31 August 2006


I remember when Scream was stolen along with another Munch painting, Madonna. I thought to myself what an icon the world has lost in Munch's Scream (although of course it lives on in inflatable punching bag mode). Now they've been recovered.

30 August 2006

Ma'am, do you know how fast you were going, and by the way, what are you doing to preserve the white race?

Has everyone heard about Robert Henderson, the Nebraska State Trooper who joined the KKK and has also been posting white supremacist garbage on another hate group's website (the "Knights Party")? Nebraska tried to fire him, but it's always a dicey thing when you try to get rid of someone for their associations, no matter how heinous they may be (unless of course you happen to be Arabic or Muslim in general), and eventually an arbitrator and then a judge agreed that Henderson should be reinstated with back pay.

Arguing on his behalf, his defense attorney claimed it wasn't really a big deal:
Valentino said Henderson has resigned his Knights Party membership and apologized to the State Patrol commander, Col. Bryan Tuma. The attorney also said Bruning and Tuma blew Henderson's membership and activities out of proportion.
"Bob Henderson wasn't running around in a sheet and hood," he said.

OK. Obviously this guy is unfamiliar with the Public Enemy lyric from Apocalypse 91: "These days you can't see who's in cahoots/Cause now the KKK wears three-piece suits." After all, in today's Klan, you don't have to invest in a sharp 400-thread count bedsheet and go to the trouble of assembling your own robe from the Butterick "racist heritage collection"*; you can come as you are:

By the way I took this photo from an excellent if stomach-churning display of contemporary KKK photos from the Generation KKK project. Stories like Henderson's and projects like Generation KKK serve as good reminders that we are not out of the racist shithead woods yet, although the trees are thinning. Someday, maybe, someday.

*before anyone sues me, Butterick doesn't actually have a "racist heritage collection." I made it up.

29 August 2006

Adrian Fenty and the Art of Bullshitting.

Let me first say this: I have an Adrian Fenty sign in my front yard. I'm not sure how long it will stay there, but for now it's in the front yard. Fenty helped push through large capital funds for improving DCPS infrastructure, and he has advocated for more support, both financial and logistical, for the school system, although the fact that the mayor has limited power over the school system leads to such useless wording as "ensure that we prepare our students for high-skill/high-wage careers in our labor market." The useless part of that statement is that the mayor's office doesn't determine curriculum. All the mayor's office can do is advocate and cajole. That being said, I think Fenty is sincere in his desire to bring stability and efficiency to DCPS and to raise the superintendent's profile within the mayor's office.

However, I cannot accept it as anything at all but supreme bullshit Fenty's response to his not sending his children to public school as he pledged before last school year's end. Here's the Washington Post -- which by the way has been in my opinion rather favorable to Fenty -- report on Fenty's mealy-mouthed BS:
Meanwhile, Fenty, who has made improving public education a cornerstone of his campaign, said in February that his 6-year-old twins would be enrolling in public school "next year." But when school starts today, the boys won't be going to West Elementary. Instead, they will be staying in the private Tots Developmental School for at least another year, Fenty recently acknowledged.

Now I don't know about most people, but when you're talking about schools, my perception of a statement made in February about "next year" indicates the next school year, as in September. As in "who are your teacher's next year?" or "Next year I'll be in 5th grade." Now his kids are in something called "Tots Developmental School." It sounds like a cutesy place for infants and toddlers. Except Fenty's kids are 6 years old -- also known as 1st grade age.

What makes Fenty's backtrack particularly galling is his description, in typical weasel politician style, of his statement and the school:
Fenty said his February statement was a "miscommunication," adding that "I've always said" the boys will start public school "after they finish the nursery school that they're in." But even some of Fenty's closest allies were surprised when they found out that Tots, which Fenty said costs about $6,000 a year, holds classes through the third grade.

Nursery school? I went to nursery school, too. When I was 4. Nursery school is what comes before even kindergarten. Nursery school? Can you imagine being a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grader and being told you're going to nursery school? Hello, even my kid last year in kindergarten would have yelled back, "I'm not a baby."

On a side note, $6,000 a year? What do they do, lock the kids in the basement and feed them through a slot in the door?

It's upsetting that such a supposedly strong advocate for public education would pull such a hypocritical stunt as school doors are opening around the District. Especially when West Elementary is one of the better public elementary schools in DC (not top ten, but close to it, and small as well). Of course, it's Fenty's choice to send his kids wherever he wants to send them, but as a public figure he should know such choices will be scrutinized and held up as symbols or statements about his perception of reality. Especially after making public statements about sending your children to public schools, it's going to be hard going to elude some public scrutiny of your personal education decisions.

28 August 2006

Welcome back to school. Time to learn you something.

First day of school was today and it was great to see all the kids back and many of my son's classmates plus some new faces there. I remember looking forward to the beginning of the school year when I was a child, because you reconnected with all your friends and by summer's end I was actually ready for a little structure to my days. It'll be interesting to see how the first week goes. Everyone seems to be reenergized and the school looks incredible after several weekends of parent, teacher, and staff work.

When I was in elementary school, the persistent rumor was that they were going to tear down our school -- that it was condemned, but on a two year extension. The extensions, imaginary or not, seemed to keep the school up for the whole time I was there, but it is true that two years later they built a new school and tore that one down. As happens so often in small towns, that school had served at one time as the high school for the community, which may in part explain why our playground was entirely asphalt -- no soft play areas and no playground equipment either; just lines and circles and boxes painted on asphalt to delineate kickball fields, dodgeball circles, and foursquare courts.

Still, the rumors that they would tear down our school were useful in that eternal grudge all children seem to bear against their schools, at least when they're in them. Hissing radiators, cracked tiles, and leaking fountains were only symptoms of a larger decay that indicated the school could truly turn on us one day and swallow us whole.

Like most things, we remember patches and scraps of our past education -- the function of the school being as much to turn us into socialized well-behaved docile bodies as to fill us up with knowledge* -- such as the bullying we either gave or received or merely witnessed, the occasional fistfight, and of course the idiotic things either our classmates or better yet our teachers did, such as one classmate tripping and breaking the only computer in the entire school (it was 1980 after all), and the highlight of our computer use was to sneak over to the computer and write the following BASIC code:
10 John is an idiot
20 Goto 10
Ah the good old days. Of course, these days all of those wonderful awful experiences remain, except there are more computers to break and lawsuits to file. I'm looking forward to the year.

*We like to say we educate for "critical thinking skills" etc., but the sad truth is that as a society we don't care much for critical thinking and would much rather have the docile body than the malcontent.

25 August 2006

A little story and a long story.

I was going to write about this guy in a blue Ford Explorer with DC Clergy tag 818 who had lots of trouble stopping at stop signs in Dupont Circle last evening, and in fact was swerving to go around cars in front of him that did stop at stop signs, but I figured that Clergy 818 obviously knew that God would never let him run over a pedestrian or be broadsided by another car, so it was OK. Anyway, stop signs are of this transient, temporal life; he answers to a higher law.

Instead I could talk about how Monday is the opening of schools here in the District of Columbia, and it's been a busy summer for my son's school, what with a new principal and fighting budget cuts and parents and teachers working weekends to paint the school and put in flooring since DCPS facilities is the most corrupt and ineptly run organization in the entire morass that is District government.

I've talked about the schools before and I'm sure they'll come up again. Many parents are anticipating Superintendent Janey's "Master Facilities Plan," which is due out in mid-September. The Post had a decent article on it in the District Weekly on Thursday. The plan will have not only modernization plans and renovation lists, but also will contain the next round of schools Janey would like to shut down. What the article doesn't tell you is that DCPS facilities are in shitty shape because decades of neglect tend to turn minor issues into major problems.

At my son's elementary school, the trim under the eaves of the roof needs to be painted. That job requires a cherry picker, two or three workers, and perhaps three days (scrape, prime, paint). However, neglect that job -- and it's being neglected -- and all of a sudden you've got rotten wood that needs to be replaced and then painted. Neglect that job, and in short order you've got water leaks that crumble plaster in interior ceilings and walls, rotten wood that needs to be replaced and painted. The jobs multiply as do the costs.

It might be useful for Democratic voters to think about what each mayoral candidate has to say about the schools before the primary on September 12 (as an independent, I can't vote in the primary -- and let's be realistic: the winner of the Democratic primary will be the next mayor). The Post also ran an article giving brief summaries of the candidates' plans for the schools if elected.

At least during campaign season, each candidate seems to be interested in elevating Janey's ties to the mayor's office (Fenty would make Janey part of the Cabinet; Cropp would make him attend Cabinet meetings; Orange would make Janey part of the Cabinet; etc.). Marie Johns, who is the only candidate I have spoken to in person, would like to see the city take over the facilities management and let the superintendent concentrate on academic issues.

Regardless, the mayor's office is only one part of the problem and one part of the solution. The School Board is another matter altogether, and their day to day oversight borders on the criminally negligent. But that's a story for another day.

Still, I love our school and it's worth the fight.

24 August 2006

Netflix Review: Derrida

Yes, indeed, there's a documentary on the late lamented "father of deconstruction," Jacques Derrida. Now it's only fair warning to say that I enjoy Derrida's work and was relatively distraught on the day he died. I was even more disturbed by the poor quality of obituaries that ran in the US following his death. But in the US, to be a philosopher is to be a punchline.

The documentary by Amy Kofman and Kirby Dick, titled simply Derrida, is amazing because he refuses to accept the convention of the documentary or even of the camera. He constantly reminds the filmmakers that the presence of the camera is unnatural and changes the behavior of the subject -- and he uses that great catchphrase of his, "always already," in reference to this fact.

At one point he asks how long they've been filming; he says at first "two hours" then immediately changes that answer to "25 years," and points out to the filmmaker that in the end she will edit it down to one hour and it will be what she feels is important and will therefore in a sense be a biography of her and not of him.

On the IMDB site, the reviewer utterly misses the point of the attention paid to everyday life -- Derrida is shown buttering bread as his wife empties the dishwasher -- and the inclusion of inept interviews, including the Australian journalist who tries to get Derrida to talk about Seinfeld, but Derrida has no idea what Seinfeld is. Or the moment at which Derrida tells the filmmaker he will not tell stories but only the facts of how he met his wife. In many ways these exchanges remind me of Bob Dylan's treatment of reporters in Scorsese's No Direction Home and D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back: Dylan also refuses to accept the role of the reporter as natural and turns their questions straight back at them.

Derrida understands that even before the camera begins rolling -- and long before the future audience buys a ticket to see the documentary of his life -- perceptions on the proper name "Jacques Derrida" always already shape the reception of the film. For that reason he challenges the documentary genre -- essentially placing it under erasure -- even as he agrees to make the film. It's deconstruction in action. Incidentally, he gives a beautiful description of deconstruction in the film. I will quote the entire exchange.

Amy Kofman: You're very well known in the States for deconstruction. Can you talk a little bit about the origin of that idea?

Derrida: Before responding to this question I want to make a preliminary remark on the completely artificial nature of this situation. I don't know who's going to be watching this, but I want to underline rather than efface our surrounding technical conditions, and not feign a "naturality" which doesn't exist.

I've already in a way started to respond to your question about deconstruction, because one of the gestures of deconstruction is to not naturalize what isn't natural -- to not assume that what is conditioned by history, institutions, or society is natural.

It's a beautiful statement because it gets to the heart of what confounds so many critics about deconstruction: deconstructive practice begins by challenging the foundations upon which we build our questions. And since for Derrida the practice of deconstruction begins within the object that is deconstructed -- that is, the object already contains the tools for its own unraveling -- he turns the documentary project -- and Kofman and Dick of course are partners in this pursuit (in fact at times you wonder if they aren't simply deconstructing Derrida) -- into an example of deconstructive practice.

Because he refuses to treat the film crew as a natural component to his life -- because he constantly reminds them and by extension the viewers that he is not acting as he would if the cameras were absent -- he and the filmmakers have created a Derridean text that revels in its resistance to the genre's constraints. However, since they've essentially created a cinematic illustration of Derrida's philosophical concerns, it's much more enjoyable if you are familiar with some of those concerns and understand why it is that he deliberately undermines the filmmaker's efforts to produce straight commentary, and the filmmakers in turn work with that impulse and use it a documentary that exposes the framework of its own making while at the same time gets at a certain truth of its subject.

23 August 2006

Sick day.

Well my daughter started throwing up dinner around two in the morning
and you know it's not a good sign when you still recognize the
individual items.

So we're home sick today.

22 August 2006


I don't know if anyone read the Post piece on the Cropp v. Fenty feud and the campaign literature Cropp's campaign distributed attacking Fenty, but it was an interesting read more for what it didn't say than what it did. Here's a quick Post description of the ad, noting that the person pictured isn't Adrian Fenty:
The brochure paid for by the Cropp campaign shows the back of a man wearing a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, no visible hair -- Fenty shaves his head -- and a microphone in his hand. "Blind Ambition" reads the text on the cover next to the photo, which resembles the Ward 4 D.C. Council member.

Here's a copy of the printed attack ad (again from the Post website):

Now granted, Fenty is very light-skinned, but I'm willing to bet Cropp used a white model as a stand-in for Fenty, further playing with DC's racial politics by drawing attention to Fenty's mixed race background. The Post makes the fact that Cropp used a stand-in for Fenty a major issue, but never mentions why her campaign might do so, or how the image used may shape perception far beyond the words accompanying the image.

Hello, hasn't anyone read Barthes' Mythologies? In a town that's around 60% African American, it's worth the effort on Cropp's part to not only cast Fenty as the "white man's candidate," but also to cast him as "the white candidate."

As an interesting side note, a letter to the City Paper last Thursday clearly references the colorism within the African American community and in some white -- or mainstream political -- perceptions of the African American community. Leroy Thorpe, who supports Fenty, writes:

On the other hand, Adrian Fenty is, by American standards, a mulatto, which eases the fear in European-Americans. Fenty’s light skin and advanced degrees are acceptable socially to European-Americans; however, Fenty’s loyalty to his African-American fraternity and his frat brother Sinclair Skinner is incomprehensible to European-Americans who think Fenty should act like those
European-American-accepted house Negroes Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, and Sen. Barack Obama.

The validity of Mr. Thorpe's argument on the qualities of the individuals named is beside the point; all I'm looking to illustrate here is the racially inflected political realities that any DC politician must negotiate, or perhaps take advantage of.

21 August 2006

Equality's all well and good for other people.

Like most superstitions, organized religion as a rule stands for ignorance and backwardness. Certainly, religious organizations have shown moments of great moral courage, such as the role of some progressive congregations in the Civil Rights movement and the principled anti-war stances of some denominations. Latin American liberation theology -- which the US made sure its mercenaries and paid death squads nipped in the bud in the 1980's -- comes closest to a truly sustainable doctrine of progressive religion, but it too was eventually reigned in and more or less destroyed by the mainstream of its church hierarchy.

Thankfully, here we have separation of church and state. Maybe. Rejecting the founding fathers' distrust of religion, this country has long been susceptible to the dangers of hocus pocus posturing by theocrats intent on replacing the Constitution with their own version of repressive religious ideology.

It is only because their crackpot ideas -- which of course can be backed up by one of the most miserable haters of all time, the Apostle Paul -- are decidedly un-market friendly that they haven't met with greater success in the latter 20th century and early 21st century. Bush's stem cell research stonewall is only a rearguard action, a bone thrown to rabidly regressive cretins, that will not stand against the pressures of the US medical market. Likewise, formerly divine doctrine -- such as the Mormons' relegation of Blacks to not-quite-completely-fully-human status, which ended in the 1970's -- falls by the wayside as it becomes evident that societal changes have made it unmarketable.

The Dover, PA, voters recognized that last year when they tossed out the Creationists who wanted to turn that town into a little model of Kansas, where the next step is teaching how the fossil record was falsified by Satan himself.

However, we need to remind ourselves constantly that like other diseases, it's hard to wipe out ignorance. Case in point comes to us today from Watertown, New York:
The minister of a church that dismissed a female Sunday School teacher after adopting what it called a literal interpretation of the Bible says a woman can perform any job -- outside of the church.

The woman had taught there for 54 years, but apparently all those years she was an abomination in the face of God. Or at least of Paul. Her dismissal letter included Paul's gem, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." It's pretty strong Biblical backing for the relegation of women to second-class status, and it was a really popular passage back in the 19th century, and apparently also today.

The story gets better, though, because the minister in question is not only the minister of the First Baptist Church in Watertown, but he's also a member of the town council, reflecting the religous right's emphasis over the past few decades to think globally and act locally, as in get active on your local school board and local council and local politics in general. The right-wing media especially enjoys talking about "Islamo-Fascism" and they correctly point out the regressive -- i.e. conservative -- nature of these theocratic movements, even if they can't do proper analysis, but I'm willing to bet that this story will be nowhere near the talking points of the right-wing hotheads who maraud the airwaves.

18 August 2006

I'm a little pissed off right now.

I just spent about an hour off and on creating a post based on a story I'd read on bbc.co.uk. Then I went to publish it and blogger asked me to login again before proceeding. Well, I did and guess what -- the post is missing. Not missing, because missing would presume it's recoverable. It's gone. It's vanished as surely as the US's moral authority following Abu Ghraib.

So F U blogger. Twice.

17 August 2006

Last week in review.

Last week on vacation, I made sure I hit the links. Ocean City has so many courses to choose from. We played Old Pro Temple of the Dragons at 23rd Street. It's a made-over course that back in the days before any sort of sensitivity training -- you know, back when nearly all vacationers at many beach towns were white -- used to be some sort of tropical theme, with very inappropriate "native" wire and plaster sculptures and assorted cannibal themed obstacles. Some of that survives, and I should have taken pictures, but most of the course has been converted, if not updated, to some bizarre dragon sacrifice theme. Picture Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom meets no special effects budget.

Since I won a free game there, we were obligated to play another Old Pro course. My son wanted to play Old Pro Dinosaur golf at 69th Street, and we did. Here's a picture of me and our daughter reading the hole to determine our best tee shots:

Most of the time we spent on the beach, though. On Friday our son was complaining he was cold and we couldn't figure out why, although it was windy. Turns out he had a nasty fever and chills.

Poor thing. He fell asleep at the dinner table. Both of the kids had a great time and enjoyed the water very much. Our son got a body board and basically took to it as though he'd used on all his life. Our daughter isn't so big yet, but she enjoyed being held in the water. And rolling in the sand.

And through it all we only visited Thrasher's once.

16 August 2006

The Sad State of Higher Ed.

I promise that this screed will not be a "back when I was in school" diatribe, although it may sound like it at points. Front page of the Washington Post this morning. No, it's not a big story on the continuing criminal actions of the Bush administration (where did those stories go, by the way?). Certainly the story on shattered Lebanon isn't featured (it's there, but in narrow columns headed with the leading "Armed with Iran's Millions, Fighters Turn to Rebuilding"). No, what's featured is a story on a new high-rise "dorm" that isn't located on any campus, but rather serves as a commuting base for nine area colleges to warehouse the students that they're unwilling to build their own dorm space for.

Ah, campus life. I remember unpacking my stuff in my dorm room, meeting my roommate (disclosure: I knew my roommate from high school), and then getting ready for the 40 minute commute to class. What a bunch of bullshit. In the continuing saga of universities losing focus on education and turning themselves into another sector of the burgeoning service industry, this hoteling concept is pretty disgusting.

Dorms are supposed to be dorms, not luxury suites. I was appalled when I arrived at my graduate school -- and no I didn't live on campus as such a thing as grad student housing didn't exist at the institution -- and found that students didn't live in dorms so much as they lived in little apartments. There was no dining hall to speak of, even for the undergrads. Of course, in a year or two I realized I'd managed to enroll in a university that didn't make education a priority, but rather saw education as a great cover for real estate investment. By the time I knew it was a joke, it was too late and I was stuck.

Anyway, the main point is that dorm life should be a bit more like monastic life than like MTV Cribs. The primary purpose and advantage -- yes, advantage -- of living in a dorm is that you are placed in the middle of studies and are reminded at every moment that you're at a university. Not that every moment you could be watching Entourage on HBO On Demand. Or in my case a Columbo marathon on A & E.

I'll give them the high speed internet -- the internet is a highly useful research tool, esp. with the availability of scholarly journals through the university library. Of course, it's more likely that high speed connection will be used to develop one's virtual life in World of Warcraft than to check out articles on Brecht's verfremdungseffekt from JStor.

All of which reminds me, why should we even go to college? If you can live in the fake dorm in an office park and pretend you're actually living at school, why even bother leaving your bedroom? Why not just purchase a copy of the Sims 2 University and live the multi-faceted possibilities available to our virtual selves rather than the singular choices found in our "real" lives? I imagine that in future iterations, the developers could work with actual universities to develop real course content and allow users to "take classes" for credit -- after all, it's only a short bridge between the virtual experience of the SIMS universe and the virtual classroom of online courses.

We are, after all, only consumers and education is simply another commodity to consume. As the lines between information, education, and entertainment disappear, we'll all be able to purchase the proper expansion packs for our appropriate degrees and then we'll have reached the magical plateau where we can "have read books" without ever having to read them.

Like the uncut pages in Gatsby's impressive library.

15 August 2006

Can't spell Guenther Grass without SS...

Man, who would have thought that Guenther Grass, perhaps the best-known post-war German writer of the Left had been a member of the Waffen SS? Granted, he was 17 at the time and Germany was calling up the young and the elderly for duty, and he was conscripted, which meant he didn't exactly go out and volunteer.

But, wow. Talk about creating an interesting twist to a long-standing writer's story. Frankly, I'm surprised it stayed a secret for so long. Given Grass's visibility as a public intellectual -- one who at one time held that Germany should never reunite because it would only bring a return to the nationalism that gave rise to Nazi Germany -- you'd think someone would have pulled this little nugget out long ago, the way that Paul de Man's writing's for the collaborationist Belgian newspaper Le Soir came out almost 20 years ago, allowing some critics and even more reactionaries to denounce Deconstruction itself as a tool of fascism.

The BBC website points out that Grass's unit has not been directly implicated in any of the atrocities the SS so often perpetrated:
It has to be said, that up to now, the Frunsberg Division has not been implicated in any major atrocities or war crimes - even though the SS as a whole was classified as a criminal organisation after the war.

Grass himself claims that he "never fired any shots," and I certainly hope that it's true.

War is hell.

14 August 2006

Reading at the beach.

I admit it: I was desperate. I had taken two books with me on vacation: Balzac's Old Goriot and a book about Helene Cixous from the Continuum Live Theory series. The first was to read while actually on the beach; the second to read before bed. However, by Wednesday I had finished Old Goriot and I hadn't yet visited any of the used and discount book shops that crop up along the boardwalks in Rehoboth and Bethany (and until recently Ocean City).

So I borrowed a James Patterson novel from a friend. The Beach House. I had read a James Patterson novel before -- Kiss the Girls or Along Came a Spider...I don't really remember -- and remember sort of liking it. Mainly when it comes to "junk food" reading, I'll choose a mystery every time: I read about all of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels when I was a teenager, and I've even given a paper on Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, so I figured a good potboiler was just what I needed to take me through the rest of the drowsy vacation week.

And it was good for about 250 of its 352 pages. Then it got stupid. Extremely stupid. I'm talking hard boiled detective fiction meets Airheads. I finished the book deeply deeply unsatisfied. It was like eating a whole bag of chips by yourself and realizing that you've probably come one chip short of actually poisoning yourself.

In general though, detective novels -- at least the ones that follow in the hard boiled tradition -- do highlight the corruption that money brings with it. For that reason alone, they're worth reading as cultural objects. Why is it that a large segment of our popular fiction holds as a basic premise that wealth and power are naturally at odds with democracy and fair play? Given that basic premise, why is it that these novels, consumed by a vast swath of the reading public, seem to provide little motivation to strike out against the jobbing of the system? Really, the better question is why do these novels, that take such a populist stance against the wealth and power of our society's elites, achieve such success within a reading public that seems complacent and accepting of the abuses of wealth and power by the real-life elites? Or perhaps we don't actually believe that wealth influences the direction of the wheels of justice, that people -- even government employees -- can be bought off, or that power provides privileges inaccessible to the run of the mill American.

What good is a vicarious wish-fulfillment of revenge against the elites when in real life we perpetuate the system that allows such abuse? Literature is essentially a field of play, where multiple realities can be explored and either embraced or rejected. Often where our current realities can be replaced by idealized and impossibly removed realities (esp. in fantasy and romance). Mystery fiction is often no different -- the worlds in which the detective finds himself are portrayed as outside the norm, almost to the extent that they become nightmarish fantasylands in which the only rule is the rule of money. The detective straddles the playground of the rich world and the everyday working world -- the authentic world in most detective fiction -- and we are led to that very conclusion that the realities of the rich are simply not ours and don't adhere to our rules of fair play -- whereas of course we always do.

So we let the detective rail against that world for a few hundred pages and generally reach -- at least in our contemporary era -- some sort of victory against the forces of wealth and power, and then we go on with our lives. Fitter. Happier. More Productive.

And all because I couldn't see myself sitting on the beach trying to concentrate on Cixous.

10 August 2006

Midnight sadness

As it nears the end of the season along the delmarva peninsula -
basically from Rehoboth on down to Ocean City - the surf shops hold
these things they call midnight madness sales, at which deep discounts
are taken on all summer merchandise; after all, Labor Day more or less
spells the death of the summer torrent of easy dollars rolling in from
the tourists looking to feel "authentic" for their week at the beach.

I usually try to hit these sales, mainly because the clothes I buy will
comprise the bulk of my April through September wardrobe, and because
the last set of swimtrunks - or I mean "boardshorts" - that I bought
were from 2003 and it gets tedious wearing the same pair day in day out.
Oh yeah - and I want to feel "authentic" for my week at the beach.

Anyway, tonight I happened to be in Rehoboth, so I ventured down to
Dewey for East of Maui's sale. I hadn't been in this shop since I was a
kid, and tonight made me realize that I hadn't missed a thing. It is
hands down the worst surf shop I've been in for several years. For
starters, they're more of a kayak store than a surf shop, and once
you've experienced the horrible shorebreak of south Rehoboth and Dewey
Beach, you'll understand why. The two foot waves don't break until they
hit the rocky sand of the shoreline, meaning you can't ride these waves
on anything but a skimboard.

There's absolutely no excuse for a surf shop to exist under such
conditions. Now down by the Indian River inlet you'd have an excuse or
even in Ocean City, where the waves, small though thay may be, at least
have the decency to break a reasonable distance from the shore.

06 August 2006

Day 2 Report

Most of the idiots here in OCMD couldn't ride a wave if the lifeguards
were handing out free SmarTrip cards. And I'm not talking about surfing;
I'm talking about body surfing or using a body board. It's really

On the other hand, it's a good thing we've got a whaling ban in place,
because nothing brings the obesity problem in America out clearer than a
day at the beach, where several visitors resemble well-oiled, if not
well-plucked Butterball turkeys.

No one out there would mistake me for a paragon of fitness, but at least
I don't use up an entire bottle of suntan lotion trying to cover my
surface area.

04 August 2006

We continue to sleepwalk through nightmares.

I made the mistake of reading through Charles "Kill 'em All" Krauthammer's column in the Post today. Krauthammer's main point, if you can call it that, is that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert didn't authorize enough force -- in the form of an all-out ground assault -- in the fight against Hezbollah, a fight that Krauthammer, true to his myopic track record, characterizes as the new prime front in the "clash of civilizations" between the West and the radical Islamic world.

Well, there's nothing new about Hezbollah and really, I think, Krauthammer's true agenda is that he's still fighting the Cold War, except now the Soviet Union has been replaced by the Islamic militants. He tells us as much through his opening anecdote:
At critical moments in the past, Israel has indeed shown its value. In 1970 Israeli military moves against Syria saved King Hussein and the moderate pro-American Hashemite monarchy of Jordan. In 1982 American-made Israeli fighters engaged the Syrian air force, shooting down 86 MiGs in one week without a single loss, revealing a shocking Soviet technological backwardness that dealt a major blow to Soviet prestige abroad and self-confidence among its elites at home (including Politburo member Mikhail Gorbachev).

So basically, Israel functioned as the pawn in a much larger game between two superpowers. And I'll give him that -- US support for Israel has much to do with its position near all the oil. Krauthammer continues that analogy in this latest conflict, where Hezbollah stands in for all of radical Islam -- but especially Iran, the neocons' favorite next target now that Iraq has soured on them -- and Israel stands for the West. He calls it a "proxy war," which is entirely indicative of his mindset and completely beside the point. In fact, it ignores the entire history of the region since the creation of Israel and more particularly since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Hezbollah was formed in 1985. That's 21 years ago. We were still funding the Sunni-dominated Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and providing him with logistical support in his chemical weapons program. Perhaps that might help explain the Shia antipathy toward US...that and maybe decades of support for the ruthless totalitarianism of the Shah of Iran. Anyway, it's all water under the bridge and for the neocons, historical memory is very shallow indeed.

In fact, in Krauthammer's world, Israel is being supported -- if privately -- by the "moderate" regimes of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Is Krauthammer nuts? Well, yes, he is, but that doesn't keep the Post and other papers from printing his rantings. Get a read on this:
The moderate pro-Western Arabs understand this very clearly. Which is why Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan immediately came out against Hezbollah and privately urged the United States to let Israel take down that organization. They know that Hezbollah is fighting Iran's proxy war not only against Israel but also against them and, more generally, against the United States and the West.

Like most neocons, Krauthammer consistently falls back on the old falsehood that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This line of thinking kept Pinochet in power -- even after his secret police carbombed a dissident right here in Washington, DC -- and kept the Shah in power; it funded Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein; it propped up Apartheid and gave crucial support to the death squads in Guatemala (under John Negroponte's watch). So now Krauthammer wants us to see the authoritarian regimes in these countries as our friends. So the Egyptian government jails its political opponents and features strong anti-semitic television programming as "entertainment." So the Saudis adhere to Wahhabism, a version of Islam that holds that all non-believers, including non-Wahhabi muslims, are infidels -- incidentally a belief system shared by Osama bin Laden and most of his buddies in al-Qaeda.

Oh, and speaking of al Qaeda, Krauthammer brushes that threat away: "With al-Qaeda in decline, Iran is on the march." Well, thank goodness we don't have to worry about that nasty Osama anymore. Apparently, that terrorist movement just withered away.

Krauthammer should realize that Israel's actions, far from damaging Hezbollah, have done nothing but strengthen it. Continued attacks on civilians -- and a ground war will only augment that aspect of the current conflict -- only undermines Israel's claims that it's either better than the terrorists its fighting or that it's actually only interested in Hezbollah. With each child killed via an airstrike or artillery shell, the chances that Hezbollah becomes the dominant force in Lebanon increases. That's a frightening prospect.

03 August 2006

Pre-Vacation Jonesing.

I am going on vacation in less than 48 hours, meaning that sometime during the wee hours (OK probably around 6 a.m.) on Saturday, we will load the car, pile the sleeping children into the car, and head east on Route 50 for the glory that is Ocean City, Maryland. Sometime around 9 a.m., we will cross the Route 90 bridge and see the strip of high rises to the north and the low slung buildings, each year dotted more and more with higher buildings, to the south. Our son, if he's awake, will begin to talk about all the miniature golf courses he wants to play. Our daughter, if she's awake, will probably be crying because she's been in the car so long. We'll eat some breakfast, maybe at the Sahara or the Satellite, then it'll be beach time...

But I still have two days to work before that happens. It's difficult to get motivated when you're anticipating some time off, but it's also the time when you need to concentrate the most, since you'll be leaving your work for an extended period and don't want to look bad for not completing projects. Can't concentrate. Must concentrate.

Anyway, I will be revelling all week in the cultural morass that is Ocean City, land where the mullet never died (other than Canada of course). I will see immensely large people load up on the large size Thrasher Fries. I will see angsty (or maybe just horny) high school kids and college freshmen sitting on the boardwalk strumming their acoustics in the damp nighttime breeze. I will see many moronic traffic maneuvers completed by individuals who should have their licenses revoked for being too stupid to drive. I will lament once again that Days Inn swallowed up the French Quarter motel, a true dive, and turned the once sparsely populated and inexpensive bar into some travesty called, of all things, "The Dungeon," which while it seems would be a fetish S and M bar, or at least a Goth bar, actually subtitles itself a sports bar.

Would you go into a sports bar named "The Dungeon"? No, I wouldn't either. I'd wonder what sort of sports they were talking about and be half afraid it was something like "Medieval Times," where you'd have some jousting tournament in the middle of trying to get your drink on.

Jesus, the sooner I get a box of claws in me the better.

02 August 2006

Long story with a brief point.

Yesterday I went to get my car inspected. At least that was what I left the house to do, since inspection is due in about two and a half weeks and we were going to be out of town next week. However, on my way over to the wonderful DC inspection center I sort of figured out that the car probably wouldn't pass inspection with its passenger side mirror sheared off at the base.

So I called the dealership and got the car out to Brown's Honda where the problem was remedied quick fast in a hurry and I got the oil change and servicing that was due anyway. And seriously, it was only half past ten. I stopped for a drink and threw some change in the Honda's built-in change tray for the parking meter later on.

I got to the inspection center down on Half Street SW and sat in the line that came out to the curb. But hey, I was sitting in air conditioned splendor just thinking about how crappy this queue must be for the environment with all of us sitting there in our idling cars cranking up the A/C. I felt real bad though for the woman who rode up behind me on her motorcycle, because she had the full thick padded gear that looks like a winter coat. The DMV guys took pity on her, thankfully, and let her cut to the head of the line after making her sweat a while.

As for me, I finally got into the place where you leave your car with the inspectors. I don't know how many personnel were in my car. No less than three. Maybe as high as six. There was pulling forward and backing up, running the car onto some skids and hitting the brakes sharply. More pulling forward. More backing up. Then they pulled it into another bay and a different driver repeated the maneuvers.

So I leave and I drive to my office and hunt for parking -- I probably drive the car to work about once or twice a year. I simply see no point in living in the city and driving a car to work. Maybe if I carried a microwave with me everywhere I went or was in some remote location, but we're talking Adams Morgan and Foggy Bottom here.

But here's the point of the story: I got to the metered parking spot and pulled in, then I went to the little built-in change container and it's empty. Utterly, completely, bereft of any sort of coin. Twice that morning I had actually thrown a few quarters in on top of the ones that were already there, so I know that it had had meter change in there. Not anymore.

Some asshole at the Inspection Center helped themselves to my change. The asshole probably got about $2.50 in quarters, nickels, and dimes, so I hope he or she got a nice bottle of coke or two with it.

I did a once-over the rest of the car and discovered thankfully that my iPod was still there, the few CDs we have in the glove box were still there, and my bag still contained its checkbook -- and yes I counted the checks.