Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Crash Course on the US Constitution

An open letter to Foreign Relations Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-IN):

Despite the fact that you have twenty-nine years of public service in the United States Senate and that you were a Rhodes Scholar, you could not be more wrong in your released statement that concluded, “I believe that the President deserves to have his nominee [Bolton] represent him at the United Nations.”

Lesson #1
It does not matter what you believe because one’s beliefs cannot be verified or falsified. You cannot prove my beliefs to be wrong, and you cannot prove my beliefs to be right. How could one possibly legislate based solely on faith? Law, and therefore government, needs to be based on rationality and empirical data; otherwise, our government is theocratic and authoritarian, where personal conviction determines governance.

Lesson #2
The president of the United States does not deserve anything but, according to our Constitution, he does have the power to “nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors.” It is your duty, dear senator, to advise and, if appropriate, consent. Nowhere in the Constitution are you to abdicate your responsibility as an elected official and merely yield to the wishes of the executive branch. Sucking from the same ideological teat gives you neither the right nor the power to demolish 216 years of separation of powers and checks and balances among the three branches of our government.

Lesson #3
The US ambassador to the United Nations does not merely represent the president but rather the whole electorate. In that regard, he or she should be representative of the American people at large and not a spiteful and angry ideologue from a neoconservative minority.

And that’s just one sentence....

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

You might be a radical if …

... instead of playing cowboys and Indians on the school playground during recess, you and your friends played the SLA vs. the bourgeois Establishment pigs.

Patty Hearst had a profound influence on me as a child. I used to memorize her taped diatribes against the system, against her parents. And ask questions like, “What’s wrong with feeding poor people?” All this to say, I was re-enamored with Amerika’s favorite urban guerilla last night watching PBS’s Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst.

If you dare, I recommend taking the What’s Your Bag? quiz to find out if you would have been a radical. (I came out as an Authoritative Activist (see below); although I have to admit making the decision to go off to college instead of San Francisco was tough. Thank god the Revolution didn’t miss the east coast!)
You continue to speak out for what you believe is right, as part of a left-wing social justice organization. You've found a life partner who is a kindred spirit. The whole Nixon debacle affirms that the political system is corrupt, and you find yourself saying, "I told you so" to all those who doubted your earlier criticisms. Maybe now that Vietnam is in the past, the country can evolve -- you are committed to working for change through peaceful means. The Sixties might be dead, but the spirit of activism keeps on truckin' in the Seventies.
And Eighties. And Nineties. And today.

Finally, check out the definition of terror offered in the lesson plans. Sound familiar? I told you so. :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Revolution’s comin' & it’s gonna come quick / Revolution’s comin’ & it’s got a big dick

In the spring of 1989, my friend Michael (AKA Snakebreath) and I went to see Tito’s Wake, a play about the death of the Yugoslav dictator. It was probably my first taste of avant garde theater: there was nudity & mushrooms & lots of loud noises. When Matthew Posey (one of the actors) pulled out a cotton phallus from his underwear and declared it kitsch, I thought I would die. When he pulled his underwear down immediately afterwards and waved his hardening penis at the audience, declaring this the “true revolution,” I knew (just like Thelma in Thelma & Louise) that something had crossed over in me. (No, it wasn’t that!)

It was during that performance that I learned I liked the avant garde, the hard edges of postmodernism, especially as an anti-rhetorical agent positing an almost transcendentalist revolution.

Revolution came and went over the course of the next few years to where when I finally completed my degree in Soviet studies there was barely a Soviet Union. We currently find ourselves in Act II of this melodrama.

The current revolution may not be televised (either), but should it find its way onto the information superhighway, it’s sure to take on the form of a mock parody of pure kitsch. War is hell. And war—like art—will always accurately reflect the society that created it:

In reference to this second spoof, we have the insight of British Defence Secretary John Reid:

"Her Majesty's armed forces never cease to amaze me. To be able to carry out such acts of determination, sacrifice and heroism in so many spheres of the world and, at the same time, to be recording hit videos is a measure of the quality of the British Armed Forces."
What’s next? The reworked lyrics of Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me” to be about the massacre in Uzbekistan?

Remember Laurie Anderson’s use of the Don DeLillo quote: “Terrorists are the only true artists”? She’s in Israel detonating bombs with an Israeli solder. Well, I’ve been thinking about that these past few days because since finals I received an email from a student who requested I let him know about any upcoming gallery openings or interesting exhibits around town. He just recently (presumably as a result of taking my class) learned that he’s interested in such things.

No big deal. Except that he’s a soldier who was among the first wave of soldiers crossing the Iraqi border when the United States invaded. We sent a man to fight and kill for our supposed freedom who hadn’t yet even discovered that he liked art. I wonder what else he hasn’t learned about himself. I wonder what all those men and women who were killed in this illegal and immoral war never had the chance to learn about themselves.

Libraries that had never been built.

Fuck algebra! I’m not talking about learning things outside of oneself. But to look inside and think, “I like that painting, not because someone told me to. And not because I’m rebelling against someone telling me not to like it. Simply, I like it. End of story.” Like what I learned about myself sitting through a performance of Tito’s Wake all those years ago.

No wonder none of my students attempted the bonus question on the final exam: "Based on the text of Laurie Anderson's "The Dream Before," and our in-class discussions, what is the role of God in postmodernism?"

There’s no freedom if there is not the freedom to discover oneself. Everything else is war.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Finals/New Beginnings

Finals week is more than half over; I have two more exams to give before I’m out from under the obligations of my job(s). I love my job(s). Don’t get me wrong. I would prefer to have one fulltime position with benefits, but I have to accept the fact that I most likely won’t have that until after completing the Ph.D.

I’m excited about the prospect of studying at the University of Dallas. Last night when I couldn’t sleep because of a late afternoon nap and the heat and stillness of the night air, I thought about the courses I’d be taking in the fall. I thought about the conference paper I want to submit. I thought about the continuation and summation of so many other experiences and goals all converging at UD. I haven’t been this excited about continuing (finishing!) my education in years.

Heard a couple of Heart songs on the radio this morning driving back from Rockwall. They reminded me of my friend Daisy, who was a huge fan. I wonder where she is these days. The last time I talked to her was probably ’94 or so. She was dating a very jealous and unreasonable man who didn’t want her to have anything to do with her friends. Now I’ve made stupid decisions in my life, but come on. What is it about the women I’ve been friends with who all come across as headstrong and determined but who “agree” to tolerate irrational demands from their boyfriends/husbands. Like don’t have friends. I guess it was her decision to make.

[Don't let this happen to you.] Speaking of decisions, I don’t regret ending my friendship with Kirk. He was so monstrously unpleasant and vindictive. But the no. 1 reason I finally threw in the towel: after not seeing him for more than a year because I was living abroad and had traveled around the entire globe, he only complained about his job when I finally agreed to meet him out. And he made fun of the fact that I was wearing a belt with shorts. Not once did he ask a simple, “And how are you?” A few months ago, he sent a pleasant email greeting. I didn’t waste my time responding. No reason to reestablish ties after all these years with someone I barely liked in the first place.

Beginning my jogging routine has been blissful. It’s easy to forget how much I enjoy being out in the morning; otherwise, I would’ve never stopped.

Trying hard not to think about Iraq when I have so much more free time to think about this stupid mess. Curious how so many can make such poor decisions. It’s not just Bush and his gang of neocons. But that all-voluntary military—it’s becoming harder and harder not to hold them just as responsible. Most of them aren’t going to be punished for torturing the inmates of all those prisons scattered about the globe in places where human decency is too shallow to allow dignity to grow. Why do they think that “just following orders” is a noble path? And we get the numbers of “insurgents” and we get the number of military casualties, but do you mean to tell me that not a single “innocent” bystander has been killed? No children? No “friendly” fire? Must be those magic bullets that only kill the bad guys! (Never forget #40.)

Trying hard not to think about how just a few weeks ago our government agreed to make it more difficult for poor individuals to declare bankruptcy but as of today are so willing to take on the pensions of United Airlines retirees—which of course poor Americans pay for with their regressive taxes.

Scattered among the multitude of footnotes of Thomas More’s Utopia was a reference to the fact that during the Middle Ages, the Swiss army, because of its efficiency and skill, was often paid to remain neutral in conflicts involving their neighbors. [Warning: rhetorical questions to follow.] Is that why Switzerland is still so damn neutral? Because it can make more money by not getting involved? (Wie sagt man Nazi gold auf Schweizerisch?)

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A word of advice

A Debate Too Far

Transitions Online: A Debate Too Far

Included in this rather ambiguous article are several reasons why I studied history, specifically WWII history, all those years ago. And yet it doesn't matter if the war anniversary was 60 years ago (VE) or 30 (VN), no one seems to have learned any lessons about war today (IQ). What will historians write about us (US)?

Monday, May 9, 2005

Cattle Guard

As if to prove how busy I've been lately:
  • The toilet paper has not been replenished in the bathroom for several days now
  • I have at least 3 emails from one of my oldest & closest friends that I need to respond to (Sorry, Sonia!)
  • I just now sent off a list of things to do in Prague to my friend's daughter who will visit there at the end of the month even though I've been thinking about it for the past week

As if to prove how much time I seem to have this morning:

  • I went jogging
  • The bathroom is fully stocked
  • I wrote a quick email to Sonia apologizing for the delay in my response(s): I can't wait for you to return to Texas!
  • I created a list of things to do to Prague and sent that off in an email
  • I opened a mock foreign exchange trading account to see if I have a knack to earn some money from forex volatility; of course, I really need to educate myself before too long since I've already lost lots of fake dollars
Stephen & I are locked in to our NHL ("new healthier lifestyle"). We woke up Saturday morning and walked to the polling location to vote in the municipal elections. Yesterday we went jogging in the neighborhood, and I lifted weights while he was out with his mother for Mothers Day. This morning I jogged. So, the hard part is over. Now we just let inertia carry us into better health and fitness.

Having grown up on a farm in East Texas, I greatly appreciate the following erudite article from a new Slovenian pal regarding cattle guards & Scottish cows. It's great reading and will make your Monday. Guaranteed.

Friday, May 6, 2005

if loving you is thong, i don't wanna be white

Just saw a deadline for May 12th and couldn’t remember if that was in the future or the past. Thankfully I still have a few more days. With the semester winding down—reminder: I’ve been teaching 5 courses (3 preps) on 3 campuses since January—I haven’t been keeping up with the calendar or the clock lately, trying to enjoy the lull before finals week.

Glad to see that a majority of the British are just as stupid as the majority of Americans. Congratulations to Tony Blair for lying and being at least half responsible for thousands of deaths in Iraq (almost 300 since the “Iraqi government came to power”). Thumbs up!

Armed with a balanced checkbook, I’m looking forward to the weekend; although I will need to grade a handful of assignments that came in very late. Next week will be smooth: one final exam to give each day, a novel to work through in order to get a conference proposal out by the end of the month, an application to submit, a few questions to ask, and a fistful of Polish chocolate (I spent $15 on some Wedel specialty chocolate at the Polish shop in Plano this morning, mostly for gifts) to eat.

Funny thing about the prices at the Polish store: the numbers are exactly the same as the prices in Poland … except that there it’s in zloty and here it’s in dollars. For example, chocolate bar there—2.50 zl (about 75¢); chocolate bar here--$2.50. But I am happy to give my hard-earned dollars to my favorite kind of Pole: a hyphenated one! God bless the Polish-American owner, despite her pink running suit and matching thong.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Let this latte pass from my lips

I don’t want to be one of those disaffected middle-aged men who wear baseball caps pulled down low on the brow to hide the graying hair at the temples and wrinkles around the eyes. Those men exude activity and vitality via the all-American accessory while absorbing all my strength and energy when my gaze hits their lackluster eyes beneath the brim.

When I look in the mirror sometimes I think I see them.

I don’t want to be bitter. Not now. When I’m 80, no problem. But now—at least for the time being—for once in my life (that’s a lie, but an effective one)—I’d like to be filled with compassion and vigor. I don’t want to suck out my own inner strength through the blocked nasal passages and clogged, constricted throat, trying vainly to replace that emptiness with oxygen.

A meditation that came to me in one of those epiphanic episodes while walking down the street in Japan and has served me well all these years is, “I breathe in the universe; the universe breathes in me.”

All the meditations I read now before going to bed every night all reiterate the basic tenet that the universe is a reflection of me. But I can’t seem to get this sneaking suspicion out of my gut that I, too, am a reflection of the universe. All that negativity can’t be a byproduct of just my coding and internal drama! I should be much freer.

Yet today I spent the cool and windless afternoon under an overcast sky sitting in my car in the parking lot at the college listening to Sigur Ros trying to decode what has been written across my soul.

I’m jealous. I’m angry. I’m bitter about the bliss of other people, knowing full well that others see my bliss and shout, “Unfair! Unfair!” Thankfully I can see the folly of all this angst. (But I still think it’s fun to romp in those fields.)

Perhaps maturity is no longer fighting the urge and drive toward negativity. Perhaps in time I can fill up all “these negative things with positively everything” (else—thanks to Edie Brickell for those beautiful lyrics).

My wish for now: not to be tired (and yet I am); not to be bitter (and yet I am); and to make it through my last Wednesday of the semester (and I will) … with the Styrofoam cup pressed firmly against my lips.