Saturday, December 31, 2005


A guy who used to be in the same LDS ward as me is in jail.


So odd to read about an acquaintance being tried for some heavy-duty felonies. The public record sanitizes his very identity, distilling it down to "a Salt Lake man." Strange. I'm "a Salt Lake man," too.

Bank fraud, forgery, ripping off friends and strangers alike - it's not looking good for Baylor Stevens. He could be in the hole for most of his natural life.

Of course at this point he has only been indicted, not convicted. But...let me put it this way: if most anyone else from that ward had been hauled in front of a magistrate I would be "shocked, yes, shocked." In this case it's more like, "hmm, that answers a few questions." I always thought him to be vaguely oleaginous, with the sort of reserved blandness you'll sometimes get from people who never really say what they think.

The article was still shocking, though, for it contains the appalling revelation that he is younger than me. I thought he was like 35. He has old eyes.

My mom wanted my sister to go out with him.

So, now what? Do we wait for stern and dispassionate justice to run its course, for better or worse? Or do we go ahead and make up our minds on the matter?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Free at last

Finals have just ended. I don’t think finals have ever been as stressless as this iteration was. MBA students are more or less guaranteed that they will graduate; a failing student is bad for the program too. Anyone who is only moderately disruptive and merely kind of stupid will still escape with a B-.

It’s a liberating thing, knowing one does not have to worry about meeting artificial measures of achievement. The humble student focuses instead on actually learning something germane to his interests and plans.

This week’s The Coolest Thing Ever is a quote I found from a guy named Damien Counsell relating Michael Jackson to Darth Vader:

“Michael Jackson’s story is Darth Vader’s in reverse. In Star Wars, a whiny, sexually frustrated, white man-child no one trusts turns, via hideous disfigurement, into an all-conquering, super-cool black guy who first made it big in the 70s.”

This kind of idea is what makes the internet so valuable.

Friday, December 02, 2005

False Crises

I remember as a child, the frightening scene in Superman where Lois Lane is trapped in a wrecked helicopter, hanging from a slender wire off the side of a building. I recall being terrified that any person would have to face such a situation. Oh, the anxiety of the fraying wire, the ugly stirrings and twistings of the wrecked machine, the gulp of horror as she falls, falls, falls only to be saved by Superman! What luck that he was there. And could fly.

My youthful mind was not sophisticated enough to anticipate this turn of events (or recognize that Margot Kidder’s striking Superman at a hundred miles an hour would hurt at least as much as pavement ever could). But now, to my mind, the hanging-from-a-helicopter-bit is a yawn-inducing cliche.

I get angry at having to sit through such scenes. Must it be so predictable! There is no anxiety, for the characters are in no danger; they will be rescued. Most every crisis is a false one, and viewers with even basic familiarity with the storytelling conventions of film can recognize it.

Do you disagree with me? Have you ever once thought, “Gosh, I wonder if Indy will get out of this one?” Or, “How can Richard Gere and Julia Roberts ever fall in love now?”

Of course Richard and Julia get together. They always do. More than that, when you go see their predictable by-the-numbers romance, you do so on the strength of a guarantee from the filmmakers of a happy and predictable ending. You don’t WANT a surprise. You want to invest emotional energy in interesting and likeable characters that end up just the way you expect them to.

And then you want to curse Hollywood for its dearth of fresh new ideas.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

your new music source

I didn't discover this until yesterday, but you can select from thousands of music videos at Yahoo music. For free.

Their marketing plan is an interesting one. In exchange for loading and running a 30-second commercial that you cannot fast-forward or skip, you get to see the video.

You may think wow what a deal, but keep in mind that back when MTV and VH1 actually played music, the ratio was three or four videos per commercial break, not one to one. So maybe a little bit of a step backwards, though at least you get to choose the video yourself, and don't have to endure gangsta misogyny or pop-tart banality before finally getting to the good stuff (unless the commercial is a promo for their latest...shudder).

So I've gone through and seen some of the old favorites. As an iPod man, Metallica is of course going around the top of the list. Some offerings have proven disappointing with more exposure. Metallica's "Fuel" is not the rush I remember, and Hole's "Celebrity Skin" is downright boring. Glad I never bought that album.

But "Head Like a Hole" surprisingly weathers the test of time. And Pearl Jam's disturbing "Do the Evolution" is fascinating in a sickening sort of way. Anything by R.E.M. is good, too.

Check out the service, but don't indulge too much. Those videos dull the mind when watched with profusion.

(Trent Reznor is an awfully good musician. I wish he would write tunes that are not so ugly and depressing.)


I wrote & edited a couple of posts at the start of the week, so as to parse them out and be able to post daily despite the hectic lead-up to finals and projects currently passing.

But now I find I am fresh out of ready-made scripts to paste in. Not wanting to lose the literally couples of readers that are faithfully checking back regularly, I want to post SOMETHING. Thus the final expediency, typically very worst: free-form mental vomitings.

So right now it's just me, live, writing to you. And you alone!

Tonight I was talking to a friend, and the subject of dating came up. Explaining her continuing singlehood in the face of eminent eligibility and desirability, she said there weren't any of "her type" of guys around.

Now, for a variety of reasons she can afford to be picky, but the primary things she avers she is looking for are neither exceptionally rare nor hard to identify. So I asked her how exactly local men are lacking.

She answered something like, "Well, I would like someone that shares interests. For example, I love to such and such obscure thing."

It so happens that I LOVE this too.

Does declaring so equate to saying I am interested in her? You may say no, but context context context.

So, like the tin-eared social deafie I am (wow, what an unholy combination-metaphor...and packaged inside a similie, I note), I blurted out something like, "I love that too!" then quickly reprised with "...and...I...didn't think I was out of the ordinary, so there you have it!"

I don't know about dating her. Wouldn't oppose it, I suppose, but I haven't really considered it as she does not seem the sort that would go for my sort. Now, the really interesting question is whether this raises me in her estimation (as I also meet the other criteria she mentioned), or if I still fail on the numerous secret criteria we all harbor and are ashamed to admit in polite company.

Well. This relating-to-other-people stuff is hard. Harder yet to describe in a public forum. And not really cathartic one bit. Blarg, why even discuss it? I envy friends that can extemporize on their dating futilities (you know who you are!) so effortlessly.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Genealogy, I am doing it

This The Coolest Thing Ever is related to family history just like the last one, so you probably already don’t care. I have shared this and other details about our genealogy with my very own immediate relatives and haven’t elicited anything exceeding a “that’s cool” from the lot of them. How am I supposed to interest you, I wonder. You aren’t even related to me so how can you relate to this?

On a related note to this related note, I am starting to realize just how, shall we say, ”specialized” an interest in family history is. I find it endlessly fascinating but cannot seem to interest even my own flesh and blood in stories of where we came from.

I am worried that this hobby (obsession?) is akin to those with unhealthy fixations on Star Trek, Everquest, or political partisanship.

Some people are down with genealogy, but most are not. Maybe it’s just my family but I wonder if I have misjudged the potential for wide popular interest. Does that make me like those embarrassingly post-adolescent-fanboys-turned-fan-men, balding beneath their stormtrooper helmets? Am I blithely missing awkward brushoffs at parties when the topic turns toward this fascination of mine? Am I becoming “that guy”? You know, “that guy who can immediately pull out his family tree and show how he relates to Charlemagne”? Shudder. Nothing like devotion to obscure principles and practices to make a fellow insta-weird.

Are there any socially acceptable obsessions nowadays, healthy or unhealthy? I can’t think of any. In some circles, confessing a substantial interest in genealogy is rather like admitting to an awkward and embarrassing social disease.

Oh, wait – the Coolest Thing thing. To heck with it. Ask me about it at the sci-fi convention.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Old-Timey-Movie Review: The Third Man

The Third Man stars Orson Welles. It is a very well-made flick, but in a way that constantly brings attention to the craft of the filmmakers, rather than allowing the viewer to lose themselves in the flick.

Welles is the “main character” – the Third Man from the title, but does not appear until more than halfway into the film. Welles later said it was the perfect role to play, despite the lack of screen time: even though he’s not ON camera, the other characters spend all their time talking about him. So when he finally does show up, with all the waiting and expecting, all Welles has to do is twitch an eyebrow and grin condescendingly and we are bowled over.

I stop short of saying it is a masterpiece, though it really is well-made, and absolutely arresting to watch. It is about friendship and betrayal, and the futility of Yankee optimism and bellicosity in healing a crushed, cynical and jaded postwar Europe. Unfortunately, while being “about” these things, I’m not sure that it ever gets around to saying anything meaningful on those subjects.

The story revolves around the postwar black market and how some smugglers have hurt hundreds of little children. The protagonist is taken to a hospital where the miserable and luckless little ones are convalescing, and is so horrified that he agrees to betray a trust – but we don’t get to see the kids! We just see him looking AT the kids. Showing wee types all dewy-eyed and pathetic is perhaps an exploitation we are glad to be spared, but it’s like the filmmakers don’t want us to be unfairly influenced to hate the villain, or to see the world a little bit differently. It does little to make me think about the nature of friendship, or betrayal, or honor, virtue, or anything else. The people in it are very real but they don’t matter.

Anyway, I keep thinking I’ll be telling people it’s a masterpiece, but then I don’t. The Cuckoo-Clock-Speech is probably worth the price of admission alone. But it’s an empty pleasure.

I want to recommend it but worry that I am pushing a hollow experience onto you, dear reader. It’s an easy movie to respect, but it affirms nothing, inspires no one, and is in no way edifying or consciousness-enhancing. Is that enough? Maybe I am unfair to accuse a film of not having the ambitions I would have wanted it to.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Back from errantry

I just got back from Arizona. Light on the blogging because I have not been thinking very much lately. Or, at least not thinking about things that would make for an interesting essay or story. Storage shed unit mixes. Vertically oriented web sites. Valuations of pyramid scheme investments. Business is such utter banality sometimes, it’s a good thing there’s money involved or no one would do it.

Actually, that’s not true (about the banality, not the money…well, sometimes about the money, too). Right now I’m just in the thick of instruction that is all very well and good but not exactly voluntary. Nothing takes the fun out of learning like being forced to do it.

Normally, enterprise and economics are absolutely fascinating. I learned a funny thing while working in a bank a couple years ago. I learned that making money can be as subtle and creative as drawing a picture or writing a book. So far, I have loved finance and banking. The money and asset markets are organic computer systems that no one person can control. They represent the combined efforts, dreams, desires, abilities, and ambitions of most of earth’s population – directly or indirectly.

If you wanted to find the mind of God in earthly terms, I think you might just look for it on Wall Street.

Meanwhile, I’m out of town for a week and what have they done to my wonderful Wasatch Front? When I left it was all “crisp college football Saturday” and upon return this evening it’s a definite “early winter in Kemmerer, Wyoming” vibe. Not good at all, especially since it was 65 and sunny when I got into my car this morning.

Speaking of banality, I checked out the web site for a recent reality show that featured my cousin.

This show was bad. BAAAAADDDD. As in, so bad that even though my cousin was in it I couldn’t be troubled to watch anything after the first episode. The only redeeming feature (aside from my cousin), was the hosting setup where the judges all had to match American Idol Host personalities. So, going from memory, there was the roly poly nice guy, the attractive sweetheart woman, and most particularly the very elegant snarky ambiguously gay guy – you know, the sort that probably does ostentatious arm-waving finger snaps with no sense of irony at all.

Oh, he didn’t make a very good Simon Cowell at all, but it was funny that the producers thought that’s what made American Idol a success – a certain specific combination of judge personality and chemistry along with liberal dollops of snarky gayness, and nothing else to the mixture. “They’ve got an effeminate ponce? Well, so do we! Let’s get cracking on those Emmy acceptance speeches!” I really like those moments where the engineering of these “reality” shows is laid bare and you can see the machinations and manipulations—however poorly wrought—in action.

Anyway, so it turns out cuz was kicked off after a few episodes for being arrogant, I think. Since he is personable and polite, any conflict (and anything else that happened on the whole stupid show) was probably engineered by a desperate group of producers that could envision their jobs being exported abroad and done for 50% less by Indian engineers that can make reality shows that don’t stink.

By that point the show was being shown at 6 AM on Sundays on their Mexican affiliate. Or something. The sixth and last episode was never even aired. Not good enough to compete with Guadalajara’s early-morning weekend farm report? Ouch.

I love how the website turns this rather substantial liability into an asset. The unaired final episode is recapped thus: “In a result revealed exclusively on, Chris and Sammy, inventors of the Hydromax System, won the coveted grand prize and had their lives changed forever!”

Nothing like declaring a defeat a victory and bugging out as quick as you can.

That’s probably how we end up getting out of Iraq.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

How to Brag About Your GMAT Score

When I walked out of the Testing Center on the campus of the University of Utah a few years back, I didn’t immediately realize that the events of the few hours previous would change my life. You see, I had sat in front of a terminal, clicked a few dots with my mouse, pushed a pencil across some scratch paper a bit, and had a rather unaccountable jag of giggling. The net result was pleasing as well as surprising: a General Management Administration Test score (basis for entry into an MBA program) of unusual quality.

I got my first inkling that things were to be different from there on when I talked to a fellow test-taker who finished at the same time.

“How did it go?” I believe I asked.

“Sigh, not so well. I was really hoping to top 600, and wasn’t very close.”

“Oh,” I answered. “That’s too bad.”

“So, how did you do?”

“Uh, pretty well.”

If he only knew. My score was of a sort that could transform a young man’s resume into a story of untapped genius waiting to be trained, molded, and leveraged, rather than the tale of limited achievement and similarly proportioned potential it had previously spun, inconsistent and full of sudden starts and stops, generally describing the sort of unmotivated fellow that doesn’t even bother to prepare for important standardized tests.

This lone bright spot perched at the top of the document. I did everything but draw circles, arrows, and stars all about it when I applied to the Brigham Young University MBA program. And it got me in.

It is so rare that we jump through all of the hoops with such success. Wouldn’t you expect people to be happy to hear such a happy tale of standardized brilliance?

Well, they aren’t. Those that haven’t taken the test must take my word for it that this was indeed a special feat. And many that have taken the test do not care one bit to hear me brag about taking it cold; rather, when they contrast my experience with the time, energy, and exquisite anxiety they invested in preparing for and enduring the endeavor, they don’t have anything pleasant at all to say in response. I have learned to answer little and volunteer less.

Still, as touchy as the subject appears to be, it is nonetheless easy enough to find out how classmates did – just ask them. Many are just as eager to brag if not more. Those that demonstrate embarrassed reluctance will require more subterfuge. “To what other schools did you apply?” is a good tack. If they answer with places like New Mexico State and Wyoming; well, they’ve told you all you need to know.

Unfortunately, asking other students outright how they did is not a good strategy for getting them to ask you in return. People rarely reciprocate the solicitous inquiry (being generally more content to talk about themselves), so you must either continue to keep your peace or blurt it out insistently, like the arrogant fool you are.

And what about their performance? If they did better than you there isn’t much to crow about, is there. And heaven forbid they bombed the GMAT – for then social felicity requires you to pooh-pooh the importance of the exam, it’s only a number, no reflection of your intelligence, just a big popularity contest, blah blah blah lies lies lies. How could you possibly bring up your score after that? “Sure the score means nothing. Why, my 830 has done very little to enrich my life.” Rings hollow, doesn’t it.

So really, when it comes to these tests there’s not much to talk about. Your score doesn’t make you a good person. Additionally, your efforts to weave an entertaining tale about the events and particulars of the examination sound akin to that schlubby cousin of yours that is convinced everyone else finds World of Warcraft as fascinating as he does. And, bottom line, you didn’t get it because of any extraordinary effort or feat of learning. You didn’t learn to think any more than you learned to breathe – God and your parents made you that way, and since when is that something to brag about?

So why bring it up at all? Are we so uncertain and insecure that we seek solace from a number that will tell us what we are worth? Apparently the answer is yes. But why fight it – we should enjoy it while we can for the evaluation has an expiration date. There are few things more pathetic than that overweight jock that still trades on his glories long-past. The forty-five-year-old manager that adorns his resume with the glory of a decades-old standardized test score is similarly pathetic. Has nothing valuable happened since then?

Perhaps it would be appropriate to hold a GMAT appreciation day some time at the end of the MBA program, where all graduating students wear a badge showing their score and then compliment each other on their test-taking prowess. Sure, the event may be unbalanced, with most of the recognition going to finance students (and many OB/HR’s not bothering to attend at all). But it would be grand, a general celebration of the last day of life where the GMAT score actually means something, before the big numbers that people brag about start to have dollar signs in front of them.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Coolest Thing Ever

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.” –Alex Haley

My last name is “Pace.” This sounds very English, which makes sense as the Paces in my past came from England. But it is not from an English word. “Pace” is the Italian word for “Peace,” and actually should be pronounced “Pah-chey" or perhaps "Pacey." It was an occasional Italian surname. What happened there? Who up and left what had been their family’s sun-stained home for countless generations and went forever to a cold, lonely, rainy place where everyone talked funny and had pasty white skin?

Echoing Mr. Haley, I feel I almost need to know who left and why, though it will probably be impossible to find out, for that branch of the family tree fades into dust and obscurity around the year 1600. I have a last name that represents me and is a part of who I am. And I don’t know how I got it. I feel that my understanding of myself is incomplete.

This is all lead-in to "The Coolest Thing Ever (TM)" at least this week's The Coolest Thing Ever. I happened to be reading about the Domesday Book, which was probably the first census or survey ever conducted in the English speaking world. It catalogued thousands of towns, assets, and family names across England in the year 1085.

Well, as I happened to be reading about the Book, I also happened to notice that there are online resources cataloging its contents. I did a search for "Pace," and came up with something! In Warwickshire at the time was a town named "Newbold Pacey." Newbold apparently means new house or manor, while of course Pacey is not an English word, old or modern. It must come from the same place my name did: Italy. The town's name was "New Pace House."

As rare as my surname should have been in England back then, this is certainly a long shot. There were doubtless lots of other "Pacey" people in Italy, and nothing was keeping them from up and moving to England, too.

But it is a tantalizing clue - a whisper out of the dust of the past that might help me find out where my name came from.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sophisticated deconstruction or noisy incoherence?

Pressed for time and short on inspiration, I am pasting in something I wrote to a friend some time ago.

Hearing that a skinny Japanaman named Agata was as good a guitarist as well-known guitar "virtuosi" like Wes Boreland, Tom Morello, and Buckethead combined, I downloaded an album by a Japanese band he is a member of, named Melt Banana.

They are certainly unlike anything anybody around here listens to. "Noise rock" is a label I see attached to them. Their songs have no meaning that I can discern, and their titles and lyrics are confusing mishmashes of English phrases (the best I heard was "Chain-shot to have some fun" off the album Cell-Scape) cadged from a dictionary for suitability of sound to a Japanese ear, and then screamed by the tiny, crazy, singing chick. So even if the lyrics were deciphered they wouldn’t be intelligible; they merely play another part next to the bass, guitar and drums.

I normally can't abide songs with no meaning, but that opprobrium usually applies to songs that TRY to have meaning and clearly don't. These artists aren't cynical sell-outs foisting off pre-packaged musical pabulum designed to exploit the latest trends, they are very indie-hip, dare I say avant-garde artists. I don't think I've ever before applied the phrase "avant garde artist" to someone and meant it as a compliment.

So the music has no meaning, no function, but it has a surfeit of form. They aren't pathetic garage-band jam-session recorders. Their music is calculated, extremely so.

I am genuinely astounded that I enjoy this stuff as much as I do. The shapes and colors of the noise are basically divorced from any relevant meaning, image, or idea. It's simply fun to listen to.

It is so fast. The bass and drums set a tempo, I don't know, of 300 beats per minute? Five every second? It is something to hear.

The guitarist Agata is as good as described. Not knowing the difference between good guitar work and bad, I can merely reflect on how unlike a guitar are all the noises his instrument produces. And how consistent the iterations of very odd-sounding riffs are - I would have to imagine that the squeals and howls he has to do over and over are difficult to make with any amount of consistency.

With one or two exceptions, everyone I have played their songs for hated the experience. Give it a listen yourself, if you are brave enough. A fine example of Japanoise:

Enter and then click on “Eye and Ear.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Anger, arrogance, and creativity

I have often been mystified by the poverty of good LDS fiction I see in the marketplace in my day. This has occupied my mind as I have considered writing a novel for a Mormon audience. How can a people so full of talent, creativity, and surpassing love of God and men have so little capacity in this creative genre?

It is said by thoughtful and reliable sources that within the breast of any comedian, funny man, affable joker, or inveterate prankster beats a heart full of anger and discontent. Some are crusaders and freedom fighters who fight against injustice with mockery and pith, while others find themselves unable to cope with the unpleasantness of life unless they make light of it all.

This is a common thread in many forms of creativity. For most any writer with a passion for expression and a desire to be heard, there has to be a reason to do it. Something must drive them to create. Writing is an exercise in arrogance: if I do not flatter myself with the thought that I have something to say about which others are ignorant, why should I bother with the effort?

George Orwell said this about writing: “When I sit down to write a book…I write it because there is some lie I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

I feel like Mr. Orwell. I would leave the simpler faith-promoting stories for those who know how to assuage readers with pleasant and rather unenlightening affirmations – not because that isn’t difficult in its own right, but rather because if I tried to write without saying anything I wouldn’t be able to write at all.

These empty affirmers that feed the market with works that will change few hearts and enlighten few minds – they are not really writers. Orwell elsewhere says, “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.” By this measure they certainly aren’t writers and I certainly am. Their vanity does not require of them anything grand or surpassing; they do not selfishly care to be the first or best to do anything, and if they are lazy it is a beneficent, productive laziness indeed. That is far better than my dyspeptic, bilious failure.

Is there something for me to say to the LDS fiction audience? What is there to change? What is there to fight against? What challenges need issuing forth? We believe our doctrine is perfect, and the organization of our church (if not our culture) improvable only by God. There is little to establish about divine order or the nature of man, and no unrealistic hope or gloomy pessimism to rectify.

So we are reduced to nit-picking. To issue forth challenges against viewing R-rated movies and the blight of internet pornography, but such is standard General-Conference-fare (and research into such stories would be uncomfortably difficult). It would be an affirmation, made better only by a rather more frank portrayal of wayward Saints than I think the marketplace is used to.

I am a Mormon, faithfully believing and perhaps slightly more devout than average. I have much I would dream of saying to the world (fantastic stories of hope and betrayal; the virtue of forgiveness in a world that cries for vengeance; the blessing of unconditional love when it is least expected; long love letters to the planet earth and its beauty being a proof of the existence of God). I would say that and more.

But I imagine I have nothing my fellow Saints should want to hear. Is it because I would be preaching to the choir? I suppose filling books with lessons from Sunday School is not a sure-fire best-seller recipe. And anyway, so many know so much more than I about unconditional love, faith, hope, reverence, or forgiveness.

I am reminded of a thought by Orson Scott Card about stories – they tell us how to be human. By this measure storytelling for the pleasure of Mormons is exceedingly difficult indeed, for we already have a surfeit of such instruction about the true nature of humanity, its origin and destiny. And I am certainly not one that could improve upon it.

I thought to write for Mormons because I fancied it an easier task taking on a provincial literary backwater than would be going up against the likes of Orwell and Card. I have had it backwards. The world, dark and ignorant and desperate to have light shine on it, could be much easier.

I have new respect for the LDS fiction “writers.”

Monday, October 03, 2005

Look at me! I made technology!

I finally put my fears behind me and installed a hit counter on my blog. It was easier than I thought it would be, but involved inserting a baffling package of undecipherable code into a much larger, equally undecipherable mess of html code. Now my counter appears there at the bottom of the blog.

I feel like the doctor in the Fantastic Voyage, having to take great care to inject the miniaturized submarine into the patient properly. Get it just a bit wrong and they're stuck in the femur or nose hairs or somewhere even worse.

I flirted with the idea of setting the starting total visitor value to something like 1,000,000,000,000. Like the blog's gotten a lot of visitors but not really, for it would soon read, "1,000,000,000,213." Pretty obvious what my game is, but for added verisimilitude I could put up some some congratulatory emails from Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan, praising me having my one trillionth unique visitor before either of them even get close to a billion.

But I thought, should heaven forefend a lot of people actually visit this blog, I'd probably rather their number not be trivialized thusly. So, as in politics, every vote counts!

But, as in Illinois and Florida politics, some count more than others. If you want yours to count more, please, leave a comment if anything strikes you as thought-provoking. Or the opposite.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Esprit de "Corpse"

SPOILER WARNING! I will be discussing crucial plot points of the showy mediocrity known as "Corpse Bride." If you have any desire to view this lame film, best come back after doing so.

After loving the sweet and whimsical darkness of "Nightmare Before Christmas," I was excited for the release of the new Tim Burton Clay-cgi-mation picture. Burton is not one to held prisoner by outdated notions of life and death (not the way he is to the happy, vacant conventions of American cinema anyway - but more on that later).

The movie was disappointing. Not funny, no memorable tunes, not really worth watching at all.

One of the film's main Burtonisms is that life is like a boring black-and-white film, while death is like living in New Orleans. This paradigm impressed many reviewers, though none I read thought to point out the curious, unintentional irony that hurricane Katrina brings to the matter. At one point the dead come to the world of the living, bringing the party with them and really livening the place up. This does create a bit of a poignant moment, for rather than terrorizing the living, the event joins together loved ones long separated by death and intervening years. For the dead remain quite themselves, and though their flesh has dissipated, their spirits still burn bright within the vacant confines of their skulls and they yearn for their dearly un-departed as much as they are yearned for.

And the moment provides a happy inversion for those who put their love, faith, and trust in others: The characters who suffered the harshest loss and sorrow in days past find themselves the happiest at seeing the dead, while those who have never invested any love in another soul are merely frightened.

Still, I am quite disappointed that none of these fun-loving dead thought to make a jape of shambling around moaning "brainnnnnssss." Ah, missed opportunities.

The whole thing sounds like a real flight of fancy, I am sorry to say that it wasn't. Perhaps Mormon sensibilities are a hedge against enjoyment of Burton's vision. Our own contrast of the lone and dreary world compared to the nonstop party of Celestial glory keeps a "the dead have all the fun" paradigm from seeming terribly creative.

As I am wont to do when disappointed by a film, I imagined how I might have done it better. As Victor prepares to marry the dead woman while the living fiancee prepares to marry a money-hungry killer, I thought the film's denouement would be set up with the living bride crashing the dead wedding as a newly minted corpse, murdered by her new husband on their wedding night. Wouldn't it be a pickle! And such a shift in circumstance - for then Victor would love two dead women, and would then really have to choose between the dull, comfortable familiarity of life and the women he loves. Immortality and polygamy become unerringly bound together.

That's not how it went, more's the pity. For, though the evil seldom win out in cinema, all too often do they do so in real life. In this film there was the opportunity to show that even when evil triumphs over good, they cannot do anything of lasting consequence to the good and innocent. Death would put them beyond the power of greed and avarice.

But it's not that kind of movie. Burton is not faithful to his storytelling paradigm, choosing instead for a very cheerful, very American conclusion where some eternal rule not previously mentioned allows the corpse bride to de-complicate the love triangle by changing into...butterflies...I guess, who wing off into the whiteness of elevated eternal life. We must take for granted that this is an improvement for the corpse bride, though how will she play the piano anymore?

Burton also takes for granted the rules of the world he's created. When the dead carry off the newly-deceased murderer Count, he kicks and screams in horror. Why? He's dead too, what can they do to him. A fate worse than death? It would have to be, I suppose. Or something even worse than that.

At the end, the happy couple goes back to their wretched world, to be married and mousily beholden to their wretched relatives. The whole thing's quite pointless. So much could have been said about the trials and misery of mortality, and a thin morality tale about repressed Victorians taking all the fun out of life is a rather saccharine substitute. I think Burton has it backwards. The dead have very little to worry about, being dead and all. Nothing stops them from filling their existence with carefree trivialities. It takes a particular kind of courage to live life cheerfully, risking pain and regret all the while.

(And anyway, the best statement that could ever be made about being dead was already made, by the dead man Arnold J. Rimmer on the television program Red Dwarf: " like going on holiday with a group of Germans.")

(I know "Esprit de corpse" is the most dull, unpunniest pun ever - switching the final word from one language to another isn't such a creative leap - so don't bother bringing it up.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Have you ever experienced a mental vergence? Where two things you thought were dissimilar all of a sudden came together into one? It is a disorienting experience, one that I think results in an actual change in brain chemistry, as neurons well-established and concrete that previously never associated all of a sudden have to get together in very in intimate terms, fused together forever after.

Like when Luke found out Vader was his father.

Just now I realized that the water park to which Napoleon Bonaparte goes in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” is called “Waterloos.” This is an absolutely fabulous joke, one that would have enriched my life, and all along I missed it.

At least I learned it before I was too late.

Just as it takes some doing to fuse two well-known things together, breaking them up requires a similar effort.

How did it feel the last time you got dumped? Every time you think of the person, there is a fresh jab of mental anguish as the way you thought of them until quite recently buffets against the new way you still haven’t accepted. They are the dying throes of a mental network, now invalidated, but still not dissipated from the conscious mind.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Like the sands in an hourglass, so are the days of our lives

I just got back from the beach today. I wrote this after a similar excursion a few years ago:

I have never particularly liked California beaches. Every time I say that I feel weird, I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone else who shared that sentiment. They’re boring. Mile upon mile of sandy sameness, with nothing to do but sit and bake, roll around in the cold, salty water, and so on. It’s fun to look at girls, I suppose, but for good Mormon boys it’s “look but don’t touch.” Better not look too much, either.

The family went down to a beachfront complex in Oceanside for a big reunion shindig this summer. I know, poor baby. I’m not getting any sympathy. I had fun, but family is fun anywhere, and Oregon sure would have been nice. I miss the Oregon coastline. I’ve always liked the names, too. Yachats, Devil’s Churn, Astoria, and so on. Looking at them they aren’t so impressive, but they have an evocative power in my mind. Varied and windswept, not terribly busy, the place is teeming with sea life and abounds with big rocky formations ever weathering the constant assault from the unrelenting sea.

Anyway, down in So-Cal, after I tired of rolling around in the surf (fifteen minutes), I spent much of my time meandering up and down the beaches. It gave me time to think upon the puzzling peculiarities of human behavior.

Why do we build sandcastles? Doesn’t make immediate sense, does it? Busy people, some of whom have sacrificed considerably for a few short hours at the beach, will spend a great deal of their time wrapped up in this endeavor. The effort is sometimes intense, and the castle is usually gone before the beachgoer even heads for home. No sense at all.

Or am I being uncharitable? I cast about for something to compare this phenomenon to. Didn’t van Gogh throw his work into the sea? I think so. He was also nuts.

I have heard of Buddhist monks from a certain sect that create “mandalas,” intricate, ornate, exquisite renditions of traditional designs, made of colored rice or sand, representing some tenant or cosmology of their faith. After several monks spend days and weeks upon end making sure every single grain is properly placed, the whole design is swept up and the oeuvre thrown into the river.

This seems foreign to our Western artistic values of innovation, self-expression, and self-immortalization. Buddhists believe that the drawings elicit a measure of karmic virtue from the universe just by being created, and reinforce that, as one monk I read put it, “we shouldn’t get too attached to things. We’ve got to be able to let things go. Nothing is permanent.”

There is that, and it’s valid enough I suppose, but it’s hard to view a sandcastle as a sort of unofficial celebration of the transitory nature of existence. More likely it’s the opposite. Have you seen the hard-core sandcastle builders? Not the art-eests who build big sandcastles because they’re too poor to buy paint. I’m not talking about little kids, either. I mean the weekend-warrior, tourist-class beach-ape. You know who I’m talking about, the kind who brings a big shovel to the beach and puts more effort into defending his work of art from the elements than actually making it look nice. Who is too lazy to haul water up from the tide zone to build where the thing might have a fighting chance, but will still redouble his efforts at digging, retrenching, and draining when the tide inevitably comes.

Watch them sometime. Theirs is no happy concession to the forces of entropy! Just as it was for the builders of the pyramids, the goal is creating something that will last forever. The material is even the same, once you think about it. Moderners just give a smaller effort with a smaller expectation. Instead of the supreme, monolithic guardian of the ages, they create the plucky little overachiever, doomed to failure but gamely enduring. The more flimsy and fragile the building material, and the more unfortunate the location, the more remarkable it is if it does outlast the forces of nature for a little while.

And should their work still stand when they go home, the creator can cast one final happy glance at their creation, fully believing that if it weren’t for sandcastle-wrecking teenage twits cavorting in the moonlight, the darn thing might just stand forever.

None of this answers the question, why sand? Why in the tidal zone!? I think it is to put the destructive forces of nature on an observable scale. That way the beach-goer gets to really see how well their sand mountain will hold up, and can watch if it fails.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s what I like about the Oregon coast. It has God’s sandcastles. California’s giant rocky beachside fortresses have been knocked flat already, but in Oregon the contest between the chaos of the billowing surge and the stoic order of the stony coastline is ongoing.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


I had a brilliant idea recently. Well, several actually. Good ideas are not such a rare thing for me, or anyone else for that matter. Good ideas are really a dime a dozen and not as important to success as some people think.

Look at Hollywood, for example. Many films come out, of which cannot even be said, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Hollywood doesn't run on good ideas. The good ideas all got consigned to development purgatory or slush pile oblivion because the originators thereof thought that having a good idea was enough to succeed, and they wouldn't have to stab any backs, kiss any butts, or warm any beds.

The world has a way of destroying most good ideas, along with the people who came up with them.

But this brilliant idea of mine is a little different. It could get something done - not in Hollywood I think, but it might just help me and whoever else works on it achieve a measure of internet immortality - that is, we could create something that people will email to their friends endlessly.

The problem is, it is thoroughly aberrant and offensive.

Have you ever been in a conversation where someone said something and you thought of the most perfect, wonderful, hilarious riposte - except it was off-color or somehow offensive. Oh, the temptation. It is the perfect line at the perfect moment in the "Lord of the Rings" saga that is your life - only it will earn the saga an R rating.

That's how I feel now.

It would be a car commercial akin to the infamous Volkswagon Suicide Bomber ad:

...and it would involve my 2003 Honda Element, a buck-toothed sniper hick in overalls scanning for a target near a gas station, a stupid-looking track suit guy getting out of a HUmmer, and me pumping gas into my Element. The sniper would be awestruck by the delightfully confusing mold-breaking lines of the Element, and would not break out of his reverie until I finish pumping gas, hop into the car, and drive away. The sniper will then look for another target, and see the twit still pumping gas into his midlife-crisis-mobile. He smiles, sights in and squeezes the trigger...

The ad's tag line would be: "Honda Element. It gets the right kind of attention."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Recently I went to Wal-Mart. Some of my least-delightful waits have been in the house that Sam Walton built. Perhaps there is a sort of unofficial waiting period required for the purchase of hamburger buns in Las Vegas, I know not. I ended up waiting second in a line while the cashier tried unsuccessfully to enter a gift card into the computer (the key: scan it, don’t drag it through the card machine). The line in the register next to me was short, but I had already piled all my groceries on the counter, so I waited. The cashier had flipped on the “manager assistance requested” light, but apparently this wasn’t a strong enough entreaty, for no management aid was forthcoming. Finally the cashier walked away in search of help. In frustration, I threw my items back into the cart and went over to the other register, only to be told that that register was closed. So I retook my place in line. I would not be putting my items on the counter this time, oh no. Thus I exacted a narrow moral victory out of a broad, demoralizing defeat of the soul.

The long and the short of it was I waited maybe a half hour (in the “20 items or less” lane) and ended up forgetting one of my bags and having to go back for it. All the while I indulged a thoroughly ridiculous sense of righteous outrage by thinking about lodging some sort of complaint, or writing a snarky letter to some newspaper or authority, full of pique and dark pronouncements about the unlikelihood of future patronage at their retail establishment, but I realized, “What should I have expected?” I wasn't there for superior service or a commitment to quality. I was drawn by the siren’s song of buying paper towels $0.06 cheaper than at Albertsons.

And we achieve the parallel realization, without overmuch surprise, that people are willing to sell their souls for six pennies.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


Allow me to share a story of harrowing conflict, another brief chapter in the ages-old struggle between man and bug. Like most desert places in the American West, Las Vegas is lousy with crickets that chirp and hum all night during the summer months.

My house is better insulated than the one in which I grew up, and the noise is scarcely noticeable - scarcely, that is, unless there is a cricket right outside my window. Then I can hear it and it only quite plainly. Indeed, if I could speak crickitese, I would know what it was saying and probably what mood it was in.

It turns out that a single cricket is far more annoying than many. If you think about it a bit, this will make sense. With a hundred crickets giving a moonlight serenade, the separate voices blend together into a rather pleasing, even cadence. But with just one voice, a prima donna soloist, it is terribly uneven. It will go louder and softer, and stop for a few seconds every time the breeze shifts or a spider walks by. I believe the same principle is at work with snorers, though I have never tested it.

So anyway, you may have already guessed that I have been tormented by a single cricket with a curious insistence in laying forth its evening ministrations in the same place every day, about fifteen feet from where I lay. The noise would crowd out any thought, relaxed attitude, or sleepy sensation I might have held otherwise, and at that moment I would despise crickets - that cricket - above most anything else. At least the black widows are quiet! I think my annoyance has more to do with the fact that I am bothered by such a simple, small thing that nobody else hardly notices. Bothered by being bothered, as it were.

Not content to sleep with ear plugs all summer, I needed to do something about the troublesome thing. Our yard is one enormous garden of rock and gravel, and it is nigh-impossible to find an insect among the scree even though I could pinpoint its location. I poured a quart of water over it, and then tried stomping on top of the rocks, hoping to hit it with a lucky strike. Every time I did this the cricket would stop and I would wonder if I had finally taken it out, only to hear it start up again a few minutes later. I think that after a while the poor thing became rather terrorized by my attacks - before it would stop only if something was moving right next to it, but it took to stopping anytime I came within ten feet, and would not start again for some time. I wonder if some miniature Cricket News Network (CNN?) was reporting on the daily terror attacks in Las Vegas. Perhaps some far-away cricket governments were debating over what they were doing in Las Vegas anyway, and shouldn't they withdraw their forces for more worthy pursuits.

But enough about cricket culture. In despair of any other solution, I upped the technological ante by purchasing a spray can of bug killer at Wal-Mart. That evening I went out and sprayed the area the little noisemaker occupied. We must credit crickets for knowing quite well what is bad for them, for before I could do anything it hopped away from the spot in great haste, and disappeared again into the rocks a few feet away.

Hoping I had dealt it a fatal blow, I withdrew to the cool air of my house. Sadly, upon retiring I heard it again from a new spot. For all my efforts I had succeeded in moving it perhaps five feet further away.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Fall Guy

The question comes to mind – when falling to one’s death from a very great height, what should one do? Not to survive, for nothing short of divine providence could do anything about that. But how should one spend that handful of seconds between the realization of one’s lamentable situation and the actual wet, sickening “thud”? There’d be a life-flashing-before-the-eyes moment, I suppose, along with a few brief but extremely heartfelt words of prayer. Some may not rise above dumbfounded horror the entire time.

But what about one’s actual comportment? The situation of free fall is not just untenable but exceedingly awkward. There’s the whole question of landing. Do you go with a belly flop? Feet first? Or do a ten-thousand-foot header? In movies the faller is always looking at earth’s inexorable approach, but I suppose one could always look up, or even do some flips and loops as they await the end.

Spreading one’s self out to generate air resistance seems like a reasonable plan. Slowing your speed could extend your time remaining by ten percent or more.

All of this is of course completely pointless as far as the final outcome and so you’d think why bother. But consider: when one is cast into the unfriendly hands of gravity, would one not cherish the few options left to them, however irrelevant? Perhaps so.

You are probably thinking, “how macabre,” and I should caution that I normally don’t indulge such issues with very much attention. The question arose in my mind as I imagined up a cool idea for a movie scene or episode in a book, where someone is cast out of an airplane, but still has the presence of mind to pull out their cell phone to make a final, desperate call – perhaps to tell the protagonist (since obviously the protagonist isn’t going to be caught in such a situation, it’s more the fate of the unlikable ally, chauvinistic bad boy friend, or forgettable extra) who it was that betrayed them to their deaths. That would be some high drama, the fumbling for the phone, trying to dial, hoping to get a signal and say something in time. Imagine the horror: “Voicemail! Noooooooooooo…”

Maybe it would be better as one of those cell phone commercials – you know, where some people are in a situation where a cell phone would be extremely useful, and even though one of them has one he won’t use it because it’s peak time or he’s out of minutes or whatever:

Diver 1: Did you try the emergency cord?
Diver 2: (holding a cell phone): Yep. Nothing. You too, huh?
Diver 1: Why don’t you say goodbye to your mother, or talk to your kids?
Diver 2: Nope, nope. It’s end of the month.
Diver 1: We could call parachute tech support. Or even order a net or big cushion or something.
Diver 2: Sorry.

(Cut to Catherine Zeta Jones, who hands a new phone to two newly accordion-shaped skydivers, cooing in condescending sympathy.)

Copyright 2005 Garrett Pace. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Boss

Yesterday I was sitting in a meeting when the president of the company burst into the room. I had never met the gentleman before for his office is in another state. He came in, exuding the sort of carefree, enthusiastic sociability perhaps stemming from his knowledge that he could fire everyone in the room if it suited him. No cautious probing or rhetorical smokescreens needed here! He, maniacally almost, shook everyone’s hand and gave his name. I bumbled out my own name in return but almost too late, he was already passing on to the next person. He then asked us what was on the schedule, and someone said, “Windows.”

“Uh oh!” he said in mock horror as he rapidly retreated to the decidedly overenthusiastic laughter of everyone in the room.

After he blew out as quickly as he had blown in, I spent a full half hour pondering the many things I could have asked or said rather than just a sheepish recitation of my name. Example: I could have asked him why he had just cashed out eighty million in company stock from his personal account, a fact I had learned but that morning.

I actually did think to ask that at the moment, but it may have been somewhat adversarial. I think you get the idea what I wanted to say. Something to set me apart, make me a little bit memorable. I realized that I could have handed him some spreadsheets of devastating effectiveness, sure-fire new things and processes that could help the company a great deal. He would have been impressed, and probably remembered who I, a lowly summer intern, was. I even happened to have a copy with me, ready for the giving.

So in an instant of wide-eyed hesitation I had clearly dropped the ball, but it is hard to wallow in self recriminations. How could one anticipate this sort of opportunity? I am not in a habit of spending time each day strategizing what I will do if our company president decides to fly hundreds of miles and waltz into a meeting I am attending. They told us in business school to prepare for this sort of thing, and that a good businessman is never flummoxed. But such heightened vigilance is too often the province of corporate whores who get an ulcer, two divorces, and a bunch of kids who hate them.

I guess I’m not that good a corporate whore and will have to practice. Or I will try to love my neighbor instead.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Through the Death Valley of the shadow of death.

Woody Allen once said something like, "as I walk through the valley of...make that, as I RUN through the valley of the shadow of death..."

Saturday I went to Death Valley for the first time. This despite well-meaning admonitions to the contrary from nearly everyone to whom I revealed my plans. Apparently Death Valley suffers from intensely bad publicity, but what should we expect from having names like Death Valley, Furnace Creek, Last Chance Mountains, Badwater Spring, and Mormon Point? (that last is not as stigmatized now as it once was)

Indeed, I wondered if this were a spectacular hoax, and the valley a veritable paradise with scary names intended to frighten off the timorous and keep the place safe for those who know how good it is.

Anyway, some said I should make my trip during the winter months, but to do so would render eventual ill grace in conversation: should I ever mention in passing that I visited Death Valley, the inevitable response would be, “Was it hot?” To be able to say, “Yes, about 120” has much more cachet than a bashful, disappointing admission that it was chilly and windy, does it not?

I saw one group taking a picture of two adolescents who had wrapped up their arms and were shivering vigorously, as if it were quite cold. That was pretty funny.

In truth I was quite comfortable. The desert was as miserable as could be expected, but I avoided it entirely. I never spent longer than five minutes in the heat, preferring instead to admire the scenery from the bridge of the USS Short Bus (my 2003 Honda Element).

And the scenery was really something. Being almost devoid of plant life, all a visitor can really see of Death Valley are the shapes and hues of the very rocks themselves. One becomes quite enchanted at how many different shades of brown there are in this world. All the eye sees is brown, and yet it is still quite striking.

The place is a miner’s paradise. From the valley floor you can see the different layers of rocks all over, twisting and winding, now reddish brown, now beige brown, now chartreuish brown. The mouths of many mines have vomited out wide swaths of underlying strata, adding strange patterns and colors to the mountainsides. There is even a thick seam of good, black coal at the side of a highway. Some cubic feet of it have been taken away by passing motorists, no doubt intending it for the Christmas stockings of their offspring.

Two main attractions of Death Valley are the Devil’s Golf Course and Badwater Spring. The Devil’s Golf Course is an area where salt collected from countless gallons of now-evaporated runoff lifts itself from the desert floor and builds up into crystalline shapes. Visitors are permitted to walk among and atop the shapes for they are already doomed; they dissolve with every flood only to rebuild in a few weeks.

The action of heat, salt, water flow and evaporation somehow moves the salt ever up. In some areas gigantic mounds of salty earth rise up above the roadway. It is rotten and fragile, eroding back and collapsing, only to build up again. I think the very earth and minerals have had it with Death Valley and are trying to leave.

Badwater Spring is an otherwise unremarkable statistical extreme. It is the lowest continental point in the Western Hemisphere. There is a groundwater seep that means the low point is always covered in salty water (hence the name “Badwater”). There is a boardwalk over the pool, and one is not allowed to actually stand ON the lowest point in America, just over it. I did, however, stick my finger into the pool (it was much cooler than I thought it would be). So, as far as I know, my right index finger has gone lower than any of you ever have – 282 feet and one inch below sea level.

I took the opportunity to watch the movie “Amadeus” this week. I had seen it when much younger and less inclined to appreciate the music or be critical of the story’s flaws. What a mad, amazing, beautiful disaster that film is. Mozart and his wife jarringly act (and talk!) like petulant American teenagers, whilst everyone else more truly displays traditional European courtly behavior that one would expect in such a production.

The heart of the story is Antonio Salieri, the court composer who feels he is cursed with the love of music and the desire to make beautiful tunes, without the actual ability to produce it. Portrayed by F. Murray Abraham, Salieri is probably the evilest character in any film ever that the audience cannot help loving. With murder and hatred of God and man in his heart, he is still an intensely sympathetic character, and one hopes it ends well for him.

The film is also suffused with the love of grand music. Some of the scenes where Mozart’s character (Tom Hulce, famous for his portrayal of a drunken frat boy in “Animal House”) directs his wonderful operas with such passion and emotion, and to such a tepid response, that it is by turns enchanting and heart-breaking, and the viewer scarcely cares whether the particulars of the story were made up or not.

I also went to the Capital Grille this past week. My favorite restaurant, and the most expensive one to which I would ever willingly go, I am never disappointed by the experience. They make these things called “cottage fries,” salt-seasoned potatoes covered with spiced, fat-fried onions. To allow ketchup or mayonnaise to touch them would diminish their deliciousness.

After dinner I paid a bill of over a hundred dollars (while I was in the washroom our server asked my date if we wanted water, and she said yes. Water: seven dollars). I also realized that the bill was half of an iPod. Such is the irrationality of consumers. An iPod is an unreasonable expense, though its effects long-lasting and the good itself can be resold for a substantial amount. But an expensive dinner that ends up pretty much the same as homemade mac-and-cheese is perfectly reasonable.

(co-opted from an email to a friend)


I have put this off for far too long, and there is much that the world needs to hear. Now it begins.