Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I don't know what's magic about 100 days.

So here we are, 100 days into the Obama presidency, and every major news outlet is busy rating his performance.

I understand that it's a 24-hour news cycle and they have to fill the time with something, but what's magic about 100 days? Three months is a common probationary period in new jobs, but that's three months, not 100 days. Babies take nine months to gestate, a tomato plant takes just under three months to produce, and a presidential term is four years long. So why 100 days?

Like most Americans, I feel great goodwill toward our President; like most Americans, I'm pretty worried about the economy. My next door neighbor (currently out of work) said it this morning: "If Obama can't turn things around pretty soon, people are going to start to turn on him."

The President's power over the economy is pretty limited, unfortunately, and the current economic crisis has been building for years. But I'm still glad to see President Obama's face on television, and I still believe what he says, which is more than I can say about the last two presidents.

Five Random Songs

"Together in Electric Dreams," Nadeah. From Hollywood Mon Amour, a CD of covers of movie music -- this song, originally recorded by Phil Oakley of the Human League, was the theme of a 1984 film called Electric Dreams, a deeply quirky film about a man, a woman and a computer. I might need to put it on my Netflix queue, in fact...

"Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy," W:Ax. A cover of the "Ren & Stimpy" theme song, from a CD called Saturday Morning Cartoons' Greatest Hits. "I don't think you're happy enough!"

"Come Back Home," Pete Yorn. I don't know why I don't play this CD (Day I Forgot) more often.

"International Pop Overthrow," Material Issue. I saw these guys live a few times, before the lead singer killed himself. What a waste; I loved this band.

"(What A) Wonderful World," Sam Cooke. Sam Cooke is like bacon; he improves everything.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I don't know why the cars come and go from the lot across the street.

I live across the street from D&H Motors, a Mercury-Lincoln car dealership. One of the managers owns a beige Lhasa Apso named Maggie who is very fond of Dizzy, so when she comes to work with him, we sometimes go over to say hi. The dealership backs up on woods, too, so sometimes we cut through the lot at night.

At least once a week, a car carrier arrives in the middle of the night (I hear it, especially if my windows are open), and cars are moved to and from the lot. Some weeks the lot is full of cars; some weeks, it might have no more than three or four.

I'm guessing that inventory management is an important part of running a car dealership, and I know (from Fargo) that the manufacturers keep close track of where the cars are at any given time.

What I don't know, however, is who makes these decisions. Does the dealership order cars, or does the manufacturer place them? Does the manufacturer take them away if they don't sell within a given period, or does the dealer have cooperative relationships with other dealers, where they send around the same group of cars depending on who expects to have the most business?

I also wonder how many of these small-town dealerships are managing to stay in business at all, since it doesn't look like anybody's buying cars these days, much less new ones. And I wonder whether there will be a surge in purchases of the last Pontiac model year, now that GM is discontinuing the brand.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I don't know why I'm having such a hard time finishing stuff this week.

I'm sure I'm working on something you were expecting to get from me days or even weeks ago. I'm working on it, and can't explain why I've been having such a hard time getting anything done for the last few weeks. I can only apologize, and promise that I haven't forgotten, and have been spending more time thinking about you and your project than you realize. In some cases, I may even have been dreaming about it -- and since some of these projects involve violent death and grown men pounding each other in illegal fight clubs, let me assure you that you've made an impression.

I'm going to spend the next few days trying to catch up, and if I can't catch up over the weekend, I may take next week off the blog altogether. Too much time on the road, too many distractions; every working parent and every traveling salesperson has my profound respect and admiration. I do not know how you do it.

The one good thing about travel was that it allowed me to read actual books, since the battery on my laptop isn't holding a charge, and I've misplaced the power cord for my Kindle. So here's a two-week edition of

What I Read This Week

John Connolly, THE LOVERS. I contributed a small piece of research to this book, and the author is a friend, so I scored an advance copy of this novel, which will be out in June. The sequence of novels about Charlie Parker, doomed PI and ex-cop, has walked a fine line between the natural and the supernatural, with readers uncertain about whether Charlie's visions are truly other-worldly or just the product of his tortured mind. The Lovers makes the nature of Charlie's struggle clearer, and I don't want to say much more than that. Parker, stripped of his PI license at the end of The Unquiet, launches his own investigation into the suicide of his father, a New York police officer who killed himself after shooting two unarmed teenagers in a parked car. Connolly, one of the genre's best prose stylists, gets clearer and sharper with each book, and this one flies like a bullet; I read it in two sittings.

Tony Earley, THE BLUE STAR. A deceptively simple coming-of-age novel set in 1941 North Carolina, in which Jim Glass falls in love, graduates from high school, and leaves for the war, learning along the way that the world is both crueler and kinder than he expected. Lovely and old-fashioned, appropriate even for young readers.

Alison Gaylin, HEARTLESS. I don't know how I missed this when it came out last year, but it was perfect train reading -- and I mean that as a high compliment. Zoe Greene is a reporter for a soap opera magazine with secrets present and past. In the present, she's having a smoking affair with soap opera star Warren Clark; in the past, she's changed her name and left mainstream journalism after a too-close encounter with a serial killer. She joins Warren for a romantic vacation at his home in Mexico, and soon discovers that things in the idyllic village of San Esteban are not what they seem. Great fun and very smart, as Alison's books always are. (Yes, she's my friend; I'd say that even if she weren't.)

Susan Gregg Gilmore, LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN. Catherine Grace Cline grows up in the small town of Ringgold, Georgia, knowing one thing: she's leaving town as soon as she turns 18. Her father, the local preacher, has done his best to rear her and her sister after their young mother's early death; her boyfriend, football hero Hank Blankenship, is sincerely devoted to her. Those aren't enough to outweigh the attractions of Atlanta, until one weekend changes everything. A sweet, perceptive, ultimately surprising first novel.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I don't know the size of my carbon footprint.

Happy Earth Day, a day designed to make us all feel guilty about the things we can't or aren't willing to do anything about.

I'm a major offender, I admit. I don't drive a big gas-guzzling car, but I do live alone, I travel a lot, and I often drive my car instead of taking public transportation, in order to bring my dog along.

I've made small changes, such as energy-saver lightbulbs, and was trained from early childhood never to leave a room without turning off the lights, TV, stereo, etc. I only turn on the water during tooth-brushing in order to rinse my toothbrush, and I don't wash dishes until the sink is full (okay, I wouldn't anyway, but let me take credit for the conservation involved).

This website invites me to calculate my carbon footprint, but I'm afraid to do it. My ordinary life provides enough opportunities for guilt and self-loathing, and I'm no longer persuaded of the value or legitimacy of carbon credits.

I could reduce my carbon footprint by getting a roommate, moving to a city, giving up my car, and limiting my travel. I'm sorry, I'm not willing to do any of that. That makes me an ugly American and not the person I want to be. So really, it's a day like any other day...

Five Random Songs

"Please Read the Letter," Robert Plant & Alison Krauss. This album (Raising Sand) is so beautiful, and so exactly to my taste that it's one of a handful I've received as gifts from more than one person. I have an extra copy, anybody need one?

"Hairdresser on Fire," Morrissey. I've said it before: Morrissey quite often skates to the edge of self-parody. And once in a while, he plunges right over.

"Candy," El Perro del Mar. I love this sound, which some might dismiss as precious -- it's echoey and jingly -- but I hear both a vibraphone and tympany on this track, and either of those is enough to pull me in.

"Mary, Mary," The Monkees. From the sublime to the ridiculous... but if you can resist the Monkees, I don't know why we're friends.

"Ashokan Farewell," James Galway & Phil Coulter. You know this as the theme music to Ken Burns' TV series "The Civil War." It's lovely, but reminds me that I got a little tired of Ken Burns.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I don't know where love goes.

I described this past weekend to a friend as an extended slumber party, and that wasn't far wrong; my friends Karen Olson, Alison Gaylin and I went to Murder 203, and Karen kindly put Alison and me up at her house.

We're no longer as young as we used to be (okay, I am not as young as I used to be -- Karen and Alison are as young as they ever were, and may they always be so), so we didn't stay up very late, and no one's hair color is different today than it was on Friday. But we did spend a lot of time exchanging human interest stories about mutual acquaintances, and telling embarrassing anecdotes about our own adventures.

I found myself talking about an on-again, off-again relationship that ended a few years ago -- and realized that I could no longer remember several key details about where we'd gone and what we'd done, even though at the time those things seemed critically important. The man in question and I didn't part on particularly bad terms, and we're still cordial to each other, but I realized on Saturday night that I have no idea where he is, what he's doing or whom he's seeing, and I'm not even very interested.

Alison asked, "Where does that go?" and I had to admit I didn't know. "People change," I said feebly, but that much, that fast? It's not that the old emotions weren't real, or that I mistook them for something they weren't -- I know that I did feel that way, but can't dredge up even the faintest echo of that feeling, and when I run into this man at professional events (as I sometimes do), he's not much more than a stranger to me. The person I was when I was seeing him is almost a stranger to me as well.

Is this a sign of some dissociative mental illness, or just the normal process of getting on with one's life? Does it only happen after the age of 40?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I don't know what a "master gardener" is.

Greetings from the New Haven train station, where I missed the Metro-North train to Grand Central by less than a minute. I'm headed to New York for a day of meetings, after spending the last day and a half at the very first Murder 203 conference, a great time and a smashing success. I spent quality time with Karen Olson, Alison Gaylin and Reed Coleman, among others, and came away with even more books to read.

My Internet access has been spotty for the last several days and will be spotty until Tuesday night, but I wanted to check in briefly because I've had a few messages asking whether I was okay. This is not only flattering but also a great relief, as it reassures me that if I ever do suffer a serious accident when I'm home alone, Dizzy won't have time to eat me before someone notices I'm missing.

Anyway, master gardeners. Spring is in full bloom here in southern Connecticut, and I've heard the term "master gardener" used several times over the weekend. Is this just a description, or a term of art? Does a master gardener have slave gardeners working for him/her?

I'll go look this up now, but as with so many things, I expect the reality will be less exciting than what I imagine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I don't know why New York threw two ticker-tape parades for Haile Selassie.

My team won last night's trivia contest at The Liberal Cup, but missed a chance for an extra point because we could not come up with more than one of the ten people who have had two ticker-tape parades thrown for them in New York City.

We guessed John Glenn, correctly; the other nine are Admiral Richard Byrd (who had three); golfer Bobby Jones; Captain George Fried, who led a ship that rescued two sinking freighters from New York Harbor on separate occasions; Amelia Earhart; Charles de Gaulle; pilot Wiley Post; Dwight D. Eisenhower; Italian prime minister Alcide de Gasperi; and His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia and Elect of God.

I'm not going to discuss the relative merits of Haile Selassie's 43-year reign here, nor the question of whether or not he was a new incarnation of the Messiah. He was a powerfully charismatic man who instituted constitutional rule in Ethiopia, fought fascist imperialism in north Africa, and founded the Organization of African Unity. His role in the modern history of Africa cannot be overstated, and his influence continues.

What puzzles me about this, I suppose, is not that New York held two ticker-tape parades for Haile Selassie, but the realization that I can't think of one African leader -- apart from Nelson Mandela -- whose name most Americans today would recognize, much less think worthy of a ticker-tape parade. (Nelson Mandela did get a ticker-tape parade of his own, on June 20, 1990.)

It's part of a bigger issue that's been on my mind a lot lately. I work with MSNBC on for most of the day, just as white noise, and realized while I was in Washington how very little I know about what's going on in the rest of the world. MSNBC does a fine job of covering domestic political bickering, U.S. weather disasters, and box-office results -- but I saw no mention at all of the Inter-American Development Bank's meeting in Medellin earlier this month, or anything non-pirate related happening in Africa.

Sure, it's a big world, and we have a lot going on at home -- but I wonder whether all of this new technology and information has just made it easier to keep our own personal worlds narrow. If I'm spending all my time on Facebook reading about my friends' trips to the grocery store, I'm not reading a newspaper's account of people I don't know. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

That doesn't mean I'm giving up Facebook, though.

Five Random Songs

"Baba O'Riley," The Who. Ooh, tomorrow's blog post: who's Baba O'Riley, and why is this the name of the song, when we all think of it as "Teenage Wasteland"?

"Dream a Little Dream of Me," The Mamas and the Papas. That YouTube video of the English lady singing from Les Miz is very touching and all, but why would anyone be surprised that a plain person could be talented? I'm always more surprised when beautiful people are talented, because from an evolutionary point of view, they don't need to be. Anyway, Exhibit A: Mama Cass.

"Out of the Blue," George Harrison. A long, long jam off All Things Must Pass.

"Discarded," Uncle Tupelo. A good, angry song for my cranky mood today. "It's so goddamned hard to make it work..."

"Reason to Believe," Bruce Springsteen. The song that closes Nebraska, and it always feels like a blessing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I don't know what an SEM plan is.

I'm on a lot of specialized email lists, including several for marketing professionals. The subject line of an email in my in-box right now is, "Get an Edge on your SEM Planning," and the email offers me the chance to take a survey to learn how my SEM stacks up.

What does this mean? The email does not include an explanation of this abbreviation. From a couple of other sentences in the email, I'm guessing it means "search engine marketing," but I still don't understand it: is this trying to make sure your site is at the top of any search engine?

Since I don't understand the acronym, I'm obviously not the target market, but it's possible that the people who'd need this survey most are those who don't know what SEM stands for.

Dizzy and I got home around 2:00 this morning. Every time I make that trip, I say I'm not going to do it in a single day again. I mean it this time.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I don't know whether dogs can be addicted to drugs.

The first order of business today is to wish a very happy birthday to Claire Bea, and an equally happy birthday to my cousin Mike. Having one's birthday fall on Good Friday can be inconvenient, so I trust that both of them will allow celebrations to continue well into the coming week.

Dizzy is doing very much better this morning, in part because we ratcheted up his pain medication yesterday. Dogs are famously resilient, and Dizzy should be better on his own by the time this prescription runs out -- but it did make me wonder whether dogs become addicted the way humans do, and how that happens, and what that looks like.

Every animal species seeks out opportunities to become intoxicated. Bears choose to eat fermented berries when fresh ones are available; my friend Jennifer Jordan recently posted this set of photos of a group of gorillas that overindulged in fermented bamboo.

So I'm wondering: when this Tramadol prescription runs out, will Dizzy miss it? Would he hang out on street corners and compromise his moral principles in order to get more? (Not that I would let him.)

What I Read This Week

Michael Marshall, THE INTRUDERS. This creepy thriller belongs on the shelf among Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Rosemary's Baby, and the collected works of Philip K. Dick. Author Jack Whalen, a former L.A. police officer, moves to Washington state with his wife Amy; on a business trip to Seattle, Amy disappears for two days. She returns as if nothing had been wrong, but is somehow ... different.

Charles Dickens, BLEAK HOUSE. I've been listening to this on audiobook for the last month or so; the recording's 37 hours long. I had first read this book the summer after I finished college, and saw it as the tragedy of Lady Dedlock; ten years later, I returned to it and read it as the tragedy of Ada and Richard; this time around, it seemed to me to be a book about the triumph of family love. This confirms my belief that we should revisit some books at different stages of our lives, and I wonder what I'll find when I read it again ten years from now.

Leslie S. Klinger, THE ANNOTATED DRACULA BY BRAM STOKER. Dracula is the book under discussion at John Connolly's online book club this month, and I've been reading this book since late last year; it is an extraordinary treasure chest for fans of the book, a true labor of love full of curiosities. Anyone interested in Victorian England, the history of horror novels, or old Hollywood will find something to love about this book. Because it is so thorough and distracting, however, people new to Dracula should read the non-annotated version first.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

"And to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten."

The Film: Best in Show, 2000 (Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy, screenwriters; Christopher Guest, director)
Who says it: Fred Willard as sports commentator Buck Laughlin
The context: Buck is providing clueless commentary at the prestigious Mayflower Dog Show.
How you can use it: Any time you know you're going to extreme lengths for your pet.

A break from the usual theme to report on Dizzy, since so many people have asked. He had the second (and last) step of the stem-cell therapy last night, which involved sedation and an epidural. He has a shaved patch on each hip, and I can see a very small injection mark inside each one.

This morning he is stiff and uncomfortable, after a miserable night. Anesthesia of any kind is hard on his system, but he's eating well, and should improve fast. He has a small (2.5") incision on his belly, with staples that will need to some out in about ten days, but we'll do that in Maine. If all goes well, we'll head home on Monday, and watch for improvements from here on out. He has antibiotics and some pain meds, but beyond that will only need his daily doses of glucosamine. Miraculous.

I've been joking all along about this being an elaborate plot by a real-life Dr. Moreau. Last night, the vet tech handed me a statement from the stem-cell laboratory reporting that they had "banked" one sample of Dizzy's cell tissue, and retained a smaller sample for further study. That makes me wonder whether my Dr. Moreau reference was really a joke...

Thanks to everyone for all of the support and good wishes, and for filling for me in during this absence. I'm looking forward to picking my life back up next week.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

I don't know what "LEED GOLD" means.

I'm behind on a couple of manuscripts -- it's been hard for me to focus for more than about an hour at a sitting -- so am trying not to spend my usual time looking up random things on the Internet.

Plus, I needed a post for today, so when I saw this abbreviation on a banner in front of a massive construction site on the American University campus yesterday, I decided not to look it up. The banner says the project is "Certified LEED GOLD." What does this mean?

It reminds me that subcultures exist of which I know nothing. This phrase is meaningful enough, to enough people, that the university feels it's worthwhile to advertise it. It's why this blog focused on Terms of Art for a year, because I hate the idea that people are talking about things I don't understand.

And now I'll probably go look it up.

Five Random Songs

"Brown Eyed Girl," Van Morrison. This song will be forever associated in my mind with one of the most uncomfortable dates I've ever been on, with a young man who was basically taking me out from some obscure sense of guilt. We wound up in a bar on the Alexandria waterfront, where the live music was a guy with a guitar who knew so few songs that he sang this one twice. (Not in a row, but twice in the same set.)

"Wake Up Time," Tom Petty. From Wildflowers, a solo project that never got the attention it deserved. A terribly wistful song, in 3/4 time, about coming to grips with real life when dreams disappoint.

"The Lady is a Tramp," Ella Fitzgerald. I have never understood this song, and while I like this version better than Frank Sinatra's, I've never shaken the feeling that it's somehow misogynistic.

"Further On (Up the Road)," Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band. Between the penny whistle and the soprano voice (I assume Patti Scialfa's) that start this song, it draws every dog in a mile-wide radius. Not my favorite track on this album, which I do love.

"Danko/Manuel," Drive-By Truckers. An elegy for two folk-rock pioneers, almost unbearably beautiful and sad. This album (The Dirty South) is amazing, beginning to end.

Monday, April 06, 2009

I don't know what that "Free Public WiFi" server is.

Traveling as much as I do, and working wherever I go, I'm always looking for Internet connections (for my computer, not for me, thanks anyway).

Sometimes, in public places, I see a server called "Free Public WiFi," but it never seems to work. I can connect to it, and see a signal; I can't reach any websites through it.

Anyone know what this is? I'll research when I have some time, but I'd like to believe it's a placeholder for some future time when Internet access will be like highways, free and available to all.

Not that every highway is free, or available to all. Yesterday I took Dizzy out to Purcellville, to have the first step of this procedure at Blue Ridge Veterinary Hospital. This morning I'm headed back out to pick him up. (He'll have the second step on Wednesday night; so far, so good.) Anyway, the route to Purcellville takes me on not one but two toll roads, and one of those roads costs $3.90 each way at off-peak hours. Glad I don't commute from there.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

I don't know how to see the hidden images in "Magic Eye" posters.

This evening I'm meeting Chris to see Watchmen on an IMAX screen in Northern Virginia -- yes, I'm the last person in America who wanted to see Watchmen and hasn't already done so.

I'm pretty excited about this. The last conventional movie I saw on an IMAX screen was the first Batman, on a screen somewhere in Texas when I was there on business.

Tomorrow night, depending on my other commitments, I think I'm going to see Monsters vs. Aliens in IMAX 3-D, taking it to the next level.

What I don't know is whether I'll get the full effect of these movies -- and yes, it does have to do with my inability to see the 3-D images in Magic Eye pictures. Maybe.

Because I don't know why I can't see the Magic Eye images. I've never been able to, even though people have tried to teach me, and I've found websites that give instructions. I'm good at looking into the middle distance; I have no problem letting my eyes drift out of focus; I cannot see those dumb pictures.

I suspect that it has something to do -- although, why would it? -- with my mild form of retinitis pigmentosa, which limits my field of vision and makes it hard for me to see in dim light. I'm never quite sure where the boundaries of my field of vision are, and it's possible that the 3D images in Magic Eye pictures materialize somewhere in the middle where I just don't see.

Can you see Magic Eye pictures? Don't bother giving me advice about how to do it, I've tried everything.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I don't know why Macs are less vulnerable to computer viruses.

Earlier today I deleted a bunch of spam comments to one of this week's blog posts, which I assume were sent by a computer infected with the Conficker virus. Annoying, but no big deal.

All of the warnings about Conficker have been directed to PC owners, which I assume means that Macs aren't vulnerable. People have told me that this is because Macs are too small a percentage of the computer world to target, but I don't really understand this, and I'm not even sure it's true. Also, are the operating systems really so different that PC viruses don't work on Macs? Can anyone explain this to me?

It's a rainy day, I'm behind on my work and feeling discouraged about a lot of different things. Waiting to hear from the vet about the schedule for Dizzy's stem-cell procedure, which we're going ahead with.

Five Random Songs

"Old Friends," Simon and Garfunkel. "Can you imagine us years from today/Sharing a park bench quietly?" Some days, I wouldn't mind just skipping ahead those 30 years.

"Entr'Acte," from Chicago. This show is still touring -- I saw a bus placard for it here in DC the other day.

"You Won't Have to Cry," The Byrds. A sound that has never been recreated.

"What a Piece of Work is Man," from the Hair soundtrack. An all-1960s soundtrack this morning...

"Don't Go," Matthew Sweet. Not 1960s, but it could be; in fact, it's a very Byrds-style sound.