Saturday, August 02, 2008

How not to Understand China

I'm at Starbucks in Beijing the other day, stealing their wireless. It seems to be some odd company policy that transcends borders. In New York City Starbucks is one of a couple stores where you will never be hassled for using the bathroom without buying anything (which makes the bathroom line an interesting ethnographic site in itself). In Beijing you can sit down and surf the web for an hour without buying anything and they won't look at you twice.

Anyway, its the Olympics and there is a swell of journalists descending on the city. You see them everywhere, filming various street scenes and talking to people. A radio journalist, who I want to say is French, is talking to a bunch of upscale Chinese 30 somethings who are sipping their Frappacinos. From what I can overhear, she seems to have gone through the "Local Superstitions" section of her tourist guidebook and is asking them about it.

"Why do the Chinese believe this...."

"And what is the origin of this custom..."

One of them speaks English, and is reporting back for the group. A lot of their deliberation consists of "What is she talking about.... I've never heard of that, have you?"

The guy who speaks English starts most of his sentences with "We Chinese..."

I am filled with the urge to put on my anthropologist hat, and introduce myself as an expert on Chinese culture.

"The Chinese are a primitive people, who's culture is based on superstition and fear of the unknown..."

The good thing is that I am constantly surrounded by a reminders that - no matter how bad my own research into China could get, I'm far from the worst.

That, and I've been filmed doing kung fu on Al Jazeera and some German TV station.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

quasi apocaliptic rambling

Walking outside to a humid afternoon, I smell what I think is the smoke from the mountains around me burning, only to see its my neighbors having a bbq. I have two contingency plans for when the fire comes down from the mountain to engulf the city. The first is to make for the harbor and steal a boat. I may be more of a ninja person, but some piracy would be called for. The second is to hit the ground and crawl for Mexico - the smoke will get you before the fire.

Friday, October 05, 2007

So this is California....

I get it, you're laid back.
So much so that you don't answer my emails for over a week when I reply to your roommates wanted ads. I start sending out emails in the middle of July, and still get replies a week into August saying that you're looking for someone to move in on the first. I'm flattered that you think I could pull that off, but really I'm not that talented.

I get it, you're progressive.
You invite me over for dinner, and its amazing. Tempeh tacos... mmmm.....
Sure the family style eating arrangements isn't really my thing, but everybody seems normal. That is, until the point where we start talking politics. Oh, you want Denis Kucinich to win the nomination? Don't get me wrong, anyone who looks like him and can land a wife who is half his age, a foot taller and drop dead gorgeous has some serious juju. But the Republicans would have to scrape deep into the bottom of the barrel to come up with someone who couldn't beat a pantheistic vegan midget.
Be serious people.

I get it, you think outside the box.
I knew that when I read your ad saying that you were a spiritual relationship councilor. I googled your email address and found out that you help women manifest their true love from the universe. But I'm an open minded guy and whatever you can do to turn a buck is between you and your clients. Although I have to admit that the fact that, as a spiritual relationship guide, you said that this town is full of flakes made me a little nervous.

But then the subject turned to 9/11 being an inside job. You saw a video about it. On the internet. Put together by a bunch of college students calling themselves "researchers". Set to bad techno music.

I admit that I realized that I was being a bad guest shooting down your 'evidence' that there was a massive government conspiracy behind 9/11. But you were really really wrong. Its not even that I think what you were saying isn't true - but even if it were true you don't have any evidence to back it up. "As someone who has no background in structural engineering, that doesn't fit with my understanding of structural engineering." is pretty thin.

Anyway, the thing is that I'm a nerd about epistemology, among other things. I'm interested in how we make judgments based on incomplete, unreliable and contradictory information. So I tend to pick conspiratorial ramblings - be they about 9/11 'truth' or Iraqi WMD - apart as much as possible.

And then a few days later I got the email telling me that you didn't want me to move in with you. You didn't want me as a roommate because I didn't think that 9/11 was an inside job. I had to reread it a couple of times...

I thought that you were open minded. In fact I read that in your ad - you were open minded and seeking people who were similarly open minded.

You consoled me by telling me that you were sure I could find someone to live with who agreed with me that 9/11 wasn't a government conspiracy. I wanted to write you back to tell you that I am, in fact, capable of relating to people who I don't agree with. It is, as I understand it, the most basic level of maturity.

So this is California? And these are the people that I will be surrounding myself with for the next three years? Thanks for the tacos, you people have issues.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Historical Perspective

The possibility that even some of the justices The Boss himself had appointed to the court might not cheerfully endorse a concept of presidential immunity that mocked both the US Constitution and the Magna Carta had apparently been considered for a moment and then written off as too far-fetched an crazy even to worry about by all of Nixon’s personal strategists.

It is still a little difficult to believe, in fact, that some of the closes advisors to the president of a constitutional democracy in the year nineteen hundred and seventy-four might actually expect the highest court in any constitutional democracy to crank up what is probably the most thoroughly discredited precedent in the history of Anglo-American jurisprudence- the “divine right of kings” - in order to legalize the notion that a President of the United States, or any other would be democracy is beyond “the law.”

That Nixon and his personal Gestapo actually believed this could happen is a measure of the insanity quotient of the people Nixon took down in the bunker with him when he knew the time had come to get serious.

Hunter S. Thompson, “The Scum Also Rises”

Reading Thompson always reminds me of Bush, for obvious reasons. But I always get left feeling like I'm living in more cynical times. He's got an abiding faith in America that, although filtered through his twisted mind, seems rather optimistic right now. Does Bush's invocation of the divine right of kings - dressed up in a version of seperation of powers so absurd that an eighth grade civics class could tear it apart- seem so far fetched these days? I'm not so sure.

It certainly didn't seem far fetched on Hardball, where Chris Matthews said that Bush would probably win. Matthews thinks that Bush is right to prevent Rove from testifying under oath, because he'd definitely lie and wouldn't want to get caught. How is it that someone that is a prominent political commentator can say with a strait face that the president has a constitutional interest in protecting the right of his advisors to lie to congress?

This is rapidly heading towards a constitutional crisis, with the President openly threatening to defy a subpoena and bring it to the courts. And why? Because it is our misfortune as a nation to have a president that is a caricature of a spoiled rich kid who’s parents never set limits while he was growing up. Beneath the rhetoric of “show trials” and “partisan witch hunts” is a child with a sense of entitlement that is as limitless as his sense of dignity is tenuous threatening to hold his breath until he turns blue.

And the sad thing is that the Supreme Court might actually go for it. Why wouldn’t they? After anointing him President, would the conservative majority on the court suddenly find their respect for the rule of law? Not likely.

And it is useful to recall that this isn’t even one of the big scandals. This isn’t cooking intelligence on Iraq, ignoring warnings about 9/11, illegally spying on everyone in America, torture, kidnaping, meeting with a lobbyist who’s since been convicted of taking money for access to Republican power brokers. This isn’t even one of the colorful ones, like the fact that a gay prostitute managed to get access to the White House under an assumed name. This is simply the first rock that the congress kicked over. Can you imagine what would come out if Congress really found their balls and started looking into darker territory?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Why do I read the NY Times Anyway....
Re: Mosh Pit Meets Sandbox
Dear Mr. Brooks.

Your latest column on the perils of parents in Park Slope dressing their children in ways that you don't find appropriate reminds me of a joke I once heard.

A father is in the park watching his kids as they run around playing in the dirt. An old man on the bench yells at him, "Hey, do you really think you should be letting your kids run around like a bunch of animals. You should try to instill a little discipline in them, otherwise where do you think they'll end up in life?"
The father turns to him, "I don't know, my parents raised five children and they've all been very successful."
"Oh, and did they let you all run around wildly and do whatever they pleased."
"Well, more importantly, they us them a valuable lesson."
"Which was?"
"To mind your own fucking business."



Saturday, February 17, 2007

They Write Back

I got a reply from my emial to the defense department on how to best combat people emboldening our enemies , but frankly I'm a little disappointed. If the Secretary of Defense has the authority to arbitrarily decide that people are enemies of the state, haul them off to secret prisons and torture them, why isn't he more enthusiastic to use it? And why can't I get in on the racket?

This is the sort of shit that really emboldens the enemy.

Internal Enemies in the Global War on Terror.

Discussion Thread
Response (Directorate for Public Inquiry and Analysis) - 02/15/2007 12:14 PM
Dear Mr. Jones,

We thank you for your interest in the information provided on the Defense website. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support to the U.S. Armed Forces.

FBI operations investigates terrorist and foreign intelligence threats and enforce the criminal laws of the United States."

Please report any suspected terrorist activity directly to the FBI:

We hope this information is helpful. Please continue to visit the Defense website for the latest information on the Global War on Terrorism.


Auto-Response - 01/30/2007 10:07 PM
Title: Global War on Terrorism - First 100 Days

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I was unemployed when last we invaded a middle eastern country starting with "Ira", so I was able to watch 24/7 news coverage of it for days at a time. I found that, as pornography, it was pretty good. I was happy when I came across Watching Babylon: The War in Iraq and Global Visual Culture by Nicholas Mirzoeff, he made the same connection that was so obvious to me, between war coverage and pornography (He relied on Foucault and Lacan references to make his point, whereas I backed my argument up more with indecipherable profanity). All those explosions lighting up my TV screen are glorified cumshots.


And thats why I had no real use for all the commentary. I recall seeing a porn flic in China, which had actually done a pretty good job of translating the "dialogue" and i had to wonder why? Paying attention to that is even less credible than reading Hustler for the articles.

And I take essentially the same attitude towards what passes for reporting.

Somewhere towards the second day of shock and awe I discovered that if I just put the TV on mute and put a selection of Iron Maden and early Black Sabbath in the stereo on shuffle you got exactly the same information content as the "commentary", but it meshed with the visuals so much better.

Yes, hair metal is to war porn as fuzz guitar funk is to the real thing.

So, that's my question to you. What will your soundtrack to the invasion of Iran be?
my top 5 are:

1. Black Sabbath (first 5 albums)
2. Metallica (through Master of Puppets)
3. Iron Maden
4. Atari Teenage Riot
5. Zen Guerilla (Tom Jones singing for a cross between AC/DC and MC5- nuff said)


If it looks like a duck

From today's New York Times:
"Speaking at a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Mr. Bush dismissed as “preposterous” the contention by some skeptics that the United States was drawing unwarranted conclusions about Iran’s role."

Well, excuse us if we don't take your every word (or, in this case, intelligence report) as gospel, Mr. Weapons of Mass Destruction! Jesus. I wish I had a stunning insight or new observation, or just that it didn't keep astonishing me, but it does: the insane, sociopathic arrogance of these people astonishes me. Still.