Sometimes I'm amazed at the things I know


For the piece of fiction I'm working on, I needed a small town near Pittsburgh. I guessed Allegheny. There isn't a town named Allegheny near Pittsburg, but the county Pittsburgh's in is Allegheny County. I think I deserve at least partial credit for that.


In the past, this would be the week I became a widower


Today Lady Steed had the opportunity to go get some morphine and some laproscopy. And now she's one appendix lighter.

Remarkable isn't it? That a death sentence not so many generations ago is as routine as pie?

So routine that I'm having a difficult time being as grateful as I ought to be.

But if my heart and mind are slow to realize how lucky I am, rest assured that the rest of me knows, the rest of me knows.


The haters seem to be slowing down.
Time for my defense of Lana Del Rey.


Poor, deceived hipsters

That hipsters were tricked into liking something corporate makes me feel not even a little bad. Like music for what it is. Needing someone to tell you what to hate isn't different from needing someone to tell you what to like.

But srsly---corporate makeover?

While I admit that Lizzy Grant working with a bunch of suits then coming out the other end as Lana Del Rey is offputting, it is, after all, part of a great American tradition. Check out the Kristen Wiig version of Lana defending the real Lana (skip ahead to 3:15):

Selling out is a great American tradition. In and of itself I just don't think it's sufficient reason to dismiss someone as a money-grubbing whore. It's a solid piece of evidence, but insufficient to convict.
I learned that there's no reason why people decide they like music when they do. Even if you're the best singer in the world, there's a good chance no one will ever hear you. You make a decision to keep singing or to stop. I've been singing in Brooklyn since I was 17 and no one in the industry cared at all. I haven't changed a thing since then and yet things seem to be turning around for me. Perhaps the angels decided to shine on me for a little while.
(x via y)

Woman-hating woman

Hard to respect the point-of-view character in "Off to the Races," I grant you. Here's the chorus:
And I'm off to the races, cases of Bacardi chasers
Chasin' me all over town 'cause he knows I'm wasted
Facin' time again on Rikers Island and I won't get out
Because I'm crazy baby,
I need you to come here and save me
I'm your little scarlet, starlet, singin' in the garden
Kiss me on my open mouth
Ready for you

And there are more characters like this in Born to Die---characters that seem born of a misogynist mind. Lana Del Rey who, at first glance, seemed like a woman who was going to be strong like Billie and take the songstress persona and recreate it with the sensibility of a Tori . . . or at least an Alanis.

Del Rey isn't the pop star we've come to expect in at least one other sense: The songs on her new album, Born to Die, aren't only small—they're powerless. Which is to say, she writes about women who are unhinged and consumed by the love their men provide.


Or did she?

Let me put one word in your mind, then go read the next session. We'll get back to it shortly.

The word is:



I was surprised this accusation wasn't the first and the loudest made. But it finally did show up, and rightly so, and now it has gotten a little loud. As Luke O'Neil says,
In “Off to the Races,” she pays direct homage to Lolita, quoting Vladimir Nabokov, when she sings I'm the “light of your life, fire of your loins” over the persistent soundtrack of playground noises and children in the background.

In “Put Me in a Movie” she is the most straight forward about her pedophile undertones when she begs, “Come on you know you like little girls. Come on you know you like little girls. You can be my Daddy.”
And that's not even mentioning that the new album has a bonustrack called---wait for it---"Lolita". You read that right.

All great songs. All imminently hummable. All likely to get stuck in your head. Ergo, we had better address this.

We won't make excuses for her because of pedaphilia's historical and current prominence in pop music (for the record, I never call my baby baby without an accompanying dose of irony), but that is backgroud that should be considered. And while the corporate issues discussed above take what I'm about to say into serious question, I do think that we have to accept as very real the possibility that Lizzy is purposefully pushing these typical pop-music posturings into an absurd space where we are forced to stand back and say, yes, this is ridiculous. I can't possibly take this stuff seriously.

But wait.

Then why do I take it seriously every other time I turn on the radio?

And while we're at it, I would like to point out that what we're really talking about here is not pedophilia---or even hebephilia, probably. But ephebophilia or maybe even collegeagedgirlsophilia, which I think is significantly different from pedophila or hebephlia. Not that I'm in favor of older men picking up much younger women, but I think if we're honest we have to admit there's a difference between lusting after a seven-year-old and lusting after a seventeen-year-old. (Even if I'm prone to arguing that a 2012 17er is probably less prepared for sex and marriage than a 1712 17er.)

Now let's get into my satire argument.

Here's an extended quotation from "Lolita":
Would you be mine? Would you be my baby tonight?
Could be kissing my fruit punch lips in the bright sunshine
'Cause I like you quite a lot, everything you got, don't you know
It's you that I adore, though I make the boys fall, like dominos

Kiss me in the D.A.R.K dark tonight
D.A.R.K., do it my way
Kiss me in the P.A.R.K. park tonight
P.A.R.K., let them all say

Hey, Lolita, hey
Hey, Lolita, hey
I know what the boys want, I'm not going to play
Hey, Lolita, hey
Hey, Lolita, hey
Whistle all you want, but I'm not going to say

No more skipping rope, skipping heart beats
With the boys down town
Just you and me, feeling the heat
Beating when the sun goes down

I could be yours, I could be your baby tonight
Topple you down from your sky, forty stories high
Shining like a god, can't believe I got, you inside
Look at what I've got, might have second thoughts, oh, Romeo

Ah, Romeo. And his almost-fourteen bride. I may be inadvertently invoking Poe's Law here, but I've listened to this album dozens of times. And I'm convinced Lizzy's dopey lolitas are not evidence of misogyny or childhood sexysex or anything other than a sly mocking of these trope's pervasiveness in modern pop music. And if you're waiting for Lizzy to crack a smile first, you're missing the point. As soon as she starts laughing, her effectiveness ends. I'm not about to call her a genius or anything, but if she's doing what I think she's doing, then she's at the very least a bold artist who has found a way around the suits to deliver her political message.

So take issue with the idiotic unliberated women and the blatant lolitas in her story-songs, but at least admit, as you do so, that her intent may well be satirical.

She's dating Axl Rose


No defense for that.

None at all.


Can I get sued if I call fiftyyrold Axl a justgotanMAagedwomanaphiliac?


More on Phil


After my last jaunt to Mansmansylvania, I hinted that Phil the Barber might be a lapsed Mormon. I take that back now.

I've spoken with some of the people he namedropped and now I have a better theory.

See, fifty, sixty years ago the East Bay was loaded with Mormons. Why, even thirty, forty years ago each grade level at my high school had at least thirty Mormon kids. These days? I doubt there are tha many in the whole school. Maybe not half that many.

Having read the Oakland Stake's history, I know that where now we have one stake we once had at least four. The number grew then shrunk as the number of Mormons grew, then shrunk---a combination of white flight and The Rent Is Too Damn High. (Notes: 1. These things don't usually go together. 2. Not that all Mormons are white. Though they proabaly mostly were, here, at that time.)

Anyway. The point is not that Phil the Barber must have been Mormon but that, at the time, he lived in a Mormon town, had Mormon friends---Mormons Mormons Everywhere.

Which provides a new piece of the puzzle in understanding my new home.

That is all.


Return to Mansmansylvania
You never can tell
It's a small world after all


It's been a long time since the best haircut I've ever had or, in other words, since my last trip to Mansmansylvania, my term of endearment for the shop down the street.

I asked about the Saints scandal (he thinks its ridiculous---they had bounties in his day too---you didn't want to get hit that way, you let the guy know you could tell he was thinking about it and he would back off). I asked about his horses (he hasn't had one for several years). We talked about fishing and genealogy. I learned that the El Cerrito Plaza used to have a dog track and a football field. Good times.

He also happened to ask how Lady Steed and I met. "At college. BYU. In Utah." (I feel less constrained to speak in complete sentences when visiting Mansmansylvania.)

Then I started to learn that Phil the Barber knows all the oldtime Mormons in the area. Ends up we had a Mormon in the area connected to the Thunderbird hotel chain. Maybe that was the same one who was the son of George Dewey Clyde, governor of Utah? Then he knows Larry around the corner and Tom over the other direction. And he always referred to wards and missions and the Church---never that word "Mormon" I just dropped.


Holy crap. The barber-king of Mansmansylvania might be Mormon.


April 16 UPDATE


The LITTLE Book!
& friends


024) The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, finished April 2

Can you believe I've never read this before? It's always amazed me when I stopped to think about it. It is "the little book," after all.

And I must say that reading it was an utter and absolute joy. Not hard to see how Strunk affected White, one of our great writers.

In a way, I guess I'm glad that I've figured out all this stuff on my own already (exception: I finally understand why some people are so uptight re that-v-which), but frequently, as I read a sentence or paragraph, I would want to be in my classroom, grab my students' heads, and shove them into the book and yell, This! This is what I'm trying to tell you!

I think when I read it again (of course I will), I'll carry with me a highlighter to mark all those bits, then make posters to plaster upon my rooms' walls.

To quote from White's original New Yorker essay that inspired Macmillan to republish Strunk's masterpiece on usage,

I think, though, that if I suddenly found myself in the, to me, unthinkable position of facing a class of English usage and style, I would simply lean far out over the desk, clutch my lapels, blink my eyes, and say, "Get the little book! Get the little book! Get the little book!"
perhaps a month---I don't really know


023) UNTITLED MS by Kyle Jepson, finished March 12, 2012

A great read. Hope to be able announce its publication sometime.

three days


022) The Complete Peanuts 1981-1982 by Charles M. Schulz, finished March 4

The utter joy the early books delivered by, say, having Linus appear for the first time
or Snoopy stand up for the first time
or Sally learn how to speak
that joy has passed. The strips have their essential cast and essential rules fully established. Now the joy provided by Complete Peanuts is just that of watching a master of his craft do what he does best. And it is utter joy.

One bit of a note for this set, the intros are excellent. Which has not always been the case (they are clearly the most uneven aspect of the series). But Al Roker (who surprised me) and Lynn Johnston (who did not) both wrote thoughtful, interesting, worth-reading introductions to their respective volumes.

We're more than halfway through the over 17,000 strips now and while we've years to go, I'm reminded of how sad I was to learn he had retired, that he had died, to read his final strip. In the next volume for instance, is Violet's final speaking role. Shermy's already been gone for years. And Frieda.

And someday God too will turn out the lights and walk away.

about a month


021) The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, finished March 3

I know Adam Rex as a creator of comicsy picture books, so when a student told me this was her sister's favorite book and constantly being quoted around their house, I asked the library for it and expected it to be a three minute read. When it turned out to be a 400+page novel, I nearly did not check it out. But I did and I read it and it was a lark.

Here's the idea: a girl is writing an essay for class. The best essay will be entered in a national competition. The topic? The year aliens---first the Boov, then the Nimrog---took over the Earth. She has a remarkably unique view on those events and thus it takes her many many pages to fulfill the assignment. Even so, half the book she keeps hidden away because she doesn't want all the facts out there.

Her mother is abducted twice. The first time leads to her being shunned by her community, the second time happens on Christmas Eve, the day before Smekday. And our hero, Tip, has to try and find her mother.

People who are looking for strong female characters of color in their YA lit, rejoice! Tip is your character!

Adults who like being amused for hundreds of pages and kids who enjoy constant laughter, rejoice!

People who like smart funny new science-fiction ideas, rejoice! (At least, to someone with as much background in the genre as me.)

People who enjoy references to classic literature (example: Huckleberry Finn), rejoice! Especially if you don't like the author drawing attention to said references.

People who enjoy deeply embedded references to historical events, rejoice! Especially if you don't like the author drawing attention to said references.

If you enjoy your science fiction loaded with fun and ironic references to classic science fiction, rejoice!

In other words, this is the thinking person's kiddy SF book.

Here are some scans.

This first one comes after tip befriends a Boov under the name of J.Lo who fixes up her car:

Next, the first comics page from the book. J.Lo draws the comics (Earth languages are too difficult for him to write) and Tip adds the captions.

After their trip to Florida proves to be a bust (the Boov have moved all the American humans, including Tip's mom, to Arizona), they buy a map. Here's the page showing the map:

One of Tip's smart observations is that, should the alien invasions end, the rest of the country will return home yet Arizona will now be part of each American. While Arizona will be sullied for the native Arizonans. It's a smart observation and presented through Tip's mature-but-child perspective and typical of what I like about the thematic presentations in the book.

If you look close at that last scan, you'll see this:

This, of course, I am emphasizing not because it is vital to understanding Smekday but because I am contractually obligated to emphasize any and all Mormon content. So here's the first part of the next page as well:


Anyway, fun book. One of those books that, having read, I can image the young Theric checking out again and reading again and again and again.

Some mild language (which Tip usually apologizes for or censors) and some violence (the most horrifying moment of which is later dehorrified).

less than a week

Previously in 2012 . . . . :

Read the reviews of 14-20.
020) Billy Hazelnuts by Tony Millionaire, finished February 25
019) Good-bye, Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson, finished February 26
018) Madman 20th Anniversary Monster HC by [everybody], finished February 25
017) Billy Hazelnuts and Crazy Bird by Tony Millionaire, finished February 25
016) Billy Hazelnuts by Tony Millionaire, finished February 25
015) Habibi by Craig Thompson, finished February 20
014) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1910 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, finished February 15

Read the reviews of 12-13.
013) Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, finished February 12
012) Black Hole by Charles Burns, finished February 11

Read the reviews of 6-11.
011) The Complete Peanuts: 1979-1980 by Charles M. Schulz, finished February 4
010) Blankets by Craig Thompson, finished February 4
009) Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, finished February 2
008) The Millstone Necklace (forthcoming) by S.P. Bailey, finished January 31
007) American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, finished January 27
006) Across a Harvested Field by Robert Goble, finished January 23

Read the reviews of 1-5.
005) Hark! a Vagrant! by Kate Beaton, finished January 21
004) The Death of a Disco Dancer by David Clark, finished January 12
003) Bucketfoot Al: The Baseball Life of Al Simmons by Clifton Blue Parker, finished January 9
002) Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestly, finished January 9
001) What of the Night? by Stephen Carter, finished January 5


Thoughts on the Thin Man remake


I've been expecting a Thin Man remake for about ten years now. I've been expecting it with both joy and dread. Dread because most remakes insult lovers of the original. And joy because the Ocean's 11 remake remains one of the coolest movies I've ever seen.

Like any good fan faced with this inevitability, I've cast the leads in my mind. Once I hit upon my Nick, I knew I had nailed it. Nick must be Hugh Laurie.

His work on House has proved he can do American as well as any American. The man can wear a suit and still be believable as a friend of the lowlifes. Plus, he's effortlessly hilarious. Plus, he can play piano. Love Johnny Depp as I do (currently cast as Nick), he just can't do Nick as well as Hugh Laurie can do Nick. Of this I am certain.

Recasting Myrna Loy is more difficult. In part because I'm kinda in love with her, and partly because---

No, it's just because Myrna Loy is probably the best actress like ever and I totally am in love with her. She's unreplacable!

Who I keep arriving at is Cate Blanchett.

She could do it. The best evidence might be her turn in The Aviator, but I'm almost leery to link to it if you don't know her already as you could get the wrong impression.

But I've never been 100% sold on Cate which is why this blog post that's been percolating since c. 2005 has never been written until now.

This list, which is what introduced me to the Thin Man remake, has some actresses I like, but most of them are too young, imho. Especially if you're matching them with Hugh Laurie (or Johnny Depp, for that matter). The exception, and it's a striking one, is Kristin Wiig. She's a newly minted movie star, and her work in Bridesmaids makes me think she could do this. But if she goes into one of her two or three funny voices, I'm not sure I would like that.

I don't mean to come off as a stick in the mud, but I don't want this played to broad. In my opinion, the beauty of Nick and Nora is their understatement. Something Hugh Laurie is great at. And something Kristin Wiig can be great at. But it's not what Kristin Wiig fans would be coming to see.

So I'm still not sure about Myrna's replacement.

In the end, I don't mind the movies being remade. They're old, and the best way to get people to watch them in 2012 is with a successful remake. And solid married couples are too rare in the American cinema. Never do you doubt that Nick and Nora will be together forever and that allows them to rely on each other and create that certain magic that only confidently married people can pull off. So let's go on with the remake.

But if Johnny Depp drops out, oh passingby casting director, get on your phone and start selling the studio a helping of Hugh.



In lieu of Svithetacular, a list of talks to reread



(saturday morning)

Elder Oaks

With the kids yelling, he seemed to be saying things he could not possibly have been seeing.
Elder Eyring

Because I need to savor the first General Conference talk to ever feature giant robots.

(saturday afternoon)

Elder Holland

Remix of one of my favorite talks ever, using a new parable
Elder Cook

His listing cities to be destroyed prior to second coming. (He gave his native San Francisco better odds of surviving than Salt Lake.)
Elder Scott

I . . . don't remember . . . .


---nothing happened here, ladies---

(sunday morning)

President Uchtdorf

Don't judge me because I sin differently than you.
Elder Christofferson

Using counsels and good sense to suss out wisdom from dumb thingies. "The Church will know from the Holy Ghost manifest in the body of the members . . . ." (molaq)

(sunday afternoon)

Elder Wilson

The helpful guide re unrighteous dominion.
Elder Evans

Fresh new take on Choose Ye This Day.
Elder Anderson

Because I totally wasn't paying attention. Though that story kicked me in the teeth.

previous svithe, the presvithetacular

Real Svithetaculars
176.0 * 176.5 * 177.0 * 177.5 * 178.0 * 178.5 * 179.0 * 179.5 * 180.0 * 180.5 * "181.0" * 181.5