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February 2001

Wednesday 2-28
Meet Smiley Swastika! He's a creation of Canadian artist ManWoman. Last week, while browsing the print section in the Shibuya Tower Records, I found a stack of books on a display table called The Swastika: Symbol Beyond Redemption? by Steven Heller, who's the art director of the New York Times Book Review. The slim volume's an illustrated survey of the twisted cross throughout history, and in it I read there's a Friends of the Swastika website (which is run by ManWoman, who's trying to publish his own book called Gentle Swastika). The gist of both is probably summarized in this reprint of a New York Times article from August of last year, which begins
It's a simple question: Can the swastika ever be redeemed?
Such a great symbol, and it's meant good luck in so many cultures, for ages -- in Japan the manji is used on maps to mark the location of Buddhist temples. (Sure, it's backwards, but that distinction's trivial, to me.) The Friends have a webring, another member of which is Heathen World's I'm Not a Nazi Swastika Gallery.

Each title in this collection of Billboard top 100 hits from 1961 to 1972 is a link to the song's lyrics. (The site popped up when I was searching on Donovan's "Atlantis," from 1969.)

Tuesday 2-27
250+ Reasons why we still love Tokyo -- a compilation by some members of the expatriate community there, has the curious effect of reenforcing my fantasy of joining them.

Two from GMT+9:

  • A collection of mimikaki -- really more a gallery of the decorations one finds attached to the other end. (My own is bare). Many in the collection are amusing in that über-cute Japanese way. The name of this hygiene tool is usually translated as "ear-pick," although Geoff says a more accurate term would be "ear-hoe." Almost everybody I've enlightened about them has wanted one, and then reported using theirs with gusto. The holdouts are in the timid, waxy "nothing smaller than a football in your ear" camp -- but in Japan, mothers use them on their children.
  • Seems like I linked to the Bonestell Space Art site a while ago. Chesley's contributions to the field of space art are well known, but were you aware he created his own cocktail? (Sounds pretty potent to me.)

Ember has advised me how she learned from a documentary that primates (or I guess it's really us humans) eat their bananas upside down, and it's the better way -- just pinching the nether end makes a nana pop open; sometimes I've needed to cut the stem end to get one started -- no longer, now that I know the trick. Thanks, Mr. Chimp! She also sends along a link to this Arbitron News report, which states that

One-third of Americans with Internet access at home would give up television if forced to choose between television and the Internet, according to a new Arbitron study. "Since Internet access is a relatively new phenomenon, it is amazing that one-third of Americans with Internet access at home would be more willing to give up the long established medium of television,"
according to one of their VPs. Don't understand what the medium's age has to to do with anything... scrolls and tom-toms have been used to exchange information much longer than television, but which would you rather use for the news?

This looks like a good book -- you might think something called Digital Copyright would be dense with the legalese, but Chapter 2 is quite readable, where author Jessica Litman discusses not only the present situation but the history.

Sunday 2-25
Great This American Life this weekend, about superpowers (the kind you develop, for example, after being bitten by a radioactive spider.) Ira had Jonathan Morris on, a guy who does a website called Gone and Forgotten about Super Heroes who didn't last -- he even mentioned the "3-D Man," a 1976 Marvel comic-book I had (and now wish I'd held onto). Couldn't find any cite on his site, however.

Another cultural event this weekend was at the Stanford cinema: their current festival is Hollywood Musicals of the 30s -- the one I saw was that creaky old W.C. Fields chestnut from 1933, "International House." Hard to figure why, but this drew a really big crowd. I went because Baby Rose Marie was among the all-star Paramount cast -- she's much more well-known from the second stage of her career, when she was a regular on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" -- just wanted to see what the first phase was like, difficult to imagine how she got any work at all, then. Also featured were George Burns and Gracie Allen, another female whose allure I find difficult to fathom. Peggy Hopkins Joyce played herself, my reaction was "Who!?" According to this bio, she was quite a character -- a man actually died for her.

Felt a small earthquake today, magnitude 4.4 -- in Central California, according to the USGS Near Real Time Listing. Later information said it was eleven miles beyond San Jose, and five miles beneath the surface.

Chuck Taggart has a good (notorius, even) absinthe page at his Gumbo site. Since I've already tasted the real stuff (from a Spanish bottle, in 1982) my own interests are essentially historical.

Friday 2-23
Rumours of legal absinthe in BC.

Tintin in Thailand! (Shocked Belgian authorities confiscate all copies.)

The previous two links were harvested from Chuck Taggart's excellent Looka! weblog, whose entries for February 13 are outstanding. One compares U.S. legislators who want to pass laws banning flag-burning to the Nazis' same legislation (always dangerous on the Internet, unfortunately, because it gives weenies the chance to supposedly negate the comparison by invoking Godwin's Law); in another, he discusses (but doesn't link to) the for-Valentine's-Day Slate column by Eliza Truitt where she staged a blind chocolate taste test. I also had problems with that, thought her samples all wrong, sure she included Hershey but how come no Cadbury? (Oh yes, I know the reason it's lousy, that's why it should've been included, to expand the testing palette... along with Palmer (or is it Palmer?), since bad American chocolate was the subject.) Down at the bottom is this choco-factoid -- maybe it's even true:

And now there are studies claiming that chocolate is actually good for you because cacao contains antioxidants that when eaten regularly increase good cholesterol levels.

Thursday 2-22
Back from a week in Tokyo -- some random thoughts and observations:
  • A couple of posters stood out in the ever-changing urban environment: one, down in the subway, portrayed a cartoonish, leggy female passenger applying her lipstick, oblivious to the annoyed salerymen seated on either side. Among the kanji, this caption:
    Good manners are more attractive than your makeup will make you.

    I can't help but appreciate a culture which shames the obnoxious. The other, plastered all over, featured their NASDA astronaut Koichi Wakata who flew on STS-92 this Autumn, his second time up.
  • Just like last time, no sooner do I get back than I discover new places I want to check out. Like Muji -- what's Muji? A wonderful chain which sells all this great gear, plus clothes and even food, like cookies and ice cream. So far their only offshore stores are in Hong Kong, Paris and the UK -- more details in this Newsweek article. I wanted to buy up a bunch of their stuff, but it wouldn'ta fit in my carry-on -- however, a subset's now available via Muji Online.
  • Don't expect a detailed report like was provided in 1999 -- wasn't there long enough, and my photos this time were at best mediocre... but since people are curious, I've whipped up a page covering my visit to the new John Lennon Museum.
  • Is there anything more degrading about modern life than in-flight dining? Most complaints focus on the food itself; as I'm frequently famished by the time the trays appear, they spell relief so it's hard for me to find fault with that. It's the way we're forced to eat, in our cramped steerage posture: we all bend our heads and shovel up the mystery mixtures from the little containers, blocking out each other and thinking thoughts far and away from any gustatory pleasure. And it doesn't help when you're seated behind some elderly party who keeps her seat reclined for the entire flight, making any items set on your tray-table slip into your lap.
Monday 2-12
Found some time and links, so here's one more update.

The Cordwainer Smith site, by his daughter. He was an author who wrote Norstrilia and other amazing stories about the Instrumentality and the Underpeople.

Speaking of the great literature, Dr. Plokta's Guide to Science Fiction rates over a hundred of the best novels (love the icons, although they're not really intuitive). Note: British titles.

Chads in the Third Reich!
IBM and the Holocaust is a new book by Edwin Black in which he claims

...that IBM punch card-sorters, a precursor of computers, were used to facilitate all aspects of Nazi persecution -- from the identification of Jews in censuses in Germany and occupied Europe to the running of concentration camp slave labour.
No details yet, though. I'll find this story difficult to believe until I see evidence: actual Hollerith cards used by the SS.

Sunday 2-11
This site's gonna be dormant until later next week. Meanwhile, check out the Bauhaus, and then enjoy a few links harvested from the ever-excellent Follow Me Here weblog.

Kinda bleeped over most of the scienteefic text in this academic press release, but I enjoyed these quotes:

"Human genetics is not destiny, particularly when it comes to a love for coffee and chocolate. The human genome is powerless in the face of chocolate," Drewnowski said. "We all eat it because we like it, and we don’t need any scientific explanation to do that."
From the New Scientist -- Name That Tune:
Sing a half-forgotten song to your computer and it will name it, thanks to new software.
A NY Post article describes "Callers On Demand," a company that caters to talk radio stations:
"Our army of ‘live' callers are standing by to jumpstart your morning show," reads a pitch on the company's website. "Let's face it, most mornings, if the callers suck, you're out of luck. Why risk it?" ... The rise of services that provide ready-made callers is part of a growing trend in the media to spice up "reality" programming with seasoned pros... "This is unbelievable," says Jack Swanson, programmer of San Francisco's top-rated talkers KGO and KSFO. "If radio starts hiring fake callers to spice up their shows, why not start making up news stories on slow news days?"
You mean, they don't!? Hmmpf -- I disagree -- two examples: Monica Lewinsky, and pilot JFK Jr's plane crash.

Friday 2-9
Up to the City last night, off the BART and walking down lower Market past FLAX -- destination: the Get Lost travel bookstore, for a talk and book-signing by Edward Hasbrouck -- didn't learn much new but it was fun to meet him after the lecture, surrounded by a bunch of San Francisco weenies taking notes. (The event was promotion for the new second edition of his Practical Nomad -- I read the first.) A worthwhile site he mentioned was holidayfestival.com, which is for business-people, checking when it'll be closed at the destionation, but it can also be used as a planning resource.

Two Temari sites: Ginny's temarikai.com (lots of material; she even sells them) and Temari California . Some verbiage of my own on this topic can be found where I visited temari town Matsumoto.
A column in yesterday's Post explains strategies against telemarketers. Among the rest, Marc Fisher advises just hanging up -- that's the one I use. But many people feel rude, and wait for the first break in their pitch -- usually I do too, and say no thanks, and then hang up. My parents' line at that point is "we never do business over the telephone" -- but Fisher is one of these gleefully competitive types to whom the annoying interruptions is an opportunity for combat -- one of his methods is to say

"All sales calls must go through Sector 14 for identity check. Please hold."

Astonishingly, some callers sit tight for this one, which permits me to return as the Teutonic "Commander Volt," asking rapid-fire questions such as, "How much money do you make?" "What is your shoe size?" and "Did you ever have a crush on a teacher?"

Wednesday 2-7
Seems there was an incident involving a Type 1 VW body dangling from the center of the Golden Gate Bridge this morning -- some engineering students have been implicated in the stunt.

Catching up on the "Metaverse" site of the 'Zompist' Mark Rosenfelder -- he has a new rants page -- as is usual for his material, erudite and cerebral. Also an excellent book/movie comparison of Blade Runner, plus a list of amusing rock band names, which has a slight overlap with a much less extensive compilation of my own. Both contain the DayGlo Abortions; plus 900 Foot Jesus and the Jesus and Mary Chain. On mine this segues into the similar sounding Liquid Jesus, Teenage Jesus, Jesus Jones, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Colorblind James Experience, Janes Addiction and Jean Loves Jezebel. That's all I have -- mind, the only one of these I'm at all familiar with is Jesus Jones -- I have two of their albums: "Doubt," of course (which contains the theme song of Jerry Brown's 1992 presidential campaign); and "Perverse."

Tuesday 2-6
The one in Hyattsville, from Castles of the United States -- a comprehensive site, apparently compiled from years of respondents' email.

They're discussing Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation in Slate's Book Club dialog -- great reading -- the book's receiving so much press I feel I may not have to read it myself. One random factoid:

McDonald's makes most of its money as a landlord. The real dough comes from owning its outlets and renting them back to its franchise holders.

Sunday 2-4
Living without a car for a week brings the whole bus experience back into focus, especially the waiting: standing there as traffic roars or trickles past, peering intently down the roadway, trying to make the fuzzy, moving blobs of the cars (or their headlights) at the vertex resolve into the larger square bus-shape. Finally it appears, slowly pulling up to a halt, the doors opening with a hiss. On the other hand, it's great being forced back into the bike saddle -- the weather has been cooperating, it was mid-70s sunny today. (When I locked up my bike on Castro this morning, to stroll over to the Farmer's Market, my view was this, exactly.) Often while cycling I break into song, just a line or two, the subconscious conjuring up old favorites like 2 HB and Sixpence. And for the first time I've taken advantage of that wonder of Valley living, being able to combine these two modes of transport.

Speaking of Castro, found another out-of-print by AAAttanasio at the big used bookstore there, but it just went into the ever-lengthening to-be-read queue -- meanwhile I've been sucked into another sci-fi, the fascinating "nano plague" 'cycle' (so far, it's a trilogy) by Kathleen Ann Goonan. (Most of the reviews can't help but mention Greg Bear's groundbreaking Blood Music.) She has her own site at goonan.com but it's essentially just a collection of testimonials, try this one instead, it starts with a description of the book I'm reading now. For more about the author, there's a couple of interviews here.

Friday 2-2
DCA -- what's it mean to you? To me it's National Airport, but today I learned it's also the new theme park the Eisner juggernaut's created in the Disneyland parking lot. Jim Hill's California Mis-Adventure tells the whole story, which begins with the Disneyland Hotel; the Grand Opening's in just a few days. In other news from Anaheim, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" has reopened -- it was shut down Wednesday after a woman holding an infant fell, when their boat lurched as she got out at the end of her ride, but that's nothing -- read the whole CNN article describing her mishap to learn about some recent gruesome accidents at "The Happiest Place on Earth." I have no desire to ever return, myself; that's mostly a reaction to the Mouse Empire's ever-increasing greed. To see the Magic Kingdome as it was in the good ol' days, a visit to Werner's Yesterland is always fun.

Love a good "open journal" site; via Larkfarm I've been perusing something a little different, historical, but seemingly even more interesting -- description from the preface:

The correspondence of Jill Oppenheim de Grazia and Alfred de Grazia, first lovers and then married, conducted between February 1942 and September 1945, has been almost entirely preserved and constitutes some 1200 letters and 775,000 words.
This contents page has links to pages organized by month. The period detail is wonderful, a real nostalgic "you-are-there" treat. Al starts out in boot camp and rises to officer rank, involved with propaganda, seeing action stateside and all over Europe; Jill keeps the home fires burning in Chicago, and they're very much in love.

"Caught From Behind" -- no wait, that's a series of anal porn videos -- "LEFT Behind." The lousy rapture books are now a bad film. This Post review contains an oddly naïve sentence which begins with that charitable "mixed" phrase, a red flag to any serious cinephile:

The movie, which has received mixed reviews, is not for the meek.
Planes fall from the sky in balls of fire, at least three people are murdered and there are suggestions of infidelity.
    (For more thoughts about this foolishness see my Matrix Rapture journal entry.)

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