Thursday, April 27, 2006

Lynching Capitalism

Teaching U.S. history is sometimes a satisfying experience, never more so when you find a hook that works and you see in the eyes of the students a dawning recognition that the past was a freaking nasty place. Patriotism being what it is these days, an insidious virus of banality and acquiescence to the lowest common denominator, there's a fair amount of pushback built into every survey class like the one I teach, and that makes for a few openly confrontational students who have swallowed the Fox News mind pill and inserted the Bill O'Reilly American Imperium celebratory butt plug. Actually I sort of relish their agitprop, and their squinty W-esque smugness.

Regardless, the hardest thing to do, sort of a natural impossibility I believe, is to get modern Americans to empathize with their proto-modern ancestors who lived in a world of raw indignity and injustice. Last night I took a wild run at trying to get them to conceptualize Progressive Era capitalism as an oddity as equivalent to their lived experience in the modern economy as lynching seems to their racial mentality. After a lovely description of an actual lynching, spiced up with a dollop of feminist irony (the first woman Senator in history, Rebecca Latimer Felton, was an advocate of the practice) I suggested that the fear and loathing they were experiencing was an appropriate emotion in its distance to their understanding of early capitalism. Sure, I could suggest they read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle but this turned into a irresistible shortcut. Finishing the demonstration with a tangential shift into globalization and the exporting of our dirtiest economic exploitations offshore (did slave labor make your shirt or put that diamond on your finger?) you could fairly see the clicking go off in brain after brain, that dawning recognition that makes teaching worth the effort. And as the cynic, actually the sharpest knife in the drawer, went for the bait and was hooked too by the realization that yes indeed, the working life of the working stiff in the past was a capital lynching indeed I could afford myself one clean breath for having not wasted their time on a cool night in History 110.

Monday, April 24, 2006

America's Finest Lobotomy

When I first moved to San Diego in 1979 I was not very impressed. I thought, out loud unfortunately for me, that here was a city lacking in parks, anti-bicycle, noisy, dirty, over-crowded, car-centric, and lacking some sort of intellectual consciousness. I remember driving one of my cousins to complete apoplexy, to the point where she suggested I just leave. Leaving wasn't an option I could contemplate, so I stayed, got married, and now have the complete freedom of a mortgage, two jobs, kids in high school . . . the freedom of success!

So yeah, I'm totally screwed. 26 years later and I, for stupid self-indulgent reasons I can only begin to accept, I have been asking folks a similar question: what is wrong with this place? I know that the short answer is simply me. I don't fit in, and I ask too many negative questions. People I've queried on the general malaise that is San Diego "intellectual" life ask me fairly enough if anywhere else is better? Better for what I guess should be my reply. But it always puzzles me how normal it is for folks to always default to local pride whenever they are describing their city and their life. "I bought this ticket and I'm taking the ride. And because life has got to be great, therefore I made the right decision! San Diego rocks!"

Please. San Diego is kinda pathetic, us always looking north to say what we are by what we are not. And the rest of the nation and world sees us as a cul-de-sac branching off from LA, with a second rate newspaper (hey, we got a Pulitzer, for busting a guy that the editorial board loved and always mindlessly supported, woo-hoo!) half-assed sport teams, a polluted river, gridlock, and, of course a world class zoo. The scientific community here is first-rate, but how much does that trickle down into the mentality of the plebeians? Like any huge metropolis there are cities within the city that can be occupied with some amount of grace and decency. But you can't argue with the voting record of this town: we vote for stupid. Stupid works for us. And that is the answer I think I will always get, gussied up and painted pretty colors like a 19th century whore, when I ask why it is this place is such a parochial shitland. Now shut up and enjoy the weather will ya?

Death by Sexy

For those of you out there who need a band to live by, right now there is a "joke band" named Eagles of Death Metal that might just make the difference for you. I first experienced EODM as the opening act for Queens of the Stone Age last year. Sitting behind a couple of fellows from Los Lobos at the House of Blues, these fellows came out and started playing their "boot scooting" brand of garage rock with such precision and hilarity that I do think my brain started to melt just a tad. I'll never forget looking over my shoulder at my buddy, grinning maniacally myself, to see the psychedelic muse in his eyes as he bobbed his head clownishly in affirmation that here, yes hear we are my god these guys are freaking good. How many times have you gone to see one band, especially a hot in the moment band like Queens, only to be completely mind-boggled by something you didn't expect to see in the opener? Like never. For me, that would be exactly never. The new cd is out, part of an apparent 3 cd triptych that Josh Homme and Jesse "the devil" Hughes plan to complete with one more "take over the world" submission. On this one they claim to have ripped of better Rolling Stones songs from, but it would hard to write a better song than the first cd's "Speaking in Tongues." Homme's main band is QOTSA but he plays drums with Eagles in concert at least occasionally. He says one primary goal with his bands is to get "that one big dumb drunk guy" out of the audience. Which is another way to say that EODM is, to put it in Hughes words, "for the ladies." Call me his . . .

Monday, April 17, 2006

Jesus wants to kick your ass

Drinking a 7 and 7 with two friends in front of my buddy's house on Passover, we observed a pony-tailed solicitor approaching from the east. How door to door begging got so popular I can only speculate, but they tell us down in Old Town not to give quarters to the homeless because they'll just waste it on booze or drugs. Perhaps that caution should be rebroadcast to affluent suburbia to lessen the bane of the Christian canvasser.

We proactively engaged our missionary with what we considered lighthearted jibes directed at defusing the script we correctly anticipated might be coming. Patting our pockets theatrically, had either of us actually had a buck for the self-proclaimed graduate of Acme Missionary School (not its real name . . .) we might have actually succumbed to the easier path of "just take it and go." But when pony-tail sardonically opined "god bless you anyway" I stupidly took his implied negativity and amplified it with "especially the Christians." This lead to a macho back and forth of "everybody" vs "the Christians" because I suggested they needed it more given the born-again in the White House and the present geo-political situation of terminal clusterfuck.

When PT took it, logically in retrospect, to the next level by quoting scripture I should have de-escalated. Wisdom being the better part of valor and also being nearly absent in my incautious 40s, I told him, roughly, "shut the fuck up" and "I am so sick of you religious motherfuckers." Ah, the power of the f-bomb. He called me out, stupidly for him after ringing the neighbor's doorbell, telling me something to the effect that "just because I'm a Christian doesn't mean I won't kick your ass." At this my reason returned, perhaps because he looked like he'd seen a gym or maybe a Meth dealer or two in his day, and perhaps because I was now chagrined beyond my usual point by bringing this holy soul closer to his level of ignorance than I should have. Also, as he was threatening me the neighbor opened his front door and I didn't really want to continue our discourse as it may have interfered with PT's chance to collect another buck. To his credit he remembered his real reason for visiting the neighborhood and did a little quick duck back into begging character.

As an epilogue, it seems as though anger management training is in my future. And perhaps it should be in America's too.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How can you tell if Bush is lying . . .

The short answer would seem to be: his lips are moving. But it really isn't too useful to suggest that our beloved W is willfully lying to cover up the mendacity of his regime. The lines between truth and fiction have blurred so completely in the last six years that some sort of new word should be invented to address the phenomenon. Trution? Fictuth? Ah, whatever. The American people actually deserve this s.o.b. That's the reality of the situation.

I could be accused of being a misanthrope for saying such a blasphemy, but really, is there anywhere in the institutions of American society that is willing to step up and call the demons out of power? So far there have not been enough deaths, enough suffering, enough outrage to fundamentally change the way business is done in DC. And the willingness of Americans to live in their own comfortable orbits and look askance at world opinion and the misery we are dealing worldwide with our policies is stunning in its solipsistic obsession. So I feel pretty confident saying we deserve this bastard. I hear more chickens leaving their roost's. I am not happy at the sight of such feathers falling from the sky but they are what they are. An inconvenient truth.

What to do? Read your Orwell, confront that mindless patriot parroting the latest Fox News shitrant, donate to or greenpeace or, put a bumper sticker on your car that suggests Leviticus was a fucking dumbass, etc. The sorry state of the Democrats is of course another big part of the problem but for my money the issue is that we all are afraid to offend our friends. Better to piss of some sort of soft headed acquaintance than to add more inertia to the coming storm. And there is a storm brewing. A really fucking big one.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I hate fucks in trucks

I had one of those typically Southern Californian traffic events happen yesterday that reminded me that even though we can pretend to be open minded, deep down we really do hate some bastards. I could make some nice noises about how the skinhead driving a red F150 with the Harley Davidson sticker and the Vietnam Vet flag etc probably couldn't wait to get home to his loving, kind wife and his two cute kids; how he'd been working out of town and he missed them so much that my not pulling within a skeeter's asshole to the vehicle in front of me on 52 East at the merge from 3 to 2 lanes allowed at least two more cars to get between him and his joyful reunion. Selfish me in my vain convertible, wasting those imaginary 4 seconds this was going to cost him. You know what they say, a second can feel like a lifetime. Especially right before you die.

I will credit him for not, upon pulling along side me (after threatening to go offroad around me as I tapped my brakes in a passive aggressive salute to his impatience) for not simply calling me a motherfucker and inviting me to feel his masculine fury. The theatre of the highway must have amused the others stuck in the shitmess that 52 is as it comes down the hill into the Santee rubbish zone. He simply said "keep up" and I replied "it doesn't matter." He said "yes it does," whereby he pulled within a skeeter's asshole of the Hyundai that had been in front of me. I apologize to that poor driver for elevating his stupid competitive dickhead feelings to such a fever pitch. I am an asshole, indeed.

But finally, the real point is that in traffic merge situations, driving slower and allowing people to merge in front of you is actually in everyone's best interest. Not just as a courtesy, but because it actually speeds the overall average speed. Every time someone has to hit the brakes it causes a dozen others to do so on the freeway and this adds reaction time which tends to exacerbate traffic jams. Don't believe me, look it up. (no link here you lazy bastard) I just wish he understood I was trying to help him get back to his family sooner. I hope he got a big hug when he got home. . . . Or a bullet in the head.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A knife edge in DC

Ok I can't exactly figure out how to post pics to this freaking thing but here is a pic that my lovely wife took of me in DC. And if you can't make out all the allegorical and metaphorical elements in the image, keep staring and it will come to you. You also might look at a one dollar bill for clues to decoding the semiotics of Po.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

DeLay works for Satan

There will be thousands and thousands of posts today about Tom DeLay and his decision to step down. There will be thousands and thousands of predictable words about his motivations, his timing, his guilt, his perfidity, his innocence, his legacy. But why should we care? Hasn't the damage already been done?

I went and saw Mort Sahl at a church (he turned and faced the huge crucifix on the wall behind the altar and said "who's that for?") and of the many funny and trenchant things he said, when it came to remarking about the damage W has done to the country he simply said that "its going to take decades to repair the damage." The damage Delay, Frist, Rove, Cheney, Rice, etc ad nauseum have done to this country will take decades to repair if in fact anything does get repaired. These fuckers are the political equivalent to Katrina. We are all New Orleaneans now. The levee broke. The polis is broken and its going to get a lot worse before it gets better.