July 31, 2004
An Embarrassment of Ikea

Yesterday morning, as I went out to get the newspapers, I noticed something strange.

My building has received 30 copies of the current Ikea catalog.


I recognize the catalog, because I received one with the newspaper earlier this week. One copy is fine; 30 is not. There aren't even 30 people living in this building.

I left the copies on the porch, hoping that whoever left them would come back for them. But another neighbor brought them into the lobby, where they sit, stacked, waiting for someone to take action.

Obviously, the dull thing to do is throw them away, where they will ostensibly join their bretheren in some far-away landfill. But hey, as long as we've got them, I am taking suggestions for other things to do with them.

Here are a few ideas:
1. Extended art project involving papier-mache.
2. Decoupage building entryway.
3. Use stack as low end table. Send photo to ReadyMade.
4. Figure out some way to sell to collectors. ("Yes, every copy of this catalog was signed by Bill Clinton!")
5. EBay! EBay! EBay!
6. Use as props for musical "Swedish Chef" coming to a theater near you.

Send suggestions. Or contact me for a free catalog (shipping not included in this special offer).

Posted at 02:50 PM
July 27, 2004
Bob Reclines

Bob is all the buzz today. He even has his own couch (although, on the show, I don't recall him using one). It seems an uncharacteristic pose, but I don't have a better idea. It's hard to make a statue out of that confusing train ride in the opening credits.

For now, Bob reclines downtown, although eventually he'll move to Navy Pier. We're glad to see him!

Posted at 08:40 PM
July 22, 2004
...On the Just and Unjust

This weather is sick. That's what the record store employee said to us 15 years ago as the sky turned a summer pre-tornado green (and I could not stop laughing).

By "sick" he meant "intense" or "crazy." He used the word the way the kids today use "wicked"--good or bad, only thinking made it so. Now years later, again the weather is sick.

A row of low dirty clouds are rolling across the skyline, faster than you or I could ever run. When I look again it's here, the storm, and tiny figures many stories below are moving faster on the wet pavement. One is putting up a red umbrella. Another is making a mad dash for the curb.

On the river, passengers on a tour boat have formed an amorphous, struggling mass at one corner of the top deck. They are bottlenecked at the stairs, trying to get below decks. Are they polite or is brute force leading the day? From this height all those moral bearings vanish and they are no more than ants on an anthill. By the time they all get downstairs, the boat has already reached the dock.

Up here, it's raining harder now, with the wind creating wet gusts, almost very thin watery clouds. The weather is sick, but at least it's egalitarian. The boats keep moving, the bus bears down with shining headlights. Far away, a tiny figure runs to catch it.

Posted at 07:30 PM
I Just Like to Say 'Apparatchik'

Do you read politician blogs? I confess I never do, because I always figure that they're written by some PR-minded staff member. This UK report details a study of political blogs and their value, interactivity-wise (via the Guardian).

This paragraph explains my doubts better than I ever could:

However many jokes they tell or safe vulnerabilities they expose, the public will never relax in their company and will be ever suspicious that today's 'spontaneous" blog entry was yesterday's faxed 'message' from the party HQ. Blogging politicians are always going to be seen as a little bit like those old Communist apparatchiks who had to sit in the front row at rock concerts and pretend to swing to the beat.

Posted at 07:24 PM
July 21, 2004
Satan's Onion

The house is abuzz because the new ATHF DVD is out. We don't actually own it, but since we're catching up on episodes via TiVo, it's a similar kind of experience. Here's a review and some background reading.

This article summarizes each episode on the DVD. Sample:

The Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past comes to visit Carl from the future to tell him that his house has been built on an ancient Elven burial ground. This causes all the water in Carlís house to turn to blood. Carl gets tired of this really fast and puts the house up for sale. Glenn Danzig (playing himself) buys it up and moves in next door but proves to be a bad neighbor.

Meanwhile, disturbingly, according to this quiz, I am Master Shake.

E. is Frylock. Wouldn't you just know it.

Posted at 06:43 PM
July 18, 2004
City Birds

Last Friday, I walked north under a threatening dark sky. Ducked into a nearby hotel and read for a while until the storm passed. An hour later it was still spitting, then the spitting turned back into rain while I walked to a hardware store to look for soil testing kits (which they did not have). Went to a nearby cafe and sat under the awning, out of the rain, surrounded by friendly birds (shown above). When the sun started to come out again, I walked about a mile north to a garden center and was caught in another heavy and sudden shower, so I waited under a tree for it to pass. Bedraggled, I finally made it to the garden center, where it turned out they didn't have soil testing kits although the guy on the phone had said that they did. So I sloshed back the way I came, hitting yet one more hardware store, where nobody had ever heard of soil testing kits. It looked like the day was a wash (in more ways than one) so I headed back to where I started. On the way I was stopped repeatedly by some Greenpeace kids, the ones who cheerfully ask if you "have a second for the environment." It took all my willpower not to stop there, on the sidewalk, and tell them that the real question is does the environment have a second for me?

Posted at 04:51 PM
July 15, 2004
Swing State, but Not Swingin'

Not only do we have opinions, we have history, too! High Street, Columbus, Ohio, 1910.

So apparently Ohio, my home state, is now considered "ground zero" for the presidential campaign (according to fellow native George Stephanopoulos). This is surprising as the rest of the time Ohio, like the rest of the midwest, is mistaken for the part of the country people from the coasts fly over. But in this election year, the media has figured out that people actually live in Ohio and they can't stop breathing down their necks to talk to them about their opinions. Here are some samples:

The normally peerless Guardian has sent a reporter to Ohio and is reporting through the lens of "America divided." This is more of a hoary old cliche than I'd like to see about my home state, especially when it could apply in any state, but I'll keep reading to see if they hack away at the undergrowth.

Not unsurprisingly, perhaps, representatives of the right-wing extreme are treated as scary but fascinating exotics native to the place ("The high street of Canal Winchester...feels like the kind of place where the Waltons would have felt at home..."). (I'm sorry to say it's no secret that these people can be found in any city, not just in poor Canal Winchester.) The second installment is about abortion as a dividing issue; again, not really breaking news.

I haven't lived there in 19 years, but I'm sure there are some interesting progressive individuals in Ohio. For example, even Kucinich or some of his ilk would be a good place to start. Here's hoping the media finds them, too.

And here's hoping the "Five Ohios" series out of Cleveland won't make the same mistake. This project divides the state into regions and looks at them in depth, including demographic breakdowns and a photo section. For some reason I hope for a more nuanced look from this effort, but we'll see. (Ack, skip their political forum, though.)

Posted at 06:41 PM
July 13, 2004
Les Deux Johns

The transcript of this interview with the Two Johns (on the campaign trail, not TMBG) is interesting, but not nearly as candid as I'd like. Alas, it is fairly platitudinous. There's a real aversion to criticizing the current administration, and to avoid doing this, they bob and weave and stay "on message" in a disciplined manner. This is playing it safe, but it can't be much fun on the campaign bus.

Nor is it much fun for me. So I look for the unscripted moments. For instance, it's (marginally) funny when Kerry gives a lengthy discourse on homeland security, qualifying his points with "First...second..third..." When he offers "third" a second time, Edwards jumps in: "Fourth. You already did third."

Alas, no one steps in to mitigate Kerry's surreal statement,"We're talking about what we're going to do as president," which gave me the image of a two-headed hydra in the White House, or maybe siamese twins, with telegenic teeth.

(via, of all places, Kausfiles. Someone stop me!)

Posted at 09:53 PM
Summer Stories

What would you do with yourself if you had the summer off? Elementary school teacher Sarah is looking for things to do this summer. She's taking suggestions from her students and friends, even from the Duplex Planet guy, and setting out to do them all. The stories get told here.

Posted at 09:47 PM
July 12, 2004
Lit Geek: Critics Speak

As former English majors, E. and I both brought a lot of baggage to this relationship. The baggage mostly takes the form of old Norton anthologies, which are virtually required for any literature student, regardless of the school. Some 15 years later, I still have most of mine, including a poetry anthology I took along, as summer reading, on vacation with a friend in 1985. (We chortled our way through "Marriage," the one that begins Should I get married? Should I be good? and includes the immortal line bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust.)

Anyway, many miles and moves later, the anthologies are still with us, lining an entire shelf, rarely consulted but never discarded. I use them as occasional references and don't give much thought as to how they're compiled. But of course they are compiled, and once a new iteration is finished, the critics pile on. This article offers the latest on the latest.

The "Poetics" prose sections are fun and rewarding--how often does one come across Pound's "Blast" manifesto?--and by including Larkin's "The Pleasure Principle," Ramazani seemingly silences critics who might claim he ignores the non-paraphrasable essence of a good poem. Similarly, his inclusion of W.H. Auden's 1937 "Spain" is something of a public service, as the poem is hard to find in most anthologies.

Yet these are qualifications, not justifications. The fact remains that a surprising quantity of the poems in Ramazani's anthology, specifically in the second volume, seem destined to be forgotten.

Posted at 06:50 PM
July 10, 2004

It's been in circulation for a few weeks, but I thought this piece by Alexandra Polier, who was falsely named as having had a fling with John Kerry earlier this year, was a great read. She describes how she and her family were hounded by the media and generally freaked out by the whole thing, of course. But the best part of the article describes how, after the scandal boils away to nothing, she tracks down the reporters who propagated the rumor, and the hunters become the hunted.

I went to Flynn's apartment, and spoke to his wife through the intercom. "Go away and leave us alone!" she cried. "He's not going to come down or speak to you."

Best of all is the disingenuous Matt Drudge, who is shocked, shocked, that such a rumor could be covered in the media, like Monica never happened.

Once he'd posted his initial story, he was then encouraged and gratified by the prompt coverage in the UK press. "When the London Times made it a banner headline, like we're going to war, I realized this must be true. "

Posted at 11:11 AM
July 07, 2004
Flatter Than It Seems

Truly lonely this place is flatter than it seems

Every 10 years I move a state west.

This is not by design, it just happens that way. In 1985, I left Ohio for Indiana. In 1995, I left Indiana for Illinois. You get the picture: one flat place after another.

2004 having rolled around, looks like I should start planning the big move to Iowa. This is not high on the list of priorities, as you can imagine. Instead, I've spent some time digging up the latest from my hometown.

Alas, outside of chamber-of-commerce sites, the Internet doesn't have a lot to offer us. This walking tour isn't bad, although there's a lot of ground to be covered between some of these locations. I remember sneaking up to the fence in back of the governor's mansion in the summer of 1980 and seeing the back of Ronald Reagan's head at a fund-raiser. (I'm a non partisan head gawker, though; in the late '90s, I saw the top of Bill Clinton's head from my office window as he came out of the Drake and got into a car. Wow, what a page-turner my memoirs will be!)

This site also includes some five-year old photos of our town's July 4 parade. As a member of the marching band 20 years ago, I too was required to participate in this. As you see here, a great deal of emphasis is placed on marching in line, staying in step, and posture, inasmuch as it's possible to stand up at all on a 90-degree July day. On a side note, I notice the band has changed from white to khaki shorts, surely a relief to many mothers.

Along with the marching bands come the politicians. It seems that state politics were a bit spicier in my childhood, but not much. The Wayne Hays scandal made some waves in the 1970s, as did (nonpolitician) Larry Flynt's brief residence in town. Closest thing to a shocker* seems to be a report that the city's mayor has come out as a "Democrat for Bush." This story was reported here, but I couldn't find any supporting material, except for the same item's being parroted by a dozen or so right-wing Web sites.

The only outlet to examine it was Alternet, which doesn't do much to clarify:

In fact, two of the four 'Ohio Democrats' haven't 'lived in Ohio for decades' and both supported Bush in 2000. One commented enthusiastically that 'he would probably support Bush's cause.'
That effectively leaves two Ohio state representatives who were 'persuaded' to join 'Democrats for Bush.'
....The press release for Miller's 'Democrats for Bush' kickoff address on the website contains not a single reference to any Democrat present either as a speaker or in the crowd.

Ordinarily, the politicians play it pretty close to the vest, as is the case with a former classmate of mine who now holds public office and who fired a political consultant for giving some dodgy advice. For some reason, this made news in Zanesville, but it's pretty much a nonstory as far as I can see.

Find of the day: compilation of satiric song lyrics, all related to Watergate-era American politics. Here's "Old Man Ripoff," a pause that refreshes even today:

"Oil is lovely and banks are pretty,"
Says Congressman Sykes to the Ethics Committee,
And Old Man Ripoff, he just keeps rolling along.
I grow weary of voters beguiling,
I'm scared of losing and tired of smiling,
And Old Man Ripoff, he just keeps rolling along.

Flat or no, we'll be headed there soon. Maybe we should follow this Columbus-area blog.

*Did I say "shocker"? Perhaps I misspelled "oddity."

Posted at 07:12 PM
July 05, 2004

The KJ collective spent Saturday afternoon at our local aquarium, along with what seemed like hundreds of other residents and tourists. Highlights included a discussion on the feasibility of having our own otter as a pet (it could live in the bathtub!) and the resemblance of the electric catfish to a baked potato. Oddly, there seems to be no species called "potatofish" although Google shows us that someone out there is using this as an Internet handle.

Posted at 12:05 PM