This sojourn through Finland has been terrifyingly self-relevatory. I've had to question some of my basic assumptions and break down my very sense of self. Apparently, I'm just not as blond as I once thought. Or, at least, in the right light you can see my eyebrows, which is more than I can say for many of the people here.

Today was a short and fatigued spin through the center of Helsinki, buying cherries at the fishless fish market, visiting the plain interior of a Lutheran church and the exuberance of an Orthodox Cathedral, and then climbing a hill to crawl into a church carved from its own bedrock. Hot chocolate in the middle of the boulevard as they set up the bandstand across the green. The Andean pan flutists I had run into before in front of Rouen Cathedral and in Copenhagen's Rådhuspladsen and all across Europe and once, memorably, overheard playing in Covent Garden while on the phone with [livejournal.com profile] rahael, have put on Sioux-style headdresses and leggings and are now marketting themselves as "The Mohicans." They're still playing panpipes, authentic as they are, but I didn't stick around long enough to hear if "I'd Rather Be A Hammer Than A Nail" was still the mainstay of their repetoire.

Tomorrow brings us to Petrograd, where I hope it gets darker.
As some of you are already aware, [livejournal.com profile] rahael suffered an unfortunate keyboard mishap resulting in a loss of functionality of such keys as D, H, L, W and the space bar.

As frustrating as this was for her, it added a bit sport for those interpreting her Instant Messages, but I am glad that this occured right before Beltane instead of Samhain, so I didn't have to test my eye against "iooeouttejacko'anternforteaoeenoiay."

(Note: sample sentence not exactly consonant with actual expressions of [livejournal.com profile] rahael.)
I'd like to thank [livejournal.com profile] deevalish for the beautiful card and [livejournal.com profile] yhlee for the lovely magazine. And, of course, I have a whole box from [livejournal.com profile] rahael into which I keep trying to sneak a peek. "Go ahead and open it," she says. "I would never do that," I respond. "That would ruin the surprise! Now, give me a little hint before I take this down to the airport to be x-rayed."
I'm getting ready to leave for a too-short sojourn in London before my tour of Iran. I won't be back for a bit, and I'm not completely sure I'll have hands when I do return, so expect a continued utter paucity of updates!
I just got off the phone to [livejournal.com profile] rahael; I read her all the various replies and posts in response to the death of her grandmother. She asked me to say that she is "touched and very moved" by your thoughts, but cannot reply to them individually until she returns to a working computer on Monday.
A few entirely random thoughts:
  • Libertarian-standing-tall Jim Henley calls "libertarian"-on-his-knees Eugene Volokh out for his complaint that the Supreme Court has created the possibility that "our enemies may use our freedoms against us." At the end of his post, Henley refers his readers for more to presumptive neoliberal Brad DeLong, the Social Democrats and academic Marxists over at Crooked Timber, and that extradimensional crustacean with plans for world domination, Fafblog's Medium Lobster. Politics really does make for strange blogfellows.

  • While driving down a rural highway in Michigan today, I saw a rickety shed made of saplings strung together with a hand-painted sign attached to it. I only read the top part of the sign, which must have read in full "Hunting blind for sale," but my urban/suburban conditioning led me to expect from the first lines that the complete message would be "Hunting blind can cost lives. Be sure to hunt only with a properly trained guide dog." I suppose, though, that the sign would be effective only if it were in braille.

  • The top story in the Arts section of Wednesday's New York Times treats the new bevy of skyscrapers going up over London. In my last couple of trips to London I've been flabbergasted by the new arrivals on the skyline -- I had thought that there was a municipal regulation preventing buildings from standing taller than the city's most famous and revered landmark. The article is accompanied by a spectacular computer rendering of the Thames behind Tower Bridge, surrounded by all the proposed new skyscrapers (though the Vortex, my favorite of the batch of unrealized buildings, is not to be found, the Times taking a more skeptical view than the Guardian on this issue at least).

    Walking between [livejournal.com profile] rahael's house and her local supermarket, one must take a pedestrian bridge over one of the major motorways. This bridge affords a great view of the Gherkin, London's most recent hot skyscraper; on a clear day I could see even St. Paul's and the Millennium Eye. Rah and I got into an unintentional habit of timing our return from grocery shopping to coincide with sunset, though our last shopping expedition had us leaving the store just as the summer rainstorm ended and the sky was filled with a gigantic double rainbow, arching clear and completely across the eastern sky.
I met [livejournal.com profile] rahael at work yesterday and we walked over to Leicester Square to see Shaun of the Dead. I think I laughed more during that movie than at any movie I've seen in a theater since Soapdish (admittedly, I don't see many movies, especially comedies, in theaters). I am very happy that the movie was such a delight because, well, let's just say that ten and a half pounds seems a bit steep for anything that provokes a response less than ecstasy. I'll get the DVD (in America, presumably at Target) for less than ten and a half pounds! And since our evening viewing, at one of London's premier film-going locations, drew only nine people, I am convinced that it is time that theaters moved to a market-based pricing system. Why should a movie like The Chronicles of Riddick, which was hated by even [livejournal.com profile] buffyannotater, cost as much to see as Prisoner of Azkaban? I'm sure there are some people out there so driven to be the first to see Azkaban that they'd be willing to pay 10 quid 50 or more, but might be willing take a flyer on Riddick only if it were in the two-bob range. The airlines concentrate on capacity, on filling every seat on the airplane as efficiently as possible, and have developed a wealth of strategies for getting their seats filled at the prices people want to pay -- why should movie theaters not seek to maximize the capacity of their theaters?

The theaters could even adopt the techniques of internet commerce. I sat through twenty-two minutes of advertisements before Shaun of the Dead actually began. Certainly, some of this advertisement money must have subsidized my ticket somewhat (and I think Pearl & Dean, the ad brokers for London theaters, would be happier if their ads were being seen by more than nine people at a time). Perhaps the theaters could make the cheap cineastes sit through ad after ad before the movie, but offer a premium service where one could pay through the nose to just start watching the damn movie already.

Anyway, an extremely funny zombie caper. Spoilers for "Shaun of the Dead" )

Exiting the theater into a crisp London evening -- the temperature must have had dropped fifteen degrees since the day before -- and noting the general listlessness of the few people we passed walking through Chinatown, I saw a slight post-apocalyptic side to the city last night. A group of kids way in front of me smashed a beer bottle and the sound reverberated down Gerrard Street. The cords of people stacked outside De Hem's staring vacantly into the pub -- are they just Dutch footie fans trying to catch a glimpse of the Euro Cup, or are they . . . the walking dead?

I hope that [livejournal.com profile] rahael stores a few blunt objects in her garden shed. Just in case.
After much searching, I finally found something to do in London that isn't at all fun. [livejournal.com profile] rahael and I were eating breakfast this morning -- cereal with blueberries and bananas -- when I felt something in my mouth that might have been an unripened blueberry, were blueberries just a tad more metallic. I fished around and pulled out a small silver-pewter object -- I had lost a filling. Joy. So now I have an appointment with a dentist on the Kensington High Street tomorrow, and until then I'll be eating with a ginger touch. And since we're having Thai tonight, what I eat will have a touch of ginger.

[livejournal.com profile] rahael has updated about our journey through the Cotswolds, but she's left her readers where I left her, in the Spa Station at Bath. After seeing her off, my father and I drove out of town, where we quickly came upon a sign for a "Canal Visitors' Centre." On a whim we checked it out: there was no sign of the "Visitors' Centre" I had feared, with its dioramas of 19th Century canal construction and earnest display cases featuring artifacts of the lives of the digging classes; instead there was a little cafe and, lo!, a canoe rental. So we paddled between the narrowboats for a bit. The canals of high-rent Amsterdam had prepared me for the adaptations people would make to the narrowboats to make them liveable (though I saw only one with a satellite dish), but nothing prepared me for our right turn onto the aqueduct.

Apparently, the engineer decided that he could build a nine-mile stretch of the Kennet & Avon Canal without a single lock, an impressive feat, but only if he took the canal from one side of the valley to the other. Twice. So he built aqueducts. (There was apparently a bit of local politics in the building -- the architect was convinced that only brick would be sturdy enough a material for the aqueducts, but the local industry was based on limestone, so the architect was overruled.)

There we were, canoeing over not only a river, but a road and the railway. The canal on the other side of the valley was peaceful, nearly empty of the narrowboats that had crowded the canal before, and well-populated with ducks. At one point, I looked to my left and realized that I was seeing the tops of trees. In my (admittedly very limited) experience, when I've been paddling and could see ground below me, I'm generally trying to figure out how to run the whitewater at the bottom, but the water in the canal was perfectly flat.

After returning the canoe to the rental shop, we drove to Stonehenge. We had been warned that it would be overrun with tourists, but at six-thirty in the evening it's nearly empty, almost idyllic. The National Trust won't let visitors anywhere near the monument, though, and it closes well before I could attempt to line up the sunset with anything, so no archaeoastronomy for me.

The next day we visited Bournemouth (which is much the Jersey Shore were the boardwalk tarmacked) and Winchester (where I did not dance on Jane Austen's grave). Then it was on to London where I was reunited with [livejournal.com profile] rahael. And now I sit in Leytonstone, trying to munch cakes with only the right side of my mouth.

Another photo from the total solar eclipse of August 11, 1999, this one showing not only the inner corona but that I underestimate the speed with which the Earth rotates.

It is probably only due to Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon that I am intrigued by the upcoming transit of the Sun by Venus. Those who have read the book may remember that the titular astronomers were dispatched to view the two transits made by Venus in the 18th Century from separate locations in an attempt to measure the parallax and estimate the distance from the Earth to the Sun. As I recall, they were sent to first Cape Town and then (ahistorically) St. Helena. Cape Town was more fun.

The transit occurs on June 8, when I'll be in England, where I'll be in a position to watch the whole thing, though I am unsure of whether [livejournal.com profile] rahael will be thrilled to have me sitting around staring at the sun for a few hours. Then there is the question of with what to view the transit. I'll bring a few pairs of mylar glasses, but considering that the difference in the apparent sizes of the Sun and Venus is considerable, I can't imagine that I'll be able to make out anything of the transit -- and I really do not want to cart my telescope overseas.

Then there is the slight possibility that London might be hazy or overcast; I can probably put that out of my mind right now. In any case, I will have to check whether anyone will be celebrating the transit with public telescope parties. And if I don't manage to see it, there'll be another one in eight years. I'll put it on my calendar.
I lost a filling today. Wahhh!!! So tomorrow, I have to not only say goodbye to [livejournal.com profile] rahael, but say hello to the dentist.

From the first political preference quiz disguised as a first-person shooter:


This is very inaccurate: I am not a typical Democrat, I'm the very atypical Libertarian who votes Democrat a lot. I love the idea of Starbucks, but their coffee is ditchwater compared to Caribou's. I consider The New York Times my Zend Avesta. And I only think less of some people from the South because we're directly related. Family reunions were often emotional hellholes.

And, yeah, I'm most likely voting for Kerry.
Sunday: 22:26/15:32 (acrostic); Monday: 4:02; Tuesday: 4:41; Wednesday: 7:47; Thursday: 11:14. I'm quite backed up on these things, being pleasantly diverted.

My birthday has been very successful; my thanks to all those who extended their best wishes, with a special thank you going out to [livejournal.com profile] aliera9916 for the gift. It is greatly appreciated! I was well-gifted this February 14th: [livejournal.com profile] rahael gave me the third season of Homicide (I may force her to watch the Steve Buscemi episode before she goes). My mother presented me with Angel Season Three, the Vh1 (Inside)Out documentary on Warren Zevon, and Rashomon. I thought I'd seen Rashomon before, but I read the description on the back of the DVD and it sounds nothing like what I remember! (Rim shot.) My father got me the new Elmore Leonard novel and, proving that if he reads my friends list, he doesn't delve into the comments, The Da Vinci Code. I'm looking forward to indulging myself with all of these -- I have the feeling that Dan Brown's novel is going to be a guilty pleasure (or at least guilty).

But before I get to those, I have to finish Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I just reached December 7, 1941, on which a ton of stuff happens, the least of it being the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Is that a spoiler?) Chabon seems to have a better grasp of the comics world than I do (check out his treatment for the X-Men movie); there are lots of little in-jokes capable of producing chuckles in people who can recognize that twenty years after the novel takes place, there would be a comics character named "Wolverine," etc. There are probably in-jokes too obscure for the likes of me, too; I'm rather desperately seeking a site with annotations. I'd start in on it myself (I picked up rather quickly that Sammy Clay's extremely goyishe friend would introduce him to rather more forbidden foods from the fact that his name is "Tracy Bacon"), but as the only portrait of the obsessive annotating fan Chabon presents is of a Nazi sympathizer, I'm not sure the job would do me credit! I'm quite enjoying the novel, but I am reminded of [livejournal.com profile] ajhalluk's theory of the spatchcocked woman. I never really got the impression that Sammy would be homosexual, but being that the novel contains two young male protagonists with healthy sexual desires, and only one female character of any personality whatsoever, it seems like simple supply and demand. It's like all those hobbits running around with no sexual outlet other than each other and occasionally Boromir.

Speaking of perpetual bachelor hobbits and their "nephews," [livejournal.com profile] ajhalluk also recently asked about movies that change public consciousness. I've been wondering of late whether or not the recent rise in support for allowing gays to serve openly in the military can be attributed to the success of the Lord of the Rings movies: it's hard to deny to homosexuals the right to defend their country when they've been shown to do so well carrying rings to Mt. Doom. I wonder if The Return of the King, in which Pippin catches a bouquet, for christ's sake, will have a similar effect on support for gay marriage.

Of course, not every viewing of The Lord of the Rings will produce more progressive politics; [livejournal.com profile] londonkds points to John Rhys-Davies's thoughts on the effects on Britain of the prodigious reproduction of Muslim immigrants. I wonder, though, whether I cannot blame this all on Steven Spielberg. Rhys-Davies did make his name in Raiders of the Lost Ark playing Sallah, the best digger in Egypt, whose fourteen children save Indiana Jones from the massed submachine guns of Belloq's German handlers. How different his prejudices might be had Spielberg bothered to rewrite his script to include lines such as:

JONES:
We're going to need shovels, pry-bars and ropes.
SALLAH:
And condoms, Indy. One should never be without a condom!
Thursday: 9:42; The Atlantic Puzzler: 47:27; Friday: 19:29; Saturday: 15:15. Some real disappointments in there, but I was pleasingly distracted.

[livejournal.com profile] rahael is here! Updates in my journal will be sparse for the next two weeks. Yes, I do have better things to do than sit here typing!
With any luck, today is my last day on dial-up, my last day obsessively entering numbers into Excel to make sure I do not exceed AT&T's stupid 150-hour-a-month quota (which didn't seem all that big a deal when I signed up for it, pre-ATPo and pre-[livejournal.com profile] rahael), my last day not receiving summonses from the RIAA.
Leviathan is atop the Times Magazine, but my recollection is that the number for today's 25x25 is 21:01. Puns and Anagrams was done in 15:12.

I think the worst part of making icons is searching for source material. I enjoy the Photoshopping, but digging through Google image searches and sites with 479 pictures from each episode of Alias tires out my poor old 56 kbps modem. So, if anyone knows where I can find the following images, please give me a link, or just <IMG SRC=url> 'em right here. It's not my bandwidth; I don't care.
  • Sydney Bristow holding a card -- ID card or keycard or whatever.
  • Buffy stomping Warren's orbs.
  • Emma Peel looking kick ass.
  • Cordelia looking kick ass.
  • Gollum looking perky.
  • Willow surrounded by floating knives, from "Tough Love."
Also, if you have any requests for icons, I'm willing to make them, but you have to find the source material.
11:23. After a few weeks of this, I'll have medians established for each day and I'll know how disappointed to be.

I've decided to do [livejournal.com profile] scrollgirl's icon meme, because other than cutting and pasting some <IMG SRC=url> tags, there's not much for me to do. The entire onus is on you! Muahhahaha! So, go right ahead and tell me which of my icons are most representative of me, or which you like the best, or which you'd hope to never see again.

These, then, would be my icons. )
Ok, how about this: we meet at Euston Station at about 1:15 PM, and take it from there. If someone could suggest a landmark, I would appreciate it. A big clock perhaps?
So, are we meeting tomorrow or what?
[livejournal.com profile] londonkds, [livejournal.com profile] atpotch, [livejournal.com profile] yabyumpan, anyone else who's interested: Saturday's good for me. Is Saturday good for you? Let me know. I'd also appreciate suggestions for something to do.

Thank you.
If everything proceeds according to plans, twenty-four hours from now I will be in London!

Actually, considering the sheer abundance of plans right now, I expect that quite a few expectations can be missed without hindering my travel at all.

However, knowing that I won't be able to do everything on my list, but that there are some things I absolutely have to do, leaves me in a state of anxious catatonia. I need to leave in about ten hours (I just woke up, deciding to get a jump on the time change -- plus, E.R. wasn't much with the anti-soporific), so I have more than enough time to, for example, do some laundry, and yet I haven't collected up so much as one loose sock.

What can I say? I procrastinate.

Updating over the next two weeks may be light. In other words, you probably won't notice any change at all.

I'm going to London!

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April 2009

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