I started listening to Metal Machine Music today. I'd downloaded it months ago, but never bothered to play it. It came up on random on my mp3 player.

Now, musically, it actually didn't bother me. I'm used to this kinda stuff. Dissonant, guitar feedback, noise noise noise. I like John Cage, too. Noise that's somehow principled, in that it's there for a reason, whether it's to mess with the concept of what music is supposed to sound like, or if it's just a "fuck you" to listeners.

But after about seven minutes, I had this intense desire to vomit. I'm not sure why--maybe it was the music. Of course, it could also be the medication I'm on.

I'll try playing the whole thing and see what happens.

Dirty, drenched in sweat and toil, the soldiers finally smashed open the thick wooden door to the tunnel they had been seeking for years. After many long, intense months of battles and near-constant strife, the deaths of many in their company, at long last they had almost reached their goal.

"Into the tunnel!" their brave, relentless leader bellowed, pointing his sword into the dark abyss. "The book is at the end!" Then he galloped in first.

With cries of triumph, and the distinctive whines of the activation of their night vision goggles, his men scrambled into the tunnel after him. The twists and turns were almost dizzying as the soldiers kept up an anxious pace, each one as eager as their leader to reach The Book of Answers. At long last, after fifteen minutes of rushing, they came to a large lighted chamber, just big enough for all of them. As if they had been expected by somebody, torches were flickering all around it, attached to the thick stone walls.

"The book!" one of them exclaimed. There, on a wooden podium, sat a large, dusty, ancient-looking, leather bound book. It was the biggest book they'd ever seen. It appeared to be at least two feet high and to contain an untold number of pages.

Their leader was the first to swing around the podium and lay his hands on it. "Gentelemen, here it is! The spoils of our quest, the Book of Answers! Fucking eh! It has the answers to all of our questions! Any questions we have! How fucking cool is that?!"

His proclamation of the coolness of the book was met with raucous positive reaction, yells and whoops and hollers of his men.

"Sarge, should we put it in the bag now and take it back to the helicopter?" asked one soldier who was carrying a large black nylon case.

"NO!" the Sarge exclaimed as he stared at the book, tracing the intricate flowery patterns etched into the leather cover with his finger. "We're gonna have a look at this thing first! We've earned it!" This met with great yells of agreement. "Now, let's think of some good questions! I hope it has an index of some kind." The book hissed little cracking sounds as he carefully opened it.

"In here you will find the answers you have no doubt sought to all the questions you may have," the first page read in big, bold letters, in a language the Sarge didn't recognize. But yet, somehow, he could read it anyway.

A volley of questions spewed forth from his men, so many that he couldn't single any one of them out.

"One at a time!" the Sarge bellowed as he flipped through the book. It was brimming with an overwhelming amount of information, sometimes accompanied by illustrations and schematics, all in black ink. He skipped ahead to the end and there was indeed an index.

"Who really killed Kennedy?!" one of the soldiers yelled once everybody else had gone silent.

"All right," the Sarge mumbled as he flipped through the index. "Ah, here it is, Page 540,900." After several minutes of flipping and examining, he found it. "OK, who killed Kennedy. Um...it...it says Lee Harvey Oswald."

Some of the exuberance seemed to be sucked out of the room. There were many "ohs" and grumbles at the anticlimactic answer.

"Well, let's try another," said another soldier, "how about, um, did Iraq really have weapons of mass destruction?"

The Sarge mumbled to himself as he flipped back to the index. He frowned, then flipped to somewhere in the last quarter of the book. "Yes. But they didn't work. And they were hidden in Iran."

After allowing the Sarge several seconds to continue, one of the soldiers scratched his head and said "That's all it says?"

"Apparently," the Sarge said, crinkling his forehead. He appeared to be reading something mildly interesting that had also been on that page. "Mr. Rodgers was a homo?!"

"Everybody knew that!" a really tall soldier exclaimed. "Come on, let's ask some real questions here! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!"

"Like what?!" somebody yelled.

"Are we really being visited by space aliens?!" the really tall soldier blurted. The Sarge flipped back to the index, looked for several minutes, then flipped to somewhere in the middle of the book.

"Let's see..." the Sarge said thoughtfully. "Says here that there are nine thousand, eight hundred and twenty-three other sentient, intelligent civilizations besides our own in the universe. We have been visited by eleven of them. Eight of them lost interest in us after only one visit. The other three come back sometimes, only passing through to take pictures for scrapbooks for their interstellar vacations. Ninety-eight percent of all UFO sightings are hoaxes, misinterpretations of natural phenomena, military craft, and meteors."

Again, mumbles of mild interest and boredom rippled through the group.

The Sarge nodded as he flipped through the book a little. He stopped on something he must have thought was interesting. "Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were invented by a woman named Violet Smith on September 5, 1934 in Attica, Indiana. She had a bit of peanut butter and some jelly and needed to make lunch for her kids for school so she put them together. It spread from there. Hm."

"Who cares about that?!" exclaimed a young blonde soldier. "What is the meaning of the universe?"

"Page one!" the Sarge announced after a brief trip back to the Book's index. He slammed the huge stack of pages to the side to get to the first one. It kicked up a bit of dust and caused him to sneeze. After wiping his eyes he read: "A bunch of atoms and molecules bumping into each other in space."

"WHAT?!" the blonde soldier yelled. "I wanna see that!" He approached the book and almost pushed his superior aside to see it for himself. After reading it, he yelled "This book sucks!" Then, disgusted, he walked back over to the group.

"Is there a God?!" a black soldier exclaimed. This was met with many utterances and nods of approval.

"Ah, that's also on Page One," the Sarge said. "Says here that, yes, there is one, his name is...Stan? He, uh, went on a vacation in 1859 to the Panquadratic Fissure...whatever the hell that is...and decided he liked it there and hasn't returned."

"God...God is...gone?!" said one soldier as he began to get choked up.

"No way!" somebody yelled.

"What in the hell is a Panquantoonic Fissure?!" another bellowed in a southern accent.

The Sarge ignored that and flipped ahead. "The Hundred Years War was started when somebody didn't get the correct type of cheese they ordered?" the Sarge said, raising one eyebrow, as he read from a page somewhere in the middle of the book.

"When is Jesus coming back?" a soldier near the back asked.

After some flipping and reading the Sarge said: "Well, says here that the book cannot say for certain about anything that hasn't happened yet. But it does point out that Jesus coming back is highly unlikely because he's dead."

"This book is a fraud!" somebody yelled.

"Yeah, it's all bull shit!" another exclaimed. "We've been duped!"

"Well, he is dead!"

"Shut up, he was resurrected!"

"Yeah, that book's fulla shit!"

"Whoever wrote this thing is probably laughing their ass off right now at us!" a man in the front of the group declared. He was met with many utterances of agreement.

"Genghis Khan had irritable bowel syndrome," the Sarge said as he looked at a page from the middle of the book. "Hmph."

"What'd I eat for breakfast last Monday morning?!" one soldier said with his hands on his hips. "See if it knows that."

The Sarge, after some flipping, came to a page near the end of the book. "Boyd, it says here you had an apple, and, uh...Private Hanley's dick?"

Boyd's face grew red. He glanced nervously at Hanley, who was near the back. His eyes were wide and terrified.

"Well...well...obviously, this, uh, this book doesn't know what the hell it's talking about!" Boyd said, laughing nervously.

"Uhh, yeah," Hanley said as everybody stared at either him or Boyd. The Sarge raised an eyebrow at both of them.

"What is the meaning of life?!" yelled a thin, pimply soldier, breaking a very awkward silence. Yeah!s and That's a good one!s began to pop up here and there.

"Yes, the meaning of life!" the Sarge said enthusiastically as he raced to the index. "Page two." He easily flipped back to the second page. He cleared his throat and, as he was about to speak, he stopped. A very puzzled look washed over his face, he almost spoke again, and again he didn't.

"Well?!" the really tall one prodded.

"It says..." the Sarge was unsure of himself. "It says...says here, you are born, you live, you die. Everything else is, um...up to you?"

"Huh?" one soldier said. "That's what it says?"

"Yes," the Sarge said slowly.

Slowly the company of soldiers emerged from the tunnel. To the anxious group of men around the waiting helicopter, they looked dejected and disappointed.

"Where's the book?!" the General said excitedly to the Sarge. "You got it?!"

"It, uhhhh...well, somebody destroyed the damned thing a long time ago," the Sarge said, "yeah, a real shame. It was just a pile of old ashes. After all this...a real shame....oh well."

The General looked mortified as he watched the Sarge sigh, then walk past him.

In response to a news item on AOL about proposed ban in Texas on "sexy" high school and college cheerleading:

American athletics are a bizarre mix of Edwardian notions of health and purity, mid-century Dionysian hedonism and postmodern consumer culture. Cheerleading used to be a male province: peppy yet manly young fellows in sweaters with megaphones encouraging otherwise staid crowds to raise their voices in support of the Team. Later, co-eds, in similarly wholesome attire performed in quasi-military excercises for the same purpose: it's remarkable to note that cheerleading squads didn't become a regular feature of American High School life until the 1950's, when female athleticism, with its uncomfortable taint of lesbianism and gender transgression, was downplayed in favor of less threatening and more ornamental pursuits. Since then, the African-American community, the mainstreaming of erotica in American media, queer theory, and feminism have all left their mark. Now that the pendulum has swung back towards restraint, let's take a look at what we're dealing with.

At base, we have young women whose bodies are at the ideal age to reproduce, packaged and displayed in such a way as to evoke both sexual readiness and erotic innocence. (A cheerleader, in the popular mind, might neck and pet with her affianced, but she would never be a sexually frigid divorced single mother of two, a happily mated lesbian, or lustily turning tricks at a massage parlor, Debbie Does Dallas notwithstanding.) There's a certain suspension of belief operating here: although they may be displaying large amounts of leg, breast, and buttock, high-kicking, turning cartwheels, doing splits, piling in pyramids, and posing provocatively, the assumption is that the girls really don't know what's happening under their true love's jockstrap (or in Daddy's shorts), what those pelvic gyrations are really used for (other than horseback riding), or what that funny feeling really is that they're getting where they get their period. (Indeed, since many classic cheerleading moves would not have been out of place at a 'parlor show' in a bordello, the only reason why girls of good report can do this is because this is in public as part of a 'family' spectacle.) Since, at that age, their erotic responsiveness is not yet fully developed, and part of the whole idea of higher education is to delay childbearing in favor of readying young folk for careers, this has been a fairly equitable agreement, allowing whatever latent homoerotic impulses that have been built up watching well-developed virile young men in quasi-warfare to be safely discharged at halftime in an a wholesomely heterosexual manner.

However, we live in an age where most young people have seen Madonna grab her crotch, heard Britney Spears warble about the joys of sado-masochism, and have been exposed to urban African-American culture, where motherhood often comes before full adulthood, not at its peak, and sexual naivite is often a weakness, not a strength. It is difficult to maintain both the polite fiction that nothing sexual is going on, and that these are merely healthy, intelligent young women putting on an athletic display. Nor would it be easy, when all's said and done, to jam the squirming cat back in the bag.

However, I believe that legislation is pursuing the wrong angle. Given the nature of the beast, it would be next-to-impossible to mandate whether, say, a routine done with Hula-Hoops was not "erotic" or an adaptation of an African dance (originally meant to train the body, not only for battle, but the pleasurable conception of new warriors) was merely intended as an "ethnic" piece. Perhaps it means that the time has come to define cheerleading in terms of a period of lost innocence, the way that barbershop quartet singing is, or Gilbert & Sullivan, or to split the field into two (or more) differing styles. (Clearly, no one expects the women associated with professional teams, such as the Dallas Cowboys, to be virginal.) I cannot say. But I hope I've clarified things.

Writing About Writing: Ugh, It's Come To This: Simultaneously A Rebuttal To Claims That I Should Write A Book Or Somesuch And An Apology For The Inane Scribblings I Have Subjected You To For These Past Months

Again, I'd love to. What could be better than to make marks on paper (or the modern equivalent) for a living?

Fact is: there are many reasons why I probably never will.

For one, I simply lack skill. Usually it's all I can do to cludge words together into coherent sentences that contain what meaning I want them to. Not infrequently, I fail at even that, and only manage to approximate or give up altogether.

And to get these sentences to cohere into paragraphs is toil, and whole compositions you can just forget about.

This meager facility with prose is probably why my writing is empty of style. And style is something I value highly in writing. Any style you may perceive in any of my ramblings is pretty much illusory, and merely a result of my aforementioned retardedness. In their way, even young children have a style to their writing.

All I really have to offer in my writing are insights, and even those are few and far between. And insights have nothing to do with abilities, either as a writer or as a person. They are divine favors bestowed upon me and I share them with you as I would share lottery winnings. Likewise, some I keep for myself.

I also have very little imagination (which is why I've never really been able to write fiction). I read guys like Pynchon and Gibson and find worlds so rich and full, so deep, deeper and richer and fuller than my own real world seems, except on occasion. This is probably because I'm pretty unobservant.

Which brings me to the next point: I'm pretty unobservant. I don't notice most things unless I'm looking for them or they're right in my face. I imagine this has something to do with my lack of imagination.

So why do I write, then? Those reasons are various, but I'd like to start with something that's conspicuously absent from that list.

I don't write, and never have written, to try to make anyone understand the military experience. As someone who has been interested in the military for as long as he can remember, who has read about, watched movies and TV shows about, and listened fascinatedly to stories about military and war his whole life, being in the military is like nothing I imagined. And I knew going into it that none of my preconceived notions would be accurate, but this! Pretty much no aspect of military life or war is anything like I expected, and in ways I obviously can't express.

Yes, military life is hard, but not how you'd think. Yes, war is absurd, but in a totally absurd way. Yes, I'd love to be able to make you understand, but I don't have the ability, and neither did the writers of all those things I read prepare me for what was to come.

And, yes, I know, probably most experiences are this way, but not to this degree. You can read about rock-climbing, or going to school, or wine-tasting, and have some idea of what to expect, and that idea won't be so ridiculously bogus. It's all crazy, in crazy ways, ways so crazy I can't gesticulate wildly enough to give you an inkling.

Imagine me gesticulating as wildly as I can, arms and legs flailing, eyes bulging and hair and aura rising, anime-style. Nope, you still have no inkling.

Anyway. So, yeah, I don't really even bother with that. I write to share some of my aforementioned (few and far between) insights. I write to let you know how I'm doing. I write to clarify things in my own memory, to properly order them in my mind. I write to share my feelings and because as bad a writer as I am, I'm probably a worse storyteller. Sometimes I write simply out of a desperate need to communicate.

I write because I enjoy it. I like to manipulate words and I like the power of wielding symbols.

Reading through this, I hope I'm not giving the impression of trying to sound modest. I'm not a very modest person. (Or am I just being modest about my modesty? Ugh.) I really do feel this way about my abilities as a writer.

I suppose and hope these things I lack: observation, imagination, and style, and simple command of language, are things that will get better with life experience and practice. Maybe someday I will improve at these things enough to (by my own standards) rise above mediocrity. Then maybe I'll write a book.

When the Breast Fairy Comes

Two things have happened in the past 24 hours. Firstly, Christine is out of surgery following her mastectomy. She was in the OT for about two hours, and the surgeon declared herself happy with the procedure, having removed both her right breast and several lymph nodes. Currently, she is snoozing, sleeping off the combination of drugs she's on for pain control. Christine, that is, not the surgeon.

The other thing was seeing a book in a shop here in Davis, with the above title. It was slightly alarming, the thought of a titty equivalent of the Tooth Fairy, who leaves money under your pillow following removal of a breast. Despite my knowing that the book is aimed at girls approaching puberty, I guess I'll still peek under the pillow when I get back to the hospital. You never know, there may be a bundle of money under there, as compensation.

In Other News...

Christine is well, having eaten a good breakfast, and able to make it to the bathroom with only minor help - not bad for an Amazon less than 24 hours after her surgery! I'm in pretty good shape too, having stayed at the hospital overnight (I'm on my way to get a shower and a decent cup of tea now. If you need to ring, please call my mobile - (email me for that!) after 2200 server time today. Remember I'm on PST, eight hours behind GMT right now, though.

Thanks to all of you for your kind thoughts, prayers and suchlike. You know who you all are - meantime, continue to think of us both, as Chris starts her chemotherapy in two weeks. Gifts of easy reading, romance novels and daft little stuff to grundoon. Oh, and soft hats, in case the chemo knocks her bald.

Finally, we're still awaiting phone and internet connectivity at home, so don't expect a response online for a while yet.

(R) breast and (R) axilla - Caught in the medical machine - Going Amazonian - When the Breast Fairy Comes - So there we were, in Oncology, wishing for Star Trek technology - Weddings, and other Sundrie Diversions - Support the Amazons: A Dual-Function Ninjagirls Bakesale for Boobies - Seven Down, One to Go - 1950s technology meets 21st-century woman. - Getting better, but cancer SUCKS - An Open Letter to Macy's regarding Tits

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