Friday, December 31, 2004


Fire closes Hot Doug's. Now, the good news about those duck-fat fries...

[cross-posted from, "for Dougs everywhere"]

the spirit in which it is offered

Home from a fine family reunion (no fist fights and only a few, quickly-forgotten bitter words among siblings, in-laws, and cousins, plus great food and Christmas cheer), unpacking many thoughtful gifts and now catching up with email, this timely quote from Robert Louis Stevenson (included in a recent A.Word.A.Day message):
I am in the habit of looking not so much to the nature of a gift as to the spirit in which it is offered.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

holiday hiatus

Best of the season and a happy new year to you all!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Surfer Doug says the waves were just "crazy."

[cross-posted from, "for Dougs everywhere"]

that duck

Vaucanson's Duck

From The Guitarist Is Metal. No, Not Heavy Metal by Michael Beckerman, New York Times, 30 November 2004:
GuitarBot claims its ancestor not in the golem - which, after all, has decidedly human characteristics - but in the ingenious automated machines of the last three centuries. In the mid-18th century, the Maillardet brothers created an astonishing writer-draftsman that could write poetry and do amazing drawings of ships and buildings. Around the same time, Jacques de Vaucanson created his famous defecating duck, which could eat, digest and all the rest. He also created a flute-playing android, which offered 12 tunes, perhaps an ancestor of the robot that recently conducted Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in Tokyo. While audiences may be titillated by the prospect of seeing such devices and their descendants do "human" things, Mr. Singer and Mr. Adamson have something else in mind. Mr. Adamson, in particular, is more concerned with technical issues and the ability of machines to do things that humans cannot accomplish.

Mason & Dixon, p. 374 (referring to Vaucanson's Duck, which in this novel has undergone a strange and disturbing transformation):
"Agreed, you must consider how best to defend yourself,-- wear clothing it cannot bite through, leather, or what's even more secure, chain-mail,-- its Beak being of the finest Swedish Steel, did I mention that, yes quite qable, when the Duck, in its homicidal Frenzy, is flying at high speed, to penetrate all known Fortification, solid walls being as paper to this Juggernaut.… One may cower within, but one cannot avoid,-- le Bec de la Mort, the…'Beak of Death.'"

[cross-posted from , which juxtaposes contemporary texts with passages from the works of Thomas Pynchon, following links between our world and his art.]

Monday, December 20, 2004

the haunted mansion of an underground past

...from: Growing Up in the Weather Underground: A Father and Son Tell Their Story , Democracy Now!, 3 December 2004:
THAI JONES: Well it starts on a night that my parents were arrested. We were sitting around, it was World Series time, we had just had dinner and the telephone in the apartment rang and because we were underground, no one had that number. That phone had basically never rung in about the six months we had lived there. And Jeff picked it up and it was an F.B.I. Agent and he said, “We have the building surrounded. We have sharpshooters on the rooftops and in a few seconds, the F.B.I. Is going to knock on your door.” So Jeff turned to Eleanor and said, “We are busted.”

AMY GOODMAN: Eleanor is your mom?

THAI JONES: Eleanor is my mom. The next thing I knew, there was banging on the door. About 20 fully armored swat, F.B.I. And police officers with M16's and shotguns stormed you this the house. They took Jeff out into the hallway and made him crawl down the hallway. What I remember is that there was a moment in all this sort of craziness when people had forgotten about me and I went down to my little bedroom at the end of the hall and I was sort of looking through my belongings to see if I could find some way to help out. And I just had this feeling of, you know, I had like a cowboy hat, I had some stuffed animals, I had a little pair of child's safety scissors, so I just remember feeling helpless and I went back out and just stood with Jeff in the hallway. And I had no idea what was happening. I had no idea that our family was different. I mean I knew that we had had different names but I had never questioned that. And so this book is sort of about exploring how that came about.

Vineland, p. 114:
So into it and then on Prairie followed, a girl in a haunted mansion, led room to room, sheet to sheet, by the peripheral whiteness, the earnest whisper, of her mother's ghost.

[cross-posted from , which juxtaposes contemporary texts with passages from the works of Thomas Pynchon, following links between our world and his art.]

Sunday, December 19, 2004

consider the miserable life of the pig

There's a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig -- an animal easily as intelligent as a dog -- that becomes the Christmas ham.
-Michael Pollan, professor and writer (1955- ), via A.Word.A.Day
William must have been waiting for the one pig that wouldn't die, that would validate all the ones who'd had to, all his Gadarene swine who'd rushed into extinction like lemmings, possessed not by demons but by trust for men, which the men kept betraying … possessed by innocence they couldn't lose … by faith in William as another variety of pig, at home with the Earth, sharing the same gift of life.…
-Gravity's Rainbow, p. 555

[from, juxtaposing contemporary texts with passages from the works of Thomas Pynchon, following links between our world and his art.]


Another Doug who doesn't know when to stop with the Christmas lights.

Some of the lights on Deerglade Court this year.

[from, "for Dougs everywhere"]

Friday, December 17, 2004

Squirrel, blue jay vie for dominance at backyard birdfeeder

(EL CERRITO, CA) A squirrel and a blue rub jay this morning took turns disturbing an unknown number of house finches, purple finches, chestnut-backed chickadees, dark-eyed juncos, bushtits, titmice, and sparrows (several species) at a recently-installed backyard birdfeeder in this bedroom community overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

The squirrel, described by a neighborhood resident as "fat and sassy," reached the feeder via the bamboo trellis where it hangs, pausing to scare the birds away with a belligerent four-footed hop followed by an intense, pugnacious gaze.

Grasping the trellis with its feet, leaning precariously and scratching for a grip on the plastic feeder with its hands, the squirrel managed to gobble only a few of the tasty black oil sunflower seeds before losing its balance completely and having to draw back and regroup on the trellis.

A red-faced noisemaker emerged from the house to scare the squirrel away by clapping its hands and yelling, then disappeared, emerging noisily again each time the squirrel returned. The squirrel, drawn by the irresistable taste and scent of the sunflower seed; the noisemaker, motivated by a sense of fair play - the birds were the intended recipients of the feed, after all.

As calm returned, so did the smaller birds, jousting for perch position in an arcane pecking order that called for one bird to occasionally hover dangerously close to a feeding other, flapping its wings rapidly until the feeding bird either defended its turf with an aggressive flap of its wings to drive away the intruder or abandoned the perch. These little flare-ups occurred often, but did not seem to overly upset the flock, who continued to feed and wait their turn at a feeding perch all the while.

At intervals throughout the afternoon, a blue jay flew to the feeder, scattered the other birds, perched long enough to peck a sunflower seed or two then carried the seed to a fat bare branch in the Japanese maple to crack and eat it, screeched and aggressively flew from the feeder to the tree to the roof of the house, keeping the smaller birds riled up and out of sight.

Several black-chinned hummingbirds hovered nearby but did not interfere. A number of local crows and ravens ignored the repeated disturbances.

Gary Webb memorial

This memorial site links to articles by and about Webb, and notes that a "memorial service for Gary Webb will be held at The Doubletree Hotel in Sacramento on Saturday, December 18th at 2:00 p.m. The address is 2001 Point West Way. It will be in the Garden Terrace Room. Hotel phone number: 916-929-8855." R.I.P.

come home, Palemale

Palemale and the nest his hosts destroyed

Come home, they say, but is Palemale listening?

Thursday, December 16, 2004


On one level it's reassuring to learn that US soldiers in Iraq are growing disgruntled, beginning to question and even to resist their officers, and that new recruits are staying away in droves. Lack of trust, tension, public challenges of Pentagon policy, desertions are all on the rise, says the Christian Science Monitor. This is beginning to sound more like the Army I knew: even the slowest and most uninformed recruits figure out, sooner or later, when they're being lied to, manipulated, mistreated. As these reactions filter back into stateside discourse - via soldiers' communications with family, friends, press - pressure will mount to change course: a glimmer of hope.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Gary Webb update

Webb committed suicide with two gunshots to the head, the coroner says, responding to suggestions that he may have been murdered for exposing the Contra-cocaine connection in his ground-breaking Dark Alliance investigation:
Coroner Robert Lyons said his office had been swamped with calls. "It's unusual in a suicide case to have two shots," he said, "but it has been done in the past, and it is in fact a distinct possibility."

I judge the chances of the coroner's clarification putting an end to suspicion are about as slim as the chances that Webb shot himself twice in the head.

Link to more stories about Webb, his investigative journalism, and his strange death.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

what, me worry?

Work deadlines and competition increase the risk of heart attacks, researchers say.

Monday, December 13, 2004

tune in, turn on, drop out

Radiating the brain

r.i.p. Gary Webb

Counterpunch's article is a good starting point for the sad news.

freedom's on the march but the vehicles aren't

Amid the hoopla and brouhaha around a soldier's question to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld about lack of combat-ready equipment in Iraq: A generation ago, as a motor pool clerk on the Frontier of Freedom along the D.M.Z. near Peace Treaty Village on the 38th Parallel between North and South Korea, a combat zone, I never was able to put together enough spare parts inventory to keep our mechanized infantry battalion's armored personnel vehicles, trucks, and jeeps on the road. Rumsfeld continues a US tradition of sending soldiers off to fight and die without the equipment they need, even as defense contractors gorge on profits like ticks fat on blood.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Scrooge lives


Unpardonable, in my book: going out of your way to destroy a fellow creature's home.

UPDATE: the story continues to gain momentum.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

r.i.p. john lennon

9 October 1940 - 8 December 1980
"All we are saying is give peace a chance"

suppressing his dark materials

The Hollywood adaptation of Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials, in which two children do battle with an evil, all-powerful church, is being rewritten to remove anti-religious overtones.

Chris Weitz, the director, has horrified fans by announcing that references to the church are likely to be banished in his film. Meanwhile the “Authority”, the weak God figure, will become “any arbitrary establishment that curtails the freedom of the individual”.

The studio wants alterations because of fears of a backlash from the Christian Right in the United States.
. . . read it all: God is cut from film of Dark Materials by Sam Coates, The Times

It's understandable that right-wing Christians would object. Pullman's trilogy depicts a gnostic view of Christianity that is not flattering.

Monday, December 06, 2004

a hashish-house in New York

"....There is a large community of hashish smokers in this city, who are daily forced to indulge their morbid appetites, and I can take you to a house up-town where hemp is used in every conceivable form, and where the lights, sounds, odors, and surroundings are all arranged so as to intensify and enhance the effects of this wonderful narcotic.”

“I must confess that I am still incredulous.”

“Well, if it is agreeable to you, meet me at the Hoffman House reading-room tomorrow night at ten o'clock, and I think I shall be able to convince you.” it all: A Hashish-house in New York, Originally from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, vol. 67, no. 42, pp. 944-949, November 1883. By H. H. Kane, M.D.

Not that I've had any personal experience, of course, but a close reading of the article reveals what appears to be some literary embellishment of the experience the writer purports to describe. It all works out a tad too neatly, but it's a fun read all the same. (Image from

headline of the day:

We Pledge Allegiance to the Mall

Sunday, December 05, 2004

the sorrow of war

I finished reading The Sorrow of War, by Bao Ninh, a novel as sad as the title promises (but with a story of young love that stays sweet until the bitter end) and somewhat hopeful - despite its devastating condemnation of war - with a message of redemption through art. Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Fifty-eighth Street, New York City 1999 by Dirk McDonnell

optical illusion

A day where the sky grows younger: from grit on grey to silver to feathers bright as youthful dreams on baby blue.

Friday, December 03, 2004

trouble in Millison Grove

Millison Grove is one of the hot-spots targeted by police in Solihull, UK, "under the Anti Social Behaviour Act."
The areas have been identified as a locality suffering from significant and persistent problems of anti social behaviour caused by groups of two or more persons.

Sergeant Carol Alldred from Shirley Problem Solving Team said: "The roads included in the order are plagued by young people hanging around in groups drinking, using abusive language and causing damage. This has affected the quality of life of the residents so much that they have fully supported the order coming into force. Before we can get an order we have to consult widely with the community, we have received a overwhelming yes vote"

Following authorisation between police and the local authority, officers can make any group of two or more people to disperse if they are causing - or likely to cause - intimidation, harassment, alarm or distress. If they refuse they can be arrested. People believed to be under the age of 16 and not under the effective control of an adult can be taken back to where they live. it all: Cops get new powers by Ross Crawford, 3 December 2004.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

headline/impossible task of the day:

Military officials must win back the confidence of the people whose city they have just destroyed

Full disclosure: it's actually a sub-head, on the New York Times home page, for a story with the headline In Falluja's Ruins, Big Plans and a Risk of Chaos.

The sub-head editor appears to have the clearer view.