Saturday, May 19, 2007
One More Reason Why Lame Duck US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Should Resign ASAP

"Mr. Comey said that on the evening of March 10, 2004, Mr. Gonzales and Andrew H. Card Jr., then Mr. Bush’s chief of staff, tried to bypass him by secretly visiting Mr. Ashcroft. Mr. Ashcroft was extremely ill and disoriented, Mr. Comey said, and his wife had forbidden any visitors.

Mr. Comey said that when a top aide to Mr. Ashcroft alerted him about the pending visit, he ordered his driver to rush him to George Washington University Hospital with emergency lights flashing and a siren blaring, to intercept the pair. They were seeking his signature because authority for the program was to expire the next day.

Mr. Comey said he phoned Mr. Mueller, who agreed to meet him at the hospital. Once there, Mr. Comey said he 'literally ran up the stairs.' At his request, Mr. Mueller ordered the F.B.I. agents on Mr. Ashcroft’s security detail not to evict Mr. Comey from the room if Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card objected to his presence.

Mr. Comey said he arrived first in the darkened room, in time to brief Mr. Ashcroft, who he said seemed barely conscious. Before Mr. Ashcroft became ill, Mr. Comey said the two men had talked and agreed that the program should not be renewed.

When the White House officials appeared minutes later, Mr. Gonzales began to explain to Mr. Ashcroft why they were there. Mr. Comey said Mr. Ashcroft rose weakly from his hospital bed, but in strong and unequivocal terms, refused to approve the eavesdropping program.

'I was angry,' Mr. Comey told the committee. 'I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.'"

Blinking lights and a creaking Gilliamesque system of bellows and blowers labor mightily at Anodyne HQ, transferring a May 17 concert with a completely different setlist -- Godwhacker! Gaslighting Abbie! -- through the Internets' pipes. BitTorrent is a terrific digital crockpot: push a few buttons, sit back, and wait 8-12 hours while a live set seamlessly coheres on the storage drive.

"Sparky," LLB. writes,

"[Thanks] for your unravelling of Divisadero. I was so turned off by the first few chapters, I had to go back and haunt myself with passages from Billy the Kid and Cinnamon Peeler's Wife. I also intend to re-read Coming through Slaughter as I thought it was a masterpiece - I also cannot reconcile the man who [wrote] this...

The nuns were moving towards a thirty-yard point on the bridge when the wind began to scatter them. They were thrown against the cement mixers and steam shovels, careering from side to side, in danger of going over the edge.

Some of the men grabbed and enclosed them, pulling leather straps over their shoulders, but two were still loose. Harris and Pomphrey at the far end looked on helplessly as one nun was lifted up and flung against the compressors. She stood up shakily and then the wind jerked her sideways, scraping her along the concrete and right off the edge of the bridge. She disappeared into the night by the third abutment, into the long depth of air which held nothing, only sometimes a rivet or a dropped hammer during the day.

Then there was no longer any fear on the bridge. The worst, the incredible had happened. A nun had fallen off the Prince Edward Viaduct before it was even finished. The men covered in wood shavings or granite dust held the women against them. And Commissioner Harris at the far end stared along the mad pathway. This was his first child and it had already become a murderer.

...with the man writing either Anil's Ghost or Divisadero.

In throwing Divisadero across the room, I almost hit the cat."

Then You Love a Little Wild One and She Brings You Only Sorrow

Left open overnight, the internets' tubes slowly spill a May 11th concert onto my hard drive. Rain before dawn, birds racketing in the green trees outside the window, Don DeLillo's excellent Falling Man on the floor beside the futon. An excellent epigraph for the ghosts there, about midway through the text: "[S]omething that belonged to another landscape, something inserted, a conjuring that resembled for the briefest second some half-seen image only half-believed in the seeing, when the witness wonders what has happened to the meaning of things, to tree, street, stone, wind. . . ." And, too, a little earlier, a paragraph that perfectly encapsulates all the difficulty I've had with Ondaatje's Divisadero:

"'People read poems. People I know, they read poetry to ease the shock and pain, give them a kind of space, something beautiful in language,' she said, 'to bring comfort or composture. I don't read poems. I read newspapers. I put my head in the pages and get angry and crazy.'"

Tolagson writes in agreement: "[Your] Ondaatje disses are spot on. I have a theory that that mannered style of writing -- where everything is about scent and touch and earthy tactility ('memories drenched in the scent of cedar boughs') -- originated in that damn WCW poem about the plums. You know the one I mean. That poem should be removed from the curriculum. A hiatus on that poem."

I met Ondaatje, once. I was bartending at a Robin Blaser tribute at UBC's Freddy Wood Theatre. Send the fox to guard the henhouse, har har. Ondaatje sidled up to the bar and I pounced, full of rabid fan enthusiasm for Rat Jelly and Coming Through Slaughter and the rest. He was friendly, gracious to a fault, full of the shy lanconic humor so sorely lacking in Divisadero. Did Linda Spalding write half the book? It sure seems like it. The coked-up paranoid gamblers disappear about two-thirds of the way through, leaving the cliche-o-matic chattering away: "[T]hey knew each other's truthful desires. And what they discovered was not only conjugal love, but the quick danger of life around them. They were caught in the attempt at survival among strangers, these two who were strangers to each other. And they saw that anything, everything, could be taken away, there was nothing that could be held on to except each other. . . ."

This is tripe, so full of unnecessary modifiers ("truthful" desires) and mawkish sentimentality ("anything, everything could be taken away...") that my first instinct was to assume that Divisadero was a parody of middlebrow lit, a winking piss-take on Fugitive Pieces and Snow Falling on Cedars, and maybe The English Patient too. Apparently not, and this knowledge makes me sad, for the loss of the sharp intelligence of the Ondaatje who talked to me at the Freddy Wood bar over gin and tonic, and for the lack of the cutting wit that shines through Secular Love, Elimination Dance and The Conversations like the bright edge of broken glass.

Comparing Divisadero with Falling Man is instructive. DeLillo trafficks in cliches, too, but every one of them appears as if set off in quotes, or at the very least acknowledged as a cliche: "In the movie version, someone would be in the building, an emotionally damaged woman or a homeless old man, and there would be dialogue and close-ups."
Friday, May 18, 2007

ACTs (Aesthetically Claimed Things): Crassostrea gigas, horseradish, and delicious Propeller Bitter
Why ABC Funds Bought Playmates

Sounds NSFW, but actually an investing entry, right out of the Graham-and-Dodd playbook. Lots of similarly well-reasoned detective work on Irwin Michael's consistantly useful and amusing site.

"To reduce the volatility of its toy business, in 2001 the Company decided to gradually deploy its excess cash into Hong Kong real estate. The first purchase was its headquarters, The Toy House, located in Kowloon, Hong Kong for roughly HK$520 million. This transaction was followed by the purchase of its factory in 2002 and apartment buildings in 2005 and 2006. The timing of these purchases was fortuitous. The Toy House, purchased during a time of depressed rental rates, is now a retail landmark. Lease rates across both apartment and retail assets are being raised to take advantage of tight occupancy rates. Since 2002, the portfolio’s value has increased by HK$420 million. At the end of 2006, the Company’s real estate had an appraised value of HK$1.2 billion."
If Someone Wanted to Publish My Blog Entries for Money, I Wouldn't Say No

"My blog is more of a hobby than anything else, something to do for fun when I get home from my bookstore job. I've never dreamed of making a living from it. Though hypothetically speaking, if The New Yorker—a publication that I'm sure pays top dollar—wanted to publish my August 9, 2005 post 'Creative Thinking Spots' in its 'Shouts And Murmurs' section, I'd consider it. Didn't cross my mind when I wrote that post, and that's certainly not why I wrote it, nor why I have a Google news alert set up for New Yorker editor David Remnick, but I can understand how someone on their staff might think the piece is a good fit for that section."

[Drawn to my attention by the staff and repeatedly forwarded by so-called "friends," even more often than Turtle Vs. Cat]

An anonymous bookseller spins a tale about the employee he inherited and later fired. Much funnier if you know the Lower Mainland; the links below should fill in the neccessary geographical context for outsiders.

BOOKSELLER: Please take the van to Victoria on the ferry and pick up a load of books.


[Tempus fugit]

PHONE: Ring!


FIRED GUY: I'm gonna be awhile.

BOOKSELLER: Where are you? On the island?

FIRED GUY: I haven't left the mainland yet.

BOOKSELLER: What? You left at 6 for the 9 o'clock ferry. Where are you? What's going on?

FIRED GUY: The Victoria ferry hasn't come in yet.


The same boat keeps arriving.

BOOKSELLER [slowly]: Where is that ferry going?

FIRED GUY: To Fort Langley. Why?

Via local writer and photographer Lee Bacchus:

"Enjoyed the reading by both Stuart and Clint. Here's one of many shots I'm sure you'll receive. Excuse the quality; it's from that great camera manufacturer, Nokia."
To an undisclosed Pacific Northwest location, to look at the largest collection of books I've ever seen. No further details right now, but in a week I hope to be able to post a picture here.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
In on my day off to straighten the front room in the aftermath of Clint Burnham and Stuart Ross' big reading, pack away the unsold beer, and vacuum the floor, a task begun yesterday morning and promptly aborted as the machine swallowed a yard and a half of unravelled carpet, overheated, and caught on fire. "This place smells," said yesterday's first customer, stalking out. Well no shit. Burning machine-woven plastic stinks. I stood out on the street with the still-smoldering vacuum turned upside down, hacking away at the blackened threads wrapped around the brushes. Snip, snip, went the shears, as if gently extracating someone from bondage gone awry. Just cut the ties, don't nick the $500 custom corset or the wedding dress. . . .As if on cue, the vacuum exhaled a stinky fog of dirt, pet fur, and blackened carpet into my face. A new low in an ongoing series of lows, the kind of experience that only an owner-operated small business provides. That said, the staff got fully-paid extended medical and dental coverage this month, so things are slowly looking up, despite the daily gong show of crises here at Main and Broadway.

"She slept against him with her young secrets and her senses doubled by substances that constantly waved their arms, so he could not look at what was behind them." A line from Ondaatje's Divisadero, emblematic of the contradictory styles at the heart of this maddening and deeply flawed book. On one hand: the nebulous bullshit of "her young secrets." I don't know what this phrase means, and doubt that Ondaatje does, either. The words just float along in the air, as pleasant and meaningless as Zamfir's flute. And they have lots of equally vacuous friends: "the truth of her life," "this man's life seemed innocent," "he had been able to witness her more clearly," & etc. On the other hand: the second half of the sentence, written as if by another man, the Ondaatje who wrote Billy The Kid, Elimination Dance, and the amazing introduction to Paterson Ewen's AGO retrospective catalog: heroin and coke personified as Gustonesque caricatures, the phrase's nervy energy capturing both the addict's hyped-up personality, and also a sense of black amusement at something that is definitely unfunny. A sensibility akin to that of Ken Lum's early text-and-image diptychs: realism tempered by detached black humor.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
At the local cafe:

SIGN ON COUNTER: Lobster Bisque. Oven Roasted Lobster, Star Anise, Flat Parsley....[many other ingredients]

GIRL IN FRONT OF ME IN LINE: Are the lobsters really oven-roasted?

LOST BARISTA: I think so.

GIFOMIL: 'cause I've never heard of oven-roasting lobsters. You boil them. Alive.

LB: Eeew!

GIFOMIL: The air in their shells fills up with steam, and they scream, y'know, they're all, Eeeeeee!

LB: Eeew!

[to CJB] Did you want the soup?

CJB: Not any more!
Recent reading:

Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power

Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero still in-process, with varying degrees of patience. Hilarious chapters about coked-up, Philip K. Dick-reading, conspiracy theory-endorsing Nevada cardsharps who could have stepped directly from Gaucho's lyrics lie sandwiched in between slabs of "writerly writing" aimed squarely at the CBC crowd. "Could you waste your life on a gift? If you did not use your gift, was it a betrayal?" Endless pages of rugged inarticulate men with "musical fingers" and "no darkness in them," the scent of lime trees, pigeons' rustling wings, sex in the rain. This execrable stuff is just misty-eyed fantasy, and hard to square with Ondaatje's more familiar encyclopedic catalogues, sly humor, long run-on associative chains:

"[A] many-headed civilization arrived. Gamblers, water entrepreneurs, professional shootists, prostitutes, diarists, coffee drinkers, whisky merchants, poets, heroic dogs, mail-order brides, women falling in love with boys who walked within the realm of luck, old men swallowing gold to conceal it on their return journeys to the coast, balloonists, mystics, Lola Montez, opera singers -- good ones, bad ones, those who fornicated their way across the territory. Dynamiters blasted steep grades and the land under your feet. There were seventeen miles of tunnels beneath the town of Iowa Hill. Sonora burned. Weaverville burned. Shasta and Columbia burned. Were rebuilt and burned again and rebuilt again."
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Via "Snap" Tolagson

Quick Response to Fire Saves Tire Store Inventory

"DAYTONA BEACH - A blaze erupted in the rear of a Holly Hill hubcap and tire store, sending plumes of billowing smoke across busy Nova Road.

Firefighters from several agencies were called to the Hubcap House just north of 15th Street shortly after 7 p.m., said Ed Brown, Holly Hill fire spokesman. Employee Dennis Bragg could only shake his head and snap photos with his cell phone as flames spewed from the roof of the building.

'The owner hadn't taken a vacation in two years,' he said. 'Tonight, he goes to Orlando to see a Steely Dan concert and this happens.'"
Anodyne Inc.


Parkland Income Fund (PKI.UN): .24/unit x 1170 units = $280.80
TerraVest Income Fund (TI.UN): .08333/unit x 1109 units = $92.41

Cash balance, $546.12
Monday, May 14, 2007

Tonight's unhappy task: fishing Acorna The Unicorn Girl (above) out of Erotica and refiling her in Science Fiction/Fantasy where she belongs.

Food for thought from the 2007 Berkshire Hathaway AGM:

Q [from 17-year-old shareholder]: What is the best way to become a better investor? Get an MBA, is it genetic, read more Poor Charlie's Almanac?

WARREN BUFFETT: Read everything you can. In my own case, by the time I was 10, I read every book in the Omaha public library that had to do with investing, and many I read twice. You just have to fill up your mind with competing thoughts and then sort them out as to what makes sense over time. And once you've done that, you ought to jump in the water. The difference between investing on paper and in real money is like the difference in just reading a romance novel and…doing something else. The earlier you start the better in terms of reading. I read a book at 19 that formed my framework ever since [Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor]. What I'm doing today at 76 is running things in the same thought pattern that I got from a book at 19. Read, and then on small scale do some of it yourself.

CHARLES MUNGER: Sandy Gottesman runs a large and successful investment operation. Notice his employment practices. When someone comes in to interview with Sandy, no matter his wage, Sandy asks, “What do you own and why do you own it?” And if you haven't been interested enough in the subject to know, you better go somewhere else.

WB: If you buy a farm, you'd say “I'm buying this because I expect it to produce 120 bushels per acre, etc…" from your calculations, not based on what you saw on television that day or what a neighbor said. It should be the same thing with stock. Take a yellow pad, and say, I'm going to buy GM for $18 billion, and here's why. And if you can't write a good essay on the subject, you have no business buying one share.

You are the light by which I travel into this and that
You are the light
You are the light by which I travel into this and that
You are the light light light light
You are the light....

Katie D. helpfully loads 60 minutes of Mr. Jens Lekman's sparkling orchestral pop onto the deck, lifting and lightening this long slow Monday afternoon.

One Hundred Famous Ghosts (58), 2007
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Top 20 Losers

A statistics collection published weekly in the Globe, listed in order of greatest share price percentage drop. There must be a pony in there somewhere, ne? Not this week. Nothing but twisted smoking wrecks as far as the eye can see: perpetually money-losing XS Cargo Income Fund, owner of a chain of bargain stores; Liquidation World, ditto; gold miners and biotech, which in my world means an automatic pass; Fairfax Financial Holdings, with its byzantine financial statements and penchant for legally harassing its critics; IAT Air Cargo Trust, owner of buildings leased to airline companies, freight forwarders, etc., which looks pretty attractive until you run across this interesting statistic: 52 cents earned per unit, 67 cents distributed per unit. What does Dickens say? "Annual income one pound, annual expenditure nineteen shillings and sixpence; result happiness. Annual income one pound, annual expenditure one pound and sixpence; result misery."

Of the twenty companies on the Losers list, there's only one that seems even remotely suitable for a rational investor: metal building product maker Vicwest Income Fund (metal roofing; "steel containment products," etc.), which appears to be marginally profitable, and to also be involved in a stable boring industry unattractive to the gold-and-biotech crowd. So, not a total washout, but close.

I learn a lot from plowing through the annual reports of business failures like XS Cargo Income Fund; the red flags come fast and furious, like cattle flushed into the open from under the trees. Another worthwhile exercise is to read the annual reports of two businesses in the same industry side-by-side, eg., XS Cargo and Liquidation World, with an eye to determining which is the better business, and why. A no-contest decision in favor of Liquidation World, with the proviso that both businesses seem to be suffering from poor economic conditions, which show no sign of improving soon. Why is this? I don't know, but it would, at least superficially, seem to contradict the received wisdom that liquidation retailers and dealers in secondhand goods' sales improve when the economy tanks. Food for thought.

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