Friday, May 28, 2004

Screaming Disaster.

I've got the lyrics to "There's Got To Be A Morning After" stuck in my head."

It's all the fault of the Times. Damn liberal newspapers. I was reading their review of The Day After Tomorrow, and the reviewer mentioned the song in the process of drawing a comparison between said movie and the disaster movies of the 70's. "Day After" is a sort of disaster movie, although of the more ambitious super-genre "end of the world movie." Strangely, although I adore end of the world movies in all their silly, hysterical splendor, I find disaster movies don't interest me so much. I have never sought out Towering Inferno. I didn't see the volcano movies of a couple years ago (though I was tempted: volcanoes are intrinsically cool).

I did see The Core, in which the world nearly ends after it's molten core stops rotating and the magnetic field of the earth goes away. It was awful, truly. Not a good movie in any sense of the word.

But it was fun, with big stupid science like asteroid-sized geodes in the mantle of the earth. And that scene in the beginning, where a pilot lands a space shuttle in the middle of Los Angeles was just silly-fun. But mostly I liked it because lots of fake people died horribly.

The Times, of course, does not approve of The Day After Tomorrow in which weather goes berserk. Damn liberal newspapers. I will go see it. Reviewers, I often think, are handicapped by thinking what they review is important. This is not so true with books, which sometimes are important. It becomes glaringly clear with movies and television reviewers, who are rarely talking about anything important at all.

The Times reviewer didn't like it because it was schmaltzy and the science is improbable. I will like it, mostly because the science will be bad, but in places wonderfully imagined, and also because lots of fake people will die.

I will have fun, and that's what the Times reviewer misses. Bad movies can be fun. In fact, bad movies can be fun-er, much in the same way that cartoons are better for the soul than homework. Though homework is better, in the long run, for job prospects.

The review over to is obtuse to the point of cluelessness.

Despite snowstorms in New Delhi, tornados destroying Los Angeles, hail the size of baseballs falling on Tokyo, Scotland becoming flash frozen, the royal family evacuating England and New York drowning in a tidal wave, the U.S. government still fails to act. Hall is reduced to pleading with the vice president in a Capitol Hill hallway, where he is dismissed as only one man with an unproved theory.

Which seems to me like a direct jab at the lack of imagination that many conservatives have about global warming. Whether you believe it's happening or not is one matter. Thinking that environmental precautions are liberal hysteria... I dunno. I think that's tunnel vision.

Another CNN article goes so far as to print some blathering quote from a scientist about how "he hopes none of us rubes think the movie's real." Duh. The concern about realness and fakeness is only of passing interest in movies. They're only two hours long, for crying out loud. Three if you're expected to be a real fanboy like for, say, the Lord of the Rings. Or Malcolm X. Realness can only take up so much room in movies.

If you want real, I can recommend, off the top of my head, many realer disaster books. Lucifer's Hammer. Dust (even has footnotes). Mother of Storms. Books are good.

Expecting realness out of movies is like expecting the truth out of your parents. In fact, I think expecting realness out of fiction is a form of cowardice. Every once in a while, when talking to people who don't like science fiction, they tell me that it's because it isn't real. Well... Jeez. Neither is Portnoy's Complaint, or One Life to Live, or Cold Mountain. None of it's real. It's fiction.

My love for the end of the world genre has something to do with scope (not the mouthwash, the sort of totality of scale), and something to do with being a mean person, deep in my heart of hearts. I don't mind seeing my enemies burnt in effigy. I consider it a sign of civilization that I stick to effigies.

Anyways, back to the real disaster. It's not even the regular version of "Morning After" stuck in my head. It's the fake version that Chef and his Succubus fiance sing together in that one episode of South Park.

Damn liberal newspapers.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

myWeek of teaching posts:

I was going to blather on about pop culture today. Maybe I'll do it next week, instead. After a curious series of classes the last week or so, I was completely surprised on the desk this afternoon. The head of the branches, the head of the Manhattan borough office, and the head of the Clickon program (along with the nice new head of training for the library) showed up and personally gave me a thank you note for teaching classes. Apparently, my aggregate rating as a teacher is an 8.07 our of 10.

Well. I am by nature a cynic. But, say what you want about compensation, having three of my bosses come down to say "thank you" made me feel very nice. And I think that's a feeling that will last for a while. Thank you back, Bonnie, Mary K., and Brook.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Ah, from the glorious highs of adult education to the abysmal lows. My class this morning was two people. I was teaching our electronic databases to them. Both were late, neither had strong internet skills, one kept woolgathering even though I was right next to him the whole time.

If it's free, it's worthless. Right?

Reading: Galilee, by Clive Barker, which I actually started reading years ago for Books to Remember, a list NYPL puts out every year. There were more memorable books, so I put it down again. I do like Clive Barker's books, though, and I am just now catching up.

I should say I generally like Clive Barker's books. I think Imajica and Weaveworld were more imaginative, and Sacrament was more thoughtful. I am finding myself alternately drawn in and bored by Galilee . The crushing load of detail reminds me of Anne Rice. The fetishization of the American setting (I mean, really the magicalization, not the abjectification) reminds me of American Gods, which I also think is a better book, because, fatness aside, it didn't dawdle so much. Also, my personal sympathies lie more with Gaiman's generally schlubby, hard pressed, working class gods than Barker's apotheotic gods. We shall see.

I think, however, having to put this down in '98 made me leary of picking up Abarat. Is that my loss?

Saturday, May 22, 2004

This morning I presented my best email class ever. Possibly the best beginner's email class ever given in the history of adult education. I had fifteen inexperienced people registered in an hour, and was able to go over the details of their email for another hour after that.

The last time I gave an email class, I hadn't even finish registering them after two hours. I thought I was being a crap teacher until somebody asked: what do you mean security question? For, like the eighth time in a row. Then I just gave up and rode the class down, like Major T.J. 'King' Kong in Doctor Strangelove.

The real problem with signing up a roomful of people who've barely used the internet for an email account is that some people are have a hard time catching on to the internet environment and some people don't. So a lot of people are sitting around bored and waiting for you to get to the next step, while you are explaining the current one to a few people, over and over.

This time, I had only one real problem case (and mind you, it was a language barrier, not an attitude problem) and two great assistants. We collectively rocked, I think.

Mostly, though, I got through by being kind of a drill sergeant. All said, nobody seemed bent out of shape. In fact, fewer seemed bent out of shape than when I mollycoddled my abortive previous class and ended up with nothing for the effort.

Yesterday we went to the Central Park Zoo with Poppy. This was not nearly as fun as going to the aquarium. I blame the commute: it took us three times as long to get out to Central Park and back than it did to Coney Island. And once there, we felt like we'd invested too much energy to turn right back, even though Poppy was clearly too worked up to enjoy anything. She wanted to wander: we couldn't, really. By the end of the petting zoo, she was hysterically screaming "naughty, naughty" at the goats because they wouldn't come close enough to get petted. Dude. Bad scene.

Bad parents that we are, we fed her hot, warm pretzel and thereby anesthetized her for the trip home. Well, it wasn't Benadryl. She was, unfortunately, much better company asleep yesterday. She did learn a new word: Mon-KEY. Like all words, it is fiendishly cute when exiting her face through her smile.

I changed the title of my blog, today. From Marginalia, to Whole Nother. As in, thing.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

We are now the proud owners of a bottle of Bactine. For knee scrapes on the playground. Not our knees: Calliope's. I don't run on asphalt anymore.

Ruby told me this and I was submerged in a mini-rush of nostalgia, which conflated Mercurochrome (which is now banned, I understand), rich, lurid red stains on my boo-boos (which is part of Calliope's lexicon), Bactine, and of all things Ovaltine, which I used to use as an ice cream topping. I think perhaps the -tine suffix gives words a cheerful, antiseptic quality. Perhaps we could solve the problems of adolescents worldwide just by calling them "tineagers."

My memory is the junk drawer of my life. I think that's why I like dollhouses so much. It is easy to furnish a life from scraps.

I haven't updated my reading: Dear me! I finished the SAMS Javascript book. It didn't improve my abortive javascript skills in any way at all. I seem to have this weird thing about passing values.

Reading: Feet of Clay, by Terry Pratchet. I have been meaning to read Discworld for awhile. My favorite GM in college was very strongly influenced by him. Ruby adores him. Though the Witch books are my favorite, I liked this one. Vimes, Carrot, and Nobbes are a funny little trio in themselves, a little model of all the types of goodness in the human soul: reflexive, studied, and self preserving. I would recommend him to people who don't like fantasy, if only because he tells stories about mundane feelings using comical folkloric images.

Detroit: I do Mind Dying by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin. This is a funny little book I've had sitting on my shelf forever. It's largely about Black union struggles in Detroit in the late sixties and early seventies. A little too serious for my tastes, and I was fully prepared to put it down if it was boring. But it's not: It's casual and engaging. I think what's really interesting me is that it extends my knowledge of Detroit, a city that I grew up around. I also keep imagining how my grandfather must have reacted to the events depicted therein (was he retired, yet?). I'm sure I don't really want to know, but it is strangely stimulating to think about.

ALA. FCC. PC Magazine. Who cares about any of that, though?

Monday, May 17, 2004

This weekend was very manly. Lock gave out in the door, so I had to modify the socket to hold a new one. Baby made our landlord install window guards, so we had to rearrange the bedroom to accommodate the air conditioner this year. Modem gave out on my crap-ass Dell machine, and I reseated the card to no result because I was sure that's the first thing they'd tell me to do. All very Tooltime, with drills and lifting and heavy duty extension cords involved.

So... tired.

In the process of all this hyper-activity, I discovered a nefarious plot to breed ice age dust bunnies under our bed. Nearly lost a toe to one of these atavistic menaces. Whoever is responsible for this dread scheme should be stopped.

Nunnle and Op-O-Zit. They are real words. One is baby-lonian for that thing on the playground climbing equipment that she can crawl through all by herself. The other is a eerily accurate parrot of the word opposite gleaned from her board book spectatorship. Calliope is really making an effort to copy new words that she hears. She talks a lot, often to herself when we are busy. She will recite "Doe-Gee." Over and over to herself on errands. "Doe-Gee, Doe-Gee, Doe-Gee." As if relishing the comradeship that ensues when she meets a new doggie. When she says "W," it sounds as if she is drowning in static, coming out something like dubba-blikt. I expect her to be a walking encyclopedia by summer's end.

I will miss her cheerful bickle-backle, which still comes through in dogged attempts to communicate things neither of us are really able to understand. The best bickle backle seems to copy the form and syntax of English, with no connection to actual words, making it sound like mirror-universe speak.

She is also very much a Cheery-Head lately.

Somebody named Mowgli signed up to use a computer today.


Friday, May 14, 2004

Thing 1:

I don't usually do this kind of thing. Really. But we like Ed in our house.

Go easy on that.
You will drink too much gin. Not the worst way to
die, but you won't remember too much of your
life. Hey, at least you made some people laugh!

What horrible Edward Gorey Death will you die?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thing 2

People make themselves up as they go along. I think that's great. I think authenticity is a highly overrated concept, like natural-ness. If it exists, it's natural. Becoming authentic just means importing somebody's else's aesthetic. By my own definition, however, people reinventing themselves as authentic are performing the same personality chore, and should be applauded. I just wish the word authentic would go out of use. It is so outside of human experience as to be stunting.

Thing 3

I'm a political ignoramus. I freely admit it. I know less about politics the more time goes on, and I generally prefer it that way.

That said: Yesterday on the news, CNN mentioned that the Bush administration is withholding more pictures of the Abu Ghraib abuse because publishing pictures of prisoners in humiliating poses is illegal according to the Geneva conventions. I personally think this is one of the sleazier evasions of the Bush administration. The conventions were drafted to hold countries accountable for their behavior, and the administration is using them to avoid accountability by withholding information from U.S. citizens.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Ruby loves the great Christian fantasy writers: Tolkien, Lewis, L'Engle.

I read the last two, as a teenager. I have yet to get into Tolkien, but I like the movies. Even the cartoons, which I guess are otherwise universally despised.

The only one of them I really share her fascination with is Lewis. I think he was a prude, and he harps on atheists. But he is immensely clever, using beautiful images, and has a very sophisticated way of handling the divide between faith and intention. He is a great writer. He isn't a lazy thinker.

I distrust what I remember of L'Engle, which is admittedly little and supplemented by Ruby's avidity.

"Bounce the ball, Charles Wallace."

Watching the Disney movie of "A Wrinkle In Time" last night, Ms. L'Engle impressed me as a sort of neo-Manichian. People are so dismissive of their bodies.

Ruby says the movie doesn't do the book justice. This interview also goes a long way towards dispelling that impression. She's obviously lived passionately.

I did find this irritating:

"So to you, faith is not a comfort?

Good heavens, no. It's a challenge: I dare you to believe in God. I dare you to think [our existence] wasn't an accident."

Now, come on. Why not a triple dog dare, if she really wanted to emphasize the point?

Reading: I picked up Contacting Aliens, the guide to David Brin's Uplift universe. Usually, I'm not fond of "the world of books." I like series and series authors, but I'm more interested in my own dollhouses. However, Mr. Brin's Uplift universe is very compelling to me: It seems a very logical way to organize a random universe over the very long term. It is also richly detailed, with great cascading uplift linneages.

Several years ago, a friend of mine pointed out that alien and fantastical races are often simply extensions of human character types. The Gruff, independentnt dwarf. The aesthete elf. I think Brin does this one better by making his alien cultures such specific representations of weird personality types that they sort of transcend the limitations of the genre. It is a sort of allegory, which is rare in science fiction.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

So, I am often on the desk and subject to a conversation that goes like this:

Patron: Do you have time on the internet?

Me: I can give you an appointment at 3:30.

Patron: You don't have anything earlier than that?

Me (This is fictional. It has never happened.): Yes, I do, but I really hate that sweater. So I'm not going to give it to you. By 3:30 I'll be off the desk, and I won't have to look at it. Now go away, I'm just about to finish my Hearts game.

Really. What kind of question is that, anyway? Of course I don't have anything earlier than that. If I did, I would say so. What kind of odd little algorithm do they think I'm running in my head?

"If I tell them there's appointment's available one hour after the next available appointment, then there will always be appointments for Beyonce when she comes in. And then, the mice will reward me."

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I was reading to the kids on Thursday, and I started thinking about sharing children's entertainment with your own children.

"The Experts" say that you should watch television with your kids, and until children learn to read, you pretty much have to read with them. So children's entertainment is obviously a interdependent activity for many years of both a child's and parent's life. On the other hand, it seems that children's entertainment is one of the few things that is universally despised. People bitch and moan about how dumb Barney and the Teletubbies are.

Of course, they are children's television.

Anyway. I really enjoy reading to Calliope, though admittedly not over and over. I like watching Boo-Bah and Teletubbies with her, also. Boo-Bah is my favorite. I find it relaxing, and the colors are pretty. It is vaguely psychedelic, which I imagine appeals to elemental pattern making structures in kids brains: Bright colors, kinetic shapes, simple movements, and broadly mimed facial expressions.

I suspect a certain level of cartooniness really helps children and adults to share entertainment. A coworker passed along a couple of review copies of books by Charles Fugee, and I really enjoy their simple storylines and engagingly kinetic art. So does Poppy. Sometimes I Like to Curl Up In A Ball taught her how to stick out her tongue. With gusto. Sandra Boynton is very similar in character, if simpler in art. The art in Jan Brett's books is lush enough to appeal to me while reading to my kid.

Calliope loves books, even if she doesn't quite get them. She uses them to enhance her store of images, mostly. She's only just beginning to recognize when we deviate from the storyline. I tried to sing her a book to the tune of a Barenaked Ladies song the other day. She was offended that I was trying to pull one over on her. Sometimes, she tries to read back to us... pointing at the lines on the page and reciting: "Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya."

It is especially amusing when she sees graffiti on the construction sites around our home.

Reading: SAMS Teach Yourself JavaScript in 24 Hours, at around two chapters a day. This means I am reading nothing else for a couple of weeks but old magazine articles after I've finished a chapter on the train. Mostly various Poets and Writers articles, and some science articles in Time.

I do this because I will not read the book in my free time at home (that's for watching movies and writing short stories and gaming articles to drop in the black hole of submissions). I cannot read more than a chapter on the way in and a chapter on the way home. If I try to read two chapters on one leg, I will mix them up before I have time to do the exercises. So I have to fill the spare moments with something. Therefore, I catch up on my magazine reading.

I like the SAMS books. I learned HTML from them. I've started the JavaScript once before, but this time it's taking. And two other books have failed to pound it through my thick skull.

I have no idea why I try to read programming books when I am so bad at actually learning from them, but I do. It is a kind of masochism that also drives me to read physics without having the math to really understand it.