Monthly Archives: January 2002

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Sometimes, we nerds win.

I’m referring of course to the tale of
Steuard Jensen, Prom King.
As it turns out, Steuard was a physics major at HMC,
just one year behind me. I stumbled across his page by accident.
Of course, his story is still not quite as good as the one about
the
straight-A clarinet player who took Miss December 1989 to his Winter Formal
,
but all in all, not bad.

In other news, Linda Lay is
bemoaning
her husband’s fate
. The spin is that the family is facing bankruptcy, and that Ken Lay
is an “honest, decent, moral human being who would do absolutely nothing wrong.”

It’s funny how bankruptcy just kinda creeps up on you like that. I mean, I
haven’t cashed out $101 million dollars in stock, and I don’t
own several multimillion dollar
homes in Aspen
, and yet somehow I manage to pay most of my creditors on time.
Maybe his teenagers have, like, huge phone bills or something.

Heck, forget about Lay. I’m still having trouble feeling sorry for
those poor Enron employees. I mean, if you’re a white-collar worker
at a big company, you know what’s going on. Sure, you probably
don’t know enough to be prosecuted for anything. But… you hear rumors.
You pick up on things at meetings, on email aliases, in casual conversations.
You just kind of know things you’re not supposed to know, unless you’re
socially blind, deaf, and dumb.

Here’s who I do feel sorry for: the janitors. And the landscapers, and the cafeteria
people, and the workers who built and maintained Enron’s plants and pipelines.
And possibly the admins. But as for the energy traders and the IT department?
Let’s see… you earned your living screwing over helpless people for money, but
it didn’t occur to you that perhaps your bosses viewed you in the same light.
Well, tough luck and good riddance.

Leonard’s Rules for Writing

Elmore
Leonard’s rules for writing
:

  1. Never open a book with weather.

    Sure. Nobody wants to be Edward Bulwer-Lytton, after all.

  2. Avoid prologues.

    This is a pet peeve of mine, particularly when I read thick
    fantasy novels. If there’s a prologue, it’s almost always
    about Gods and Goddesses and Heros and Monsters and there’s
    a blizzard of names and places to wade through.
    And then the story starts. Bleahh.

  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

    This goes a bit too far. Better to say, “don’t
    be afraid to use ‘said’ to carry dialogue”.

  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”.

    Well, avoid using adverbs, period.

  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

    My high school English teacher told us that we could only use two
    exclamation points per year. She was kind of a dotty lady… but she was
    right about this one.

  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”.

    And whatever you do, don’t combine these words with a description of the
    weather: “Suddenly, on a dark and stormy night, all hell broke loose.”
    That’s like the Triple Crown of bad prose.

  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

    In the article, Leonard
    cites Annie Proulx, but I’m not sure if he’s complimenting her
    or criticizing her. (Unlike B. R. Myers, who is
    absolutely
    clear; he hates Proulx
    .)

  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

    Or, “Show, don’t tell”. But you knew that. I knew that.
    We all knew that. A round of applause for us!
    Moving on…

  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

    See Rule #8.

  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

    As Sam might put it: Fuckin’ A.

Winelog:

I think I’ve found a wine rating site that
shares my philosophy.
I do have to deduct a few points, though — these folks do have
enough vocabulary to say why they liked or disliked a
particular bottle. No, no, no. I’m looking for just the visceral reaction:
Yes! No! Maybe! That’s it. Anyway…

Fetzer, California, 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon: Not bad.

Sonoma Creek, Sonoma, 1999 Merlot: Not bad.

Black Mountain, California, 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon (FatCat): Yum

Moral Fiber

I’ve decided that everyone should move at least once every six months. Moving is good
for your moral fiber. It obviates nearly every one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Take Covetousness, for instance.
The human spirit of generosity truly shines forth when you’re moving.
“Here you go, this is yours.” “No no no, you take it, it’s yours.”
Just heartwarming.

Or Gluttony. I don’t know how
anyone can clean out their fridge without vowing that they will never touch food again.

Lust? Hard to be in the mood when you
stink of sweat and bleach and whatever the heck is under the fridge.

Sloth? Not a chance, when you’re
supposed to be legally out of the house in a few hours. It’s enough to make even
Sam work his tail off.

Unfortunately I can’t fit every one of the Sins into the picture. Particularly
Wrath. So hold off on emailing Robert Bork and asking him to
call
off his crusade
. I haven’t completely solved the whole USA-moral-decay
problem yet. Give me a few more weeks. I’m sure I’m real close now.

Reading Overrated?

I found a cute little NYTimes op-ed piece, which argues that
these days, all
writing is screenwriting
. Embedded in the middle of the article
is this paragraph:

At the moment, a tribe of 15,000 novel-readers on the Upper West Side
keep fiction alive in America. Other than that, fiction writers are
as archaic as fishmongers. If you wish to hide some human truth where
no one will find it, place it in the middle of your first novel.

New Yawkers really are a different breed aren’t they?
Sure, if I was a member of The Tribe of 15000,
I might believe that that it was only my efforts that kept the
sputtering flame of fiction alive. But I would never express
such thoughts to anyone other than my fellow tribesmen.
Certainly not in the NY Times, where benighted Californians, Britons,
or God help us, South Dakotans might stumble across it.

I’m not sure if this is an example of “the (New York) fish not noticing the water
in which he swims,” or something more. See, I’ve always heard
people argue that one should read fiction to expand one’s horizons and explore
different modes of thinking. But our essayist now unwittingly provides us with
the counterargument: that perhaps reading can have
the opposite effect. Maybe this whole readin’ and writin’ business isn’t all
it’s cracked up to be.

Lucky, Lucky Davis

So it looks like Iran
is working actively to undermine Karzai
, while his new government is still
weak and uncertain. Just when there was hope that maybe, just maybe, Musharraf
was reining in the ISI and the extremist madrasas… a new threat
appears in the west. Terrific.

Closer to home, the
Republicans
had themselves a gubernatorial debate
. I read this article in the physical SF Chronicle…
unfortunately the web version lacks the cute little table comparing Bill, Bill, and Richard on
the issues. That’s too bad, because in the cute little table’s “Energy Policy” column there
was a short, simple sentence for all three, “Favors full deregulation and a free market solution”
or something along those lines. Well, no shockers there. Although it makes me wonder…

Jones and Riordan clashed most strongly over energy, with the Jones accusing Riordan of
overcharging the state when Los Angeles sold electricity at the height of last winter’s
energy crisis.

“You were busy trying to make sure that Los Angeles made as much money as it could off
California,” Jones argued, adding that Riordan’s expert on energy, S. David Freeman, later
joined the governor’s staff and contributed to the administration’s problems wrestling
the energy issue.”

Riordan vigorously defended his actions, saying it was his job to protect the interests
of residents in Los Angeles, whose electricity rates stayed constant during his tenure.

Strange that Jones, the stalwart free marketeer, would castigate Riordan for
simply charging California what the market would bear. (Or possibly less —
according to the SJ
Mercury’s article, Riordan claimed that the Los Angeles
DWP sold the state electricity at cost.) Guess those free market principles are harder
to stick to when it’s the other guy that holds all the cards.

Well, since I am not one to let Jones, Riordan, and Simon be pigeonholed by
our mean nasty rotten inaccurate liberal Bay Area media, I went to each candidate’s
website to see what their solutions were for the energy crisis. No filtering,
no soundbites, no cute little SF Chronicle tables. The straight stuff. Here’s what
I found as of Jan. 23, 2002:

Bill Jones simply
provides a list of op-ed articles by the Mercury, the LA Times, and the Sacramento Bee
that criticize Davis. (Pssst, Bill: every link you provided is broken.
Neither the Mercury, the Sac Bee, or the LA Times perma-links their articles. Just FYI.)
All righty then, moving on to…

Bill Simon. Who, under
his “Issues” section, provides… nothing on energy policy whatsoever! Looks like
our last hope is…

Richard Riordan.
It turns out that Riordan’s energy policy consists of a short press release calling for
the dissolution of the newly-formed Power Authority. Well, I suppose that’s
something, anyway. Better than recycling other people’s editorials.
And definitely better than providing nothing at all.

Now, certainly it’s fair to criticize Davis. He was
slow to react to the mess he inherited from Wilson. And he might have gotten snookered
in those long term power contracts. On the other hand, he was under tremendous pressure
to simply keep the lights on… and despite all that the Bush administration and
Enron threw at him, he managed to do it.

Davis’s challengers have had a year to plan since the height of the crisis.
They have the full benefit of 20-20 hindsight — and then some. So do they have
any new ideas? Anything besides attacking the governor
and spouting clichés? No. Nothing at all.

Pathetic.

Virgil’s Undertow

Today I went to Amazon.com to look for a book. On the front page, it
had some book and music recommendations, including the album “Lateralus”, by Tool.
“Hmmmm,” I said, as I clicked on the link “Why was I recommended this?”

The next page said, “We recommended Lateralus (Tool) because you recently
purchased or rated Undertow (Tool), Toxicity (System of a Down), and
The Aeneid (Virgil).”

Whaaat? What the heck does Virgil have to do with Tool?

The Aeneid, tr. Robert Fitzgerald, Book IV, lines 465-469
(Aeneas’s weaselly parting words to Dido, Queen of Carthage, who later kills herself.)

As to the event, a few words. Do not think
I meant to be deceitful and slip away.
I never held the torches of a bridegroom,
Never entered upon the pact of marriage.

“Sober”, by Tool

I am just a worthless liar.
I am just an imbecile.
I will only complicate you.
Trust in me and fall as well.
I will find a center in you.
I will chew it up and leave,
I will work to elevate you
just enough to bring you down.

Maybe that Amazon database is onto something.

A funny thing happened yesterday. I was walking out to my car when I
heard a kid say “Hey, Mister!” I looked around — I didn’t see the kid,
although I did see a middle-aged man across the parking lot. I kept
walking. “Hey, Mister!” And then another, “Hey, Mister!”

Finally, I saw a little head bobbing up over the wooden fence.
The kid was just strong enough to jump up for a second and call,
“Hey Mister!” — not quite strong enough to hold himself up or climb
over. Anyway, he was talking to… me.

“Ummmm… can I help you?” I said.

Turns out he had dropped a homemade birthday card over the fence.
I picked it up, reached over the fence, and handed it to him.
“Thanks, Mister!”

So I’m a Mister now. Crap.

Convolutions

Friday night Pat, Courtney, Amber, and I went out to see
Mulholland Drive.
Now, the movie theater was great.
It’s in Oakland, and it has big comfy chairs and tables and couches — couches!
And you can order pizza and fancy nachos and beer.
As for the movie itself… it was a bit much. I think that unlike, say,
Memento,
Mulholland Drive cannot be reassembled into something that makes
sense in the light of day. Which bothers me. Pat and Courtney
and I talked about the movie on the way home, and I think we all
agreed on which parts of the movie were real and which parts
were dream/fantasy. But as for the niggling details — what was that
blue box? The monster in the alley? The old people? Well, who knows?
Unlike Memento, where it was fun to pick over the details
and marvel over the movie’s clever intricacies… the same process
in Mulholland Drive just makes me think that I’m wasting my
time. That there’s no there, there.

Which reminds me — I just sent a short story, “Ogress”, to
M’ris
for a critique. My main concern was whether the story made sense:
there’s a fair amount of backstory, and I tried to get some ideas across using
couple of flashbacks. Frankly, I’m wary of the flashback
device, let alone the dream/fantasy device. I want to tell my story, not dazzle
the reader with Stupid Narrative Tricks. In this case, I wanted the flashbacks to
provide the reader a few critical facts, while keeping the story from growing
much, much, longer than I wanted it to be. And as it turned out, M’ris
understood the story just fine. If she hadn’t,
I would have had to completely rewrite the whole thing.

Unfortunately, rather than polish up “Ogress” and ship it out, I’ve been finishing up the
Sandman saga.
I finally went out and splurged, bought all the books I was missing. Now that I’m done, I
have to say it was a heck of a story. I can’t see how Neil Gaiman could have told this
story in any other medium. I wouldn’t go quite as hyperbolic
as some of writers of the introductions did — and I’m thinking of Harlan Ellison in
particular — the Sandman comics were not Great Art. They were, however,
really good art. Which is good enough for me.

Finally, I’ve decided to start a Winelog. (Not to be confused with
Winerlog.) No, see, I have this
problem: I buy wine, drink it… and then
forget about it. And so I end up buying the wines I didn’t like again
because here in California we are blessed and cursed with an enormous wine
selection everywhere we go, including Safeway. Which is where I get
all of my wine. Safeway, occasionally Trader Joe’s, and when I’m really feeling
like The Man, Ridge Vineyards.

Henceforth, I will keep a record of the wines I’ve tried. Now, first off,
let me say that I have no wine education whatsoever. I can’t even
grip the wineglass by the stem and swirl the wine properly — I have to cheat
and clutch the glass around the rim from the top. I don’t know what “body”
is. I couldn’t care less about letting the wine “breathe”. I evaluate
wine in the same way I evaluate doughnuts. I try it and decide right then
and there, “Yum!” or “Yuck!”

So here goes with the first one:

Bella Sera, Italy, 2000 Merlot: Yuck!

Hey, that was easy enough.

The Anti-Fry’s

Pat called me at the office earlier this week. The only reason
he wanted to talk was to tell me about his trip to the Apple store.
“It was like the anti-Fry’s,” he said. “No — it was like Frys is
supposed to be. Everything is clean and bright… and the
people in the store are there to help you, not keep you from
stealing.”

Well, I couldn’t get him to shut up until I promised to go with him.
“Pat,” I said, “you know this is pointless. We both have relatively
new computers. Neither of us can justify buying a new Mac.
Going to the Apple Store is like, technology porn. Look-but-don’t-touch.
What’s the point?”

But I went anyway. And I have to say, I was impressed with the new iMac.
My favorite part was not the CD/DVD/read/write drive. Not the amazing
swivel arm or the sharp flatscreen. Not the pretty OSX graphics.
No, I think I liked the UNIX terminal window.
Who is it that finally layers a modern user interface on UNIX? Not
my company. Not HP, IBM, or SGI.
Not GNOME or KDE. No… it’s Apple. BSD with Java 1.3.1 & Apache built-in.
Hot damn.

Alrighty, that’s about it. Time to head out for the evening. Just
one more thing — I’ve added a custom 404 error page. The first and
only Perl program I’ve ever written. It provides
a random haiku every time you try to access a nonexistent file on this
site. Give it a try:
http://www.goer.org/sdlkfej.

Killing Little Girls

Just read about today’s
Bat
Mitzvah Massacre
. The killer murdered the security guard and
then charged into the main hall armed with guns and grenades. He ended up killing
five more civilians, including the little girl’s grandfather. This heroic act of
resistance was apparently in retaliation for the assassination of Raed al-Karmi.
Karmi was the leader of a terrorist cell associated with
Arafat’s Fatah faction — he was wanted by Israel for, among other things,
kidnapping and murdering two Jewish restaurant owners.

I don’t see what Fatah hopes to accomplish with this — other than
making it increasingly obvious that, as Yossi
Klein Halevi states
in this week’s
TNR, “to demand that Arafat dismantle
Palestine’s terrorist infrastructure is absurd… the biggest terrorist
infrastructure in the PA is the PA itself.”

For many years, I believed that if only things would quiet down long enough to
establish a Palestinian state, peace would take hold. But after these last
few months… what evidence is there that a full-fledged
Palestinian nation would do anything other than simply kill more Israelis, faster?
How is Israel supposed to keep Katushya rockets out of terrorist hands once
it loses control of the borders? No, I’ve realized that I was wrong, and that
Hamas is right:
there will never be peace in Israel. Not this century.

Pundit Roundup — Yeehaw!

Something awful happened today. I read
George
Will’s column
and found my head nodding vigorously at several points. Ewwww.

I had pretty much written Will off long
ago, with the possible exception of his baseball columns. But here’s what he
says about the Enron collapse:

It will remind everyone — some conservatives, painfully — that a mature capitalist
economy is a government project. A properly functioning free market system does not
spring spontaneously from society’s soil as dandelions spring from suburban lawns.
Rather, it is a complex creation of laws and mores that guarantee, among much else,
transparency, meaning a sufficient stream — torrent, really — of reliable information
about the condition and conduct of corporations.

Poor Will. That pretty much makes him a Stalinist, as far as his crowd
is concerned. I don’t envy him going through his hate mail bag tomorrow.

One interesting thing Will adds is that “a few capitalists have done more to delegitimize
capitalism than America’s impotent socialist critics ever did or today’s moribund left
could hope to. It is the Republicans’ special responsibility to punish such capitalists.”
(Emphasis mine.) Hmmmm… if I buy that philosophy, then that means we liberals have a special
responsibility to punish those who delegitimize our side.

Well! I am not one to shirk my duty. May I direct your attention to
today’s little
gem
from our old friend Charlotte Raven? You might
remember her as the lovely
young lady who, seven days after the Sep. 11 atrocity, informed us primly that
a bully with
a bloody nose is still a bully
.

In her latest column, Raven claims that had Charles Bishop been raised in the UK,
he would not have committed suicide by crashing his small plane into a
tall building.

For boys like him, school will always be a nightmare, but there is far more chance
over here that he would meet a like-minded compadre with whom he could share jokes
and swap notes about the monstrous pain of the universe. At some point, they’d discover
the Smiths and both would be delighted by how perfectly Morrissey captures that
feeling of being invisible to the people whose attention you most want to attract.

The… “Smiths”? “Morrissey”…? Why, Ms. Raven, what are these… strange, exotic
bands you speak of? They… confuse and frighten me.

No, I couldn’t agree more. If only we here in the United States had any
kind of outlet at all for our kids with Goth angst. But none exist.
No, Britain is far better at absorbing its misfits in a healthy manner, given
its far more easy-going culture and complete absence of class structure.
I mean, young British misfits
never
do
anything
wrong, do they?

The really amusing part is Raven’s comments on Marilyn Manson — that if
“Marilyn Manson were British he could have had a nice career singing songs
about how it felt to be a sickly, spotty but highly intelligent young man
with a wicked sense of humour and a perfectly comprehensible horror of
the banality and hypocrisy of late-capitalist society.” Could it be…? The
high-and-mighty Charlotte Raven, scourge of warlike capitalist American dullards
everywhere, doesn’t get Marilyn Manson? Any American with any
knowledge of pop culture understands
that Manson is nothing more than an off-color over-the-top 24/7
marketing campaign. Could it be that we get the joke and Raven doesn’t?
It’s almost too much.

As an added bonus, Raven
hated
the Lord of the Rings movie
(of course!) — but if I understand her
correctly, the movie would have been a success had the special effects been
cheesy
. She is quite disappointed with the movie’s seamless CGI:
“The minute Middle Earth is as real to us as Battersea or Burma,
it is no longer Tolkien’s creation… (Jackson’s) literal-minded insistence
on shining a spotlight into every crevice makes the whole thing seem completely
banal. If Hobbits are real, they are laughable.” Oh, dear, dear.

I know, I know. I resolved this year: no more po-mo lefty silliness. But I just
ran across this one. I wasn’t actively trolling through the Guardian
website looking for trouble, I swear. Scout’s Honor.

All right, I’ll end on a positive note. Kathleen Parker pretty much
nails
the CNN-Paula Zahn-zipper promo “controversy”
in today’s Merc:

Still, for a nanosecond of offensive flattery, Zahn got the attention the
ad was intended to get, she got to decry the “insult” that she’s an appealing
woman, and she gets weeks of coverage in which her professionalism is praised
amid apologetic admissions that, well, she is a little bit sexy. And
you thought you were having a bad day.

Parker also notes that the zipper sound was inaccurate: “I personally visited
every closet in my house this morning and couldn’t find a single zipper that
made any noise. With little ado, we’ve entered the era of the noiseless zipper.”

The Era of the Noiseless Zipper. What will our nation’s scientific geniuses
think of next?