31 October 2007

Halloween is here...after which it's nonstop to Christmas displays.

It's Halloween, a time when all the button-down men can dress like the fairy-princesses they always wanted to be and business-suit women can wear their naughty nurse and maid costumes, safe in the illusion that really it's just for pretend.

Ever since having children, I've been costume challenged, in large part because having kids means you either no longer get invited to your friends' knock down, drag out, drunk to the gills parties or you get invited but can no longer let it all hang out at your friends' knock down, drag out, drunk to the gills parties. Either way, it seriously inhibits the costume-creativity ambitions.

Back in the day, I went to a party as Andy Warhol (easy: black jeans, a black turtleneck, and a silver wig...oh yeah, and I was about twenty pounds lighter) and also to one as Sickboy from Trainspotting. I really enjoyed that one. I even picked up a heroin habit so it would be more realistic.

This year I plan to dress up as "dad home from work" and hand out candy to the delightful passers-by, many of whom in my neighborhood believe it's acceptable to wear jeans and t-shirt as your costume, use a plastic Safeway shopping bag as your candy bag, and trick-or-treat well into your thirties. I have in fact entertained one group that consisted of about eight children and one mother (or accompanying adult) in which the mother not only asked for candy for herself but also reeked of alcohol. The ones who get out of that one will either look back upon their childhoods with humor or hatred; the ones who don't will repeat it.

30 October 2007

Again, is anyone really surprised?

Now here's a big surprise for everyone, I'm sure. Dick Cheney goes hunting at private hunting clubs, where he can enjoy the thrill of hunting down fierce creatures like quail and dove and maybe pheasant. It's really dangerous stuff (if you're in Cheney's line of fire, that is). But apparently this particulare hunting club in upstate New York is causing a stir because in a garage on the club's grounds there hung a Confederate flag. Al Sharpton is all over this detail, which is good timing for him, especially after Ta-Nehisi Coates laid the beatdown on him over the weekend, labelling him "irrelevant."

But it's stupid, and it misses the point. Cheney has so much plausible deniability in this particular incident, that it makes Sharpton look even more like the fool. It's possible Cheney wasn't within eyesight of the garage, or that the garage doors were closed at the time. Who really cares? The larger point is that these private enclaves are nothing but hotbeds of regressive behavior, whether it's in hidebound racist and sexist behavior or simple elitism. And they're the places Cheney feels at home. Cheney doesn't need to know that his hosts that particular day were true throwback yee-haw Confederate flag waving white supremacists. He just knows that they're his kind of people. You know, the kind who applaud his principled stand against establishing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and against a resolution to free political prisoner Nelson Mandela. They understand each other...

So the point isn't whether this little rod and gun club proudly displays the Confederate flag (and in this case it seems they keep it hidden in the garage) in the proud remembrance of all the noble New York regiments who fought to keep slavery legal, but rather to note that you would probably be hard pressed to find a single "private hunting club" that didn't include at least one less-than-covert member of the KKK or CCC or subscriber to the American Renaissance. These places are breeding grounds for the most socially backward members of American society, a place where wealth, power, and right-wing quasi-fascist viewpoints can congregate freely and shoot at things.

29 October 2007

Out of the woodwork

I never really knew how many people from Boston were around DC. For fourteen years I've lived in our nation's capital and never noticed it. However, now everywhere I turn, there's a Boston Red Sox cap or sweatshirt. It's like a plague.

Sure, they were by far my favorite post-season team, but I'm not exactly going out and buying a ballcap.

Speaking of which, I've owned ballcaps from exactly three teams my entire life: the Oakland A's (don't ask me why, but I loved the A's since childhood...the early 1990's steroid scandals kind of soured me on them though), the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Chicago Cubs (it was a white with blue stripes old timer ballcap...wish I still had it).

26 October 2007

Friday fall traditional.

This Saturday everyone's talking about the Penn State v. Ohio State game in Happy Valley. Ohio State enters the game undefeated and ranked #1, having taken a tour of small Ohio colleges for three of their wins, but also compiling a 4-0 record in the Big Ten so far, albeit against Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, and Michigan State. Additionally, they've beaten Washington. They finish their schedule against Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. So clearly they were front-loaded with cupcakes and now they're hitting the meat of the schedule, although you have to say that given the up and down performances of the teams on the list, Michigan is probably the best of the four teams remaining.

Saturday's game is in Happy Valley, though, and the Nittany Lions also happen to be the last team to beat Ohio State during the regular season, so the line is a surprising -3.5 points for OSU. I would like to have been there, but the bad weather and my bad cold and certain events in town are keeping me away, so the television will have to do. For Penn State to win this game, QB Morelli has to keep his head and some sort of run game has to get established.

Now onto the rest of the top 25 (acc. to the BCS):

1. Ohio State v. #25 Penn State. PSU surprises everyone by forcing four turnovers in a win.
2. BC already beat #11 VTech.
3. LSU is idle.
4. Arizona State v. #21 Cal. The PAC-10 has been eating its own this year. Cal takes down ASU.
5. Oregon v. #12 USC. Ducks fall to Trojans.
6. Oklahoma is idle.
7. WVU v. Rutgers. WVU slaughters the Knights.
8. See #2 above.
9. Kansas v. Texas A&M. Look to A&M to topple Kansas from the unbeatens.
10. South Florida v. #23 Connecticut. Some things just shouldn't be, like these two teams in the top 25. South Florida will see to it that Connecticut is gone next week.
11. Florida v. #18 Georgia. The best thing that could happen here is that both teams get into a brawl and the players are all expelled from their universities and the teams cease to exist. In light of the dim chance of that happening, I'm going with Florida over Georgia.
12. See #5 above.
13. Missouri v. Iowa State. Missouri wins big.
14. Kentucky v. Mississippi State. It's been tough at MSU. A win over Kentucky helps.
15. Virginia v. NC State. Virginia wins.
16. South Carolina v. Tennessee. As Florida coach, Spurrier was fond of saying, "You can't spell Citrus without UT," expressing the lesser-bowl fate of the team he dominated back then. South Carolina will win this game, but it will be a close fight.
17. Hawaii v. New Mexico State. Hawaii wins again.
18. See #11 above.
19. Texas v. Nebraska. Nebraska rights its ship with a win over Texas.
20. Michigan v. Minnesota. In a battle of two Big 10 teams that lost to I-AA teams this year, Michigan absolutely clobberfies Minnesota.
21. See #4 above.
22. Auburn v. Mississippi. No problem for Auburn here. Auburn wins big.
23. See #10 above.
24. Alabama is idle.
25. See #1 above.

Being sick can make time for reading otherwise worthless columnists

Another thing I did while I was sick was sit around and read the paper. Thoroughly. In fact, I read two papers. Thoroughly. Because we get both the Washington Post and now recently the New York Times home deliveries. We'd cancelled the Times delivery back in the dark days of dissertation deadlines, when both papers often sat wrapped and stacked in not so neat clear and blue plastic piles in our front hallway. Ahem. Now in the heady days of post-doctoral bliss (and indeed that "we" a few sentences back is not royal, it's plural) both papers come thumping on the doorstep (generally) before seven a.m.

So I was reading the editorial page of the Post, when I noticed that one of their numerous conservative columnists was pushing yet another piece of ill-framed and unwieldly arguments across a few columns like so much shit rolling through the gutter. Yes, it was Michael Gerson opining on James Watson, our addled Nobel laureate of DNA code-cracking fame. What a coincidence, I thought, since I'd written about Dr. Watson about a week previously. Gerson was Bush's chief speechwriter for about five years and is largely responsible for the ridiculous scare phrases that Bush used to justify his illegal invasion of Iraq back in 2003 (remember the "don't let the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud" bullshit? pure Gerson). He cut his teeth working for the rabidly anti-egalitarian "Heritage Foundation," and somehow the Post allows him to spew filth twice a week on their pages.

Gerson of course didn't see Watson's gaffe as a problem for the usual consumers of racist eugenicist claptrap, but rather a problem for "liberalism":

Watson is not typical of the scientific community when it comes to his extreme social application of genetics. But this controversy illustrates a temptation within science -- and a tension between some scientific views and liberalism.

The temptation is eugenics. Watson is correct that "we already accept" genetic screening and selective breeding when it comes to disabled children.

Oh. Well, maybe I can accept it so far, since you could read Gerson as tacitly acknowledging that it's only a problem for liberals because conservatives already agree with Watson's racist argument. But you only have to read a little further before you realize that Gerson has actually just set up a straw man argument that he labels "liberalism," and he doesn't even do a very good job of it:

This creates an inevitable tension within liberalism. The left in America positions itself as both the defender of egalitarianism and of unrestricted science. In the last presidential election, Sen. John Kerry pledged to "tear down every wall" that inhibited medical research. But what happens when certain scientific views lead to an erosion of the ideal of equality?
OK. Not hard to spot the first one, right? That little slip between "unrestricted science" and Kerry's attitude toward medical research. Gerson would probably have us believe that Kerry was looking to bring back Josef Mengele as head of NIH. The second one though is more important, and it's that moronic conflation, so common among conservatives, of "equality" and "identity." To ask for equal rights is not to assert that everyone is identical down to every last molecule of their bodies. Of course you could scientifically ascertain that some people are taller, some are shorter, some are stronger, some are weaker, but one doesn't go about handing out political rights based on such distinctions.

Sure, you could argue that Gerson, behind his straw man argument, is really scared that more genetic research will lead to attempts to "perfect" the race (like many of us, he's probably seen Gattaca), not that it hasn't been tried before. Those attempts generally come from the conservative side of the table, you know, the ones who at one time or another are trying to keep immigrants from the "wrong places" out of the country because they'll "mongrelize" America, or who tried to keep anti-miscegenation laws on the books to maintain the "purity" of the white race.

However, Gerson tries to slip it by us one more time, arguing that because progressives trust in science so much yet believe in egalitarianism (which again he sees as somehow opposing one another), they might yield to the temptation of creating a master race:

Watson and many scientists assert a kind of reductionism -- a belief that human beings are the sum of their chemical processes and have no value beyond their achievements and attributes. But progressives, at their best, have a special concern for the different, the struggling and the weak. When it comes to eugenics, they face not only a tension but a choice -- and they should choose human equality over the pursuit of human perfection.
Ahhh, he shows some real concern over the plight of the progressive, which is nice, except he's the only one who ever asserted there was a danger of progressives advocating for genetic manipulation to "weed out" the potential weaklings, etc. (seriously, Michael, it's pretty clunky to shove eugenics into the progressives' laps, as if that's a big progressive talking point -- keeping in mind that I do cede to him that back in the teens and twenties many individuals aligned with the capital P Progressives, like Margaret Sanger, were enamored of eugenics). Mainly, eugenics has been wielded by the conservative movement, who in the US argued that feeble-minded immigrants and their biological inferiority made them susceptible to Bolshevism. I kid you not -- a political outlook linked to one's genetics.

Unfortunately in today's world, most of us realize that it's the progressives in this country who tirelessly work to protect the rights of the downtrodden (physical, economic, or otherwise) already in this country. It takes real chutzpah for a neocon like Gerson to tell progressives they should side with "human equality"; after all, it's Gerson whose rhetoric has been essential to dehumanize Arabs (especially Iraqis) and to ensure the linguistic success of Bush's hubristic war of political eugenics, attempting to install democracies from the barrels of guns.

I have a seriously hard time trying to take seriously moral advice from a man so closely linked to the most corrupt, blood-stained, morally bankrupt administration in the US with the exception of Richard Nixon (and maybe Andrew Jackson).

25 October 2007

Not gone, just missing.

Friends. Dear internet imaginary friends. Dear ghosts.

From Sunday until today I have been unusually sick. I have been to the doctors and the doctors (OK, to be accurate one doctor, one med student, one nurse, one radiation technician, and one lab tech who took blood) have told me it's some sort of viral infection. Get plenty of fluids. Get plenty of rest. Which I did. Normally, on sick days I can get plenty of my own stuff done -- read books, finish petty paperwork, straighten up the house, run errands -- but not this time around. About the only productive thing I managed to do for most of the time was watch one movie -- Almodovar's The Flower of My Secret -- and it was a nice diversion, so thank you NetFlix.

Yesterday I was still feeling ill, but by afternoon had recovered enough to get interested in this dusty stack of metal and wood and plastic in my basement. I hadn't messed with the guitars in a while, and in fact I'd forgotten just how damned beautiful the bass guitar that I've owned for twenty years is. So I took a picture of it. Check it out.

The picture really doesn't do it justice. It's a beautiful birdseye maple and quite solid. It's not for sale.

19 October 2007

Friday toss-ups.

Friday generally means that I do a college football post. Why not? It's a weekend of some really tough games to call, and with South Florida going down to Rutgers already, we could have another huge shakeup of the top 10. By the way, these are BCS rankings, since that's the way ESPN listed them.

1. Ohio State v. Michigan State. Ohio State finally has to play a school that has or once had a real football program, but it's Michigan State. Look for a close 1st half and a big Ohio State second half. OSU wins.
2. USF already lost to Rutgers.
3. Boston College is idle.
4. LSU v. #17 Auburn. Man this is a tough call. I think LSU will win, though, in a low scoring game.
5. Oklahoma v. Iowa State. Oklahoma will maim, maul, and mutilate Iowa State.
6. South Carolina v. Vanderbilt. South Carolina isn't Georgia. Vandy will be out of this game early.
7. Kentucky v. #15 Florida. UK ranked above UF in football? What a brave new world that has such rankings in it. Florida will take Kentucky down.
8. Arizona State is idle.
9. WVU v. Mississippi State. I'm having trouble with this one. It's in Morgantown, so I'm going with the Mountaineers.
10. Oregon v. Washington. Oregon wins this one.
11. Va Tech is idle.
12. Cal v. UCLA. Cal wins this one.
13. Kansas v. Colorado. Wonder why an undefeated Kansas team isn't in the top 10? After Colorado beats them, you won't wonder.
14. USC v. Notre Dame. Do you have to ask? USC has something to prove. USC wins big.
15. See #7 above.
16. Missouri v. #24 Texas Tech. Texas Tech's stay in the top 25 will be short. Missouri wins.
17. See #4 above.
18. Hawaii is idle.
19. Virginia v. Maryland. UMD wins this one.
20. Georgia is idle.
21. Tennessee v. Alabama. Tough call. I say 'Bama wins a shootout.
22. Texas v. Baylor. Continuing their cakewalk schedule, Texas will decimate Baylor.
23. Cincinnati v. Pitt. Pitt wins this one.
24. See #16 above.
25. Michigan v. Illinois. I'd love to see Illinois take out the Wolverines. It can happen, but I fear I'm voting more with heart than head. In the end, I say Michigan escapes with a win.

Other weekend action:
PSU v. Indiana. PSU wins in Indiana, setting up a showdown with unbeaten and top ranked Ohio State in Happy Valley on October 27th.

18 October 2007

Sometimes things don't compute.

Scientist James Watson is best remembered for his and Francis Crick's unraveling of the code for DNA, but these days he seems more intent on reheating discredited theories on race. His latest foray into this arena has been to claim that Africa is in the state it's in because Blacks are simply not as intelligent as whites. Here's what the esteemed researcher had to say:
He made the controversial comments in a Sunday Times interview, reportedly saying he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our
social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really".
Dr Watson was quoted as saying he hoped everyone was equal, but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true".

Um...yeah. Watson's currently a prominent researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a research facility with a long and checkered past, including being the home of the Eugenics Record Office, a hotbed of racist psuedoscience that promoted precisely the same sort of thinking that Watson is now, in 2007, espousing. The ERO was shown to be sham long ago, but for a time it was a powerful force in maintaining racist and anti-immigrant policies since it provided a "scientific" basis for discriminating against native-born Blacks and those nasty nasty immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.

To Cold Spring Harbor Lab's credit, they've immediately denounced Watson's ravings with a pretty strong statement:
The lab's trustees and its president, Bruce Stillman, said in a statement: "(These) are his own personal statements and in no way reflect the mission, goals, or principles of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Board, administration or faculty.
"(We) vehemently disagree with these statements and are bewildered and saddened if he indeed made such comments.
"Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory does not engage in any research that could even form the basis of the statements attributed to Dr Watson."

So there you go. It's not too far from sad old Bobby Fischer, who while a brilliant chess mind, is a bit of a loon otherwise.

17 October 2007

A judgement call.

Please identify the racist stereotypes in the photos below:

The team from Cleveland is of course long-suffering and it looks like they're finally headed to the World Series, where they will hopefully knock the stuffing out of the Colorado Rockies, but maybe it's time to give that mascot a rest.

15 October 2007

Weekend brief.

Last weekend my picks were 15-5. The worst pick was probaby the Texas v. Iowa State game, in which I got my teams confused (thinking Iowa State was OK state) and figured the Longhorns would be upset. Instead, Texas clobbered the 1-6 Cyclones. And I'm happy to report that one of my losses was Wisconsin beating PSU. Penn State thoroughly dominated Wisconsin under the beautiful October sky in Happy Valley.

In the gaps between the stands you could see the trees turning colors on the hills beyond the stadium, the air was crisp but not biting, and the PSU defense was powerful. A great day all around.

On a final note, I have to give props to the GSR, who predicted both the PSU blowout win and the Illinois loss, although he also thought Washington would upset ASU. For a while, at least, that game looked good, then it all went bad for the Huskies.

12 October 2007

I'm not going out on a limb on this prediction...

Al Gore has just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Prepare yourselves for an onslaught of right-wing outrage both at Al Gore and the Nobel committee, whom they will accuse of being politically correct idiots.

I remember the same sort of dustup when Dario Fo, an Italian playwright, won the literature prize back in the 1990's: it wasn't good enough for the Wall Street Journal's editorial page to slam Fo and the Nobel committee; no, they even went after previous winner Toni Morrison, arguing that her work was undeserving and she never would have won the prize if not for political correctness.

Seriously, they don't give it a rest. Even after V.S. Naipaul won the prize in 2001, they had to kick at Toni Morrison again (God forbid a Black woman be able to write in such a way that teaches us about life...), with Tunku Varadarajan opining that Naipaul's win was a shocker, since the Nobel committee "whose record shows a marked bias in favor of the liberal and the leftist, not to mention the meretricious--one that has given us such tawdry laureates as Dario Fo and Toni Morrison" finally chose a writer who had recently spent his time bashing homosexual writers like E.M. Forster.

Their fellow travellers over at the New Criterion are just as bad, lamenting in 2004 about the poor choices the Nobel committee has made recently, in their eyes. The New Criterion. Seriously, does anyone read that rag? It's like a nostalgia theme park for wanna-be literary and culture critics, like a Busch Gardens The Olde Country for the arts. Hear Ye Hear Ye, watch ye olde privileged males and token female or two partake of the ancient art of lamenting the impending demise of our culture! A fantastic show, constantly renewed and never ever correct!

STFU, right wing losers.

Another Friday...

This weekend I will be a few hours north and west of here, celebrating the rite of homecoming in Happy Valley, where I expect there to be good food, somewhat cold beer, and a good football game featuring the Penn State Nittany Lions against the Wisconsin Badgers.

Badgers are relatively nasty creatures, but from my experiences, their fans are not, so it should be a pleasant day, especially if PSU wins.

Here are the top 25 picks:

1. LSU v. #17 Kentucky. LSU simply mauls Kentucky.
2. Cal v. Oregon State. Cal thoroughly dominates Oregon State in Berkeley.
3. Ohio State v. Kent State. Ohio State continues its tour of small Ohio schools. OSU wins.
4. Boston College v. Notre Dame. BC will run rampant on Notre Dame. It will be ugly.
5. South Florida v. UCF. South Florida will not lose to UCF.
6. Oklahoma v. #11 Missouri. I think it'll be a good game, but Oklahoma wins.
7. South Carolina v. North Carolina. No contest, the Gamecocks kick the tar out of the Tarheels.
8. WVU is idle.
9. Oregon v. Washington State. The Ducks will avenge themselves for the Cal loss by pummeling happless WSU.
10. USC v. Arizona. USC will come back focused following the Stanford loss and crush Arizona.
11. Missouri v. Oklahoma. See #6 above...
12. V-Tech v. Duke. Virginia Tech cruises versus the ACC's favorite cupcake.
13. Florida is idle.
14. Arizona State v. Washington. Close game, but ASU wins.
15. Cincinnati v. Louisville. Now it's time to see if the Bearcats are for real. They aren't. Louisville wins.
16. Hawaii v. San Jose State. Hawaii wins on the road.
17. Kentucky v. #1 LSU. See #1 above....
18. Illinois v. Iowa. The Zooker remains undefeated in the Big 10 this year.
19. Wisconsin v. Penn State. I really want PSU to win this game. However, I call Wisky by 10.
20. Kansas v. Baylor. What the hell is Kansas doing being ranked? They will beat Baylor with ease.
21. Florida State already lost to Wake Forest.
22. Auburn v. Arkansas. Auburn finds ways to lose games it should win, but it will win this one.
23. Texas v. Iowa State. Iowa State upsets the shaky Longhorns.
24. Georgia v. Vanderbilt. Georgia wins in a tighter than expected game.
25. Tennessee v. Mississippi State. UT will win.

11 October 2007

Books and posts have titles.

Late as usual, I headed up to Politics and Prose around 7 p.m. last night, took a wrong turn in Rock Creek Park, doubled back, found a great spot in the P&P parking lot, and hit the Richard Russo reading around 7:15 p.m.

The joint was packed, which made my parking spot even more amazing. The entire back of the store was set up with folding chairs, all of which were filled, and listeners stood in the aisles along the sides of the store all the way back to the information desk and beyond. I perched on the far end of the information desk and listened.

The store is wired for readings, so it was no trouble hearing Russo throughout the store, and the excerpt he read from his new novel has all of the characteristic wry humor of his previous work and maybe a little more sex. As I said, I arrived at the store late, so when I rushed upstairs, the first word I heard coming out of the speakers was "orgasm," and then a brief discussion of the relative disappointment this event produced in the narrator, so I more or less missed what I can only assume to be a sex scene. The remainder of the chapter involved being discovered by the woman's husband, the fact that all of them were acquaintances if not friends, and the subsequent awkwardness of the two men, the woman having gone back to her room before her husband arrived.

Afterwards, he fielded questions for a bit and then signed many many books. During the question and answer period, I gleaned the following: Straight Man is drawn from his experience teaching at Penn State-Altoona, a fact I pretty much knew, but he made much clearer in his answer about school budgets and department hiring policies and duck-killing threats. What I didn't know was this: he actually attended Penn State as a graduate student and studied fiction writing with Robert Downs, who just happened to be the very same professor I took for fiction writing. I'm now very inspired that I, too, can be just like Richard Russo.

Downs, by the way, is retired from professing but still writes, or at least still has been writing; his last novel came out in 2001. It's called The Fifth Season.

10 October 2007

Midweek day off.

Just to recap: today at 7 p.m. you could catch Richard Russo at Politics and Prose or Brock Clarke at Olsson's in Dupont Circle. Both talks, I'm sure, will be full of dark humor.

In other news, my son was off school yesterday since DCPS was having the parent teacher conference day, and after we received a glowing review of our second-grader, during which we were told he was a "pleasure to have in class," we went to lunch. Then my wife went back to work and I took the child to Air and Space Museum, where I broke down and took him on the flight simulator that the museum has taking up one of their galleries. It is an absolute piece of shit. The screen is fuzzy and the "simulation" is pretty crappy. Half the time it simply appears that you're watching the plane in 3rd person, rather than riding in it (caveat: this ride was the $7 ride simulator, not the $8 "interactive"). I had a more realistic simulation experience at the espnzone, where they've got a roller coaster simulator that costs far less. Seriously, the screen was so old and nasty, the company's name was burned into the screen.

After that enjoyable experience, it was off to the National Gallery of Art, where we managed to see the Hopper show again, this time without a 2.5 year old and the weekend throngs. I am simply enthralled by his watercolors, some of which are huge, and all of which have those same strong lines and contrasts that isolate everything in his oil paintings.

08 October 2007

Literary Conundrum.

How often does this happen? Last week I wrote about upcoming author event with Richard Russo at Politics and Prose. A great opportunity to see one of my favorite writers doesn't come by every day, now does it? So it's Wednesday night, October 10, at 7 p.m.

Then, this weekend, a friend of mine calls me up to tell me his brother, a writer by the name Brock Clarke, is going to be in town this coming week on a book tour at Olsson's in Dupont Circle. I went to his last book tour at Chapters Books, back when Chapters was on K Street. His work is darkly and dryly humorous, and like Russo, he catalogs the absurdities of our daily lives in small towns (as opposed to the absurdities of our daily lives in cities...). When's he going to be in town, you ask? Oh, Wednesday, October 10, at 7 p.m.

What the hell?

07 October 2007

Hell hole

Old Town Alexandria is a tourist hellhole. Discuss.

Well, actually there's nothing to discuss, is there?

06 October 2007

This weekend shall bring great college football action. I hope.

OK. Now I wanted to try my hand against the spread again, since I got whipped last week (I was 11-10 I believe), but I just don't have the time and I can't find a handy website to just show me the top 25 and the spread -- all the ones I'm finding are showing every stinking game in order of start time...I don't have the time to sift through it all. So here we go back to the win/loss picks again...

1. LSU v. #9 Florida. Close game, but LSU defense puts the clamps on Tebow.

2. USC v. Stanford. Look out Trees, because USC will whomp your asses.

3. Cal has a bye week.

4. Ohio State v. #23 Purdue. SHOCKER! Purdue upsets the Buckeyes.

5. Wisconsin v. Illinois. Wisconsin puts it together against Illinois.

6. South Florida v. Florida Atlantic. USF throws FAU into the sea.

7. Boston College v. Bowling Green. BC thumps BG.

8. Kentucky already lost to South Carolina. I would have picked the Gamecocks anyway.

9. See #1 above.

10. Oklahoma v. #19 Texas. Won't be close. Oklahoma embarrasses Texas.

11. South Carolina already beat Kentucky.

12. Georgia v. Tennessee. Georgia sends the Vols to sub-500 territory.

13. West Virginia v. Syracuse. WVU runs all over the 'Cuse.

14. Oregon has a bye week.

15. Virginia Tech v. #22 Clemson. Clemson easily wins.

16. Hawaii v. Utah State. Hawaii in a kill.

17. Missouri v. #25 Nebraska. Who really cares? Close game, high scoring, and Nebraska wins.

18. Arizona State v. Washington State. Arizona State has no trouble handling WSU.

19. See #10 above.

20. Cincinnati v. #21 Rutgers. I see Cincy at 6-0.

21. See #20 above.

22. See #15 above.

23. See #4 above.

24. Kansas State v. Kansas. K-State in a romp.

25. See #17 above.

And finally, outside the top 25, Penn State will beat Iowa, because even though Penn State's offense is bad, it's still better than Iowa's.

05 October 2007

The end of empire?

I know that on Friday I'm supposed to do football picks. I suppose I will, but I just finished reading the New York Times and the Washington Post's articles on the Department of Justice and "secret memos" advocating torture under a different name. The Times story gets straight to the heart of the hypocrisy that surrounds so much of the Bush Administration:
When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

In other words, like most petty dictators and even elected heads of repressive states, Bush and his cronies mouth their support of freedom, democracy, rule of law, and human rights, while continuing to practice the cynical medieval methods of power.

Apparently, this administration will stop at nothing to turn the United States from a beacon of freedom into a symbol of terror. While you could argue that for much of its history, the US has held the paradoxical position of trumpeting human rights while at the same time imposing its will on weaker countries abroad and repressing its minorities at home, I think the Bush Administration goes further than any other in merely paying lip service to our supposed ideals, and their cynical, secret memos, composed only after they've cleared away the opposition among their own ranks (who ever would have thought a figure like John Ashcroft would ever be hailed as a defender of actual decency, but there you are...).

Where we are now, after seven long years of Bush's insurgency: an undersupplied official military, high-paying contracts to scum of the earth mercenaries, and completely unashamed and unrepentant liars in the highest positions of civil society.

02 October 2007

One of my favorite authors coming to a store near you.

Mark your calendars. October 10 at Politics and Prose, Richard Russo will be talking about his new book Bridge of Sighs, which is, surprise surprise, about a man growing up in upstate New York. Russo writes novels of what some might call small lives (a small college English professor in Straight Man, a diner owner/manager in a dying industrial town in Empire Falls, an ex-high school star athlete going nowhere in Mohawk, etc.), but from what I understand of Bridge of Sighs, his characters confront that notion head-on in reflections of what it means to live your entire life in one small town.

There are to my knowledge about two and a half bookstores worth the name in Washington, DC (excepting of course used bookstores and the local chain Olsson's, for which I have much respect). The first is Bridge Street Books (warning: absolutely horrendous "website" in your future if you click the link) in Georgetown, which has a extremely deep philosophy and cultural studies sections, as well as a very complete poetry selection. The owners and staff are first-rate and helpful and actually care about what's inside the books rather than just about moving them in and out the door. This store is easily my favorite bookstore in all of DC.

The half is Kramerbooks and Afterwards in Dupont Circle, which is in many ways more of a meat market than a bookstore, but you can't beat them on a late night in the cold of winter. I spent my first year in DC walking from Foggy Bottom to Woodley Park late at night, and it was very useful, although ultimately very expensive, to use Kramerbooks as a midway break.

The other good bookstore in Washington, DC, is Politics and Prose, located way up Connecticut Avenue at the intersection of Conn and Nebraska Avenues. It's big (a few years ago, maybe five, they knocked out a wall between the original store and the next door storefront, basically doubling their size), and their basement is half children's book shop (incredible selection: the biggest in the city outside the big box stores and guess what: the staff knows about the books), quarter cafe, and quarter discussion area, where they hold book groups. And they have tons of readings. Check out their calendar. Did I mention Richard Russo is coming on the tenth?

Sure, Russo is an aging white male writing primarily about aging white males, but Russo's characters aren't mean-spirited or completely selfish bastards like John Updike's tend to be. There's a quiet dignity and humor to their self-reflection, and more often than not the adult characters are trying to work out the vagaries of raising teenagers in the midst of the chaos of their own work lives. Graduate student types might get a kick out of Straight Man, since Russo's protagonist is a harried English department chair at a small college in Pennsylvania (I believe he actually taught for a time at Penn State's Altoona Campus), whose main concerns are dealing with his crazy department mates, his more successful and egotistical father, and his spend-thrift daughter. It's goddamn funny.