30 March 2007

See you later, alligator.

I'm outta here for a short time, hitting the west coast for a little rest and relaxation. If I get into internet access, I might post and I might not. When I return, though, I will post pictures.

29 March 2007

Generation gap or cultural shift?

On occasion I go to the gym on campus to play a little basketball, and when I do that I use the locker room to store my stuff and also to shower afterwards. I grew up doing this, since I went to public school and phy-ed was required every year and after phys-ed, whether you actually did anything sweaty or not, the sadistic gym teacher, who'd been there for I kid you not 40 years, demanded that you shower.

The gym showers were typical: one large shower room with shower jets mounted on the walls and/or central columns.

In college, I usually trudged home to the dorm rather than shower at the gym, but I can tell you the shower stalls there were the exact same way: one big room with a bunch of shower nozzles.

I am, by the way, getting to a point of some sort.

Anyway, the university I'm working at now recently built a fancy new gymnasium and I go there to play ball as I've mentioned. When this building first opened, it too had one big room with several shower nozzles. I would say within a few months of opening, each of those nozzles became enclosed in a stall. I suppose perhaps someone felt it was nice to provide privacy to people showering, even though it is a locker room for christ's sake (my own theory is that the administration views the students not as students but as "customers," and the "upgrade" was based on what's available at fancier private gyms around town -- having never been in one, I wouldn't know) .

Those stalls remained untouched for a while, then one day I found that all the doors had been removed from the stalls. This development I chalked up, as I did the previous one, to rampant homophobia and someone being concerned that the stall doors could lead to too much privacy, if you know what I mean.

Then suddenly the doors were back.

All of this narrative is what I call preamble.

Here's what I'm getting at: I take my towel with me to the shower room and I used to hang it on towel hooks placed on the wall for that purpose, but now with the stalls I place it on stall door. I shower, dry off, and head back to my clothes. I'm noticing a rising trend in which my fellow gym rats not only take their towels to the shower, but also a change of clothes. Perhaps this shouldn't bother me, but I have to wonder why everyone is so uptight about their naked bodies these days. Oh, I should mention this trend applies mainly to younger men (I'm 38; let's say people in their twenties and under); the old dudes who frequent the gym have no problem engaging you in extended conversations while wearing nothing other than the skin they were born with. I have a theory on this phenomenon:

Growing awareness of gay and lesbian issues has caused an increased awareness among straight jocks that they most likely are sharing the locker room with ho-mo-sex-uals, and they're utterly terrified of having their junk displayed like fruit on a tree. And a little excited.

Discuss.

28 March 2007

Why are wimmenfolk so hysterical about rights?

Who would have thought that the statements below would be so controversial, so radical, that conservative groups still fight against them:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
The Equal Rights Amendment, a holdover from the 1970's, has apparently been given new life. It's a relatively shameful fact that the amendment wasn't ratified by enough states back when it was passed through both houses of Congress, but take a look at the map -- those who didn't pass the ERA in red, and you shouldn't be terribly surprised:


The opponents to women's equal rights are mainly composed of the old Confederacy and one of the two states that refused to recognize the Martin Luther King holiday (Arizona). Jesus, even Texas passed the ERA. I don't think I need to return to my old saw yet again, but man it is tempting.

Understandably, Phyllis Schlafly the matron saint of "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen" (who can't seem to follow her own advice) opines against gender equality. Her proto-fascist "Eagle Forum" (reminder: I don't provide links to fascist, racist, or otherwise retrograde organizations unless I absolutely have to) gives "Ten Cases That Prove" why the ERA would be a disaster. Nearly all of the reasons given involve anti-abortion or homophobic rhetoric:

"Heterosexual-only marriage is currently the law in all fifty states and was the purpose for the federal Defense of Marriage Act (28 U.S.C. § 1738C). But ERA would have prohibited such sex-based limitations on marriage."

As is usually the case, the reasoning is suspect. How does giving women equal rights with men lead to homosexual marriage? Is there something I'm missing here? What in fact would two gay men, for instance, have to gain in their case by the passing of the ERA? Is Schlafly simply stupid, or is it once again the tactic of the Right to act intentionally stupid and misstate their case in order to scare people? A mystery for the ages...

27 March 2007

Midafternoon break.

Out of nowhere somewhere of course I've developed a tremendous headache.

I'd like to blame it on poor diet, but unfortunately I can't. Or on lack of sleep.

I think the culprit is the overheated meeting room I had to sit in for an hour and a half. Two advils later and it's still sitting there on my forehead not sure if it wants to go away or fight through the ibuprofen.

I'd prefer to take a nap, but I think that's bad form at the office and a little more noticeable than logging in to write this post. Maybe I can try the old high school trick of opening a book on the desk and cupping my hands over my brows to make it appear that I'm deep in thought.

If I've done nothing else today, I at least accomplished getting a new watch battery.

Let's hear it for small goals.

22 March 2007

The Dustbin of History.

Back in the old days, I was in a band. Not a real band, the kind that actually went out and played gigs in bars and stuff. OK. We did do that a few times, but nothing major. We were a cover band and played mainly for our own amusement. And most of this was in high school (except the bars part), so once we went to college the band broke up. Only one of us ever went on to bigger and better things, band-wise, and he did that in Atlanta.

I played the bass, very poorly at first, but I got better. It didn't help that when I bought the bass (a used black Westone) I'd never before attempted to play a musical instrument of any kind. Thank god for tablature. The first time I played with the band (which was maybe the second or third time they'd played), at the high school talent show, my amp was either unplugged or turned down very very low so that I wouldn't f-up the performance. Our second "gig" involved just the guitarist and me; we were playing background music at a friend's graduation party, and my skills were so limited that we more or less played endless renditions of "Louie Louie" and "Wild Thing."

Our major problem throughout our career was finding a drummer. When we were seniors in high school, we had a good drummer -- a junior -- but he had crazy parents who didn't want him moving his kit from their basement unless he was getting paid to play somewhere, and that sort of prerequisite kind of limits your prospects when your gigs are mostly held at friends' houses.

Toward the end of high school, I traded in the Westone for a beautiful birdseye maple Ibanez bass that I still have to this day. Here's a photo of me with my bass circa 1990:


Yes it was hot as hell in that cramped apartment, and for better or for worse our PA blew out soon into the set and we were free to drink beer and sweat without having heavy chunks of wood and metal hanging around our necks.

21 March 2007

Yesterday I had to get my bike fixed.

I was taking the kids to school and daycare and somewhere near the school, I hit some glass and poof there goes the tire. So having dropped the two off at their destinations, I walked the bike to City Bikes, using the flat tire as an excuse to get new brake pads. I used my being dressed in work attire to excuse myself from doing it myself.

While my bike was being repaired, I wandered into Idle Times Books. Back before I had children, one of my great joys was to wander through used bookstores unattached to time. Yesterday I spent a long time on the second floor of Idle Times, digging through the Sociology, Philosophy, History, and "Left of Center" sections. I picked up a few books, and now I'm reminded of a certain bad habit of mine, which is that if allowed time to browse in bookstores I inevitably purchase books at a faster pace than I can read them. As bad habits go, it's sort of innocuous, but it does lead to stacks of unread books and a guilty conscience.

The neighborhood is pleasant during the workday. I'd love to have one day off a week to enjoy it: to sit in Tryst, a place I never would go into before the smoking ban, and read a book or maybe take a slow look through Crooked Beat. Instead, I had to pick my bike up and get in to work by noon.

Still, half a day out is better than none.

20 March 2007

Sidenote on memory.

I've been digging around for a box of old photos for a couple of days now and the frustrating thing is that not four months ago I had the box at my feet and was looking through them. A friend of mine is looking for photos of our band, which means high school era pictures. I spent a good hour last night rummaging through shelves and shoe boxes trying to find the envelopes I recognize, but all I can come up with is 90's era stuff.

It's a crazy thing to lose your past.

19 March 2007

Notes of a NCAA reject.

My bracket is busted. Let's just say you shouldn't put much faith in badgers; they are very nasty animals indeed. Philip over at Bridge Street Books told me on Saturday that ESPN.com had 3 million entries to their bracket challenge this year and that by the end of round 1 only 62 were still correct. That's amazing attrition.

I was over at Bridge Street picking up a few books. One was The Portable Beat Reader, which I purchased mainly for use in class, because god knows I read enough Kerouac and Burroughs when I was in college myself and really don't need to read much more now (although I suppose I should return to On the Road and give it another chance, this time as a scholar rather than as a sponge trying to soak up whatever I could). I'm trying to find my copy of an incredible reading Ginsberg did of "America" back in the old days at City Lights or the Berkeley Library or somewhere like that. It's rollicking and everyone is having fun.

The other book I picked up was James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time. I've come late to the Baldwin party, having avoided him in large part because of an essay he wrote attacking Richard Wright ("Everybody's Protest Novel"), whom I greatly admire. As a result, I really only read a few of his short stories. However, this winter I read Baldwin's No Name in the Streets and was amazed at the power in his critique of racism. So I figured I'd pick up its antecedent to piece together, backwards style, both the prediction of great racial turmoil in The Fire Next Time and the post-mortem Baldwin performs in No Name in the Streets. Even when it proves you correct, it's a very sad thing to have predictions of death and destruction come true.

I haven't finished The Fire Next Time, but I'm already of the opinion that everyone in the United States of America should read this short book.

16 March 2007

Ticking away, the moments that make up a dull day...

Time is running so short for Alberto Gonzales that his office administrator won't let him reorder his business cards. Someone should start running a pool on the date he hands in his letter of resignation. I'm thinking you divide the days up into six four hour chunks and raffle off each chunk for the next week. Will it be Friday, between 8 a.m. and noon? How about Saturday around midnight? It probably depends on how juicy those emails between Gonzo and Rove turn out to be.

Either way, we're left with an idiot king who came to town, if people can remember back this far, promising to "restore dignity to the office of the Presidency." You could say Bush has certainly broke his promise, but I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt and figure that he doesn't actually know the meaning of the word "dignity" and therefore didn't have a clue what he was saying.

15 March 2007

Productivity will simply go out the window.

Today is the Ides of March, but more importantly it's the tipoff of the annual holiday known as the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, or colloquially as "March Madness." Workplaces may as well give employees today and tomorrow off, since nearly everyone -- or at least nearly everyone I want to know -- will be following games online and/or watching them in staff lounges, if of course they haven't made it a point to call in sick. See, I'm so distracted with these bread and circuses that I am not even commenting on the latest political "dead man walking," soon to be former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Locally, we have a few teams in the hunt: Georgetown, George Washington, and Maryland (sorry Virginians, but teams over an hour away aren't local). I'm looking at G-town and Maryland making the best runs, but GW surprising everyone with two victories before falling to crosstown rivals Georgetown. Maryland I think will take down Florida. Maybe I'm crazy.

I am so excited I am having to piss every half hour.

14 March 2007

I'm going where there's no Depression, To a better land that's free from care...

What will the next Depression look like? It's quite possible we won't have to speculate too long to find out, although I'm not exactly looking forward to that future. Yesterday, the Dow lost 242 points -- not much in the scheme of things, but given that it fell by 416 in late February, you have to wonder. World markets have not been happy.

What free-market triumphalists don't like to talk about is that since markets are based on little more than speculation, they're subject to "boom and bust" cycles, and someone gets left holding the bag when it busts. We've been lucky so far in this country since the Great Depression of the 1930's. Sure, the late 1970's and early 1980's were tight times, with double-digit inflation and at times nearly double-digit unemployment, but you can't really compete with the 1930's, when unemployment ran around 20% for the decade.

Since then, the "free market" has been reined in a bit, with more regulation to stop the most egregious swindling and built-in checks to stop big slides in the market. Now the big question is housing. As the BBC puts it:
Figures have shown that late mortgage payments and home repossessions in the US are at their highest level since records began.
Not a good sign. I often wonder as I wander around the neighborhood who it is who's affording all these homes that sell for $700K and up and all the condos that sell for $500K and up. I know there are people out there making more than $150K a year, but not every homebuyer is doing that, and certainly with the inventive loans that had been dished out until recently (interest only, etc.), it's clear not everyone could afford the homes they were buying.

What will a longterm downturn mean in "transitional" areas like Columbia Heights? Or the north and east areas of Adams-Morgan?

__

13 March 2007

The stink just gets ranker and ranker...

Many pundits, conservative and liberal alike, use the term "cesspool" when referring to federal government corruption here in Washington, D.C., and the Bush administration is doing everything it can to vie with Nixon for most corrupt administration in living memory.

You'd have to say BushCo got off on the wrong foot, what with having to steal the election in 2000 and all (perhaps the most jobbed election since Tilden-Hayes), but once in power they made haste to f*ck everything up as much as possible, with plans to dismantle public education, public healthcare, and assistance to anyone in need. Even September 11, 2001, was seen as an opportunity: rather than concentrate on Osama bin Laden, the self-professed perpetrator of the attacks, BushCo seized the chance to go after Saddam Hussein, a hamstrung dictator who'd been on the outs since 1990 with the US government who'd been willing to see his regime through chemical weapons use and other bloody reprisals all through Reagan's 1980's. Pretty much everyone except the most die-hard idiot wing of the Republican Party understands that BushCo engineered the evidence for that "preemptive war" and Scooter Libby's conviction confirms that they then went about on a campaign of intimidation and character assassination to silence dissent about their fabricated evidence.

Even being embroiled in two foreign wars hasn't kept BushCo from their neoconservative agenda of hate at home, though. While talking a good game about supporting the troops, BushCo has been embarrassed by the shoddy conditions of the services -- medical or otherwise -- afforded the returning troops. The Walter Reed Hospital scandal highlights the administration's shortcomings when it comes to "supporting the troops," a jingoistic catchword that the right wing has long deployed syllogistically to imply that opposing the war means supporting the enemy or opposing US military personnel.

But the scandals keep coming. Attorney General Alberto "I Support Torture" Gonzales decided it was time for a few US attorneys who didn't toe the BushCo line well enough to go. In his eight politically motivated firings, Gonzales might have thought he could slip under the radar, but nothing could be further from the truth. Last week we learned that Republican legislators had called at least one of the now-fired attorneys to try to fast track investigations into Democrats. Now it appears that the seeds for the plan originated in the White House. Harriet Miers, she of the failed nomination to the Supreme Court, had wanted a wholesale purge of US attorneys as Bush's second term began. History, apparently, teaches these fools nothing.

Unfortunately, history rarely teaches most of the electorate anything, as we continue to vote fools into power. Democracy only works with an informed, educated, and active electorate.

It is a sad time for the Republic.

12 March 2007

Weekend recap.

Among the things I did this weekend was read a short one-act play by Howard Zinn, Marx in Soho. It's a very quick read, and it does what a good activist play should do: it informs and entertains at the same time. The premise is pretty simple: Marx returns to the living for a short time, but through a "bureaucratic mixup" he's returned to New York's Soho rather than London's Soho. Zinn's Marx deftly glosses the "dictatorship of the proletariat" concept and counters the pervasive (yet utterly uninformed) attempts to link Marx's theories with the authoritarian police states that called and continue to call themselves Marxist (seriously: does anyone with half a brain actually think North Korea is Marxist? Or China?).

It's the sort of play that can be produced on the cheap: it's a one-man show with nothing but a few chairs, a table, some books, and some beer as props. Back in the 1930's, it's the sort of play that would have been produced in the union halls and by small acting companies and college students in whatever space was available to them. Today, of course, to speak the name Marx is to cut oneself off from polite company, yet Zinn's Marx declares that it's really a strange thing to consider him dead when his analysis of Capitalism continues to hold up in the present time: the wealth gap between rich and poor continues to grow, and wealth concentrates itself in a smaller and smaller percentage of people.

But the weekend wasn't all work. Both Saturday and Sunday were great days in the park, and today my son and I opted for wiffleball, which I think was far better than the foam bat and ball we used on Saturday. This week is looking like the warming trend will continue, so let's hope next weekend finds us out without our jackets.

Oh, yeah, and on a final note, I've noticed someone's been posting stuff in the neighborhood about "missing the kickball registration deadline": obviously a cheap-o advertisement for the kickball leagues that infest the Adams Morgan area in the summer. My question is why are they advertising in the city rather than out the orange and blue lines in Clarendon, King Street, etc.?

11 March 2007

Time and distance are out of place here.

It's an hour later than my body thinks it is. At least my computer knows the real time. Daylight Savings Time reminds us all that time is a relative matter, or at least our methods of keeping it regular are. Congress could just as easily passed regulation that instead of one hour forward we went two hours forward. Or even better, to appease business, we could still require the 8 hour workday but decide there were only 12 hours in a day. Everything would have to be recalibrated! Old watches would be obsolete. That would generate all sorts of work for people, replacing timepieces in public places, engineering new watch faces that reflected the changed time standards, and of course the computer programmers who would have to tell every little and large thing that had any sort of computer chip to tell time in it that we were now on a new schedule.

Happy DST all!

09 March 2007

Remembrance of things past...

So I'm sitting around listening to an old Teenage Fanclub album, A Catholic Education, and wondering whatever happened to this early-nineties favorite of mine...well, I wonder no longer as the wikipedia tells all...

They're still out there and still making records. I have a lot of catching up to do. One thing I love about them is the thick sound that fills up space (but in a different way than say the Smashing Pumpkins had a thick sound that utterly overwhelmed everything else...ah, Siamese Dream was a beautiful album...).

Now a true blast from the deep past, the Police, the first band I ever really loved, are reuniting and touring. They looked tremendous at the Grammies; let's hope they can sustain a tour without Sting trying to ruin it all by selling Jag-u-ars or something.

I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

08 March 2007

When I'm Virtual, I'm Ten Feet Tall

The bbc.co.uk has an interesting story about virtual reality today. They're talking about "massively multiplayer online" games, or MMOs, and a few game developers were making some predictions:
Daniel James, chief executive of Three Rings, said: "You are about to see, and this is happening already in Asia, many different kinds of games that are massively multiplayer and less based on role-playing games."
He added: "This medium is going to destroy TV - and it's going to happen in short term."

Destroy TV? Wow. A long time ago, like maybe a year or so ago, I wrote about virtual reality and how it's rapidly challenging our "reality." After all, why be the limited you that you are in real life when you can be the suave cosmopolitan virtual you? Get yourself an avatar that scores well on beauty and sophistication, and new worlds open up. Anyway, that rumination was based upon my brother-in-law's telling me about his friend who plays World of Warcraft and has dropped engagements with many of his real-life friends so he can attend "parties" with his Warcraft friends in the virtual world.

If you haven't read your Baudrillard, now is the time to do so. Jean Baudrillard died this week. I don't read French, but I wish I could read this. Baudrillard predicted the collapse of the "real" and the "virtual," although he argued forcefully that even what we call the "real" world has been virtualized by such forces as the mass media.

But getting back to the destroy TV bit: television, that great gaping hole in nearly everyone's living room, offers us one-way versions of virtual reality: we can get stuck inside someone else's plotlines. MMOs offer us two-way versions of virtual reality: we can create and interact within the rather vague limitations of the software. It's like those old-fashioned "Choose Your Own Adventure" books from a pre-internet youth...but now it's almost endlessly malleable. You create your own reality when you want to. Simply logout when you've had enough.

Perhaps most interesting for the bloggers and the myspacers and friendsters and facebookers out there is this little tidbit:
"It will be really hard to tell what is and what isn't an MMO. There will be a lot of experiments in convergence between social networking and MMOs.
"Five years from now a social networking site without a 3D universe will look like a
dinosaur."

So we will go from the flat experience of a webpage (think of the myspace experience now) to a more surrounding and "realistic" world of social networking, where your current myspace page becomes a house people can visit, can look around, can pick up objects, maybe make themselves a spot of tea, etc. Conversations won't be the bloop and blips of instant messenger, but the spoken dialogue between two avatars.

Honey, it's cold outside, but the sun's always shining in my computerworld...

06 March 2007

The old bait and switch

I would write about the Federal Prosecutor Purge, but I'm a little late to the table on that one. When that story initially broke several weeks back, it was pretty clear that the whiff of rat was in the air, but like any good stew, it's taken a little time for the scum to rise to the surface. In this case, we found out that one prosecutor was fired to make way for one of Karl Rove's staffers. Oh, that's just the kind of person I'd entrust with enforcing the law: a toady for an administration that has overseen corruption, dirty tricks, and plain old international war crimes unequaled since Nixon. Lately, the stories have gotten even more sordid, with New Mexico's Congressional delegation (at least two of them) attempting to exert pressure on the now-fired prosecutor for not rushing through an investigation of Democrats in that state.

But I've been rather busy and haven't been posting as regularly as I used to. It's hard to keep up with every outrage perpetrated by this administration, which combines incompetence, negligence, and corruption, yet manages to excel in fundraising and publicity tactics -- tell the big lie and keep telling it...keep telling it.

Instead I'll write about how damn cold it was this morning and how my sunglasses kept fogging up everytime I exhaled, since my coat was zipped up the whole way to protect my face from the nasty wind. It's dangerous enough riding a bike in DC, let alone having to deal with peering around the lenses when they fogged. The alternative, though, is to be blinded by the sun and arrive at work with a headache from squinting. No thanks.

04 March 2007

Just another friendly reminder...

The word Conservative, in a political sense, has the following history: against the rights of women (including but not limited to suffrage), against the abolition of slavery, against the Civil Rights movement, against child labor laws, against the right to unionize, against gay rights. In short, the conservative mindset in politics is against any sort of social progress. The conservatives by and large stand for the following: the "conservation" and concentration of wealth and power among a small ruling elite.

So it should come as no surprise that Ann Coulter, one of the most undeniably asinine slur-slingers around (remember her, the one who thought we should invade all Arab countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity?) is dishing up her old stock-in-trade to a pandering audience of fellow narrowminded bigots, the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Calling John Edwards a "faggot" is her first mistake. After all, it's a term that in the gay community is akin to the N-word in the Black community -- some insiders use it very specifically, but an outsider's use, especially in a clearly derogatory manner, is entirely unacceptable. Context, as always, is everything. Coulter's second mistake was then to attempt to pass it off as a joke. So the excuse is basically this: "I was telling a joke. So really I'm not racist/homophobic/sexist (take your pick depending on situation) because I was trying to be funny." Ha ha. It worked so well for Michael Richards, too.

Let us not forget that Coulter is the person who defends the McCarthy witch-hunts and believes that critics of the Iraq War are traitors to the country (in fact, I think she believes that being a registered Democrat is evidence to convict one of treason).