Saturday, May 29, 2004

Was Guadalajara in the news today? It should have been.

Most of the leaders of the states of Latin America, the Carribean, and the European Union were here for a summit. They toasted with tequilla. I can see, from my balcony, the air force base from which they will depart. I'm not gonna do nothin' though.

A rather large group of people who are really me on a bad day offered violent protest against the meeting. They hurled various things at the pigs, who were remarkably well behaved. I love the idea of such protests, but I wonder what the point of this one was. After all, the Great Satan wasn't at the meeting, and the EU is hardly a bastion of neo-liberalism. Still.

The Mexican media, sadly, referred to the protesters as "globaliphobicos", which thoroughly misses the point. I'm fairly certain that the protestors aren't afraid of the rest of the world, but rather are concerned that "globalization" is just a one word summary of the process by which capital seeks to exploit the most easily-exploited members of the human family. Globalized living wages, for example, is the sort of thing I reckon the protestors would support. A globalized end to the death penalty might appeal to many of them. Globalized freedom of expression . . . etc. Globalized trade in sweatshop products? Not so much.

Anyway, Guad was the shiznit today.

Why do I think this wasn't well covered by the US media?

In other news (in case you didn't get the email), if you have my address as, know that that is no longer valid. From now on it is

Friday, May 28, 2004

By the way, your Chicago Cubs are 25-20, 1 game back of the hated Cincinnati Red(nex). This despite the talents of Wood and Prior.

Lookin' good!

They will start to suck around this time next week. I'll be back in the USSA and will be watching. They always suck when I watch.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Guardian Unlimited | Arts news | 50 years of British art lies in ashes: "It's only art - there are worse things happening around the world."

And yet it is the thing I choose to blog.

Those who know me may be aware of my general lack of interest in painting and sculpture. I will not take this opportunity to remind people of that, however. Rather, I would like to pose questions:

Why was all that stuff in a warehouse? Isn't art supposed to be on display? Especially art that is deemed to be "important"? And as for this stuff being part of "his" collection and "her" collection: what the fuck are they collecting it for if not to display it somewhere?

If, as I suspect, these works were being hoarded for future profit, then good fucking riddance, I say. Put all your eggs in one kit and kaboodle and reap the whirlwind you so greedily sowed. Or whatever.

How's shit in Iraq, by the way?

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Kerry and Nader, sitting in a tree? Deep down in the deepest heart of my hearts I hope that Kerry will view Nader less as a strategic liability than as an inspiration. Not so much the man, mind you, but the things he talks about.

As I've said before, I'm uncomfortable with Ralph running this time because of his lack of party affiliation (which was a major reason I was enthusiastic about him last time) but the other merit his campaign has is the potential to pull the Democratic party (including Kerry) towards so many of its supporters (leftward). Surely Kerry has noticed that Nader is polling as high as 7% nationwide right now. I hope he's thinking, when he sees this number, "What do these respondents want from a candidate?" rather than "How can I get these people to fall in line?" If he offers these potential Nader voters something to vote for, rather than trying to shame them into voting for him, then I suspect he'll get most or all of them rather easily. He could get me like that and I'd even make him breakfast after.

Mind you, it is not at all clear if Ralph is capable of considering the implications of this. Kerry might become SuperRalph, but Ralph may well be stubborn/arrogant/blind enough to soldier on regardless.

In any event, I could almost stomach McCain as SecDef if Nader gets a similarly key position. Quid pro quo, and all that.

Actually, that would be quite a coup for old Johnny. He might even get Karl Rove to vote for him.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004


I washed my hands of my job today. Finished. School's out forever. And yet I have no real sense of closure. What is wrong?

The Israeli army is tearing through Gaza. I thought they wanted to pull OUT of there! Didn't that shitbag Sharon just say the other day that he wanted out of Gaza? What is wrong?

Sonja Ghandi won't be the prime minister of India after all. So her party wins and she is the leader and she can't take office for fear of Hindu nationalists. What is wrong?

Randy Johnson pitched a perfect game tonight. Randy Johnson is not a Cub. What is wrong?

The mosquitos have returned to my balcony (sorta like the swallows or the monarch butterflies) despite the fact that we haven't had any rain or standing water. What is wrong?

I've got to go get my rear shocks (or struts, or whatever you call those springy things that aren't springs that my car has) replaced tomorrow. What is wrong?

I've figured out what is wrong. It's the gays with their marriage. Ever since that started the world has been going to shit.

To make matters worse, I learned a few minutes ago that not only are agents of the Mexican foreign ministry outside my door, waiting to violently eject me from the country, but that I am to be flown straight to Boston. Even scarier is that all of my identity cards now show me to be a Massachussetts resident. Worst of all, the same thing has happened to Birgit AND she's suddenly become a man! It seems that we are to be forcibly gaymarried and made to adopt children.

The only good news is that, when the draft rolls around, I'm golden.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Dubyah's got serious problems. Iraq is going badly. Scandals proliferate. What does John Fucking Kerry do to kick that asshole when he's down?

Kerry says he wants Republican McCain as defence secretary . . .

or, failing that, John Warner!

I've got a better idea. If this is the best Kerry's got to offer he should just drop out of the race right fucking now. That would save money and trouble. He could give a big speech about how the whole concept of choice is overrated and, when it comes right down to it, Nader has been right all along.

Maybe Kerry's angling for Rummy's gig and that's what this is about.

Here's his slogan, if he choses to "fight it out":

John Kerry: way more like George H.W. Bush than George W. Bush


The Onion has good slogans for the Kerry campaign.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

At the risk of giving away my own (delicate-sounding) thunder, I'll note that The Lincoln Plawg has some rather thoughtful pieces on the torture story as well, from a slightly different perspective.

Birgit (sans luggage) has returned from Germany. She was offered and has accepted a job at the school where she did her training. So, good news. In a few months we’ll be there. Now I’ll have to find a job.

If you happen to be anywhere near Wuppertal and would like to hire me to do anything that doesn’t have anything to do with the profit motive, do drop me a line!

Given that I will soon be moving again, I’ll take a moment from time to time to mention something I will miss about Mexico and something I won’t miss.

I WILL MISS the weather. I hadn’t expected to be comfortable in a climate where there are no hot/cold seasons (my area does have rainy/dry, but not hot/cold), but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Of course, I grew up in Alabama, and it doesn’t really get all that cold during most winters there, but winter is still pretty distinct from summer. That isn’t really the case in this part of Mexico (basically central). Guadalajara, in particular, has a very mild climate. We are far enough south that it doesn’t really get cold (we came within 10 degrees of freezing one or two nights) but high enough (roughly 1800 meters in my neighborhood, and I can’t be bothered to convert that to feet right now) for the summer heat to be less than oppressive. The coast, of course, can get unpleasant, but that’s what palm trees are for. I am looking forward to good ole winter (from 1996-98 I lived in Germany, and from 1998-2002 I lived in West Virginia, so I came to love proper winter), but there will likely be times where I’ll long for a quick trip to the beach in December.

I WILL NOT MISS the traffic. Gua (and Mexico City) have HORRIBLE traffic. This is partly a result of the fact that getting a license here is simply a matter of asking (in fact, at least one local car dealer includes a license with the purchase of a new car). The bigger problem is that Gua has around 8 million people (perhaps less, perhaps more: no one is really sure) and Mex City has over 20 million, so it is a simple matter of space. Other cities and the rural areas aren’t so bad. The roads are often bad, of course, but not usually a problem if you pay attention. But as a general rule, Mexican drivers are the most aggressive drivers I’ve experienced. Pass on a curve? No problem. On a curve on a hill? No problem. On a curve on a hill IN A BUS? No. Prob. Lem. And speed limits are not much of an issue. This part has rubbed off on me. For most of my driving life I’ve stuck fairly close to the speed limit, but my time in Mexico has helped me shed my fear of speed and I often find myself driving 80 mph on rural roads. This is stupid of me, and I need to get over it.

And in other news . . . I’ve got a few untyped thoughts on the prison torture scandal that I feel compelled to type.

As horrible as the news from Iraq is, it is hardly uprecedented. Anyone who has spent any time at all looking at the state of prisons in the US, whether in the here and now or in history, knows that prisoners are and have long been frequently and similarly abused. It is no coincidence, then, that at least two of the men involved in this current scandal were employed as civillian prison guards in the US.

Furthermore it is fairly common for militaries (or paramilitary groups) to do this sort of thing. US (and, it seems, UK) troops are/have been doing it in Iraq, and similar allegations have come out of Afghanistan. UK troops, of course, have done similar things over the course of the war with the IRA. Israeli troops openly use various sorts of torture as well, and the world was “shocked” to learn of the behavior of the various armies during the collapse of Yugoslavia. The Soviets in Afghanistan, the Vietnamese and US in Vietnam (as the kerfluffle over Kerry’s time there has reminded everyone), the French in Algeria and Vietnam, the Japanese and Germans and US (see “Wartime” by Paul Fussell) and Soviets in World War Two are also on the hook. And, sadly, there are plenty of other examples. The Confederate prison at Andersonville is justifiably notorious. Less well-known is the prison at Cahaba in Alabama. Torture was less a factor in those prisons than was overcrowding and generally poor conditions, but still.

As Sam Keen argues in his brilliant book “Faces of the Enemy”, the nature of modern war is such that states (and non-states, for that matter) feel compelled to dehumanize the enemy via propaganda and direct training of the troops. Generally we are pretty far from the romantic notion of a noble enemy. The modern idea is to convince “us” to have no compunctions whatsoever about killing or torturing “them”. There are two main problems with this strategy. One crops up in cases like the one we are now witnessing: the war is over, but the soldiers can’t turn off their hatred like a light switch. The other problem comes when “we” see “them” as human while “we” should be killing “them”. This is clearly bad for the war effort.

There are two key scenes in the classic novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque which illustrate the latter problem. In one scene, the character Paul is home on leave and spends some time at the POW camp in his home town. He notices the particularly awful conditions in which the Russian prisoners are held and has a minor moral crisis (see Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” for a similar scene from the perspective of a prisoner). Later, Paul is trapped in No Man’s Land during a battle and draws his bayonette knife so as to defend his shell-crater/hiding place from any intruders. A French soldier promptly jumps into the hole and Paul is on him in a flash. As the man dies in his arms, Paul comes to realize that they are not very different men, and that in happier times they might well have been friends. This realization causes him to damn the war, and war itself, and all those “leaders” who have turned him into a murderer. Once he has returned to his own lines, however, Paul is admonished to forget about it and remember that “war is war”. Paul had briefly stepped out of his conditioning, but found it to be a cold comfort. It is safer by far (at least temporarily: Remarque himself never got over his experiences) to embrace and be embraced by the dehumanization of the enemy.

What it comes down to, according to Keen, is the following basic philosophical construct (which I am forced to paraphrase, as my copy of the book is in the office and not at home):

WE are right. THEY are wrong.
WE operate from good intentions. THEY have sinister intentions.
WE make mistakes. THEY are intentionally cruel.
WE defend ourselves. THEY are aggressors.
WE are moral. THEY are immoral or amoral.
WE are have religion/ideology. THEY are fanatics/zealots/radicals.
WE are agents of freedom/goodness. THEY are agents of tyranny/evil.
WE are trying to make things better. THEY are trying to make things worse.

This can be applied to pretty much any military situation (or indeed, almost any power struggle) and it is pretty clear where this line of reasoning can lead. If you’ve been following the US response to the recent scandal, you will have noticed that this is exactly the play book the administration (and its supporters) are following. It is, of course, also exactly what Osama bin Laden (or his supporters) are thinking.

It is difficult, but clearly not impossible or we would all be dead, to escape this trap. Critical thinking is the key, I reckon.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I awoke this morning to two huge (and tragic) cases of irony.

1) Pat Tillman famously resisted media attention from the moment he decided to become a soldier to the day he died. Despite this, the media have tried to appropriate him in death. Apparently several tv stations wanted to broadcast his funeral live. That's ironic.

2) One (or both?) of his brothers dropped the F bomb in their eulogy and also revealed that they were not followers of Jeebus. The tv stations scrambled to avoid broadcasting obscenities. Again, irony.

3) Disney is apparently trying to block the new Michael Moore film. The irony? The theme of the film, "Fahrenheit 911" is the climate of censorship and fear that Dubyah and his gang have created in the U.S.

Too rich. To use a Sting song (well covered, ironically enough, by Toby Keith) out of context, "I'm so happy that I can't stop cryin'."

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I suggest you read Stan Goff's piece in Counterpunch regarding the torture stories.

In it he mentions the Standford Prison Experiment, and that makes this as good a time as any to point to the German movie "Das Experiment" (came out a year or two ago). Loosely based on the real events in Stanford, jazzed up and Germanized a bit, it is really good.

I know an attorney. Actually, I know several, but I'm thinking of one in particular. This attorney isn't totally satisfied, I think, with the lawyering game at the moment. This attorney may have already considered this, but I'm going to say it anyway because I think it might be super cool and the exciting whole new path for this attorney.

John (f) Kerry is running for president. I'm not overly keen on the guy, but this attorney is.

John (f) Kerry is from Boston. He might very well become the next president. Presidenting involves tax law and other things of the sort that the attorney of whom I speak knows about. The attorney, as it happens, not only has the skillz to pay the bills, likes Kerry, and may want something new to do, but he's also a semi-Bostonian.

I'm thinking the West Wing for this attorney.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Yesterday, of course, was May Day. I didn't mention it because I was unable to post (the post below was something I tried, and failed, to post, and I gave up on other things).


By the way, I showed the film "Cradle Will Rock" to my students (check it out) and in it Bill Murray sings the Internationale in ventriloquist style. On Thursday, some of my students drew a picture of my face on a red balloon and hung it above the board and drew a picture of my body beneath it, with my right hand giving the peace sign. When the balloon fell, I picked it up and sang part of the Internationale in ventriloquist style (with the balloon as my exploited dummy).

Y'all didn't know I could do that, did y'all? Y'all still don't. But I did it.

Scott ("I Know What I Know" at left) has composed a very elegant essay on the war in Iraq using REM's "Swan Swan H" as a jumping off point. The idea came when we were discussing the revelations of US torture of Iraqi prisoners and, after I mentioned that this sort of thing is common going back at least as far as Caesar's Gallic wars, I *shouted* "Swan Swan Hummingbird, for christsakes!"

Anyway, I wasn't listening to that song when I wrote the following, three nights ago.

I’m going to write based on what comes up on iTunes. It will be random, I hope.

First up: “Je Chante” by Charles Trenet. I’m put in mind of LeBeau from Hogan’s Heroes. Actually, I’m put in mind of my visit to Normandy during my summer study of the US/UK alliance during WW2. I very much enjoyed that (and the two other times) I’ve been in France. I’ve never been to Paris, but I really must check it out. Although, I’ve got a bit of an instinctive skepticism towards cultural capitals.

Now, “Smokestack Lightnin’” by Howlin’ Wolf. I’ve never been the world’s biggest blues fan, but it ain’t bad now and again. I’m more of a jazz person. The “loss” theme that runs through blues (and country) music doesnt’ so much appeal to me, I think, because my life has been relatively loss-free so far. I’ve been pretty goddamned lucky, you might say. All of my close loved ones are still alive and close, for example. I would have liked to get to know my grandfathers a bit, of course (one died long before I was born, and the other when I was but a lad).

Now “My City Was Gone” by the Pretenders. I guess this is sort of a blues song, insofar as loss is the theme. It sort of has a blues rhythm to it. This song, and “Allentown” by Billy Joel (which may roll around any minute now), appeals to me in part because the greater Birmingham area was all about the heavy industry when I was a lad. Industrial cities strike me as somehow more alive than consumer cities. Birmingham has reinvented itself as something of a consumer city since the 1980s, what with the banking and the tech and the medical stuff, and I’m not at all sure that that is an improvement. Mind you, the city is MUCH cleaner since the mills have closed/downsized. I remember my aunt’s front porch in Fairfield (if you know the area): we had to sweep the porch swing off every time before we sat in it. Every day. Several times a day. Soot. A milimeter or so thick. Imagine what went into our lungs! Still, nostalgia.

I’m waiting for the next song now. It turns out to be “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by Ray Charles. I’ve helped cheatin’ hearts cheat on two occaisions. My first sex partner had a cheatin’ heart, for example, as did my second one. I was all about the cheatin’ hearts. I hoped, of course, that the cheatin’ hearts never told on them, but it didn’t worry me so much as to cause me to stop with the cheater helpin’. Karma being what it is, however, I came to be on the receiving end of a cheatin’ heart with my first real girlfriend. Her heart was a-cheatin’ with at least one dude. I’m not sure how long she tossed around, nor whether she called my name or walked the floor, but her cheatin’ heart did tell on her.

One of the many things I’ve never experienced is “Fame” (David Bowie). Good song, though. Most of the time I don’t feel much sympathy for the famous. I figure most of the folks who have fame troubles are those who have striven to become public figures. You rarely hear, for example, about how hard it is for someone like Greg Allman to walk down the street unaccosted. This despite the fact that he’s legendary (and was even married to Cher). Utterly disposable types like Justin Timberlake, on the other hand, have to have bodyguards. Why? In part because he’s a whore. Reaping comes of sowing.

“Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” by Smashing Pumpkins (a lovely instrumental) is up next. This puts me in mind of a woman I dated for almost exactly a month. The only thing about her that marked her as an individual (other than her odd charm) was that she liked Smashing Pumpkins. Other than that, this woman was lacking in quirks or markers. Her room, clothes, attitudes, aspirations, etc. were utterly everyday. Odd.

Everyone I know is lonely, and God’s so far away. And my heart belongs to no one, so now sometimes I pray: Take the space between us, and fill it up some way. Take the space between us and fill it up. Fill it up! “Oh My God” (the Police) you take the biscuit, treating me this way: expecting me to treat you well, no matter what you say. How can I turn the other cheek? It’s black and bruised and torn. I’ve been waiting since the day that I was born. Fill it up! Fill it up! Take the space between us, fill it up some way. Take the space between us and fill it up. Fill it up! Fat man in his garden, thin man at his gate. My God you must be sleeping! Wake up, it’s much too late!

(Do I have to tell the story of a thousand rainy days since we first met? It’s a big enough umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet.)

Now here’s a song I ripped from my neighbor. I THINK it is called “Wake Me Up Inside”. I have no idea who performs it, but it ain’t bad. It is a female singer, and involves keyboards and a bit of the ole rock. There’s a guy saying “wake me up” and such in the chorus, too, and a rap-like bit in the bridge. Any tips as to who this is (and if I’ve got the name right) would be appreciated, as I like it. I wonder what the rest of the songs by these folks (this person?) would sound like. I imagine that there is some sort of pseudo-goth theme afoot.

Thrity seconds till the next song. Now twenty. Now ten. I can’t wait to find out what’s next!

Turns out to be “Black” by Pearl Jam. When I was in college, my girlfriend (with the cheatin’ heart) broke up with me and, almost at the same time, Scott’s broke up with him (it never crossed my mind to ask if she had a cheatin’ heart too. Scott?). This song was in the air. and it is the ultimate “my girlfriend broke up with me” song if you are a bit of an intellectual-in-training. Well, on second thought, “Sorrow” by Pink Floyd may be better. Both songs are pretty doggoned overwrought but very well done and really capture the mood. If you hear anyone (especially a young male) listening to either of them over and over again I suggest you intervene, as it is not unreasonable to think that suicide is being contemplated. I’ll just bathe in the “do do doo to doo de doos” for a minute or so until the next song comes around.

More Pearl Jam: “Spin the Black Circle”. I see no need to comment.

“Baby What You Want Me to Do?” by Etta James is next. We seem to be in a rut. I will take this opportunity to say that, although I’m not the hugest blues fan in the world, I do like Etta James. She had a concert on Cinemax when I was in high school and I was mightily impressed. I went right out and bought a best-of-Etta-James cassette, in fact (in addition to taping the concert the next time it rolled around on the tv). This is, as it happens, a live recording I’m listening to. The audience is totally into it, so that makes it really good. I wish I were the type of person who shouted out during a show.

Ooh! “Orange Crush” by REM. Fucking Dubyah! I have loads of reasons to hate that man, but the one that is right up near the top of my assometer at the moment is his insistence on making Vietnam a topic in the presidential campaign. I know the Kerryites want that, as they think their man compares favorably, but allow me to be heretical, for a moment: the finest thing Dubyah has ever done in his misbegotten life is avoid service in Vietnam. I see no heroism (beyond the “save the comrade” sort) in that war and do NOT have greater respect for Vietnam vets than for those of age who are not vets. Having said that, it is beneath contempt to favor a war in which one is unwilling to fight.

And so, naturally, we come to the Guess Who’s “American Woman”. This song rocks. Hard. Lenny Kravitz is cool and all (I’ll forgive him for being one of Birgit’s crushes, just as I forgive Johnny Depp), but he totally ripped the politics out of this song (a mighty task) in his cover. This song is a big ole “fuck off” to the USA from our colder neighbors and should be remembered as such. I don’t need your war machines - I don’t need your ghetto scenes.

“One More Time” by the Clash. Can I get a witness for all this misery? Anyone who dares disparage the “Sandanista!” album is a shitbag (I’m looking at you, Rolling Stone magazine). “Sandanista!” is to “London Calling” what Beethoven’s 9th is to his 5th. One step beyond, in other words. You don’t need no silicone to calcutate poverty. Watch when Watts town burns again: the bus goes to Montgomery.

I’ll stop this with “Chaos and Disorder” by Prince. Prince is a genius. I’m all about the Prince. “I’m just a no name reporter. I wish I had nothin’ to say.” (This song rocks hard, by the way. Prince is gnawing on his guitar as I type.)

SOOO many good songs have come up since I stopped typing, by the way. My music collection suits me so well, I think I’ll treat myself to a bit of onanism.