Saturday, August 30, 2008

INSANITARY ABSTRACTIONS IN THE BACKYARD


So, I decided to follow my reading of 2666 with an oldie from the pile, The Third Policeman*.

I respectfully suggest that readers interested in both flip the order.


-------
*When did this thing called postmodernism actually start? Sterne? Cervantes? Potocki? De Selby?

OF WAR AND SCIENCE


The reason I moved to the States in 1997 was a job in academia. At that time, there was a reason to make such a move, even if it meant leaving your family and friends and language and culture behind for-perhaps-ever. Notably, there was monetary support for research unlike anything you could get anywhere in Europe, at least in my field. I have no numbers for ye ole' continent, but below are a couple of graphs with the evolution (or rather, the "intelligent design") of US scientific funding in the past few decades, which I stole from a fellow blogger. I am not going to lament or editorialize for a change. Except to ask you to look at the trend. And to ask yourself, if you are American, whether all this science and technology business isn't perhaps something that might be integral to maintaining (the illusion of) being the greatest nation on earth.
(Forget funding for the arts of course. We crossed that bridge a long time ago.) (And I am way past caring. I merely observe.)
Feel free to upload a pic with the evolution of military spending in the comments.




ONE MORE REASON ADDED TO 101 REASONS TO STOP WRITING


Many writers can tell tales of woe concerning the odds of getting published. Rawi Hage's fascinating novel De Niro's Game was picked off the slush pile after being rejected countless times (or so the exaggeration goes) by countless (ditto) publishers, and then went on to win the IMPAC Award -- which comes with the biggest pile of money available for any single book. A similar fate awaited A Confederacy of Dunces. And I vaguely remember getting 9 rejections for Lichtenberg, my (quite horrible) first novel, which then still won the Debuutprijs.

Not so with the following folks: Four books that merrily got published, though not - one assumes - solely on the strength of their title:










My personal favorite is still the immortal Cooking with Pooh (did this go out of print?), but I do agree its cover does not live up to the full potential contained within the title.

Friday, August 29, 2008

QUIBBLING ABOUT QUALIA

Oh blimey. I got carried away again. Promised myself not to do that anymore. I’ll shut up after this. (Like: There's much more interesting stuff that kvetching about - literally - words.) Just this: I’d rather READ and share the frigging JOY of reading than sit in a corner and eye Bolano’s translator with suspicion. Whatever the asshole academics (and I do know them, I am one) tell you: The power of writing doesn’t stop at mere linguistics.

Quoting myself from Chad's blog:

Ah, but Green’s argument is much more incisive than that — he pushes it firmly into the realm of qualia. The good man writes about his fear that the translator “in some other way failed to adequately render the original in a way that would dupicate [sic] the Russian reader’s experience of Grossman’s text”. Granted, no translator can adequately render the original that way. But neither can anyone currently alive (even a German-writing Jew living in Prague) have the exact duplicate of the experience of any contemporary reader of Kafka – that time is past, that culture is gone. The same goes for paintings (how to duplicate the experience of the Parisian bourgeoisie when first confronted with Monet?) or music (how to duplicate the experience of being the first to hear Le Sacre du Printemps? Or, for that matter, the Stones in 1965?). Or lit: Me going to the Globe to see/hear/smell Much Ado About Nothing (just a random title I picked, for no particular reason) isn’t the same, by a long shot, as going to its very first performance. Or any other Shakespeare performance in the next few centuries. Which is why we have all these different directors and actors reinventing these plays, and still they call it Shakespeare. Dude, that’s how rich the text is!

Taken seriously, Green’s argument makes ANY form of criticism impossible. Because nobody’s experience can ever be duplicated, not any reader’s, not any writer’s. (For a more high-brow and metaphorical treatment of this point, see, of course, Borges’ wonderful tale of Ménard duplicating Cervantes. Oops. This is assuming that Green reads Spanish, because, well, wow, can’t read/judge Borges in translation, can we?) So, neither me nor anyone else can ever win this argument with Green, because Green did set himself up at some unassailable position. (Good thing so many philosophers of mind did write in English.)

All art is translation, all the time. It all shifts, it shimmers, it cannot be captured. Which is why writers have such utter disdain for critics, who run around with nets and, if the writer doesn’t agree to sit still long enough, with baseball bats or sniper guns. Ever wonder why Perec looks at the camera the way he does, in that famous haunting picture? (Perec. French.)

All I’m saying is this: Have a little faith, bro, in the professionalism of translators and the power of the text!
As a nasty footnote: To me, it seems that monolinguals (and monolingual cultures) have a much harder time accepting translations for what they are: approximations of what an author was doing, in her own historical time and place, which is anyway an approximation of what said author /wanted/ to do in said historical/spatial circumstances, than multilinguals (and multilingual cultures) do. This, methinks, is not unlike the type of paranoia often exhibited by the deaf – there’s a joke being played on them, continuously, behind their back, they feel, and life would be so much better if only they could put their finger on it! (“There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Green?”)

Okay. Now it’s time to take my meds.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

CROWS CAN RECOGNIZE HUMAN FACES

Those of you who have read Omega Minor know why this link is here: Crows recognize human faces . (And pigeons don't.) (With many thanks to the incomparable Joel Myerson for pointing me in the direction of the article.)

The researchers donned masks to do their study and found that the birds remembered how they were treated by these masked strangers.

Can I suggest that a few students on select UT campuses start pestering crows wearing George W. Bush masks so that when the man actually arrives on campus during his inevitable post-presidency "lecture" tour he will be a target to be shat upon?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

BELGIUM STILL EXISTS AND ITS PRIME MINISTER LIKES MY NOVEL

Holy crap! Someone alerted me that the Belgian prime minister has a blog, on which he just reviewed (Dutch/French) Omega Minor. (Favorably. Otherwise, I wouldn't mention it.)

I kid you not. I hail from a country where the Big Guy (a) reads novels ('a lot', he says), and (b) reviews them on his blog. In two languages.

OK, I dabble in politics, which I review on my blog, so we're even.

Still.

Here in the US, we're still waiting on G. W. Bush's review of L'Etranger. He started it in 2006. Should be done by now.

By the way, does Belgium's King Albert have a blog, and does he read novels?

READING BROADENS THE MIND UNTIL YOU CAN'T GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF DOORS


Oh no. I was mean to someone in the blogosphere yesterday. What came over me?

Here's the context: Chad Post meta-posted Daniel Green who, in essence, argues that you can't judge a text that's been translated because you can't judge whether the translation
adequately render[s] the original in a way that would dupicate [sic] the Russian reader's experience of Grossman's text.
(For the philosophers of mind among us: That's quite a hearty helping of the qualia problem right there.) (And is that the sound of Nabokov fainting? Is that Conrad spinning in his grave? Did someone drop twenty King James Bibles there, with a mighty thump?)

Chad smells BS here, and so did a few commenters. I posted my comment on Green, mean-spirited and red-eyed, in Chad's blog, because although I did try to post it in Green's, it never actually appeared on the blog. (Must be moderated. Heaven forbid critics get criticized.)

Here's what I wrote:

Allow me to quote another brilliant passage from Green’s blog:

“Which is why I concentrate, both on this blog and in my other critical writing, mostly on fiction written in English, even more specifically on American fiction since I feel most able to engage with texts composed in American English (and also with the cultural realities often underlying American language conventions).”

Let’s play around a bit with this, shall we?

“Which is why I concentrate, both on this blog and in my other critical writing, mostly on paintings done in North America, even more specifically in the United States of America since I feel most able to engage with depictions of cultural realities often underlying American cultural conventions.”

Or:

“Which is why I concentrate, both on this blog and in my other critical writing, mostly on music composed in the United States of America since I feel most able to engage with sounds produced by my fellow Americans (and also with the cultural realities often underlying American muscial conventions).”

How about:

“Which is why I concentrate, both on this blog and in my other critical writing, mostly on fiction written in American English, even more specifically on fiction written by white males since I feel most able to engage with texts composed in Standard American English (and also with the cultural realities often underlying contemporary white male language conventions).”

Time, in other words, for Mr. Green to pull his lazy head out of his spastic colon and listen to some Bach and look at some Picasso and read some Bolano. Or some Shakespeare. Or perhaps some Toni Morrison.

All culture is translation, even if only from mind to mind. All of it.

Yup, I know. Mean-spirited, ad hominem, O'Reilly-worthy shouts. Oh my! -- all those things you do when you suddenly see red! All those thing I promised myself never to engage in! What happened to equanimity? To self-restraint?

So last night then I asked myself: Why do you care, hm? Really? And do you?

And, yes, I do.

I live in America. Which is sometimes said to be a melting pot. But it ain't. There's a fire under the pot alright, but ain't nothing cooking.

Which is where literature comes in. In my mind writing, and reading, is this fantastic laboratory. (This likely goes for all the arts.) In your writing and in your reading ideas percolate and whirl and evaporate, and from them you can distill the new. Literature is the true melting pot, the foundry out of which we forge... Oh well, I get too high-faluting here, and too cliched.* Knock it down a notch.

It's just that the literature I care about sings in many tongues: It can be Brits with deep new roots in Japanese society, recovering Muslims investigating the human core at the heart of religion, women examining the true awfulness of masculinity, white Americans having a long hard look at our racism past and present, Jews writing about "passing", Americans writing in French, Russians writing in English, or dying men turning back to stare unblinkingly into the void of life's true evil.

Good art has wings. Climb on its back. Art should change the world -- one person at a time. What's the use of any journey, if it makes you stay who you were all along?

Which is why I get mad when someone stares at the pyramids like a sullen adolescent, and says: They look just like the ones in Vegas. Or the other way around.


----
* Yes, I know. I am too stupid to get an accent aigu out of this damn blogging machine.



Sunday, August 24, 2008

UN ECRIVAIN BELGE


For some inexplicable but delightful reason, the Belgian French-language newspaper Le Soir just published a short piece on Omega Minor, calling it un roman majeur de l'année.
Unexpected, but nice for two reasons: (a) The book isn't out in French yet (the incomparable and no doubt insomniac Claro is soon starting on his translation - I can't wait), but I have now seen advance echoes in three French-language newspapers, and that is promising; and, more importantly: (b) It is, believe me, very touching to be written up with some modicum of national pride by my compatriots across the language border. For some reason, Walloons and Flemings are supposed to hate each other's guts, and our politicians are indeed at each other's throat, but culturally? Oh my, give me Magritte, Amelie Nothomb, and Jacques Brel anytime, baby. (And Django - can we claim Django, you think?)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

KEEPING THE NATION SAFE, ONE COCK RING AT A TIME

I am not making this up.
From the website of the FDA, generally not known to be a barrel of monkeys or a bunch of merry clowns (well, hm):
IA #78-01 - 8/20/08, REVISION TO IMPORT ALERT #78-01, "DETENTION WITHOUT PHYSICAL
EXAMINATION OF PENIS ENLARGERS AND ERECTION MAINTAINING RINGS"

*** The revision of this Alert dated 8/20/08 is to revise the Guidance. Also,
the attachment list of specific firms was removed from this alert since
the alert applies to all manufacturers of all such devices. ***

TYPE OF ALERT: *** Detention Without Physical Examination, (DWPE) ***

PRODUCT: Penis Enlargers
Erection Maintaining Devices

PAC FOR
COLLECTION: 82008

COUNTRY: All

MANUFACTURER
OR SHIPPER: All

MANUFACTURER
OR
SHIPPER I.D.#: N/A

IMPORTER'S
I.D. #: N/A

CHARGE: "The article is subject to refusal of admission pursuant to
Section 801(a)(3) in that it appears to be a device, the label
of which fails to bear adequate directions for use
[Misbranding, Section 502(f)(1)]."

*** OASIS
Charge Code: DIRECTIONS ***

RECOMMENDING
OFFICE: Division of Import Operations & Policy, HFC-170 and CDRH, HFZ-
323

REASON FOR
ALERT: The use of penis enlargers and erection maintaining rings may
have harmful effects. They may aggravate existing medical
conditions such a Pegronies disease, priapism, and urethral
stricture. They may contuse or cause rupture of the
subcutaneous blood vessels, which may produce hemorrhage and
hematoma formation. Additionally, frequent use of erection
maintaining rings may result in ecchymosis of the proximal
portion of the penis and scrotum, and the lymphatic stasis of
the penis. Prolonged use of the rings may cause gangrene of
the penis.

Basically, the labeling of these devices falsely states or
implies they will treat impotence, prolong erection, and
increase the dimensions of the penis.




These devices generally fall into the following categories:


1. Mechanical stretching devices.

Those employing weights, or lines tied to other parts of
the body (such as the knee), to affect tension on the
penis.

2. Vacuum operated devices.

Those employing a sealing principle in the area of the
base of the penis and an evacuation mechanism to drop
the atmospheric pressure around the penis thereby
effecting increased blood flow.

3. Constrictive Rings.

Those devices which constrict the base of the penis
after erection has been achieved and cause the erection
to be maintained by blocking the normal circulation of
blood from the penis.

4. Supportive devices.

Those devices which function as a splint or cradle in
order to maintain a resemblance of turgidity

*** GUIDANCE: Districts may detain without physical examination, unless
exempted by 21 CFR, Section 801.109, all devices in the above
described categories. Districts may also be able to detain
such devices under IA 89-08, "DWPE of devices w/o approved
PMA's or IDE's and other devices not equivalent or no 510K."
If there is any question whether or not any device encountered
falls into the above described categories, contact CDRH,
Division of Compliance Operations, HFZ-332, at 240-276-0339.
***
I think they probably envisioned the following (scaringly realistic) scenario:
MAN IN PLANE, STANDING UP SUDDENLY, HOLDING UP SMALL PLASTIC RING FOR ALL TO SEE: Listen up, you people! I've got a cock ring right here...
PASSENGERS: [Gasp!]
MAN: ... And I'm not afraid to use it!
PASSENGERS: Noooooo! [A few faint.]
MAN: Unless my demands are met, I will club you all to death with the erection it will provoke!
PASSENGERS: [Close-ups of faces reflecting shock, despair, and naked fear.]

Thursday, August 21, 2008

WHEN A BOOK DOES NOT GET PUBLISHED, ITS FALLING TREE CAN STILL CREATE AN ECHO IN THE FOREST

I obviously haven't read the novel The Jewel of Medina, by Sherry Jones. It was slated for publication right about now, but Random House withdrew it. Why? Well, you know, it's a novel, so they read it before signing the contract. Rumor is they shelled out a 100k advance, suggesting that they liked it and they thought it would sell. And somebody in their mighty offices edited it. And it (presumably) went to proof.

So here's why. Random House asked a UT professor of Middle Eastern Studies, Denise Spellberg, to write a blurb for their nice new novel. Instead (quoting the Wikipedia entry for Spellberg who now, congratulations!, has her own Wikipedia entry):
Spellberg became part of a burgeoning controversy when an email she sent to Random House regarding The Jewel of Medina, a to-be-published historical novel about Aisha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, was leaked to the press. Spellberg reportedly informed Random House that publication would expose Random House employees to Islamic terrorism and that Muslims would react with the kind of violence seen in past controversies over the The Satanic Verses and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons. No actual threats were received by Random House.
Rushdie wrote an email to Random House calling them, basically, pussies. (Did you, by the way, read the last sentence in the block quote?) Then Spellberg tried to weasel out of her responsibility in an op-ed for the Washington Post, basically (brilliant argument!) reiterating what she already said in her email to RH and passing the buck to them.

On the one hand, it's nice to see that at least some folks still think that novels do matter. Wew!

On the other: yeah, right.

I've said it before, and countless others have said this as well, but here it goes again: If your religion, your world view, the moral and epistemological very basis of your mortal existence can be shaken by a mere work of art, that is, by mere words, ideas, gestures, sounds or shapes produced by a fellow human being, you should immediately revisit said religion, world view, and very basis.

And if anyone in a fancy suit, a stern cloak or a dashing bonnet proclaims you should not consume said work of art for the risk of losing your eternal soul and corrupting the moral and epistemological very basis of your mortal existence, you should tell them the same, that is: If your religion, your world view, the moral and epistemological very basis of your mortal existence can be shaken by a mere work of art, that is, by mere words, ideas, gestures, sounds or shapes produced by a fellow human being, you should immediately revisit said religion, world view, and very basis.

Additionally, you might ask them what exactly they are hiding in the pockets of that suit, whether a true heart beats inside that cloak, and if, indeed, a working brain lives underneath that bonnet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

OBSERVATIONS WHILE WALKING AROUND CAMPUS

On my walk into work:
- A guy with a t-shirt saying: I hope you're an ANIMAL cause I'm a BEAST.
- A young woman letting out a yelp of joy spying a young man coming towards her on the sidewalk. He broke his stride to hug her, but while he did, he looked carefully around: Do-you-see-me? Did-you-see-her? She's-hot! Rawza!
- A 40-year old man with ponytail, goatee, mirrored sunglasses and too cool to wait for the traffic light to turn green, sporting a skulls-and-crossbones t-shirt.

Then I overheard a frat-boy type saying: "But what does it all mean, right? Why lead a hollow life?"
I did a double-take.
Of course: He was talking to what they call here "a hot chick".

IT'S A TIE

Yesterday, one of our graduate students walked into my office wearing a tie. The tie, by the way, was a horrible knit affair, and paired with khaki cargo shorts and flipflops*.

I remarked on the tie. He said it was Tuesday, and therefore tie day, and suggested I join the movement. I gracefully declined, in so many words.

What I had wanted to say instead was that I have worked all my life to be taken seriously for my mind. An arrow pointing at my dickhead methinks would distract.


-----
*How to dress like a European, part the first: If some article of clothing or accessory is suitable for a 13-year old girl to wear poolside, it should only be worn poolside.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

WITH WONDER

Young writers are often told to write about what they know.
That advice is solid.
Except that it is often read as: write about what you already know.
Nine out of ten times, that leads to something utterly dead.
I say: If you want to write, go out in the world and GET to know something.
Then write, with wonder, about your fresh discovery.

BY DESIGN

How did we get here, friends, human and all on this beautiful and (diminishingly) plentiful planet of us? Why – how dare you ask? ‘t Was by Design*!

(What else, I ask you? What else? C’mon!)

A while ago, the online magazine Salon cast a brief shadow of a doubt over my certainty. Their argument: Cave-dwelling moles and salamanders and whatnots crawling around in the absolute dark possess not eyes but vestiges of such, eye remnants if you will. (Right. Yeah. How do we know they “used to” have eyes? Huh? Tell me that!) Why, the intrepid reporter asked himself and the small fraction of the nation that reads such filth, would an Intelligent Designer either (a) design these useless vestiges instead of dispelling with the sockets altogether, or (b) equip those cave-dwellers first with functioning eyes and then allow them to devolve?

The answer is obviously Duh: who are we to know that that’s not by design**? And saved is the day!

Remember, friends: Intelligent Design is a beautiful notion. It explains EVERYTHING, and it absolves you of the need to keep track of all that pesky phylogeny. That’s hard***, dude – why don’t ya jess sit down and trust yer Maker?

I wasn’t always a believer.

My own favorite example, which I used to roll out at parties, back in the day when I was still invited to parties (the righteous do not make good partying company, and that too is by Design), is the misengineering of the count of human limbs. A third hand, so I quipped with one hand clasped around the stem of my Chablis and the other around a plate of lark tongue antipasto, would sure be – uh! - handy now, to, like, transport the food right to my saliva-soaker! Adding a third hand in the blueprint: Not exactly rocket science!****

Or childbirth. Most human-engineered machines deliver the goods less damaged and a good deal faster than most mothers do. I never met an ATM that upon my legitimate request for cash would stand there shaking and moaning for 14 hours and then necessitated the intervention of a sterile-clad guy with a crowbar and a circle saw. And even the largest Suburban leaves the factory through a door that’s more than wide enough – who would willfully engineer a passageway that gets the car stuck and crushes its body and scrapes off its paint, with the ultimate risk that it will bring the whole plant down with it?

So: doubts.

Then I thought a little harder about the ATM example.

Like most of us, I am an occasional customer of soda machines.
On average, they work: In goes your money, out comes your can. Do note the variability around that mean: Sometimes you get zero cans, and sometimes two. Sometimes the zero can comes with your money back, but there’s no guarantee. Sometimes, lucky you, down slides your can and you get your money back.

Not so with cash machines.
They always work. You ask for a hundred buckaronis, you get your hundred buckaronis. There is no random variation. Ne’er shalt thou receive a paltry eighty, ne’er an undeserved hundred and twenty. They’re always (ha! ha!) on the money.

Put another way: It’s easy to rig a soda machine. Look around on YouTube – tutorials galore. But it’s impossible to rig an ATM machine, short of some major pyrotechnics.

That’s when it hit me.

The ATM machine works flawlessly because there is, simply and literally, a lot of money involved – both or either yours and the bank’s. With the soda machine: not so much. Few quarters here or there - it’s give and take.

The simple rule to be derived from this example is: Yes, we can design a flawless machine, but only if the stakes are high enough.

The moral of this story, then, is that in the Intelligent Designer's eyes us humans just ain’t worth it.

Which, in my estimation, is just about right.

Now go twirl your tongues.


---------------
* Some folks who like to use big ten-cent words where nickel-sized verbiage would suffice invoke the Anthropic Principle.
** Like to make those pinko liberal Darwinists puzzle for a while whilst we ID-enthusiasts smile from the sideline and throw peanut shells at them.
*** In summer, all I hear on campus is Hindi, Urdu, Mandarin, Tamil, Cantonese, and Bengali, with the occasional snippet of French. That, I bet, is for the same reason the landscapers on my street all speak Spanish. Mowing lawns in 95-degree heat and math/engineering are hard, and hard is in essence un-American. (Especially around here. Did you know that those Southerners used to ‘import’ folks from, like, a totally different continent to do all the hard work for them? Oh my! If only they could have persuaded those folks to fight the Civil War for them, they might not have lost it! But then, if they had, they would have nothing to kvetch about all day on their porches, and no bumper stickers imploring the Yankees to keep driving north.)
**** I know I am being silly. A roll-up tongue would do the job just as well. It might all come down to a mere lack of training of the faculties the ID’er has equipped us with!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

DEATH BY HEIMATSICHERHEITSDIENST

Unbelievable: The United States Heimatsicherheitsdienst let an immigrant (I am one too) literally rot of cancer in a detention center, ultimately because said Dienst sent his deportation order to a non-existing address.

As Lou Reed once sang, paraphrasing I don't know which ancient inscription on I don't know what symbol, somewhere in this vast untractable country: Give me you tired, your poor, I'll piss on them.

My guess: If you are waiting for the mainstream media to pick up this story, you're in for a long wait.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

SAYONARA ZETSUBO SENSEI

So, of course I didn’t start a blog nobody reads just to clear my head of its daily doings.
Of course there must be a larger project looming, perhaps named Babylon Blues, and on this page we are allowed the rare glimpse of its universe -- a lonely women locked up at some Southern border, who may or may not have authored the perfect sentence, who may or may not be ensnared by the tedious tentacles of military-industrial madness.
Why else mumble these sweet nothings into the reticular void that is the Web than to feel its lazy reverberations being muffled by the weary shuffling of a Spider drawing near?
For EVERYTHING is connected and therefore we must pay attention to EVERYTHING and this is not paranoia, this is the permanent state of the artist’s affairs.


The best stories start with the appearance of a woman.


We were in bed. In one of those hopelessly romantic hotels in one of those tiny Medieval towns they have over there, in Europe.

She said: ‘I think I love you’.

I ran out of bed, into the bathroom, and threw up violently into the toilet bowl.

There is no causal relationship between those two events.

In my case, it was too much Indian food and too much of the local brew.

As to what got into her, I do not know.


As I slipped back under the covers, I wondered which of the two events she would have forgotten come morning and what, in general, her view on causality was.


On the answer depended whether we would spend a lifetime together or sing our hapless sayonaras at the snowiest airport in the world.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

INSTANT DARNATION

Tired of hearing that Heaven is “da shit”?
Cannot stand the sound of harps?
Shaking at the prospect of winged angelic drones spying on you day and night, beatific smiles plastered on their pasty mugs?
Try our new Darnation Instant Breakfast.
We guarantee it will un-save you.
Because only Darnation Instant Breakfast is made with the real blood of newborn babies.*
Can’t stand your sanctimonious relatives now? Why spend all eternity with them?
Darnation Instant Breakfast – for those who like it hot.
Darnation Instant Breakfast – ‘cause you are baaaaad!
Darnation** Instant Breakfast - see you... in Hell!

-------
*Cord blood only, harvested in full accordance with state and federal laws. No actual babies were harmed in the manufacturing of this product. Claims of unsaving not verified by the FDA.
**Darnation is a trademark of Halliburton, Incorporated. “Halliburton – We brought you the Iraq War, now we bring you Hell!”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

TAILS = YOU LOSE, HEADS = WE WIN

In the very first Guantanamo trial (who says that our government doesn't prepare its cases carefully and with deliberation? It took them 7 years of hard work to get this one into court, finally!), Salim Ahmed Hamdan has just been convicted of the lesser charge -- material support to terrorists -- but acquitted of the conspiracy charge.
Likely that means life in prison for Mr. Hamdan. For being Osama Bin Laden's chauffeur. OBL's dry cleaner must be shaking in his sandals right now.
At first blush, it seems wonderful that our government is finally putting the Guantanamo contingent (many of whom have been detained for 7 years) on trial.
But it turns out that the trial, actually, would not have mattered much anyway.
Here's an excerpt of yesterday's press briefing by Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell:

MORRELL: Even if he were acquitted of the charges that are before him, he would still be considered an enemy combatant and therefore would continue to be subject to continued detention. Of course, that said, he would also have the opportunity to go before the administrative review board and they could determine whether he is a suitable candidate for release or transfer.

But in the near term, at least, we would consider him an enemy combatant and still a danger and would likely still be detained for some period of time thereafter.

In the meantime, the Bush administration keeps bashing China and multiple countries of the former Soviet Union for their human rights records.
Happy to see they care.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

ONGENODE ZOMERGAST

One of the Belgian newspapers I sneak the occasional peek at online is De Standaard. This summer, they have a series in which famous Flemings (not me) are asked to provide a few Youtube clips, with a few words of (it seems) either wisdom or silliness, for the online readers' amusement. The people who do this are called zomergasten, or summer guests. It made me think about my own Youtube roamings and here I am then, pretending to be an invitee, but not even making it to the door. I couldn't think of too many clips right now -- just two.

First up: Randy Newman. A few words in defense of our country.

Randy Newman makes two points about the current state of the union. They sound heartfelt, and maybe they are, but they are also deeply cynical. (That's postmodernism for you, my dearest peeps. Read your Vonnegut, if you believe this is not just a quixotic but also an oxymoronic mixture.)

Point 1: Yup, the current occupants in the White House are bad, but they're not as bad as: Nero, Caligula, the Spanish Inquisition (the original architects of waterboarding, as we all know), King Leopold II of Belgium, Hitler, or Stalin. Let that argument (heartfelt, cynical) sink in for a while, will ya?

Point 2 is more insidious: American people are decent folks; they aren't mean. This argument has been around for a while. (Remember Sting's song about the Russians? Russians are, like, totally human beings! They, like, buy groceries and stuff, and have meals! Around a dinner table! Together! As a family! And, wow, did you know that they procreate? Hey, how cute is that? Lil' Russian babies!)
So, yeah, hate the American leaders, but love the American people -- humble folks leading regular lives.

Hm.
However.
In the olden days (you know, mid-twentieth century?) the populace at large could at least plausibly mumble something like Wir haben es nicht gewusst. But now, in the day and age of satellite TV and the Internet, We the People could know absolutely everything there is to know about the Iraq war, if only We the People wanted to.
Get a load of this (as Kurt would say): In our name at least 100,000 and potentially half a million human beings got slaughtered in a country that never attacked us and never posed a threat. But if We the People care about that war at all, We the People care about the 5,000 or so American soldiers who died. The Iraqi people, in the American mind, in the American mainstream media? A rat's ass, a flying fuck at a rolling donut -- if at all, and at most.
Here's my 2 cents: If your leaders tell you to go fight a needless war, killing at least 100,000 civilians along the way, raping the occupied country of its natural resources and bombing it back into the Middle Ages and, as a nation, you roll over and do nothing -- you let it happen, you do not protest, you do not CARE enough to make it an issue, at all, anytime, but especially during election season, worse, you reelect the bastards and strengthen their resolve -- there might be words to describe you, but "mean" would be clearly situated at the weak-ass part of the spectrum.
Just an opinion.
I can put this a little bit stronger: There is no excuse for the American public's apathy vis-a-vis its leaders and vis-a-vis this war and its foreign and domestic consequences.
None.
What excuse could there be?
Civilians cannot plead obedience (in a democracy, nobody outranks a civilian), and nobody can plead ignorance.

There.
Now how about blowing off some steam with another fine and happy song, folks?

Here's Tom Lehrer, just in time to hammer point number 2 and its rebuttal home: It's not, indeed, just Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, and Powell -- it's what we've always done! It's not our fault! It can't be helped! It's in our blood! Send the Marines!
What do we do? We send the Marines!
For might makes right,
And till they've seen the light,
They've got to be protected,
All their rights respected,
'Till somebody we like can be elected.
Phew! That was, dare I say, a narrow escape!