November 22nd, 2004

A tiny, personal indication of the continuing decline of American civilization: my friend Ann wants to buy Christmas crackers that play musical notes as you break them open. She has bought them every year at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra store on Michigan Avenue. We went there Saturday: no crackers this year, they tell us. I proclaim: “I’ll find them online.” I spend a full hour scouring the Web and eBay. I rake through page after page of Google. These objects seem only to be available in the UK, where there is a veritable cult of Christmas crackers. There’s a Web site devoted to them here (http://www.absolutelycrakcers.com). Anyway, I could only find them in a few places in the UK such as this: The lowest price: 9.99 British pounds. I am astonished to find that this is about $18 U.S. And this does not include VAT and shipping costs. We suspect this is why the symphony store did not order Christmas crackers this year: due to the plummeting U.S. dollar, they are now too expensive for us here in the states.

November 22nd, 2004

Guess who has an op-ed column in the New York Times today? Bob Greene. Yup, that Bob Greene: the former Chicago Tribune columnist who was fired after a sex scandal, the writer many in this town loved to hate. Read his work here: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/22/opinion/22greene.html.

November 21st, 2004

…and speaking of spam, I just visited one of the sites described in Internet Babylon, Interview with God, and found myself instantly bombarded by the Divine Spirit of Marketing. What happened to this site? It no longer seems to be run by its creator, Reata Strickland, who is at Moments With God (http://www.momentswithgod.com). The original Interview with God site now hawks Interview with Jesus DVDs and exhorts members to send out unsolicited e-mail about the site to at least five of their closest friends. Maybe Reata sold the site or the trademark to someone else. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not into the whole Christianity thing, but I loved Reata’s story and found her to be a very generous person. I just wonder if she’s OK with what’s going on at her original site.

November 21st, 2004

Even if you get the feeling that much of the world is going down the tubes, there is always hope for independent creativity. I am happy to see Spamradio (http://www.spamradio.com) is still delivering their unique and amazing audio entertainment to the world; they must have gotten enough donations to keep them going.

November 21st, 2004

I was stunned by the news, at the end of the ABC program This Week, that 40 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq this week. This reminds me too much of the Friday 6 p.m. news programs I used to watch when I was a kid. Every week, they would report on how many people had died in Vietnam. Only I remember that in the case of Vietnam, the newspeople would tell you how many U.S. soldiers had died, and then how many North Vietnamese had died. I have been trying to find a week-by-week death count pertaining to Vietnam but with no luck (suggestions appreciated). However, I did discover that from this blog (http://pieterfriedrich.com/blog/entries/00000272.htm), 1,926 U.S. Soldiers died in Vietnam in all of 1965, for an average of about 37 per week. If Iraq is this generation’s Vietnam, we are only at the early stages, in other words.

November 18th, 2004

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what’s a joke on eBay and what’s not. Selling grilled cheese with the Virgin Mary’s face is a joke. Selling Clay Aiken’s handprints in cement is apparently not–high bidder is currently $10,800 (at least it’s for charity):

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=3851111309&category=58

…and there’s an old left-handed bottle currently at $9,800, with two days left in the sale:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=6131233770&category=890

November 18th, 2004

As far as I am concerned, we are blessed to have eBay. Just as blessed as the BVM herself. On a day when deadlines are pressing down on me and editors are nipping at my heels, I do a search for “grilled cheese” and am heartily rewarded:

Blessed Grilled Cheese Virgin Mary Kit with Quesadilla Option:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=1469&item=5536406729&rd=1

VirginMaryGrilledCheese.info domain name ($500 BIN price):

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=3767&item=5732798857&rd=1

Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese watercolor painting:

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=20135&item=5536211107&rd=1

A reader writes: “GCW is a dead ringer for Marlene Dietrich.” Absolutely–why didn’t I see it before?

November 17th, 2004

The Appliance Blog is listed on a site called UtterlyBoring.com. I call it utterly fascinating. An appliance repairman in Springfield, Oregon provides a daily record of his house calls and repair jobs, complete with photos of odd-looking appliance components he has worked on. He updates it virtually every day. He only goes by his first name, Jake. You can’t e-mail Jake, as far as I can tell. He provides a link to an appliance store. You think, naturally, that this is where he works. You talk to the guys at the counter. “No, we don’t have anything to do with it but we know who he is. We’ll call him and ask if he wants to talk to you.” So I wait, hoping to hear from Jake the mystery repairman. This blog (http://www.applianceblog.com) is not self-promotion. Is it art?

November 17th, 2004

CNN has a couple of Internet Babylon-type stories today:

Woman offers ten-year-old grilled cheese sandwich bearing image of Virgin Mary for sale; bids reach $16,000. http://www.cnn.com/2004/US/11/16/ebay.sandwich.ap/index.html.

Virtual hunting allowed on Texas ranch; Web surfers can point, click, and kill:

http://www.cnn.com/2004/US/11/16/life.hunting.reut/index.html.

Personally, I think Grilled Cheese Woman looks more like Drew Barrymore, but you decide.

November 17th, 2004

All the outrage over the shooting of an apparently unarmed Iraqi by a U.S. soldier arises only because the event was captured on video. I am sure such incidents are common. Was anyone else watching the BBC World News last night? A crew was following another group of soldiers around Fallujah, going house to house. I could have sworn one of them said, “A guy was sleeping…I killed him.” Any human body that is lying on the ground and not dead is seen as a potential bomb. The problem is not that such atrocities are occurring in the fog of war but that we are there in the first place.