31 January 2007
These days, you don't have to go to the library to read most journals. JSTOR and other services have put that content online in pdf format and you can browse the catalog and download articles in the comfort of your own home. Research has never been easier. Conversely, the status of scholarship has declined to the point that students believe wikipedia entries are as authoritative as PMLA. They aren't.
However, there's something to be said for a library as a refuge. I certainly feel more scholarly when I'm sitting in the main reading room of the Library of Congress or even in the stacks of a university library.
To be surrounded by books is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
30 January 2007
At any rate, the march was tremendous, even though the little one got tired of the slow pace and we had to bail out and watch most of it. Here are some photos, first looking west toward the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, where the rally was held:
Then looking east toward the Capitol.
I don't trust crowd estimates, because the government usually lowballs and the organizers usually inflate, but the Mall from the West Wing of the NGA to the East Wing of the NGA was packed with people, and there was spillover on the lawns adjacent, as well as on Museum steps:
Apparently, the Freepers, a truly sad lot who during the American Revolution would have been Tories and then would have argued against every single one of the amendments that became the Bill of Rights, held a counter-rally that netted around 40 wackjobs. If military recruiters were smart, they'd have been at that counter-rally looking to pick up a few new recruits (or re-enlist a few). Although no doubt most of them, like our tough-talking VP, "Five Deferment Dick" Cheney, would have told the recruiters they "have other priorities."
29 January 2007
To begin with, the New Orleans that tourists see -- the New Orleans that makes people visit -- has not been destroyed. In fact, the French Quarter was remarkably undamaged by the storm itself or the flooding afterwards. Probably the most damage that has been done to the French Quarter has been the loss of the tourists, who have for one reason or another not come to the city in the numbers they once had. The major tourist hotels surrounding Canal Street are fully functional, so it's not a question of room availability.
However, whole neighborhoods have been destroyed. The houses are there, but they're so heavily damaged that they're unliveable, and with the destruction of the neighborhoods there's been a ripple effect: the loss of population, the loss of small businesses set up to serve the local population, the loss of large retail to serve the local population, the loss of jobs that all those businesses provided, and on up. This mall is one example:
I didn't get a shot of it, but there was also a huge Wal*Mart building shuttered up, another victim of the storm and the devastation of the neighborhoods it served. You know it's bad when a vulture like Wal*Mart can't re-open.
Block after block, in section after section, homes are abandoned. Some are visibly damaged from the storm, but others look as if they're simply empty (except in many cases for the tell-tale sign of a high water mark on the siding or brick). Nearly all have the spray-paint marks familiar to those of us who watched the post-Katrina coverage. The spray-paint indicates the date it was searched, the agency searching, and the results of the search. Sometimes short messages are also painted on the houses.
But New Orleans is resilient, even with fewer people and fewer tourists. The population that's there dearly love their city, but they aren't terribly excited about the help they've gotten from federal or state agencies. We should also remember that one of the Bush Administration's most forceful steps in "rebuilding" the area was to suspend union work rules so that construction corporations could undercut the union wages and boost their profits -- this sort of corporate giveaway is the only sort of financial help Bush understands.
27 January 2007
was easily the most vibrant march since before the war started (nothing
yet has beaten that amazing time in NYC when we shut the Avenues down
while Powell spun his lies to the UN...unfortunately we couldn't stop
this debacle before it started.)
I think the audacity of the Bush regime not simply to ignore, but
actually to contravene the will of the voters, the bipartisan Iraq Study
Group, and the military leadership has woken some people up to the
absolute moral bankruptcy of this administration.
We can march, and we can make speeches, but if the people we've elected
to represent us won't listen, then what? How many times must we march?
26 January 2007
The film is visually beautiful, but it contains several gruesome scenes that rip you out of that visual enjoyment to remind you that the story is also set in extreme violence. The main character, Ofelia, is a young girl given to reading fairytales -- a "vice" frowned upon by her new step-father, the fascist Captain. With the conflict between the fascists and the loyalists as background, Ofelia escapes into a fantasy world in which she is the long-lost daughter of some sort of underworld king (but underworld king in a good way, not in a king of the dead way) and must accomplish three tasks before she's allowed back to the kingdom.
If this film were to win an Oscar (it's up for six, including best original screenplay and best foreign language film), I'm sure the right wing spin machine would see it as yet another example of leftwing Hollywood (yeah, leftwing Hollywood...the people who brought you the blacklist) -- I can remember when the Wall Street Journal's opinion pages went into spasms over Toni Morrison being awarded the Nobel Prize way back in the day -- but I don't know...I always thought fascism was a bad thing.
Ofelia's fairytale world isn't exactly tea parties and pixiedust, though: it owes more to Grimm's fairytales than anything cheery or bright. It's my guess that Guillermo Del Toro is making the point that the violence that surrounds Ofelia in her real life leaks over to the fairytale world, but in that fantasy world she can at least maintain some control. Certainly her step-father shows little interest in her or her mother, except so far as the mother can bear him a son.
Getting out to see this film reminded me of how much I miss going to the movies (I don't share MG!'s fear of the cinema) and how many Academy Award nominated films I haven't seen this year or last (one of my students mentioned Crash today in class, and while I know the general outline of the film, I have to say it's on my evergrowing list of films I need to see rather than a film I have seen). Maybe that can be a resolution, because the netflix queue is growing with no end in sight.
25 January 2007
In the Cheney world, the only cause of failure is a failure to believe in his vision. If confronted with the realities of daily car bombings and a resistance to US occupation that seems broad-based and deep-rooted, Cheney responds that it's the media that's to blame (as reported in the Post):
Vice President Cheney said yesterday that the administration has achieved "enormous successes" in Iraq but complained that critics and the media "are so eager to write off this effort or declare it a failure" that they are undermining U.S. troops in a war zone, striking a far more combative tone than President Bush did in his State of the Union address the night before.
The man is, of course, a lunatic. We shouldn't forget that he cut his teeth in the Nixon administration, where he basked in Nixon's belief that the Executive Branch held ultimate power, no matter what the Constitution might say.
This administration has sought to hide their failures behind the "support the troops" smokescreen since the Bush Debacle began, treating the troops as if they were collateral to cover your debts. It's incredibly cynical, but when you're an evil man, there's no such thing as morality: it's win the political battle at all costs. Apparently, the 3000+ troops that Bush and he have sacrificed to their collective egos are fabrications of the media anyway. As for the "enormous successes" of the Iraq Adventure, Cheney has this to say:
In fact, Cheney said, the operation in Iraq has achieved its original mission. "What we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do," he said. "The world is much safer today because of it. There have been three national elections in Iraq. There's a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically elected government. Saddam has been brought to justice and executed. His sons are dead. His government is gone."
His assertion that we are safer today is demonstrably false. He is either living in fantasyland or he's lying. Take your pick. His other assertions are, let's say, shining the best light possible on a bad situation. Here's a more accurate translation: "There have been three meaningless national elections in Iraq. The trappings of democracy are there, a paper constitution, and a new US puppet government that will fall the second we leave. Saddam received a show trial and we have our revenge. His sons are dead. His and all semblance of any government is gone."
Of course, the truth isn't really at issue for Cheney: he has his truth, and empirical evidence has nothing to do with it. He understands, like Goebbels and Orwell before him, that truth is not nearly as important as controlling the message. Since he can't muzzle the media due to our pesky Constitution, he does the next best thing: attack it, intimidate it, co-opt it. It's worked remarkably well in the past (CNN was a leading propaganda tool for the administration in its march to war, as were the Post and the New York Times), but it doesn't work forever.
So he reacts as any tyrant losing control is bound to react: he insists upon his vision, revealed to most the world to be bankrupt and myopic, and builds his enemies list, as the faux reality he has created crumbles around him.
23 January 2007
Today, though, we can revive it in service of the "Global War on Terror" (TM) that's little more than an excuse to spend loads and loads of money on welfare for the military industrial complex and quasi-fascist friends who back in the 1980's ran "Survivalist Camps" but now run "Security Firms." So Insight Magazine reported that Senator Barack Obama attended a radical Islamic school in Indonesia as a child, making him the posterboy for the New World Order's Manchurian Candidate. CNN, however, claims to have debunked this story:
But reporting by CNN in Jakarta, Indonesia and Washington, D.C., shows the allegations that Obama attended a madrassa to be false. CNN dispatched Senior International Correspondent John Vause to Jakarta to investigate.
He visited the Basuki school, which Obama attended from 1969 to 1971. "This is a public school. We don't focus on religion," Hardi Priyono, deputy headmaster of the
Basuki school, told Vause. "In our daily lives, we try to respect religion, but we don't give preferential treatment."
Vause reported he saw boys and girls dressed in neat school uniforms playing outside the school, while teachers were dressed in Western-style clothes.
Thanks for clearing that up, but in the meantime the right-wing blather machine, including that of the sad second banana Glenn Beck on CNN, was in full-swing, with Fox News repeating the allegations as often as they could without sounding too elated not to have to be covering the indictment of yet another highly placed Republican operative.
Interestingly enough, Insight Magazine attributes their story to some unnamed (what a surprise) source in the Hillary Clinton campaign. Of course, the right wing also attributed Vincent Foster's suicide (which they usually put in scare quotes: "suicide") to Hillary Clinton, too.
I'm willing to bet this story will not go away during either the primary or the general elections.
Special Branch officers protected loyalist paramilitary informants and failed to stop them committing up to 15 murders, according to a damning report by the police ombudsman for Northern Ireland published yesterday.Nothing like getting in bed with the same criminals you are supposed to be protecting the populace from. The Washington Post also notes that the RUC actually paid these criminals rather handsomely while they went around drug-running and murdering:
There was clear evidence of collusion between members of the banned Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in north Belfast and police officers over a period of 12 years, the ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, declared.
To protect informers, police officers blocked weapons searches, created fake notes of their interviews and even "babysat" informers so they wouldn't incriminate themselves in crimes that included drug-dealing and a bomb attack. Police paid one informer, believed to be involved in more than 10 murders, more than $150,000 a year, the report said.Not bad work if you can get it. All the current charges stem from the 1990's forward, which really makes you wonder how bad it was during the 1970's and 1980's.
20 January 2007
19 January 2007
was playing. This bar was no French Quarter Daiquiri trough either. It
was a cramped little shack with sagging wood floors and an ancient cash
register that served no other purpose than to hold the money. A cigar
box would have served the same function.
Since the Saints are still in the NFL playoffs, the band led off with a
rollicking version of "When the Saints Come Marching In" interpolating
the Saints's de facto theme song, "who dat?" They promised to return to
the "Who Dat?" Song throughout the night, and they did.
One tremendous thing about the bar was how informal it was: band and
audience were barely separate, with the band tucked into a corner of the
dancing area, and between songs it was difficult to see any separation,
with individual members of the band carrying on conversations with the
We were lucky enough as well to run into another member of the Rebirth Brass
Band (the tuba player, Phil), who'll be playing the Velvet Lounge in March. He handed us a copy
of "Ultimate Rebirth Brass Band," which was nice.
All in all, it was a very late night.
18 January 2007
It's set in New Orleans, sometime in the late 1950's I would imagine, and the main character is a mutual fund salesman or financial adviser, however you want to put it. His occupation, though, barely figures in the story, except as an explanation to his moderate wealth, and even then it's a magical explanation: he has "feelings" about certain stocks or funds and those feelings pay off. It is, I'm certain, the way many people relate to the stock market, since so much of the value of the stock certificate is based not on actual worth but on perceived worth: it is only in the extreme situations such as failing to meet payroll or major criminal investigations that the curtain is pulled back long enough to reveal the actual worth of a "hot" stock. But that's not really central to The Moviegoer.
And neither are actual movies, although the narrator's own eccentricity does have much to do with his attachment to moviehouses. In fact, for the narrator, it's not so much the movie as it is the moviehouse that matters, and it's the history, no matter how banal, of that particular moviehouse in which he's watching a film that matters, because the book is not so much about New Orleans, or movies, or stockbrokers as it is about the great existentialist fear of the midtwentiethcentury that the individual was nothing but a cog in a machine. There are at least two ways of looking at this fear.
For theorists like Adorno and the Frankfurt School, the culture industry was producing a levelled, homogenized culture that removed personal agency and dulled critical thinking. That's a leftist critique that sees the rise of the culture industry as a logical extension of capitalism's need to expand into every facet -- every market if you will -- of human existence. Another way to look at the problem is through an existentialist view that humans need to make their own meaning and that the lives we are given in the world are not that meaningful until we make them our own. It's a very romantic notion and a compelling one as well. However, to my mind it often fails to take into account the systemic pressures that compel one to chuck the existentialist dream for a steady 9 to 5 with benefits.
The Moviegoer's protagonist, Binx Bolling, is full of the fear that he will become an "anyone anywhere" and lose his specificity. His female cousin Kate shares the same fear, only she holds her life together somewhat less well. And since this is a southern novel, the two are in some sort of ambivalent, vaguely incestuous, semi-playful, semi-serious love affair. The book is very well written, but heaven help me I simply didn't care a whole lot about Binx's obsession and "The Search." It would be very interesting, though, to teach this book alongside a few others in 20th century American lit course: Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, Miller's Death of a Salesman, for instance, to talk about the soul-deadening effects of consumerism or capitalism. If you could stomach some truly bad writing, you could throw Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead in there as well to demonstrate the fantasy of the individual that's endemic to capitalism, a system that has perfected the assembly line and "the science of management" to knock as much individuality out of anyone as possible. Not that Rand or her cult of disciples would like that interpretation.
What does any of all this have to do with New Orleans? I don't know. I'll try to figure that out today.
17 January 2007
16 January 2007
And in all honesty, I shouldn't say the bugaboo site sells the stroller for that amount. However, I clicked on their list of retailers, and here's what I found: "Buy Buy Baby" (can you think of a more crass name for a site on children?) goes for $729 or $779 depending on style.
At "babystyle.com" you can get the stroller for $879. The best part about the babystyle marketing is that they declare in large bold font that the Bugaboo Cameleon Stroller is "A Celebration of Personal Expression!" A breakout box also tells you that these are "celeb-favorite strollers," which goes a long way to explaining their vapid target audience.
My opinion, by the way, of several parents has dropped sharply after finding they were stupid enough or vain enough to purchase this stroller. And here of course is the rub: there's nothing quite so joyful as watching children play, but there's nothing quite so stomach-churning as listening to the parents go on to each other about their $20K preschools and imagined dangers of all stripes. And no, not all of your goddamned children are gifted.
Only mine are.
15 January 2007
since our son was very small. For one thing, there's a hell of a lot
more white people in these parks these days. And white or not the parent
age skews older -- I'd say most parents are in their late thirties or
early forties. Of course exceptions abound.
Another interesting component to all of this parenting observation is
the "baby as commodity" phenomenon. Children provide an excellent way
for parents to display their wealth, most visibly in the stroller chosen
to perambulate the young tike. Today's hot item is the "bugaboo," a
stroller my wife informs me costs upward of $700. I don't know. Some
models must be cheaper, because I see too many to believe that so many
parents are so stupid...but then again it's not really about use-value,
People can spend a good deal of money "on their child" when it's pretty
clear they're really spending it on their own egos.
11 January 2007
At least this time some of the Democrats are claiming they'll fight BushCo's full speed ahead steamrolling of the Constitution and Congressional oversight. Not Joe Biden, though. Joe Biden represents so much of what is wrong with the Democratic Party and why the Democrats are often seen by so many on the Left as "Republican Lite." Here's Biden excusing his pitiful lack of oversight on the Iraq Boondoggle:
"There is nothing a United States Senate can do to stop a president from conducting his war," Biden said. "The only thing that is going to change the president's mind, if he continues on a course that is counterproductive, is having his party walk away from his position."
Oh, really? Nothing? The U.S. Senate is powerless in the face of this lame duck administration? Fortunately, letter writer Mike Wingo called bullshit on Biden's sad pronouncement:
I am certain that Mr. Biden knows that the Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse. And not a penny has been spent on this war that wasn't approved by both houses of Congress. So, there is indeed something the Senate can do to bring about a rapid end to the debacle in Iraq: refuse to fund it.
Wingo is on to something. It's reminiscent of Thoreau's argument in "Resistance to Civil Government," even though Thoreau makes his appeal to the citizens and not the legislature, and he's writing about both slavery and the Mexican-American War, but the idea of drying up the funding is the same:
Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible.
So Senator Biden, the idea is that the Senate can simply stop funding Mr. Bush's project. Take a stand. Of course, that's harder to do that than it is to pretend you aren't responsible -- yes you Mr. Biden who voted to authorize Bush's illegal and ill-advised aggression -- for the whole mess in the first place.
10 January 2007
The email was short and to the point, so I'll quote it in full:
In just as little as 2 *weeks* you can have a masters degree from a national university. A better job, more income and a better life cna all be yours in less than 2 weeks. No books to buy, no classes to go to, and no entrance exams. Learn in your own home at your own pace. We uspply all the study materials, all you have to do is apply! Everyone is accepted!
I attribute the spelling errors to the excitement that bringing this sort of news to the general public must cause. Imagine how stupid I feel spending several years attaining my degree, when I could have had one from prestigious non-accredited univesrities in less than two weeks, and I wouldn't have to pay for any books. Cha-ching, my friends, cha-ching.
And talk about relieving the pressure of applying: everyone is accepted! This sort of customer service is going to put those old-fangled universities out of business! I know we're already about two weeks gone in the new year, but with this offer I'm sure I can still attain at least 24 more master's degrees before 2008!
As the kids say, "Wo0t!"
09 January 2007
Within a few washings the pants had lost that deep black look and faded to an ashy look, and my friends, we don't use harsh detergents in our house. Within two months the inside button that supposedly helps to hold the pants up (I never can figure out why men's dress pants universally have two or perhaps three fastening devices sitting on top of the fly. Perhaps it's so cheaply made shit like these Banana Republic pants have a backup...) came off. Since it's redundant, I didn't bother to reattach it, but it bothers me nonetheless some feature of these pants failed so rapidly.
Of course, a lost inside button is small potatoes compared to what came next. Two weeks ago I wore these pants and I'll be damned if the left front pocket seams haven't started to come undone. So now the pocket begins a good half-inch below where it's supposed to be, and I'm starting to look like I get wardrobe advice from Goodwill Industries.
So the question is, how the hell does Banana Republic stay in business? Shoddy merchandise and high prices should be a recipe for bankruptcy, but I suppose nothing should surprise me in a culture where the brand is more important than the product.
Just wait until I start ragging on Levis.
08 January 2007
The biggest disappointment of the bowl season was Florida State beating UCLA. Leave it to the lackluster Bruins, who could go out and beat a champion calibre team like USC late in the season, to pull a stunning choke against one of the worst teams to be playing in a bowl this year.
Speaking of bad, how about that beating LSU administered on Notre Dame? I'm glad at least one commentator has the good sense to realize that Notre Dame got a BCS bowl because of its name and not its team. I am looking forward to next fall, when ND visits Happy Valley.
03 January 2007
the mountain to see some snow, and we drove to Brian Head, Utah, to
figure out what to do.
In addition to having some skiing and sledding, Brian Head is also close
to Cedar Breaks National Monument. So we killed two birds, as they say.
Anyway, we spent the entire afternoon sledding, which in addition to
being free (except for sled rental of five bucks each) allowed even our
little daughter to enjoy the snow.
Of course, now that the sun's gone down, it's getting pretty damn cold.
Over and out.
01 January 2007
fireworks started going off. It's a long story.
Las Vegas is one of those magical places where time and money and sense
get entirely warped, and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas so often
because it's highly embarrassing and takes place under unreal
Which isn't to say that Vegas is a dreamland; its filthy underside is
full of the same stories of paycheck-to-paycheck, stringing together a
few part-time jobs, praying that nothing happens to your uninsured ass
ordinary people as any other town, except everything is amplified here.
Directly across from the casinos that spring up off-strip to serve the
growing local populace you will find pawn shops and predatory loan
businesses offering paycheck advances and loans on your auto title. It
is still illegal, however, to pawn off your children.