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Willie's Off-Brand Web Journal: June 20-June 26, 2004

Friday, June 25, 2004:

MAGNET sent me 25 copies of the CD sampler for their forthcoming issue, on which my song "Hell" is featured. It was very kind of them to send me so many, but I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to do with all of these discs. (I admittedly wouldn't know a good promotional tool even if it landed me in rehab.) So if anyone wants a copy, just let me know. They're free for the asking. It's actually a very good sampler, too. Much better than the Oasis one I was on a few weeks ago: nearly every song is good or at least listenable, and there are a few truly awesome songs on it, like "Another Good Year" by Mr. Encrypto and "Doctor V" by the Hushdrops. Even the blatant Neutral Milk Hotel ripoff "Caroline, London 1940" by Sleep Station is nice and tuneful. So yeah, drop me a line if you want one of these. I've got plenty.

One more week at Barnes & Noble. As Jon pointed out, I am going to miss the romance books with shirtless vikings on the cover. Luckily, Math Reviews does have plenty of burly Nordic men to carry the math from room to room. (They will also help lift your car into tiny parking spaces in exchange for Mentos.)

There was a memo circulated within B&N from some guy who I guess was in human resources or something; I don't remember. At any rate, he asked all the employees to submit five words that describe Barnes & Noble so he could tablulate the most-used words for... some reason. I missed a lot of the details. He received something like 40 responses, and the number-one word was books. So he circulated another memo that essentially said, "Let's try this again. And this time, don't say 'books' because that pretty much goes without saying."

However, he also shared a response that he "hadn't expected," regarding Barnes & Noble's TOPPS program, which is a cringe-inducing corporate acronym that stands for Total Operating Principles, Practices, and Standards, and has been a means of governing the day-to-day operations of each store and its staff for the last four years. Frankly, TOPPS has never really worked for a variety of reasons that are too convoluted to go into here, but can essentially be boiled down to the same ill-conceived Who Moved My Cheese?/Seven Habits of Highly Effective People/Getting to Yes mishegoss that's wrecking companies nationwide. For instance, here's a direct quote from the informational packet employees were given during the TOPPS rollout: "Objective: Consistently meet the expectation of our customers by bringing improved efficiencies, productivity, and execution to our merchandise promise." This was to be accomplished via "success factors" that stipulated such requirements as "All booksellers must have [a] sense of ownership of the sales floor." So you can see why things have slid steadily downhill since its implementation.

As I was saying, the unexpected response received by the HR guy read, "Barnes & Noble before TOPPS: employee-friendly, comfortable, organized, nice place to work. Barnes & Noble after TOPPS: confused, paranoid, stifling, the Wal-Mart of books." Hee!

CURRENT MUSIC: The Name of This Band is Talking Heads.
CURRENT MOOD:
Grubby.
CURRENT BEST WEBSITE EVER:
Dennis in the Reality (courtesy of Jon). I quote, "And even more strange I feel about me, is that I feel I now also love another girl friend I have been together with, and her name is Helena. So I have now informed them both about this fact that I love them both, and I will se if anyone of them want to be with me? I do now feel mad like because I hope I get to marry them both, and this I do now not even know if this is legal or not, but I just follow my correct for all feeling now and I am now open to them about this fact that I love them both. Then if they both want to marry me as I hope, then we can do that if it is legal? Ore try to get an approval, for us to do that?"
TIME: 7:57 PM.

Doot? | |

Tuesday, June 22, 2004:

You all need to purchase the book Citizen You! Helping Your Government Help Itself immediately. I can't imagine that it will remain in print for very long, though my store got five copies yesterday and I ordered in another five. It's brilliant beyond words. The book is written by Mike Loew and Joe Garden from The Onion (along with Randy Ostrow, who's not Onion-related and therefore gets only this parenthetical mention), and it's mostly an amusing satire of the self-serving, restrictive, scaremongering excesses that the Bush administration has been allowed to go to under the banner of The War on Terror. It's timed, I'm sure, to coincide with the much-hyped release of Fahrenheit 9/11, and the humor is like a more barbed version of the (also smart) site whitehouse.org.

However.

The last section of the book is entitled "Dangerous Questions You Must Never Ask About 9/11: Read Then Burn," and it's the most chilling inquiry into the Bush team's involvement in and response to 9/11 that I have ever read. The section is presented as a series of 79 unanswered questions relating to the 9/11 attacks, based on well-researched (and well-documented, in the book's section of works cited) discrepancies between the government's official story and the physical evidence of the tragedy. The implication of this section is that the attacks were orchestrated and executed by operatives within the Bush administration as a means of justifying any number of subsequent actions from which those members of the administration stood to gain.

I was as skeptical before reading this section as I'm sure you are after reading that thesis. All along, I've believed that the Bush administration knew a lot more than they'd let on about 9/11, ever since I saw footage of Bush nonchalantly continuing to read a book to a group of Florida schoolchildren after being informed by an aide that the WTC had been hit (and that suspicion has been only heightened by such recent events as Bush's inexplicable refusal to appear before the 9/11 Commission separately from Dick Cheney), but I'd dismissed any implication that his team was behind the attacks as wackmobile conspiranoia bullshit. Even if the Bush administration had unconscionably exploited the attacks for its own gain, I reasoned, there was surely enough evidence that Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were to blame that any speculation otherwise was the stuff of utter kooks. 

However, after reading the "Dangerous Questions," which are buoyed by damning photos and based on articles from respected sources (CNN, the Associated Press, The Guardian, etc.), not to mention their debunking of every bit of "evidence" the US government has presented to the public (which, as it turns out, isn't nearly as much as you've probably thought you've heard), I've become all but positive that the September 11 attacks were a coldblooded, unforgivably violent assault on the American people by their own "elected" officials. Given that FDR had advance knowledge of Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the USS Maine was perpetrated to spark American support for what would become the Spanish-American War, this isn't such a farfetched notion, historically speaking. With that in mind, consider the following questions Citizen You asks:

·"How did the terrorist pilots manage to fly their hijacked jets across the country at top speeds toward precise targets with the skill of seasoned military pilots when they had no piloting skills? None of the terrorist pilots had ever flown a jet before, much less a gigantic commercial airliner. They had only trained on Cessna prop-driven two-seater airplanes and flight simulators. ... On May 4, 2002, the New York Times quoted two flight-school instructors on [alleged suicide pilot of Flight 77] Hani Hanjour's piloting skills: 'He didn't care about the fact that he couldn't get through the course,' said one instructor. Another declared, 'I'm still amazed to this day that he could have flown into the Pentagon. He could not fly at all.' ... Mohammed Atta, the alleged pilot of Flight 11, and Marwan al-Shehhi, the alleged pilot of Flight 175, both flunked out of their flight school. How could Hani Hanjour have executed a tight 270-degree turn while descending 7,000 feet, given his total lack of flying skills? How could he have piloted the jet to within inches of the ground so as to crash into the first floor of the Pentagon at such a shallow angle that the plane penetrated through three rings of the building?"

·"Why was there not only a failure to promptly report the hijackings to NORAD, but also a failure to put military jets in the air? Once notified, why did NORAD not scramble jets from the nearest air bases, but instead scrambled jets from air bases far away from New York City and Washington DC? For example, radar showed that Flight 77 was heading toward Washington, but NORAD first ordered three F-16 fighters to fly out from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to intercept Flight 77. Langley is 129 miles from Washington. Aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base, which is 11 miles away from Washington, were scrambled later and did not reach the Pentagon until after it had been struck. Why was there... a failure to intercept? Why have some researchers, using NORAD's own numbers, calculated that the supersonic fighter jets, with a top speed of 1,875 mph, failed to reach their targets because they flew at roughly 25 percent of their maximum speed?"

·"In order to figure out how the Twin Towers held up during the jet impacts and fires, but then somehow disintegrated into rubble, why wasn't a careful analysis of the steel that made up the Twin Towers undertaken? Instead, the authorities carted away the key evidence of this vast crime and unprecedented engineering failure and recycled it. They trucked it away as quickly as they could and sold it as scrap to foreign countries. Why was nearly all of this crucial evidence destroyed? [Furthermore, g]iven that the people in charge considered the WTC steel garbage that was useless to any investigation, why did they go to great lengths to make sure the steel didn't end up anywhere besides a smelting furnace? They installed GPS tracking devices on each of the trucks that were carrying loads away from Ground Zero, at a cost of $1,000 each. This measure was taken so that every truckload could be tracked, making sure that all of the contents were destroyed."

And there's plenty more where those came from.

Now, it's possible that any number of these questions may have perfectly logical answers that are in line with what the Bush administration has told us. It seems highly unlikely to my mind, but it is possible. The questions presented by Garden, Loew, and Ostrow occasionally raise even more questions (if, as they suggest, the four hijacked planes were piloted by remote control, why would it have been necessary to shoot down Flight 93?), and some of the points are obviously stronger than others. However, seeing all these questions and all these unexplained facts collected in a matter of pages is, at the very least, enough to prove that there's quite a bit of explaining that needs to be done regarding the events of September 11, in areas to which the 9/11 Commission hasn't even dared allude.

Citizen You is smartly packaged: a horrifyingly thorough and concise expose of the September 11 tragedy nestled in the nonthreatening pages of a clever, funny, anti-Bush "humor" book. I'm sure that I sound like a paranoid radical headcase to those of you who haven't yet read the book (especially given my proven affinity for conspiracy theories), but all I can ask is that you give it a read yourself and make up your own mind. Even if you don't want to buy it, go to Barnes & Noble or Borders, buy yourself a coffee, and sit down and read the "Dangerous Questions" section. It'll take you a half hour. After that, if you still think the authors' theory is bollocks, please drop me a line and prove them wrong. This isn't something I want to believe. There are, after all, plenty of reasons to hate Bush and his cronies without blaming them for 9/11. However, in the face of all the information contained in Citizen You, I currently have no choice but to believe it. Don't try to debate this with me now, because I'm basing this on what I've just read and don't have their sources at my fingertips, so I can't defend my position by saying anything more than "Read the book." Please, read the book. Read it, read it, read it.

It's otherwise really funny, too!

CURRENT MUSIC: Young Team by Mogwai.
CURRENT MOOD:
Petrified.
A MORE LIGHTHEARTED ANECDOTE:
I was talking on the phone with Bev last night, and she was going through all her old NES games, I heard a loud, lengthy crashing noise through the phone as Bev started giggling. I asked what that noise was, and it was apparently the sound of a tub full of Lite Brite pegs (several sets' worth) spilling out onto her floor. I love her.
TIME:
7:13 PM.

Doot? | |

Sunday, June 20, 2004:

I got the job at Mathematical Reviews because I am rule and they are generous. So in the next few weeks, I'm going to be moving to Ann Arbor: the Berkeley of the Midwest! Or Ypsilanti, which is the... I don't know, San Leandro of the Midwest? For those of you who live in Ann Arbor or are familiar with the area, if you could keep an eye out for decent one-bedroom or studio apartments for me, I would really, really appreciate it. I've looked at a few apartment finders that Steve Knowlton sent me, and there were some promising leads (such as the apartment complex known as "Nob Hill," which looks very nice and boasts the advantage of a name that lends itself to bawdy puns), but I can always use more help.

In addition to all the benefits of working at Math Reviews which I'm pretty sure I listed a few months ago, there's a friendly puppy named Bob who freely roams the building! So they're essentially paying me to hang out with a puppy! How cool is that? I mean, I'm sure my job description entails more than "Keep Bob company," but I prefer to focus on the puppy-intensive parts of my job right now because they make me happy.

The extremely kind and talented Ashley has volunteered to redesign the portion of my site that's actually related to Disclaimer (as opposed to the music review portion- which I will get around to updating soon), but we need pictures to make the site more aesthetically pleasing. So if you have any amusingly dark and/or weird pictures that you'd like to contribute, please e-mail them to me (embedded images are better than attached files), and I will then send the ones I like to Ashley. Who will then use the ones that she likes. Nobody wins, everybody loses, to quote Mark. But I'd appreciate it.

There are a lot of things to hate about Something's Gotta Give- its flat, sub-Nora Ephron script; the way it wastes Frances McDormand, etc.- but there's one part that had me wishing I had a tub of sour cream handy to throw at the screen like the title character of Harry and the Hendersons did while watching that Ronald Reagan film. In the movie, Diane Keaton is supposed to be a much-lauded playwright, which... is a bit of a stretch, but whatever. Jack Nicholson is cast as the owner of "the second-largest hip-hop record label in the world," Amanda Peet is cast as an auctioneer at Christie's, and Keanu Reeves is supposed to be a doctor, so the subtext of Something's Gotta Give is that it's easy for truly oblivious people to be successful in occupations they are obviously ill-qualified for. Fine. One to grow on. I'll go with it.

However, given her position as a playwright, we're supposed to buy the notion that Diane Keaton has a firm grip on the ins and outs of the English language. So I love how none of the filmmakers thought twice about showing Diane type the following phrase during an Instant Message conversation with Creepy Ol' Jack:

I'm sitting here in my pj's...

Now, griping about a misused apostrophe within the context of a movie that's loathsome for any number of other reasons may seem like missing the forest for the stupid-looking moustache of the forest ranger, but I think it's indicative of the smug, witless unreality of the entire production, all wrapped up in one tiny little piece of punctuation. (Unless the ellipses were meant to indicate that Diane was leaving off a bit of the sentence that explained that the word pj's was actually referring to something owned by the youngest child from Family Circus.) Actually, Eric D. Snider says this better in his review of New York Minute, so let's just quote him:

"When a driver asks Jane, 'Are you and her going to the same place?,' she corrects him, saying, '"You and SHE." You're using the wrong possessive.' Well, yeah, except that there were no 'possessives,' wrong or otherwise, in that sentence. What he was using was the wrong PRONOUN. The screenwriters wanted to establish Jane as the sort of person who would correct a stranger's grammar, yet they themselves were so stupid that they couldn't come up with a good example of it. Never try to write characters who are smarter than you are, guys. It never works."

Alright, that's my song about it.

Are the Secret Machines any good?

CURRENT MUSIC: The Day Everything Became Isolated and Destroyed by Nomeansno. I really wish "Brother Rat" had its own track, separate from the sloppy "What Slayde Says."
CURRENT MOOD:
Liberated and free.
CURRENT CATALYST FOR GUILT:
T-Bone and I bought my dad Miracle and Field of Dreams for Father's Day. I can't help but feel as though I've just cast a vote for more of those things to be made.
TIME:
12:59 PM.

Doot? | |

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