31 August 2005

Terror and Society.

Apparently, you can cause more damage by not setting off a bomb:

More than 600 people have been killed in a stampede of Shia pilgrims in northern Baghdad, Iraqi officials say. The incident happened on a bridge over the Tigris River as about one million Shias marched to a shrine for an annual religious festival. Witnesses said panic spread because of rumours that suicide bombers were in the crowd. Many victims were crushed to death or fell in the river and drowned.

Terrorism, after all, has at its heart the desire to disrupt the everyday lives of its targets -- going to a restaurant, to the grocery store, on the bus: none of it remains safe. The situation in Iraq must be one of unspeakable uncertainty and dread.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Hurricane Katrina may be subsiding, but New Orleans remains buried. Unsettling as the floodwaters in Louisiana and Mississippi are, what appears once the waters have receded will most likely prove more wrenching.

Catciao found a report suggesting that even the police have joined in the looting in New Orleans.

Civil society rests on a very precarious base. These ruptures show that under stress, things we take for granted are uncertain at best.

30 August 2005

Birthday Party: Insular and Sedate

So today was my wife's birthday. I'm not going to get into details but let's just say it was a round number. A milestone year if you will. Having kids and all, and having just lost our regular babysitter to some place out west called UCLA, I decided it might be best if I just cook some elaborate dinner.

You ever have one of those days where things don't really follow your schedule? So I was late to work, which meant I couldn't duck out early. I spilled mop water as I rushed to clean the kitchen. I had to make an emergency run to the grocery store. Et-friggin-cetera.

However, in the end, I had the following:
  • grilled salmon
  • gratin dauphinois
  • steamed broccoli
  • nectarine tart with home-goddamn-made meringue; yeah I made the shell, too. The whole damn thing in fact.
  • pinot grigio
And you know what? It was damn good. Sorry, CPMC, but no candles. We probably would have fallen asleep and burned the house down. Or our son would have dripped wax everywhere.

Johnny Come Lately...

Someone must have just told Bush that a hurricane had already swept through the southern US causing a great bit of death and destruction...apparently it's enough to make him want to come back early from his month-long vacation...
CORONADO, California (AP) -- President Bush will cut short his vacation to return to Washington on Wednesday, two days earlier than planned, to help monitor federal efforts to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina, the White House said Tuesday.

Is there no sacrifice too big for this mighty man of the people to undertake?

Appreciate every wise saying and clever invention.

Last night the family was out to dinner. Dessert time came around and we ordered our son chocolate mousse, which he loves. This particular one came with strawberries as a garnish. Our son does not eat strawberries. I ate the strawberries and he told me -- again -- how he did not like strawberries. I told him that I liked them. A lot. Then he came up with this gem:

"Maybe some day I'll take your brain out and switch it with my brain -- maybe we can get a saw and cut our heads open and then I can take your brain out and put it in my head and I can put my brain in your head -- and then you won't like strawberries."

Aside from the sheer brilliance of his plan (which I'm almost positive he got from a Calvin and Hobbes strip), it got me thinking. What if I could take my 36 year old brain and stick it inside a 5 year old? Sure, it's the stuff of Freaky Friday and countless bad "brain switch" sci-fi movies, but good god, it just might work....

At that moment, my wife hid the hacksaw. Like drawing a schematic diagram meant I was really going to do it.

28 August 2005

School Cleanup and Used Bookstores.

Busy day at the DCPS school cleanup. True to form, no one from DCPS actually showed up. They were supposed to come by with liability waivers and trash pickup. It never happened. However, about a dozen of us had a great time moving dirt and washing the playground equipment. Tomorrow is opening day for children throughout the DC system and let's hope this year is safer than last year. There's no reason a child should fear for his or her safety while at school. Here or anywhere else.

And to coincide with opening day, the Post ran an article on Superintendant Janey's progress. I pulled this choice tidbit out, although it's not really a reflection on Janey so much as a comment on the failure of DCPS to attend to its business:
And despite recent progress on maintenance and repairs, the physical plants of many schools still border on Third World conditions.


In other news, I had an opportunity this weekend to browse some used book shops. While Second Story is among the best (at least the best I know about) as far as general selection and organization, it's somewhat sterile. Idle Times, my neighborhood shop, is pretty damn good and pretty organized these days. But my favorite for just over the top jammed in books and deep selections in Left theory is Kultura. Their organization is...well, it's just not. But by far it's more welcoming than any of the others and contains more gems. I left empty-handed, but my son did score a Magic School Bus book and my wife picked up some stuff. I'm looking for a copy of Jamie's Dinners, but haven't mustered the cash for a new copy.

26 August 2005

Pitch in to help the schools.

School year is coming up. Monday. This Saturday (tomorrow!) is DCPS beautification day, meaning that parents and other volunteers will be doing what the DCPS refuses to do: take care of its schools. Don't get me wrong: I'm all for volunteering and being involved in the school, but I find it incredibly frustrating that the DCPS administration is unable to carry out its function as caretaker of the schools.

DCPS shouldn't be allowed to get away with refusing to fix major problems in many of its schools. Only a few years ago, DCPS faced a crisis and a major public relations failure when it couldn't get several schools ready to open on time: leaking roofs, non-existent restrooms, etc. Unfortunately, the School Board has failed to take its lesson from past mistakes and continues to exhibit a cavalier attitude toward renovation and repair.

Children are not idiots. They observe everything. They understand that if their school has restrooms that have been unusable for months, then adults don't really care. They understand that if the building's trim is rotting and unpainted and the floors are cracked and missing tiles, then they are not very significant compared to the adults around them. They understand that if roofs leak and soap dispensers either don't exist or don't work, then their health and safety is not a priority.

Children understand that if they are being educated in rotting buildings then their education is being devalued. Some will learn that education is not important. Some will achieve great things despite the lack of institutional support. However, everyone's opportunities are diminished when the agency responsible for ensuring equitable, safe, and welcoming environments either cannot or will not perform its duties.

If anyone's interested in helping fix up his or her local school, head over to fixourschools.net and
click on "Take Action" to register. Registered or not, anyone is welcome to just show up at his or her local school on Saturday. It's from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and volunteers are encouraged to bring bottled water for themselves, gloves, various garden implements, etc.

25 August 2005

Burning down the House

So the Capitol Lounge burned down. Sort of. A devastating fire at any rate. Now where will all the snot-nosed young hill staffers wear their badges and try to pick up other staffers and Georgetown Law students?

I had a friend who lived on the hill but who has since relocated. We occasionally went to Capitol Lounge and my only memory of the place is shooting pool and having the wanna-be hardcore chicks at the other pool table trying to start something with our group. I must have looked pretty soft I guess.

Anyway, I'm back from my second August vacation and let me tell you Woodstock was a great time. I saw some wild turkeys and some deer and came pretty close to seeing a bear and her cub, but I was taking a nap. Did some good hiking and hit a tennis ball for the first time in about five years. Also went to the Dutchess County fair.

Woodstock has a nice bookstore called the Golden Notebook that's really what a bookstore ought to be: staff that actually know their stock and have an interest in it, a wide variety but still something that gives the store a flavor. In this store, it was a heaping selection of left-leaning and outright left cultural/political texts. All I picked up was a cookbook, but I was on a budget. Saw a book I'm probably going to buy at some point: Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers.

Now it's four days until DC public schools open and my son starts kindergarten. He had a great Pre-K year and he's excited about getting back to his school for this coming year. I remember the dread, anticipation, and excitement of the final days of summer and the opening of school. I hope he keeps his enthusiasm for many many years.

19 August 2005

Another vacation? ... Yeah.

So in about seven hours I'll be on the road to Woodstock, New York. Never been there, but some friends have invited us up for a visit, so off we go, with a stopover for some lunch with friends in New Jersey.

Back next Thursday.

Then the weekend.

Then school starts back up.

August is a blur.

Police and Thieves in the Street, Oh Yeah.

Well, today's Metro section offers up so much for rumination.

Item 1. DC matriarch killed at home by stray bullet. It's nothing new in some sections of DC that you can killed without even trying. I know from a stint on Grand Jury duty (we did around 200 cases during our time there) that random bullets and gun violence is a daily occurrence on a few of our streets. The problem is that it seems not too many people care:
Cmdr. Joel Maupin said detectives were having trouble finding witnesses,
although a crowd was outside when each shooting occurred. He said the victim of
the earlier shooting was not cooperating with authorities.

Or maybe they don't want to be next. After all, even Carmelo Anthony knows nobody likes a snitch. Not an easy job for DC cops.

Item 2. Radar gun captures controversy in DC. Maybe people don't trust the cops because some cops don't really like the rules they enforce. Some cops think maybe they don't really apply to them. Sure, speeding is bad, but most of us do it, and when you're a high ranking police officer, just flash the lights and keep going. Just like some police do when they don't want to wait at red lights or want to make illegal left turns...while they're on their cell phones. Watching the police violate the law obviously detracts from both the citizens' view of the law and of the police. Assistant Chief Willie Dandridge should either be updating his resume around now or accepting the title Patrolman Dandridge.

Item 3. Police scramble to keep up with gas prices. Keeping up with the police theme, this article discusses how police use up tons of gasoline sitting in their idling cruisers in front of the 7-11. Actually, it's more about suburban and state cops, and our own Chief Ramsey, ever the optimist, provides a rosier picture for the Post:
Concerns about rising prices were less pronounced in the District, where police beats cover much less territory. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said he has not considered cutting cruiser patrols or asking officers to change their routines.

Sure the beats cover less territory (and we should actually have more beat cops, as in foot patrol, as opposed to cruiser snoozers), but has anyone compared city to highway mileage? I'm willing to bet that DC cops use plenty of gas (at least the ones who stop at stop signs and red lights and wait in traffic with the rest of us).

18 August 2005

Book Review: Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham

I saw the movie The Hours, based on a novel by Michael Cunningham, so I thought I'd try reading one of his books myself. Specimen Days, much like The Hours, tells three stories that share similar plot lines. In The Hours, it's Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway and suicide. In Specimen Days, it's Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and 3 basic characters: a youngish adult male, a (usually slightly) older female, and a young boy in his teens (the character types remain the same -- the actual characters are different people). The novel's title comes from Whitman's autobiography, published in 1882 (Cunningham made a similar borrowing for The Hours, which was the working title for Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway).

All three sections are set in New York. Section one is set in New York circa 1880, section two is set circa 2010, and section three is set circa 2155. Cunningham knows how to write a beautiful sentence and he portrays his characters with understanding, evoking empathy in the reader. All three stories employ the limited-omniscient viewpoint, with each central character providing the focal point for a section (the young boy in the first section, the woman in the second, and the adult male in the third).

Most interesting to me were the ways in which the novel resonates with class issues. In all three sections, "throw away" members of society figure prominently.

In the first section, the characters are all working class and essentially disposable members of society. In fact, the novel's action begins with the aftermath of the death of Simon, the adult male character, in a factory accident. His younger brother Lucas, obsessed with Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, takes his place and becomes convinced that machines are partially alive.

When Lucas sees the machines as living objects, he understands their desire to consume the people who work them. Lucas at the machine becomes less than human, only a method of feeding the machine parts and by extension, another part to be fed to the machine.

Cunningham manages to touch on several of today's important issues: race and gender relations, immigration, homelessness/underclass, and to an extent cloning (although that's more of the "replicant" variety). His New York of the future is pretty funny, especially considering this piece of recent news.

16 August 2005

Mid-August Musings: Political Edition

Whatever happened to that Karl Rove story? Maybe some members of the press are digging into some deep stuff and are bottling it up until it all checks out, but I'm thinking it's more likely they've given up with trying to keep the public's attention, and after all, that's all that news really is these days: entertainment and ratings. Speaking of which, you get more incisive reporting from Jon Stewart's The Daily Show than from any other network or cable "news" source, and Stewart's show is a comedy (I don't have cable but I catch when I'm near cable). Stewart is about the only person reporting on political figures who will actually call them on their bullshit. Repeatedly.

Meanwhile, it seems that Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside Murder, Inc.'s headquarters -- I mean Bush's ranch -- has brought out all the idiots (apparently Crawford has about fifteen village's worth). First there was the guy with the shotgun who threatened the protesters by shooting off a round or two and then declaring he was getting ready for "dove season." A moron indeed.

Then there's the pickup truck driver who mowed down the row of crosses commemorating dead U.S. soldiers. This action has three possible motivations:
  1. Drunk driving
  2. disrespect for the fallen soldiers
  3. disagreement with the protesters who erected the signs
Drunk driving of course could play a factor in both #2 and #3 as well. I wonder if anyone is setting odds on how long it will be before a Bushie supporter tries to kill a protester.

We're only two years into Iraq. What will protests and counter-protests look like as we slog through years 10 through 12, as our dear Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has predicted? And will we open up a second front in Iran?

Leading now to two questions:
  1. When will the draft return?
  2. Will this fall leave many College Republican groups unable to field intramural softball teams as their members rush off to support their President at the local military recruiting center?

14 August 2005

Day Trip: Monticello

Took a family trip down to Monticello Sunday, where at least there was a breeze. I didn't realize Charlottesville was so far away from DC -- I'd always thought of it being about 1.5 hours away; here it turns out to be around 2.5 hours away. I can only imagine how nice it must be on football weekends hitting all those stinking traffic lights on Route 29, too.

I'd been to Monticello when I was a kid, probably in middle-school, maybe younger. All I remembered was the heat and the clock inside the entry door. This time around, we still had the heat, but we weren't waiting outside nearly as long, and the house tour guide was great. I can't say the same for the plantation tour guide. Besides taking herself way too seriously as she distilled 6th grade level history to a group composed mainly of adults, she obviously couldn't handle children being in the group, which is a serious drawback if you're a tour guide for a family attraction that actually has special events for kids and therefore obviously welcomes children as a whole.

So I'm standing there holding my 4 month old daughter -- who by the way doesn't like high heat and humidity any more than this tour guide who hid under an umbrella and refused to take the tour to proper viewing spots because they weren't in the shade -- and she's generally being good. In fact, she's lightly cooing, as 4 month olds do. She's not crying. She's cooing. An occasional group of "ahhs" and every now and then a catch of breath. My son is actually paying attention to this tour guide instead of kicking stones. All is going well, or so we thought.

As this woman gets toward the end of her talk she addresses me and says, "This isn't going to work" or something like that. I didn't at first know she was talking to me. Then she goes on telling us that maybe we could bring the baby back when she's quiet. I was shocked -- really perplexed and speechless -- but my wife was pissed. She asked the guide if she was saying we shouldn't go on the tour -- which was outdoors, not indoors with echoes by the way -- and the guide says maybe we should come back when she's sleeping. Well, my wife went straightaway to report her to the manager and we slunk away from the tour group. As we're leaving, the woman says, "It's bad enough with the heat."

Now I'm thinking to myself exactly what did this idiot expect standing around on the cleared off hill in rural Virginia in the middle of August? Did she fly in from northern Ontario to be a tour guide for the weekend? It's Virginia in August. It's hot.

So my wife in her anger didn't get the tour guide's name and I had to go back to get it. It's one of those three part names, like "Polly Jean Harvey," but it isn't PJ Harvey. I say "Excuse me, ma'am, I'd just like to get your name." She replies, "Oh. What. Oh. You're going to report me. Oh, I see" in this nasty little tone that tells me she would do anything to get a blue ribbon on her preserves at the next Albemarle County farmshow.

We took the house tour an hour after our aborted plantation tour, and not only did our daughter continue to coo with pleasure, but also a few other infants joined her, and the tour guide mentioned it not once.

On a side note, what does IMP stand for?

12 August 2005

Are you listening to me?

Forget stem cells, cloning, and new variations of taco bell burritos: the technology that absolutely must be stopped is the jerk-o-meter, being developed at MIT. According to the developers, you can attach the device to your phone to determine the other person's level of interest in the conversation.

Of course, the inventors see this device as a great way to advance mankind's highest aspirations:
The prototype version of the program runs in Linux on a phone plugged into Voice over Internet service. Once the Jerk-O-Meter is completed, in six months or so, Madan envisions selling it as software that could be downloaded off the Internet
-- a potentially useful tool for focus groups, telemarketers and salesmen.

Now that's aiming for the stars.

11 August 2005

Gas Prices Climb, But Does Anyone Care?

So gas prices continue to surge, and oil hits $66 a barrel. All this news comes as International prepares to unveil its hulking monstrosity, the personal family rig, the CXT. Of course, the obnoxious Hummer family has now expanded to include the so-called H3, which is being marketed as "medium-sized." The H3 gets a robust 16 MPG City and 19 MPG Highway. Sweet. Even better is that even though it looks like a big cardboard box on wheels, it's really not that big inside:
Part of Rovik's test of the H3 included pretending to install a child-safety seat in the cramped rear seat. "I can't see loading a child in here," she said. "There's not enough space." [Detroit

But enough of the impracticality of the vehicle. Let's get back to gas prices.

People pretty much will bet on anything, and gas prices are no exception. Odds are 7:5 that prices will hit $3.00 a gallon by New Years 2006. Three American Dollars per gallon? Gas prices in the US are low compared to Europe, but we're doing a good job playing catchup (I think our prices are artificially low, but that's another topic).

Right now, getting gas around $2.40 a gallon, it's costing us about $29 for a tank of gas. Granted, neither my wife nor I drive much during the week and we drive a hybrid and go about 500 to 600 miles on that tank, but that's still a sight to see at the pump. At $3 per gallon, we'd be looking at $36 per tank. But what about our dear neighbors in MD and VA who own Tahoes and drive in and out during rush hour everyday (you need the Tahoe because you have to carry your briefcase and your lunch)?

Our Tahoe driver is getting about 15 mpg (because you might be on 395, but in rush hour you aren't getting highway mileage) on a 26 gallon tank. At $3 a gallon, it costs the Tahoe owner $78 to fill his/her tank. The commute alone costs about $6 a day, or $30 for a work week. They'll get around 390 miles on that tank of gas. That's pretty ugly stuff.

But it could be uglier. You could be driving a Hummer H2 (Hummer by the way does not list gas mileage on its site. I wonder why). It's got a 32 gallon tank and gets 12 mpg city. Here's a nice snip from Answers.com:
For typical travel on improved roads between urban and resort areas, users report mileage of between 14 and 17 miles per U.S. gallon (mpg), which converts to between 14 and 17 liters per 100 kilometers. Worst case urban driving is said to be in the range of 8 to 11 US mpg (21 to 29 L/100 km). Although no official fuel economy ratings are provided by General Motors, most reviews have observed high single to low double-digit mileage, similar to the numbers above.

That means most of those H2 idiots slugging around within the city are probably getting single digit mpg...thanks for increasing our dependence on foreign oil, you jackasses.

Back in the old days, before the energy crises of the 1970's (1973 and 1979), cars were big because that's just the way cars were. Gas cost $.35 a gallon and it didn't matter if you only got 10 mpg in your 1972 Impala. However, we had by the 1980's been educated by that thing the libertarians are always talking about -- the invisible hand of the market, which bitch-slapped boat-driving US consumers silly. Good Marxists understand that the hand of the market is hardly invisible, though, and that commodity fetishism plays a large role in consumer choice. If it didn't there wouldn't be such a thing as a "marketing major." Baudrillard is especially good on this point.

Apparently, we've forgotten our education and we believe oil comes bubbling up from the ground as easily and endlessly as if we just shot in the dirt while out "shooting at some food."

The scary part isn't that fuel economy has shown little overall gain for all the pain low mpg caused the US in the 1970's. The scary part is energy experts -- not just environmental granola crunchers -- are talking about "peak oil." Demand is increasing -- imagine what a fully industrialized China might consume -- while scientists are warning that supply will be decreasing. And soon (pdf link).

So everyone, go out and rent the original Mad Max again just to get a taste of the future.

Remedial Drivers Education

OK. I know rants against SUVs are, as they say, old. Every now and then, however, the idiocy of your average SUV driver just becomes so apparent that all that is old is new again. Or as Madonna sang, you become "like a virgin." At least as far as disgust with SUV drivers is concerned.

This morning I'm riding down R Street near Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and granted the road is a bit narrower there than on, say, Wisconsin Avenue, but I'm watching these huge Urban Assault Vehicles -- one was a "Yukon" and the other I think was a Land Rover -- blocking up traffic because they can't go by one another on a normal city street.

Upon further review, however, you realize they can get by one another, in a technical sense. It's just that the respective drivers are so completely unable to navigate their vanity tanks that they gridlock every one around them. I confirmed this as I continued behind the Yukon toward Wisconsin Avenue. The Yukon -- I love these SUV names by the way -- drove as if it were on a one way street, its massive hulk of foreign oil dependence lumbering down the middle of the road, apparently because the driver had no idea how close he/she was to the parked cars beside it.

Often you hear defenders of the SUV yak on about how much better you see the road, etc., and having both ridden in and driven some friends' boondoggles, I can tell you that it is bullshit. Yes, you can see the road in front of you (and I mean ten feet and beyond in front of you) better, but you are absolutely blind to objects near your vehicle. For city drivers, that means that 95% of your driving time is spent with you having little or no idea what's around you. That means you are a menace to others.
When I see an SUV with DC tags it makes me question the very idea of human history as a Progress Narrative.

And parents, don't even try to tell me about how you need an SUV to haul your kids around. I'm not a moron. I've seen the insides of these things, and I've seen the insides of minivans and regular sedans. And station wagons for that matter. Most SUVs have front and back seats, much like a sedan or station wagon. A few have a third row, much like a minivan. I have yet to find an SUV that will outseat a Grand Caravan or an Odyssey. Most of them can't outseat a Civic.

Anyway, having safely reached my place of work without incident, I open the paper to find on the front page of the Style section a fabulous story about the International CXT. Just like that most obnoxious of all cretinesque possessions, the Hummer, I predict the CXT will become a must-have among the moron set.

Don't get me started.

10 August 2005

Another reason not to own xbox.

The BBC is reporting that a 28 year old South Korean has died after playing an online game for approximately 50 hours...

The man, identified by his family name, Lee, started playing Starcraft on 3 August. He only paused playing to go to the toilet and for short periods of sleep, said the police.

"We presume the cause of death was heart failure stemming from exhaustion," a Taegu provincial police official told the Reuters news agency.

I used to play counterstrike online, but I couldn't stare at the screen for more than a few hours. I remember back in the day playing Quake and knowing that I'd played too long when I'd close my eyes and still see the walls and floor sliding by me...

Aside from being a health hazard, apparently too much gaming can affect you professionally:
They added that he had recently been fired from his job because he kept missing
work to play computer games.

Not bad. I imagine the same could be said if we substituted the phrase "play computer games" to "blog."

08 August 2005

Beach recap, the list edition

Well I have a few observations about the eastern shore, or as it may sometimes be known, the Delmarva peninsula.
  1. Ocean City is getting denser every season. Small cottages and complexes are being torn down to accomodate sterile motels with units packed so tight it would make any b.log major giddy. What little charm OC retains is evaporating by the instant.
  2. OC real estate is seriously overpriced. Here's an example on 25th Street, not even oceanblock. New construction, 3 BR/2Bath unit in a small complex, maybe ten units total. $750K. I say let's call it $350K and call it a good day. Sure it's comfy behind your double-paned insulated windows, but when you sit on your balcony you still have to see and hear the drunk teenagers in their muffler-less shit trucks with confederate flag decorations rumble by propositioning any female over the age of 11, and a few under the age of 11.
  3. Bethany Beach is easily the most laid back, but paradoxically it has the highest percentage of Bush/Cheney bumper stickers.
  4. Theo's in Dewey Beach claims to be open all the time but I've never seen it open in nearly ten years.
  5. On the subject, Dewey Beach is just sad. Watch the frat pack try to grasp forever the last fleeting moments of their waning youth. No. As Mr. Hendrix says, like castles made of sand, melt, eventually, into the sea. Next stop: combover.
  6. Rehoboth is supposedly both a family resort and a gay mecca. Neither of these descriptors explains the continued presence of a Hooters oceanblock on Rehoboth Avenue.

Vacation Reading Book Review: The Kiterunner

So I decided that I would read The Kiterunner by Khaled Hosseini as my vacation reading this year. That lasted about two days, because that's how long it took me to read it. It was an intense book that flowed easily from chapter to chapter, containing enough graphic violence that Dreamworks figures they can make a movie of it.

The protagonist, Amir, is utterly real, a child born into privilege in a country in which the privileged are several worlds apart from the unfortunate. He is not brave or pure of heart, but he is not bad. He is like many of us who are generally good people but are subject to petty jealousies and indecision if not outright cowardice at critical moments.

Interestingly, I think readers know how the plot will turn before Amir, who narrates the text, knows. Often, of course, this statement means that the plot is mechanistic and transparent -- that the author is crudely putting his characters through their paces in search of an ending that has been pregiven and an enlightenment that has been unearned (see Savage Holiday by Richard Wright -- an author I greatly admire usually, and even SH has something to admire, but the main character's enlightenment surely isn't it). I don't feel that way about Hosseini's novel. Amir's character flaws dictate his lack of awareness -- he must overcome his humiliation and shame before the past falls more clearly into place: he gradually comes to understand his position within the pre-Russian invasion Afghan society and the price he must pay to atone for mistakes committed when he was very young.

Maybe the final confrontation with Assef was a bit much, but it isn't completely unbelievable. After all, Assef is a bully and aligns himself with those who will give him the power to bully. Moving from neighborhood roughneck to state-sanctioned bullying is only a matter of scale for him.

The characters of Ali and Hassan are harder for me to understand, and I am wondering if it is because I'm uncomfortable with the idea of selfless devotion or if it's a more specific blindness toward societal structures in tribal cultures. Yes, Ali and Hassan are Hazaras, who are derided, oppressed, and murdered by dominant groups (Pashtuns, Taliban,...), but their depiction in the novel fails to go beyond that of selfless servants. Perhaps much of that is due to Amir's point of view -- he and Hassan are great companions but he never thinks of Hassan as his friend and he's ashamed by that realization -- and it may be a point of argumentation once literary critics really sink their teeth into this novel as to whether Ali and Hassan represent a blindness on the part of the author or of the narrator. How would this story have been told from their perspective (compare for instance Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea)?

It is interesting that Hosseini makes Amir a novelist. Amir's attraction to the written word separates him from his father, who is a consumate man of action. Amir's creative life is spent in worlds of his own making, and he often seems incompetent incapable of reading the world around him properly, as in the moment of greatest shame for him, when his relationship with Hassan changes irrevocably.

Amir is in the end redeemed to an extent -- as in classic sagas his redemption is bought through completion of a quest and great suffering -- and on the way the lost Afghanistan of Amir's youth becomes both a nostalgic and highly compromised recreation.

06 August 2005

BeachWeek XXXI: Recap

I'm not exactly done with vacation yet, but I did have to come back to DC for a Saturday afternoon. Going back shortly. Here's a recap:
1. My son, who is five, thought he'd like to go on Funland's haunted house ride. He enjoyed it up until about the time the car went in through the doors and it got dark. Then he wasn't so happy. He seems to have no lasting trauma, though.
2. Bought some flip flops. I never liked wearing these things, but the sun made the sand so damn hot I had to break down. I will strut around Cleveland Park wearing these things, along with a business suit and a backpack.
3. Ate much seafood. Some of it good.
I took the bikes. They haven't moved from their position on the porch since I unloaded them. Well, I still have one more day.