Friday, April 30, 2004

Dispatches from Iraq, Part 1

Posted by Keith

Christian is an aquaintance of my friend, Jenny. He's in Iraq working as a contractor (an actual contractor, not one of those ìcontractorsî who rape inmates and start firefights). Heís sending dispatches back to let everyone know what itís like living and working over there.

Kuwait - April 23, 2004

This is Christian writing from Kuwait. This is my first dispatch from the Middle East. By now, I think I've included all those who expressed an interested in the newsletter. If you should wish to stop receiving these e-mails, let me know and I will remove you.

As most of you already know, I am working with Louis Berger (the US contractor responsible for many development infrastructure projects) on rebuilding the various Iraqi ministries needed for a successful government - transportation, communications, health, and justice. I have a year contract and will be living and working in the Green Zone. My role is to manage payroll and perfrom various admin task. I may even participate in the hiring process for recruiting Iraqis.

I don't yet know how often I will write these. It totally depends on the situation on the ground in Baghdad. I will write as often as experience dictates. That is, as I experience things that I feel are important I will write them down and report them (This is also depends on my internet access).

Many of you expressed an interest in this newsletter since you wanted to get an inside perspective. I must admit, that is one of the many reasons I signed up for this. I really want to know what is going on and why.

I don't yet know what things I can or cannot write about so don't be suprised if there are any voids of info that I don't touch upon.

I also don't yet know how much internet access or time I will have so don't be alarmed or surprised if I don't write you back immediately regarding any individual e-mails or questions.

I guess that about covers it.

Just a few days into my stint and it has alread been an adventure!

Flew business class into Kuwait yesterday morning via British Airways - best airline food I've ever had. Plenty of wine on the flight too. In theory, alcohol is non-existent in Kuwait. Air pollution seems to be a problem. A dismal haze seems to hang around the horizon and some longer term residents have complained of respiratory problems or new allergies. Despite the enormous wealth of the country, shepherds, their flocks, and camels roam beside the first rate highways making for a bizarre contrast.

My hotel is on the coast and includes beaches with great views of massive oil tankers filling nearby or floating lazily out along the hazy horizon. Upon arriving at the hotel, our airport bus was searched for a bomb under the carriage. For this, the guards use a mirror stuck at an angle off of the end of a pole - kind of like a dentist's mirror. This allows them to see the underside of the vehicle.

There is a massively overpriced Starbuck's at the hotel which is quite the hangout in the evening when tens of Arab men (usually dressed in long white robes complete with headgear) and women sip from Starbuck's labeled mugs. I guess that's globalization for you. The coffee tastes exactly the same as at home.

I quickly made a friend when I went downtown with an Indonesian employee of the hotel. He was a young guy with a wife and kid back home which he is helping to support via his comparitively substantial wages. Kuwait has an extremely large immigrant population. Mostly Indians but there are also significant numbers of Philippinos, Indonesians, and various Eastern Europeans.

He took me to a few shops where I purchased an Arabic phrase book, Arabic music CD's, and Marlboro Reds (very cheap - about $15 a carton) - not that I'm a heavy smoker but they might be a good bargaining currency and I don't know how available or expensive they will be in Baghdad. Later, we ate at an Indonesian restaurant and he insisted on paying the majority of the check!

After dinner, we went to a Catholic church and I found an Indian priest during an Indian wedding celebration (maybe they are originally from the Goa region?). He blessed my St. Christopher medal which I promised my mother I would wear for my protection.

Today, I was issued my PPE or Personal Protective Equipment. This included a gas mask, hood, duffel bag, pistol belt, canteen, kevlar vest, and helmet. All US army standard issue. The vest and helmet are needed for the 20 minute ride from Baghdad International Airport to the Green Zone. All the various zones are labeled either Green, Amber, or Red. The airport is apparently Amber. I was also instructed as to how to put on my mask and shown how to inject Nerve Gas antidote into my leg. This of course occurred after I was shown grizzly photos of what Small Pox and Mustard Gas victims look like after exposure. This was probably the freakiest experience to date.

Most of the people running these briefings are ex-US military. In fact, most of the civilian contractors seem to be ex-military. Although I have nothing but respect for the service men and women, I am glad there are also people like myself with a very different perspective. To date, I have not met too many people who are as interested as I am in the cultural, historical, and political aspects of this entire venture. That is one area where I feel I will make a strong contribution since I am extremely interested in understanding as much about the history and cultures of Iraq as much as possible. I have recently been reading a biography of Saddam Hussein so that I may familiarize myself with the last 50 years of Iraqi history.

The mood of most people seems to be very upbeat and most are very excited to be part of someting so vital to the well being of the globe. Granted, there are also those who are here to make a quick buck via the substantial salaries. Some people have reinvested their earnings in the Iraqi currency. I gues you could call it a bet on the success of the entire project.

Met some Brits who are also doing their part. Most of the British civilians work in the South - especially in Basra. Of course these are the areas where the British exercise control. Everyone is disappointed about the Spanish pullout which was also followed by Portugal and Honduras. Everyone recognizes that the UN will be playing a role when things settle down. What that role will be is still up in the air. There is also tremendous ambiguity as to what Iraqi sovereignty on July 1st will look like. Everyting is always changing.

I must say that the majority of the people I've met are sincere in their efforts and feel they are contributing to the freedom of the Iraqi people. Freedom is not a phrase just thrown around but sincerely uttered and meant. Although there of course is tremendous debate about the intentions of the US administration regarding Iraq, have no doubt that there are those who are here because they want to do the right thing.

I guess that's about it for now. I leave for Baghdad on a C-130 tomorrow morning and will write again as soon as I have the opportunity.

Christian

Pictures from the Desert

Posted by Keith



My sister in law, Seargant Naomi Sanchez, of the 1st Cav.,615thASB, in her jeep, somewhere in Iraq.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

One More Poem for the Road

Posted by Keith


National Poetry month ends friday so I thought I'd take us out with a Haiku by the undisputed master, Basho:

Waterjar cracks:
I lie awake
This icy night.

Drawing the Line Between Pirate and Artist

Posted by Keith




If Hollywood studios could deliver their dream products in their dream formats, they would send every first-run film via electronic pipes to thousands of theatres around the world. Digital projectors would emit high-quality images on screens. And the studios could control which versions got to which theatres. Theatres in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Singapore, or Utah might receive versions that lacked nudity. Theatres in New York, Amsterdam, and San Francisco might receive versions with extra nudity. If audiences registered disappointment with a particular ending, studios could quickly adjust and beam out a revised version with a new ending. Studios could even send multiple versions to the same theatre -- a PG-rated version for all shows before 8 p.m., and an R-rated version for all shows after 8 p.m. The storage capacity of DVDs would allow multiple versions on the same disc, so that families could watch "Titanic" without the naked scenes if the kids were in the room and with those scenes when the kids fall asleep. And once each home is connected with a pay-per-view jukebox, there would be no need for the DVD. Families could just order up their preferred digital stream. Ideally, of course, Hollywood would save on the cost of casting and re-shooting scenes by replacing as many human beings (or "blood actors," as they are known) with computer-generated cartoons.

There are some formidable obstacles to this dramatically efficient vision. First and foremost, there is the up-front cost. No one wants to pay the billions of dollars it would cost to retrofit theatres with digital projectors. Until there are enough digital projectors, there is no incentive to distribute digital prints. Human beings are the most formidable of these obstacles. Actors, directors, and editors have some power in Hollywood. And they do not want their labor replaced or their status as artists compromised any more than it is already. Studios already issue different cuts of films for different foreign markets and airline viewing. But they do so after negotiations with directors and editors, and after the films have either failed or succeeded in domestic release.

As Hollywood creeps toward this digital vision, George Lucas leads the pack. His last two films, "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" and "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," were filled with digitally generated extras where blood actors might have served in the 1970s. Several major characters, including the inexplicable Jabba the Hutt and the blatantly racist and annoying Jar Jar Binks were (fortunately) digital creations. The same technology that allowed Lucas remarkable control over his characters gave his fans the opportunity to undermine his control of them. Early in 2001 rumors began flying around Internet sites and chat rooms that someone had taken "Episode I: The Phantom Menace" and created something called Episode I: The Phantom Edit. The Phantom Editor, who remains incognito, had shortened the film by about 20 minutes, removing most of the scenes that focused on Jar Jar Binks. Without dialogue, Jar Jar Binks was a much less offensive character. In addition, the Phantom Editor removed some of the stilted dialogue and awkward verbal gestures that Lucas had installed to appeal to children. Soon after the rumors of the edit started spreading, copies began appearing in VHS form at Star Wars and science fiction conventions. And digital copies flew across both from peer to peer and via peer-to-peer networks like Gnutella. The 700 megabyte DivX file took many hours to download even with the fastest connection available. But the demand for the file was not about getting "The Phantom Menace" for free. It was about seeing a better version and celebrating the anarchistic revolution that had allowed a lone film critic to take control of the content and connect with thousands of others who shared his appreciation of the Star Wars saga. Lucas was reportedly curious about the cut. But his company, Lucasfilm, warned fans that sharing these copies and files constituted copyright infringements of the original film.

~The Anarchist in the Library, by Siva Vaidhyanathan [via Salon]

As Mr. Vaidhyanathan points out (in this excerpt form his forthcoming book) There is an intriguing phenomenon happening: the clash between two wildly different forces on the Internet, each vying for expression. On the one hand we have the Anarchist Editors, willfully defying the will of the artist and the law of the land to create different (and arguably better) versions than was intended by the artist, and on the other side, we have the Legal Authoritarians like the DCC and the MPAA, fighting to keep control of art (and by extension, the will to express oneís creativity) in the hands of Corporations.

This is a thorny issue and obviously Iíve already drawn sides if yo want to judge by my characterizations. But the inescapable fact remains that American copyright laws have gotten way out of hand. This issue goes well beyond whether or not Micky Mouse is a cultural Icon that belongs in the public domain (though the same could be argued for Star Wars) it strikes at the heart of creative freedom and expression. As Vaidhyanathan points out:

Until the rise of fixed and legally protected media products like television shows and feature films, humans had the power to adapt and re-use elements of their cultures. American communities quickly adopted Harriett Beecher Stowe's novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to the local stage and undermined its abolitionist messages. Uncle Tom was soon a stock comic character in minstrel shows. Stowe gave birth to Uncle Tom but America kidnapped him, changing him into something she would neither recognize nor celebrate. Those are the risks of releasing messages upon the world. An author cannot control how a character, idea, or plot will be read, re-fashioned, or criticized. But copyright law's restrictions on the production of derivative works and the integrity of the original work alter that dynamic somewhat.

Luckily for us, there already exist a world of classics in the public domain or else weíd never get to see Shakespeare's plays or read Mark Twainís books without having to pay exhorbinant fees to Megaconglomerates. And you can forget about making a film version if the Illiad.

But should the mere threat of litigation and eternal damnation int he eyes of the Film Directorís Guild stop us from coopting our own culture and remaking it to suite our needs? The Goblin doesnít think so.

The Goblin is an amateur Russian digital video editor named Dmitri Puchkov. Not satisfied with merely watching illegal copies of Hollywood films, he has differentiated some products within the rather crowded Russian video market. The Goblin re-dubs the films into colloquial Russian, trumping the rather unsatisfying subtitle translations.

The Goblin's greatest hits are the re-dubs of the first two of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. He turned Frodo Baggins into Frodo Sumkin and the rest of the "good" characters into caricatures of incompetent Russian officials. The evil Orcs became Russian gangsters. Gandalf the Wizard constantly quotes Karl Marx. Puchkov originally made the new versions for his friends, but they made copies and spread them widely. Pirate video merchants all over Russia are distributing Goblin edits, which are in high demand, for about $10. The Goblin is currently working on a Russian "Star Wars" edit. Certainly, by throwing out the old soundtrack and revising the characters completely, the Goblin is producing a fairly new work, one that does not directly compete with the original in the marketplace. No one who wants to watch the original "good" Frodo Baggins would want the Goblin version in its stead. But the real value of the Goblin edit is that it uses a familiar English text and Hollywood production (and New Zealand settings) to comment on Russian politics and society. This is multilayered cultural criticism and revision on a par with the minstrelization of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Woody Allen's Occidentalization in "What's Up Tiger Lily?" and Leonard Bernstein's urbanization of "Romeo and Juliet" into "West Side Story." It should make some feel queasy and others giggle. It should make everyone pause and think.

What are the implications to the status of Hollywood labor if, as writer Peter Rojas explained, all films are to be considered permanent "works in progress"? Should creativity be reserved for professionals and experts? Or will teenagers in their basements and libraries be able to soup up or strip down the signs, symbols, and texts that make up such an important part of their lives? Will Hollywood, bolstered by the political power of the United States government, be able to dictate the form and format of distribution around the globe? What are the implications for local cultural forms if powerful media companies use law and technology to ossify their advantages? In lawsuits, congressional hearings, and international negotiations, Hollywood studios claim they need maximum and near permanent control over their products to justify the massive investments they make in production, marketing, and distribution. But clearly, the issue is not just a commercial one ñ- it's cultural as well. Yet the commercial film industry and the governments that do its bidding are willing to go to extreme measures to preserve their global cultural and commercial standing.

At least, they think they will. But human ingenuity and creativity is boundless. There have always been pirates; there will always be pirates. Some will be caught, and some will become so large that they will become artists in their own right. and then, two thousand years form now, their stories will be coopted and rewritten, turned into something culturally significant and different than their creator intended. thatís how art is made.

Dromedary Blogging Wednesday

Posted by Keith




For whatever reason, there is a dromedary on the lawn.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Pictures and Words

Posted by Keith


This cartoon just about sums it up.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Marching for Everyone's Rights

Posted by Keith


Daily Kos correspondant, Trapper John is reporting almost-live from the March for Womenís Lives on the Mall in Washington DC. My good friend, Jenny is there also, along with, apparently, almost one million other people. Way to go everybody! Letís tell those armchair cowboys in the White House to stay out of our bodies!

In the Alchemist's Garden

Posted by Keith


I've had a longstanding fascination with plants, which I blame on my grandmother, who was a fanatic about her garden. Once, we went on a hike in a federal nature preserve and my father and uncle had to physically restrain her from transplanting a rather striking specimin, remnding her that stealing in a nature reserve is a federal crime. There's a longstanding literary tradition surrounding various botanicals of a ghastly nature as well, from the deadly and seemingly-deadly concoctions that Shakespeare's apothecry delt in, to the little old ladies in Arsenic and Old Lace. So, naturally, when I heard about this Poison Garden in England, I was intrigued:

The dell at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland will lie under a perpetual miasma of "deliberately spooky" mist, enlivened by a copper snake rearing from a grotto and hissing vapour, triggered by sensors as visitors creep past.

"It should be quite an experience," said Caroline Holmes, the garden's poison plant consultant, who takes a gleeful relish in her subject.

"The plants will be fascinating. Henbane, for instance, has the most evil-looking flowers, and mandrake grows in a distinctly sinister fashion."

Due to open in August, the Poison Garden is the latest part of Alnwick Gardens, a £42m extravaganza on the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.

Although originally scoffed at by many conventional gardening experts, the terraced cascades, labyrinth and £3.3m treehouse village, which is currently being built, have become a big attraction.

[edit]

"The Poison Garden will be full of excitement and intrigue, especially for children," she said. "More seriously, it will a safe place for visitors to learn about the dangerous side of plants."

[edit]

The final choice of hundreds of plants has yet to be made, but other strong candidates include nepata, known as catnip or cats' cannabis because of its effect on felines, and monk's pepper, which alters the hormonal balance in both sexes.

Darnel, the only known poisonous grass, which increases its dangers by attracting the toxic fungus ergot, is likely to grow alongside castor oil plants, the source of the terrorist-scare poison ricin.

"Some of the plants are going to be quite hard to track down," said Ms Holmes, "but one of the educational things about the garden is the fact that many of them are very familiar."

[edit]

The cultivation of most of the varieties will not be difficult - venomous plants, like weeds, tend to grow prolifically, and many of them also produce vivid flowers, leaf patterns and coloured fruit or pods.

"They're not always the sort of thing you can buy in your local garden centre," Ms Holmes said, "but we know where to get hold of all of them."

Iím buying my ticket, right now.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Last of the Famous International Playboys Terrorists

Posted by Keith


Leading miserabilist and former Smiths front-man Morrissey has fallen foul of the Homeland Security dragnet, according to BBC radio reports. It is not yet clear whether or the US officials involved had listened to Meat is Murder, or whether they thought they had a match on notorious Manchester terror mastermind Anwar al-Morrissey.

Morrissey is now a resident of Los Angeles, and was reportedly detained for some time at LAX airport. The BBC quotes him as saying that there was some problem with his passport, and that he was briefly suspected of being a terrorist. But he'll have been used to that in his musical career. And now he'll have one of those letters from the Department of Homeland Security saying he's not - but we doubt that'lll cheer him up much. [Register]

Those diabolical terrorists! it was there plan all along to lull us into a false sense of malaise by playing us twenty years or so of British New Wave with clever lyrics, and then, just when we thought he was merely another 80ís rocker, slowly dissolving nto obscurity, Bang! The true, awesome furry that is Morrissey, the Sleeper Terrorist would be unleashed upon the world, in downbeat, droning lyricism, as he slowly tried to drive us all to suicide. Simply ingenious.

What nefarious terror plot, left simmering since the eighties, will be exposed next? Perhaps it will be revealed that Simon Lebon is really a member of the IRA, or Robert Smith, the true leader of Hammas.

Vicarious Cat Blogging


I've run out of pictures of Lucy for the time being (though soon I will have plenty more, so Lucy fans, despair not!) To fill the void, Pansypoo has graciously sent me several pictures of her numerous cats.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Various and Sundry Items

1. I've just signed up for Gmail, the new google mail system. We'll see if this works any better than my many other spam riddled addresses.

2. Last night, some friends and I went to see David Cross perform here on campus. It was a great show but I'm not going to tell you about it. So there. Delivery is key to comedy and well, you had to be there, etc. etc. (I mean, sure I could tell you the joke about Bush eating baby Jews but would you really get it without the gestures and the set up? I don't think so).

3. I don't really have much else to talk about right now.

4. I'm busy with finals so posting may be spare for the next week or so. Unless Kevin ever finishes his first post and moves on to a second one. He's a bit of a perfectionist, and he's new at this whole blogging thing. Plus, it's not like I told him about our excruciatingly tight deadlines. But I swear, I showed him how to log in and everything, so any day now, he'll have something ready to show the world. And then you'll be sorry. (And by sorry, I mean delighted at his wonderful prose styling and masterful command of the English language).

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Who Knew George Carlin Had an Evil Twin?

And he's a Representative, no less:

HR3687

To amend section 1464 of title 18, United States Code, to provide for the punishment of certain profane broadcasts, and for other purposes.

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

December 8, 2003

Mr. OSE (for himself and Mr. SMITH of Texas) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

A BILL

To amend section 1464 of title 18, United States Code, to provide for the punishment of certain profane broadcasts, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That section 1464 of title 18, United States Code, is amended--

(1) by inserting '(a)' before 'Whoever'; and
(2) by adding at the end the following: '(b) As used in this section, the term 'profane', used with respect to language, includes the words 'shit', 'piss', 'fuck', 'cunt', 'asshole', and the phrases 'cock sucker', 'mother fucker', and 'ass hole', compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and other grammatical forms of such words and phrases (including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms).'.

Don't we have better things to do with our money and time than police the airwaves for "dirty" words? Seriously. The president is handing state secrets to the Sauds, Iraq is a fucking mess and there's a frickin Ice Age breathing down our necks, but hay, at least little bobby won't hear the word Cocksucker on TV. Just on the playgrounds, where their friends have heard it form their older brothers/sisters/parents.

~Thanks to Neil Gaiman for this. I'd never have heard of it otherwise as the words described in the Bill can't be spoken on the news or published in respectable outlets or at the very least, can only be described in vague terms.

Monday, April 19, 2004

The Blog of a Radical Librarian, Times Two

The Invisible Library will now have an Invisible Archivist as well. My Good Friend and fellow grad student, Kevin has been granted the special and highly covetted Golden Library Card, which grants him full and unfettered access to the coffee machine, photocopier and the staff entrence to the Blog. Heíll be posting from time to time, focusing primarily on Gay Rights, but also on Archival issues and whatever else he feels like. So, give him a warm blogosphere welcome.

Dogs Do It, Trees Do It, So Don't Even Think About It, Buster!


I just got back from a hearty round of rhetorical fisticuffs with an anti-gay rights group that was on my campus (with permission, naturally). The group, The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property...

...was born of a group of Catholic Americans concerned about the multiple crises shaking every aspect of American life. Founded in 1973, the American TFP was formed to resist, in the realm of ideas, the liberal, socialist and communist trends of the times and proudly affirm the positive values of tradition, family and property.

Central to the TFP mission is the idea that the various crises threatening American society and the Church cannot be seen as separate and disjointed. Rather they originate from a single cause.

The TFP handbook Revolution and Counter-Revolution by Plinio CorrÍa de Oliveira masterfully traces the historical and philosophical roots of this single cause: a phenomenon called the Revolution.


I'm not sure which mysterious and capitalized Revolution they are referring to. I looked on their site but couldn't find any specific historical references. But after talking for about half an hour with these Nervous White Men (as they were described on a sign held up by a fellow in the pro-gay rights camp who were also present) I can only conclude that this dastardly Revolution that they are waging a lavishly red caped and banner waving Counter-Revolution against is the Enlightenment. Which isn't surprising, really. They are, after all, a catholic organization (though, one not condoned by the Vatican, as my friend Kevin and I were informed by stalwart and clean shaven James, Knight of the tweedy suit and vivid scarlet sash. How fabulous!) Such staunchly ernest and clean shaven Catholic groups have a historical animus against those dirty socialist ideas put forth by such radicals as Thomas Jefferson, and we all know what we get if we listen to those crazy guys and their ludicrous notions about, "The Pursuit of Happiness." Because, after all, who needs happiness when you've got Jesus? (which about sums up every conservative-religious argument I've ever heard. As if the two are mutually exclusive and wo be he who sticks his chocolate in that holy penut butter).

Their arguments, as could probably have been predicted, were all slippery sloped to the point of practically being conical. You know, like a dunce's hat. The standard Santorum argument, "If we let gays get married and be equal, what's to stop the hot man on dog action from becoming legit?" Man-on-dog was actually brought up by Sir James. His bosom buddy (in a thoroughly manly and heterosexual manner, of course) suggested that if we let gay couples have the same rights as straits, then we should also grant these rights of equality to human-tree relationships, and then where would we be?

Rather chafed, I'm sure, but happy none the less.

A quick perusal of their site brought up this little gem, which takes slippery slope arguments to new hights of mental gymnastics:

ANIMALS DO IT, SO IT'S NATURAL, RIGHT?

The reasoning behind the "animal homosexuality" theory can be summed up as follows:
    - Homosexual behavior is observable in animals.
    - Animal behavior is determined by their instincts.
    - Nature requires animals to follow their instincts.
    - Therefore, homosexuality is in accordance with animal nature.
    - Since man is also animal, homosexuality must also be in accordance with human nature.


This line of reasoning is unsustainable. If seemingly "homosexual" acts among animals are in accordance with animal nature, then parental killing of offspring and intra-species devouring are also in accordance with animal nature. Bringing man into the equation complicates things further. Are we to conclude that filicide and cannibalism are according to human nature?

Apaprently these folks have never read Medea, Odipus Rex or The Odyssey, but then, that's all Pagan Greek stuff, and besides, it's poetry, not Natural Law or Truth with a capital T, which these yahoos are very fond of.

But what they really hate is cultural realitivism, that evil liberal idea that different opinions are equally valid. Though, they didn't mind using it themselves when I mentioned Dr. Bruce Bagemihl's Biological Exuberance, which draws on 200 years of scientific research concerning animal homosexuaility. But they have their own books to sell, which you can buy on their website, so they can be excused. Peddling inequality for a buck is the American Way, after all.

Lo! National Poetry Month!


The Conqueror Worm

~Edgar Allen Poe


Lo! 'tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly-
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Woe!
That motley drama- oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!- it writhes!- with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out- out are the lights- out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

My New Toy






Dusk, as seen from the Library

I've just started using my new digital camera. This picture wouldn't have been so blury with a tripod but still, it has a nice atmosphere.

Bush's Invisible Library


[W]ho should control access to the archives of the 9/11 Commission after it closes up shop in August? The commission's records will go to the National Archives. On April 8 the Bush Administration quietly pushed the current archivist, John Carlin, a Clinton appointee, to step down. To replace him, Bush will nominate Allen Weinstein, a historian who has been criticized for failing to abide by accepted scholarly standards of openness (more details will appear in an upcoming Nation profile). Weinstein headed, until recently, the Center for Democracy, a think tank whose board is studded with GOP heavyweights, including Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Richard Lugar, House Republican whip Roy Blunt and Henry Kissinger.

[edit]

...This would leave a Republican appointee in charge of not only the 9/11 Commission archives but all other Bush White House documents.

The surprise move to replace the archivist violates the spirit of a 1984 law that sought to depoliticize the office. The archivist, according to that bill, is not a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of the President, and his term is not tied to the term of the President, although the President can ask for his resignation. A House report in 1984 said Congress "expects" the nomination of a new archivist "will be achieved through consultation with recognized organizations of professional archivists and historians." There has been no such consultation.

Bush's move is part of a larger pattern of expanded White House secrecy, starting with its fight to conceal the names of members of the Cheney energy task force and continuing with the recent effort to prevent the 9/11 Commission from revealing such documents as the now-famous Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001. It's true that all Presidents want to control access to their papers, but it's the responsibility of the archivist to see that access is "free, open, equal, and nondiscriminatory," as the Statement on Standards of the American Historical Association puts it. [editorial, The Nation]


It's hard for most people to get excited about Archival issues but, as pointed out above, this is part of a larger issue, namely BushCo.'s propensity for obfuscation and secrecy. The paranoia of this Administration make's Nixon's look like a bunch of touchy feely liberals. And that's scary. What's also scary is that Weinstein, Bush's choice for Archivist, has an equally shady attitude when it comes to disclosure. This, apparently, won't be his first time locking away documents where no one can verify their contents, which, by the way, is a violation of long standing archival principals.

We Information Professionals are dedicated First Amendment floggers. To hire someone with a history of hiding research documents and citing unverifiable sources should be shocking but for BushCo., it's just another day at the office.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Feline Friday




Lucy hides in her favorite chair, pretending we can't see her

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Why Must George Lucus Taunt Me So?



This time, it's by releasing Star Wars Episode III on May 19, 2005, the day after my twenty eighth birthday. He does it just to spite me. He knows that these films, at least the three watchable ones, are a cornerstone of my childhood, specifically because every freekin one of them was released on or around my birthday! He's basically saying, "Happy Birthday, Keith. Why don't you watch my crappy space opera?" Because they're shitty, you old coot, that's why! Because you've got too much money at your disposal and no one to reign you in, so every inane whim that pops into your head, ends up on the screen!! And by directing the prequels yourself, you've managed to preclude any artistry that might be had from your overwraught scripts by indulging your own cinimatic narcisism!!! Argh!!!!!

That Sexy, Rock and Roll-Librarian Lifestyle all the Kids are Digging These Days



I've been torn for some time between my calling as a Librarian and an equally strong desire to be a rock star. Now I learn I can be both:

When they[BlˆˆdHag] play live, Stratton and his colleagues, Sir Zachary Orgel, Dr JM McNulty and Ambassador Brent Carpenter, embrace the science-fiction life. Onstage they dress as sci-fi geeks, in thick glasses, short-sleeved shirts and ties. They throw paperbacks to the crowd. On a recent tour, enthuses Stratton, "I read a great book of stories by Alfred Bester and a book of Philip K Dick's letters and essays."

Metal and science fiction are a natural fit, Stratton believes. "We sing about SF and fantasy authors because of their direct connection to heavy metal in terms of borrowed names, titles, lyrics, art, themes and more. We want to make sure metalheads know the sources of inspiration for some of their favourite bands."

To that end, their album Necrotic Bibliophilia features 15 songs about their favourite SF authors, from William Gibson to HG Wells, of whom they sing: "Writers still swipe from your most famous books/Yet they forget the social satire of your later works." [Guradian]

Sci-fi geek metaheads on a literacy crusade; not your typical rockers but oh, do they live the lifestyle:

"Yes, we get the girls," emails Jake Stratton, aka Prof JB Stratton, the singer with the Seattle speed metal band BlˆˆdHag. "Several lady librarians have kept company with us. BlˆˆdHag don't make passes at girls who don't wear glasses. No specs, no sex."

Rock on! And make sure to return those books on time!

~Thanks to Jessa Crispin over at Bookslut for the link

A short History of Blogging



Recently, my friend, Kevin asked me how I got started blogging (he's thinking of starting his own, an endeavor I am actively encouraging as he's a fabulous writer and has a lot to say on various issues. But I digress...) It's an interesting chain of events that led to the creation of the Invisible library.

I used to be an avid reader of Salon. I don't read them as much anymore but do occasionally peruse their pages. Like many, my week was made by the new instalment of This Modern World. I'd been a fan of Tom Tomorrow's for years, having read his strip in city-papers since undergrad. But one day, while scanning the Modern World Archives on Salon, I decided to click on the link to This Modern World's website. I expected some little splash page, advertising a compilation of his comics, maybe an e-mail address. I had never seen, nor heard of a blog before and so was floored to find out that here was Tom Tomorrow, ranting and raving about current events, on an almost daily basis. I was immediately hooked.

It wasn't long before I checked out his links page and discovered Eschaton. That's what did it for me (and from what I've heard around the Liberal Coalition, this is what got NTodd, Mustang Bobby and many others started as well. Atrios is singlehandedly responsible for at least half the Blogosphere. Tom Tomorrow, the other half). I quickly added Kos, Making Light, Electrolite, Pandagon and the indispensable, Orcinus to my regular reading list. But something was missing.

I enjoyed reading these sites but I had something to say myself. I already had several rantings, and a few thoughtful essays tucked away on my computer but would there really be an audience for what I had to say? I thought there might be, and even if there wasn't, at least it would give me a satisfactory outlet for the rage and frustration, as well as the whimsy, crowding my brain. So on April 15, 2003, I signed up on blogger. A year ago today, the Invisible Library opened it's imaginary doors. And I've never regretted it.

In the year since, I've learned HTML, met a number of fascinating and interesting people, taunted trolls, denigrated the Bush administration from my digital soap box and shared some of my fiction with the world. And it's only going to get better form here. I'm on the way to submitting my first novel for publication and soon, the wife and I will be investing in a domain of our own, through which we can further our hobbies and careers online. I'm also working on a new template for the blog, but that might have to wait until this summer, when I have a little more time on my hands. And then, there's the Presidential Election in the fall. Things are getting interesting in the world. And I'll be here, adding my two cents to it all. Maybe this will make a difference, maybe not but at least I can try and change the world, one word at a time.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

National Poetry Month Continues, Unabated



1 X 1 [One Times One], XIV

pity this busy monster,manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim(death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
--electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange;lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born--pity poor flesh

and trees,poor stars and stones,but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical
ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if--listen:there's a hell
of a good universe next door;let's go


~e.e. cummings

Monday, April 12, 2004

Juicy Library Gossip



Actually, it's archives gossip but just as interesting. It seems that Archivist of the United States, John W. Carlin is being forced into retirement by Bush. This may not sound like a big deal however, it has some curious implications:

David Alsobrook is director of the Clinton Presidential Materials Project, the part of the National Archives and Records Administration overseeing Clinton's presidential records. Alsobrook, the former director of the Bush Library in Houston, is a candidate for the Clinton Library post.

Although the Clinton foundation is building the library, the National Archives takes control of all functions when the site opens to the public in November.[AP]

So Bush's appointee, Allan Weinstein, will get to decide what goes into Clinton's Library, not the guy who was appointed by Big Dog himself.

Oh, the juicy part: rumor around the campfire (my school is a stone's throw from DC so we hear all the fun Intel) is that the short list for Carlin's replacements included, at one time, Lynne Cheney. Because nothing says transparent political process like the wife of the Veep in charge of where the sworn enemy of House Bush's records end up.

Because, My Participles are Stronger than Yours, Grasshopper



Via Musing's musings...

Master!
You are a MASTER of the English language!


While your English is not exactly perfect,
you are still more grammatically correct than
just about every American. Still, there is
always room for improvement...


How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Which is refreshing, given that whole writing thing I do. In fact, being a Master, in my opinion is even better than being a God of Grammar, as we all know Gods are distant and uninvolved in the day to day processes of grammar, life and everything.

_________
edited to squish Fnords

Sunday, April 11, 2004

James Bond: Double Oh Mary Sue



"Bond is what every man would like to be
and what every woman would like to have
between her sheets."
~Raymond Chandler

I've started reading Casino Royale, the first of Ian Fleming's Bond novels as a way to relax at night from the stress of Grad School. So far I'm about six chapters in and a few interesting things have already struck me. Structurally, the book is quite modern. We meet Bond in the Casino, then zip back to M and read the memos over his shoulder, which gives us a quick exposition of the set up: A mysterious rich posure named Le Chiffre, working as a Russian agent is heading for calamity, SMERSH, the Russian uber-secret arm of the KGB (think Nixon's Plumbers, but with a decidedly Russian sense of pride concerning their job). The thing is, it would better serve NATO if Le Chiffre were kept alive, at least long enough for Bond to beet him at bacharach, ridiculing him in public and exposing his financial failings. This would undermine him as a viable agent and put a stop to his nefarious underworld dealings without MI6 having to get their hands dirty. of course, we know this is just the set up, that their will be double and tripple dealings along the way. This is a Bond Book and Ian Flemming did invent the double bind durring his carear in British Intelligence. At several intervals we jump around the timeline. These are only brief jaunts and mostly they are a way to show how several things are happening simultaneously. But it's a rather sophisticated literary tool, one I hadn't expected to see, given what that the book was written in 1953, back when these modernist tropes were still looked down upon with suspicion by many.

What struck me most about the character of James Bond is how much his literary incarnation differs from his film incarnations. Bond of the novel is quiet, introspective and disgusted by violence. When a pair of Bulgarian hitmen blow themselves up by mistake and Bond is splattered by their remains, he rolls over and vomits. It's hard to imagine Sean Connery or Roger Moore doing this. They would stand, adjust their tie and stoically walk away from the carnage. But Bond is shaken, visibly.

James Bond is also a misogynist. This is no real surprise, feminists have been making this claim for years. But seriously though, he hates women.

Bond was not amused. "What the hell do they want to send me a woman for?" he said bitterly. "Do they think this is a bloddy picnic?"

~Ian Flemming, Casino Royale, p.25-26

And when we meet the Girl from Headquarters, Mademoiselle Lynd, Bond immediately writes her off as cold and distant, though attractive. It isn't until a short time later, when his comrade gives him a subtle cue to ask her on a date that Bond becomes excited. Because he's going to fuck her. He knows this, because he's James Bond and he's heard his praises being sung by Mr. Chandler.

Which made me realize something: James Bond is a Mary Sue*. A rather mild one by all accounts, but still, there's a little too much of the author in his personality for him to be taken too seriously.

In May of 1939, Fleming started a more formal attachment to the intelligence service, working with Naval Intelligence. Soon, he was full-time assistant to the director, taking the rank of Lieutenant, and later Commander. Fleming became the right-hand man to one of Britain's top spymasters, Admiral John Godfrey.

The war was good to Fleming, tapping his imagination, forcing him to work within discipline. Fleming schemed, plotted, and carried out dangerous missions. From the famous Room 39 in the Admiralty building in London's Whitehall, Fleming tossed out a myriad of off-beat ideas on how to confuse, survey, and enrage the Germans.

In a 1940 trip into a crumbling France, Fleming supervised the escape from Dieppe, juggling the security needs of his country against the crush of refugees seeking escape from the Nazi machine. With Fleming flair, he spent one of his last evening eating and drinking some of the best food in the country, and one of his last days coordinating the evacuation of King Zog of Albania.

The "Fleming flair" proved to be his greatest strength in Naval Intelligence. He dined at Scott's, White's, the Dorchester, plotted intelligence operations, many of which were absurd, and many of which proved ingenious. Yet, Fleming understood the business side of the war. He understood his practical job, and the tight constraints of man-power, money and supplies. He did not take his assignments lightly, always gravely aware of the real human risks involved.

The "Fleming flair" also proved valuable in one other aspect: writing. As assistant to Admiral Godfrey, Fleming wrote countless memos and reports. His style and elegant arguments, plus his seemingly limitless knowledge of his subjects made the usual dry missives a pleasure to read. Eventually, Fleming wrote memos to William "Wild Bill" Donovan on how to set up the OSS, forerunner to the CIA. For that bit of work, Fleming received a revolver engraved with the thanks: "For Special Services." [John Cork, The Life of Ian Fleming]

Not that anyone does take James Bond seriously, at least form what I can tell. The reason he has become an avatar for so many is precisely this element of wish fulfilment. As Raymond Chandler pointed out, he is everything we as a civilization want in a hero. At least within the confines of a Cold War era espionage thriller. It's when Bond leaves this familiar territory that he becomes a parody of himself. Just watch any of the Bond movies made since the fall of Communism and you'll see what I mean: Bond has quit smoking, drinks far less and as required by Political Correctness, must fall in love, as much as Bond is capable, with at least one heroine, every other movie (though, promptly killing her is an acceptable way to allow him to grieve in the arms of the next slutty double agent with a sexy accent). But this takes us out of the scope of James Bond, the myth and legend. For all his faults as a human being, he is the epitome of the cold war adventure hero, a little morally ambiguous, a little hard of heart (but he did experience WW II first hand, so he's also a vet) but that's OK. That's what we like about James Bond, he gives us the license to Kill, to sleep around, to hate and love and then go for a quiet ride in a restored 1933 gun mettle gray, Bentley convertible.

Which is why I deeply wish that, for the future bond films, they'd go back in time and do them as period pieces. Cold war thrillers, set in the late fifties and early sixties, with the gee-whiz gadgets, the flirty sexuality, the sly wink and the hard drinking, hard smoking man of action that we miss so very much in the real world, where things aren't quite so black and white, just red all over.

_________
*MARY SUE (n.): 1. A variety of story, first identified in the fan fiction community, but quickly recognized as occurring elsewhere, in which normal story values are grossly subordinated to inadequately transformed personal wish-fulfillment fantasies, often involving heroic or romantic interactions with the cast of characters of some popular entertainment. 2. A distinctive type of character appearing in these stories who represents an idealized version of the author. 3. A cluster of tendencies and characteristics commonly found in Mary Sue-type stories. 4. A body of literary theory, originally generated by the fanfic community, which has since spread to other fields (f.i., professional SF publishing) because it's so darn useful. The act of committing Mary Sue-ism is sometimes referred to as "self-insertion."

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Amusing Quiz #33



~Via Speedkill

1: Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18, find line 4. Write down what it says:

Gregory stared at him steadily and painfully.
The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton


2: Stretch your left arm out as far as you can. What do you touch first?

a lamp


3: What is the last thing you watched on TV?

The Daily Show (Wednesday Night)


4: WITHOUT LOOKING, guess what the time is:

9:15


5: Now look at the clock; what is the actual time?

9:17


6: With the exception of the computer, what can you hear?

My Grandmother cleaning in the kitchen


7: When did you last step outside? What were you doing?

About 8PM, went to Best Buy to price Digital Cameras


8: Before you came to this website, what did you look at?

Mustang Bobby's site


9: What are you wearing?

pajamas


10: Did you dream last night?

Yes, but this is a family site, so I won't describe it (OK, it's not really a family site but some things you don't need to know)


11: When did you last laugh?

A few minutes ago


12: What is on the walls of the room you are in?

Photographs, a drawing by a young cousin, a case full of thimbles, a Wizard of OZ clock and a mirror.


13: Seen anything weird lately?

Yes. A case full of thimbles and a Wizard of OZ clock


14: What do you think of this quiz?

I'm bored, it's something to do, so it's good.


15: What is the last film you saw?

The Passion of the Christ. Ick.


16: If you became a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy first?

Two plane tickets to France.


17: Tell me something about you that I don't know.

My Birthday falls on the Feast Day of the Horned God, Cernunos


18: If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt or politics, what would you do?

Remove organized religion.


19: Do you like to dance?

Hell yeah!


20: George Bush: is he a power-crazy nutcase or some one who is finally doing something that has needed to be done for years?

C. A slackjawed yokell propped up by craven men to put the face of Gomer Pile on their evil schemes


21: Imagine your first child is a girl, what do you call her?

Inez Helena


22: Imagine your first child is a boy, what do you call him?

Benito Edward (my wife and I have already picked out names for our, as yet, unborn children)


23: Would you ever consider living abroad?

I often do

Friday, April 09, 2004

Italian Mystery Fires




Canneto di Caronia [Italy] has been taken over by an endless flow of scientists, engineers, police and even a few self-styled "ghostbusters" searching for clues to the recent spontaneous combustion of everything from microwave ovens to a car.

The fires started in mid-January and have claimed home appliances and fuse boxes in about half of the 20 odd houses. The blazes originally blamed on the devil himself have not hurt anyone.

After a brief respite last month, the flames have flared up again almost daily even though electricity to the village was cut off long ago.

"We're working in the dark. We don't have a single lead so far," said Pedro Spinnato, mayor of the trio of Caronia towns.

"Every time some new scientist comes to town they arrive thinking the whole thing has been invented or that they're going to solve the mystery in two minutes. They've all been wrong." [CNN]

AndÖ

Over three weeks fridges, washing machines, cookers and furniture all began bursting into flames for no reason. Twelve houses were badly damaged by blazes in the quiet village.

Now, with panic-stricken locals blaming evil spirits and calling for an exorcism, the mayor has ordered a full-scale evacuation.

Last night Italian TV showed people fleeing in tears while fireman rushed to fight yet another spontaneous blaze. [The Mirror]


Further links and details can be found here. Thanks to Neil Gaiman for the links. For more Forteana, visit Fortean Times. Or go strait to the source and read Charles Fort's books, all of which are great collections of strange phenomenon like SHC, rains of fish and frogs and various unconventional goings on that remind me why I like living in this universe, as opposed to some other one.

Shorter Condi Rice:



No one told us that these particular terrorists would hijack these specific planes on that exact date and fly them into just these buildings. Did I mention I'm a doctor?

Friday Cat Blogging




Lucy, in one of her favorite hiding spots. I don't know why she thinks we can't see her under the table.

And a new discovery in Cyprus suggests humans and cats have had a longer relationship than previously thought.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Zap Guns Galore



This is the coolest site, ever.

The World George Made*



Last night I had dinner with my friend, Kevin and, as usual when we dine together, our conversation turned philosophical.

"Do you think the world is worse off now than it was a hundred years ago?" Kevin asked me.

I thought about it for a minute.

The short answer was, "Yes, but not really." The long answer is, well, much longer.

At first, I was reluctant to say that the world is really worse now than it was a hundred years ago. It's easy to think that, as we live in 2004, not in 1904. We have to deal with todayís threats, which loom large in our daily consciousness, mostly due to the pervasive influence the media has on our perceptions about our world. So, taking this into consideration, I would say that the world isn't really that much worse off than it was then. We just think it is because of our embedded experience with the here and now and the fact that we have far more information about what is going on around the world than our ancestors of a mere century ago.

Back in 1904, few people heard about the intricacies of geopolitics on the scale that we do now, in 2004. I can bring up Google news and at a glance, see what is going on in Russia, Australia, China and Europe, and the stories are only hours or even just minutes old (their accuracy and depth is questionable but at least there is something to hang your hat on). In 1904, news took at least a day to get into print, and then it was mostly local and regional news. You had to wait for the Sunday paper to find out what happened that week in other parts of the world, and even then, the story might be weeks or months old. It took considerable time and effort to get the Big Picture. Some historians still donít even agree on just what happened back then. It still does take a little effort, due to media conglomeration to get an accurate Big Picture, but not nearly as long as it used to.

Also, 1904 wasn't exactly a Utopia, either. By then, there were Marxists, Anarchists and Socialists all making noise, trying to get their voices heard by the masses. In a few short years, Archduke Ferdinand would be shot in Sarajevo and World War I would be decimating the population of Europe as royal cousins fought to make their dreams of Empire a reality.

While the details may be different, the level of turmoil then was similar to that of now. But if we take a step back and look at the intervening years, we can see that it hasn't been just a steady stream of chaos and bloodshed, though it often seems that way. There were periods of relative peace, punctuated by periods of unrest and even genocide. Certainly the 20th was a bloody century, but then, so far, the 21st isn't exactly virginal, either.

But just a few years ago, it seemed like things might be different. Back in the good old days of 1998-99, the world was a different place. Sure, their still was international terrorism and geopolitical squabbling but it was manageable. We were usually one step ahead of the terrorists, and in the previous decade and a half, we had seen the collapse of Eastern Block Communism and the flourishing of Democratic ideals. The best aspects of Multiculturalism were transforming popular and academic culture, as new ideas were being shared by a wider variety of people than we ever thought possible. Boarders, not just the ones on maps, but also the ones between cultures, were becoming porous and doors were opening all over. And the Neocons hated it.

The likes of Wolfowitz, Perl, Cheney and Rumsfeld were fuming over the death of the Cold War. With no huge enemy states to prop up as The Bad Guy, their wailing and gnashing for their favorite pet projects like the Missile Defense Shield (a holdover from Reagan's Star Wars pipe dreams) to unilateral invasion of underdeveloped-but-oil-rich nations were seen as laughable self-parodies of Hawkishness. There was no more US versus THEM. The Internet (and to a smaller degree, their own Corporate greed) had made the whole notion of States and boarders seem so 20th century. These were going to be things of the past. In the 21st century, we were all going to be citizens of the world, freely communicating and trading with one another and this would end the need for warfare in the traditional, geopolitical sense. After all, who wants to drop bombs on the tail end of their own production line or round up an untapped demographic? That's bad for Global Socio-Capitalism, man. And worse (in the eyes of the Neocons) there were no real wars going on. Sure, we had military personnel and objectives in Rwanda and Bosnia but they were there under the pussified UN peacekeepers. They weren't there for the glory of Pax Americana. Simply put, no wars means no war profiteering. They couldn't have that.

So the Neocons set about remaking the world in their own image. They started by taking down the Big Dog with an inflated sex scandal and then installing their own puppet government through gerrymandering (not just in Texas but in other key states as well) and capping it all off with the grand daddy of all dubious elections, Florida, 2000.

In three short years, BushCo. has undone much of the multicultural goodwill that had been gained over the previous four decades (in some sense, the dreaded Multiculturalist meme was hatched the moment Kennedy said, "Ich bin ein Berliner.") We now have an increasingly stilted conflict brewing in the Middle East, all in an effort to create clearly defined enemies. All so there can be, once more, US and THEM, and dreams of an empire that spans the globe. Just like in the good old days of 1904.

So, in a way, the world is pretty much the same as it was a hundred years ago but itís also worse than it was a hundred years ago, and not just because the Internet and TV news has made the inherent chaos of the world seem more apparent. But because our leaders believed their own Black and White fairy stories about Manifest Destiny and the benevolence of Pure Capitalism, and set out to remake the world so that it conformed to that idea, killing everything that had the purfume of progressive ideals clinging to it.

I don't mean to sound overly pessimistic, but for a while now I've been wondering what the future will hold for us. Sometimes I lay in bed at night, not sleeping, thinking instead how family, job, friends, love life, international politics, environment, genetics, flesh-eating viruses and galaxies seem to be not colliding so much as slowly rusting. That the whole universe is conspiring to slowly fall apart and decay. There in the windowless dawn I get the feeling that human civilization, if not Everything Altogether is undergoing some slow motion catastrophe. Not a detonation or earthquake or plague but a slow soaking flood that started a long time ago at our toes and has been gradually inching its way up our collective legs so slowly that no one noticed. Or worse, everyone notices but simply refuses to accept that we are all doggy paddling in our own entropy. Of course I know I'm not the only one who feels this way, in the cold, four o' clock, gray of morning or the bright sunny mid-afternoon. I've long since outgrown that adolescent delusion that what I feel is unique. Which only makes the feeling of helplessness all the more tragic.

I canít help but worry that, like our ancestors back in 1904, weíre just making time before the Great War starts anew. And I feel helpless to do anything about it. All I can do is write and observe and try and make my life now, today, something worth living since I donít know how long that it might be before something truly horrible happens.
_________
*Blaming the state of the world on Bush is giving him far too much credit, I realize, but he is a convenient figurehead, being President of the United States and all. He has iconic status as the fabled "Leader of the Free World," and so when I speak of Bush, I'm acknowledging that his role is rather small but the role that BushCo. plays is quite large. He is a stand in for the puppet masters. And how ironic that a notion once though too far out and paranoid has become conventional wisdom? There really are puppet masters. Only thing is, we know their faces and can recite their names. Watch as they pull the strings and beat our heads against the wall when our protests do nothing to prevent their unmitigated cruelty from becoming our foreign policy.

The title is also a reference to a Philip K. Dick novel, The World Jones Made, which, as many of his novels do, involves a solipsistic protagonist who, rather than simply being a victim of the world at large, discovers that he has a hand in creating consensual reality.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

What Are Those Scum Doing Here?



By now, everyone's been around the bend on this issue with the four dead Mercenaries in Fallujah. And Yes, I said Mercenaries, not "Contractors". Contractors are who you hire when you want to add a deck to your house. Mercenaries are who you hire when you want to invade a sovereign nation under dubious pretexts and steal all their oil. Playing Orweallian name games doesn't magically make the cluster-fuck in Mesopotamia any better, no matter what the wingers might say. The Iraqis now officially hate us and they have every right to. We invaded their country for no good reason, and then hired goons who thought the regular Military wasn't bad-ass enough for them and decided to answer that add in the back of Soldier of Fortune magazine:

Illegitimate Politico seeks amoral anarcho-capitalists for long term "Contract Work."
Military background a plus. Must have own gun, rocket launcher. All the
gold and Arab girls you can carry. No Homos need apply. Call 202-456-1414. Ask for Dick.

Now, technically, they aren't Mercenaries, either. As George Paine at War Blogging points out:

Article 47 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions states six tests that are required to determine if a person is or is not a mercenary. The Blackwater employees meet all but one of the criteria: they are nationals of a party to the conflict (the United States) and therefore cannot be considered mercenaries.

Mercenaries are rather nationals of third-party states who engage in hostilities purely for profit. They are not motivated by ideology or national loyalty. They simply fight for the highest bidder.

The trend in the liberal media, from the Guardian to the Voice, is to call the Blackwater employees mercenaries. The word "mercenary" holds some very strong implications and power and should not be bandied around lightly. The fact is that the Blackwater employees were not mercenaries and should not be referred to as such.

But the Blackwater employees do share one thing in common with their murderers, and with the men languishing in the cages of Guantanamo Bay: They were illegal combatants.

This is because the Blackwater "security guards" do not wear uniforms clearly identifying them as combatants. They instead wear civilian clothes while engaging in combat. The photograph leading this story, of a Blackwater USA security guard serving in L. Paul Bremer's bodyguard force, makes this clear. The man is carrying an assault rifle while wearing civilian clothes.

He is, therefore, an illegal combatant ó just like the un-uniformed Afghans and Arabs "detained" at Gitmo.

To be a mercenary, you must be a third party to the war, not a citizen of one of the countries involved in the conflict. But calling them contractors is disingenuous, as it implies some sort of legitimacy to their position. Calling them mercenaries may not be technically accurate but it's far closer to the reality than calling them contractors. Either way, that these scum make up the second largest contingent of Coalition forces just underscores the moral duplicity that our leaders have engaged in to pursue their little adventure.

The only difference between the employees of Blackwater Security Services and John Walker Lindh is that one was fighting for personal spiritual reasons (however dubious they were) while the others are fighting for money. Tough call between which is worse, a religious fanatic or a mercenary. But neither should be employed by the US Government, for any reason.

Monday, April 05, 2004

And Another Thing



I completely forgot to address the anti-semitism claim in my review of Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ (let alone the presence of that extra 'the' in the title. What's up with that, Mel? You're movie's clumsy enough without extraneous modifiers).

Neither I nor the friends I went to see the movie with noticed any overt anti-simitism. One could argue that the depiction of the Jews in the film were done in an over the top manner, as stereotypes, and that implies an anti-simitic subtext. But that's giving Mel Gibson too much credit. As I mentioned before, this movie is all surface. It has no subtext. So if there is anti-semitism in the film, it is placed there by the viewer, not the director (though, not for lack of trying. He did concede finally and remove the blood libel line).

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Bloody Hell



So, some friends and I went to see the Passion last night. A number of people have picked apart the sunday school theology so I won't really discuss that here. If you're interested, go read what David Neiwert has to say at Orcinus.

As a movie, the Passion of the Christ sucks, plain and fancy. Every character who is not a stereotype is a caricature. There is zero subtlety. Zero. Every scene is done like a stilted silent movie. I haven't seen this degree of mugging for the camera in a modern film. We're talking Nosferatu creaping up the stairs, the villain twisting his mustache and wringing his hands as the damsel lays on the train tracks. Every action is slowed down for emphasis, given a close-up or highlighted just so you don't miss every bloody, gruesome moment. And gruesome it is. The scourging lasts twenty minutes. First, the Romans, grinning sadistically, beat him with canes. Then, when he isn't quite unconscious, they get the whips with broken glass in the end and scourge him. For twenty minutes of the film.

There are no real surprises in the story, other than where Saint Mel departs from scripture to beat you over the head with an extra ounce of suffering. Because that's the point of the film. Jesus suffered. It truly is the Gospel According to Mad Max.

Talking about the film afterwards, a friend said that what he got out of it was a plea for mercy. However, it was a plea that went unheeded. And unfortunately, the most unmerciful person in the film was the director. I've yet to see a more ham-fisted film and while I'm not a huge Gibson fan to begin with, I know from previous films he's directed that he is capable of doing a decent job of telling a story. But he breaks just about every basic rule of storytelling there is. And of course, I know this film is not supposed to be a story but the director is making use of narrative tropes, therefore there are certain rules that apply. This is not a documentary, no matter what Mel Gibson's intentions may be.

Friday, April 02, 2004

The Politics of Poetry



I've lamented publicly, loudly and at length about the dire situation in the world of contemporary poetry. It's become little more than greeting card sentiments or self indulgent fiddle faddle with the intelectual bite of a toothless old man sucking on the pit of a peach. Few would-be poets these days remember that poems are supposed to excite the reader, drive them mad and make them howl. Essex Hemphill knew this and wrote accordingly:


THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

You are not to touch yourself
in any way or
be familiar with ecstasy.
You are not to touch
anyone of your own sex
or outside of your race
then talk about it,
photograph it, write it down
in explicit details, or paint it
red, orange, blue, or dance
in honor of its power, dance
for its beauty, dance
because it's yours.

You are not to touch other flesh
without a police permit.
You have no privacy-
the State wants to seize your bed
and sleep with you.
The State wants to control
your sexuality, your birth rate,
your passion.
The message is clear:
your penis, your vagina,
your testicles, your womb,
your anus, your orgasm,
these belong to the State.

You are not to touch yourself
or be familiar with ecstasy.
The erogenous zones
are not demilitarized.


~Essex Hemphill, Ceremonies

Go forth, you teenaged e.e. cummings, you underage Nerudas, and do likewise. Break the peach pit open and suck out the juice. Spit in the eye of the poetry teacher who tells you to write about pretty things with no teeth and a pipsqueak voice.

When the government blows up the internet, shuts us all up in cages, ties our hands behind our backs and electrifies our genitals, (for our own safety) our screams of agony and joy will be the only poetry we have left. So hone the scream. The rage. The voice of the needle and the knife. Learn to fuck with your words.

Poetry is political. Itís decadent. Slutty. Anyone who tells you otherwise is jangling keys and throwing shiny, pretty things into jail cells not yet closed and locked.

Friday Catblogging




Lucy has spotted a pigeon on the roof. If she stares very carefully, she might be able to get it with her fazer eyes.


Meanwhile, Sybil, one of Pansypoo's many cats, takes a nap. In the sock drawer.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

It's The End of Western Civilization as We Know It! So have a Drink



Believe it or not, my entire University lost wireless access yesterday, hence my extended absence. It was chaos, I tell you, Chaos! If the Internet ever crashes, Western Civilization is screwed. We've become so dependant upon our little web of electrons that, to go back now to print and hardcopy media searching would drive many of us to suicide. And I'm not talking just us Librarians. Something to ponder.

However, today is April First, the beginning of National Poetry Month. I recomend Laurence Ferlinghetti:

Number 20
~From A Coney Island of the Mind

The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
with unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! too soon!