blogging about blithering

this morning I had to write two pieces of relatively formal correspondence for rivendell. it only took me a few minutes (10-20 maybe) to pound out 8 complete paragraphs along the lines of:

The property is owned by Central Madison Housing Corporation and functions as a housing cooperative managed and maintained entirely by the residents. We provide additional services such as local phone and cable/internet but also require residents to help with maintenance and management. Consequently, the tally of expenses provided does not completely reflect our current financial situation and expenses. There are three mitigating factors that affect the value of the property at this time: . . .

it's depressing, though completely consistent with the historical record, that blithering flows like lava from a volcano, obliterating everything in its path, while my writing crawls along like a snake harnessed to an oxcart. 8 relatively polished paragraphs of the potato palace in a 24 hour period? --- I've had a very very good day.

blogging falls somewhere in between blithering and building the potato palace. in terms of output it's blithering > blogging > writing and it's blithering < blogging < writing in terms of effort. when it comes to usefulness, impact or quality, who knows?

determining whether this entry qualifies as "blogging about blithering" or "blithering about blogging" is left as an exercise for the reader.


It could have turned out differently, and it did.

today is the last day of national poetry month and poem in your pocket day.
I've mostly got fuzz in my pockets, so the poems will have to go here. or at least some links.

. . .

Still, I hardly feel like functioning even on a brute
or loutish level. My plants think I'm one of them,
and they don't look so good themselves, or so
I tell them. I like to give them at least several
reasons to be annoyed with me, it's how they exercise
their skinny spectrum of emotions. Because.
That and cribbage. ...

from Shut Up and Eat Your Toad by James Tate

. . .

... he's the fire hydrant
of the underdog.

from Success Comes To Cow Creek by James Tate most of the pictures, the Americans are laughing, posing, pointing, or giving the camera a thumbs-up.

I feel physically ill.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, please please read this confirmed and well-documented account of

abuse of Iraqi POWs by the US military.


have I mentioned that the weather in madison sucks? we had a couple of days of warm weather then it went back to being cold and/or windy. I've only been out on my bike twice so far, and I'm starting to think I may have to cancel/delay the 41 mile bike ride I have planned for my birthday. it was very very windy back on 03 april --- there were actual waves on lake mendota, give me a shout if the video clips don't work for you.

there's better weather ahead, or at least, to bill's way of thinking, different weather --- it looks like we'll be spending another summer in california. plans are still in the making, but in an ironic but happy turn of the screw bill may be working at the NASA ames research center, my old stomping grounds, while I will be "out of the workforce."

my brother john sent me the stuff to make a safety pin motor. he's added a flash animation of how an electric motor works to the site as well, still under construction but it's already pretty cool.

scott reynen probably thinks I've fallen off the edge of the earth, which would be a pretty good trick given that I live in wisconsin. he's made a very good (but very graphic) anti-bush video and also sent this link:

scott emailed me promptly after I included an unlinked, uncredited quote from a news article in my entry for 04.04.04 to point out that you can track down documents very efficiently at google by searching on an excerpt enclosed in quotation marks. bill has been using this trick to ferret out plagiarized engineering projects for a couple of years now. scott sent this example:,+the+vitriolic+and+bitter+character+of+ +American+political+elections+is+a+sign+of+just+how+much+agreement+on+ +the+fundamentals+of+politics+and+public+life+there+is.%22

unfortunately, because I was a lazy slug and waited three weeks before following up on scott's helpful suggestion, the only result that the google search returns now is my blog entry. ouroboros is the deity of the wired world -- the web swallows itself.

robin says that the time I spend writing about politics in my blog shouldn't count towards the one hour a week I pledged to spend working to defeat bush, because I'm just preaching to the choir here. robin thinks I should get out there and start registering voters. he's right. of course. I did make some brownies for and buy a pie at the nationwide bakesale a couple of weekends ago. does that count? maybe not, but the pie (pumpkin) was good, and I met AIDSRide veteran and ACT II rider sean michael dargan at the bakesale, looks like when he's not riding his bike he's playing his guitar. I hope I can get out to see one of his gigs before I head out for the summer.

building the potato palace

I can't multi-task. that's what doomed me as a professor, and even as a writer I can't seem to work on more than one thing at once. case in point: the radio silence at blog-0-rama for the past two weeks, and the accompanying neglect of my email correspondence during the same, reflects my progress on building the potato palace.

huh what?

I'm working on a young adult novel with a vaguely tibetan theme about a girl in junior high school who is having trouble making friends and is being bullied at school, and it's title is "building the potato palace". this is a big ongoing project which I started working on in earnest last summer in santa cruz. I've mentioned it only once in my blog, in one of my updates from rivendell; I have a whole repertoire of vague explanations to answer the question "so, what exactly do you do all day ann?" my favorite harkens back to my days of teaching macroeconomics: "I'm 'out of the workforce' which is like being unemployed, but without the part about looking for a new job." the perfect economist's answer: technically correct without actually providing any useful information.

(to qualify as unemployed by the bureau of labor statistics you must have actively sought in the past week, or be waiting to be recalled from a job which you are laid off from temporarily. when workers who have been unemployed for a long time get discouraged and stop looking for work the unemployment rate goes down -- that's why data on job loss/creation is a better indicator of the state of the labor market than changes in the unemployment rate. paul krugman has a graph showing bush's wishful thinking on jobs that's worth a thousand words, and he has a thousand words describing it too.)

many writers in the same situation would describe themselves as being "self-employed" but seeing as 2003 was the first year since I turned 16 that I did not earn one cent of taxable of income (earn as in "work for money" not earn as in "interest and dividend income earned") I think I'll stick with "out of the work force". my mother suggests I tell people I'm "retired" but that's just a subcategory of "out of the work force" anyway.

(even though I didn't earn any money I was still able to put $3000 in an IRA, on account of that "married in the eyes of the law" thing. if I were in full on blog writing mode I would segue into my planned entry on civil marriage -- why making the bundle of legal contracts and benefits currently available to a woman and a man for the price of a marriage license available to any two people who want it regardless of gender is purely an issue of civil rights, and not an issue of morality or even sexual preference. rosie o'donnell's unsuccessful attempt to have her private correspondence with her partner kelli carpenter protected in court by "spousal privilege" motivated her to get married in san francisco recently.)

so why engage in low level subterfuge in the first place? what's wrong with saying/writing "I'm a writer" or "I'm writing a novel"? especially considering that, as I was wont to pontificate to defenseless freshman seated around a (required) seminar table, writing is a way of thinking, and, although I was not wont to pont this next point in the classroom, for me talking is too. plainly put: I'm an extrovert, I figure things out by interacting with other people and with the world around me, so why have I spoken/written the least about what I spend the most time doing these days?

talking about writing is like talking about talking. it looks over the edge of an infinite regress, especially when things aren't going well -- I end up trying to explain why I'm having trouble trying to explain something. when it's really not going well, I really don't want to talk about it. sometimes it isn't going at all, like for a good part of this winter when I put the potato palace aside to work on other things that are even harder to explain.

(talking about writing is marginally less interesting, and a good deal less helpful, than talking about computer programming. neal stephenson, in a lengthy and interesting interview at briefly compares writing and programming: the novel or the computer program has got a very complicated and finely wrought hierarchical structure to it. The structure has to work right or the whole thing fails. But the only way you can work on it is by hitting one character at a time. (discussion at slashdot) actually, stephenson's description of quicksilver and thoughts on 17th century intellectual history are more interesting than his comparison of writing and programming.)

talking about work in progress is not much better even when it's going well. for example, a few days I figured out the perfect way to end chapter 5, with a single line, short and funny --- why can't they just play soccer like everyone else? get it?

well, you see, susan, she's the main character and narrator, is being bullied at school, and she's had a really horrible week, first a gang of girls surrounded her at her locker and knocked her books off her desk in english, and then someone put gum in her hair on the bus, so she's hiding in the bathroom during lunch because she's afraid to go to the cafeteria, and she's thinking about all the thugs at school, and how they seem to work together, and wondering if being a thug is like playing sports, you know, with, thug tryouts and thug practice and so she thinks they should play soccer instead.

guess you had to be there.

meanwhile, I've gotten off the waiting list and into an ongoing writing class. naturally, this involves talking about writing for a couple of hours a week, and it's interesting and extremely helpful. the main difference is that the discussion is grounded in the specifics of what people have actually written. writing turns out to be like computer programming and other technical pursuits --- someone who knows what they're doing can step in with the right piece of information and save you, literally, hours of wasted time and effort. I think I'm a pretty good writer, I've even taught a couple of writing intensive freshman seminars, and I'm an avid reader. it's humbling to realize how little I know about the mechanics of fiction --- I've spent a lot of time travelling through the alternate reality of books without paying much attention to how the author transports me there.

(the class is taught by laurel yourke through uw extension. laurel will be reading from her book take your characters to dinner at the east side barnes & noble in madison on may 6th at 7 PM. she's also teaching at two awesome week long workshops in wisconsin this summer, the school of the arts at rhinelander and the write-by-the-lake retreat,neither of which I'll be able to attend because I'll be in california.)

and yes, I realize that I just spent several hours writing about why I don't write about what I'm writing about.


bizarre internal contingencies

what orelia is reading; file under "no comment"

The activation and maintenance of defensive behavior is (the) case in point. False beliefs activate avoidance responses that keep individuals out of touch with prevailing environmental conditions, thus creating a strong reciprocal interaction between beliefs and action that is protected from corrective environmental influence. In extreme cases, behavior is so powerfully controlled by bizarre internal contingencies that neither the beliefs nore the accompanying actions are much affected even by extremely punishing environmental consequences.

from the self system in reciprocal determinism by albert bandura.

ugly, ugly, ugly

I really have to stop checking googlenews for new information about the war in iraq every 37 seconds --- it feels like rubbernecking writ large, I know I shouldn't gawk but I just can't seem to turn from the destruction. I had originally intended to title this entry "mission accomplished" but the situation has gotten too serious for snark in the past 48 hours. this is what I expected to happen before george bush unleashed his war of destruction in iraq, but the relative calm so far lulled me into complacency.

ted kennedy, the ur massachussetts liberal who opposed the war from the beginning, referred to iraq as "george bush:s vietnam" this week. the toronto star invited online comments on the issue:

It was like Vietnam from the beginning: unclear objectives, fabrications and distortions from the inception, rampant jingoism. We need to bring in the UN and exit promptly. Then vote Bush out in November.
Jordan McClung, Raleigh, NC, April 6

Has Iraq become Bush's Vietnam? Hardly. Vietnam never spawned terror threats against the American people. The repercussions of Bush's folly will be endured for many years to come by the West in general and Americans especially.
Robert Dresser, Parksville, B.C., April 6

Beyond a doubt. Bush has done irrefutable harm to an already tarnished image of America on the world scene. The unfortunate victims are the Iraqi people and the servicemen sent there under false pretext.
John Baltic, Pickering, April 6

Once again, American soldiers are sacrificing themselves and dying for the political whims of the U.S. government.
Anthony McCulley, Toronto, April 6

keeping with the vietnam analogy, the attempts to cover up the depth and breadth of opposition to the occupation have already started. while the bush administration claims that the current insurgency is the work of a few "thugs, gangs and terrorists" intelligence sources close to the action paint a different picture, according to an article in yesterday:s new york times Account of Broad Shiite Revolt Contradicts White House Stand:

United States forces are confronting a broad-based Shiite uprising that goes well beyond supporters of one militant Islamic cleric who has been the focus of American counterinsurgency efforts, United States intelligence officials said Wednesday.

. . .

...intelligence officials now say that there is evidence that the insurgency goes beyond Mr. Sadr and his militia, and that a much larger number of Shiites have turned against the American-led occupation of Iraq, even if they are not all actively aiding the uprising.

furthermore, opposition among sunnis goes well beyond former members of hussein:s ba:ath party:

The Sunni forces appear instead to be led by former Iraqi government members and local tribal leaders in Falluja and other cities in the Sunni heartland, intelligence officials said.

Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. official who worked covertly in Iraq in the mid-1990's, said that some of those Sunni tribal leaders were once opposed to Saddam Hussein, and years ago approached the C.I.A. about working with it against Hussein. But now, many of those same tribal leaders have turned against the occupation, current and former intelligence officials say.

following up, today:s times documents increased cooperation between sunnis and shiites, under the banner of iraqi nationalism. Signs That Shiites and Sunnis Are Joining to Battle Americans:

"Sunni, Shia, that doesn't matter anymore," said Sabah Saddam, a 32-year-old government clerk who took the day off to drive one of the supply trucks. "These were artificial distinctions. The people in Falluja are starving. They are Iraqis and they need our help."

"Our different battles have turned into one fight, the fight against the Americans," (said) Ahmed Jumar, a 25-year-old professional soccer player who belongs to a Shiite militia.

a bbc reporter asked one of the organizers of an anti-american demonstration in paradise square (site of last year:s ultimate photo-op -- the toppling of a statue of saddam hussein) if he didn:t at least owe a debt of gratitude to the coalition for eliminating saddam. he replied:

The Americans are occupiers. We all know that everything the US has done here, they did for themselves.

opposition to the occupation is growing not just in iraq, but across the arab world. again according to the nyt (Arabs Worry Over Extremism While Evoking Vindication) this editorial published in the united arab emirates is "typical":

Freedom, democracy, the rule of law and other such promises have been transformed in the occupation's lexicon into violations, invasions, sieges, curfews, bombardments from Apache helicopters and the terrorization of a people.

sounds like all that:s missing is a little napalm and agent orange.


that:s the mark of 2/3 of the beast. some number fun that bill & I figured out at breakfast+

12 = 3 x 4,   56 = 7 x 8

more good clean nerd fun from my brother john: build your own safety pin motor.

drywall hell

bill has spent the weekend in drywall hell, smashing down all of the plaster in his music room and putting up sheetrock in its place. that put me in drywall purgatory, helping to carry and hold things. I really dislike struggling with heavy awkward objects, so the worst part was trying get 5 sheets of drywall through 2 doors and up two winding flights of stairs. my a priori belief, that I would be reaching for the first aid kit before the end of the day, transpired after I said "okay" meaning "okay you can lower it slowly to the ground" which bill heard as "okay you you can let go now."

I:m filing "home renovations" along with golf and miami vice under "things that a lot of other people think are really great that I don:t get."

guess what?

the weather in madison still sucks. it:s cold and windy and the air still has an icy edge. the crocuses have started blooming in the front, but they:re shivering and wishing they:d thought to bring a sweater. like jason said on 31 march -- out like a lamb, my ass. yesterday was quite impressive though, the surf was up on lake mendota, it was so windy there were actual waves.


I feel like I:ve been falling behind on my commitment to spend an hour a week working to defeat bush. (I can make it up later in the campaign, according to now that the media have finally woken from its catatonic state all I can really say about clarke and condoleeza rice and the 9/11 commission is "yeah, what they said." however, this remark from former republican national chairman rich bond, buried at the end of an article in newsday shows just how cynical and craven the republicans are about 9/11, viewing it as a photo-op for bush:

The imagery of George Bush standing on the rubble of 9/11 overrides anything Clarke can say.

rich bond:s utter lack of concern for finding out the truth about 9/11 is emphasized by his comments on condoleeza rice:s long delayed testimony to the commission:

If the Democrats want to slap around an African American woman, let them try.

condoleeza rice runs with the big dogs. given her recent media blitz and the full frontal assault on richard clarke, I don:t think the democrats will be inclined to pull their punches because rice is an african-american woman. nor should they. and I think bond:s choice of the words "slap around" says a lot more about his perspective than it does about the hard questions she will face next week.


I:ve lost the link to the original article, but this comment from Bruce J. Schulman, a professor of history and American studies at Boston University, reveals the weakness of electoral politics as a mechanism for progressive social change:

Oddly enough, the vitriolic and bitter character of American political elections is a sign of just how much agreement on the fundamentals of politics and public life there is.

the same point, made aphoristically by gore vidal:

there is one political party in the united states, and it has two right wings.

I:m still voting for "anybody but bush."

more blog-O-rama
entries from 03.04