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Friday, May 20, 2005
And old joke in Chicago is that there are two seasons: winter, and construction. Three months in Central Florida have taught me that they only have two seasons themselves: Hurrricanes and Child Abusers.
[ Morgan at 5:15 PM ]
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
We Few / David Weber and John Ringo
We Few / David Weber and John Ringo Skilled military SF from two guys who are pretty good at keeping the pages flying. The last book in this series had a "more of the same" beads on a stinrg quality. And frankly, both these guys are a bit too much of the Military Feudalists for my tastes a lot fo the time. Lots of heros who are royalty and such. But the military part of that, which admires and rewards competence, and honor, leavens the bit of "lord and master" that creeps through in their writings from time to time.
[ Morgan at 2:05 PM ]
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Punk Rock
Volcano Girls just came up in the shuffle. You know, I've always kind of liked the way Louise Post has kept at her music making. For a long while, I heard the stupidest of things justified as being "punk rock" or "the most punk rock thing we could do" (Green Day releasing an acoustic single). When Louise Post started touring again, she had put on a lot of weight after (I think) a bout with depression or whatever else. After Post's version of Veruca Salt came out with an album, I was in the Wicker Park dog run, and someone I know who is in the Chicago band scene made a reasonable, but snarky, comment to me, along the lines of: "Louise should have put herself together better. She needed to be more marketable before she went touring again." Geeze. But is the music good? (This was a woman who said this, btw.) Right now, it seems to me that being fat and still rocking hard is the most punk rock thing you can do. Of course, it helps that Ann Wilson went there before. And that Kirstie Alley is dealing with the same things. And both of them are still hot, just like Post.
[ Morgan at 2:13 AM ]
Sunday, May 08, 2005
Boring Music
I just poked my head up form the keyboard and thought, Christ, that is one boring-ass song. I don't know what the song was, but I realized I have a whole pants-load of droning alt-rock on my Nomad. And I don't like it all that much. I think the progenitor of all that stuff for me is Red Red Meat's Jimmywine Majestic, even though that album isn't all that drony. Where did all this shit come from? I need to start cranking up the AC/DC more, as if I don't crank it up enough already. Time to set up a new bike riding playlist. Heavy on the AC/DC and the Flogging Molly.
[ Morgan at 2:33 PM ]
Have I mentioned?
That I'm doing more posting over on Watershed right now? Well, I am. There will be more here, but only after I finish up with some work for that blog. Blog, feh. I've hated that word since SXSW was having panel discussions about it back in 2000 or so. Just nauseating, and all the variations, too: blogosphere, etc. But it's like hating hurricanes at this point: hate all you want, you can't avoid them.
[ Morgan at 1:51 PM ]
Thursday, May 05, 2005
Margaret Kane, Runaway Bride

I can't be the only one who has noticed this, can I? I am convinced that the reason the story of Jennifer Wilbanks became a national story, not because of the Laci Peterson factor, not because of the big wedding factor, but because subconsciously the American public thinks she looks like a Keane Doll. And Americans love Keane dolls.

Jennifer Wilbanks, Runaway Bride

A Big Eyed Waif from Margaret Keane

And now the two of them in combination:

[ Morgan at 6:37 PM ]
Monday, May 02, 2005
Water, Water Everywhere, But Not Really

I don't think most of my pals know this, but I have been interested in water issues for a number of years. It was a slow evolution to the specific interest, since where and when I grew up, the only water issues were making sure the PCB level in lake Michigan weren’t too high to swim. That’s the mid-70s or so, on the south end of the lake. When I got older, and studied the Indiana Dunes biosphere in more detail in school, I was amazed to find out how slowly water circulates in the southern part (MY part) of the lake. Stories like acid rain, the constant flooding of the Little Calumet River, the erosion of the Northern Indiana beaches, and the demise of commercial fisheries in Michigan City meant that water issues were a constant drumbeat in the background of my life.

But it was just background, because when you live around Lake Michigan, you never really worry about having water, just about whether it’s clean or not. I did my qualifying SCUBA dive in an East Chicago quarry, with steel mills and textile factories visible over the built-up rock ledges around the quarry. Growing up in industrial Indiana in the 70s and 80s meat you thought more about how you shouldn’t drive a Japanese car to the mills for your summer job, than about mercury build-up in rainbow trout in the lake. You were aware of both, but one had a more immediate impact on your life. You just avoided eating fish, which was easier than fixing where angry steel guys would key your side panels or maybe even bust up your Subaru entirely.

Then I moved to New York for college, and I thought about water mostly as an infrastructure issue. News reports during hot summers would mention the Central Park Reservoir being at low levels. Professor Seymour Melman told his students about how water main breaks used to be front page news, and now they happened so often they were seldom covered at all. I distinctly remember that Prof. Melman said that one of the main pumps that directed fresh water from the Hudson River to the thirsty mouths of New Yorkers hasn’t been turned off in over twenty (or fifty) years. Everyone knew the pump was likely in desperate need of maintenance, but the fear was that the utility people would be unable to turn the pump back on again. It sounded like driving a really old used car: you listen constantly to the plinks and pings, convinced that the next one is going to be the death knell of the car.

Then, in the mid-90s, my Dad thought about betting involved in a business dedicated to building portable water purification units. Basically, the way most portable water purification systems work is by using UV light to sterilize and carbon filters. The company was going to build and market backpack sized units for used in extreme conditions -- like rain forest expeditions. With these units, you can pretty much dump sewage into one end and get clean water out the other. That’s an overstatement, but not by much.

And then I’ve gone to Burning Man the last couple of years. For me, one of the most interesting parts of that experience was the ability to create this temporary city in pretty extreme conditions. The lack of water in the Black Rock Desert is the most obvious problem, even compared to the dust storms and the heat and all the hippie drum circles.

In the last few months, I’ve been living in Florida, and this interest has crystallized into a plan: start working on water issues for a living. Frankly, I’m too old to want to start over from scratch and do the pure science. It feels like it would take too long to catch up to those who have been doing it for years already. And I also have 15 years of experience in communications and research that I don’t think should be thrown away. Toward that end, I am looking at graduate schools which have good Environmental policy programs.

While I do that, I’m reading extensively about water issues, and I figure to start posting about them on this here journal. I’ll post a few I have stored up in a bit. And later today, I think I might write some about lawns.

[ Morgan at 11:00 AM ]
Destruction and and the Hidden World

I don't think I'm alone in loving DVD commentary tracks, often more than I like the movie itself. A lot of time, you get details that are larger than the movie itself. like with the director commentary for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. Gore Verbinski talks about how hard it was to find any beautiful cove that wasn't completely developed b y people already. Look one direction and see verdant palms and cerulean sea. Turn around and check out the 40-room hotel and the attached 24-hour casino.

When the entire world is overdeveloped, sometimes destruction is an creator of new horizons and views. Two stories along that line, one from the US and one from Iraq.

Iraq first . After the first Gulf War, there were uprisings in the Mesopotamian Marshlands in southern Iraq. As part of crushing those uprisings, Saddam Hussein (using British plans that dated from the 1950s colonial period) built “an extensive and elaborate system of drainage and diversion structures”. Sounds like dams and canals to me, but it may be something more.

In any case, when the U.S. invaded in 2003, dykes near Basra were destroyed, which reflooded approximately 20% of the area. The Eden Again project is dedicated to taking this opportunity to rebuild the wetlands, and make better use of the water. (“Eden Again” comes from the legend that the Garden of Eden story may be based on these wetlands.)

The other example of creation from disaster I read about today involves the Glen Canyon. Any of you who know a bit bout the environmental movement are probably familiar with Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. One of the main plot concepts in that book was to blow up the Glen Canyon Dam, which created the artificial reservoir called Lake Powell and covered up canyons that Abbey considered as beautiful as any in the world.

Well, the ongoing drought in the southwest has caused Lake Powell to drop by 144 feet, to about 33% of what it was in July of 1999. The drought has many disturbing implications for drinking water and power generation in the Southwest and in Southern California. But ill winds and silver linings mean that you can go and see the beauty that Abbey wrote about in 1875, beauty that hasn’t been visible for over 30 years.

Travel writer Susan Spano wrote about this for the LA Times, though I read about it in the Tampa Tribune: Exposing Utah's depths

[ Morgan at 1:07 AM ]
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Plot Against the Readers
I was noodling through some of Lance Mannion's past posts, and I read through some discussions of the National Book Awards from last year in his Writer's Workshop category. One of the books that came up in the discussions was Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. I tried to read that book a while back, because every once in a while I make a point of readings authors I know are terrible, or I expect them to be. It's the reason I read Jackie Collins. Roth is just an exmaple of a bad writer who gets reviewed well. I liked Portnoy's Complaint just fine, but have found all of Roth's subsequent work to be wholly inadequate and limited in range. Really, so is Portnoy , but at least that book has the verve of the new.

Plot Against America was bad in the ways I come to expect from writers from the "literary" genre who take on tropes from other genres. Usually, these writers have a terrifically mediocre grasp of plot. And they are often extremely bad at explaining actions, or background information. And by bad, I mean dull as day-old dogshit. But when these writers add the difficulty of, say, a mystery plot, or science fictional plotting story techniques, they are worse than the most boring Boy Scout ghost-story teller around a campfire. In Roth's specific case, he fucked up all the world building, which is the essence of alternate history (and much other good science fiction). Boring dumps of information, like reading a history paper written by a retarded 5-year old. And I could frnakly care less about Philip Roth's same goddamn family dynamic I've read for 40 fucking years.

I can understand why Roth would want to use the alternate history technique, even badly, because it helps hide how little he has to say about the world, and about people.

Like a lot of literary writers, his world is so cramped and constipated, it gives me claustrophobia to read about it. Even when he changes the entire world, he doesn't really care about except in so far as it affects his own gonads and guts. That's fine, but frankly I can get a more expansive and interesting worldview from a freako right wing Mack Bolan novel, or a JAG novelization. I blame Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, and JD Salinger for second-rate junk like Plot Against America. The huge self-regard that fueled the fiction of all those writers led to novel world that only existed to be reviewed and cataloged, often rejected, by the characters in them. OK, using fiction to judge the world is a reasonable use of pages and ink, but not when you're goddamn boring. Bellow is often boring, but at least he's boring in a way had never been done before. Roth is boring in a way that's been done for years in the slush piles in the offices of Tor and Baen Books.

Look, I am biased in favor of books that have interesting plots. I think Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy would be in favor of that. But even Ford Madox Ford's Good Soldier, which is a slow and tightly focused book, has a compelling and involving plot. Unlike the over-determined classist crap of Henry James, at least Ford shows non-obvious things about the people involved in his story. I think it's because Ford genuinely likes people, and James, Bellow, and finally Roth only like themselves.

[ Morgan at 9:30 PM ]
Darwin’s Radio / Greg Bear

Darwin's Radio / Greg Bear
I actually read this a few weeks ago, but figured I would mark it down. I like Greg Bear fine, but I always ened up thinking his books should have been more complete, should have gone further. This was an interesting evolution disaster novel, with a bunch of biology discussion. But the ending didn't seem like an ending, so much as running out of steam and paper.

[ Morgan at 8:19 PM ]