Inhuman Swill : January 2012
            

To follow up on my recent post about why, on average, gay parents are better than straight parents, I want to point you toward a terrific blog post by my cousin Erika's daughter Lia. (Because I was born a Mormon and have genealogy in my genes, har har, I must point out that this specifically makes us first cousins once removed.)

Anyway, Lia's post is dedicated to answering the stupid questions she gets asked about having two moms. Here's a sample:

Q:  Did your mom become gay because your dad was a jerk?
A:  Even though that is more a question for her, I'm going to go ahead and answer: NO. Being gay is no more a choice than being straight. Every person has natural attractions. Some people are naturally attracted to the opposite sex, and some to the same sex. It's really simple. You can't just "become" or "turn" gay, it's kind of built in. Someone could get into a terrible car accident (God forbid) and become paralyzed, but as far as I know, there isn't an event that can subsequently change your sexual orientation.  [read more]
I've always been proud of my cousin Erika for the way she's lived her life and raised her kids, but now it's obviously past time to be proud of the next generation too. Just more anecdotal evidence for my original thesis.
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Strange Mercy Before the first month of 2012 is entirely gone, I wanted to run down my list of the 10 most interesting albums of 2011. I didn't think we'd bought all that much new music last year, but I was somewhat startled to look back and see nearly 70 albums from 2011 in our collection. I'm not going out on a limb far enough as to say these are the best of that crop, but they're definitely the ones that were interesting enough to keep me coming back for multiple multiple listens.

I've put the top 10 in a rough order, then followed those with some unordered honorable mentions.


TOP 10 MOST INTERESTING

1. St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
The only thing predictable about the dark, engaging songs on this third straight amazing album from Annie Clark and crew is their unpredictability. Clark is a brilliant poet, arranger, and guitarist, and every track is gorgeous, thrilling, and shot through with beautiful noise.  ["Cheerleader"]

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Cook like an Egyptian

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Our friend Ali is on TV again. John Klima points me toward this clip from Jamie's American Road Trip, which just recently starting airing in the States. It features Jamie Oliver traveling from Manhattan to Queens to learn Egyptian cooking from Ali El Sayed of the celebrated Kabab Cafe:

(The actual arrival in Queens comes at about 3:28, and you can click here to jump straight there.)

I dragged a very willing Mr. Klima to Kabab Cafe back in 2008, when we both happened to be in New York, and a memorable night it was. If you find yourself in New York and want to get off the beaten path for a culinary adventure, the address is 25-12 Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens. Tell Ali that Bill from Chicago sent you.

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To follow up on yesterday's belated review of The Book of Mormon, I wanted to tell you about a funny thing that happened after the show. As at most Broadway productions, we were invited to contribute to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS by depositing cash in the buckets that cast members would be holding various exits. When we reached the main floor from our nosebleed seats, I pulled a twenty out of my wallet and made a beeline for Lewis Cleale, who was still in his Joseph Smith costume.

Now, you have to understand that I came to the show in costume. Laura had dug up my old missionary name tag, which I proudly wore together with a white shirt and tie (much to the amusement and/or chagrin of our theatergoing companions). Imagine the confusion and concern of the poor actor, dressed as the founder of Mormonism, as, after a production lampooning the faith, a stout Mormon missionary marches straight up to him. According to my friend Chris Connolly, the man flinched as if I might attack him.

Imagine his relief when all I did was tell him what a great job he'd done as I dropped money into his bucket. Yeah, that was fun.

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It used to be that when people would find out I'm a former Mormon, they'd ask me whether or not I watch Big Love and how closely it matches my experience of growing up in Utah. (Answers: "Yes" and "Not much.") Over the past year, though, that has changed. Now they ask whether or not I've seen The Book of Mormon.

The answer to that is yes. In fact, as soon as the Broadway production was announced, Laura and I started making plans to visit New York and see it. With my background, how could we not? We put together a group of friends that included my agent and got tickets for April 9th, about two weeks after the show's official opening. I bought our tickets early enough that it wasn't hard to get seats for a group of eight on our preferred date. But by the time we actually saw it, the hype had revved up to such a wild extent that people were asking us how on earth we'd managed to score tickets.

The Book of Mormon—from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and Avenue Q co-creator Robert Lopez—was the most celebrated new musical of the 2011 Broadway season, and it's easy to see why. It has everything an audience in search of some dangerous New York City titillation could ask for—dirty words, blasphemy, violence, Mormons, sexual innuendo, frequently all crammed together into catchy production numbers—all consumable from the relative safety of a plush theater seat. It's been a giant hit with crowds and critics alike, landing nine Tony Awards (including Best Musical), five Drama Desk Awards (including Outstanding Musical), and who knows how many best-stuff-of-the-year lists. It kicks off a national tour this August, and a Chicago production will take up residence in the Bank of America Theatre this December. People are falling all over themselves to tell you how good it is.

Is it really that good? I don't think so. Did I enjoy it? Yes, to an extent. Was it funny? Yes, to an extent. Was it anything like my experience as a missionary? Yes—but to a very small, almost irrelevant extent.

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Ella-gy

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Dog at my knee
Ella has now possibly ruptured her other CCL (cranial cruciate ligament, analogous to the ACL in humans). She's on tramadol for the pain (an anti-inflammatory would be better but they're really tough on her digestive system) and on limited activity for a week or more. This is actually good news, though, because when I described Ella's symptoms the vet's gut hypothesis was arthritis. Fortunately, the physical exam and X-rays did not support that diagnosis.

But those few moments of facing the prospect of arthritis only reinforce the sad knowledge that Ella is getting older. She's eight years old, well into middle age for a dog, and though we joke (somewhat desperately) that she has another thirty or forty years left in her, we know that's not the case. (It's more like fifty.)

News organizations keep obituaries of public figures ready to go, just in case. I keep thinking that I should start working on Ella's obituary now because I'll be in no shape to do it when it's needed. We are no respecters of species here—Ella is the third person in our family, and I know that when I have to write that blog entry I'm going to leave out some of the important details of her life and personality that I want so much to preserve.

There's the slight crookedness of her spine, which means that when you're walking behind her in a straight line you can see how her hindquarters are angled a couple inches to the right. There's the way she decides some mornings that she wants to walk all the way to the lakeshore and resists all attempts to turn her from that eastward path with a withering staredown. There's the way she often misses the first step when she goes charging up the back stairs. There's the way, when she has a toy in her mouth, that she likes to bash you in the backs of the legs so you'll keep playing tug with her—even if that toy happens to be a stick three feet long and perfectly positioned to take you out at the knees. There's the way that she'll try to pick up even a huge fallen willow bough to drag around with her at the park. There's the way she can't control herself when you reach for the plastic bag with her basketball inside and starts hurling herself into the air to bite at it. There's the way that she invented her own game to play with that basketball, chasing it so she can push it around with her face. There's the way she kicks back dirt in every direction but the direction where she left her droppings. There's the way she loves to tease other dogs when they're leashed and she's not. There's the way she sometimes goes on a tear at the park and runs in huge figure-eights for the sheer joy of it. There's the way, when it snows, that she can't seem to walk four feet without throwing herself down on her back and wriggling around in the powder. There the way, when she hasn't eaten her breakfast, that the urgent devouring of it suddenly sidetracks her when we're trying to usher her out the back door. There's the way that, if we give her a treat before leaving her alone at home, she won't eat it until one or the other of us has returned. There's the way she scratches at the hardwood floor like making a nest before she collapses onto her side and curls up. There's the way she sighs and rests her chin on your knee while you're reading on the couch.

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Shaun of the dead of the dead

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UPDATE!  After this blog entry was written, I emailed the text of it to John Hodgman on a whim. A few hours later, to my surprise, I received a response. His Honor told me he would endure my "gut punches" if I disagreed with him, but that I should not ask him to answer for Martin Amis.
Dear Judge John Hodgman:

I must take great exception to your summary judgment in a recent episode of the "Judge John Hodgman" podcast, to wit, that Shaun of the Dead is a comedy only and not a horror film.

Your Honor, this opinion is, if you'll permit me, patent hogwash. If we are to accept your definition of a horror film as one designed to provoke terror and dread in its audience and to help that audience confront and process their own existential fears as their on-screen proxies battle horrors from beyond the grave, then in what way does Shaun of the Dead not meet that definition? Yes, we may be laughing at the same time, and we may chuckle wryly here and there in recognition of nods to earlier classics in the zombie canon, but that in no way reduces our identification with Shaun, Ed, and the rest of our heroes, nor does it diminish our well-justified fears for their safety or our investment in their fates. Whatever yuks may be afoot, these characters are in very real peril, and we can't help experiencing that peril along with them. Shaun of the Dead clearly manages the feat of being effective comedy and horror both, at the same time.

I am weary to my bones of the tired assertion that a thing that is one thing cannot also be another thing, particularly when the one thing is seen as high art and the other as low. I recall years ago attending a lecture by literary enfant terrible Martin Amis at the NYU library. His New Yorker short story "The Janitor on Mars" had just been named by Locus Magazine as one of the year's top works of science fiction. During Q&A, a young woman asked Amis if the publication of that story meant that he was now a science fiction writer. Amis hemmed and hawed, eventually asserting that, while he had read and absorbed copious amounts of science fiction as a youth and certainly wasn't embarrassed by that fact, "The Janitor on Mars" merely deployed the tropes and language of science fiction to a higher literary end. It was not itself, he claimed, science fiction.

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Michael Brecker memorial mix

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Tenor of the Times: A Remembrance (1972-2003) of Michael Brecker (1949-2007) Five years ago today, Michael Brecker—one of my favorite saxophone players, and a pioneer on the instrument in many ways—passed away of complications from leukemia. He had suffered from the rare blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome, and never found a matching donor for a successful stem cell transplant.

Brecker was one of the most in-demand session players of his time, besides being a consummate jazz innovator in his own right. He was also instrumental in promoting and pioneering the use of the EWI (electronic wind instrument). Back in 2007, I put together a Michael Brecker tribute mix as my contribution to the CD Mix of the Month Club I used to belong to in New York. Called Tenor of the Times, it contained a sampling of some of his best work both as sideman and band leader. On this anniversary of his passing, I thought I'd make a zip file of the mix available. Grab it quick—I won't leave it up for long. Some liner notes are here.

RIP.

Download (88 Mb)

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Hot bones

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So I headed down to St. Joseph Hospital yesterday morning for my abdominal CT scan. When I scheduled the appointment, I was told I'd have to show up two hours early to drink a nice barium milkshake. It turned out when I reached the radiology floor, though, that my urologist had merely ordered a scan with and without contrast. No barium required. This meant I was there two hours early.

That was okay, though. They squeezed me right in. Lying on the table being slid like a magician's assistant through the donut hole of the scanner, I was amused by the light-up pictographs that instructed me when to hold my breath and when to exhale. The fellow in the breath-holding pictograph looked like he had a huge wad of chewing tobacco stuffed into his cheek. Among the other icons on the scanner display were a heart, a pair of lungs, and something that at first looked to me like a bondage hood. It was actually supposed to be a radiation warning symbol with a camera aperture affixed to its underside.

I went through the scanner twice before a nurse stuck me with an IV line to flood my veins with a radiocontrast dye to help my urinary tract show up better in the images. She warned me that I would probably feel warm or flushed for a minute or so when the dye went in. The sensation was actually a whole lot weirder than that. It actually made me feel like I was being cooked from the inside out, like my bones were glowing red. It was like having the worst fever I'd ever experienced. And the sensation faded, as promised, after a minute or so.

(Does anyone know why it feels that way? I'm wondering if it's some kind of immunoresponse.)

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Hugo Award nominations are now open, and that means it's time to make good on my threat promise to spearhead a campaign to get the @MayorEmanuel Twitter stream nominated.

As you may recall, Bob, @MayorEmanuel was the anonymous but highly popular tweeter who created a profane and fantastic alternate Chicago during the course of our 2010-11 mayoral election season. Though it started out as something of a lark, by the time it wound down on the night of the election the stream had grown into one of the most absorbing works of science fiction of the year.

The author soon revealed himself to be Chicago journalist and educator Dan Sinker, and late that summer the tweets appeared from Scribner in book form, collected and annotated, as The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel.

I think this innovative story is deserving of a Hugo. At the very least, a nomination for this most Chicago-centric of SF works would be appropriate in a year when Worldcon comes to our fair city. I've consulted with experts, and we agree that we're best off to nominate @MayorEmanuel in the Best Related Work category. If you're with us, then for consistency please fill out your nominating ballot in that category exactly as follows, including the asterisks:

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