, strapped to the handrail of the escalator by her bustle strings and noticing the ominous silence in the store looked at Mrs. Smythe-Johns and said, "Listen toots, who the hell is Zell Miller and why are you just standing there gawking." And with that she gave her skirt a spirited yank, ripping a hole in the lace and cotton that revealed a Superbowl XXXVIII Souvenir rip-away thong. A young man passing by, distracted by the sight, slipped on the yards of material strewn about. To break his fall, he instinctively reached out and grasped the table holding the prominently displayed volumes of the Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary on sale as Valentine's promotion to "The Man looking for Just The Right Words". As books and table went careening across the highly polished floor of the Ladies Undergarments and Fine Lingerie Department, he landed at the base of the escalator, stunned and said, "This story's dying on the vine, babe. I've gotta find myself a new gig as a character, especially since it appears no one's gonna get around to tearing off that thong. Aloha." And with that, the character who had yet to be named departed the text.

"Aw, hell! If he gets to leave, I am, too!" groused Sally. She yanked free of the wreckage of the dress, leaving her in only a thong, camisole, and stiletto heals.

In parting, Sally yelled, "And that's the last time I get my pubes waxed in the shape of a corporate logo! Ingrates!"

The End

(With apologies to Deb. I couldn't find a way to work in Mrs. Smythe-Johns' dilemma. )