Disproving Their Own Point

March 18, 2006

“Protests mark Iraq war’s third year”, say the headlines.

I thank God I live in a free country, where citizens can protest their own government without fear of reprisal.

You know, just like they can now do in Iraq, thanks to us.


Icky Chicks

March 12, 2006

I hate celebrities who suffer under the delusion that a modicum of fame means that their liberal political opinions are eagerly sought after by the world at large (sadly, nowadays this means that I hate a LOT of celebrities). I also hate country music (not just a lot of it, ALL of it). Both of these antipathies are conveniently combined in Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, who during a London concert in 2003 pontificated, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” Oh Natalie, Natalie, didn’t your mother teach you that shamelessly pandering to the anti-American sentiments of a foreign audience is naughty, and liable to result in fans using your CDs as kindling?

Now the Dixie Chicks are coming out with a new album, entitled DESPERATELY SEEKING PUBLICITY … um, I mean TAKING THE LONG WAY HOME, which includes a “controversial” new song penned by Maines called “Not Ready To Make Nice”, commenting on the brouhaha caused by her previous outburst. Here is a sample of the lyrics:

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go round and round and round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should

Parts of this hackneyed tripe-fest sound like they were machine-translated from Serbo-Croatian (“Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should”), despite the fact that Maines had the help of a co-writer, Dan Wilson, formerly of Semisonic. God only knows what she would have produced on her own; I’m guessing it would have gone something like this:

Bush bad
Me not like
Want to run him over
With my trike
Pay attention to me me me me me me me
Man I could go for some pork rinds right about now
Bush bad

Look Away, Baby, Look Away

March 10, 2006

Taking pictures of my cats is fun. And by “fun” I mean “a frustrating, hellish ordeal that would be fun if only my frigging cats would cooperate for ten frakking seconds, I mean Jeebus Farging Cripes, is that really asking so flipping much?!?” (Note skillful and subtle use of Lenten euphemisms.)

Tiffy is a particularly difficult subject, since it is a given that the moment she realizes my lens is trained on her, she will suddenly realize that The Most Fascinating Thing Ever has suddenly and magically appeared far, far across the room at a precise 90º angle AWAY from the camera. Thus I tend to get a lot of pictures of Tiffy that look like this:

“Wow, that imaginary bug and/or
micron-wide speck on the wall in the
next room has certainly captured my

Of course, the solution to this is to yell “Woo-hoo, Widdle Tiffums! Wook at Daddee! Wooky-wooky!” in a shrill, fishwife-like voice while holding up one hand and wiggling the fingers while hoping that my other hand can manage to hold the camera still enough to snap a non-blurry picture, should my humiliating antics be sufficient to tear Tiffy’s attention away from the manifestation of the Virgin Mary juggling a chainsaw, bowling ball, and flaming Tiki torch or whatever the heck is so blasted interesting over there in the opposite direction I want my cat to be looking.

If I am lucky, the result is a picture like this:

“Your wriggling digits and shrill,
womanly cries have momentarily
captured my attention, human.”

While cute, Tiffy’s expression still has a vaguely “What the HELL?” quality to it — one familiar from many baby pictures I’ve seen, where you know the photographer must have been yelling “Woo-hoo, Widdle Baby! Wook at Mr. Professional Baby-Photographer! Wooky-wooky!” while waving a rattle off camera. Oh well, at least I’m not alone in my humiliation.

100-Word Book Review: “Ring”

March 10, 2006

“Only 100 words, because you’d like to think you have better things to do.”

Ring, by Koji Suzuki

Good: This English translation of the original novel by the “Stephen King of Japan” provides enough surprises — think smallpox viruses holding a grudge and “testicular feminization syndrome” — to keep even jaded aficionados of the Japanese and American movie adaptations engrossed right up to the end. Bad: The translation is slightly clumsy at times, and the single most horrific scene in the movie versions — Sadako/Samara slithering out of the TV — isn’t in the novel. WTF?!?: Someone in the Art Department thought a hot pink op-art cover screamed “Unrelenting Tale of Horror”. Uh, NO. Grade: B+.

In Bookman’s Terms

March 4, 2006

It’s no secret that I’m an inveterate book-fiend, and have been since I was a kid. Books do decorate a room, as they say, and in my case they decorate an entire floor of my house, in addition to several rooms elsewhere. I singlehandedly kept Amazon.com afloat through its initial years, and in the rare cases that I go an entire week without a package, I get a concerned call from UPS making sure I’m alive and well. (I’m convinced that when I die my corpse will be discovered by my UPS driver, who will break down my door in a concerned panic after discovering that the package he left the day before hadn’t been taken inside yet.) Truthfully, my mailman asked me the other day, “what do you do with all those books?”; my dog Penny has gotten so conditioned to having the UPS guy ring my doorbell (how Pavlovian) that she now starts barking excitedly just at the sound of the UPS truck coming around the corner, which she has learned to distinguish from all other vehicle sounds; and recently the FedEx driver, having for once caught me at home during the day, remarked that it was nice to finally meet me.

As one of my chief interests is historical linguistics, the heyday of which was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — a time when the Junggrammatiker, the Young Turks of linguistics, set about formally describing and systematizing the phonological and grammatical history of every one of the Indo-European family of languages in minute detail and in an amazing number and array of books and journals — I have also spent a considerable amount of time and money haunting the secondhand book trade. So over the years I’ve gotten quite adept at interpreting the terms by which secondhand book dealers describe their wares in catalogues. For the most part, this is conducted in a standard set of terms that is readily interpretable (though abbreviations like “ffep” and “16mo” can give one pause at first), and most dealers use them in a straightforward manner to describe the condition of books accurately if succinctly. (There are however some terms that look straightforward and innocuous, but in standard usage turn out to be rather euphemistic. For example, you would think that it would be a good thing for an old and/or rare book to be described as “sophisticated”. It turns out, though, that this means that it has had damage that was repaired. Come to think of it, though, that’s true of a lot of people that are described as “sophisticated”….)

However, some dealers are not so scrupulous, and what you get can be rather different than what you expected from their description. For example, “waterstained” usually means that there’s a small area of the cover and/or page-edges that has become discolored by moisture or a spill; but when used by some unscrupulous dealers you should interpret this to mean that the book will arrive dripping wet. (This has actually happened to me: I ordered a small run of Indogermanische Forschungen from the twenties in wraps — look that up — and when I opened the package the volumes were actually moist!) “Worming” usually indicates that the book — in this case typically a very old book — has been munched on by a bookworm, and scrupulous dealers will further indicate whether this affects the text or is otherwise extensive; but in some cases it means that your book will be shipped to you inside the bulging corpse of the bookworm that completely devoured it. And “underlining” usually means that a previous owner has underscored some passages of text, typically in pencil if not otherwise indicated; but in some cases it indicates that the previous owner’s seven-year-old daughter has decorated it throughout in crayon with rainbows and horsies and dotted all the i’s and j’s with little hearts.

Further, some booksellers get quite creatively euphemistic and even florid in their terms, which is often a bad sign. Most people know that a real-estate agent describing a house as having “character” is the architectural equivalent of a friend telling you that your blind date has “a great personality”, and that a “charming” house is one where you’ll spend many an hour with your face mashed up against drywall while you fish your hand through a hole trying to reach some frayed wiring, and will likely one day discover the desiccated corpse of a previous owner lodged in the ductwork he was trying to repair. In the same way, when a bookseller describes a set of books as “tidy” or “neat” it often enough means that they are asking for quite a neat and tidy sum for what is in fact a shoddy and disheveled set that was cobbled together from different printings (i.e., “married”). “From a smoker’s home” means that the book reeks of tobacco ash and in extreme cases may even mean that it has burn marks from where the previous owner stamped out his cigarettes in the pages. (In fact, a book I have from Tolkien’s library really does have remnants of his pipe ash at the binding between two pages; and another book from Tolkien’s library that Pat has is, I swear, redolent of pickles.) If any part of a book is described as “starting” it means that the book is “starting to fall apart” there. And describing a book as a “serviceable copy” is a warning that you’d better get some rubber bands and a large ziplock bag to keep all the loose pages and brittle or torn chunks together.

— Carl

Who in bookman’s terms is a roughly used working copy in frayed jacket and bulging boards, bumped, gouged, fading, scuffed and shaken, some foxing, joints starting, considerable shelf-wear, remainder mark, previous owner’s bookplate attached, not from a smoker’s home but with a whiff of mothballs.

She’s a Cute Little Bastet, Isn’t She?

March 3, 2006

I’m a kreptacular photographer, I’ll admit. A few years ago I bought my first (and so far only) digital camera second-hand from Carl — a Kodak DC290 Zoom with a mere 2.1 megapixels (and given my lack of skill, that’s probably more pixels than I deserve). It’s a testament to the high-tech photographic smarts built into digital cameras that they can enable even inept shutterbugs like me to occasionally take really cool photographs, like this one of Mimi (snapped earlier this week, using ambient light):

“It’s both a stereo AND a bun-warmer!
Who knew?”

This almost has a studio look to it — partly it’s Mimi’s pose, with that wonderfully formal way cats have of sitting (as if they were expecting you to carve their portrait in basalt), softened a bit by a coquettish tilt of the head; partly it’s the lighting on the blue-grey wall behind her, which looks very much like a photographer’s backdrop. Of course, a real studio photographer would have managed NOT to capture a reflection of his own huge, doughy midsection in the stereo, but other than that it’s a nice picture if I say so myself. If you click on the picture above, you can see a bigger version (you KNOW you want a better look at my gut reflection, admit it).

The top of the stereo is one of Mimi’s favorite napping places, by the way. It’s warm, it’s high up (five feet at least) so she can keep an eye on things, and the incessant “NN-chik NN-chik NN-chik NN-chik” of the trance music I prefer probably kindles reassuring memories of her mommy’s heartbeat, back when she was a kitten (either that, or cats are closet ravers, though Mimi seems to prefer catnip to Ecstasy).

Zarking fardwarks!

March 3, 2006

I originally considered calling this post “Lentblogging” — but that has all the appeal of “Watching-paint-dry-blogging”, so I went with something a bit zippier.

Wednesday, as most of you probably know, was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It’s a long-standing Christian tradition to give up something for Lent. Last year I gave up alcohol. This was successfully accomplished, but rather than feeling disciplined and devout, I mostly came away from the experience with a sense of how incredibly LONG six weeks can be.

So this year I’m trying something different — I’m giving up swearing. Over the last decade or more I’ve become quite the casual cusser, swearing often and enthusiastically with the proficiency of a Portuguese longshoreman. This not only violates the Second Commandment — that’s “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain” for those of you living in communities with active chapters of the ACLU — it has two other negative effects: 1) It is extremely rude to those around you; and 2) It makes you look like a slack-jawed mouthbreathing moron. I do NOT want to become one of those people — and we all know a few — who uses profanity as a sort of conversational Hamburger Helper: “Yeah, my effing cousin Ed called me on the effing phone at three-effing-a.m. last night and tells me his effing girlfriend effing wrecked his effing pickup…”

My most embarrassing experience with swearing happened about a year or so ago. I was chatting on the phone one evening with my nephew Brian (then seven or eight years old) while preparing dinner. I had set a small glass of milk on the diningroom table, walked into the kitchen to fetch something else, and came back to see that one of the cats had jumped up on the table and tipped over the milk, creating a huge white lake on the floor, which the other cat was dabbling in (I no longer remember which cat did what). At this point I popped a fuse and yelled (the following transcript has been euphemized for the protection of those with delicate sensibilities):

OH [invocation of Judeo-Christian deity] [verb requesting that said deity condemn to perdition] IT!!! YOU [verb describing sexual intercourse]-ING CATS!!!

All of this charming discourse went directly into the tender ears of my young nephew, courtesy of Garden Valley Telephone Company. It was NOT my finest moment, but on the plus side, I probably gave Brian a good story to tell at my wake someday.

So I’m taking advantage of Lent this year to attempt to clean up my vocabulary. I’ve slipped a few times already, though not as spectacularly as during The Dreaded Milk Incident. Wish me luck — and if you’re in the mood, post a comment telling me what YOU’RE giving up for Lent. Just keep your language clean!

Oh, and what does “Zarking fardwarks!” mean, you ask? You’ll find the answer on this handy list of fictional expletives (courtesy of Wikipedia).