30 September 2005

PSU v. Minnesota = Crisp Autumn Fun

Time to pack up the plantation. I'm heading north to the PSU v. Minnesota game Saturday 3:30 p.m. on all fine ABC affiliates. The forecast for State College, PA, tomorrow is sunny with high of 75 and low of 48. It's a perfect day for football. A win for PSU will probably mean they get ranked for the first time in a long time. A loss will mean more misery for loyal Lions fans.

Fight on State
Fight on State
Strike your gait and win,
Victory we predict for thee
We’re ever true to you, dear old White and Blue.
Onward State,
Onward State,
Roar, Lions, roar:
We’ll hit that line, roll up the score,
Fight on to victory ever more,
Fight on, on, on, on, on, Fight on, on, Penn State!

Class of 1991, represent.

I can't really say I'm surprised...

Former NEH head, Secretary of Education, Drug Czar, and big time gambler -- and self-appointed morality expert -- William Bennett has "stirred the pot" with some outrageous comments:
Bennett, who held prominent posts in the administrations of former presidents
Ronald Reagan and George Bush, told a caller to his syndicated radio talk show
Wednesday: "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole
purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate
would go down."

Perhaps understanding he'd said too much, especially for the irony impaired listeners who are endemic to talk radio, he tried a bit of a backtrack:
"That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do,
but your crime rate would go down," he said.

Well, at least he doesn't actually advocate this method of crime control. However, that's beside the point. The actual point is his premise: that aborting every Black baby -- essentially eliminating within a generation all Blacks in the USA -- would reduce the crime rate. In Bennett's mind, apparently, crime is tied to race -- certain races are more prone to crime. It's an interesting proposition and shows just how little the Republican Party has grown since the Civil Rights movement.

These arguments have been heard before. In the nineteenth century, it was the Irish who were causing all the crime. In the early 20th century, the Italians got their turn (and of course, the popularity of the Godfather series and the Sopranos shows how that stereotype continues to hold currency).

I would submit a counterproposal to William Bennett. I would propose that poverty and limited opportunity breed crime; although the obvious counterargument would be the recent business scandals, where fabulously wealthy white guys bilked investors of billions...Ebbers, Lay, Kozlowski...or where fabulously wealthy white guys bilk the American public out of billions of dollars and close to 2000 American lives...but as far as "crime rate" is concerned, this handful of high profile crimes, which cost the US government and public more than all the people convicted of possessing marijuana combined, only amount to, well, a handful of crimes.

To sum up: Bennett's logic is ridiculous because it comes nowhere toward understanding the crime rate. He might as well take a look at the prison rolls and realize they're mostly men and advocate for the abortion of all male babies. Or better yet he could note that crime rates are higher in urban centers and advocate for the immediate execution of all people within 10 miles of cities...

Key lessons of statistics 101: you have to test for correlation, reliability, and VALIDITY. Mr. Bennett, please retake the class in the spring.

29 September 2005

I Doth Protest Too Much

So PBS has been running a 60's theme all week. In fact, they're calling it "60's Week." I've already talked about the two days of Dylan: No Direction Home. Last night was a documentary on the early Beatles and mainly about Pete Best. I didn't watch it. After that, though, a history of protest music came on. It was called "Get Up Stand Up" and was hosted by Chuck D of Public Enemy fame.

I like Chuck D. -- Public Enemy had a fresh vital sound bolstered by brilliant political lyrics and provocative stances (such as the implied threat to the governor of Arizona in "By the Time I Get to Arizona"), but the group -- and political rap in general -- were soon displaced in the public imagination by nihilistic gangster rap.

The special however suffered from a lack of focus. It started with Joe Hill - fair enough - and went through Guthrie and Pete Seeger - a national treasure who has survived quite a bit - on to the 1960's. At that point the show lost direction. Everything apparently became protest music after the 1960's: David Bowie's gender bending performance became protest music; benefit concerts like Live Aid became protest music; the entirety of punk rock became protest music. NO NO NO NO.

Live Aid did not protest anything: it was awareness raising and fund raising. Punk rock in and of itself was no more a protest than any other youth movement before or after, and if that's your definition of protest music, then Elvis Presley becomes protest music. I don't think so.

Even more astounding was the weak selection of protest from the hip hop genre. For instance, Public Enemy has an amazing collection of political cuts: "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos," "Party for Your Right to Fight," "Burn Hollywood Burn," and the seminal "Fight the Power" are just a few that are more powerful and appropriate than the two tracks highlighted in the show: "911 Is a Joke" and "Give It Up."

Billy Bragg, perhaps the seminal English protest singer of the 1980's, was skipped over in favor of Simple Minds and UB40. Huh? He was interviewed but none of his music mentioned...I suppose it pisses me off more because BB is one of my favorite artists.

Anyway, I've watched more TV this week than I usually watch in three weeks (M-F that is -- with college football season ongoing, I watch as much as possible on Saturday). I might watch a bit more tonight. It's The 60's: The Years That Shaped a Generation tonight...

28 September 2005

Today evolution, tomorrow burning witches.

Anti-intellectualism is nothing new in the United States. From Adlai Stevenson's moniker "Egghead" to countless science fiction stories of mad scientists and ridiculing of the "Ivory Tower," our culture maintains suspicious attitudes toward intellectuals. And why not? Anyone who has seen The Fog of War knows that part of the premise of that movie is that Robert McNamara was an egghead, an efficiency expert who knew how to crunch numbers to achieve goals, even if those numbers were bombs and bodies.

Leftists distrust intellectuals because, as Marx notes, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. Or as Gramsci updates it, the intellectual class generally serves to legitimate the worldview of the dominant class. Conservatives distrust intellectuals because intellectuals tend to distrust received norms and values; after all, the nature of inquiry is to ask questions of things as we perceive them. For example, why are the ice caps melting?

Knowledge, it seems, is never free of ideology. "Pure science," unfortunately, simply doesn't exist, because we live in a political world: grants are given to certain projects and others are frozen out. This condition, in my opinion, is inescapable: as leadership shifts, priority shifts. However, it seems to me that we are entering a new dark age of superstition replacing scientific inquiry. It's one thing to disagree on priorities for research funding; it's quite another to reject research based on mystical belief systems.

The Bush administration is famous of course for its attempts to dismantle stem cell research and its rejection of global warming theories. The disturbing aspect to both of these positions is that they're clearly ideologically rather than factually driven. BushCo realizes that most Americans know little of science beyond the transporter room that helped Captain Kirk and his crew have so many planetary explorations. And they've spun the "debates" in scientific fields to play to that ignorance masterfully.

The current debate over evolution is a perfect example. Now in Dover County, PA, the Salem circa 1690 inspired school board has foisted a religious-based "science" directive on the professionally trained science educators of the school district. Nutcases have always found school boards as easy targets for setting their backwards agendas: book banners love to exercise power over school libraries through their positions on school boards. However, these particular nuts have been emboldened by years of a superstitious President, and even before that by decades of grassroots and congressionial rightwing regression, to make bold steps to ratchet up Creationism (often under the cloak of "Intelligent Design" -- a misnomer if ever there were one) as a competing "theory" to evolution.

Bush, who is either truly the idiot king or is playing well to his base, states that schools should teach "both theories." A theory is something you can test. You can't test something that relies on the following method of inquiry (according to a t-shirt I saw some lotus-eater wearing): "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." The National Academy of Sciences presents a more scientific perspective: "While the mechanisms of evolution are still under investigation, scientists universally accept that the cosmos, our planet, and life evolved and continue to evolve."

A key difference between I.D. and science is that an I.D. believer looks at something magnificently complex and says, "man, that's really complex. I can't figure it out, so God must have done it." A scientist looks at something magnificently complex and says, "man, that's really complex. I have a life's work ahead of me to try to figure it out."

The scientist wants to know what makes it tick. The superstitious hack thinks paradoxically that because he doesn't know, he already knows.

27 September 2005

Dylan on PBS, last night and tonight.

So the first two hours of Scorsese's biopic on Bob Dylan have aired and I was interested in Scorsese's technique of repeatedly splicing in footage from the 1966 England tour where Dylan is booed and jeered for plugging in for the second set of his shows. That footage opens the movie, and then between interviews with Dylan and his contemporaries we are treated to more snips of the controversial tour.

The audiences of course weren't universally turned off by Dylan's transformation. During one post-show exchange among fans, an interviewer asks several audience members what they thought. One person says (and I paraphrase), "I came to see Bob Dylan not a pop band." Another fan immediately retorts, "There aren't many pop bands like that."

For his own part, Dylan seems to take it in stride. At one point, as he and the band climb into a car post-concert, he says out the window, "Stop booing me," but he says it in such a way that seems half-joking. He then comments that even though they're booing him, they're buying up the tickets in a hurry. He concludes his only comments on the booing by saying, "I wish they'd stop booing....It's hard to tune the guitar when they're booing."

Dylan as ever is evasive over questions of his politics and status as "spokesman of his generation."

The movie concludes tonight on PBS at 9:00 p.m.

26 September 2005

Down on the Mall this past weekend.

At last the blogger photo is working again.

The day started out at Dupont Circle. My son took a photo of the water in the fountain there.

Then we drifted down to the Ellipse. What are all the horse cops either smiling at or befuddled by?

They were checking out Satan pulling Cheney's strings and Cheney pulling Bush's. I didn't get a good picture.

The view from the Washington Monument was great. You could hear some of the speakers, too. This photo doesn't begin to capture the amount of people there. They were spilled all over Constitution heading down the American History museum also.

At the concert, Jello Biafra emceed.

Joan Baez was the third act in. She still has an amazing voice and provided a great moment.

Unfortunately, little children aren't terribly interested in sitting relatively still outside for more than a few hours. We had to leave after the Bellrays and Wayne Kramer. There was far too much speechifying between acts, and far too much of the speechifying was off topic (meaning that while I'm not dense and I understand that everything is connected eventually, I'm not terribly interested in hearing about the Bush administration's unsurprising decision to suspend labor laws in the Gulf Coast recovery -- stay on topic folks and maybe we'll end this war).

Don't speak too soon for the wheel's still in spin.

Tonight is the premiere of the Martin Scorsese Bob Dylan pic No Direction Home on PBS. It shows tonight and tomorrow night. It's about the early years: 1961-1966. I've always been a Bob Dylan fan although my collection of his recordings only goes up to 1975's Blood on the Tracks. You can't beat the raw emotional energy of his early work, when it's just him and a guitar, like on "Masters of War," from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

A lot of people, if they know Dylan at all, know him mainly as a protest song folksinger, which of course makes him very dour indeed, but like most good folksingers he also sings straight-up love songs and he has a good deal of humor in his work, even in the political work. A song like the "Talking John Birch Paranoid Blues" is a classic political critique that can't be sung with a straight face. And "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" is a brilliantly hilarious take on casual encounters.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Mr. Scorsese puts together the birth of a cultural icon...

25 September 2005

Did I miss a Memo?

You know the memo. The memo that stated that blogger photos would suck ass and not fucking work? That one. Because I've been trying to upload images all weekend and it looks like it's working, it lets me pick the image out, lets me hit the upload button, then it slams the door with some blank screen and no image linked on the draft page.

I never understood Rock Creek Rambler when he laid into blogger.com, but now I see clearly.

Let me tell you the September 24 antiwar rally was great (it could have been better if every single person left of center with an agenda didn't show up to promote it -- as I used to tell my eighth graders, "stay on task, folks"), and the icing was that a few hundred showed up for a pro-war rally Sunday. I'm hoping the military recruiters were there looking to sign up those eager beavers.

Among my favorite comments from those who failed logic 101:
"Our troops are over there fighting for our rights, and if she was in one of
those countries she would not be able to do that," Vigna said.

Point #1: we aren't in "one of those countries"
Point #2: you are suggesting that because she has the right to protest she should be thankful and not exercise the right? what sort of right is it when you aren't allowed to use it?
Point #3: troops in Iraq are hardly fighting for our rights in America, unless you still believe the thoroughly discredited lies George Bush, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Condaleeza Rice, and Donny Rumsfeld foisted upon the American people. If you're looking for traitors, start there with the folks who cooked the books.

It may take a few more years to get the US out of Iraq. It may never come to pass that Bush is impeached for his abuse of power -- a high crime and misdemeanor if ever there were one. History will not look kindly upon a legislature that saw fit to impeach a President over an extramarital affair yet sat idly by while thousands of Americans died for one man's blind hubris.

23 September 2005

September 24 is the day.

Operation Ceasefire activities are tomorrow, beginning at 11:30 a.m., on the Ellipse. The concert following the rally and march is scheduled to run from early afternoon until maybe 2 a.m. -- loads of acts, including the Coup, Steve Earle, and Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. Old timers might enjoy Jello Biafra as MC, and really old timers might enjoy Joan Baez.

As Mario Savio would say, "We've got a war to stop!"

22 September 2005

Blog War, what is it good for?

It has gotten (remained maybe) downright nasty in the local blogwar that began one day after Adams Morgan Day. The comments that started the whole mess are bizarre, to say the least, and seem to come out of nowhere.

It has degenerated into using real names in place of the common blogger pseudonyms. I think that's bad form and reveals one of three things: 1) the namedropper is classless, 2) the namedropper is pissed to the core, 3) the namedropping has an added significance known only to the parties involved. I won't speculate on the reason here.

Unfortunately, once dropped, names can't be undropped. So tools can pick up on said names and pile on, like hyenas stealing a kill.

Complicating matters are the fake comments from impersonators.

Observing all of this melee, I've made a few conclusions:
  1. If you have a prominent blog, you're bound to attract lovers and haters (others have made this point; I'm not claiming originality).
  2. Some people have nothing better to do than fuck with other people.
  3. Some people do not respond well to pressure exerted by personal attacks.
  4. Blogger meltdowns can be sudden and irrevocable. I remember the whole KAC fiasco, as she deteriorated into a bitter, sniping burnout.
  5. Everything you ever write is evidence. It's all archived and it's all out there. It pays to be as the sage, and melllllooooowww.
  6. Blogging is not life. Life is lived outside of the internet. Unless you're some goofball into everquest or world of warcraft and you buy and sell magic items on ebay.
  7. If I ever come to a blogger happy hour, I'll be the one sitting in the corner facing the door with a can of pepper spray at the ready.

He strove to resuscitate the dead art

Might as well keep up the beat theme. Or the poetry theme. Ferlinghetti was an early champion of Allen Ginsberg, whose Howl set off an obscenity trial (which more or less ensured the poem would become a cultural icon). If Howl provided a morbid dark voice to Ginsberg's take on modern life in the United States, then "America" was his comic look at that same life. It bristles with criticism, but that criticism is played for laughs as Ginsberg recites jingoistic phrases and doomed protest slogans as well as consumer jingles. If you ever get your hands on a copy of him reading that poem at City Lights in the 1960's, take a listen -- it'll crack you up. It cracks him up.

Here's how it opens:
America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.

I've got the full text via the link above. Anyway, that text got me thinking about an earlier era and another odd poet, e.e. cummings, who has a poem entitled "next to of course god america i." It's short enough to reproduce in full:
"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

A brilliant satire of Nationalist demagogues wrapping themselves in empty patriotism, kinda like freepers only more articulate. If you listen to cummings read this work, you'll hear him modify his usual speaking tone to carry the mockery further. A World War One veteran, cummings didn't have much time for stuffed shirts.

If cummings and Ginsberg were alive, I bet they'd be down on the Mall this weekend.

21 September 2005

Literature Name Check:Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Saw a little piece on Ferlinghetti getting an award from the National Book Foundation in the Washington Post today. Actually it was more about Norman Mailer, but here's what it said about the founder of City Lights Bookstore and publisher of Howl:
Lawrence Ferlinghetti will also be honored. The 86-year-old poet will receive
the first Literarian Award, which recognizes "individuals whose life's work has
enhanced the literary world as a whole." Foundation director Harold Augenbraum
said: "He has always pushed the edges of the literary envelope and has been
unwavering in his commitment to literature."

Without Ferlinghetti it may be that the Beat Generation wouldn't have been nearly so influential (you may debate later on whether or not that's a good thing); just as the Modernists in the generation before logrolled each other through their editorial positions, Ferlinghetti provided a publishing house and a cultural center in City Lights.

My favorite Ferlinghetti poem, and one I always teach when I teach 20th Century American Lit, is "I Am Waiting." The link will give you full text of the poem, but here's a little snip:
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder

20 September 2005

Plan your weekend accordingly.

This Saturday is the Operation Ceasefire rally and concert. The concert lineup looks pretty damn good. It's part of a weekend of activism organized by United for Peace. The rally begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Ellipse and then at 3:00 p.m. the concert gets going at the bandshell near the Washington Monument.

Face Off!

Once the stuff of crummy movies, medical researchers are apparently working on transplanting faces (which reminds me of the old quip, "Want to lose ten pounds of ugly fat real fast?...Cut your head off. Ho ho. haha).

Obviously, this type of surgery would have useful applications, such as aiding burn victims or people who have submerged their faces in vats of acid. However, pessimist that I am, I can see this procedure being abused by all sorts of people who refuse to age gracefully. Sure, right now there's only a 50% chance of success and the patient must take anti-rejection drugs for life, but once those obstacles are overcome, it's goodbye rhinoplasty, hello face transplant.

19 September 2005

Paring Down.

I took a look over my blogroll this weekend. It's not a long one, but now I'm noticing that several on the list seem to have gone dormant or their authors have moved. It's time to cut a bit closer to the bone.

On a related note, in a random musing, Rock Creek Rambler describes his disenchantment with blogging. For my part, I hope he pulls through because his stuff is a must read. Then again, as the Rambler says, there's no real answer sometimes to the question, "Why do you blog?"

I started blogging to say things that had no clear alternative outlet. And while I haven't been terribly personal or revealing, there's a certain aspect of the confessional in the act of blogging, except the faceless priest on the other side of the curtain could be anyone anywhere. I'm not going for high stakes in my blogging: not trying to set the tone for the DC cultural scene or even pretend that what I'm saying always (or even usually) has any interest to anyone outside of maybe a half dozen people. Tilting at windmills perhaps.

I do not blog for popularity. Thankfully, or I'd be one disappointed shit. Of course I enjoy it when people comment, but I don't count on it.

I plan to use street theater to accomplish my goals.

18 September 2005

It can't be that late, can it?

I just checked the calendar and realized that half of September has slid by already. We're closer to October than we are to August and while part of me is ecstatic about the prospect of turning off the air conditioning that's costing us about 300 bucks a month because the unit is from 1974 (I kid you not), another part of me realizes that another year is getting ready to go by the wayside. Dec 31 may seem a long way off, but once you hit the last week of October, the year accelerates: Halloween is followed quickly by Thanksgiving and by now everyone should realize that Christmas season has expanded to turn all of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas into one big consumer carnival. And I'm not talking about the fact that Target will probably have their Christmas shit out the day following Halloween. I'm talking specifically about the cycle of holiday parties that friends, family, co-workers, and companies throw between the end of November and December 25. Every weekend becomes spoken for.

It's like being sucked into a vortex. One day you go to bed and it's mid-October. The next thing you know it's early January and you've got two to three long months to recover before spring cleaning.

Saddest of all is that I almost went to bed tonight at 8:30 p.m. I think I may ask for some pastel pants and white belts for Christmas.

16 September 2005

Slow week on my end.

The family has been ill this week.
I missed most of the blog war.

Fortunately, the family is now on antibiotics.
Looks like everyone's back on their meds.

It's time to start up the hootenanny.

13 September 2005

Weekend at the Mall, part 2

Some photos. It was a clear day and the East Wing is beautiful.

My son took the camera from me and shot about fifty pictures, mainly of parking meters and unknown people. Here are two of his shots.

He told me to put my thumb out. This one's from the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. He also took photos of many of the other sculptures. He also took plenty of photos of me from behind.

This photo he took during his "whirling" phase; he decided to spin around several times before taking pictures. The results are mostly of the gravel on the mall, but here he caught a bit of me and the baby.

He takes lots of photos, which is something he wouldn't be doing if we didn't have a digital camera. He's pretty good at it, too, when he's not goofing off (he's five; he's allowed to goof).

11 September 2005

A Trip to the Mall.

I almost forgot how nice the museums are after Labor Day. Today I took the kids and went down to the National Mall. I was giving the S.O. some time to work on her dissertation. So after a lovely breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes, we piled into the car and headed down to the Mall. It's nice arriving there by 10 a.m. because you can find a parking space. Today we had our pick of spots, which was the first sign that we were outside that bookend of Labor Day.

My son wanted to go to the Air and Space. I'm not a big fan of the Air and Space because it is to the history of flight what the History Channel is to History: you get the impression that the only reason either exists is because of war. They've gotten better in the last several years: the demonstration area where kids can learn about aerodynamics and pretend to fly a plane is one of my son's favorite parts. If I were director I think the first thing I'd do is replace that aircraft carrier with a re-enactment of David Bowie's Space Oddity with full laser-light show. Sure you might turn off some of the old folks and the more straight-laced veterans, and of course the chickenhawks, but you'd bring in a ton of stoners.

Anyway, we were parked right in front of Air and Space, so we went in. The place was nearly empty and they'd even fixed that station in the learning section where you pull the little astronaut up to the ceiling. I'd say on every visit of ours within the last year that thing hadn't been working. After about an hour and a half my son said he was hungry, so I tricked him into going to the National Gallery of Art to eat lunch.

Usually when we hit the NGA, we're at the wrong time to see the Matisse cutouts, but this time it was the first thing we hit. The Tower Room is a good place for them, since there are only five, but three of them are massive. It's a nice scale.

Then we had some of that nasty NGA pizza.

09 September 2005

Inside the Bush Dynasty...

Certainly there are reports that President Bush has been distant from the Katrina catastrophe, especially in the early days. After all, it took him nearly three days to decide to interrupt his five-week long vacation and "fly over" the area on the way back to Washington. Even then of course he showed more interest in protecting loaves of bread from looters/survivors than in preserving the lives of those who were trapped in New Orleans and surrounding areas. So I suppose some people might get the idea that Bush II was somewhat insulated from the suffering of his subjects. That maybe he just didn't care.

To make matters worse, his mother, consort of George Bush the First, responded to the plight of the poor as if 1789 had never happened..."Let them eat Astroturf!" she declared. No, it was easy to see that naysayers might begin to reason that the Bush clan had lost touch with the common, folksy people whom Yale-educated millionaire George W Bush tries so hard to emulate.

Not so fast, people. Along comes Laura Bush, current First Lady of our fair republic, who announces that she just doesn't understand why some people don't see her husband for the truly caring man that he is:
"I mean I am the person who lives with him. I know what he is like, and I know what he thinks, and I know how he cares about people."

Thank you, Ms. Bush, for the intense insight into Dear Leader.

She also came out with this gem:
"I do think -- and we all saw this -- was that poor people were more vulnerable. They live in poor neighborhoods; their neighborhoods were the ones that were more likely to flood, as we saw in New Orleans."

Wow! Poor people live in poor neighborhoods. Next she'll tell us that poor people live in poverty. That means they don't have a lot of money. Or that poor neighborhoods are likely to have poor schools.

Which could lead me to her husband's ridiculous idea of education reform, entitled No Child Left Behind, but this post is long enough anyway.

08 September 2005

Being off work v. being out of work

I'm starting to recover from a nasty sore throat, but still I was off work today and let me tell you it is damn pleasant not being at work during the hours of 9-5 M-F. Now unless someone thinks I'm going into a Barbara "let them eat cake" Bush style rhapsody over how much better the poor have it now that they've been allowed to gather on the floor of the Astrodome, let me be clear that it's only nice being off work because I know that I still have a paycheck coming in every two weeks. Being out of work would be a bit more stressful.

It may also help that the past few days have been among the best the District has to offer: low humidity and deep sunshine under near cloudless skies. The District is wonderful in the fall (and in the week in late April that passes for our spring), which is soon upon us.

Today I found myself scrounging through change jars and wrapping coins of all sorts to deposit in the bank. It seems the bills were a little high this month and left us looking for milk money. So far I've turned in $12.50, so I'm that much closer to making the mortgage. I still have a jar full of pennies upstairs that will probably net at least ten bucks. No more rail drinks for me!

Anyway, about this work thing. Back in the bad old days, a working day would last between 10 and 12 hours, with a half day on Saturday. For those of you with only one job who still put those hours in, unless you own the business you are an idiot. See, we had this thing called the labor movement that reduced the working day to 8 hours and the work week to 5 days. Something called the "weekend" was born, giving Loverboy a reason to sing.

Obviously, there's more to do. Organized labor has lost ground in the past thirty years and these days many people do work 10 to 12 or more hours a day, except they do that at multiple jobs and without benefits. Many of the people in New Orleans are like that: working jobs that barely pay you enough to live, and New Orleans is by no means an exception to that rule. Katrina and the aftermath made clear power relations that are normally kept hidden, and Barbara Bush's statement should speak volumes to anyone with ears.

07 September 2005

Reflections from the sick house.

Sickness has taken hold of our household (I mean mine, not the nation's -- we already knew that). and no one has been left unscathed, although our son seems to have escaped with nothing more than a hoarse voice. We've been to the doctors, we've been to the pharmacies. No good drugs came of any of it, but our daughter got some eye drops and I have some chloraseptic.

That being said, my wife has received the worst of it, being confined to the house for the past day and a half. So this evening to give her some peace and to get our son's energy level down, I gathered up the two kids and headed to Kalorama Park. As parents may know, that park is a nightmare in broad daylight because the play areas have absolutely no shelter from the sun. However, in the evening, it's a different story.

Tonight the dog owners who ignore the district's leash law were leaving as we arrived, which was nice. The sun was fading behind the townhouses down the hill from the park -- that's a beautiful sight, to see the bright sky across the western edges of the city while the streets nearby are already giving themselves over to darkness. A bit of Magritte, though less extreme.

Professionally dressed types walked by with their dry cleaning over their backs, young couples held hands close on the street, the muffled sounds of basketball came from the court on the lower edge of the park, and of course always the parents with their strollers drifting through the park. People were coming home from work or going out to eat; they were walking their dogs or running in ipod-ed seclusion; some were going to work. I listened to the kids playing all around me and the traffic going by on the street, stared at the large apartment buildings across Columbia Road, and was strangely at peace with the progress of my life.

06 September 2005

Welcome apprentice fry-cook. How would you like to run the business?

Rehnquist tried to hold on until Bush was out of office, but no dice. Now Bush, probably the worst President ever -- a view of mine reinforced by his non-response to Hurricane Katrina and the inexplicable failure of his handlers to convince him to appear compassionate instead of smug about the plight of those trapped in New Orleans, will have a second Supreme Court nominee to foist upon the US population.

Rather than elevate a sitting justice -- I was sure he'd try to get that slipshod nutcase Scalia up there -- he's going for broke with Roberts, nominating a person with two years experience as a judge to become the highest judicial authority in the land.

The fact that many "moderate" dems appear ready to roll over on the Roberts nomination demonstrates pretty clearly why the Democratic Party fails to win elections. Listen to this nugget of wisdom from "Democrat" Kent Conrad, Senator from North Dakota:
"I am impressed with his demeanor, his intelligence, his sense of humor, his
modesty," said Conrad. "Absent some bombshell, which I don't expect, I think he
will be confirmed and quite handily."

Ugh. Is this a beauty pageant or a Supreme Court nomination? We're aren't looking to fill in a maitre'd position, Kent; we're looking for someone who can interpret the Constitution wisely. Roberts has indeed shown an ability to interpret the Constitution, but always to the benefit of racism, sexism, and corporate interests.

02 September 2005

Ripping off other people's ideas: Concert List Edition

This post by Kathryn got me thinking about the concerts I've seen in my life. To be hard and fast you may have to distinguish between concerts and shows, with a concert being in a stadium, arena, or other large venue, and a show being in a place called a club or a lounge or otherwise known as a bar.

Here's a list of five Shows.

Very memorable: Shane McGowan and the Popes at the 9:30 Club. Black 47 opening. Black 47 had run through their setlist and were closing with a cover when a roadie came on stage and basically told them to keep playing. They played for another 45 minutes. Then they left, and the stage was empty for about an hour I'd guess. Shane apparently was being revived. When he finally took the stage, he stood immobile and a roadie had to bring him a fresh lit cigarette every other song. He looked like death and was indecipherable between songs, but he belted out the songs perfectly.

Billy Bragg and Wilco on the Mermaid Avenue Tour. I enjoy both BB and Wilco separately, so together was even better. Billy Bragg tours the US so rarely that any sighting of him is wonderful indeed. It's worth it just to hear him talk politics and punish the hecklers.

NOFX at the old 9:30 Club on F Street. I was wearing glasses and they got knocked off and eventually ended up on the stage, where Fat Mike and El Hefe mocked me. This scene apparently ended up on a NOFX video recording.

Superchunk with Guided by Voices opening at the Crow Bar, State College, PA. It was Halloween and Robert Pollard was so drunk he couldn't stand up straight. The stage was small and he kept falling into the speakers and tripping on cables. Superchunk ripped into GbV all night and truth be told, GbV put on a horrible performance that night. They made up for it though...

Guided by Voices at the 9:30 Club. They played about five encores. They played until the 9:30 Club staff turned on the house lights and refused to let them play. The more sober among us told me later that the encores were getting sloppier and sloppier, but I was too drunk to notice. To be at a GbV concert was very heaven.

Pavement at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland. Maybe it was the fact that I'd driven seven hours to see the show or that we were drinking in the Flats, but the show was pretty damn good, with little churlishness from the band.

Oh and almost forgot and am going over 5: The Make Up anytime anywhere. Energy that couldn't be beaten and groove that couldn't be shaken. The Rock and Roll Comintern at its peak.

One terrible concert experience: Cracker at the 9:30 Club circa 1995. I'd seen them in 94 at the HFStival and they were great. You'd think that they'd be much better at a smaller venue, but Lowery had somehow got it in his head that stage presence was no longer important and he played the entire show with a baseball cap pulled down low on his head and the band pretty much stood as if they'd been superglued. Very very poor.

Disappointing show: Stereolab at the 9:30 Club. Dots and Loops had just come out and I know it's a danger anytime you venture into electronica, but I was unprepared for the very canned presentation of the show. By contrast, Tricky at the 9:30 Club was more engaging though arguably less "live."

Visiting Home.

I'm heading back to the ancestral home and taking the family with me for Labor Day weekend. A trip to a remote section of the rust belt allows us to engage in one of our favorite games: what could we buy here if we sold our house in DC? In my hometown it ends up being something like "the north side of that mountain" or "that old industry captain's mansion." The game usually ends when we can't figure out how to get a job up there that doesn't involve serving up some Sheetz MTOs or folding clothes at American Outfitters.

I enjoy visiting because I grew up there and some of my friends remain there. Many have moved away, but interestingly enough, one has since returned. He and his wife (also from there) have moved back after living for a bit in Ohio and New Jersey. I'll have to catch myself up on that story. Plus, I bet I can find the Penn State v. So. Florida game on local TV up there.

I also have a friend and his family returning to town for his parents' 40th anniversary, and my sister and her family will be in town and we'll be celebrating my niece's second birthday. It'll be a very busy weekend, but I've promised my wife she can have all of Saturday to work on her dissertation.

Never underestimate this man.

01 September 2005

Signs Taken for Wonders.

I don't watch my good friend Pat Robertson, aka the assassin, or any of his flock-fleecing brethren (or sistern or cistern), so maybe he's already preyed on this disaster as validation of his world-view. Natural disasters are great fodder for religious interpretation, since the Bible famously relates plagues, earthquakes, flood, and fire as retribution for displeasing the Almighty.

I find such interpretive gestures intellectually bankrupt and spiritually dishonest. After all, these "signs" are simply shapes to fit into a fairly rigid system of thought, and in the end, they will be interpreted in ways that support the interpreter's viewpoint. In Piaget's terms, they will be assimilated -- never will they cause accomodation.

Now an objective zealot might look around and say, "hmm, what is the biggest thing our country is doing out there that might displease God?" and then they'd have to come to the conclusion that our unprovoked invasion of Iraq and slaughter of many innocents (sorry -- "collateral damage" I mean) might have something to do with it. Since there's no such thing as an objective zealot, however, it's my theory that Rev. Robertson and his ilk will locate the cause of God's wrath on one of the following (or maybe a combination of all):
  • Any progress, no matter how small or localized, toward human rights for homosexuals.
  • Decreased public support for the war in Iraq (which if you recall, has been characterized by our President and other superstitious fools as a "Crusade").
  • Hollywood.
Let me say for the record quite clearly that I don't support any supernatural explanation for why Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf states -- Hurricane Katrina is not retribution for our involvement in Iraq, just as Hurricane Agnes was not retribution for Pennsylvania instituting a state lottery. I support a scientific interpretation that goes like this: it's hurricane season and every now and then hurricanes cause a lot of damage; maybe we should track the amount of severe hurricanes year by year and make scientific hypotheses to investigate if they're becoming more frequent and, if they are, what may be contributing to any increase in severity.

Can anyone tell me if the religious interpreters have revved up the spin engines yet?