Friday, November 30, 2007

Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire

Late night view of Los Angeles from my office, looking southwest toward the ocean.

I was in the office last night at 2:58 in the morning, working (I am still here -- I didn't go home). The only emails you get at that hopeless hour are from robots and mindless web spiders. The automated messages make the hour and world seem stranger and more alien, the universe colder, emptier, gapingly meaningless.

nameless office building at night in Glendale

"The tendency for entropy to increase in isolated systems is expressed in the second law of thermodynamics -- perhaps the most pessimistic and amoral formulation in all human thought. ”
--Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley, Principia Discordia (1965)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Demolition Derby

I dinged up the Intrepid pretty good about a month ago or so. I was flustered because of some silly paperwork issue with my assistant and wasn't looking back as I backed out of my parking space in the parking garage deep beneath my office building; I backed straight into a structural pillar. The sound was a very loud, crunching sound, with a slight hint of a tinkle, as of breaking glass. It was not a good sound. I was only going about five or six miles per hour as I was backing up, but the Intrepid builds up some serious momentum, even at slow speeds. I felt a little bad about it, but quickly got over it. My current attitude about it is that the dent adds character.

There's an alligator hiding behind the grass in the picture below; I took the picture on my crappy 1.3 megapixel cell phone camera during our visit to the Everglades. If you look closely, you can see the gator's horrible reptile eye at the center of the grass.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Overnight from L.A. to Ft. Lauderdale

Still in L.A.: an overpass over Beaudry, dripping with vegetation, on the way home from downtown.

We've exchanged one set of palm trees for another. We're in the Miami–Fort Lauderdale–Palm Beach metropolitan area for Thanksgiving, visiting relatives. This part of Florida is incredibly, terrifyingly flat. From the airplane, arriving in Fort Lauderdale, it looks as if God drove a gigantic steamroller (or steam iron) over the place. (Apparently, South Florida is so flat because it was all once an ancient sea floor; as we all know, it may one day return to that state.)

Still in L.A.: a sign with unclear meaning on Glendale Blvd.

From the ground, driving along the huge, wide roads, with massive intersections (as John Updike observed in Rabbit is Rich, all designed for the convenience of South Florida's driving seniors), the flatness in all directions makes me feel like I might just fall off the face of the earth.

The Ft. Lauderdale airport at 5:05 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Someone's luggage is surely languishing in the vanishing point of this picture.

The Ft. Lauderdale airport smells faintly of mildew and damp carpet. The carpet, by the way, throughout the airport, is hideous: some kind of dark gray background with a dark purplish floral-type pattern. All dirty and faded, and very early 90's. That moldy smell in the air may just be that of moisture in the air, which is deeply unfamiliar to me after a few years in L.A.

The view from the freeway headed toward Palm Beach, around 7:20 a.m.

The sunlight in Florida is sort of like the sunlight in California -- imperious, all-commanding, with absolute dominion -- but wetter and grayer somehow. Like California, South Florida is in a terrible drought. (Just a bit to the north, Atlanta is said to have just three months of water left.)

We're going to Everglades National Park tomorrow. We'll visit the American crocodile and the Florida panther, who are probably not happy with the recent weather.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Day Before Thanksgiving

The view from my office this afternoon. It'll be good to get out of L.A. for a few days.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Road Ahead

cell phone picture, summer 2004, New York

I really need a few days off. I tried to balance work and family obligations last Friday and ended up staying up until 3:45 a.m. working on a draft of something. That was not a good idea. I've been tired ever since.

We're taking a red eye tomorrow night. That's going to wipe me out for the next few days.

The fog is still here in Los Angeles. It's very strange. There are 44 days until the Iowa caucus. Obama is apparently four points up against Clinton. The New Hampshire primary is just five days after Iowa, so whoever wins in Iowa could carry momentum into New Hampshire, and then into the other primaries following soon after. (Obama is apparently steadily catching up in New Hampshire.) Obama's rise has left Clinton flustered and scared: she's now smearing Obama with "damaging" statements about Obama's time as a child in Indonesia -- trying to smear Obama with the taint of proximity to Islam. With this bullshit on top of her shameless support for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Clinton has won my full-on enmity and disgust. Do not support Hillary Clinton and her craven, morally bankrupt politics of destruction.

Of course, Obama has to play the stupid-ass game as well and put out profoundly dispiriting statements on his website such as the following: "[Senator Obama] is not and has never been a Muslim."


UPDATE: I think I might have over-reacted a bit to Clinton's statement re Obama. A less paranoid reading of her criticism would suggest that she's simply challenging Obama's earlier statement that his experience of living in Indonesia during his childhood gave him a unique understanding of international relations. I may have been a bit too influenced by the Guardian article I linked to and the earlier scuttlebutt that Clinton's agents were the ones that had been spreading rumors that Obama had attended a madrassa in Indonesia. I'll try not to fly off the handle so quickly next time.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I'm looking down from my office right now at people ice-skating in Pershing Square Park downtown.  It's considerably less glamorous than ice-skating at Rockefeller Center, but it's something.  It's not easy to get a proper holiday atmosphere out here in Southern California. 
It's the quiet, dark time of the year -- the time of year when you look forward to a few quiet moments at a busy airport gate full of people trying to get home.  You're almost always sort of sleepy.  All the paper coffee cups have gone Christmas red and green, the cozy holiday music is playing.  The traffic in the morning begins to thin.  There's a feeling at work of the tide going out, as offices stay empty and dark during the day, and emails are returned with extended absence messages. 

The big Coke billboard on the way home has been switched to a Santa drinking Coke ad.
It's the same kind of cold-outside-staying-in-bed-past-noon-in-my-pajamas-rereading-Franny-and-Zooey-until-it-gets-dark-while-someone-is-making-Christmas-Blend-coffee-and-warming-up-a-pumpkin-pie-downstairs-in-the-kitchen feeling that I used to try to recreate every Christmas vacation during high school and college. 
It's full of something that's somewhat difficult to describe: a sense that things are changing, and that it's time to sort of check out for while while they do, the sense that the year is being retired, with new chances around the corner, with the warmth of people gathering together in public places all trying to do the same thing, and a general shameless laziness.

For the past couple years, my family has been having large reunions.  We all get together, twenty or thirty cousins (most of them younger than me), we play touch football, we play soccer, we have foot races, we play Pictionary.  I am genuinely excited and looking forward to a good hour or two of touch football with my brothers, Mrs. Octopus, and my cousins in the field of some undeveloped lot in one of the gated communities my cousins live in in Palm Beach County.  I am excited about the prospect of whiling away an afternoon playing Trivial Pursuit or Pictionary with everybody while we wait for dinner.  I am also excited about the half hour or so Mrs. Octopus and I will spend at the airport gate before we get on our flight, sitting there sipping airport coffee, reading magazines we picked up at Hudson Booksellers, nibbling at a muffin.

So that's my world this week, here in America. Meanwhile, back in the country my parents came from, thousands of people are missing and dead. A friend asked why these kinds of things always happens in third-world countries. It occurred to me that maybe it's because these kinds of things happen in these places that they are third-world countries. Nothing like that ever happened in Connecticut. I look at the photos of the victims of the cyclone in Bangladesh and they look just like my cousins and me. While rescue workers will be searching for survivors in the devastation in the Sundarbans this week, I'll be playing touch football with my cousins in Florida.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


A sign of the times: in his new video, Jay-Z flashes his cash, but it's not green:
Consider this little slice of dollar zeitgeist: In his new video, "Blue Magic," as Brooklyn-born rapper Jay-Z speaks of spending his bread, the money that flashes on the screen is a stack of euros, not dollars.

The Federal Reserve's broad dollar index, which measures the buck against a basket of currencies, is near its lowest level in 11 years. The dollar has tumbled 44% against the euro since 2002. Even the lowly Japanese yen, which has tended to be weak against the dollar, is up 7% against it this year.

In other signs of the dollar's perhaps permanent downward inflection, both Gisele and China have signalled their distrust in God the formerly almighty dollar.

(Of course, a weak dollar is not necessarily all bad. It's good for American exports. Of course, it does create the possibility of inflation, as we have to pay much more for anything we import. The weak dollar also reduces the real value of debts. There's more, but there's not enough time right now.)

Wrong Bus

The view looking south from my bus stop downtown.

I take the bus a lot, but sometimes I make mistakes. Today I got on the wrong bus. I am supposed to take the 81 home, but tonight I got on the 91. The 91 on the headsign looked like an 81. I thought something might've been wrong when I noticed the clean, freshly-laundered looking seats. The bus was clean. That should've tipped me off: I was not on my familiar crusty 81.

I was reading the paper and not paying much attention to where we were going until, about twenty minutes into the ride, I noticed that the automated stop announcement was announcing stops on Glendale, and not on Figueroa. I got off in Glendale near the Ralph's and Barnes and Noble. I sheepishly called Mrs. Octopus to ask her to come by and pick me up.

I kind of wanted to drive home tonight for some reason. I had just inflated the tires on the Intrepid. The front right tire, which I am constantly bumping into curbs, was really low. The Intrepid's specs call for its tires to be inflated to 32 psi. The front right tire was at about 18 psi. I had been feeling the tire sloshing around the road and had been meaning to inflate it for a while. I pumped the tires up to about 34 just for good measure. The Intrepid felt like a high performance vehicle after it was back on firm footing. Inflating my tires made me feel like a model citizen. I enjoy doing these small little maintenance things to the Intrepid. These little things make me feel thrifty and conscientious. I also get this feeling when I clean my car.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Filthy Lucre

My emergency stash. I've buried this stuff in secret locations throughout L.A.

I am always just missing the runs on gold. I knew it was too late to try to figure out how one invests in gold when I heard about the soaring gold market on the radio a few days ago. It's always just after I hear about the rising market in this or that (uranium, housing, etc.) that I want to get involved -- and everyone knows it's much too late by then.

Since gold tends to go up when the dollar is in freefall and oil is skyrocketing and the world is going to hell, I am thinking I may yet catch another gold run.

I sometimes wish I could stay home and not shave and wear pajamas and just speculate on various markets every day. I have this stupid idea that I could make lots of money investing in commodities, index funds, pork bellies, etc. I entertain the delusion that armed with subscriptions to the L.A. Times, the Economist, Harpers, and an internet connection, I will somehow outthink the world's financial markets. I will be the one converting the knowledge I glean on page A17 of the paper into huge gains. Or maybe not.

I am pretty sure by now that I have very confused feelings about money. I usually try to imagine that I don't want it or need it (congratulating myself for nursing the Intrepid into old age and refusing to buy a replacement for my decaying wallet, etc.) and that people who do are somehow deeply flawed, etc. But then again, the idea of hoarding a pile of money that then creates more money seems very satisfying in a way that I know is perverse and probably, at its root, infantile. It's likely tied up with some deeply infantile desire to create, to see generation out of something dead (and dirty). What's that line about love pitching his mansion in the place of excrement?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Disgusting Delicious Ironies

From the ever-brilliant Get Your War On.

Posted with permission from the author.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Making Deals With the Devil

Scratch the surface of the Right Wing in this country and you get? This:

That's okay, right? Conservatives are our friends. They want to help us.

Fighting for "American" Interests: Even-Handedness is Suspect

Perhaps another former President deserves to be smeared.

From Washington's Farewell Address (1796):
[N]othing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment,
sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition,
and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public
opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent Patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practise the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the Public Councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great and powerful nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defence against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to
surrender their interests.
There can be no doubt about it: Washington, like Carter, hated freedom, and hated America.

Let's bomb Iran! Yay!

(Countdown to Neville Chamberlain allusions begins . . . Now!)