Monday, December 31, 2007

My choice for President

I'm not real knowledgeable about Pakistani politics, but that's not going to stop me from endorsing Bilawal Zardari for president of that country. Bilawal is the son of slain leader Benazir Bhutto and according to a friend of the family, (in the UK Times) a big Buffy the Vampire slayer fan:

I have always known him as one of Benazir’s three children, for whom she and I drove around London buying Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books. Bibi (Benazir) was keen on reading and bought books by the boxful. But she was broadminded enough to realise that teenage tastes can vary. I remember one summer, we spent the entire afternoon at a comic book shop near Russell Square as Bilawal, with his sisters, completed their collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel comic books. Bibi patiently accompanied them.
(By the way, if you're running for president in another country, like say the USA, and you want that big rise in the polls that only a Green Genius endorsement can give you, than let me know what comic books you read, or call me and we'll talk Buffy.)

Frosty pink hangover cure

New Years Eve is a fairly quiet time for my beloved wife and me, with no more than the usual Monday night amount of alcoholic beverages. But for those of you who still like to overindulge, you might want to go ahead and get started on this hangover cure involving ice cream and Pepto-Bismol. Whole story and recipe here.

Tumbleweeds rolls off into the sunset.

I couldn't let Tumbleweeds -- Tom Ryan's great western comic strip which began in 1965 and ended this weekend when Tom decided to retire -- roll off into the sunset without saying a word or two about it. "Tumbleweeds" was the favorite comic strip of me and my buddy Tommy Garriss in sixth and seventh grade. We used to laugh out loud on a regular basis at Hildegarde Hamhocker's efforts to woo and win the title character, we loved the undertaker Claude Clay and Judge Horatio Curmudgeon Frump, Snookie and Snake-Eye McFoul. But our favorite was the ever-optimistic Limpid Lizard, who never gave up on winning the hand of Indian maiden Little Pigeon.

I haven't read the strip on a regular basis the last few years, but I did send off for an autographed copy of "The Best of Tumbleweeds" awhile back and I suggest you do the same at Good stuff. Thanks, Tom.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

More books I've read in 2007

Unless work tomorrow is historically slow, this will be the last book I finish reading in 2007.

I found this one in a new way. Previously I've purchased books just because I liked the cover. (This is how I discovered Russell Hoban, one of my favorite writers; there was just something I couldn't resist about the several-shades-of-red hosiery on the cover of "Her Name Was Lola.") I've also purchased books because I liked the title. "The Time-Traveler's Wife" is my all-time, better-than-Dickens, better-than-Twain favoritest favorite book ever, and I picked it up even though I hated the cover, cuz I loved the title.
The website where I waste the most time nowadays is, where you can give your old books a new home and replace them with books you desire. Even when none of the books on my extensive wishlist is available, I like to mess around on Bookmooch, seeing what books other people who like some of the same books I like are reading or searching for. And that's how I found Marina Lewycka's "A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian." Somebody who liked Jonathan Carroll or Russell Hoban or George Saunders or Harlan Ellison or "The Time-Traveler's Wife" or "Horton Hatches the Egg" had this book on their wishlist and because I have given away a lot of books and consequently have a lot of points, I mooched it.
It's the story of an elderly, recently-widowed Ukranian man living in England who falls under the charms of a big, blonde, fake-breasted Ukranian woman. His grown daughters who don't agree on much agree that they need to save dear old Dad from this dangerous gold-digger. This book never loses its light, sure touch even when we discover that the sisters' animosity toward each other has much to do with the Nazi concentration camps that Mom and Dad (barely) survived.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy Birthday, Stan Lee!

Stan Lee turns 85 today. There was a time I considered him to be the greatest writer who ever lived, and even though he's no longer in my top spot he's still way up there. I will always be grateful for the hours and hours of reading enjoyment he gave me. And no other fictional couple -- not Scarlett and Rhett, or Romeo and Juliet, or Lancelot and Guinevere will ever enthrall me nearly as much as Peter and Gwen, and the Silver Surfer and Shalla Bal.

Thanks, Stan. You are definitely "The Man."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More books I've read in 2007


In this graphic novel Gene Luen Yang tells three separate stories -- one about the Chinese Monkey God and his rejection by other Gods and attempts to remake himself, another about a shy Chinese boy in America and the third about a kid named Danny with an embarrassing -- to say the elast -- cousin named Chin-Kee, who is the living embodiment of every unpleasant Oriental stereotype ever. Amazingly, by the time the book ends all three stories have entwined and become one, and somewhere along the line we've learned how important it to be yourself.
One of my dreams is to start a non-profit group called RIFYS (Read It For Your Self), which will encourage people to read and study and meditate upon their own religion's holy books and not do it the modern lazy-ass way of having some evangelist or some wide-eyed fanatic or even a well-meaning person of the cloth read it and interpret it for you. It seems to me that the people who are hollering the loudest about what Jesus would do have never read the Bible other than in little out-of-context chunks spoon fed to them by someone with their own (usually hate- or fear-based) agenda. Likewise these Muslim terrorists -- or terrorists of any faith -- who are supposedly doing God's will murdering innocents -- or murdering guilties either. That's not what Muhammed would do and you obviously haven't read the Koran, you've let Ayotollahs and other nut jobs read it for you. Read it for your self. Read the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita for YOUR SELF. Nobody can tell you what these scriptures mean to you except you.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Living Legacy passes on.

Dan Fogelberg is no longer with us. He died of prostate cancer this morning. I had the honor of interviewing Dan a few years ago when he came to Charleston, and I can honestly say that it was the most enjoyable interview I've ever done. He was a lot of fun to talk to. He had just turned 50 when we talked and he told me he was thinking of hanging up the guitar and becoming a painter. The half-century mark was a good time to change careers, according to him. I'm sorry he didn't get a chance to do so. If he was half as good a painter as he was a singer-songwriter he'd have been a heck of a painter.

More books I've read in 2007

Biography was my first literary love and I read every single one of them on the shelves of Jackson-Davis Elementary School in Richmond Virginia, but somewhere along the line fiction stole my heart and I read very few biographies anymore. But I do read everything Bill Bryson writes whether it's about travel ("In a Sunburned Country" "I'm a Stranger Here Myself") linguistics ("The Mother Tongue") or everything else ("A Short History of Everything") so I was glad to get my hands on his biography of William Shakespeare. There are a ton of books written about Big Bill Shakespeare -- more than there are about Jesus or Abe Lincoln -- even though we know very little about his life. One scholar said that "Every Shakespeare biography is 5 per cent facts and 95 per cent conjecture." So Bryson tells us more about the life and times of an Elizabethan actor, so we get to see the world through Shakespeare's eyes.

Russell Hoban is one of my favorite writers, but I'm not sure what to make of his "Linger Awhile." An octogenarian falls in love with a long-dead 1950's B-movie actress. With the help of some friends he succeeds in bringing her image to life but she's black and white in a full-color world and she becomes a vampire, and they clone a second one who also goes around sucking blood. There's at least one love story in here -- no, there's at least three love stories here -- along with some great lines and observations from Hoban, but it's not one of my favorites of his.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Happy birthday, Peter Bagge!

The great Hate-monger is 50 years old today. If you haven't checked out "Hate" or any of Bagge's other neat stuff, do yourself a favor and check it out now.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

My morning commute is not long enough

There's just too much good stuff on XM in the morning. Bob Edwards on XMPR (channel 133), Dr. Oz on Oprah and Friends (156), Bill Anderson, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty's shows on XMX (channel 2) not to mention the the baseball Home Plate Channel, the comedy channels, and all the great music. This morning I was listening to Tom Petty's "Buried Treasure". I like this show almost as much as Bob Dylan's "Theme Time Radio Hour." Petty doesn't have a theme, just plays whatever strikes his fancy, much of it fairly obscure -- he's a big Zombies fan, for instance -- but much of it is songs that you've heard before, albeit not in a while, which makes you pay attention to them more than usual.

This morning he was playing Howling Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson, some stuff I'd never heard before and I was listening hard. Then he played a song I've heard many times before but instead of tuning out like I normally would for a song I've made up my mind a long ago about, I kept listening hard. It's by the Dixie Cups who are more famous for "The Chapel of Love." You've heard this one too, but have you paid attention to? It sounds a little like one of those rhymes little girls used to jump rope to -- you know, like the one where Cinderella can't tell her fella from a snake. "Iko Iko" shares some of the same disturbing imagery but the rhymes aren't that good. The chorus is utter nonsense, but check out the first verse:

My grandma and your grandma
Were sittin' by the fire.
My grandma told your grandma:
"I'm gonna set your flag on fire."

And if rhyming "fire" with "fire" and two old ladies threatening each other with flag desecration sounds bad, watch what happens when the Cups turn the violence level up in verse two:

Look at my king all dressed in red.
Iko, Iko, unday.
I betcha five dollars he'll kill you dead.
Jockamo fee nané

Damn. In verse three they get lazy and repeat verse one, only this time they substitute "flagboy" for "Grandma." Really that's the only difference.
Then in verse four, they turn from violence to sex:

See that guy all dressed in green ?
Iko, Iko, unday. He's not a man;
He's a lovin' machine.
Jockamo fee nané.

According to Wikipedia, this song's been covered by everybody from The Grateful Dead to Cyndi Lauper. I wonder why. It's not near as good as "Cinderella dressed in yella."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Giving it up

What comes after NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)? Well, for me it's NaNoMoDiSoMo (National No More Diet Soda Month). I am giving up artificial sweeteners for one month -- well, I hope it will be longer than that, but I'm going on the assumption that if artificial sweeteners are as nasty and bad for you as I've been hearing they are, than after 31 days I should feel better and not crave them any more. One of the symptoms associated with Aspartame consumption is tinnitus, which I've had all my life but which has lately gotten worse. So it would be nice if that abated some.
It's day 5 of NaNoMoDiSoMo and so far, so good. I'm substituting tea -- hot tea in the morning or on those few days where it's cold enough to drink hot tea in the afternoon, and Honest Tea at other times. Honest tea is not cheap, but it's good and not too sweet like a lot of iced teas are, especially here in the South. Plus there's those cool quotes on the bottlecap from people like Swami Beyondananda ("The bad news: there is no key to the universe. The good news: it was never locked") and Mohandas Gandhi ("An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind") and Winnie the Pooh's friend Eeyore ("Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.")

Monday, December 03, 2007

More books I've read in 2007

Jonathan Carroll's last two books "White Apples" and "Glass Soup" are two of my favorite books ever. Before he wrote those two, I found his work fascinating but frustrating. Too often he would set up a mind-boggling premise but peter out to nothing when it came time to explain what was going on. "Bones of the Moon" is one of his earlier works that I missed, and I have to say it has a strong ending. What it doesn't have is a compelling middle. A woman spends a lot of time in a dream kingdom with the child that she aborted years ago, helping him to find the bones of the moon, relics that will help the child defeat the evil lord of this kingdom. When the dream land starts to spill over into "real" life it's pretty scary, but a lot of the quest stuff just reads like bad fantasy. If you haven't read Carroll, you're missing out, but read "White Apples" first. If that doesn't blow you away, you can skip all the "books I've read" blog entries of mine. Our tastes are too different and we are never going be book buddies.

I read William Kotzwinke's brilliant satire "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" awhile back and enjoyed it very much. In searching on for more Kotzwinkle I came across this one. Walter is a dog with a gas problem, he is much beloved by the children in his household, though not by the father, who sells him at a yard sale. Unfortunately he sells him to an evil clown who hooks Walter up to a fart machine, forcing Walter to fill up balloons with his noxious emissions. He then uses these balloons to rob a bank by popping them and knocking tellers and security guards out with the aroma. I know my sense of humor is not very sophisticated and I'm not ashamed to tell you that this book cracked me up. It goes on my shelf of books that I plan to read to my as-yet-unborn grandchildren.

(Speaking of, it's a great website to find good homes for books you no longer love and for finding new books to love. Check out my wishlist here and if you've got any of them let's start trading.)

Even though I know it's a mistake for me to read too much of one writer's work in a short period of time, I enjoyed David Nicholl's "Starter For Ten" so much I read "The Understudy" immediately afterwards. Even though this usually makes a writer's flaws too obvious, I actually enjoyed "The Understudy" more, maybe because I like it when the hapless hero actually gets the obviously-inappropriate girl.

A couple of pics

Me, my wife and my eldest son at -- although you'd never know it from the lack of background detail -- DisneyWorld.

My youngest daughter in a sombrero.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Now it all makes sense!

One of the problems I had with reading the Bible was trying to reconcile the god of the Old Testament -- that cranky old man who would not only smite your ass if you violated one of his arbitrary edicts, but the ass of the 7th son of your 7th son -- with the living embodiment of love that Jesus called God. I mean, it's no wonder that people didn't believe the Prince of Peace when he said that God is Love. They knew he was the kind of guy that would butcher innocent children for teasing a bald man. My wife says she always thought parenthood mellowed the old curmudgeon god, but I still had my doubts.
Well, I think that problem has now been solved for me. Remember a while back when the National Geographic made a big splash out of the discovery of the lost gospel of Judas Iscariot, which painted Judas in a very flattering light? April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University and the author of “The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says” says that National Geographic, in a rush to get the story out first, did a pretty crappy job of translating the lost gospel. You can read all about it here. Quoting from the NY Times article:

Judas is a specific demon called the “Thirteenth.” In certain Gnostic traditions, this is the given name of the king of demons — an entity known as Ialdabaoth who lives in the 13th realm above the earth. Judas is his human alter ego, his undercover agent in the world. These Gnostics equated Ialdabaoth with the Hebrew Yahweh, whom they saw as a jealous and wrathful deity and an opponent of the supreme God whom Jesus came to earth to reveal.

I am not all that concerned with whether Judas was a saint, a sinner or a demon, but I think the Gnostics are really onto something with that Yahweh as a jealous and wrathful minor deity and not at all the God of love and forgiveness that Jesus was talking about.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

In the sixth and seventh grades my brother and I attended a private school. Before we were allowed in we had to take an I.Q. test. My mother happened to mention that one of us scored 130 on it and one of us scored 129. And I've wondered ever since which one of was the smart one and which one the dummy.
Now we know:
Your IQ Is 130

Your Logical Intelligence is Below Average

Your Verbal Intelligence is Genius

Your Mathematical Intelligence is Exceptional

Your General Knowledge is Exceptional

Sorry, John.