Saturday, December 31, 2011

happy new year, and good bye for a while

I've never been a fan of New Year's Eve and I've never been much for New Year's Resolutions.

the former hasn't changed (though I find the day less annoying than I used to) but I'm going to give the latter a chance:

I've got some writing goals, some other goals that I'll keep to myself, but out loud I'll say that I'm going to crawl a bit deeper in the bunker.
what this means, for starters, is no blogging, no Facebook for the month of January. sometime early in the month of Presidents and Cupid, I'll take an inventory and go from there.

until then, have a happy, healthy and productive New Year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lawrence Lessig

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as much as I would love to leave a video filled with visions of trombones and oversized Christmas ornaments as my most recent post (at least until the holiday season concludes), Harvard Law professor, author and 49er interviewee Lawrence Lessig has had a week big enough to be remarked upon:

Tuesday night he was Jon Stewart's guest on The Daily Show and today his new book, Republic, Lost, is reviewed in the New York Times.

on the other hand, I watched Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat while eating two medium-sized baked potatoes for dinner.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

so it's time to post this chestnut

a long, long time ago in a land not too very far away I used to do this video interview/performance series for the Village Voice called Possibly 4th Street. it lasted just about three years and somewhere close to thirty episodes.

now a lot of the videos have gone missing and whole pieces have vanished into that good night (which comes earlier this time of year) and some episodes never even saw the light of day, but something that could pass for a Possibly 4th Street compendium (Michelle Shocked, the Alabama 3, Akron/Family, the Black Lips and Dexter Romweber to name but a few) can be found here.

I think we delivered a decent percentage of recommendation worthy shows, but four years ago (back when Camille Dodero was still behind the video camera) we traveled to Rockefeller Center for a punctually pertinent afternoon with Bonerama, a session that yielded not only the most trombones, most spectators and most oversized Christmas tree ornaments in Possibly 4th Street history, but a pretty fair representation of midtown Manhattan on a December weekend if you bring along some masterful musicians from the Crescent City.

happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

the last book I ever read (The Marriage Plot, excerpt five of five)

from Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot:

There were some books that reached through the noise of life to grab you by the collar and speak only of the truest things. A Confession was a book like that. In it, Tolstoy related a Russian fable about a man who, being chased by a monster, jumps into a well. As the man is falling down the well, however, he see there's a dragon at the bottom, waiting to eat him. Right then, the man notices a branch sticking out of the wall, and he grabs on to it, and hangs. This keeps the man from falling into the dragon's jaws, or being eaten by the monster above, but it turns out there's another little problem. Two mice, one black and one white, are scurrying around and around the branch, nibbling it. It's only a matter of time before they will chew through the branch, causing the man to fall. As the man contemplates his inescapable fate, he notices something else: from the end of the branch he's holding, a few drops of honey are dripping. The man sticks out his tongue to lick them. This, Tolstoy says, is our human predicament: we're the man clutching the branch. Death awaits us. There is no escape. And so we distract ourselves by licking whatever drops of honey come without our reach.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the last book I ever read (The Marriage Plot, excerpt four of five)

from Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot:

Zipperstein was in a lively mood. He'd just returned from a conference in New York, dressed differently than usual. Listening to him talk about the paper he'd given at the New School, Madeleine suddenly understood. Semiotics was the form Zipperstein's midlife crisis had taken. Becoming a semiotician allowed Zipperstein to wear a leather jacket, to fly off to Douglas Sirk retrospectives in Vancouver, and to get all the sexy waifs in his class. Instead of leaving his wife, Zipperstein had left the English department. Instead of buying a sports car, he'd bought deconstruction.

Monday, December 5, 2011

the last book I ever read (The Marriage Plot, excerpt three of five)

from Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot:

Thurston was nodding his head in a way that somehow didn't suggest agreement. "Yeah, O.K.," he said. "Handke's real mother killed herself. She died in a real world and Handke felt real grief or whatever. But that's not what this book's about. Books aren't about 'real life.' Books are about other books."

Friday, December 2, 2011

the last book I ever read (The Marriage Plot, excerpt two of five)

from Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot:

Some people majored in English to prepare for law school. Others became journalists. The smartest guy in the honors program, Adam Vogel, a child of academics, was planning on getting a Ph.D. and becoming an academic himself. That left a large contingent of people majoring in English by default. Because they weren't left-brained enough for science, because history was too dry, philosophy too difficult, geology too petroleum-oriented, and math too mathematical--because they weren't musical, artistic, financially motivated, or really all that smart, these people were pursuing university degrees doing something no different from what they'd done in first grade: reading stories. English was what people who didn't know what to major in majored in.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

the last book I ever read (The Marriage Plot, excerpt one of five)

from Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot:

In one motion Madeleine tore the pillow off her head and sat up in bed. She knew who was ringing the buzzer. It was her parents. She'd agreed to meet Alton and Phyllida for breakfast at 7:30. She'd made this plan with them two months ago, in April, and now here they were, at the appointed time, in their eager, dependable way. That Alton and Phyllida had driven up from New Jersey to see her graduate, that what they were here to celebrate today wasn't only her achievement but their own as parents, had nothing wrong or unexpected about it. The problem was that Madeleine, for the first time in her life, wanted no part of it. She wasn't proud of herself. She was in no mood to celebrate. She'd lost faith in the significance of the day and what the day represented.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday, a little help (a/k/a Read A Book)

I don't leave the house much.
and when I do I don't leave the borough much.
and though many good things can be said for Astoria, it is not home to what I would consider an excellent English language independent bookstore.
so I guess I'm often kind of an Amazon guy.

but today, Cyber Monday, the hangover from the long holiday weekend, Barnes and Noble is offering 30% off any one item in their store if you use the code N7C7K8T at checkout.
you could buy another copy of Tusk or the Steve Jobs biography or the latest by Jeffrey Eugenides or Joan Didion or you could, like we did, save even more by loading up on comparatively expensive photography books by the likes of Emmet Gowin or William Christenberry.

and if you have a Discover card you can get another 15% cash back by entering the Barnes and Noble store through ShopDiscover

happy shopping.
read a book.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

the last book I ever read (Blue Nights)

from Blue Nights by Joan Didion:

Ill health, which is another way of describing what it can cost to maintain momentum, overtakes us when we can imagine no reason to expect it. I can tell you to the hour when it overtook me--a Thursday morning, August 2, 2007--when I woke with what seemed to be an earache and a reddened area on my face that mistook for a staph infection.

I remember thinking of this as trying, time-consuming, the waste of a morning I could not afford.

Because I had what I mistook for an earache I would need that morning to see an otolaryngologist.

Because I had what I mistook for a staph infection I would need that morning to see a dermatologist.

Before noon I had been diagnosed: not an earache, not a staph infection, but herpes zoster, shingles, an inflammation of the nervous system, an adult recurrence, generally thought to have been triggered or heightened by stress, of the virus responsible for childhood chickenpox.

"Shingles": it sounded minor, even mildly comical, something about which a great-aunt might complain, or an elderly neighbor; an amusing story tomorrow.

Tomorrow. When I will be fine. Restored. Well.

Telling the amusing story.

You'll never guess what it turned out to be. "Shingles," imagine.

Nothing to worry about then, I remember saying to the doctor who made the diagnosis.

Zoster can be a pretty nasty virus, the doctor said, guarded.

Still in the mode for maintaining momentum, and still oblivious to the extent to which maintaining momentum was precisely what had led me to the doctor's office, I did not ask in what ways zoster could be a pretty nasty virus.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the last book I ever read (Blue Nights)

from Blue Nights by Joan Didion:

Before she was born we had been planning a trip to Saigon.

We had assignments from magazines, we had credentials, we had everything we needed.

Including, suddenly, a baby.

That year, 1966, during which the American military presence in Vietnam would reach four hundred thousand and American B-52s had begun bombing the North, was not widely considered an ideal year to take an infant to Southeast Asia, yet it never occurred to me to abandon or even adjust the plan. I even went so far as to shop for what I imagined we would need: Donald Brooks pastel linen dresses for myself, a flowered Porthault parasol to shade the baby, as if she and I were about to board a Pan Am flight and disembark at Le Cercle Sportif.

In the end this trip to Saigon did not take place, although its cancellation was by no means based on what might have seemed the obvious reason--we canceled, it turned out, because John had to finish the book he had contracted to write about César Chavéz and his National Farm Workers Association and the DiGiorgio grape strike in Delano--and I mention Saigon at all only by way of suggesting the extent of my misconceptions about what having a child, let alone adopting one, might actually entail.

Friday, November 11, 2011

the last book I ever read (Confidence Men, a book that presages Occupy Wall Street, sampled in five parts): sample five

from Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind:

For the 13.9 million unemployed as of January, the length of their joblessness, on average, was 36.9 weeks, the highest duration since the government began this measurement in 1948 and nearly twice as high as the most recent, comparably serious recession, in 1983, when it was 21.2 weeks. Understanding this group, and why it was so difficult to reduce their number, was on everyone’s mind, in both parties. Among Kreuger’s findings was that the amount of time devoted to job search declined sharply over the spell of unemployment; the exit rate from unemployment was low at all durations of joblessness, and declined gradually as time passed; and also, quite importantly, there was no rise in job search or job finding around the time unemployment benefits expired. This refuted a long-standing study—the centerpiece of public policy actions in handling the jobless and their benefits, for two decades—that recently won its coauthor the Nobel Prize.

But what struck Krueger, poring over the data in his office in late January, was how sad the unemployed were—sadder than data indicated the jobless had been in previous eras—and how they were particularly depressed during episodes of job search.

Economists have long been better at measuring misery than they are at measuring happiness, and the issues that push the unemployed into depression tend to be a complex brew, including a sense of whether society is fair, the length of a person’s joblessness, and how they see employment as identity. “Those without a job for an extended period of time seem to lose their identity,” Krueger said, “their sense of who they are, and the path they’ve chosen in life.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

the last book I ever read (Confidence Men, a book that presages Occupy Wall Street, sampled in five parts): sample four

from Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind:

As Obama’s team, including Geithner, collected themselves in a waiting room, the leaders of Wall Street milled about, convivially, in the main hall, with its marble floors beneath the tall dome. A year after their existential crisis, “too big to fail” had settled into what seemed like a day-to-day repose of “too big to worry.” The well-groomed gathering of men, and a spicing of women, chatted about summer vacations to exotic locales, purchases, recent and upcoming, the latest news on shareholder suits (their liability policies would cover them). One prominent banker, who asked not to be named, said, “For Washington to not demand anything when it saved us, even stuff that we know is for our long-term good, was one of the stupidest moves in modern times. I figured Obama understood that—it wasn’t a nuanced point—and that he’d act as we started to pull out of the abyss six months ago. But he didn’t, and I don’t know who to thank. I feel like I should go over and hug Tim. It’s a shame we can’t pay him, ‘cause that’s a guy who really earned a big-time bonus.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the last book I ever read (Confidence Men, a book that presages Occupy Wall Street, sampled in five parts): sample three

from Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind:

Presidents are among the few mortals who are sometimes graced with chances to change a culture. Throughout a windswept March, the country had been working to dislodge some of the era’s prevailing certainties about markets being efficient, about people—economically, at least—getting what they deserve, along with the concomitant belief that financial barons are brilliant and indispensable, and manufacturing executives are dinosaurs.

With the eyes of the country on him, Barack Obama ended the month by shielding Wall Street executives against these winds of cultural change, while he fired a man who had effectively managed four hundred thousand workers in their making of seven million cars a year—without ever bothering to meet him. At the same time, he agreed to try to bail out Chrysler, and eventually GM, by adopting practices and principles of private equity in the use of government funds.

Improbable combinations, blended solutions, the integrating of opposites.

This was the Obama method, in his life and in his work. But he hadn’t gotten elected simply to search for this clever version of the middle ground. He’d been elected at a time of peril to change the country’s course.

By that measure, it would be easy to conclude that he missed some opportunities to show that America hadn’t necessarily gone from a country that makes things to one that makes things up, and that facing the consequences for one’s actions, at the heart of both a working democracy and effective capitalism, knows no boundaries. When the bankers arrived in the State Dining Room, sitting under a portrait of a glowering Lincoln, Obama had them scared and ready to do almost anything he said.

An hour later, they were upbeat, ready to fly home and commence business as usual.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

the last book I ever read (Confidence Men, a book that presages Occupy Wall Street, sampled in five parts): sample two

from Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind:

Obama’s response to this cul-de-sac: outside readings. Rather than “first, do no harm,” by the first week of February his preferred phrase was “Sweden not Japan.”
Though neither country’s experience is cleanly applicable to that of the United States, by far the world’s largest economy, the experience of each country seemed to present a set of choices.

Sweden had deregulated its financial industry in the early 1980s, much like the United States, creating a bonanza of speculation in new securities tied to housing, and inflating a massive real estate bubble that finally burst in 1991. In circumstances that eerily similar to those in the United States, credit then froze in an economy that was heavily overleveraged with debt. Values plummeted, from both a crisis of liquidity and a massive correction in inflated prices.

After two rounds of bank bailouts, which seemed at first to be working only to prove inadequate, Sweden temporarily nationalized its banks. Shareholders were wiped out, management teams were generally ousted, troubled assets were auctioned off, and the banks reemerged with the government as a large equity owner. Crucially, though, confidence in the system was quickly restored. Sweden, with this tough-love approach, roared back to strong growth through the decade. The government reduced its ownership in the banks, year by year, as they slowly returned to health and sound practices. In essence, Sweden restored its banks by a kind of enforced prudence.

At the same time, half a world away, Japan was experiencing a similar set of disasters from the bursting of its 1980s real estate bubble. The major difference? What Sweden had started—and then reversed—Japan kept doing: it kept bailing out its insolvent banks with government support and cash infusions. There were ups and downs across years, times when the banks seemed to be on the mend, and then fell back. The idea was for the banking system to stay intact and earn its way back to health by slowly reducing its toxic assets as it resumed lending. This never happened. Japan limped along for what was called its “lost decade,” the 1990s, with virtually no economic growth, a situation of sluggish economic activity that continues up until the present day.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had been developing both edges of the analogy since a few weeks after the September 2008 meltdown, when he wrote on his widely read blog that a temporary nationalization of the banks, as the Swedes had successfully done, was the only sound remedy to the crisis, but one that “won’t be possible until January 21”—when, he hoped, Obama would be president.

Just as Obama was firmly opening a mid-October lead that would all but assure him the presidency, Krugman also won a prize, the Nobel Prize for Economics, which gilded the columnist with a rarified credibility ideally suited to the moment. While Krugman’s longtime competitor, Summers, assumed the role of senior economic adviser, Krugman was suddenly the voice, twice weekly, of the progressive alternative. While in Stockholm in mid-December to accept the prize, Krugman wanted that “the scenario I fear is that we’ll see, for the whole world, an equivalent of Japan’s lost decade, the 1990s—that we’ll see a world of zero interest rates, deflation, no sign of recovery, and it will just go on for a very extended period,” a bleak outcome that might result if the United States followed Japan’s path of largely unconditional support for “too big to fail” banks.

Monday, November 7, 2011

the last book I ever read (Confidence Men, a book that presages Occupy Wall Street, sampled in five parts): sample one

from Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind:

It was a perfect storm of trends: global outsourcing of jobs, with profits flowing back to senior managers, stockholders, and investors; increasing automation in the workplace; full-time jobs increasingly becoming temporary or contract labor; the steady decline of unions and resulting wage and benefit concessions; and the 1990s arrival of the Internet and software advances, allowing the fewer remaining workers to be that much more productive. All this created overall economic growth. The U.S. GDP, at roughly $14 trillion in 2001, was twice as large as it was in 1980. But that wealth flowed dramatically to the top, as real median wages stayed flat for nearly three decades. In 1980 the richest 1 percent of Americans received about 9 percent of overall income, roughly the same level it had been since World War II. By 2007 it was 23 percent—an income disparity not seen in the United State since 1928, a time of Robber Baron wealth, stock manipulation schemes, and vast poverty, where more than half of America still lived on farms and survived, with little security, off the land.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

the last book I ever read (Sailor Jerry Collins: American Tattoo Master)

from Sailor Jerry Collins: American Tattoo Master:

The first lesson is keep your wife out of the tattoo shop completely--Doc Webb is a good example of what not to do--Harry Lawson, Long Andy, Johnny Walker, Bert Grimm all have crashed on this. Huey Bowen let Nell in and she took over and run him out entirely. Marion Boehme opened up in competition to her husband. They just don't belong in this business. My wife never comes in my shop unless its to bring supplies and she's gone like a flash. She doesn't know what my take is, and nobody should know that, or about colors or anything I hope you set the rules down hard and immediately and don't walk into any fish nets in the dark. [Our friend's] ex got him for 50 G and walked out and he can't say a word because she knows too much. Maybe Greg thought it was cute to teach his wife to tattoo, but honestly it's the stupidest thing he ever could have done...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

the last book I ever read (So Long, See You Tomorrow) (again and again)

from So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell:

Whether they are part of home or home is part of them is not a question children are prepared to answer. Having taken away the dog, take away the kitchen--the smell of something good in the oven for dinner. Also the smell of washday, of wool drying on the wooden rack. Of ashes. Of soup simmering on the stove. Take away the patient old horse waiting by the pasture fence. Take away the chores that kept him busy from the time he got home from school until they sat down to supper. Take away the early-morning mist, the sound of crows quarreling in the treetops.

His work clothes are still hanging on a nail beside the door of his room, but nobody puts them on or takes them off. Nobody sleeps in his bed. Or reads the broken-backed copy of Tom Swift and His Flying Machine. Take that away too, while you are at it.

Take away the pitcher and bowl, both of them dry and dusty. Take away the cow barn where the cats, sitting all in a row, wait with their mouths wide open for somebody to squirt milk down their throats. Take away the horse barn too--the small of hay and dust and horse piss and old sweat-stained leather, and the rain beating down on the plowed field beyond the open door. Take all this away and what have you done to him? In the face of a deprivation so great, what is the use of asking him to go on being the boy he was. He might as well start life over again as some other boy instead.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

the last book I ever read (So Long, See You Tomorrow) (again)

from So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell:

He knew what had been done to him but no what he had done to deserve it.

It would have been a help if at some time some Baptist preacher, resting his forearms on the pulpit and hunching his shoulders, had said People neither get what they deserve nor deserve what they get. The gentle and the trusting are trampled on. The rich man usually forces his way through the eye of the needle, and there is little or no point in putting your faith in Divine Providence. . . . On the other hand, how could any preacher, Baptist or otherwise, say this?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

the last book I ever read (So Long, See You Tomorrow)

from So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell:

He was perfectly aware of his wife's good qualities. She worked like a slave, from morning till night, holding up her end of things. She was a good mother. There was no question about any of this. Sometimes he thought it was just that they were so used to each other. He knew how she felt about almost everything, and, most of the time, what she was going to say before she said it. If they had been brother and sister it wouldn't have been very different--except that she was jealous. If he so much as looked at another woman she acted as if he'd done something unforgivable. Once or twice she worked herself up to such a pitch that she went upstairs and started packing. He knew that such persuasion as he could muster was halfhearted and wouldn't convince her to change her mind. If she was bent on leaving him there was nothing he could do about it. She didn't leave him, she only threatened to. None of those women meant anything to him, he said. And with her face averted she said, "The trouble is, I don't mean anything to you either."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

the last book I ever read (The Psychopath Test) (again)

from The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson:

Bob didn't seem to be listening. It was as if the crash had made him introspective. He said, almost to himself, "I should never had done all my research in prisons. I should have spent my time inside the Stock Exchange as well."

I looked at Bob. "Really?" I said.

He nodded.

"But surely stock-market psychopaths can't be as bad as serial-killer psychopaths," I said.

"Serial killers ruin families." Bob shrugged. "Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

the last book I ever read (The Psychopath Test)

from The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson:

"I'm not familiar with Professor Hofstadter," I said to Deborah. "I know there are references to him scattered all over Being or Nothingness. But I couldn't work out if he's a real person or a fictional character. Is he well known?"

"He wrote Gödel, Escher, Bach!" she replied, surprised by my lack of knowledge. "It was momentous."

I didn't reply.

"If you're a geek," sighed Deborah, "and you're just discovering the Internet, and especially if you're a boy, Gödel, Escher, Bach would be like your Bible. It was about how you can use Gödel's mathematic theories and Bach's canons to makes sense of the experience of consciousness. Lots of young guys really like it. It's very playful. I haven't read it in its entirety but it's on my bookshelf."

Hofstadter, she said, had published it in the late 1970s. It was lauded. It won a Pulitzer. It was filled with brilliant puzzles and wordplay and meditations on the meaning of consciousness and artificial intelligence. It was the kind of book--like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or A Brief History of Time--that everybody wanted on their shelves but few were clever enough to really understand.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

the last book I ever read (The Mirage Man) (again)

from The Mirage Man: Bruce Ivins, the Anthrax Attacks, and America's Rush to War by David Willman:

Two of the books Ivins kept in his bedroom described men whose lives had faint echoes of his own lost promise. Arrowsmith, the 1925 novel by Sinclair Lewis, depicts the rise from a small town in the Midwest of a scientifically gifted man who achieves acclaim as a bubonic plague researcher but is buffeted by the temptations of recognition and power. Ivins, who aspired to Mensa, might also have related to the protagonists of A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines. Janna Levin's 2006 novel chronicles the anguished lives of Kurt Gödel, the storied mathematical logician (whose work is examined in Gödel, Escher, Bach, the book that would provide a key to the mystery of the anthrax letters), and Alan Turing, who helped break the German military code during World War II and whose "universal Turing machine" was the archetype for the modern computer. The deaths of both were self-inflicted--Gödel, by intentional starvation due to his paranoia over being poisoned; Turing, by eating a cyanide-laced apple.

Friday, October 14, 2011

e. e. cummings at 117

e.e.cummings would've been 117 today.

and the man's poetry has extended a long bony finger into my own life, from those elementary school readings of "in Just--" all the way to my borrowing a few lines from "i sing of Olaf glad and big" as the epigraph for the Tusk book.

and somewhere in the middle (though much closer to the Tusk book end than the elementary school one) we read a cummings poem at a wedding in Carl Schurz Park:

if everything happens that can't be done
(and anything's righter
than books
could plan)
the stupidest teacher will almost guess
(with a run
around we go yes)
there's nothing as something as one

one hasn't a why or because or although
(and buds know better
than books
don't grow)
one's anything old being everything new
(with a what
around we go who)
one's everyanything so

so world is a leaf is a tree is a bough
(and birds sing sweeter
than books
tell how)
so here is away and so your is a my
(with a down
around again fly)
forever was never till now

now i love you and you love me
(and books are shutter
than books
can be)
and deep in the high that does nothing but fall
(with a shout
around we go all)
there's somebody calling who's we

we're everything brighter than even the sun
(we're everything greater
than books
might mean)
we're everyanything more than believe
(with a spin
alive we're alive)
we're wonderful one times one

Thursday, October 13, 2011

the last book I ever read (The Mirage Man)

from The Mirage Man: Bruce Ivins, the Anthrax Attacks, and America's Rush to War by David Willman:

In September of 2001 Bruce Ivins was at that stage of career where there were far fewer years ahead than behind. The twin were now seniors in high school and, in just a few years, he could retire from the Army and start anew, if he wished. He was fifty-six years old.

Why, then, would Ivins risk everything by launching the anthrax letter attacks?

Developing the next-generation anthrax vaccine was, for Ivins, a deeply personal matter, bound up with his excessive need for attention and longing for scientific distinction. By the year 2000, he was seething over the project's endangered status. And by mid-2001, the controversy surrounding the military's entire anthrax vaccine program had pushed the next-generation product "beyond the back burner," in the words of Major General Stephen Reeves. As the Army official directly responsible for these biodefense matters, Reeves believed that, absent a crisis, "the White House would have killed this program."

Ivins knew well the marvelously persuasive power of fear: In 1980, fear of what the Soviets were up to in the aftermath of the anthrax deaths at Sverdlovsk got him hired at USAMRIID. In 1990 and 1991, fear that Saddam Hussein might use anthrax in the first Gulf War brought Ivins to center stage as a scientist and gave a boost to his early work on the next-generation anthrax vaccine. For Ivins, a co-inventor and patent holder, bringing this product all the way into use held the promise of untold professional glory (and years of steady patent royalties).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Columbus Day, Hockey and Bonnie "Prince" Billy (Take Two)

earlier this afternoon, I wrote a fairly lengthy blog entry working around and through Columbus Day, hockey, Bonnie "Prince" Billy (who has a new album out), the Algonquin and Occupy Wall Street. but the Bonnie "Prince" Billy memories are frustrating ones so I've decided not to revisit that particular past here on the Interweb. except for these two paragraphs from an unarchived piece published back in the Spring of 2009:

Throughout his multi-monikered recording career, Oldham’s fractiously fragile vocals laid over determinedly sparse instrumentation have bred a sound simultaneously plaintive and languid, at times dour, almost always reverberant, like the smoke lingering above a landmark Birmingham, Alabama rib joint across the street from where Oldham once lived.

“You see a fog of smoke,” he says, “which is kind of beautiful and atmospheric. Where in San Francisco you get fog from the ocean, in Birmingham, on 15th and 15th, you get Dreamland smoke.”

more contemporary, more cooperative memories are currently being made on my Facebook 49ers page and on Twitter.
join us.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

music from occupy wall street without puppets (or drums)

yesterday (Day 21) my lovely and talented and high-minded friend Tanya Braganti and I went down to Occupy Wall Street to talk to some people about talking to and photographing some people a little later on (give me a shout if you're down there and feeling chatty).

thanks Danny.

Friday, October 7, 2011

music from occupy wall street with puppets

today (Day 21) my lovely and talented and high-minded friend Tanya Braganti and I went down to Occupy Wall Street to talk to some people about talking to and photographing some people a little later on (give me a shout if you're down there and feeling chatty).

thanks Danny.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

- Steve Jobs

Monday, October 3, 2011

early October update

well, it's colder than it should be, but I'm inside a lot.
transcribing, and then transcribing some more.

way, way too much of listening to my own voice (99% of which will be edited out (you're welcome)), but also in this past week (thankfully) the compelling voices of writers Tony Earley (Jim the Boy), Stewart O’Nan (The Circus Fire) and Anita Stansfield (Shadows of Brierley: A Far Horizon), friend and trauma surgeon James Walter, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians bassist Brad Houser and the lovely Susan Olsen who played Cindy on the Brady Bunch.

but the Facebook page for the 49ers has surged past 100 Likes (thank you, thank you! (times 50)) and today, despite the chill, interviewee (thanks Ingrid!) and ICA (Philadelphia) senior curator Ingrid Schaffner, Loyola (Maryland) Greyhounds soccer coach Mark Mettrick, stand-up comic (MTV's Half Hour Comedy Hour) Mario Joyner, Judging Amy actor (with a famous father and famous younger brother) Marcus Giamatti and pro wrestler Darryl Peterson (Maxx Payne and Man Mountain Rock) all turn 50.

and sixty years ago this afternoon (at just about 3:58 Eastern), when Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was just over twelve hours into his second birthday, the Staten Island Scot, Bobby Thomson, hit a home run off of Ralph Branca that is now known as the Shot Heard 'Round the World.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

the last book I ever read (Hand to Mouth)

from Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure by Paul Auster:

I was staying with Madame X's brother (whose unhappy marriage to an American woman was on its last legs), and I filled my days with aimless walks around the dusty town, stepping over mangy dogs, batting flies out of my face, and accepting invitations to drink beers with the local drunks. My room was in a stucco outbuilding on the brother's property, and I slept under muslin netting to guard against the tarantulas and mosquitoes. The crazy girl kept showing up with one of her friends, a Central American Hare Krishna with a shaved head and orange robes, and boredom ate away at me like some tropical disease. I wrote one or two short poems, but otherwise I languished, unable to think, bogged down by a persistent, nameless anxiety. Even the news from the outside world was bad. An earthquake killed thousands of people in Nicaragua, and my favorite baseball player, Roberto Clemente, the most elegant and electrifying performer of his generation, went down in a small plane that was trying to deliver emergency relief to the victims.

Monday, September 26, 2011

R.E.M. Has Broken Up, Day #6

I was more than ready to quit myself.
and actually, if I was ever in an R.E.M. tribute band this would definitely be one of my least favorite songs to play.
but the story told by "Rockville Girl" Ingrid Schorr is worth reading and Mike Mills appearing solo on "Regis and Kathy Lee" is more than a little strange.

(thanks to @ThaRealEdPark for the inspiration)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

R.E.M. Has Broken Up, Day #5

Eric Harvey, on behalf of the Atlantic (the magazine, not the Ocean), makes the case that four University of Georgia dropouts might well be "America's Greatest Band."

You could get away from me,
Get away from me

Saturday, September 24, 2011

R.E.M. Has Broken Up, Day #4

today's not so long distance dedication goes out to Brooklyn filmmaker Stephen Altobello who graciously took time out from his busy schedule to bestow the minimum one Amazon star out of five after reading just a third of the Tusk book.
according to his review, my style is, by turns, "self-conscious," "annoying," "cloying" and "grating." and he wraps his analogy tight by saying that if he met me at a party he would "walk away . . . within minutes."

what I wouldn't give, some days, for the same opportunity.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

R.E.M. Has Broken Up, Day #2

today's highlight is former Village Voice music editor and current Rhapsody employee Rob Harvilla, who was undoubtedly a somewhat awkward toddler (he's tall) when four guys calling themselves the Twisted Kites debuted at the former St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Athens, Georgia for friend Kathleen O'Brien's birthday party (obligatory new band covers included "Secret Agent Man," Needles and Pins" and "God Save the Queen"), penning Spin's 10 All-Time Favorite R.E.M. Moments

confusing? sure.
appropriate? you betcha.

Monday, September 19, 2011

the last book I ever read

from The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta:

The Pastor firmly believed that it was time for Tim to remove himself from the temptations of bachelorhood, to stop questioning himself and his commitment to Jesus, to bind himself to someone who shared his faith and his priorities, and to get on with his life as a husband, father, and servant of the Lord. He cited 1 Corinthians 7: 1-2: "It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband."

It was a weird verse, Tim thought, encouraging marriage not as a good thing in itself, but simply as the best of bad alternatives. Hardly the stuff of love songs. And yet, like a lot of stuff in the Bible, it possessed a kind of hardheaded wisdom that resonated with his experience of the world and his circumstances at the present moment. From a Christian perspective, to be a forty-year-old bachelor was simply not a spiritually viable condition.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

the last book I ever read

from The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner:

I know a writing instructor who is beloved among her students because she is deeply supportive of their work no matter what stage they're at. "It's not as if they're building bombs or hurting people," she says in defense of her approach. "They're just trying to do creative work." It's not that she doesn't know whose work actually shows promise and which students are likely never to write an interesting sentence as long as they live. It's just that she never fails to be astonished by at least one person per semester who seems at the beginning of the class as hopeless as they come and end the course with a powerful piece of writing. Then, of course, there's Flannery O'Connor's opinion to consider. When asked whether she thought writing programs in universities actually discouraged young writers, she replied, "Not enough of them."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

the 49ers (Byron Kim and others)

of course, we don't always get everything that we want (I mean, seriously, what kind of world would it be if we got everything we wanted?).
which means that you don't always get to talk to everyone you want to talk to.

one of those is California-born visual artist Byron Kim who reached a kind of consensus breakthrough with the appearance of Synecdoche (see above) in the 1993 Whitney Biennial.
Byron Kim turns 50 today.

other folks celebrating on September 6, 2011 (as per the 49ers page) include Judas Priest drummer Scott Travis, January 1990 Playmate of the Month Peggy McIntaggart, former WWF Women's Champion Wendi Richter and Memphis Redbirds manager Chris Maloney.

Friday, September 2, 2011

the last book I ever read (again)

more from House of Prayer No. 2 by Mark Richard:

Ben tells you that your father is dying in a small hospital down in North Carolina and he wants to see you. It's been about twenty years since your last communication with him, a single-spaced fifteen-page hand-printed letter dated New Year's Eve, in reply to a letter you had written months earlier. His letter is in the form of a multiple-choice questionnaire. Sample questions include "At what point in time did God die and you took his place?" and "Where in the Bible is it written that there is no place in Heaven for non-writers?" It is an angry questionnaire and your father closes it with a quote from A Covenant with Death, an out-of-print novel about a man accused of murdering his wife-If you cannot love, pity. If you cannot pity, have mercy. That man is not your brother, he is you. Your wife says you must go see your dying father, and she is right.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

the last book I ever read

from House of Prayer No. 2 by Mark Richard:

Your book comes out and nothing happens. A friend of yours who works at the Washington Post calls the publicity department of your publisher to get a copy to review, and they tell him you are not one of their authors. When he calls again, they tell him you are dead. You pay off your personal debts and continue to live off the stories you sell to Esquire; they end up buying five of them.

The editors there, Will and Rust, often take you to the Broadway Deli for pastrami sandwiches and manhattans. One time at the end of the lunch you carefully pack the uneaten half of your pastrami sandwich, and Rust asks you why you are doing that, and you confess that you're broke again, which is no surprise to Will, who lets you borrow and repay two hundred dollars at least twice a month. Over lunch you have been telling them about the summer previous when you were in Virginia Beach and spent an afternoon sitting on your bicycle watching the police retrieve a body that had been sucked into a sand dredge in Rudee Inlet. You were thinking of writing a story called "Where Blue is Blue," but you didn't have it all worked out.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

more on the storm damage in the Catskills

our good friend and fellow transplanted Southerner Richard Giles talks about the recent flood damage to his Lucky Dog Farm in Hamden, New York
(video courtesy of the fine folks at the Watershed Post)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene Is Not Over

the towns of Margaretville and Fleischmanns are under water, all Delaware County roads are closed and people are being evacuated by helicopter.

go to the Watershed Post for updates and send your thoughts and prayers towards the Catskills.

more videos from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene (Astoria, New York)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

pre-Irene grocery shopping

so yes, our plans have changed.

my mother-in-law celebrates a birthday on Monday so the original intent was a trip to New Jersey on Friday, back to the city on Sunday evening for a birthday dinner (David Burke Townhouse), then Monday morning you sure look fine blah blah blah.

but Hurricane Irene suggests that she may visit this weekend so we go to New Jersey a little earlier on Friday, buy health food store groceries before dinner, take the train back immediately following dinner (A Toute Huere in Cranford (thanks Alex!)) and a stop at local grocery store on the way home.
we buy peas and Mountain Dew and peanut butter and peanut butter and water and water and potato chips.
we do not buy bread or Coke Zero because they are completely out of both.

this is not a complaint.
this is not a problem.
we're not going to starve (though it might help to have a little more caffeine in the house).
we're fine.
and we decide to go to another grocery store this morning for bread and Coke Zero.

which we do.

they have Coke Zero (I grab three 2-liters).
we think they have bread because we see it in a passing grocery cart, but we don't actually make it over to the bread section of the store because there are 20+ people in the Express Line.
it runs out the aisle, past the Entenmann's, past the refrigerated Pillsbury biscuits, past the eggs (white, brown, organic and cage-free and factory) and the cottage cheese and the ricotta cheese and the block cheese and the shredded cheese.
it runs past the Weight Watchers and Healthy Choices, past the frozen pizzas (Celeste and Jeno's and Ellio's) and fifty-seven different kinds of popsicles all the way to the Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs and Breyer's.
we leave the store empty-handed.
(the above video is from grocery store #2 which, you can tell, we also left empty-handed)

we're home now, and may actually stay.

Monday, August 22, 2011

the last book I ever read

from Barry Estabrook's Tomatoland:

Less than an hour after leaving Naples, you round a long curve and enter the city of Immokalee (pronounced broccoli). A few years ago, county officials attempted to bring a veneer of vaguely Latino urbanity to the main drag by laying down a paving-stone median and crosswalks, planting some small palms, and erecting fake antique streetlights. Maybe the hope was that tourists passing through would not notice conditions a block or so away. Downtown Immokalee is a warren of potholed lanes leading past boarded-up bars and abandoned bodegas, moldering trailers, and sagging, decrepit shacks. The area is populated mostly by Hispanic men, although you will see the occasional Haitian woman (a holdover of an earlier wave of ethnic farm laborers) walking along the sandy paths that pass for sidewalks with a loaded basket of groceries balances on her head. Scrawny chickens peck in the sandy yards, and packs of mongrels patrol the gaps between dwellings, sniffing at the contents of overturned garbage cans. Vultures squabble over a run-over cat lying in the middle of a street. Immokalee's per capita income is only $9,700 a year, about one-quarter of the national average. Half of the people in the city of fifteen thousand live below the federal poverty line. Two-thirds of the children who enter kindergarten drop out of school without high school diplomas. Your chances of becoming a victim of violent crime in Immokalee are six times greater than they are in the average American municipality. On the crime index, where zero is the rating given to the most dangerous areas in the United States and one hundred is the rating given to the safest, Immokalee comes in at one. Even the police there are sometimes criminals. Glendell Edison, a deputy sheriff who patrolled Immokalee for fifteen years, was sentenced to ten years in prison after being convicted for extorting money from drug pushers and possessing cocaine and crack. Florida's largest farmworker community, Immokalee is the town that tomatoes built.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

how Walker Percy might fit in all of this (part two)

we've talked before about how Walker Percy might fit in all of this, specifically about The Last Physician: Walker Percy & the Moral Life of Medicine, the book that Carl Elliott co-edited, and the foreword where Carl writes about his decision to turn away from medicine (I was never faced with that decision, by the way, so this isn't like an example of parallels, or at least not neat ones).

and, as mentioned before, there's a chapter by filmmaker Ross McElwee (McElwee's Time Indefinite is the last movie I ever saw, though I've certainly seen it before), whose father and brother were doctors, entitled "The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes," part of which goes like this:

Writing would provide for Percy what medicine could not: a way to undertake that "search" that Binx Bolling would describe in The Moviegoer. It would give rein to all of Percy's observational powers, powers that he could train on his personal past in his death-haunted South, as well as into the future on the possibility of finding some sort of redemption.

soon (very soon) I'll be revisiting Conversations with Walker Percy for my final prep for my final 49 year old interview.

rock and roll hoochie coo
lawdy mama bite my shoes

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

a little more help, please

The barbecue’s been ordered.
Thank you.

And this afternoon I interviewed two-time Space Shuttle astronaut, four-time mother Susan Still Kilrain.
Susan was my 225th 49 year old interviewed and, except for talking to myself tomorrow evening (an occurrence more rare than some of you might suspect), I may be done.
And I’m okay with that.
In fact, I feel pretty good about it.
Thank you.

But as we close in on the final hours of a rather involved project as well as a certain segment of life, it doesn’t surprise (me at least) that a certain woulda shoulda coulda tone has poked its nose through the barely open window.
And I’m okay with that.
In fact, I feel pretty good about it.

Along the way more than one person remarked how wonderful it woulda shoulda coulda been if this project had been filmed, made into a movie of sorts (maybe because people don’t read anymore (damn video games)) and I’ve never disagreed. I mean, sure it woulda shoulda coulda been completely impossible to cover 225 interviews with me and the 225 participants spread, literally, all across the world, but it sure woulda shoulda coulda been nice.

But Thursday we’ll be involved in some version of a celebration and I’ll be meeting, face-to-face, a number of the 225 49 year olds who were kind enough to share their thoughts and time and feelings with me for the very first time.
And that can be filmed and perhaps put to good use at a later time.

Does anyone have thoughts, time, feelings, suggestions and/or advice on how to locate someone (preferably with a video camera and some kind of talent to stand behind it) willing to affordably shoot a couple hours on the Lower East Side this Thursday evening in a grasp for the larger, artistic good?

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

is nothing sacred?

on the off chance that the constant churn of our country's political and economic systems is not quite enough to make you get in touch with your *nauseated self, know that Mitch Easter, Let's Active founder, co-producer/co-engineer of R.E.M.'s Murmur and Chris Stamey's right-hand man for the recent Big Star's Third tribute, has had seven guitars stolen (follow the link for serial numbers and descriptions).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Michelle's Must-Read List

the August 15th issue of the New Yorker contains Ryan Lizza's Leap of Faith: The Making of a Republican Frontrunner, a rather extensive history of how and why and when Michelle Bachmann came to her core beliefs.

Bachmann, a Republican Presidential candidate and Tea Party darling, has stumbled over more than a few facts during her campaign, but has thus far managed a bit more grace in replacing some of the obviously divisive language of her far right-wing Christian beliefs (she got her law degree at Oral Roberts University, her husband gained his "pray the gay away" counseling degree at Pat Robertson's Regents University and the couple just recently withdrew their membership from the Salem Lutheran Church, a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod whose tenets suggest that the Pope is the Anti-Christ) with more inclusive terms like "liberty." you know, kind of like when George Wallace adopted the phrase "states rights" (wink wink).

yes, a more or less successful transformation, as long as you don't believe that anything more than the word liberty is actually inclusive.

according to Lizza, Bachmann's State Senate campaign website (about 10 years ago) contained book recommendations under the heading "Michelle's Must-Read List," and number three on that list was the 1997 biography Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins, a graduate of the University of Alabama, the pastor of the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church of Monroe, Louisiana since 1989, as well as "the leading proponent of the theory that the South was an orthodox Christian nation unjustly attacked by the godless North."

the Wilkins book, the book listed as number three on Bachmann's posted "must-read list" just about a decade ago, suggests that "Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversarial relationship founded upon racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but, over time, mutual respect. This produced a mutual esteem of the sort that always results when men give themselves to a common cause. The credit for this startling reality must go to the Christian faith. . . . The unity and companionship that existed between the races in the South prior to the war was the fruit of a common faith."

and you probably didn't have to look at the picture of Wilkins above to tell he was a white man, did you?