31 May 2005

Exit Strategy: Insist We Won

Judging from the rumblings coming from Bush and Cheney, I'd say one of two things is in the works: either it's more of the same periodic pollyanna pronouncements that the administration offers in the face of continuing setbacks OR they're really planning to cut and run.

Apparently launching coordinated and increasingly frequent attacks is, according to Cheney, the sign of an insurgency in its "last throes." Well, as Jake would say, isn't it pretty to think so? It'd be nice if these nutcases would stop suicide bombing, but for Cheney to make a statement like this latest whopper in the wake of continued violence boggles the imagination. Is he really that out of touch? Is he the king of wishful thinking?

Of course, what else can they say? Well, gee, it really isn't like all those scenes of the liberation of Paris that we studied...

Here's a Bush gem: "I think the Iraqi people dealt the insurgents a serious blow when we had the elections" [cnn.com]. Just like we did in Vietnam in 1967... Here's a guy whose administration has made a case for circumventing the Geneva Conventions, using torture, and practicing indefinite, secret detentions based in part on the idea that the "evildoers don't respect the rules." And he thinks an election -- one of the most ritualistic rule-bound trappings of state legitimacy out there -- will deter them for what reason? How did this fool get reelected?

Speaking of circumventing Geneva Conventions, the administration is up in arms over Amnesty International's condemnation of US treatment of detainees at Guantanamo. Cheney himself, great lover of freedom, has opined that Amnesty International's accusations mean that "I frankly just don't take them seriously" [cnn.com]. This should come as no surprise, since Cheney was equally unimpressed with Amnesty International's condemnation of Apartheid during the 1980's. After all, Cheney labelled Mandela a terrorist and continued to push for support for the soon-to-be-flagging Apartheid regime. But Cheney has a proud history of racist and classist voting during his ten year tenure in the U.S. Congress.

If I were religious, I'd wonder what our nation had done to deserve these two hypocrites...

29 May 2005

Free For All 2005: Kids are people too

Got out to the Shakespeare Theatre Free For All at Carter Barron Friday night. They were reprising A Midsummer Night's Dream from last season. My wife and I had seen this production at the Skakespeare Theatre's cozy Lansburgh theatre and figured it would translate to the large outdoor ampitheater setting. Also, since it's really a fanciful comedy with the fairies and the intentionally bad actors of the play-within-the-play, we didn't have too many qualms about taking our 5 year old. As for the 2 month old, she was coming along anyway.

We sat in the very last row of the ampitheater, so there was a slight echo and some distortion when the actors spoke, but other than that we were fine from that far away. It was interesting, though, that my main preoccupation was watching my son's reaction to the play.

Once you become a parent you really don't do even the things you used to do in the same way: you do them always with an eye to your children, in part because your job often seems to be entertaining them, but also because you want very much for them to have the same appreciations that you do. You want very much for your life choices -- not in the details, but writ large -- to be adopted as good models for behavior. Museum going? Yes. Book reading? Yes. Theater and "film" appreciation? Yes. Disgust for libertarian freeloaders? Absolutely.

He did very well during the first act -- he was very interested in the boy who played the changling child and in the "man who changed into a donkey" -- but his attention began to wander in the second act. This behavior called for numerous retreats to the woods beyond the ampitheater, where we threatened numerous times to leave early. However, he didn't want to leave. When it came time for Bottom and his comrades to perform their play for the Duke, my son decided to treat the characters' lines as an opportunity for call and response. This didn't go over well with our neighbors, so we watched the final few minutes from the edge of the ampitheater.

In the end, though, it was quite worth it. He has talked now for two days about the man with the donkey head and about fairies. As always, everything is a work in progress.

27 May 2005

Driven to Drink

So GMAC Insurance did a survey of the nation's drivers and discovered that many of them wouldn't pass the written driving test if they had to take it. The written test of course is the one that asks you if you know the rules of the goddamn road that you want to drive on. Turns out Virginia drivers score above the national average, while Maryland and DC drivers are both below the national average.

National Average: 82.7%
Virginia: 84.7%
Maryland and DC: 79.8%

The worst state was Rhode Island, at 77%.

One of the most frightening findings was that "one out of five drivers doesn't know that a pedestrian in a crosswalk has the right of way" [cnn]. This fact explains the need for (or wishful thinking of) the orange flags on Connecticut Avenue and the beaten-down signs that used to sit on the dividing line of busy intersections. But it doesn't explain this.

I'm all for making people retake the test as part of the license renewal process, but I'm not sure that would really help. After all, Virginia scores pretty highly, but as any District resident can attest, those morons aren't exactly good drivers. I've always believed Maryland drivers were the worst in the nation, but now it seems I'm wrong: they're just tied with DC motorists at 44th place. I think I can account for the tie by arguing that many licensed DC residents don't drive, or haven't driven in years, and therefore the numbers skew DC lower, whereas it seems every prick living in Maryland has to drive into DC in their very own car every weekday.

Of course, I have another explanation that can even account for the good scores of Virginia drivers: knowing the rules and giving a shit about them are two separate things. I'm willing to bet that many drivers know they shouldn't run red lights in Dupont Circle while forcing pedestrians to scatter, but damnit it just feels good.

And while I'm getting pissed off about motorists, let's talk about the DC cell phone and driving law. What a joke. If you stood at any intersection in the District you'd probably see about 30% of the drivers holding the wheel with one hand and using their other one to press their mobile into their face. Unless you were near a police station, then the numbers would skew upward, because every single copcar would contain a cop with a mobile phone in his/her hand.

OK. I gotta calm down, or I'm going to end up like this guy.

26 May 2005

Parenthood: the Redirector

Wednesday night I watched three straight hours of Law and Order with our little baby on my lap most of the time.

It's a hell of a life. I'm supposed to be writing my dissertation, but it's relatively impossible with a five year old and a new baby in the house. We're trying to get adjusted so my wife and I can get back on our writing schedules, but two months into the new one and the energy level isn't there.

I'm also finding it really hard because nearly nothing has been written on Mary Heaton Vorse, and most of what has been written concerns her Gastonia novel Strike!, which was written after the period I'm working on, so I'm stuck in primary source land.

Tiny babies don't really cooperate by providing extended periods of uninterrupted thought time. Usually they'll let you prepare dinner, read a magazine article, or watch TV, but you can forget trying to sit down with your copy of The Prison Notebooks and trying to connect Gramsci's essay on intellectuals to 1920's reportage. I have regained my skill at diaper changing, however.

Right now it's nearing midnight and the baby is sleeping in her bassinet beside the bed, her arms stretched out above her head. It's a wonderful sight.

Back in the Saddle

So the clouds cleared out, the temperature warmed up, and the sun shone down. It was a beautiful morning and I was back on my bike wheeling my son to school.

Then I had to go to work. My logic to my son is this: "Well, I have to go to work, because if I don't go to work, then I don't get paid, and then we have to move." My wife and I both work and neither one of us alone is going to keep us in our current location. It takes us both. So despite how much I'd rather hang out for half a day in my son's classroom and maybe wander through Dupont Circle or cycle down the GeeDub parkway, it isn't going to happen on this Thursday.

I can tell you though that Dupont Circle was heavenly this morning and I took the outer wheel instead of going through the middle and there were very few cars for 9 a.m. and it was all pleasant except for that godawful CVS looming up before me like a dogshit on a freshmown lawn.

Has anyone ever tried to fill a prescription at that CVS on the circle? The lines are generally never ending, with the pharmacy staff appearing about as interested in serving your medical needs as a burger king employee is in taking your order. And after all that, there's a 3 in 5 chance they either won't have the medicine you want, won't have the prescription filled, or won't have the prescription right. I only go to that place as a last resort.

Of course, the CVS was only a passing vision in my commute, and soon enough I got to see the nasty but not garish Front Page and the oh so precious Cloud. However, I didn't even have to dodge cars today, except once on 21st Street, so all was good.

Literature Review: Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles

Next time you feel like hitting the beach to read a feel good book that will reaffirm your belief in the human race, choose something by Michel Houellebecq. This polymath will have you laughing in your beach chair and ready to whip out the acoustic guitar for a little "Kumbayah."

The Elementary Particles (AKA Atomised) produces some bone-crunching indictments of a certain trajectory of the generation born out of 1968. The novels two main characters, who are hardly connected half-brothers, are both orphans of a sort. The one, Michel, is a brilliant molecular biologist, while the other, Bruno, is a teacher/civil servant. Early on, neither of them are capable of connecting to another human being, with Bruno spending his youth and middle-age in a sequence of meaningless anonymous sexual encounters and group-sex resort vacations and Michel spending his youth and middle-age isolated in his laboratory. Bruno is in some ways redeemed later in life by his encounter with Christiane, but like all the female characters of any import in the novel, Houellebecq sadistically kills her off.

Houellebecq doesn't seem to want to be liked. He doesn't seem to want to create characters who will be liked. His description of sex is both graphic and matter of fact. In the end, Bruno checks himself into an asylum and Michel commits suicide, leaving the narrator, presumably commenting from a future many years away, to expound on the impact that Michel has had on the eventual ability of man to overcome himself/herself (a la Brave New World or Nietzsche).

The narrator-from-the-future is the only part of the novel that rings false, like a clumsy attempt to give the novel more meaning than it contains. Unlike the classic framing tale of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, this device isn't located at the front of the text as a preface to explain how the manuscript came to be. Rather, it's interwoven through narratorial intrusions that point out significant events that led to Michel's groundbreaking theories that, the narrator assures us, really are important.

In some ways Houellebecq's framing device reminds me of a Jack London novel, The Iron Heel. London's novel is more of a tract explaining why Socialism is the proper way, because it's really a series of dialogues in novelistic form, with each chapter providing the protagonist a chance to debate different pillars of the community (clergy types, chamber of commerce types, etc.). Whereas London's novel resounds with the confidence of its protagonist, The Elementary Particles is much more ambivalent about human interrelations and our future as a species.

The Elementary Particles is a curious book that I believe could be manipulated to mean many opposing things. Certainly it can be read as a reactionary rejection of the sexual revolution that orphaned its main characters. However, it also can be read as a limited rejection of the new sexual freedom, the major target of which is not the sexual freedom but rather the destruction of the family that accompanied it. The major failure of both Michel and Bruno is their emotional immaturity or if you prefer isolation, and it should not be forgotten that Bruno at least overcomes that isolation (if only temporarily) through his graphically depicted sexual escapades with Christiane (even if in the end he fails her). Houellebecq is gesturing toward the impasse between radical individualism and community (understood as family, neighborhood, perhaps even species), and while the chasm he explores is brutal, it may yield a hard bought step.

25 May 2005

Driving the view.

I grow old I grow old I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

It's been a week and my back is still aching. However, the pills are helping me get by that. And now I see everything more clearly. Seriously, we're all just zeroes and ones.

I'm planning on getting back on my bike today (it's a Specialized, so don't get excited), because I'm getting sick of the walking from Adams Mogan to Foggy Bottom. Still, walking lets you notice things that you don't always see on a bike. For instance, I pay more attention to the flowers planted in Sonny Bono's park when I'm on foot. Also, I tend to notice the number of single-occupant cars passing by while I'm stopped at a corner. Most cars contain only the driver.

I try my best not to drive to or from work. First, it's too expensive to park. Second, I can get to work faster on my bike than in a car. Third, one principle of living in the city is that you shouldn't have to drive as part of your daily living.

This car culture of ours is hard to shake. We've basically built communities around the availability of cars and freeways, and even before that the automobile was enshrined in the American psyche as a necessary appendage. Fitzgerald's characters are always driving somewhere, getting in accidents. Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath wouldn't have been possible without the automobile. Kerouac's classic On the Road immortalizes cross-country automobile treks. American Grafitti provides an archetype of the "cruising" teenage scene.

The car is deeply ingrained in our sense of mobility and individuality -- in our cars we can go anywhere and we can do it alone. This may explain why so many people pick their noses while driving, as if no one could see them through the windshield. We see the car as an extension of our personalities: hence many balding middle-aged men suddenly acquire snappy little red roadsters. Likewise, car companies market to that attachment: "Not your father's oldsmobile" was one rallying cry that came too late to save the brand.

Our car is bland. It's a honda civic hybrid. It's slow to accelerate and it's smaller than our last car, but overall we're happy with it. It is, after all, a fine car for a man, a woman, and two children.

From the Senate to the Drug Den...

These idiots are sitting around congratulating themselves about their senate compromise allowing Bush the Second's wacked out right wing judges to get hearings. The Democrats apparently have lost even the pretense that they're an opposition party. For weeks the Democrats all but allowed the Republican machine and the right-wing drug addicts on talk radio to cast this senate fight as unprecedented obstructionism on the part of the Democrats. Never mind that the right wingers never complained a lick when the Republicans denied even more of Clinton's appointees.

Court appointments are extremely important, since the judges generally serve until they decide to retire. However, the problem isn't really in the extremist candidates that the Bush administration has sent to the Senate for confirmation; the problem really lies in the fact that the American people are complacent enough that more of them don't see these appointees as mean-spirited partisan hacks.

Why are so many Americans uninterested in the details of the issues? Do they not care that Priscilla Owen consistently rules against the interests of the majority of Americans? Or that even her colleagues on the right consider her -- shudder -- an activist judge?

These are questions that nag at me, because they're really the tips of the icebergs of the larger questions: Why is the majority so disengaged from the workings of the government? Why do half the people (roughly) decide not to vote?

In part I blame the media -- the network and cable news channels have so stripped their broadcasts of content that viewers are left knowing that something happened but having little in-depth information to understand it, a fact especially ironic given that 24 hour cable newschannels should have all the time in the world to explore an issue. Unfortunately, CNN and Fox have the idea that exploring an issue means having four different shows in which opposing sides sit down and yell at one another. Talk radio, the juggernaut that arose in the late 80's and early 90's, provides almost no information but plenty of opinion. The creaky leader, Rush Limbaugh, daily spews forth half-truths and outright lies (which when caught he shrugs off by claiming to be "an entertainer"), and there's a very large market for this filth. Obviously, Rush and his imitators continue to vomit bile because there's money to be made (i.e. there are plenty of listeners for the advertisers). The question is why there's such a large market for hate...

If anyone has answers, I'd like to hear them.

23 May 2005

Long, long post about a short trip to Rehoboth

This weekend my wife and I packed the kids in the car and took a day trip down to Rehoboth Beach, my bad back and all. Apparently several other DC area people had the same idea, because the trip took an extra half hour and 404 was crawling. I drove down because I knew I was going to get myself good and medicated to survive the day and wouldn't be able to drive back. When we finally parked down near the boardwalk rides, I could hardly lift myself out of the car. I felt like I needed a pair of pastel pants pulled up to somewhere just south of my nipples and some beige tassel loafers to match the way I was moving. That's where percocet comes in. A few ibuprofen and some percocet and I was making like Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain (not Gene Kelly in Xanadu).

I've always liked Rehoboth, ever since I was a kid and my parents would drive up for one day during our regular vacation in Ocean City, Maryland. Tip for any parents out there: the rides in Ocean City are a rip-off; a ticket will run you about $1.25 and most rides take three tickets or so. In Rehoboth, tickets are 25 cents and no ride is more than five tickets; the small kiddie rides are 1 or 2 tickets.

Rehoboth is a study in contradictions. First, it's a "family resort," which generally translates to quiet, safe, and traditional, but it's also a homosexual mecca, with "Out Gear and More" holding a prominent spot on the main drag and gay bars tucked into side streets. And that combination works in Rehoboth. Second, it's a major destination for DC area residents so it has a metropolitan sensibility: design stores, upscale clothing boutiques, and fine restaurants. At the same time, it's chock full of tacky t-shirt shacks and it has a Hooters franchise.

It's gotten more upscale in the past five years or so, and I would guess that it's because more Washingtonians and Baltimorons are either purchasing second homes there or figuring 2 and a half hours each way isn't a bad drive even in the off season.

However, what's interesting is that it's also imported some of the tackiness more associated with Ocean City. Did I mention the Hooters?

Me, I like the Rehoboth of my youth, but it's not coming back. Gone are the days when it was a little secret with only a few stores staying open through the winter. I suppose the outlets changed all that. Of course, I liked the Ocean City of my youth as well, when only two condos stabbed out of the barren north end of the city and the everything above 33rd Street was a long stretch of sand dotted here and there with a few outpost motels and beach houses. None of that is coming back.

However, the reason I started this post was to tell the story of dinner, which was at a joint called Dos Locos (and by the way, they put a tilda over the o in Dos, which is just plain wrong). We had been burned on Mexican food in Rehoboth before when we ate at the execrable Tijuana Taxi.

Dos Locos appeared to be busy and so we figured that was a good sign. The chips and salsa were fine until I detected the unmistakable flavor of crab. Upon further investigation, I discovered that some of the chips tasted of crab, while others didn't. To me, this finding could only mean two things: either the chips were old and had been recycled from another table or food had fallen into them in the prep area. Either way, it added up to sloppiness. Being on pain meds, I couldn't order a margarita, so I can't comment on their quality. However, I can tell you I've never had a worse Chile Relleno in my life. It seemed more like a corn dog, the coating was so thick and hard -- I had to take a few bites before I could even locate the sorry little chile cowering inside its massive crusty sheath. I left it sit in its shame and concentrated instead on the rice and refried beans so I could put something in my stomach. I have determined that Mexican food and Rehoboth simply don't mix.

Still, it was nice to get out of the city to watch our son frolic in the brisk surf, while we read the Post and took turns holding our new daughter.

More Movies: The AFI Top 100

Compiling "Best [blank] of All Time" lists are always fraught with danger, because essentially you're creating a canon for a discipline. Questions will always be asked about why something or someone was left off a list, etc. Methodology comes into play. Also the credentials and biases of those making the selections become important if the list is taken seriously. For instance, the Internet Movie Database site has a top 250 list. It's weighted heavily toward recent films, because its methodology is based on ratings from visitors to the site who may or may not be qualified to rank movies -- it's hardly a surprise that not too many teenagers will have heard of Sunset Boulevard, let alone think it's more enjoyable than one of the Scream installments. But I exaggerate: the IMDB picks are not that bad -- it's just that they're weighted too heavily with the contemporary (two of the LOTR movies are in the top ten).

The American Film Institute has their own ranking of the top 100 American films. These films were selected not by "registered users of IMDb," but by "a blue-ribbon panel of leaders from across the film community." Citizen Kane tops their list. Looking over their list, I realize I've seen most, but not all, of their selections. However, I don't have to go far down the list to find one I've missed: Lawrence of Arabia. It's ranked #5. I may have to shuffle the NetFlix queue.

In related fun, IMDb also compiles the worst 100, based again on registered user ratings. Manos, the Hands of Fate tops that list as worst film ever. At least I can say that of their worst 100, I've only seen one: Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. I can blame that on my son.

NetFlix Movie Review: Silver City

Just watched John Sayles's Silver City. I enjoy his films and in Silver City I especially liked the way in which the political campaign of Dickie Pilager only enters the film as connecting points between the power brokers and moneyed interests. The film implies several critiques that it doesn't develop: the consolidation of media outlets, the ownership of media outlets by people or corporations who may have cause to silence or divert media attention from their dealings, the underground of web news sites (i.e. smoking gun, drudge) as shock troops in scandalous exposes. The main theme, as usual for Sayles, is the big picture of corruption. Sayles has always had a hard-boiled sensibility, from Eight Men Out through this flick, and like the Coen brothers' Big Lebowski, this movie owes a bit to Chandler's The Big Sleep.

Much like in Chandler's fiction it's the small time operators and grifters who bear the brunt of the violence and punishment, while the wealthy use their money to distance themselves from direct involvement in the crime. Dickie Pilager is but a pawn in the game played by Wes Benteen, the object of which is further accumulation of personal wealth and power. Pilager is shown to be an empty suit, riding his father's Senatorial coattails and stumbling through press encounters and stump speeches like, well, like George W. Bush.

The Silver City of the title is a proposed housing development -- on the scale of a town or small city really -- built over old mining lands and the waste from those mines -- mines owned by Benteen. Sayles makes certain that the dots connect between industrial interests gutting environmental legislation, immigration policies as workplace control, and money as the motor driving politics. It's clear that in Sayles's world, it's the money men who control the country and not the government.

Watching the film made me think about a nice unit someone could teach on political films. I'd take Silver City, Tim Robbins's Bob Roberts, and Robert Redford's The Candidate. All three portray jaded views on the political process. If you wanted to expand the unit, add in Wag the Dog, or you could go back further and use Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and even Citizen Kane. The possibilities really are endless.

20 May 2005

MetaBlog Infighting, Part One: the DCB

Man...this rain, this rain, this rain.

It feels like March out there. Luckily the weather for the weekend is supposed to be a little nicer. I've been taking percoset, but it doesn't seem to do a damn thing for my back pain. However, it's giving me a nice dizzy feeling that sort of puts me five inches inside my eyes.

DC is a small town and like any small town there's always petty infighting and backbiting, and this fact is true of the blog world just as it's true of the real world. Blogs with no readers (such as myself) don't have to worry about the whole scene, but the ones that get mentioned in the Express and elsewhere form sort of an insular coterie of log-rollers, name droppers, and occasional back stabbers.

Take DCist for instance. It's a good general purpose local blog that highlights the local arts scene, recaps local political issues (e.g. the stadium giveaway), and occasionally delves into cooking. It also has a large number of links along the lefthand side to blogs of local interest, like DCeiver. All in all, DCist is an innocuous site that provides a broad community forum.

So a few weeks ago, near Cinco de Mayo actually, this other blogger, whose main claim to fame is his association with the Washington Socialites, writes an article ragging on DCist. It probably would have gone largely unnoticed except for the pre-publication pronouncements he was making on other sites, to the effect that he was going to "drop the hammer" on DCist. Well, DCeiver laid into him good on his site and demonstrated clearly that DCB bit off more than he could chew.

Or did he? With that post, DCBachelor went from having almost no traffic on his site (hey, I sympathize) to being the topic of conversation on blogger sites that ripped into him. So if your goal is to increase your visibility and gain traffic, I'd say DCB maybe bit off all he intended.

But really, to attract attention for being spiteful is one thing; to turn that negative attention into love and kisses is quite another, which is why his next move was so genius. He went on other blogs and made conciliatory gestures, mainly consisting of comments that could lead to a belief that "hating" was a pose, an attitude toward life that was all in jest and could be shed like last year's fashions (speaking of which, the dude wears a soul patch. ouch.). And as the coup de grace, he invited friend and enemy alike out to a "Haters Happy Hour." Fucking brilliant. DCBachelor managed to become a central player in a small blogging lovefest that includes the CPMC, the Washington Socialites, and their adjuncts (cpjl, v, butterfly network, etc.). I'm not saying he's won over all his critics, but the main point is that he have to spend any more Saturday nights wondering why the phone isn't ringing.

19 May 2005

Man v. Nature

Age is catching me up. I stepped on the basketball court today and after a shaky start with some shots rattling in and out, I was getting a good rhythm down. The shots were falling, I was anticipating, and I wasn't getting burnt on defense. Then it happened. I stepped out to defend and when I planted my foot a spasm went straight across my back just above my hips. I crumpled over and removed myself from the game. Unlike the ankles, where you just lace them tighter and get back in the game, the back can't be tricked. I spent the rest of the day, and will probably spend the next few days, half hunched over and shuffling around like a Watergate Safeway patron.

I am reaching the sad conclusion that I will now have to add to my stretching regimen before playing. Age has forced me to accept several changes: ankle braces, leg stretching, developing my opposite hand, and now back stretching. It's at these times, when activities that we've enjoyed or practiced much of our lives become denaturalized through infirmity, that we often reflect on our impending mortality. A few years more on the court if a) my ankles hold out, b) my knees hold out, and now c) my back holds out. After that I might have to become that old guy who sits on the perimeter and takes set shots when his teammates remember he's there.

The best part about hurting your back is that everything hurts. You can't bend or reach or walk or stand up without little waves of pain slashing across your back. And cruel co-workers laugh at you.

It might be time to switch sports. I understand you can play tennis until you're dead, but I think that's only if your back isn't already twisted like a slinky.

17 May 2005

Captain Quaalude set all this off...

There is a market for just about anything. Libertarians have tried to naturalize this phenomenon, believing that the market actually does things. My own theory is that after disaffected college kids have graduated from Ayn Rand's quacky objectivism, they arrive at its more scholarly compadre, Libertarianism. Libertarians like to believe everything can be treated as a market, and that markets should be free, that is, unregulated.

The recent Supreme Court decision ruling that states could not restrict discriminatory interstate alcohol sales is hailed by libertarians as a victory over repressive regulatory government. If so, it's a measured victory, since few states actually have laws that pertain to the Supreme Court's ruling. States that prohibit all direct shipments to consumers aren't affected, and DC already allows consumers to buy one bottle per month via mail. While it's true that these pesky interstate commerce laws are targets of libertarians, their major targets are institutions erected for the common good, such as public schools, public transportation, and social security. Their ultimate objective is the destruction of the state.

Everything, they say, can be reduced to the logic of the market. Don't like the soap you're using? Switch to another brand. Don't like the TV programs you're watching? Watch something else. Or don't watch at all. Don't like the school your child's in? Transfer. Go to private school. And make sure you decry government funding of schools. It all sounds so simple, and really it is in computer mockups like the Sims. At least in the old school SimCity it was, where the city's health and success depended on a very limited number of variables. Unfortunately, the market doesn't work in computer game time when it works at all.

For many people who need good schools, it's not as simple as switching brands of soap. After all, I can get most brands of soap at Target, whereas my local school is called my local school because it's where I live and switching that involves the disruption and expense of relocation. Despite the libertarians love of the market, most people are, in the end, human beings with sentimental attachments, family ties, and competing desires. Which is not to say that economics doesn't in the end win out -- many people move out of bad situations or are forced to move out of good ones only when it's economically untenable to remain. It's terribly messy, yes, and counterproductive to the efficient working of the market, but there you are.

Wait, wait, wait, the libertarian laughs. I simply said the government should get out of the business of centrally managing education. Let there be vouchers, let there be charters. Just like the privatization of the prison system (which is such a great success -- after all, 19th century prisons were great places), vast savings and performance improvements will be made by essentially privatizing education. So sayeth Libertarianus.

That's all well and good, but it should be worrying to anyone who's interested in accountability. That's right, accountability. Because the market doesn't determine what works best; it only determines what's the most popular. Did the Apple Macintosh's GUI plow under the clunky DOS of Microsoft or the pale shadow of the Mac GUI, Windows 3.1? Do I even have to answer that question?

For instance, it seems in Kansas, the market seems to be calling for a redefinition of science to include superstitious bullshit. In nearby Montgomery County, Maryland, the so-called progressive county has had to deal with a backlash from homophobes (admittedly, the curriculum was riddled with far too honest and too far reaching assesments of some religions). The market may not adhere to a code of values, but the people caught up in it sure do.

DCPS needs to get its act together, because the big libertarian cartels like Cato and Heritage love to treat the District as their personal playgrounds -- foisting their "free market mentality" on the district with little care to what the District itself (i.e. the so-called market they're trying to infiltrate) wants.

Libertarians are basically b-school anarchists. Unlike their crunchy counterparts, libertarians believe that the basic functions of capitalist society will somehow survive the destruction of the state.

16 May 2005

Theatre Roundup: The Piano Lesson

Caught closing night of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson down at Arena Stage Sunday night. I hadn't seen any of his other plays staged and was wondering what to expect. It was in the Fichlander, which always has interesting staging, and I wasn't disappointed. Theatre in the Round can accomodate both elaborate staging with lots of movement and changes, or focused, intense single-location dramas. I don't care what some critics say, the theatre-in-the-round may be one of the best ways to see these taut drawing room settings. The Piano Lesson is such a play, with all action taking place within the living room/kitchen of one house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Watching a play with such a unified setting allows you to understand how intense the process of creating a compelling drama can be. All the action takes place in one setting, but the characters have to rotate smoothly in and out of the stage in ways that seem natural. Eugene O'Neill was a master of this form, with both The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey into Night using these close confines to build tension until an explosion levelled the characters' relationships. Wilson also commands the form, as the spare setup featuring the ornately carved piano allows the actors to dominate the stage, while keeping the symbolic piano always prominent.

Thematically, Wilson conjures up the same ghosts of memory that haunt Toni Morrison's work and also William Faulkner. Often when talking about the legacy of slavery in this country, we are left to deal with ghosts as memory becomes almost tangible and the past, as Faulkner said, "is never dead. It's not even past." The dialogue is simply amazing, and the cast of this production all provide great performances, although Harriett Foy's Berniece seemed forced in the early going. Or maybe it was just me. I was immensely impressed both by Arena's staging and Wilson's play itself. With the death of Arthur Miller, Wilson may be the greatest living American playwright (no offense to Edward Albee).

I'll be back down at Arena on Thursday to see O'Neill's Anna Christie. I've been lucky enough to see O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night and Mourning Becomes Electra staged in this town, and it's always a treat to see O'Neill staged.

11 May 2005

What the F*ck is up with Basil this year?

I bought all these herbs a few weeks ago. The Fennel is unstoppable. The Dill grows like, well, like a weed. The sage is looking tidy, and the Rosemary is finally perking up. Even some parsley I picked up on waivers from Home Depot is doing fine. But my favorite, the golden child of the herb patch, the basil is turning goddamn yellow. I had three basil pots. One of them is nearly dead, and every day it gets worse. The other two seem to be in suspended animation, except for the healthy green giving way to the yellowish crayola pea green. I had counted on these plants to supply pesto to the kitchen because damnit there's only so much red sauce you can eat, cream sauces are way too fattening to eat on a regular basis, and butter and parmesan only go so far.

I gotta get some fucking basil.

A few years back I planted the entire back flower bed with basil and it was great, as long as you remembered only to take the upper leaves because of all the rats running around the lower regions. This year I opted for planters so I could keep the basil high and rat free. I've grown basil in pots before, so I'm really curious and not overly happy right now. Christ even my broccoli is growing, so what is going on with that sweet smelling basil?

I microwaved my pizza too long today and burnt the roof of my mouth.

06 May 2005

How to get from Dupont to Georgetown.

Let me sum up the cinco de mayo festivities in my neck of the woods:
1. met my wife and kids at Bistrot du Coin for some dinner.
2. went home with same and watched The Secret of Roan Inish.
3. went to bed.

I hadn't been to Bistrot du Coin before and was interested in trying the place, if only because of the amazingly varied reactions people have of the place. We went there after we decided it was too much of a pain dragging a stroller with a month old down the steps into City Lights. Let me tell you at 5:30 p.m. (yes, five-thirty), BdC was not crowded.

They have paper "tablecloths" so the kids can doodle all they want, and the service was fast -- probably because the waitstaff outnumbered the customers at that point. I had the mussels, and they were tremendous. In fact, I'd go back again today to get them if I didn't have family obligations. Our son was intrigued by the unreachable mezzanine in the front of the restaurant that had two tables with chairs set up. He wanted to sit up there next time. I thought it might be a rather dangerous place to sit after a few bottles of wine.

I also had the poulet roti and that was pretty good -- perfectly done with a nice side of fries. I've never had fries before that tasted so good but looked like they were soggy. It was a good plate, but for $12.95 they should throw in a few haricots vert.

We didn't order in French. The only foreign language I even partially know is German, and I didn't want to scare them. I'd heard people complain that you get treated rudely if you don't order in French, but that didn't happen to us.

A good bit of the time my wife and I spent reminiscing about the place when it was Food For Thought. I remember visiting DC and eating there with a friend who was going to American. They had Stroh's on tap. Stroh's. It was so dark in there that we couldn't read the bill properly and ended up giving the waitress a 1 dollar tip. We only knew that because she chased us down the street and told us all about it.

Food for Thought was one of those holdouts of the old Dupont Circle, but you know it couldn't sustain itself after the big gentrification push -- the space was too big and the crowds were too small. It's unfortunate, because it was a great place for a small group to meet for book discussions or activism. You could drink a beer, eat some dinner, and talk about Lukacs all night.

Damn and here we go: knowing how way leads on to way... speaking of the old dupont, how many people remember the old Georgetown of the mid-1980s. Probably not too many of you little blogkiddies, unless your parents dragged your snot-dripping noses through there on a tour of DC. Georgetown used to have three independent film houses: the Key, the Biograph, and the Cerberus. None exist now. The Biograph (died 1996) is now a CVS. Key (died 1997) is Restoration Hardware. Cerberus (died 1993) is the Barnes and Noble. Ditto on the independent record stores that disappeared with skyrocketing rents and killer competition from giants like Borders, Barnes and Noble, and Tower (of course, even without big rents and competition from big boxes, independent music stores are in trouble with the double whammy of amazon.com and itunes). Even local chain Olsson's was driven from Georgetown -- and let me tell you that Olsson's branch was the only one with any soul at all.

Georgetown these days is a hell of chainstores and pretension to be avoided at all costs.

04 May 2005

Unrelated dispatches

We're a few days into May and I'm still wearing a jacket around. I'm used to late April and May being the best months of the year in DC, with warm days, mild evenings, and low bugs. In fact, it'd be great if weather in DC between May and September was 75 to 80 degrees with low humidity all the time. Of course, then it would be southern California.

Tomorrow's Cinco de Mayo, the day when Americans everywhere stop to reflect on the amazing victory of an outnumbered and under-equipped Mexican militia over the French. Yes, the Battle of Puebla is a story that will be retold up and down 18th Street tomorrow.

I have been reading recent novels lately. Mired in my dissertation, it's been a long time since I've been able to read anything of my own choosing. It's refreshing and it reminds me of why I began studying literature in the first place. Unfortunately, it's back to the dissertation next week. Still, in many ways this glimpse of freedom has inspired me to complete this hulking albatross and get my life back. Onward then once more unto the breach.

For the last few years they were building a condo complex behind our house. They sold these unfinished concrete boxes for somewhere around $550K for a 2 bedroom. Sounds like there's great housing demand, right? Well, yes, but a lot of that demand is from investors who are just looking to buy the place and turn it immediately for a nifty profit. Nothing wrong with that, except it gets dangerous when too many sales are investor sales, because it artificially drives up prices and can create a bubble. Keep in mind this building is almost brand new -- from my backyard I can see five realtor lockboxes dangling off the garage driveway fence, and I know in the front of the building a few more are hanging. I may have to do some more research into this issue.

02 May 2005

No, it isn't Vietnam but...

So we're moving into year three of Gulf War II, the one that all armchair generals and cheerleaders said would last a few weeks and end with the delighted Iraqis strewing flowers at our feet. I remember one of the many justifications BushCo gave for the invasion was Saddam's possession of chemical weapons etc, none of which have been found.

This fact of course is very interesting because we know where Saddam got the backing for his chemical weapons program originally: the U.S.A., which isn't a very happy fact for those of us who like to believe that the U.S. is a beacon of democracy and stands on higher ground than those we label "rogue nations." Well, as Hemingway said, "Isn't it pretty to think so." However, our history with chemical and biological weapons hasn't been so stellar. To go way back in time, you've got lovely Jeffrey Amherst (OK so technically we were still a British colony at the time...) giving away smallpox blankets to the Native Americans -- quite an inventive guy for his time. But in recent history, we need look no further back than our last major conflict, the Vietnam War, to understand that chemical and biological weapons don't always behave as we would like and that our government deployed these weapons indiscriminately across ten percent of Vietnam. That's a lot of country to render more or less useless and dangerous for decades to come.

And the damage isn't confined to the then-enemy, the civilians, and all their descendants in Vietnam -- our own veterans (yes, our own veterans) and their children continue to suffer from the U.S. government's decision to use chemical agents in Vietnam. Not that the U.S. government has been overly anxious to acknowledge this. The past weekend, incidentally, marked the fall of Saigon in 1975.

I'm in the unfortunate position that I do believe the United States should be an example of fair play and honesty -- a city on the hill etc. -- and therefore get overly pissed off when these obvious contradictions between theory and practice occur.