31 October 2005

Countersignature Contra Krauthammer

The notion that Charles Krauthammer is a few donuts short of a dozen isn't exactly earth-shattering to anyone who's managed to wade through his tortured reasoning in the last ten years. However, his column last Saturday provides another excellent example of his spiteful bitterness and pure disconnect from reality. It's really a tragedy that the Washington Post continues to carry this lunatic. In fact, I continually try to figure out why this reject from rationality is given print space.

Having been lead cheerleader in the pundit corps for Bush's failed empire-building adventure in Iraq, Krauthammer's feeling a little let down by the turn of events...after all, his leader declared "Mission Accomplished" a few years ago and here we are bogged down in that thing Bush swore on the campaign trail in 2000 he wouldn't do: nationbuilding. And to all the jackasses out there who think "9/11 changed everything," you haven't been paying attention. Let me repeat for those a few standard deviations below 100 IQ: There is no connection between 9/11 and Iraq. Just like there's no connection between men with moustaches and Hitler.

Anyway, Krauthammer, defensive as his worldview crumbles around him, is ostensibly writing a column about the latest defector from the Republican/Neoconservative/Pax Americana camp, Brent Scowcroft. Of course, so many rats are jumping ship, Krauthammer could take his pick of target. The interesting thing, however, is that Krauthammer, like that dying villain who still reaches for his gun to take some measure of revenge against his vanquisher, begins his column with an aside that would only be included for nastiness and spite:
Now that Cindy Sheehan turns out to be a disaster for the antiwar movement -- most Americans are not about to follow a left-wing radical who insists that we are in Iraq for reasons of theft, oppression and empire -- a new spokesman is needed.

Where to begin with this guy's problems? First, Cindy Sheehan has not been a disaster for the antiwar movement -- to the contrary, Sheehan's cross-country trek united an antiwar movement that had been fervent but fragmented, and her journey culminated in a tremendous showing of solidarity on September 24, 2005, in Washington, D.C. Maybe Krauthammer slept through that antiwar rally that saw between 100,000 and 300,000 people converge on the Mall.

Second, Krauthammer makes the incredible assumption that Sheehan's prominence suggests she's leading the movement or that people are "following her." To be sure, some might be -- other women who have lost their children in Krauthammer's folly have joined Ms. Sheehan -- but Krauthammer confuses catalyst with leader, and attempts to diminish a movement through the perceived faults of an individual. Krauthammer just as easily could have labelled Michael Moore the "leader" of the antiwar movement, or Ramsey Clark (the head of International A.N.S.W.E.R., the organization that's been able to mobilize mass antiwar sentiment from a broad spectrum of the U.S.). The point is that Krauthammer remains clueless as to the nature of the opposition to the Iraq boondoggle -- it isn't about a cult of personality (unlike his dear leader, on the other hand...): it's about an administration that lied to goad the country into an ill-conceived and illegal war.

Should I go on? After thinking he's dismissed Sheehan -- and by the way it's becoming clearer every day that we are in Iraq for the neocons idea of empire -- Krauthammer turns his poorly adjusted sights on Brent Scowcroft. The Scowcroft-Krauthammer beef boils down to ruling class "intellectuals" basically arguing about the best way to pursue world domination. Krauthammer believes it is through bloody interventions in other countries (the British medical journal The Lancet now argues that 100,000 civilian Iraqi deaths is a good estimate, and is perhaps too low). Scowcroft believes it is through diplomacy and stability, even if you end up negotiating with mass murderers like Bush Hussein. So Krauthammer's critique of Scowcroft's policy contains grains of truth -- under Scowcroftian regimes, you get in bed with unsavory characters; yet Krauthammer somehow seems to think that such compromises means that his own gory conditions are justified. More unrealistically, he seems to think that he's not guilty of the same thing that he accuses Scowcroft of doing: making deals with devils to further your goals.

Bottom line: Krauthammer is a crank, who if he took the form of Andy Rooney and only complained about shoes and wet umbrellas would be harmless, but instead he dishes his hate and warmongering from prominent perches in the so-called liberal media. If ever there were an argument against a "liberal media," this crank could be exhibit A. But then again, so too could Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, George Will, Robert "Spymaster" Novak, Ann Coulter, Joe Scarborough, and the list goes on and on.

The Washington Post should just do the right thing and refuse to pay for this bitter failure's increasingly incoherent rants.

28 October 2005

If this happens, I will be there.

CNN is reporting that Rosa Parks might lie in honor at the Capitol. According to the website:

The Senate approved a resolution Thursday allowing her remains to lie in honor in the Rotunda on Sunday and Monday "so that the citizens of the United States may pay their last respects to this great American." The House was expected to consider the resolution Friday.
It's a tremendous honor that I hope the House will follow through on and approve. 50 years ago such a concept would be entirely unimaginable. Hell, 25 years ago it would have been unimaginable. When it comes, progress is slow and never even.

I'm sure this news will bring all sorts of nasty comments from right-wing sites -- the Freepers will probably be reaching for their rifles -- proving once and again that some assholes haven't learned their lessons. I've said it before and I'll say it again: right wingers have fought women's equality, racial equality, class equality and they have -- in the end -- always lost. They are the rearguard for an always receding troglodytic mindset: annoying, but in the end, doomed.

If Parks does lie in honor at the Capitol, she'll be the first woman to do so. And it's only 2005.

I was too lazy to cook dinner last night.

Well, I did say that, despite my reservations, I would return to Busboys and Poets at some point. This time the family went for dinner, which as any check on their website would tell you, is reasonably priced. We got there around seven and the place was packed and there was a twenty minute wait for a table. The sci-fi writer Octavia Butler was giving a reading and signing books, so maybe that accounts for the crowd (or maybe the place is just always crowded on Thursday nights at seven p.m.). I'm not much of a science fiction fan myself or a fantasy fan -- the closest I come is that in my youth I read The Lord of the Rings about seven times, also the Chronicles of Narnia (well, some of them) and the Chronicles of Prydain (all of them). The academic sci-fi crowd likes to dress up the genre by calling it "speculative fiction," which allows for a bit more leeway in the field, since I think science fiction is often seen as dealing simply with alien invasions and space travel.

But as for the dinner last night...the food is simple and good. The pizzas are bigger than I expected -- more than enough for a child and possibly even big enough for two adults to split if they weren't really really hungry. Learning from my past mistake, I avoided ordering anything from the bar, although my wife ordered a beer -- a 6 dollar beer. Since when is a beer worth six dollars? And it was from the tap, which I prefer, but which generally is cheaper than bottled beer. I can't get over it. Six friggin dollars for about ten ounces of beer in a really nice looking glass -- sort of a modernized pilsener glass. I'm guessing you're paying to look at the really pretty glass. Right around the corner there's a liquor store where I could probably pick up a six pack of Mickey's Big Mouth for about 3.50, if they still make that stuff. Jesus, I'm cheap.

This Thanksgiving I'm heading straight up to the Pipe Room and I'm going to order five goddamn Molson drafts so I can spend six dollars right away like that.

27 October 2005

Belated Congrats to Harold Pinter on the Nobel Prize

Sure it happened a few weeks back, but Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. I was happy at the time, because Pinter was one of my first experiences with post-WWII drama -- the others being Samuel Beckett and Caryl Churchill. The sparsity of Pinter's language was exhilarating -- he and Beckett pruned sentences to their core -- and a long way from the dense growth that Faulkner cultivated (which I also love). But I filed it away in the back of my mind until I came across this irritating quote from Christopher Hitchens, a man whose senses deserted him like the last drops from a bottle of scotch:

The award to someone who gave up literature for politics decades ago, and whose politics are primitive and hysterically anti-American and pro-dictatorial, is part of the almost complete degradation of the Nobel racket. [Guardian]

First, the notion that anyone could consider Pinter hysterically anything is ridiculous. And as he's done so often in the last few years, Hitchens confuses critiques of the U.S. government's bungled attempts at empire building with "anti-American" attitudes. Hitchens apparently forgets the outpouring of support and solidarity across the world -- and especially in Europe -- when September 11 occurred -- and he also forgets that that support eroded because most of the world saw through the Bush adminstration's fraudulent attempt to make a dictator -- who'd been crippled by ten years of sanctions -- out to be the world's greatest threat since Adolf Hitler. Don't get me wrong: Hitchens is extremely witty and his critique of Henry Kissinger is devastating. However, in the past, he didn't confuse critiques of some abusers of power with affinity for other abusers of power -- with Iraq, though, he seems to be convinced that all those who opposed the U.S. violations of international law somehow condoned Saddam Hussein's regime (the closer truth is that Bush and Hussein have similar cavalier attitudes toward "international law").

Here's a sample of Pinter's "hysterical" opinions on the U.S. and Iraq (Hitchens is a leading cheerleader for the situational ethics of pre-emptive war):

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery and degradation to the Iraqi people and call it “bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East”. But, as we all know, we have not been welcomed with the predicted flowers. What we have unleashed is a ferocious and unremitting resistance, mayhem and chaos.

You may say at this point: what about the Iraqi elections? Well President Bush himself answered this question only the other day when he said “We cannot accept that there can be free democratic elections in a country under foreign military occupation”.

I had to read that statement twice before I realised that he was talking about Lebanon and Syria.

Pinter is a persistent student of language, who -- like George Orwell before him -- understands the power of language not only to reveal but also to obfuscate. Pinter merely parses the language that these governments put in front of us and as he does in his own work, he seeks out the roots hidden under the foliage and the dirt. He is working with material provided him by miserable failures like George W. Bush, and if you are an observer of torturous linguistic phrases, Bush provides fertile soil.

26 October 2005

14 innings? Are you kidding me?

I fell asleep last night listening to the World Series on the radio. I'd watched up through inning 12 on the television, but couldn't stick it out anymore. Tucked securely under several layers, I set the radio to sleep and figured the game would be over before the radio cut off. I made it through the 13th inning, but when they went to commercial, I went to sleep. So I missed the 14th and the game-winning home run by Geoff Blum.

Turns out my radio did shut off before the game ended, but I was already asleep.

25 October 2005

On Rosa Parks.

Thanks to Jordan Baker for reminding me that Rosa Parks deserves an entry. At least.

We should all know the story, at least the basic story, about Ms. Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man and launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Ms. Parks maintained then and over the years that she was "just tired," and didn't want to move. It's great mythology, and has fed into the perception that her action was spontaneous, an isolated incident that triggered a massive movement.

That's only half the story, and it's a story that gets told because anti-communism shrouds the latter half of the 20th century in the U.S.A, and it was a tool that racists used against the growing Civil Rights movement. The sad truth is that when Republicans and Democrats refused to touch racial issues, the Left, including communists, fought for racial equality. Left organizations and institutes provided a meeting ground for Civil Rights activists. Racists used those connections to tar the Civil Rights movement as a "communist front," which it clearly wasn't, but the legacy of that Cold War tactic is that Marxist involvement is effaced.

Ms. Rosa Parks was not simply a tired department store worker in Montgomery, Alabama. She had been active for years in the NAACP and voter registration drives and had attended seminars at the Highlander Folk School, a labor and civil rights organizing camp in Tennessee that contained its fair share of Marxists (and also has an extensive FBI file). In fact, the Montgomery Bus Boycott had been in the works for nearly a year by the time Rosa Parks made the monumental step that changed the course of Civil Rights in the United States.

Ms. Parks deserves honor as a great American and bears testament to the historical tendency that progress in the United States comes from the Left and not the Right.

24 October 2005

Maybe I should update my links...

Looks like my links are out of date again. Man who knew the endgame would come so quickly for the CPMC incident? At any rate, I'm still stuck trying to figure out what started it all, but that'll pass now that the site's gone and a new distraction will present itself. I've never claimed to be anything more than out of the loop on this issue, despite what some of my good web friends think.

On another note, here I am home all day because my son is sick. Not bad sick, just fever can't go to school sick. Unfortunately, that also means don't let dad concentrate sick. I've taken this opportunity therefore to restring my guitars.

Update: Rearranged and choreographed links around 6 p.m...it reminds me of the heady days of 1994, writing html code w/o a graphic editor...

23 October 2005

Weekend in Review: Return of the Repressed Theme

The Son Volt show was well worth the time, expense, and effort and last-minute anxiety it took to find a babysitter. The band played for two hours -- from 11:30 until 1:30 -- and Farrar actually looked like he was enjoying himself, which isn't always the case. Beautiful time, including a bizarre cover of the Williams/Clash song "Armagiddeon Time" (I say Clash in here because damnit that's probably the reference for most US listeners) devoid of any hint of reggae -- straight ahead fast rock.

Of course, while getting to bed at 3 a.m. may be usual for some of the younger set out there, I am not used to it, especially as two kids don't come with snooze alarms. So at 7 a.m. my son was insisting I make him pancakes, although I will say I distracted him with a book and he did let me off the hook until 8 a.m., so maybe there's a snooze alarm there after all.

Saturday meant the Smithsonian and the American Indian Museum for starters, with a reunion of sorts with old friends. You see, it was the Georgetown Law School's class of 1995 10 yr reunion, and...I was roommates with a graduate and knew a few others because of that, so we all have kids and we met up for a morning of museums. The cafeteria at the NMAI is damn good, although nothing's cheap. Except for me.

After the group went their separate ways, we headed over to the National Gallery of Art, where my son insisted we see the Seurat (I'm not kidding) and the "Mickey Mouse" painting (the Lichtenstein "Look Mickey" in the basement of the East Building. We also picked up a snack at their Concourse Cafe, where I discovered that an Honest Tea would cost me $3.25. I did not buy it. I told you, I'm cheap.

Saturday night brought great solace to me, as the Penn State Nittany Lions walloped the hapless Illinois Fighting Illini. No big surprise, except for the score, since PSU rarely runs a high-powered offense and also rarely runs up scores -- all the scoring came in the first half, with PSU scrubbing it in the 2nd. Ah, if only Lloyd Carr didn't have the power to reset game clocks, we'd be 8-0. Ugh.

21 October 2005

And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you...

I got those dissertation blues, baby
Nothing left to lose.
I got those dissertation blues, baby
Nothing left to lose.

So apparently I'm writing a dissertation of some type on American literature. OK. It'll get done, at some point. I'm really rolling downhill at this point anyway, with a partial chapter and an introduction to write...maybe 80 pages total left to go. Note to others dumb enough to enter the humanities: it's easier to write a dissertation without children than with them. In fact, I'll go so far as to say it's easier to write a dissertation if you're a sad and lonely social misfit holed up in your basement apartment eating ramen than if you're in a fulfilling relationship.

Tonight, however, I'm putting these worries on hold as I visit the 9:30 Club to watch Son Volt. Maybe a little pre-show bracer at the Velvet Lounge, maybe not.

After that, I promise, I'll work a bit...

19 October 2005

Please say it's so...

According to the Washington Post, Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum is headed for a fall in his Senate re-election bid. Please let it be so. Santorum trails Bob Casey, Jr. (who's the son of former governor Bob Casey), in a recent poll 36% to 52%. As a native Pennsylvanian, I'm embarrassed my state elected this bozo to begin with.

It's nice that a google search on santorum turns up a Dan Savage coinage first...

18 October 2005

Son Volt this Friday at 930 Club

Earlier this summer I was ecstatic over my visit to the Black Cat to see Stephen Malkmus. Yes, it had been some time since I was out on the town, and the Black Cat was halfway to being a home for me back in the glory years of 1994-1999. I think I saw superchunk there about 152 times. Or maybe a half dozen times. Take your pick.

I bring this up because I'm getting out again, this time to the 9:30 Club to see Son Volt in all their glory. I saw Jay Farrar solo at the Birchmere several years ago, but this'll be the first time to see Son Volt. The latest album, Okemah and the Melody of Riot, is damn good (my favorite song: "6 string belief"). I'm really drawn to Farrar's muddy guitar -- that dirty overdrive is so beautiful.

I have to say I came late to the Uncle Tupelo party, never having heard of the band until about six months before they broke up, but I've been following the unbrotherly offspring, Wilco and Son Volt. Farrar's website doesn't even namecheck Wilco on his list of music links. Tweedy returns the non-favor on the Wilco website links as well. It's funny because they've gone in different directions, with Wilco reaching more toward experimental blendings of folk rock and atmospheric noise and Son Volt sticking close to a stripped down roots rock -- it ought to be time to mend fences at least a little bit.

A nice dream of mine would have the two bands tour together, trading off opening and closing positions, with an encore of Uncle Tupelo reunited. That will happen I'm pretty sure after the original lineup of the Beatles gets back together.

17 October 2005

Remembrance of Things Past

Several years ago, I was very very broke. I think it was sometime around 1995. I sold a large amount of my CDs for something like 3 bucks each. Most of them were from my classic rock collection: all my Hendrix, Doors, Grateful Dead, and Pink Floyd included. I refused to part with my Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, or The Who.

Over the years I've missed those CDs a little bit, though not enough to go out and restock. However, lately I've seriously considered a repurchase of Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. I figure there's gotta be used copies in cd shops everywhere.

I also used to have the album in vinyl format, but what happened to the bulk of my vinyl collection is another story altogether...

16 October 2005

Ideas both mundane and esoteric

First, I'm extremely disappointed in the result of the PSU v. Michigan game yesterday. PSU missed two field goals early on, Lloyd Carr managed to steal another play by putting two seconds back on the clock (it pays to be able to manipulate time), and the final Michigan drive, from kickoff to touchdown, showed a monumental collapse of PSU defense -- the PSU defense had some big plays, but they gave up way too much yardage to a poor offense. Oh well. Michigan shall remain PSU's undoing for at least one more year.

Second, how many folks around here have ever been to Las Vegas? You may be familiar then with the concept that gambling is legal out there and they have these big things called "casinos" that offer a variety of gambling activities. Now it used to be that it was enough to have some slot machines, some card tables, craps, and a roulette wheel stuck inside a large opulent room with dark wood, dark carpet, no windows, and no clocks. However, that pretty much changed sometime in the late 1980's and came into full force in the 1990's, as Las Vegas casinos became more and more interested in attracting more than the gambling dollar. These days only hard pressed downtown casinos retain that gambling-only flavor. Pretty much every casino on the strip also operates as a high end shopping mall built in ever more elaborate settings, which is sort of where I'm going with this whole discussion.

Las Vegas has always functioned by displacing societal order; as Mikhail Bakhtin would say, it functions as the carnivalesque (although without the generally liberating impetus that Bakhtin ascribes to it -- this carnival is tightly focused not on freedom, but on profit). More and more this atmosphere has been complemented by resort developers' desire to more complete fantasy worlds for their customers to get lost in. Hence the rise also of what Baudrillard would call the simulacra -- that is the re-creation of places or objects that signify for a culture: for instance, the style of Paris or the cosmopolitan grittiness of New York City or the exoticism/orientalism of Mandalay...these places are packaged, distilled, and sold to consumers as a commodity -- a tightly controlled economy. For example, if you were to try to add to the faux realism of Las Vegas's New York New York by setting up a three card monte table or tagging a mailbox, it wouldn't take long for casino security to escort you out to Tropicana Avenue -- or the trunk of a car (again the simulacra, but for real!).

Las Vegas provides a potent example of this concept because it is so open about its imitation, but the idea translates well to other faux developments, from Disney's Celebration to various "town centers" that spring up in the Washington suburbs to the "fine urban living" promised by certain DC developers' psuedo-lofts. Or even to certain Lefty bookstores.

And this therefore has been the long version of my critique of Busboys and Poets. I'm certain it's stocked full of books that can critique the exact cultural dominant in which it participates. And here's the rub: we're caught in a system that all of us, even the most critical, must participate in if we are to meet basic human needs (it's very romantic perhaps to think like Melville's Bartleby that we could simply "prefer not to," but look at what happened to the guy -- and don't even go to Thoreau with me: the guy still took lunch with the Emerson's most of the time he was "living deliberately").

The above paragraph goes for customers as well as merchants: we are all participants in one way or another in Capitalism -- even the guy sitting outside the Black Cat most nights -- and we largely live within the rules of that system (even the so-called "Black Bloc" whose anarchist tactics steal the headlines on many a protest march have to find food, lodging, and transportation and someone's paying for that).

Again, I don't want to paint Busboys and Poets as an evil place; I hope it survives and thrives. Here's why: unless you have the iron-discipline often ascribed to Gandhi, most people give in to entertainment or leisure on occasion -- and there are worse places than Busboys and Poets to spend your entertainment dollars.

14 October 2005

Finally a night out on the town.

So here's the rundown:
About 7:30 p.m. we had the kids packed off to the grandparents for the weekend.
About 8:00 p.m. we were watching Othello at the Shakespeare Theatre. Packed house and an excellent show. Avery Brooks's Othello believes himself placid and confident, but is quickly reduced to sputtering rage -- and Brooks plays up the visceral reactions of the jealous lover, contorting his body and issuing guttural moans and gasps -- through Iago's lies. Patrick Page makes a great Iago -- Page also played Scar in the Lion King and, interestingly, Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast -- and plays everyone for a fool, until of course the end.

The end of Othello is always a problem for me. Iago's plot is brought down by his wife, Emilia, who for the entire play has witnessed Othello and Desdemona's strained relationship, and even knows it is partly due to the missing handkerchief that Emilia had pilfered earlier. Emilia plays the dunce the entire play only to come out like Miss Marple in the end, finaly figuring out why it is that Iago begged her repeatedly to steal the handkerchief. Ugh.

The play ended around 11:30, at which time we decided to check out Busboys and Poets, since we'd heard so much about it (man, packing the kids off was a great idea). The bookstore is great, and they have a children's book section with some fantastic books -- like Langston Hughes: American Poet by Alice Walker -- and they don't waste space on right wing trogs like Bill O'Reilly or William F. Buckley, either.

Of course, everything I ever read about the place talked up how reasonable it was etc etc. Bullshit. That may be true for the food, but for a place that's supposedly a "progressive" meeting point, a hub of Left culture, the bar prices were astonishingly high. Two mixed drinks ran us $15 (and I wasn't calling out, "give me a grey goose and tonic" either), and some of you hotshots out there might be thinking, wow you got two drinks for under $20, but let me tell you I'm first off a cheap-skate and I'm second off a teacher's kid from an old railroad town and you can still go out all night in my town for 15 bucks.

So it is with sadness I pass first judgement (maybe I'm wrong) on the place: it's called commodification, my friends, and what Busboys and Poets is selling the Left as a commodity -- selling back to its customers the accoutrements of the politically progressive -- The Nation, books by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Barbara Ehrenreich -- while ensuring that the proles can't come in to drink at the bar.

That's not to say I won't be back once or twice -- the bookstore is very good -- but it is to say that this place has the authenticity of Busch Gardens The Olde Country.

Note: This may get me going a bit more later on about the various manifestations of the Left and the idea of "authenticity." It's not about saying you have to be poor to be authentic, but there's a difference between being inclusive and exclusive. Or maybe I won't.

13 October 2005

Art Explorations, Volume 1: Children's Books

My son enjoys the Art. One of the great advantages of living in the District is the access to museums, free or otherwise. One of his favorite games in the National Gallery's West Building is to take out those information cards they have in most of the galleries and try to match the pictures on the card with the paintings in the gallery, and it's an activity that leads him on to more questions.

It's amazing to me the number of children's books with specific art themes now available. I believe the path to fortune is paved by children's books. Here are a few:

Camille and the Sunflowers: A Story about Vincent van Gogh. The trick of the author, Laurence Anholt, in his series of art books (which also include books on Picasso, Monet, and others) is to center the story on a child who befriends the artist. In the case of Van Gogh, it's Camille, the son of the postman Joseph Roulin in Arles, where Van Gogh lived for a time. The books contain reproductions of the artists' paintings as well.

Another writer who has developed a series of art-themed children's books is James Mayhew, with his Katie series. In these books, Katie visits the art museum and enters the paintings, becoming part of the world created by the artists. Things can get messy, as the art often spills out of the paintings into the gallery, and Katie has to put things back in order. Katie doesn't really meet the artists -- she interacts with the subjects of the paintings.

More whimsical is When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden. The story has these two caricatured artists move in next to one another as friends, but gradually foster a bitter rivalry that only ends when they grudgingly accept that both of their artistic styles are worthwhile. The story is humorous and the pictures offer visual lessons about each artist's style. There's even a glossary of sorts at the end to explain some of the subtle humor to the grown-ups.

That barely scratches the surface. The best things about these books is that my son relates his gallery visits to the stories in the books: if he sees a painting from the museum in one of the books, he talks about seeing it in the museum. And vice versa. It's a way of bringing those experiences back in a different context and establishing relations with art that extend beyond a painting on the wall.

12 October 2005

The state I'm in.

At 36, I find my legs stiff in the mornings.
I have an ache in my shoulder that's lasted for 1.5 years.
Weight clings to me and I can't shake it free.

I drink less than I did five years ago.
I have less hair than I did five years ago, but what remains is stubborn.
My knees and ankles do not enjoy two hours of full court basketball.
I still bend them to my will.

I despair at ignorance and see evidence of more everyday.

Day by day objects multiply in the house:
children's toys, cords for gadgets, photocopies, loose mail, lemons hard as rocks.
Dust gathers in corners and grows to threatening proportions.
Five year old boys have trouble aiming at toilets.
It's easy to throw the daily detritus on the counter and shake that burden loose for a time.

Soon we are overwhelmed with possessions that aren't worth having.

Before I knew her, my wife got a cat from the animal shelter in San Francisco.
Fifteen years later, she hardly notices the cat now.
I feel somewhat bad that I'm waiting for our cat to die so I can get rid of the litterbox.
I have other uses for that space.
The cat curls against my legs every night.

Small Surprise and Time Shifts.

This morning people were handing out free tea at 23rd and I Streets, out front of the Foggy Bottom metro. I took a canister, expecting it to have 3 teabags or something, but I was surprised to find 20 tea bags inside. I may start drinking more tea. It may not have been a pearl, but it was a little bonus; a small, good thing on a gray day.

I got stuck in some kind of time vortex recently, and it caused me to lose a week, or to gain it perhaps. I'm not sure which. Even though I knew yesterday was October 11th, somehow I thought this coming Friday was October 21st. I made some very elaborate childcare plans around this very mistaken concept. The problem now becomes figuring out who's responsible for this slip in the time-space continuum. I'm leaning toward Lyndon LaRouche, but I'm not certain yet -- it could be others. I don't know if it's a general problem or if I was specifically targeted. At any rate, after a few days, I have counted dates on the calendars -- I used multiples in case the perpetrator(s) had doctored my personal calendar -- and indeed recognize that this Friday is the 14th and next Friday is the 21st.

Today is in fact October 12, 2005.

11 October 2005

Rain returns to the DC region, and playgrounds.

After having a summer bereft of rainfall, we've made up for it the past few days. Friday and Saturday's deluge has been followed up by today's very Seattle-like spitting rain, which is more interested in getting you damp than in soaking you through. On my bike, I always slow down in the rain because the front tire throws way too much grime and water up on my legs and feet. The back tire used to give a nice racing stripe down the back until the child seat took care of that for me. At 7 a.m. there aren't so many cars out, so there weren't so many fools to watch out for, although I did see an idiot make a left turn to go eastbound down I Street off Pennsylvania Avenue at 21st Street -- I guess all the headlights from the oncoming traffic on one-way westbound I Street made him think better of it. Yes, indeed, Maryland tags.

The bad part about the rain is that the new turf at my son's school can't be finished today. Our school's playground reconstruction has taken about a year and a half, which isn't bad at all when you consider we had to deal with DCPS, DC DOH, DC Parks and Rec, the local ANC, as well as a group of neighbors who tried to block the project because they didn't like the "sound of children screaming." Mind you, the playground was already there; we were just trying to make it safer and more appealling.

Anyway, the turf is one day from being complete, so I'm not as worried now as I was a week ago, when the turf hadn't been delivered yet after about a month of broken promises from the supplier. I'm looking forward to the kids having a whole playground to play on instead of half of one.

I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for anyone who complains about kids playing during school hours, especially when the fools bought an apartment across from a school that's been there since the nineteenth century, which I'm certain predates their tenancy.

09 October 2005

New Dark Ages Roundup: DC Festival

So DC Festival, an evangelical Christian event, got bucket after bucket of rain dumped on it this weekend. The headliner, Luis Palau, lamented the rainfall:
"I'm not discouraged. I'm perplexed that the Lord would allow this rain to come
and despite all our prayers -- it's still coming," Palau, 70, said in a
midafternoon phone interview from the Mall. "I do not doubt the goodness of God.
When we get to heaven . . . we'll find out why this happened."

Dude, you don't need to wait to get to heaven to find out about the rain. You see, we have these things called televisions that occasionally broadcast something called "the news." And part of this program called "the news" is a segment they call "the weather." Bob Ryan is my favorite, mainly for his abnormally large head, but you can take your pick. They aren't always right, but they're pretty good at predicting utter fucking deluges.

More evidence we are entering the new Dark Ages.

08 October 2005

We Are....Penn State!

Oh my lord oh my lord oh my lord.

Can I tell you that first of all I care little about other sports -- I love playing basketball and watching college basketball, but I don't feel it deeply when a team I like wins or loses. I couldn't give half a crap about any pro sports, except maybe for Penguins hockey, but let me tell you Penn State football has been my passion since I was old enough to care about such things.

Sure I remember Blackledge and Shaffer. The Heisman graveyard, where PSU buried both Herschel Walker and Vinny Testeverde in games for the national title. I also remember Kerry Collins and 1994, when an undefeated Penn State team went home without a title, after the voters took pity on poor Tom Osborne, whose Cornhuskers never could win a legit title.

As well I remember the sad sad past few years, where Joe Paterno has suffered through something he hadn't suffered through ever in his 50 years at Penn State: back to back losing seasons. In fact, prior to 1999, Paterno had had only one losing season -- he's had five undefeated seasons -- since taking over in 1966. I happened to be at Penn State in that ugly year of football, 1988.

But let me tell you, tonight PSU stopped OSU when all those nutcase commentators spoke so assuredly that Penn State simply couldn't handle the prime time team that Tressel was bringing. As Mr. Corso would say, "Not so fast..."

Penn State must still do something that looks easier this year than any other year: beat Michigan at the Big House. Unfortunately, Penn State usually doesn't look very good against Michigan, so I am as always worried.

Penn State stands alone in the Big 10 undefeated, with Wisconsin's unspeakable loss to Northwestern.

And by the way, where does ESPN.com get off by leading their college coverage with Texas winning against an unranked opponent? Hello. Oklahoma doesn't have a winning record this year -- in fact, they have the worst overall recored in the Big 12 --, but I guess in the Big 12, beating anyone is a big deal. At least Maisel realizes it's no milestone to beat Oklahoma this year.

Joe Paterno...Penn State Football.

The PSU students set up a camp they call "Paternoville" outside Beaver Stadium...let's hope the team lives up to the challenge and beats the Buckeyes tonight.

For those who have never seen it, it may be hard to imagine the amount of items that can be sold bearing Joe Paterno's likeness. Coffee mugs shaped like his head, lifesize cardboard cutouts of him, masks, pins, shirts, etc. Even the credit card issued by MBNA can be ordered with a likeness of Joe Paterno on it.

Much like the Bear was to Alabama, so to is Paterno to Penn State.

Let's Go State!

07 October 2005

My Idea for a Better America.

I've got it pretty much figured out, and it's an idea that came to me while I sat in disbelief at the 2004 election returns, wondering, as did many people all over the world, how 50 million plus United States citizens could be so stupid. The electoral map was quite revealing, and gave me a brilliant idea that's so obvious I'm sure others have also had this stroke of genius. Now all it will take is for us visionaries to get the message out to the grassroots and start the ball rolling. In the end I believe everyone will get what they want.

A little background: about 150 years ago this nation fought a civil war and the northern states (aka the Union) defeated the southern states (aka the Confederacy). Some people apparently think the "war of northern aggression" should have ended differently. I am proposing to let bygones be bygones and to grant the Confederacy their request to secede from the Union.

Here's how I think it'll all shake out: Every state from Virginia on down east of the Mississippi can go, and of course Texas also. Especially Texas. Let them form their own damn country, since they're always on about the "Republic of Texas" and whatnot. Northern Virginia will probably want to stay with the Union, given everyone who lives out there seems to be from Pittsburgh anyway.

Here's what we, the Union, gain:
  • Immediate increase in the median income
  • Immediate increase in the level of education among the general populace (note: not talking IQ here)
  • Immediate decrease in federal tax drains (dollars in v. dollars out)
  • Immediate decrease in out of wedlock births
  • Immediate decrease in members of Congress holding (openly) racist views
And of course there are other benefits:
  • Florida and Texas are no longer around to screw up our elections.
  • New York will stop hemorrhaging its population to Florida, because fewer people will want to retire out of the country.
  • Assholes like Grover Norquist, Paul Weyrich, and James Dobson will lose a good chunk of their following, but they may gain a country that will roll over for their experiments.
  • Confused idiots who live north of the Mason Dixon line but still sport the Stars and Bars will relocate to their new-found homeland. Good fucking riddance, morons.

To the Confederacy, a few benefits will also accrue:
  • The two good universities in the South, Duke and North Carolina, will make North Carolina a shining beacon of hope and draw the South's intellectuals (of which there are quite a few). Currently, that's not possible because these schools are overshadowed by the Ivy League, whose influence over the north east currently imbues that area with an aura (sometimes incorrect) of education and new ideas. Who knows, maybe Charlotte will become a real city.
  • That's about all I can think of.

Judging from the number of Stars and Bars waving people claiming that "the South will rise again" and "Forget? Never!", I'm certain my plan will be met with enthusiasm both within the Union and the proposed New Confederacy. And hopefully, we can sort this mess out without firing a single shot.

06 October 2005

If It Ain't Right, Kill It.

There sure has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by conservatives over this whole Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination. I suppose it's understandable, given that conservative groups couldn't confirm her membership in the KKK, Aryan Nation, Council of Concerned Citizens, or other old-line anti-American hate groups.

At some point you have to wonder what will make these ultra right-wing groups happy. They've already succeeded in gutting industry regulations -- has anyone else out there noticed the exponential increase in fees that banks, credit card companies, etc. charge for services or late fees? -- allowing for increases in all sorts of consumer fraud from Enron to environmental poisoning to predatory lending. That my friends is the free market at work.

Yet somehow these frauds whose great vision of the future is one where the "haves" live in secure gated communities and the "have-nots" either do their bidding or starve to death are integral to the Republican Party. Bush has to send his envoys to kow-tow to the likes of Paul Weyrich and Grover Norquist, two of the most loathsome crypto-fascists around. Norquist of course is famous for his position that he'd like to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." How sweet. If this man were Michael Moore the people who pine for Berlin circa 1933 would be calling for his head for threatening the overthrow of the US government.

I'm trying to think of a similar scenario in which President Clinton would have run his nominations through a vetting process with the Socialist Workers Party or Greenpeace. For the most part, Democrats run scared from the Left and try not to be seen with them in public, whereas Republicans embrace their Little Government Fascists, even though most of them probably vote or are registered as Libertarian.

Bill Bennett, Trent Lott, and other racists remain prominent figures in Republican leadership; elitists like Norquist, Schlafly, and Weyrich exercise inordinate influence over Party decisions; "family values" proponents such as James Dobson and Pat "The Assassin" Robertson lend advice on everything from dismantling welfare to Supreme Court nominations.

It amazes me every day that these scumbags stay in power.

Tomorrow: my solution to much of our nation's problems.

05 October 2005

We Don't Need No (Public) Education.

More slimy stories about sleazeball Bill Bennett, the self-appointed virtue guru, continue to bubble to the surface in the wake of his racist attempts to link Blacks to crime. Mr. Bennett, as many probably know, was Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan. While Reagan worked to dismantle the social safety net, Bennett was key to undermining public education through neglect and hostility.

Now we find out just how unsuited Bennett, the man who wrote the so-called Book of Virtues, was for his position at the Department of Education. Reed Hundt, who was Chairman of the FCC from 1993 to 1997, recounts his encounter with Bennett over an initiative to get funding to wire schools, including the public schools:
At any rate, since Mr. Bennett had been Secretary of Education I asked him to
support the bill in the crucial stage when we needed Republican allies. He told
me he would not help, because he did not want public schools to obtain new
funding, new capability, new tools for success. He wanted them, he said, to fail
so that they could be replaced with vouchers,charter schools, religious schools,
and other forms of private education.

Ah, you have to love the Republican Party, which is not to say that the Democrats are the bringers of all wisdom either (mainly being cringing fools more intent on being safe than being correct).

I don't know how many times in the last five years I've stopped and thought to myself, man people just aren't that stupid. And in many cases, I've been proven wrong.

Public education is the backbone of this country, and if it isn't working, you fix it. You don't dismantle it in favor of scattered experiments that to date have shown no actual improvements over the public schools. The charter school movement, while it can be romantically alluring, has provided no substantive improvements while at the same time giving less accountability than traditional public schools. Education is too precious to allow the so-called "free market" to destroy it through a rush to the bottom.

04 October 2005

Motor Vehicle Report: Evil lurks everywhere.

Quite a few extra morons were on the road this morning, making my commute rather hazardous. As usual, most of the offenders were sporting Maryland-issued tags. I'm not certain if the requirements to drive are lower in Maryland than in other places, but half-wits behind the wheel are a menace everywhere. As a society, we really owe it to ourselves to tighten the driver licensing process. Here are some suggestions:
1. Reaction test. When I took my driver's license test back in the 1980's in Pennsylvania, technology was limited. Still, I had to negotiate and ess turn, parallel park, do a three point turn, and be smart enough to stop at a stop sign. With new technology we need to prepare drivers for realistic situations: garbage trucks backing up into traffic, pedestrians using crosswalks, sharing the road with cyclists, and merging into traffic.
2. Turn signal use. Failure to use your turn signal should result in a written warning for first violation, a 25 dollar fine for second, and a 15 day suspension for all other violations.
3. Injudicious use of horn. Blowing your horn for no apparent reason (such as the split-second a light turns green) should result in a $25 dollar fine for first offense and a severe beating for all others.
4. Drivers need to be educated that just because they drive Mercedes, the rules of the road still apply to them. Traffic laws are not brand specific.
5. Drivers of BMWs, when the car isn't in the shop, need to understand that no one with an IQ above 100, unless he or she was a member of the Greek system in college, is interested in references to your "beemer."
6. Humvee drivers should be immediately pressed into the military.

With these guidelines as my platform, I hereby announce my candidacy for mayor of this great colony!

03 October 2005

Where to start, where to start...

What a news day. First, Bush picks an extra from some David Bowie tribute band to be his next Supreme Court nominee. According to CNN, in 1996, Bush spoke glowingly of Ms. Miers:
He articulated his high regard for her more memorably during a 1996 awards
ceremony when he called her "a pit bull in size 6 shoes."
I wonder if anyone knows John Roberts's shoe size?

Then I find out August Wilson is dead. Last year I was at the Arena Stage to see Wilson's The Piano Lesson, and it was a powerful play, probably the best play Arena put on last season. His vision alone -- a ten play cycle of Black American life in the 20th century -- puts him conceptually in the same league as Eugene O'Neill, who worked the same idea with Irish Americans.

To top it off, in Sunday's Post there's this article about attitudes toward climate change, which includes this gem:

The new poll found that relatively few Americans saw the recent storms as God's work, and only a fraction of those said the storms were divine punishment.

About one in four Americans -- 23 percent -- viewed the storms as "deliberate acts of God."

Excuse me, but how do you go from "relatively few" to nearly 1/4 of the population? Furthermore, why is it that nearly 250 years since the Enlightenment as a culture we're still so superstitious? If these dark-age morons don't throw all notions of a progress narrative out the window, I don't know what will. Where's Voltaire when you need him? Or Thomas Paine. Please.

And I don't even want to start in on this story...

02 October 2005

Happy Valley Saturday...a beautiful day.

Game time was 3:30 p.m., so about noon four of us loaded the cooler full of yuengling lager into a car and headed up to Happy Valley to see the Penn State v. Minnesota game. These are guys I went to high school -- in many cases elementary school -- and college with, and we go back quite a way with long memories of our various embarrassments and misdeeds. It was a good hour's worth of recounting as we rode to the stadium.

Cow pastures and cornfields -- that's what most of Penn State's parking lots are when not used to herd cars. We were a good ways from the stadium.

The lion led the team onto the field.

Penn State's first touchdown. It was a sweet sweet moment, because last year I attended the Iowa game, which PSU lost 6-4, and where their only scoring came on two safeties. Ugly.

I even saw the lights of the goodyear blimp and it read JoePa's a pimp.

Postgame: hanging out on College Avenue picking up undergrads. Ok that's not quite accurate. Actual Post game: looking in every clothing store on College Avenue for Penn State children's clothes.

We are now ranked, and I'm giving myself a few days of bliss before falling into the worry of what may happen next Saturday v. Ohio State and it's crew of mountain man linebackers. Coach Tressel is very determined.

Penn State will not be able to run on OSU the way they ran at will on Minnesota. Robinson didn't make any critical mistakes against Minnesota, but his passing wasn't exactly crisp. He'll need to throw the balls closer to the receivers if PSU is going to win October 8.