Tuesday, November 25, 2008

more LPs I like

[The only GN'R album.]

don't honk

(click to enlarge)

For some reason I love these signs.  Maybe it's because—I could be wrong about this, but aren't they really old?  The design, I mean.  I think I remember these from when I was a little kid, and it feels like they're the only ones that haven't changed since the early '80s.*  These days I get excited when I see a DON'T WALK–WALK sign in a movie (as opposed to the illiterate hand and walking guy that replaced them).

I am a simple man with simple tastes.

* Not counting national signs like STOP and ONE WAY.  I'm talking about New York City signs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

screw you and (especially) the bike you rode in on

I get the impression that a lot of bicyclists in New York, N.Y., aren't so much defiant of the law as they are ignorant of it—so this rant doubles as a public-service announcement.

The law for bikes is pretty much exactly the same as the law for cars.  If you see a red light, you're supposed to stop.  If you're on a one-way street, you're supposed to go one way.  If you're on the sidewalk, you're supposed to get off of it.  You see the pattern.  Now, I don't really care if you disobey those laws.  There's no great reason why you should stop at a red light if no one's coming.  After all, obedience is for suckers.


What does burn my toast is when you break the law and act like everyone else is supposed to roll over to make it easier for you.  If I step into the street when I've got the walk sign, don't you zoom by me ringing your stupid little bell and yelling "WATCH IT!" when you're the one running a red light and going the wrong way on a one-way street; if I had a stick I'd stick it in your spokes, you schmuck.  And if you're riding your bike on the sidewalk (and you're not like 12 years old), don't expect me to squeeze against a building to let you through: I'm supposed to be on the sidewalk, I don't walk out into your stupid little bike lane and expect you to swerve into traffic to avoid me.  (A non–bike related version of this is when pedestrians are waiting to cross the street and are standing in a lane—like a lane that cars drive down—and a car honks at them because they're in the way, and they get all mad and say, "FUCK you!" and sometimes hit the car as it goes by.  I've seen this happen again and again.)  Rule of thumb: if you're going to break the law, own that you're breaking the law.  There's a big difference between "I'm going to do what I want, and I don't really care too much what you or society thinks" and "I'm always right and you're always wrong if we disagree, no matter what the context."  The former I can't really argue with if you aren't going to whine when you get busted; the latter should probably result in mandatory sterilization.

In short, go ahead and run that red light, but if you do, you'd better yield your dick off to pedestrians.

The other day I was crossing Broadway with the light, and this dude on a bike cruised through the crosswalk and slammed into some pedestrian who was crossing along with me, a few feet ahead.  No apologies: the pedestrian literally limped (more like hopped, actually) to the curb, and the dude on the bike just took right off back down Broadway.  So I yelled after him: "You just ran a red light, you idiot!"  He looks over his shoulder at me as he goes: "Fuck you, asshole!"  OK, fair enough.  So I shout, "You just knocked somebody over!"  At which point a bystander on a whole other corner pipes in: "What are you gonna do about it?"—a strange response, I thought: I guess some people can only conceive of a conflict in terms of challenge and response, macho business, as if every difference were meaningful only in terms of the fight that could result from it and the only way to judge a disagreement were a pissing contest.*

Anyway, I have an answer.  Here's what I'm gonna do about it: I'm gonna think about that dude's sexual impotence and smile.  (Hey, maybe it does result in mandatory sterilization!)

* Side note/flashback: "tough guys are invariably insecure babies."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

feeling bad for Bush

Here's a confession: sometimes I feel a little sorry for George W. Bush.

I talked to a few people before the election about whether it counted as schadenfreude if we were glad when things were going bad for John McCain and Sarah Palin, and I, at least, concluded that it was not—because the pleasure we felt was not pleasure at their misfortune per se: bad news for them was good news for the country, so the ultimate source of our pleasure had nothing nasty in it at all.*

And I'm not one of those people who think Bush is a monkey following orders from Cheney (even though I do think the idea that Cheney's the evil mastermind is based at least somewhat on reality): frankly, I think Bush is bad, bad guy.  I gather he can be very charming and that if you're on his good side he can be very likable, but politically, morally, philosophically—pretty much in every way—I think he's a terrible guy, and he think he's done terrible things.

That said, I've had dreams in which I've met him and have felt bad about disliking him so much.  There: I said it.  I think it's because of course the guy is a human being, and I'm sure he thinks (er, knows) that what he's doing is right.  Frankly I think he's a little dumb.  And that's no excuse—the kind of dumb he is has a lot to do with his belief system and his attitudes, his values, and I think it's sort of a vicious circle, so it's not something he can't help, it's something he's responsible for—but, but...  Well, maybe the point I'm making is the distinction between passing judgment on someone and demonizing him...or judging his actions and judging his personhood...or, to use Christian terms, judging the sin and judging the sinner.  Again, he's a human being.  And as I've said before, I do think that no matter what crime a person has committed, that person is still a human being...and I think we tend to dehumanize old George.

Or maybe it's because I just finished rereading The Dead Father and was reimpressed by the way the tyrannical title character is both morally indefensible and somehow sadly sympathetic...

No: really I just wanted to post that video...and to make it clear that my reaction is neither laughter nor joy.  I think it's good news for the world that he's fallen so low...but maybe not joyous news—not per se.

* Well, "nothing...at all" may be overstating it.

rock, insect, death dwarf—shoot!

There are two types of people in the world: Beatles people and Rolling Stones people.  Which type of person are you?

I don't buy it, by the way, but it's not entirely meaningless.  People do tend to have strong opinions in either direction, like, "Yeah, they're both great, but obviously the Beatles are better than the Stones," or, "obviously the Stones are better than the Beatles."*  Then of course there's the joker-card answer that I seem to remember the Strokes' Julian Casablancas giving in an interview c.2002: that there are two kinds of people in the world, Beatles people and Rolling Stones people, and he's a Velvet Underground person.  And that's not necessarily a pretentious answer.  In addition to being pretentious, maybe the Velvet Underground answer is actually kind of a sane compromise.

Start by pretending that the Rolling Stones only ever released two albums, Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed.**  Then listen to "Love in Vain" (chosen at random, almost); listen to it loud, or with headphones on.  I submit that the Beatles are better songwriters*** but that when you just listen to the bandsnot the songs, see, so much as what I want to call the texture—well, that's when I can best understand the Stones people's point of view.  You can lose yourself in that instrumentation.

Yes, yes, taste is relative—but that's almost misleading in this case because there are different standards: it's not like a continuum that different people see differently but totally different contests, totally different worlds.  What makes the Velvet Underground so good?  It took me years to figure it out, and I got to it this way: first I saw how near-perfect their third, self-titled album was; next I saw how amazingly nasty and brutal and awesome White Light / White Heat is; and then I figured out that Velvet Underground x White Light = Velvet Underground & Nico—at which point, about six years after I first listened to it, I finally came to appreciate that album.  (It's true, and it's funny: the second and third albums are basically distillations of aspects of the first.)

But so what am I trying to say, here?  Maybe I'm just trying to use the Velvets to justify the Stones, by way of "texture"...in which case really I'm only talking to Beatles people.  Are the Velvet Underground and the Rolling Stones closer to each other than either is to the Beatles?  Somehow I want to say no.  Is it that Lou Reed and Lennon/McCartney seem smarter to me than Jagger/Richards?  Does that make any sense?  Listening to the Beatles or to the Velvet Undeground kind of makes me think I could have an interesting conversation with those guys, and I don't particularly get that impression from the Rolling Stones—with them it feels more like I could drink myself into a coma and get a disease.  Not that that wouldn't happen with the other guys (in fact I sort of assume that if I spent time with Lou Reed in the late 1960s he would hurt my feelings and probably break my time machine), but I feel like it isn't all that would happen.  You know?  Not that I have anything against Mick Jagger...

Aw, who gives a shit.  Listen to whatever you want.

* Correct answer: the Beatles are better than the Stones.
** Oh, no reason.
*** Theory B: When comparing the two bands in terms of how good they are, you can go back and forth, but once you introduce genius into the picture, insect beats rock again and again and again and again, landslide, no contest, like, are you kidding me?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

coupla fuckin' ads

(1)  I was watching TV with a buddy last night and saw this grotesque commercial in which we start out looking at this cute girl who's got this adorable contented smile on her face—or rather it appears to be a contented smile, but turns out to be a horrible vacant smile because as the camera slowly moves around and behind her, we discover that the Littles have hollowed out the back of her skull to have a rock concert in it.  Truly the stuff of nightmares...

(2)  Twice now in movie theaters I've seen that Dove commercial about "soap scum."  I have three things to say about this one.
    First, that if there's one thing more despicable in advertising than the invented need, it's the invented fear,* particularly the invented fear of being disgusting to the sexually attractive (which, I forget whether I've mentioned before, is a greater motivator than the fear of grievous bodily harm: reportedly the reason spray cans sometimes warn against "facial disfigurement" is not that they actually might cause facial disfigurement, but rather that warnings about brain damage do practically nothing to stop kids from inhaling the stuff to get high—which is also why it's effective to tell kids that marijuana causes acne).
    Second, relatedly, my friend Dr. Math (who's been very quiet lately) pointed out that the soap scum they show you to scare you into using their product is identified at the bottom of the screen as an "artist's representation"—in other words, they're not even showing you something real and making it look grosser than it might otherwise be: they're showing you what it might theoretically look like.  And since the whole point of the ad is that you're supposed to think, "Yuck, I don't want that on me," this effectively amounts to a lie (especially since the artist's representation just happens to look like something that shows up visibly under a certain kind of revealing light—a vague concept presented as a hidden truth: very sneaky).
    Third, consequently, this ad inspired me to boo in the movie theater—and let me take a second here to encourage everyone to boo at ads in movie theaters, particularly if one really annoys you.  I've said it's sort of a shame that people don't boo anymore, but of course one reason why not is that we're too polite, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; however, if there's one instance in which we shouldn't have to worry about people's feelings, it's this one.  Some would say that artists and entertainers deserve to be torn to shreds by critics for having the gall to put themselves out there; that's fucking stupid—but it's sure as hell true of ad companies and corporations who are basically swindling the public every waking hour of every motherloving day.  You don't have to be monomaniacally anticorporate to agree: think of it as a service you're providing to the corporations and the free markets, voting not with your wallet but with your voice.  BOO!

(3**)  This is one of a whole series I've seen lately on subway platforms in New York, N.Y.:

(click to enlarge)

Like the HSBC ads (ah, forget the link, just enter "HSBC" into the search field), this campaign makes no sense except insofar as it panders to New Yorkers, or tries to.  The formula is this: "Special deal we are telling you about?  Great.  So what about stereotypical problem that New Yorkers also want solved?"  Of course what's going on is that (a) the construction suggests that Bank of America has now effectively solved one major New York problem with this special deal (freeing us up to concentrate on the others), and (b) we're supposed to say, "Hey, I identify with that, my neighbor's dog barks all the time!"—i.e., we're supposed to be fucking idiots.***
    P.S.  That guy's a douche.  I know fashion is fashion and taste is relative and one man's awesome is another man's lame and all that—not to mention throwing the first stone and glass houses and whatnot—but can I just say, the extremely popular, ever-so-carefully tended-to facial hair that is meant to resemble careless inattention to grooming—like, oops, I just haven't gotten around to shaving for a few days—is by definition pretentious.  I don't have nearly as much trouble with the beards that are regularly trimmed down to stubble (although I don't love it, either), but the combination of keeping it real short and shaping it so lovingly kind of drives me up the wall...at least when it's done by ostensibly heterosexual men.  So, OK, yes, I'm a bigot. [Never mind: that's not nice.]
    P.P.S.  Back to the ad: I'm not going to bother researching the deal, but I notice that it says the offer expires in Jan. 2009—and unless what expires in Jan. 2009 is the ability to sign up for this promotion, then the very most you could get back is $30 because no one needs to spend more than $81/month to use New York City Transit.  So—wow, $30, problem solved!  Thanks, Bank of America!
    P.P.P.S.  It's not a rhetorical question!  (HSBC has an idea.)

* The The Onion captured this concept perfectly in their brilliant and somehow forgotten Our Dumb Centurya (1999)—which you should buy or otherwise acquire—with their Dec. 18, 1923, headline, "Listerine Company Invents, Cures Halitosis."
** I use "couple" very loosely, to mean a few.  This is incorrect.  (Although, to be fair, that's why I chose the very slangy coupla, as in "I just almost got tricked by a coupla draculers.")
*** At first I wrote "fucking retarded," but I'm trying to wean myself from using the R word because even I find it offensive, or at least insensitive.  Ironically [also not quite the right word] idiots itself should be no less offensive because it used to be an official medical term for exactly what retardation also used to be the official term for...  But whatevs.
a Last great thing they ever did?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

fortune cookie

Sadly I proved unable to take a worthwhile picture of this with my phone, but you can still just barely read it: "Three can keep a secret, if you get rid of two."

What a fortune!  Fortune cookies these days really should be called "compliment cookies," or "aphorism cookies," or "advice cookies"—they almost never claim to tell you your fortune anymore—but this one is in a whole different category.  Reminds me of the Pardoner's Tale, a little.  Dark, very dark.

Monday, November 17, 2008

sadness and depression

I've been a little sad lately—but not so depressed.  That's good: for a while there I think I was depressed and not sad.

The distinction may be arbitrary,* but it's not like I invented it; it's just not universal.  (Q.v. Melanie Klein's distinction between envy and jealousy, which I think is great but which you can't assume other people will get if you just use the words without extensive footnotes: as I understand it, Klein defines jealousy as the experience of wishing you had something someone else has and envy as the experience of not wanting the other person to get to have it at all.**)  I'm going to put this as simply as I can: sadness is an emotion, a feeling, and is something we all inevitably experience as human beings, whereas depression is more a condition or a state of mind, not a more severe sadness but almost a failure to be sad.  Both can be incapacitating, but you might liken sadness to the healing process or its unpleasant side effects*** and depression to something more like an immunodeficiency virus.  This idea may be particularly foreign to us because we live in a society that places maybe too much of a premium on happiness.  It's worth noting that happiness refers (originally) not to an emotion but to the possession of hap or haps, which basically means luck and which we also see in the words perhaps and mishap; when we value happiness above all else, we are effectively blurring the concepts of feelings and fortune.  Can we be "happy" if things are not going exactly as we would hope?  Don't most of us believe—don't most religions teach—that there's more to life than things going well?  It's important, vitally important (remember that vitally is not just an intensifier: I'm talking about what we need to live), that we be able to live through unhappiness—meaning both misfortune and grief.

I'm not really saying anything new or revolutionary, here, but I do think that we in our culture have trouble feeling our feelings.  (Gross sentimentalism only proves my point.)  We think our feelings can be judged, controlled.  For this I blame religion and the notion that God monitors our thoughts and desires: we are held responsible not only for our behavior, but also for our most secret impulses and emotions.  Jimmy Carter committed adultery in his heart—was that the line?  I'm not going to say that the idea is meaningless or crazy—what we think and feel does matter, does have weight—but I'm afraid that we become hypervigilant and try to deny what cannot be denied, try to escape judgement by burying the crime.  That is not the solution.  The crime is not a crime.  Feelings are never wrong: we may choose not to act upon them, may wish we did not feel them, may even question our characters because of them—and it's certainly fair to note that we have contradictory feelings, such that sometimes it's hard to call any one feeling "realer" than the others—but one thing is true of any feeling, and it is that you feel it—and that, it would be absurd to deny.  I submit that feelings take place outside of the jurisdiction of morality: only action opens you up to divine prosecution.****

Point being simply that it's OK to be sad, to be bummed.  In fact, it's healthy.  In fact, a life without pain is not a life at all.  What is scary is when we shut down, when we stop feeling, when we retreat from reality so as to avoid pain, to avoid life—because when we do that, we are dead alive.  I've had times in my life when I've felt like I was doing OK and people have said I looked sad; lately, it's tended to be the other way around, that I'm feeling sort of bummed and people say it looks like I'm doing well.  And you know what?  I think maybe I am doing well.  A little sadness never did anyone any harm.

Anyway, I've been listening to a lot of Radiohead.

* Is there a word for a distinction that you're making rather than a distinction to which you're referring?  Word : neologism :: distinction : ?  Oh, right—the word is still distinction: it can mean either a distinguishing factor or the act of distinguishing, sort of like the difference between construction meant as the process of constructing something and construction meant as the finished product.  (Funny that the noun building is used pretty much exclusively to refer to something that is done being built.  I mean, it's not hilarious or anything).
** Klein goes an interesting step further by asserting that we wish to destroy the things we envy, and then a hilarious step further (as Freud and his followers frequently dida) by asserting that the way in which we wish to destroy these things is...by filling them with shit.
*** Aren't the symptoms of most illnesses in fact caused by your immune system's response and not by the bacteria or virus itself?
**** Of course, I believe the ancient Greeks' definition of action included action of the mind...
a The example I love in Freud is that he claimed that boredom is almost always expressive not of nothing to do but rather of something we can't admit to ourselves that we want to do [brilliant], and then claimed that what we want to do is to masturbate [hilarious].

Friday, November 14, 2008

great songs less than 2 minutes long

[Quick grammarsluts reminder: yes, it's less than 2 minutes, not fewer.]

"Broken Face," "Tame" and "There Goes My Gun" by the Pixies
"Hold On" and the "Strawberry Fields Forever" demo by John Lennon*
"Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" by the Smiths
"Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis
"Cretin Hop" by the Ramones
"The Power of Independent Trucking" by Big Black
"Pumpin' 4 the Man" by Ween
"Flux = Rad" by Pavement
"Think" by James Brown (live at the Apollo)

...and "What Deaner Was Talkin' About" clocks in at exactly 2 minutes.

Amusingly enough, I decided to make this list because of the amazing Lennon/McCartney song "I'm So Tired," but that only makes the cut if you leave out the mumbling at the end.  (Paul is alive and well, folks.**)

* On Anthology 2.
** I was going to say "alive and well and boring," but come on, that's not nice.  I looked back at my Beatles "math" and felt bad about it—I mean, what did Paul ever do to me?  Besides which, dorky though he may seem in that unfair juxtaposition, he's actually being kinda nice, yeah?—and I like his jacket and tie.  (It's good to be rich.)  So with that in mind, here's a bonus list:

"I Saw Her Standing There"
"The Night Before"
"Another Girl"
"You Won't See Me" (best one)
"Getting Better" (although I heard the best part was written by John)
"Fixin a Hole"
"Lovely Rita" (wait, maybe this is the best one)
"Back in the U.S.S.R." (I mean...it's fun)
"Helter Skelter"?
"Oh! Darling" (OK, this is the best one)
"You Never Give Me Your Money"
"She Came in Through the Bathroom Window"
"Get Back"

WORST ONE: "Yesterday"

And while we're at it...

"Blue Jay Way" and "Something" by George Harrison
"Don't Pass Me By" by Ringo Starr
"Flying" (only song written by all four together?)


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Synecdoche, N.Y.

This is...sort of a review?

(1)  I am one of the few people who already knew what synecdoche is—also, how to spell it, and how it's different from metonymy.  So now I am your king.

(2)  I like Charlie Kaufman.  I thought the last ⅓ or even ¼ of Being John Malkovitch was iffy, and I didn't like Adaptation or Human Nature all that well until I saw them a second time, but Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is truly excellent in my opinion, and Charlie Kaufman deserves all the praise he gets and more.  He deserves praise for things he hasn't even done.  Like, "Hey, Charlie—nice mohawk!"

(3)  So but what about Synecdoche, N.Y.?

One thing people don't tend to say about Charlie Kaufman and that I felt big-time in Synecdoche is that he is fucking honest...or at least it feels that way.  This is sort of what I was saying about David Foster Wallace, too.  Kaufman uses strange premises and wacky ideas just on this side of sci-fi (e.g., somebody's having all his memories erased) to speak to very real human shit...also like DFW.  This, by the way, is also why I don't like the sentimental: I think of it as, almost by definition, a cheap and almost counterproductive way of achieving seriousness, and often I think the best way to get to something real is in a sort of...roundabout way?  Success in circuit lies.

But...(a) what we've got here is an artist making art about the making of art, and somehow it's even more intense than in Adaptation because not only are we seeing him struggle and seeing the struggle itself and the product of the struggle, and not only is the struggle about how to struggle, but here somehow it's almost about how to struggle with the struggling with the struggling?—like almost a meta-Adaptation; and (b) there's a difference between neurotic contortions and emotion, and somehow Synecdoche, N.Y. made me feel like maybe Charlie Kaufman can't always tell the difference—either that or he thinks neurotic contortions are enough for a whole movie, in which case I respectfully disagree.

I'm not sure I can articulate this.  Basically there's a difference, e.g., between "I'm lonely"—even "Look at me and how convoluted my thinking is: it sure does make me lonely"—and "Look at how convoluted I am and how self-conscious I am about the convolution and the self-consciousness and how afraid I am that you'll judge me for these things, and, but, hey, on the other hand I guess you can maybe forgive me for it because you can at least identify with the fact that all this shit makes me lonely...?"  In the latter case emotion is almost an afterthought or excuse—an accident, even.  Not that that level of near-infinite psychological regress* can't yield valuable feeling—John Barth pulls it off in his "Menelaiad," where form matches function, and I think DFW does a pretty good job in "Octet" with something even closer to what Kaufman's trying—but, I don't know, at a certain point in Synecdoche, N.Y. (which started out great, by the way, and which is admirably ambitious and largely enjoyable or at least interesting) I started to feel that it was less about solipsism than it was just solipsistic.

I still love you, Charlie.

OR: . . . maybe I just didn't get it?

* A warehouse within a warehouse within a warehouse within a warehouse...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

cut off the head and burn the body

As I was saying on Election Day, Nov. 4 was in effect two separate, overlaid events: Obama's and the Democratic Party's win, and McCain's and the GOP's defeat.  But there's yet another meaning, also effectively separate, and that's the failure of the McCain–Palin strategy of the past month or so, which was basically a grotesquely exaggerated (or refreshingly undisguised) version of what the GOP has relied on for decades: the appeal to fear and bigotry, as seen in the way McCain's crowd booed Obama's name during their candidate's relatively graceful concession speech.  That strategy, it seems, doesn't work anymore...and that's cause for celebration in itself.

If GOP is having an identity crisis, it's long overdue: the Republican Party is a Frankenstein's monster of ideologies that do not go together.  There was a point in the primaries when we had three leading Republican candidates, Romney, Huckabee, and McCain—and if you take out the Mormonism, what you've got there is pretty much Big Business, Evangelical Christianity, and War Hawkery.  Wall Street and the Army maybe fit together (as Eisenhower pointed out) but as I believe Thomas Frank argued somewhere, the real enemy of social conservatism probably isn't liberals but businessmen (who as long as the market is free will always let South Park run wild as long as it's bringing in the big bucks, and frankly wouldn't think twice about ripping Janet Jackson's bodice off themselves if they wouldn't get fined or taken off the air for it).

Some say stick a fork in 'em, the GOP is done for—that the Republicans have to move to the center or face oblivion.  I hope those people are right.  Some say, too, that they'll split, and then we'll have basically the old-school Republicans, who don't give half a shit about God or abortion, and then the Palin Party, who can rage and fail all they want, God bless 'em.  (A friend of mine has been talking about how much he hopes Palin does run for president in 2012, or 2016, or really any year, in any race—he'd be delighted to run against her, he says, and although I find her terrifying, I can't say I entirely disagree.)

And this isn't just liberal spin.  Here's Gov. Pawlenty (Minn.), who was on McCain's VP shortlist, speaking yesterday at the Republican Governors Association conference: 

"We cannot be a majority governing party when we essentially cannot compete in the Northeast, we are losing our ability to compete in Great Lakes states, we cannot compete on the West Coast, we are increasingly in danger of competing in the mid-Atlantic states, and the Democrats are now winning some of the western states.  That is not a formula for being a majority governing party in this nation.  And similarly, we cannot compete, and prevail, as a majority governing party if we have a significant deficit, as we do, with women, where we have a large deficit with Hispanics, where we have a large deficit with African-American voters, where we have a large deficit with people of modest incomes and modest financial circumstances.  Those are not factors that make up a formula for success going forward...  The country is changing culturally, demographically, technologically, economically...  And the Republican Party isn't changing in a way that reflects those...changes across the country."

I'm not sure how central this is, but what stands out most to me is the failure of Nixon's racist (or at least racist-friendly) "Southern Strategy" and the general social positions that grew out of that (when the GOP realized that the Democrats had provided them with a tremendous political opportunity by alienating Southern racists, they got themselves into an alliance of which racism was only one of the delightful hot topics).  This may not necessarily be a statement about our moral development as a country—it may just be that as the population grows less white and more urban,* the GOP's old strategies just aren't effective anymore—but either way, I ain't complaining.

Enough politics.  I'm not even quite sure why I'm writing this—does anyone not know this stuff?  Here's a picture of a ping-pong tree sponge.

* When I say urban, I mean city-dwelling.  I'm not using it in that weird way where it's supposed to mean black.  (Would that even be accurate?  I'm not aware of any significant change in the black population, percentagewise.  Votingwise, yes.  But less white the country's certainly growing.)

Romantic & Sexual Defeats

[This one I wrote in 2002 and retooled* a couple years back.  Its strong sexual content may not be appropriate for Americans under the age of 17.]

Romantic & Sexual Defeats**

    I struck up a conversation with a girl at a party when I realized she was the source of the overwhelming vulva smell.
    "Is it you who smells like pussy?" I asked her, although I knew the answer.
    "It is," she said.
    "Do you always smell like pussy," I asked, "or is it just tonight?"
    "It's just the weekends," she said.  "One Friday night I went out and smelled like pussy, and I decided I liked it and would stick to it."
    "I think that was a good choice," I said.
    "Thank you," she said.  "Do you smell like anything?"
    "I'm not sure that I do," I said.
    "That's OK," she said.
    "Well thank you," I said.  "May I buy you a drink?"
    And three years later we were married.  At the wedding, her pussy rose to the occasion.  The ceremony was outdoors, but still we all could smell her.  I was proud and very happy.
    "I love you," I told her in front of the man who was not a rabbi.
    "And yet still you do not have an odor," she said to me.
    "I have the sperm taste," I said.
    "The sperm taste is not an odor," she said to me, "and the sperm odor," having anticipated my response, "is not an odor either."
    "Man and wife," said the man who was not a rabbi.

    I was walking down the street followed by a phalanx of all the girls I'd fucked or fondled when something caught my eye in a shopwindow; I stopped and was trampled.  No idea, I'd had no idea how much momentum they'd built up.  If it were a metaphor, what would it mean?  But it was not a metaphor.  I looked up from the pavement through stars and saw the girls disappear around a corner, as a unit, all skirts and legs and asses, a dirty Terry Gilliam cartoon.  Who knew they were so heavy and at the same time so light?
    But so I pulled myself painfully to my feet and brushed myself off and turned again to look into the shopwindow.  Inside were books, all books about me and how I should be.  I went in and a man took my bag and put it in a cubby except the cubby was just a chute into an incinerator, and my bag was incinerated.
    "Thanks a lot," I said sarcastically.
    "Huff my sac," the bagboy said, a little too angrily, I thought.
    Inside, the first thing I saw was a magazine rack, and the magazines were all about me.  One particularly shameless rag had a picture of one of my ex-girlfriends with my come coming out of her right nostril.  The really funny bit was, how did they get that picture?  Where could the camera have been?  Inside my torso?  Then I wondered, what if I was somehow responsible for having taken the picture?  What if I had unwittingly taken this embarrassing and intimate moment and put it in the glossy pages of a widely distributed periodical?  I leafed through and found that the magazine was printed in Norway.  Norway!
    Then I remembered a time when I was in Petersburg selling suicide weapons at a dictators' convention, and who should approach me in the lobby amidst the sad throng of tiny little uniformed men but Name Omitted, the cutest of all the cute girls from my college years.  I never thought to see her again, as we'd never had quite enough to carry us through the break she'd instigated, but here she was, smiling at me and spinning a pair of handcuffs on her finger.
    "I wouldn't want to sell you a suicide weapon," I said to her.  She took it to be a flirtatious gesture, and she was right.  So we went up to her hotel room and screwed ourselves silly, all the while with the littler dictators watching us from corners and falling like clumsy insects from the ceiling onto the bed.  We'd brush them aside with a laugh; we were in love! love!
    Then we lay in bed, nestling, and she told me she was to be married the next day and she wanted me to be the photographer.  I sat and brooded.  Who was this Name Omitted?  The memory already was fading even as she cut off the circulation in my right arm and caused my fingertips to swell alarmingly.  She brushed a dictator out of her pubic hair.
    "I won't let you marry him," I said.
    "Her," she said.
    "I won't let you marry either of them," I said.
    "Whom might I marry?" she asked.
    "Me," I said.
    She laughed a lovely laugh that I detested.  She thought I was being delightful.
    I was not being delightful.  I found nothing delightful at that moment, right then.  I kicked one of the creeping dictators rather viciously off the bed, and this made Name Omitted laugh some more and grab, this time, my penis with her hand.  Mutinously, it responded.
    "I detest you," I told her.
    She gave my penis a little tug and knew I was lying.
    I know nothing.

* Huh-huh...he said tool.
** Best thing I've ever written??

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Captain Maximus

(1)  Found it.

(2)  I've got to read this book again...I wonder whether it's as great as I remember it, or if I was just excited because it was out of print.  I know that at least some of Airships was totally amazing.  And I remember that in this one somebody shoots a rich kid in a boat with a sawed-off shotgun loaded with whaleshit, which is probably worth the price of admission in itself.

(3)  Pretty sure Barry Hannah's a racist, though.  Libel?  Something about the way and the frequency with which the word nigger pops up in his stories.  Flannery O'Connor, too.  I could be way wrong on this one.

(4)  And anyway you can still appreciate an artist's work even if the artist himself is morally problematic.

(5)  Captain Maximus has one of the worst-ever blurbs on the back: The New York Times Book Review sez, "Anything written by Mr. Hannah is well worth having."  Good for Mr. Hannah, not so promising for Captain Maximus.  Isn't it in effect saying, "This book is just about the worst thing he's ever written, but"?  Reminds me of a blurb I saw on the back of a Philip K. Dick novel: "Dick is a poor man's Pynchon."  Did the publisher not know that "poor man's [blank]" is not a compliment?  Regardless, it provided my friend the doctor with the opportunity to make a joke: "Does that make Pynchon a rich man's Dick?"  (The double-entendre is funnier, of course, when it's entendu.)

(6)  What a cover.

Monday, November 10, 2008

quitting Fæcebook

I decided I was addicted to Fæcebook* so I resolved to take a three-week break from it—sort of a New Era's resolution.  And, man, I am more addicted than I even knew.  I find myself sitting in front of my computer with my fingertips just barely touching the keys, waiting for I don't know what, feeling like the cliché of the older person who walks into a room and then freezes and says, "Wait a minute...why did I come in here?"  The experience is maybe 40% funny, 60% scary.

Only when I forbade myself to go on did I realize just how insanely much I went on.  I'm not even talking about doing stuff on Fæcebook: the reason I stopped was that I'd been going a little overboard with it lately because of the election (posting articles, writing "status updates," that sort of thing), but I see now that even when you don't "do" a thing on there, there's an incredible draw just to go on and...what?  There's the stalker element to it that plenty of people have commented on—checking out people you know, people you sort of know—but that's not the essence of it, at least not for me.  What I find myself doing is, I'll finish writing an e-mail or reading an article or something, and then instead of just closing my browser and getting up and leaving the computer—or maybe, oh, I don't know, working?—instead of that I have what's practically a bodily impulse to just quickly, casually flick over to Fæcebook.  It isn't even that I want to see what so-and-so is up to: that at least would have a social element to it, lame in its expression or no.  I'm afraid that what really drives me—and what makes it an actual addiction?—is that it ends up being just something to do.

Even as I'm writing this now, some part of my brain is saying, "Hey, you just finished a paragraph: let's just flip over to Fæcebook."

In a way what we're talking about is really internet addiction, with Fæcebook nothing but a particularly insidious instance.**  What makes Fæcebook so addictive, I think, is the continual updating, yours and theirs: there is always something to do or see.  It's always seemed to me that internet pornography's dirty secret is that the sex is just an excuse for ever-updated, endless, inexhaustible content.  People aren't addicted to dirty pictures: they're addicted to internet content.

And internet addiction itself is surely just an aspect of something larger.  As Pemulis says about drug addiction in Infinite Jest, "If you're addicted you need it...and if you need it what do you imagine happens if you just hoist the white flag and try to go on without it, without anything? ... What happens if you try and go without something the machine needs?  Food, moisture, sleep, O2?  What happens to the machine?" (1065).  Pemulis advocates replacing one substance with another; DFW saw (I think) that Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs were basically the replacement of a substance with something equally life-consuming...but one way or another, the point is that an addiction is not some free-standing problem that will disappear and be replaced by total mental health upon removal of the addictive stimulus.  Maybe what internet addiction really comes down to is a drive to focus on something other than life, a hunger for withdrawal and escape, a need to avoid really being.  It's become something of a cliché, but as DFW points out in Infinite Jest, something can be true and a cliché: we're afraid to be alone with ourselves.  How often do you spend even five minutes not watching TV, not checking e-mail, not talking on the phone, not reading, not planning the day...not thinking about "vulgar" things like politics, the world, your family, your personal life, religion...  How comfortable are we just being ourselves?  Not very fucking much, is how.  Maybe what we need to replace our addictions with is...life?  Not life as in "having a life" but life as in what you've got whether you "have a life" or not, life as in what you'd have if you were stranded on a desert island for years or what you have when you're alone in a room with nothing to occupy or distract you.  Reality, call it?

I'm also quitting drugs, but that's easy.

* I write Facebook with an Æ because I am six years old.
** Side note: can everyone please not refer to your Fæcebook profile as "your Fæcebook"?  It's not a book, and it isn't even a Fæcebook.  The reason it's called what it's called is that it started as a college-only thing, and colleges tend to have facebooks with pictures of all the people in your class: in other words, the whole fucking site is a facebook; your page is part of the facebook.  OK?  Please? ... Actually, what am I saying?  Jesus.  Call it whatever the fuck you want.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

PRESIDENT OBAMA : some thoughts

Viva Kennedy
    A friend of mine asked me when I called the election (all the screaming and honking came 1⅔ hours after I started celebrating*), and I said, "Ohio."  A truer answer would actually have been "June, when he won the primaries": I felt pretty strongly from the beginning that Obama would win if he got the nomination.  And the turning point of the primaries, in my opinion, was the Caroline Kennedy endorsement.
    When Caroline and then Ted endorsed Barack Obama (that was the order, wasn't it?), they did, together, two similar but separate things: they confirmed and at the same time they communicated who and what this candidate already was (confirming what many of us already saw and communicating it to the rest of us, to whom an Obama–Kennedy comparison coming from anyone else would most likely have seemed like something in the range of nonsense to blasphemy).  The endorsement of the daughter, I believe, outweighed the endorsement of the brother, for all the respect he commands and deserves.  "I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them," she wrote.  "But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president—not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans."
    At that moment, Barack Obama went from being an exciting outsider, a longshot—recognized for the audacity of hope, but not taken seriously as a truly viable candidate—to being the inheritor of the Democratic Party's proudest and most beloved political legacy.  And as close as one might argue Bill Clinton to be, the cigar will always go to JFK.
    So, in a way, this election was won in January.  And it is not just a victory for Obama, not just a victory for the Democratic Party, not just a victory for the United States, but also a victory for the Kennedys.

How I called the election
    I learned about FiveThirtyEight.com from screenwriter Jim V. Hart in mid-September and checked it continually from that point on—and checking back now I see that on Sep. 19 Nate Silver gave Obama a 72% chance of winning.  (That was up to 85% on Oct. 1 and up to 94% on Oct. 13; by Election Day it was 99%.)  But really that just gave me confidence in my beliefs: it didn't generate them.
    Why did I feel so sure way back in 2007 that Obama would beat whomever the Republicans nominated?**  The answer is simple—and offensive.  I thought like a retarded person.
    I really ought to come up with a better way to put that, but I might as well present it in all its ugliness, especially since I'm sure that's always how it will appear in my internal vocabulary, if only because I came up with the idea while sad and angry as could be, right after Bush's reelection in 2004.  Part of what made that election so hard was that Bush had lost in 2000; to see him actually elected (arguably) was an incredible blow and shook my faith in America (for real).  And this helps to explain not only the anger behind my terminology but also the idea itself.
    Here's the deal:

  • One thing that drove me crazy in 2004 was—to quote myself in a Nov. 3, 2004, e-mail—"for example the fact that 58% of Bush supporters say we shouldn't have gone to Iraq if Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction, along with the fact that 56% of Bush supporters (statistically the same, probably) think that Iraq DID have weapons of mass destruction—and 55% of Bush supporters think that Iraq GAVE al-Qaeda SUBSTANTIAL SUPPORT and another 20% think that Iraq had been DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN 9/11 (!)..."  Put simply, many people flat-out did not know what the hell was going on.
  • Another thing that drove me crazy in both 2000 and 2004 was the way that first Gore and then Kerry creamed Bush in the debates, and then afterwards you'd hear the commentators saying, "Well, Gore looked stiff and haughty, but Bush looked relaxed and likable!"  It's the old beer test, but it's one thing to judge a candidate's character by how well you can imagine drinking with him (I'd say not a 100% crazy thing) and another thing to judge his performance in a debate by that standard.  I was shocked and horrified by how irrelevant the debates' content actually was.  I'm not sure it would go too far to say that the content was literally meaningless, as far as the elections themselves were concerned.
  • I forget whether this occurred to me before or after Nov. 3, 2004—I believe it popped into my mind as a vague, nagging doubt before the election—but I feel strongly that one lesson to be learned from Bush's reelection was that running against something is a dangerous game.  What had given me false confidence leading up to that election—the intensity with which so many Americans loathed George W. Bush—translated, I think, into good news for the GOP.  Why do they say there's no such thing as bad press?  Because a chant of "No Bush!  No Bush!  No Bush!" includes a chant of "Bush!  Bush!  Bush!"  Freud said years ago that there's no negative in the unconscious (and no one made this connection, that I saw, but his theory seems to have been proved a while back, when a study showed that if you tell an elderly person not to take something with food, that instruction will fade in his memory and become "take this with food," such that it's always a better idea to say, "Take this on an empty stomach"): the nos, nots, and don'ts just drop right out.  That's interesting in itself, but as it applies to the election it basically comes down to this: although subtlety is nice, it's not only lost on many people but also can mix things up and backfire explosively.
  • When Schwarzenegger ran for governor of California against...well, I forget who, and that's sort of the point...I thought he was a surefire winner, not because I knew anything about California politics, but because I figured, very cynically, "Schwarzenegger is famous, Schwarzenegger is a name, Schwarzenegger is exciting."  (As for the kind of exciting, see the bulletpoint directly above.)  And I'm going to go ahead and treat as the same point the fact that reportedly there's some kindergarten somewhere where they routinely poll the little children about presidential elections, and whoever wins that poll is always the winner of the election—and you could explain that by saying that maybe their parents are coincidentally the perfect sample of American voters, but much likelier it's just that these kids "vote" for the candidate whose name they know best.

So as early as Nov. 3, 2004, I had decided that the best way to predict the outcome of an election was to "think like a retarded person"*** and to go entirely based on who feels right.  As early as Nov. 3, 2004, I was saying that the Democratic Party's only hope was to get a candidate with either charisma or a name...and I felt that charisma trumped a name.  Hillary Clinton, in my opinion, is basically Bill without charisma.  And once Obama himself started getting pretty famous, I started thinking, "Huh...charisma plus a name?"
    I supported Barack Obama before I knew much about him.  That he turned out to be the only candidate I have ever known who spoke in a way that didn't offend the general public and didn't offend me I count as something just short of a miracle, but it has little bearing upon the election because I have little bearing upon the election—it's made this a much, much happier day for me and made this a much, much less cynical process for me, but its relevance to Obama's win is probably minimal.  The way the American Retarded Person would view (did view) Obama vs. McCain really came down to Obama's looking better, sounding better, and being just a little more famous.  (McCain's "celebrity" ad was never going to work, whatever the polls immediately afterwards may have suggested.)
    One of the happiest days of the past year was the day I realized that in these debates, truth finally beat bullshit—not because it was better truth or worse bullshit, but because it was better-looking truth and worse-looking bullshit.  Many of my Democratic friends talked about how worried they were about the debates, but I was sunny every time and never surprised by the polls afterwards because I was doing a better job than they were of thinking like a retarded person: the reason why they were so scared was that two elections had taught them that bullshit always beats truth, but the reason I was so confident was that I knew that truth that also sounds good will always beat bullshit that also sounds bad.
    The cynical reading is that the truth–bullshit part of that equation is irrelevant.  But what I think is that the truth–bullshit part of the equation may just be what gave Obama not just a victory, but a landslide victory...which, by the way, I've been calling since July.****

Every fluffy cloud has a shit lining.
    As I write this, California's disgusting Proposition 8 is still too close to call, according to CNN, but a "Yes" to ban gay marriage is beating a "No" to leave it alone, 52–48, with 95% of precincts reporting.  So it doesn't look good.
    What's funny about this—funny may not be the right word—is that the record turnout by black voters (thanks to Obama) may in fact be partially to blame.  CNN's exit polls have white people voting "No" 53% of the time and black people voting "Yes" 70% of the time.  Forgive the generalization (I believe polls will bear me out, but a million pardons—seriously—if I am wrong): black people often hate gay people.  Yes.  It's enough to make a politically correct brain shut down like a supercomputer outsmarted by Captain Kirk.
    Can we get a federal gay-marriage-ban ban?  When is that going to happen, folks?  Now that we've elected a black man, anti-gay discrimination is one of the last things standing in the way of a full realization of American values in our own country.
    (I'm not holding my breath for the first "out" atheist president.  Or, wait...we already had that!  Lincoln: "Christianity is not my religion and the bible is not my book."  Jefferson: "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature."  Washington: "Being no bigot, I am disposed to humor Christian ministers and the church."  So...can we go back, please?)

What did we win?
    The map above is the 2008 electoral map adjusted for population.  It comes from a site that in 2004 was a great consolation to those of us who looked at the strictly geographical version and were horrified by all the red; this time it serves to emphasize just what kind of a win we got.
    A few thoughts:
  1. Race in America.  When I read it in The New York Times, it struck me all over again: "just 143 years ago, Mr. Obama, as a black man, could have been owned as a slave."  Racism—specifically the mistreatment of black people by white people—has been one of our nation's greatest crimes and embarrassments: at its worst, it cast doubt upon our values and made hypocrites of us as a society.  As I pointed out during the primaries (when engaged with Clinton supporters in foolish arguments about what would be more important, a black president or a woman president), the oppression of African Americans could not possibly be left out of even the briefest of American histories.  A single paragraph could not in good faith leave out slavery.  The election of a black man to the presidency symbolizes a correction of a tremendous wrong, and the importance of both the correction and the wrong cannot possibly be overstated.
  2. Relatedly, our standing in the world.  A hypocritical America is a weakened America.  Our nation is unique in having been founded not based on land or race but rather on principles and ideals.  This, not our military or our economy (ahem), is what makes us a great country.  The importance of Obama's election from the perspective of our history of racism is magnified from the outside: that we have elected a black man demonstrates to the world that we may just be what we say we are, that we may actually be a land of liberty and justice for all.
  3. Relatedly, the "War on Terror."  If we are to take seriously the idea that we are at war with terrorism rather than a particular group of people, then the only way it is even conceivable that we could win is the "hearts and minds" route.  And as long as folks like Osama bin Laden can claim that American ideals are lies, as long as he can say that we don't stand for liberty and freedom, as long as he can say that we're just a bunch of hypocritical racist crusaders, defined and motivated primarily by whiteness and Christianity (which, please note, bin Laden and Palin alike are inclined to emphasize)—as long as "the American way" is nothing but a particular nationalism and that America is, to quote the Clash, "just another country"—we've got nothing but our might going for us, and when terrorism itself is the enemy rather than a specific group of specific people, then going around crushing the enemy is a pretty good way to strengthen the enemy rather than to eradicate them.
With our election of Barack Obama, our values are confirmed.  With the confirmation of our values, our international standing is strengthened.  With the strengthening of our international standing, our ability to prevail against criminals, murderers, fascists, and fundamentalists of all kinds is vastly improved.
    But in the end, for me, it really just comes down to this: today I am proud to be an American.

* Which left me feeling a little lonely, I've got to say.
** It wasn't that I was sure that any Democrat would win.  In fact, as I said yesterday, I felt pretty sure that Sen. Clinton would have lost.  If I hadn't felt that way, then (like some people I know) I probably would have basically sat out the primaries so as to minimize damage to whichever candidate ended up winning, whereas instead I pushed as hard as I could for Obama: I probably made more calls (I definitely gave more money, and on a teacher's salary) than I did for Kerry in 2004.
*** I guess "like a kindergartener" would be less offensive and more accurate, except that what is an adult who thinks like a kindergartener but retarded?
**** Maybe before, I'm not completely sure...but I definitely remember saying it in July, right after my grandfather died.  (People shook their heads like I was a crazy person: maybe I'd been driven mad with grief.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day upon us: a few unconnected thoughts

The best of times, the worst of times
    I've been saying it for a long time: Nov. 5 is going to be one of the happiest days or one of the saddest days of our lives.  Barack Obama's the first candidate I've ever voted for with enthusiasm—rather, this is the first time I've ever voted wholeheartedly for one candidate instead of wholeheartedly against another—and yet the thing is that I'm also voting wholeheartedly against McCain (and...God, I get the chills even typing the name...Palin).  The fact that it's the same vote feels almost accidental.
    So we've got a situation here in which two almost totally separate experiences are going to be overlaid...over each other?  Sorry, vocabulary failure.  My point is that if Obama wins, not only will it be sort of unimaginably exciting to have a President Obama, but also it will be just about the biggest relief in the world to have our long national Republican nightmare come to an end (indeed some columnists are predicting it would be pretty much the end for the GOP as we know it)—and that part would be true if any Democrat were elected president.  See?  Whereas if, God forbid, Obama loses, which looks extraordinarily unlikely (538's currently got Obama's odds of winning at 98.9%), then it will not only be a huge disappointment to see one of the greatest-ever American presidential candidates brought down, and not only will we all have the rug pulled out from under us (again), but we'll be looking down the barrel of what will suddenly at least appear to be an absolutely invincible Republican Party—not only that, but the very worst aspects of the Republican Party (Sarah Palin almost makes Dick Cheney look like an American hero to me)—and an America that will have pretty much been proved beyond further doubt to be exactly the conservative stronghold that the GOP's propaganda has been painting it to be all these years.  So it's like... call it a win-win/lose-lose situation?
    Whatever the results tonight, there's basically no way I'm going to be able to handle the intense emotion, and my head is pretty much guaranteed to explode.  That's just the way it is.  Here's hoping it's an awesome explosion instead of a miserable one.

Paradise Regain'd
    Stanley Fish—who (I believe because of his postmodernist beliefs) is often a real pain in the ass but is also sometimes just brilliantly wonderful and great*—compared Obama's strategy against McCain to Jesus' strategy against Satan in Milton's Paradise Regain'd.  Two things about this delighted me.  First, that it was completely true.  (As Fish is careful to say, it's not that Obama is Jesus or that McCain is Satan,** just that the battle has been eerily similar to theirs.)  Second, and this has nothing to do with politics, I find it amusing to be reminded that this is one "famous" work of literature that no one in the world except for an English major would ever have any reason to read.
    What else qualifies as a reference that none but an English major would really get?  Maybe The Faerie Queene?  Troilus and Cressida, even?  English majors, I invite you to comment on this post and help compile a list of Books Nobody but an English Major Would Ever Read.

Alternate 2008
Hillary would've lost.  I'm just sayin'.

* He's the one who finally converted me from a party-line kind of well-I-guess-that's-probably-right-although-secretly-I'm-not-quite-as-sure supporter of affirmative action to a holy-shit-you're-right-that-totally-makes-sense supporter of affirmative action—and, more specifically, the idea (which, again, I always figured I supported but couldn't 100% rationally justify) that "the N-word" is just plain worse than cracker, honkywhitey, or indeed any anti-white slur that you could come up with.  (I can explain if anyone's curious.  Basically I assume it's obvious and that I was just slow.)
** Although of course it's not that they're not, either.