Thursday, July 27, 2006

Songs to get married by

If these songs had existed when I got married, I would have put them in there.

I Still Love You and True by Glen Phillips (these from a show on June 29)

Sugar by Dan Wilson, We Got Married in My Head by Sean Watkins, and Same Mistakes by Jon Brion (these from a Watkins Family Hour show in January 2005)

Toxic by Britney Spears, covered by Nickel Creek (ok, that one's a joke, but seriously watch the videos)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A favorite book

Laura wonders idly whether the love of Anna Karenina (trans. David Magarshack, other translations are inferior and not really useful) is, well, reality-based, or whether those of us who call it a favorite have no deeper reasons than the love of Mr. Willems and IB English. I'm not going to recapitulate everything she wrote, but that's the gist of it.

My short answer is that it's really that good. It's held up through several rereadings. Did I ever reread Hard Times? Ummm, no.

(Digression: on my shelf are a couple of other translations by the same guy: The Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot, by Dostoyevsky. So you might try those. I too feel lost when trying to choose one out of several translations of a foreign author.)

As I glance at my favorite books (in the profile; when I moved to Utah, I brought my top 100), I notice a couple of newer ones that I've only read once, by Neil Gaiman and Susanna Clarke. All the rest are things I've picked up again and again over the years. I haven't read Anna Karenina for a couple of years, but I picked it up again the other day and it seemed really fresh to me, a cut above even the great stuff I've been reading lately. I have ten library books to read, and then I'll do it. That's a broad clue, this great staying power over almost a decade.

Anna Karenina affected me a lot personally. In 1995, when Chris Tyni killed himself, life got very weird for me. I mean, in one sense I forgot quickly, or submerged my grief beneath school and activities and instantly falling in love with every girl I met (and that particular compass swung around so much, you would've thought I was at the North Pole). In another sense it was time to be an adolescent and feel out of place. But it was also time to go home at night and stay up late writing unhappily, to lose my religion, to really bang my head against life and death and "Vanity of vanities and all is vanity."

Those are basically Levin's questions, too: "He saw death and the approach of death in everything." We read a lot of great stuff in that IB English class, but this was the one that really spoke to me: a white guy whining about how life has no meaning. I wrote confused essays about how Anna lived in a deterministic universe and she couldn't move outside the box of her inclinations because the author was controlling her (obviously, way off). I projected all of my outside concerns into that sprawling novel, and it was big enough to hold them.

I didn't understand exactly why Levin changed, why he became satisfied in Part VIII. I felt like his last epiphany was not good enough. The meaning of life was inculcated from childhood and he might as well continue in what he'd heard first? "He lived (without realizing it) by those spiritual truths that he had imbibed with his mother's milk... Now it was clear to him that he could live only thanks to the beliefs in which he had been brought up." I call BS on this total cop-out. But I think I did come to understand that these questions were worth wrestling down, and I understood with Levin that I shouldn't just give up on them.

I also think the book grows as you grow. Like I said, the story's big enough for a teenage boy, but it becomes a behemoth in the hands of an awake, adult reader. To take a bald-faced example, I haven't reread it as a married father of one. All that life has given me a whole new perspective on the Oblonsky crisis that begins the book, on the sacrifices and compromises anyone makes for the sake of a marriage. And what I saw fresh in those first ten chapters or so was Tolstoy nailing it, over and over.

Anyway, I say read it again.

Monday, July 24, 2006

How to tell you've been playing too much Minesweeper

You achieve a new personal best which is almost ten seconds below your previous best:

Then you go to and find out that you have the sixth best time this month.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A post from the hinterlands

It's been a pretty wild week and a half. Here are some highlights.

A few days ago we were watching TV upstairs when the channel started changing inexplicably. We assumed it must be a problem with our remote, old batteries maybe, so we changed to the channel we wanted, then set the remote to control a nonexistent VCR, and the changing stopped. We thought nothing of it until last night, when we started fighting to watch first Everybody Loves Raymond, then The Golden Girls, while someone... or something?... kept trying to change the channel to South Park and ESPN.

We have the Dish Network and basically, the second TV in our bedroom is controlled by a remote that goes to a UHF antenna on the back of our box. Basically, our remote is like a radio station that the main receiver listens to; then it sends back the results of our choices to the screen. It turned out that some neighbor (we're not sure who) also has the Dish Network, and coincidentally, their remote broadcasts on the same frequency we do. So not only were they changing our channel, we were changing their channels.

I haven't tried it in Fedora Core yet, but I can recommend for both PC and Mac OSX the ASUS WL-167G USB wireless adapter. It's been smooth, with no problems whatsoever. I understand it will work with Linux too because it's one of the open Ralink chipsets, but I have spared myself the headache of getting it going. On the other hand, our DSL modem (an Actiontec wireless gateway, formerly standard issue for Qwest) has been a pretty wonky access point at times. If you can recommend a better one (PC/Mac/Linux friendly) please do. Our home network is all wireless, so a DSL modem without good wireless is dead to me. [/totalgeek]

I've written before about the one percent doctrine. Briefly, '[Suskind] contends, [the FBI's, CIA's, and NSA's] meticulous intelligence-sifting went unappreciated by administration policymakers, especially Dick Cheney, who formulated an overriding "one percent" doctrine: threats with even a 1% likelihood must be treated as certainties."' (Publisher's Weekly) It's pretty obvious that this kind of thinking is what made us chase the will o' the wisp into Iraq.

I've been playing some online Texas hold'em for free at Full Tilt Poker. [Digression: My handle's "mineshaftgap", as in "I mean, we must be... increasingly on the alert to prevent them from taking over other mine-shaft space, in order to breed more prodigiously than we do, thus, knocking us out in superior numbers when we emerge! Mr. President, we must not allow... a mine-shaft gap!"] It's pretty hard to gauge how good I am, but I've been in the black since I started.

Anyhow, one of the first things you have to learn is when to give up on a hand. A relatively good starting hand that completely misses the community cards is not worth betting on. Novice players hang on to the wrong hands, say where they have three cards of a 5-card straight after the flop and need both the turn and the river to provide the remaining cards (example: holding 6-10 unsuited and seeing a flop of A-8-2, then needing both a 7 and a 9 to make a straight). Treating this kind of hand as if it were a winner is a good way to lose a lot of money. The runners come something like 2% of the time, and even then you're not guaranteed to win the hand; you could lose to a higher straight, for instance. This is the poker equivalent of the one percent doctrine: betting on a nice-looking hand that has very few outs (cards available on the turn and river to make a losing hand into a winner), or is even drawing dead.

In our foreign policy, Bush and Cheney have been playing ideological poker. "7-2 unsuited... if we fold, the terrorists will win." "If we only call this all-in, we'll be able to win future hands from the other nearby players." "Pocket aces? We have the most modernized, advanced hand around." They've been calling all the way to the river with garbage hands, and the sharks around the table have noticed. [/pokerdigression]

I have a lot of things to read, but the only one that is actually overdue (and I can't renew it because there are holds) is The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill by Ron Suskind. Since I have The One Percent Doctrine up next, I figured I should read the one that preceded it, about how the pragmatic, realistic Secretary of the Treasury fought for good policy against the ideologues and spinmeisters of the Bush White House's permanent campaign.

The Price of Loyalty is narrative nonfiction, which means it comes out as a sort of third-person limited perspective chronicling the first years of GWB's presidency through the eyes of O'Neill. It's a good move, because it turns all these political issues and headlines into very personal stories. I'm over halfway through, and it's been really eye-opening. The most creepy thing about it so far is O'Neill's weekly one-on-ones with the President. They were hourlong meetings for O'Neill and Bush to discuss the economy. But the President doesn't say anything in the meetings, doesn't ask questions or challenge O'Neill. He just stares like a buddha.

Along the same lines, here's an excerpt about a meeting spurred by Cheney's infamous energy task force, on March 19, 2001.

So, on March 19, at an hour-long meeting in the cabinet room, the President was hearing dark predictions about the economic effects of a looming energy crisis.

Everybody played their parts: literally. For this President, cabinet meetings and the many midsize to large meetings he attended were carefully scripted. Before most meetings, a cabinet secretary's chief of staff would receive a note from someone on the senior staff of the White House. The note instructed the cabinet secretary when he was supposed to speak, about what, and how long. When O'Neill had received his first such note, he was amazed. The idea of a cabinet meeting or any significant meeting between the President and his seniormost officials being scripted seemed to kill off the whole purpose of bringing people together. He had been in many White Houses. He had never heard of such a thing.


O'Neill was watching Bush closely. He threw out a few general phrases, a few nods, but there was virtually no engagement. These cabinet secretaries had worked for over a month on detailed reports. O'Neill had been made to understand by various colleagues in the White House that the President should not be expected to read reports. In his personal experience, the President didn't even appear to have read the short memos he sent over.

That made it especially troubling that Bush did not ask any questions. There are so many worth asking about each of these areas, O'Neill thought as he sat quietly, dozens of queries running through his head.

"This meeting was like many of the meetings I would go to over the course of two years," he recalled. "The only way I can describe it is that, well, the President is like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. There is no discernible connection."

This reminds me of another notorious meeting where Bush didn't ask any questions: the FEMA briefing the day before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. One wonders what sorts of meetings Bush is having now that Israel is bombing Lebanon, and whether Bush is asking any questions.

Monday, July 10, 2006

This blog is getting suspiciously heavy on the books

The new house is shaping up nicely. I have a cute little office, smaller than some people's closets, but good to go for me. The kitchen/dining room area is big. I hope that Sarah will put up some pictures once we've gotten rid of the last cardboard boxes.

After a couple of hours, I got our wireless DSL to play nice with Sarah's iMac. I also ordered a wireless USB adapter for the Windows/Linux computer. I've never had to configure wireless for Linux before and it has a nasty reputation. I read carefully and I'm pretty sure that I got a compatible piece of hardware. It'll be here in a few days.

I have about 12 library books. One of them is 3 early comedies by Shakespeare, so do I count it as 1 or 3? I'm reading Love's Labor's Lost right now, and I'm still munching my way through Quicksilver, but I'm looking forward to The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind, There Are Doors by Gene Wolfe, The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson, and Sin and Syntax, which is, I think, a writing guide. I still have a few books from the university library on my thesis topics as well. If I only talked about what I read, this would become a book review blog with little time for anything else.

But here's one more. Ron Suskind is the guy who wrote a famous article on President Bush and the reality-based community. A few weeks ago, his book The One Percent Doctrine: deep inside America's pursuit of its enemies since 9/11 came out to starred reviews and is hovering at the top of sales of Books in Amazon. Its primary thesis is that VP Cheney effected a shift in our foreign policy thinking. The one percent doctrine is the idea that when a threat to US national security crosses our radar, even if it has a low possibility of actually happening, we must treat it as if it were a hundred-percent certainty. The result of internalizing this doctrine is (and has been) overreaction to the various war-on-terror bugaboos (along with the obvious one, Saddam Hussein). Should be great reading.

Anyhow, when I heard about it, I tried to get it from the local library, but they didn't have it, so I requested the library buy it. I didn't expect anything to come of it, but lo and behold, it's since appeared in the library catalog and I have the first hold on it. Democracy does work!

I read on Suskind's website that he's visiting the Colbert Report this Thursday, so give it a watch.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Quick note

Kidney stone stuff is over. I don't want to belabor it in mixed company.

Italy was danger on wheels. I think they'll win the World Cup on Sunday.

We signed up at Dish Network for the new place. We've been moving all week and should be done by this weekend.

We have Skype now. For some reason the camera my parents sent us won't behave on Yahoo Messenger, but you can call us that way too. Skype is dan.a.lewis and Yahoo Messenger is daniel_a_lewis. I don't leave them on at present because the only people who want to use it are my parents, and they always call on the regular phone first. Email me if you want to use this amazing telephone system, and tell me your name. Anyway, the Skype videoconferencing works really simply and we have enjoyed it.

Mom is in France. Find out more at her (and Dad's, since he joins her in a bit) blog, France2006. My sister Rachel is in Croatia for World Deputation (through Seattle's University Presbyterian Church). Here's her (and her friend's) blog.

Time to make dinner.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Who wants to be

I just saw a commercial that began "From the executive producer of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire..." I didn't see the end of the commercial, but I had a vision of another amazing TV show. This one is a reality show called Who Wants To Be A Producer. 14 people live in a house and work on teams taking turns learning to produce the next-to-final two episodes of the show. Every week the team with the worst work product has to vote someone off. It's a dazzling reality show behind the reality show. After it becomes a big hit, we can have Who Wants To Produce Who Wants To Be A Producer.

I haven't been writing much, because I have been stuck in my own reality show, Who Wants To Be The Guy With A Kidney Stone. The rules are very simple. Experience blinding abdominal pain and see the doctor. Make an appointment for a second opinion when the doctor prescribes narcotic painkillers and antibiotics. Don't take the antibiotics. Take the painkillers. Get the second opinion. Take the painkillers. Follow instructions that are too intimate for this blog. You win when the stone comes out.

I finished my first Gene Wolfe book, Castleview. I don't know how to recommend it, because it's about the intrusion of Arthurian Britain into small-town Illinois. It's been written lovingly, and it hums with life. (Whenever I say writing hums, I'm always reminded of a passage in King's On Writing.) Not really fantasy, not really normal. It ends in the right place, but it's sort of an odd place. So I know not everyone who reads this would like it. But it's two snaps and an around the world.

Ok, you know what it reminds me of, on reflection? The fiction of Charles Williams. Williams only wrote seven novels, but they might be a little hard to get your hands on. Even my dad only had six of them.

Williams wrote strange supernatural thrillers, admired by TS Eliot, and separately by CS Lewis and his crew. His novels are reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's novels, where fantasies intrude quite realistically into the workaday world, but Williams' are more (searching for a word) dense than Gaiman's, and sometimes more opaque for that reason. Many Dimensions is one of my favorites. He also wrote an often-surprising history of the Christian church, called The Descent of the Dove, and The Figure of Beatrice, a Dante interpretation of unique depth and vision.

All that digression to say I plan to go back to the library for more Gene Wolfe. And, come to think of it, for rereads of Charles Williams. And, side note, I finished the Dan Simmons short story book, and boy do I want to read more Dan Simmons. While I'm in the

Here's our next question on Who Wants To Be The Guy With A Kidney Stone?
"Who Wants To Be In Bed On Hydrocodone? Is it
a) Britney Spears and Kevin Federline
b) your mom
c) a nearby hydrocodone addict
d) me

Final Answer?