31 July 2006

Tonight at Fort Reno: The Evens

Title says it all. The Evens are playing at Fort Reno tonight. I'm about 85% certain I'll be there, but there's a chance of No.

At last year's Evens show I caught Henry Rollins rifling through a stack of pizza boxes looking for some leftovers.

Absolutely horrifying.

A story from today's Guardian (UK):

It was an unremarkable three-storey building on the edge of town. But for two extended families, the Shalhoubs and the Hashems, it was a last refuge. They
could not afford the extortionate taxi fares to Tyre and hoped that if they all crouched together on the ground floor they would be safe.

They were wrong. At about one in the morning, as some of the men were making late night tea, an Israeli bomb smashed into the house. Witnesses describe two explosions a few minutes apart, with survivors desperately moving from one side of the building to the other before being hit by the second blast. By last night, more than 60 bodies had been pulled from the rubble, said Lebanese authorities, 34 of them children. There were eight known survivors.

Notes from the weekend.

I was down in Ocean City this weekend. A few observations:
  1. Smoking on the beach in 90 degree heat is simply ridiculous. You look like...well, you look like what you probably are. 'Nuff Said.
  2. Miniature golf is not cheap. And while many courses may look cool from the road, they actually suck to play.
  3. Tearing down low-lying mid-20th century motels and apartments and replacing them with tall ugly boxes with cubicle units is destroying the 1% of charm that Ocean City had left. I suppose that once you've tipped the scale in the direction of "trashy town" -- which Ocean City did sometime around 1983 -- you might as well go all the way.
  4. Tatoos have suffered the same fate as all trends. Pre-1990s, it was pretty much military and prison convicts who had them. During the mid to late 1990's, the indie kids, a few grad school friends, and most baristas got into the act. Now everyone has them. They are no longer edgy or hip...they are passe. They have been for a few years now, but this summer I've noticed just how omnipresent they are among all sectors of society.
  5. You still can't beat Thrasher fries.

28 July 2006

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

I am sympathetic to the spirit that created Israel (although not the spirit of a certain segment of Zionism that considered what was then called Palestine an empty territory: "A land without a people for a people without a land"). I understand the thinking that went into the creation of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust. And I realize that for the first half of its existence, Israel fought several wars against multiple Arab states that refused to recognize the nation. Israel still faces threats to its peace and people, if not any realistic threats to its very existence.

However, I'm not sympathetic to the occupation of the West Bank and until recently the Gaza Strip, nor am I very understanding of the incredible destruction that's being rained down on Lebanon at this moment. I also don't approve of bombing UN observation posts.

None of this should lead anyone to believe that I therefore approve of kidnapping, suicide bombings, rocket attacks, etc., -- most of which is targeted against a civilian Israeli population. I do not approve of such tactics.

Parallels or analogies are not precise, but the Financial Times makes a comparison between the Israeli approach to Gaza -- the editorial predates the Lebanon situation -- and the troubles in the north of Ireland (the editorial is available via subscription only, so I don't have a direct link here):
No two conflicts are alike, in cause or in contour, but it is legitimate to compare standards of behaviour. Consider, for a moment, what would have happened if, in reaction to the IRA seizing a soldier, the British government had: invaded Northern Ireland; punished its people by destroying its electricity supply, transport links and government offices; shelled Belfast and Derry from land, sea and air; cratered the Falls Road; used the Royal Air Force to buzz the offices of the Taoiseach in Dublin; and arrested every Republican it could lay its hands on. There would rightly have been an international outcry - and so there should be in this case.

You can guarantee that in that situation, the US government would not be making vague mystical statements about the end of hostilities being linked to the immediate pacification of the IRA.

In Israel, Ha'aretz editorials go all over the place, but one editorial makes a very clear point that the scope of the Israeli war effort in Lebanon raised the bar to a near impossible mark:
And in fact, considering the means that the IDF is employing and the ratio of forces in the field, any outcome less than the elimination of Hezbollah as a fighting force will be considered an Israeli failure and a great achievement for the enemy. But since it is impossible to uproot Hezbollah from among the Shiites without destroying the population itself, wisdom requires us to refrain from positing goals that are unachievable.

Wisdom, of course, generally seems lacking in any war. We rarely seem to learn anything from war, and occupiers rarely seem to learn anything at all. The Ha'aretz editorial continues by pointing out the futility of expecting to diminish resistance by attacking the civilian infrastructure:
When there is fighting, guerrilla organizations want the entire population to be harmed. When everyone is a victim, the hatred will be directed at the enemy more forcefully. That is why bombing residential neighborhoods, power plants, bridges and highways is an act of folly, which plays into Hezbollah's hands and serves its strategic goals: An attack on the overall fabric of life creates a common fate for the fighters and those standing on the sidelines.

This strategy failed in the Battle of Britain, it failed in Vietnam, it failed in Iraq, and it is failing in Lebanon. When you direct acts of war against an entire population, you will not get that population to trust you or to side with you very easily, and you will in fact create generations of animosity toward yourself.

Wisdom is indeed lacking.

27 July 2006

Another one's done gone.

Yes, I know the internets make life easier. Yes, I know they open up access to wonderful worlds many people never dreamed of. Yes, I know it's much easier now to advertise for anonymous sex and to download crazy videos. I know all that.

However, they're destroying what used to be a staple of college towns -- the independent record shop. Penn State is losing an icon after 31 years (and no it isn't Joe Paterno who has been with PSU football for half a century) as Arboria Records closes its doors.

In 1987 I picked up The Clash Combat Rock on vinyl with the original sleeve with all the lyrics on it. Not that cheap plastic insert that all the reissues had. Of course, years later my mother sold it in a yard sale, but hey...The same's true of the Beatles Hey Jude album (released 1970)...Also sold were all of my Madness albums (picked up in pre-college days) -- including a wonderful German import of The Rise and Fall -- except for Keep Moving. But really, this post isn't about what happened when I left my records at my parents' house because they were the only ones with a working turntable. This post should be about the loss of independent record stores and the transformation of downtown State College.

Arboria Records used to be located in a basement on Allen Street, but they moved to larger and lighter digs on Beaver Avenue in the 1990's. Allen Street itself is changed, changed utterly from what it had been, and perhaps that's true of every generation. Gone is the old five and dime that still had a lunch counter back in the 1980's; in its place is a Chili's. Gone is the small department store that sat on the corner of Beaver and Allen; in its place is a Panera sandwich shop. Let's just hope that Penn State Sub Shop is immune to all this change.

Anyway, as for Arboria, its fate may very well have been sealed by the advent of amazon.com and iTunes -- the record store is in many ways irrelevant in an age when you can sample music online and download or order what you want without ever leaving your chair or moving out of arm's reach of your can of soda and bag of doritos. Records and books I think are especially susceptible to internetization, where the stores that once stocked selections that made them legendary (think back in the day Smash Records for punk and Bridge Street Books for poetry and cultural theory) now find that Joe out in Frederick doesn't have to make a trip to the city to visit record stores anymore; he can sit at his keyboard and browse without wondering if the strange people behind the counter are really making fun of him.

I do wonder though as stores go virtual (Arboria plans to maintain a website even as its brick and mortar presence vanishes) what we've lost as far as a community of music -- or to enlarge the scope a bit, the cultural community in general -- goes. Bookstores and record shops often serve as social hubs for the small groups of would-be artists, writers, musicians, and other culture geeks.

Maybe in an interactive Sims iteration, the culture vultures will be able to have their characters hang out in virtual book and record shops.

26 July 2006

It might be working now, but it wasn't when I needed it.

I had some kind of post planned for today that involved a story of when I worked for the Department of Public Works back in Pennsylvania and a few photos I took illustrating one of the things I learned while on that job. However, blogger photos was not cooperating, so I ditched the post until later and instead you get what you get. And this is it.

25 July 2006

Blogger Photos = Massive BS

I know I'm not the only one having trouble with blogger photos. If I had any sort of initiative I might get a flickr account or some other photo hosting site or maybe even pull up the tent stakes and move to one of those other blogging sites out there.

I can honestly say that blogger photos has not worked properly at least two thirds of the times I've tried to use it. I tried yesterday and received partial relief. A few days ago I tried and received partial relief. Tonight I'm getting nothing.

I feel betrayed.

Borne Ceaselessly Into the Past...

Last weekend I visited my hometown and did a lot of walking. The uptown area, like most small-town shopping districts, has been decimated by the malling of America and its most recent iteration, the Big Box Strip. In the 1970's, the downtowns (I always called my hometown's "uptown" because it was up a hill...) in the area lost shoppers in large part, I would say, because they couldn't compete with the ease of parking provided by malls. Smaller downtowns that didn't have anchor stores were even more vulnerable, as the big department stores gave people another reason to go to the mall. That and to get engraved mugs and other keepsakes.

However, I'm not really trying to write about a major shift in the way Americans order their consumption habits. What actually prompted this post is a storefront I saw during my walks. Since it's an election season and there's plenty of available storefronts in the uptown, several candidates have set up shop on the main drag and have at least given the owners some rent through the election season. Here's a sign I saw in one of the storefronts:

The slogan really had me thinking, what the hell is a "conservative reformer" anyway, and is his opponent running as a "liberal traditionalist"?

At any rate, the town has been there an awfully long time. Only a few storefronts remain that I remember from my youth: a sporting goods shop, a music store, a jewelers, a furniture store, a formal wear shop, and a hotel/bar/cafe, inside which I spent a good part of my dissipated youth:

The bar is in the basement and its low ceiling insures you that you will reek of smoke if you spend even five minutes in the bar. It's also the place where I nearly came to blows with a friend of my brother as we argued over Iraq during the pre-invasion bombardment. I simply couldn't convince him that Saddam Hussein was not behind September 11th and that there were no Iraqis on the planes...oh well, that's only 2500+ US lives and at least 39,000 Iraqi civilian lives under the bridge (in 2004, The Lancet estimated perhaps 100,000 Iraqi deaths, but really what does any of that matter now that the Bush Administration has made the world so much more safer, or as Bush likes to say, "more safetized") ...

And speaking of death, when the town has been there for a long time, a lot of people die there and tend to get buried there. This cemetery provided a cheerful background for recess when I was in elementary school:


The school is long gone, having been torn down circa 1983, and in its place are some truly hideous houses with vinyl siding and it makes me sad every time I see them, because it's like patching classic denim with some acid washed nastiness. As Hamlet would say, the time is out of joint.

The new school and its environs is another story altogether, and one that I might tell next time I get back home to do some photos.

21 July 2006

Book Review: Russell Banks's The Darling

Completely at odds with finishing my dissertation but well-within the parameters of summer reading priorities, I just read Russell Banks's The Darling. I was transfixed. I don't know that I can give a proper book review, but let me give it a whirl.

The novel is mainly about Liberia, or it's mainly about Hannah Musgrave's reflections on life, or it's mainly about US intervention or lack of intervention in other countries' affairs. In other words, it's a lot like a John Sayles film or perhaps a Ken Loach film if you think of their styles in bringing larger geopolitical issues to life while telling the story of one character's personal journey (think Loach's Land and Freedom or Sayles's Men With Guns). Or perhaps their films are much like a Russell Banks novel, because Banks is very adept at using personal stories to highlight systemic social ills.

Hannah Musgrave is a marginal figure in the Weather Underground, but she doesn't really talk about that part of her life -- we gain only glimpses into the movement itself and she chooses to tell only about her time underground in New England, and briefly at that -- however, at various times she alludes to her student activist experience as fundamental to her development and relationship to others, notably her husband and children. The bulk of the novel is really about her time in Liberia during the revolutions and civil war of the late 1970's through early 1990's. Former President and now indicted war criminal Charles Taylor figures prominently in the novel, and a few other real life figures appear, but it's really Hannah's story as she works through her contradictions and compromises as a former revolutionary married to a member of the corrupt Liberian political elite, as a white woman who becomes very self-conscious of her position as a white woman -- and an American -- in Liberian society.

The novel ends on a few disquieting notes, one in the form of a loose end that never gets tracked down and the other in the form of a closing sentence that forces a reconsideration of the entire narrative, somewhat similar to Quentin Compson's response to Shreve's question at the very end of Absalom, Absalom!:
"Tell about the South," said Shreve McCannon. "What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they?…Tell me one more thing. Why do you hate the South?""I dont hate it," Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; "I dont hate it," he said. "I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!"
It should be understood that when I say disquieting, I do not mean it as a bad thing. The open-ended nature of the narrative's close is a very powerful thing, because it forces the reader to do more thinking than he or she may do if the answers were given in a neat package. It forces us back into the story to try to understand Hannah's character better, and in doing so we perform that act that's in such short supply in these days of 138 tv channel total flow: reflection.

Quite honestly, I couldn't stop reading this novel and I finished it in four days, which is rather quick for me these days.

20 July 2006

California, I'll be knocking on the golden door

I thought I might go back and revisit my recent California trip a little bit. Since we generally fly into LAX or Long Beach (that's LGB for those who need to know) and drive up to Ventura County, we have the choice of taken either 101 or Route 1, AKA the Pacific Coast Highway. Nearly all of PCH from Santa Monica on up to Oxnard is beautiful.

Pretty much the only "ugly" part, if you can even call it that, is the stretch of road through what passes for "downtown" Malibu. Now Malibu itself is beautiful, but from that section of PCH, all you can see is the light retail and residential on the inland side and an unbroken line of houses and fences on the seaward side. The latter houses with their fences block any sight of the beach or the sand, which is exactly how the owners want it to be.

Because the beach is public land in California, the owners of beachfront property have come up with a novel idea to keep people out: simply deny access through the private land between the road and the beach. It's highly effective, but it's not foolproof, especially since many property owners have agreed to provide easements on their land in exchange for making improvements on their property etc. We found the first such easement that had been opened in Malibu, the appropriately named "Zonker Harris Access Way."

For those who don't know and didn't click on the link above, Zonker Harris is the ne'er do well hippie/surfer/champion tanner from the Doonesbury comic strip. Notice how the sign is hidden off the sidewalk? It's only visible from one direction, so if you're northbound from LA, you'd probably never see it or notice the narrow alley that leads to the beach (although some internet guides call it "well marked" or something like that...it isn't that well marked). We missed the Geffen access point that apparently opened last year after Geffen gave up his three year suit against establishing the right of way that he'd originally granted in 1983...

So we went down Zonker Way and were greeted by some nice open beach, which I'd show a picture of except that blogger decided to stop taking my photos here in midpost...:

Perhaps later.

Anyway, until then I leave you with the words that should ring in everyone's ears concerning Malibu:
"Keep your ugly fuckin' goldbrickin' ass out of my beach community."

19 July 2006

Same-Sex and Guiding Principles.

About two hundred and thirty years ago we had this thing called "The American Revolution" (or if you happen to be British you might consider it nicely as "War of American Independence" or not so nicely as "The American Insurrection"). Among the items decided in the aftermath of that war was an item concerning the establishment of an official religion:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
In other words, the US government was to stay out of religious affairs by neither endorsing nor restricting any particular religion. I also like to think that the idea of "making no law respecting an establishment of religion" also covers the idea of basing legislation on a particular religion's dogma, since that would amount to a de facto official religion.

One of the Revolution's great guiding figures, Thomas Paine, who like many other leading Revolutionary lights was not not a Christian but rather a Deist (which is why I both laugh and smolder at the erroneous assertions of the religious right who claim our country was founded on anything resembling Christianity), fell out of favor among Americans for his treatise The Age of Reason, in which he specifically attacks Christianity:

"That which is now called natural philosophy, embracing the whole circle of science, of which astronomy occupies the chief place, is the study of the works of God, and of the power and wisdom of God in his works, and is the true theology.

As to the theology that is now studied in its place, it is the study of human opinions and of human fancies concerning God. It is not the study of God himself in the works that he has made, but in the works or writings that man has made; and it is not among the least of the mischiefs that the Christian system has done to the world, that it has abandoned the original and beautiful system of theology, like a beautiful innocent, to distress and reproach, to make room for the hag of superstition."

And so Paine, once a hero of the American people, had to remain for a time an outcast due to his attack on superstition, or what Marx would later call "the opiate of the masses."

All this prelude, of course, to say that we've come around again to the dark ages in which our laws are based not on what is just but on religious dogma. Our elected officials don't even bother anymore to pretend they are following the Constitution, but rather blatantly reject the idea that Congress should avoid legislating through religion:
"It's part of God's plan for the future of mankind," explained Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.).

Rep. Bob Beauprez (R- Colo.) also found "the very hand of God" at work. "We best not be messing with His plan."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) agreed that "it wasn't our idea, it was God's."

"I think God has spoken very clearly on this issue," said Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), a mustachioed gynecologist who served as one of the floor leaders yesterday. When somebody quarreled with this notion, Gingrey replied: "I refer the gentleman to the Holy Scriptures."
Wow. We are asked to refer not to the US Constitution for our laws, but to the Holy Scriptures. In Muslim countries, they call this "Sharia Law," and many of these same legislators denounce such legal systems as oppressive etc. Even more interesting is one legislator's definition of marriage, which seems to have more far-reaching effects than mere same-sex banning:
"Marriage is not about love," volunteered Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who noted his 31 years of matrimony. "It's about a love that can bear children."
So take that, all you infertile women and sterile men. Take that all post-menopausal women. All vasectomied and tubal ligated folks out there. Rep. Akin's redefinition is a sweeping condemnation to you all.

Dana Milbank also gleans this most interesting assessment from one legislator and finishes up his article with a sly little comment:
Gingrey, the floor leader/gynecologist, posited that the debate was "about values and how this great country represents them to the world." After the vote, he elaborated: "This is probably the best message we can give to the Middle East in regards to the trouble we are having over there right now."

So that was it: The marriage debate wasn't about amending the Constitution; it was about quieting Hezbollah.
So back to this Sharia thing. Apparently, Gingrey wants to give the OK to theocratic rule, which puts him clearly in the camp of such notable friends of democracy as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Bravo, Gingrey, bravo.

I myself would prefer a world in which religions are relegated to the same field of study as astrology and alchemy, which is exactly where they belong.

18 July 2006

This is just to say.

It would pretty much suck to be living in Beirut right about now.

Lebanon itself has been a joke of a nation for at least 30 years, ever since the civil war that began in the mid 1970's -- except the joke isn't very funny. Syria and Israel have both rejected Lebanon's status as a sovereign nation by occupying large chunks of it for extended periods of time, while Iran plays occupation via proxy in its funding of Hezbollah.

I try to avoid talking about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in large part because it's an endless debate that has apologists for Israel defending massive collective punishment of largely innocent Palestinians (and now Lebanese) for the deeds of a relatively few paramilitary groups, while apologists for the Palestinians find themselves defending suicide bomb attacks on dangerous targets like civilian buses and fast food restaurants. In other words, the atrocities are all around.

I know that last paragraph is a cop out. I know I'm not taking a stand here. To be quite honest, I don't have the energy right now for that fight. All I'm saying right now is that it sure would suck to live in Beirut.

17 July 2006

Reality versus Reality TV

So our big California trip is winding up. Yesterday we drove from
Ventura County down to Orange County to visit a few friends before
flying back this morning.

Our friends live in Laguna Beach, the very site of a popular MTV show of
the same name. I've never seen it, so I can't comment on the show
itself, but I did learn that MTV apparently auditioned everyone in the
school and hand-picked the kids for the show -- no real surprise there,
since that's been the formula for every "Real World" staging.

The twist here, however, is that unlike the so-called "Real World"
shows, the kids aren't taken from their natural habitats and thrown
together for our amusement; they're followed around in their natural
habitat all the while remaining among the school chums and school
setting that they were already in.

Apparently, the other kids despise what MTV has done to their school,
because it seems that for 90 percent of the kids, their reality is not
non-stop partying interspersed with moronic dialogue.

The show is apparently so detested by the students that at their
graduation, 9 of 10 graduation speakers blasted the show. Of course, MTV
only showed that tenth speaker. Likewise, the students also flipped off
the cameras every chance they could get to make it a hassle for MTV to
air footage of the graduation.

It may seem like small acts of resistance, but MTV has at least educated
a few students about the mediated nature of "reality."

15 July 2006

Abbott and Costello at the G8

It's one thing to be stupid, but it's quite another to be so stupid that you set yourself up for wisecracks from autocratic foreign leaders like Vladimir Putin. The story on cnn.com says it all:
During a joint news conference Saturday in St. Petersburg, Bush said he raised concerns about democracy in Russia during a frank discussion with the Russian leader.

"I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world, like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same," Bush said.

To that, Putin replied, "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly."

OK, we all know Bush is quite possibly the most diplomatically inept leader the US has had perhaps ever, but is he seriously so idiotic that he would suggest to a foreign leader that his country learn from the example set by Iraq, a country that has descended into civil war, with no central government to speak of, that's been so fragmented by US occupation that it's unclear if Iraq as a national entity will ever be viable again, that indeed has become a playground and training zone for international terrorism? Is he really that stupid? Apparently so.

And Putin's rejoinder above is simply brilliant in its deadpan understatement. I mean, even if the guy learned his political moves from his career in the KGB and considers democracy a nice word although not much else, you really can't expect him to agree that he'd be better off taking after Iraq.

A curse has surely descended upon America.

13 July 2006

Car rentals

I can't figure out car rental companies. They're all essentially the
same, because they have the exact same poorly designed cars, and really
the only difference is the price at which each company will rent to you.

When we flew into lax a few trips ago, we rented from this company
called fox, because they had some different cars, including hybrid cars,
which is what we wanted to drive. Great. Except that this time we flew
into long beach and they didn't have any hybrids at that location.

So then I checked around to see if I could rent anything that might not
guzzle gas and feel like it could fall apart at any moment. No luck,
unless we wanted to rent a mazda Miata from hertz for $479 for five
days. Not since the mid-80's has the miata been so special that it
should command such a premium.

Glumly, I looked at the line of regular cars. I found that the Chevy
cobalt was listed by some companies as an economy car, by some as
compact, and by some as midsize. So I rented one of those at the
cheapest level.

Or so I thought. When we came off the tarmsc at long beach and walked
across the street to the rental offices -- really just two double-wides
stick together -- we found that indeed they didn't have our car, but
instead have is an "upgrade" to a Pontiac grand prix. As if gas were
still a dollar a gallon.

Now how can I go and reserve a car -- "reserve" in my limited knowledge
of English meaning to make arrangements to have the company set aside
one unit for my use a I'm going to the trouble of seeing to it ahead of
time -- and show up and have them tell me it's not there? Is their
database so bad that they can't track inventory?

There is in other words a temendous opportunity out there for someone
who is willing to stock offbeat cars and implement basic inventory and
customer service practices.

That being said, the car hasn't fallen apart yet, but the doors are so
heavy you could get killed by closing one on yourself.

12 July 2006

On the road again...

I'm not what you'd call a frequent flyer. Until I was 27 I'd never flown
anywhere, but since I met my wife I've made several trips to the west
coast, where her family is. I'm on such a trip now, heading to a wedding
in Ventura County.

We rolled out of bed at 3:30 a.m. To make a 7 a.m. Flight out of Dulles.
Factor in a three hour time difference, a margarita in Malibu ("Stay out
of Malibu, Lebowski!"), and a few glasses of wine at our destination and
I'm feeling a bit out of it.

I've now flown four separate trips within a year, so I have set a new
personal record. Don't laugh.

11 July 2006

Politics and corner kicks.

France has certainly made the most of her colonial connections, particularly Algeria, the nation that perhaps caused France's faltering imperial dreams the most anguish.

Jacques Derrida and Louis Althusser were born in Algeria, as was Albert Camus. Camus's brilliant The Stranger gives a great feeling of the systemic differences between the native Arab population and the pied-noirs that inevitably led to civil unrest and then a bloody war for independence in the mid twentieth century.

Zinedine Zidane was not born in Algeria (he was born in Marseille), but in French society he may as well have been born in Algeria. The memories of that war and its aftermath linger into the present as Zidane, who was born in 1972 -- ten years after Algerian independence, found himself denying rumors that his father was a harki -- Algerian muslims who advocated continued French rule and who were considered after independence as traitors and were often killed.

Zidane's outrageous headbutt of Italian Marco Materazzi is supposedly linked to Materazzi's allusion to Zidane's ethnic connections as well of course to standard playground insults of wife and mother, although Materazzi admits only to insulting Zidane's wife. Lip readers apparently think a bit more happened, although they aren't all in agreement on exactly what was said. There's all sort of speculation out there...

Zidane himself claims he will reveal Materazzi's insult as soon as he feels "comfortable" with it.

In the end, though, Zidane -- who has certainly had more of the same throughout his career -- lost his cool and got sent off, perhaps costing France the World Cup.

10 July 2006

What's this? Local government issues?

So the Washington Post let Carol Schwartz publish an op-ed column in their paper today, which I suppose was payback for revealing what a loser she and some of her cohorts -- including my councilman Jim Graham -- are. Schwartz drew the Post's ire for her opposition to open government and her preference to keep the voting public unaware of what their elected representatives are actually doing.

You have to remember that Schwartz basically owes her position on the DC council to one of the more egregious violations of Home Rule that Congress foisted upon our little colony when they decided it would look better if we had a mayor and city council rather than a Colonial Governor. You see, in DC, when you have an at-large election (the council contains four at-large members and each election two of those positions are up for grabs), the two top vote getters do not win the posts -- because the winners cannot be from the same party. So she's virtually assured of winning re-election every time she stands because all she has to do is be the largest non-Democratic Party vote-getter.

So she of course owes her political career to circumventing the will of DC voters, and therefore her opposition to open government is understandable. However, her compadres in crime, Jim Graham and Phil Mendelson, have less of an excuse.

Graham tried to pretend he had no idea he was blocking a quorum:
Mr. Graham informed us yesterday that he does not oppose the bill. He explained that he had arrived late at his office on Thursday. "I found Phil [Mendelson] waiting in my office for me, and Carol [Schwartz] arrived minutes later. Both requested to meet with me."

Sniff. What's that I smell? Oh, yeah, it's bullshit. The councilman had been personally informed of the meeting by Vincent Orange. It's pathetic.

I won't even begin to speculate on Phil Mendelson's position. At any rate, when the committee finally had a quorum after several weeks' delay, both Graham and Mendelson voted for the open government bill. I guess it took them a while to see which way the wind blew.

An open letter from the Grand Wizard -- or I mean the Minute Men...sorry.

I don't know about y'all, but frankly I did believe our country had been invaded yesterday. And it wasn't by those dirty illegals from south of the border, if you catch my drift. You know, the ones who might get their backs a little bit wet from wading in rivers. Heh heh. Not that I have anything against them as people. No. Just that the US is already overpopulated -- no open spaces anywhere, you can look for yourself -- and for chrissakes the US is an English speaking country already.

Anyway, I was all surprised because goddamn if those flags didn't look like Eye-Talian flags and I thought shit if they didn't get Mussolini back in power and sneak up on us like the dirty little d-- wait a minute...sorry about that. I almost got ahead of myself I got so excited. What I'm talking about is pride. This here is America, and yesterday I saw all these Red, White, and Green flags and I'm thinking to myself, this here's America, and we're red, white, and blue -- and not the sissy red, white, and blue of France either -- not green. There's no green in the American flag last time I checked. In fact, the Eyetalian flag looks a hell of a lot like the Mexican flag with all that green in it.

Then I saw on the tv that those Eyeties had won some sporting event or another -- I don't know I think it might have been soccer or rugby -- and so that's what all those flags were doing flying. It seems to me we may need to look into why so many Italian nationals are living here in the US, because we don't need any kind of fifth column marching on Washington in the next war.

07 July 2006

Should we talk about the weather?

Jesus what a beautiful day. I almost didn't go to work today. I took my son to camp up in Glover Park and as I was speeding down Wisconsin Avenue on my bike I felt like not stopping and maybe hitting the Key Bridge for a ride out on the GW Parkway trail and maybe calling in sick from Mount Vernon.

But I didn't. I made the left on M Street and headed toward the office. Seriously, though, it is beautiful out there like you just don't see in DC in July. This is mid-May weather. Bright sun, low humidity, moderate heat. Take lunch on the grass by the Potomac kind of day.


06 July 2006

One Nation Under Surveillance

I know everyone out there already reads The Chronicle of Higher Education, so this is probably old news, but the Chronicle is reporting (sorry, you need a password) that the Pentagon is monitoring student groups, just like it used to do in the bad old days:
The Department of Defense monitored e-mail messages from college students who were planning protests against the war in Iraq and against the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy against gay and lesbian members of the armed forces, according to surveillance reports released last month. While the department had previously acknowledged monitoring protests on campuses as national-security threats, it was not until recently that evidence surfaced showing that the department was also monitoring e-mail communications.

Now I would be among the first to point out to anyone that email communications are never private and anything you put on an email can live forever and be subject to endless dissemination, but that's different from having the government actively monitoring student groups communications. It's bad enough they're classifying student protests as "national-security threats" -- how ridiculous is that? -- but they're not content with that level of surveillance; apparently now even the discussion of how to combat a regressive policy like the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" boondoggle apparently is a grave threat to the nation.

(And don't even get me started on Clinton, who while he looks like George Washington next to Bush's King George III, never took a bold step to push any sort of progressive agenda -- all he did was maintain centrist holding patterns against a right-wing onslaught...don't ask don't tell is just such a halfway policy that did nothing to address the inherent inequality and discrimination in the military)

This administration's distrust of the American people and its obsession with secrecy -- to the point that lying is seen as the way to do business -- rivals the Nixon administration's. It may perhaps be that way because many of the major operators were Nixon acolytes and henchmen, including Karl Rove.

05 July 2006

Can't I just enjoy my symptom?

Over this past extended weekend I managed to make a pilgrimage to the old college town where my youthful aspirations hit the bitter wall of reality or something like that. Returning to my alma mater always mingles happiness with regret, or more accurately the pleasant feeling I have when I venture back is always mixed with the knowledge that the time is past and I'm in many ways visiting the ghosts of things that weren't lived as memory relives them.

I suppose the short term for that is "nostalgia," except nostalgia's popular usage is of an unproblematic return, a longing to restore a supposedly unified past and is essentially a conservative sentiment in that it simplifies and mythologizes a time of purity or clarity that never really existed.

As it happened, I had my son and daughter with me -- my wife didn't make the trip, being busy with dissertating -- and we went to the Creamery for some ice cream. We sat down next to a man and two women who looked to be in their fifties and immediately I wished we hadn't, because the man was pontificating about the evils of the estate tax using a reducto ad absurdum approach, although he would only understand it as something he heard from that pillhead Rush Limbaugh (the example was laughable, something about a guy who sold two things in his hypothetical store, cigars and some other commodity that I forget but was also regulated and taxed, and basically the point of it was that the store owner's money was taxed about a million times and somehow that should be reason to abolish the estate tax -- I nearly fell asleep...)

Anyway, I felt I was watching that Jack Van Impe show that runs on UPN or some channel like that on the weekends and has Jack blubbering on about some alleged affront to religion and this scary little woman pipe in every now and then with "Oh they don't understand, do they?" or "Amen" ETC, because that's what this guy's companions were like..."Oh those Democrats..." and "The Activist Judges, tut tut." I was embarrassed thinking these shit for brains dittoheads might be fellow alums.

Then they turned to foreign affairs and the man went off on protestors, arguing that the things "they" say about Bush are horrible and he'd like to see them take a plane to Iran and say the same things about the Iranian President and see how far it got them. He pronounced smugly, "They'll get beheaded after about three words." He seemed to think he'd proven a point, but I was wondering what that point was. I mean, is he suggesting that the US should adopt repressive speech policies similar to Iran? Because it seems to me that a cornerstone of US democracy is the ability to oppose the government vocally, whereas he seems to think that exercising those rights means you should go to some repressive country where you don't have those rights. Umm...we're not in Iran and I for one am not interested in scrapping our Constitution in favor or Iran's or any other country's. So what's the point?

At this point I told my son somewhat loudly that the fight against fascism was never over.

I don't know if this party of troglodytes heard me, but they got quieter and started complaining about more domestic problems, such as the horrible behavior of university students these days and the awful job colleges are doing at molding properly docile bodies. In fact, the man began going on and on about what a great place Liberty University was because in his opinion it was a great academic school that monitored its students' behavior stringently.

So I changed my mind and figured this guy wasn't an alum, but was rather a parent of a college age child who was on a campus visit. Hopefully, he didn't like what he saw, because we've already got enough unreflective conservative zombies on the alumni rolls...