Friday, March 28, 2003

I recommend anyone who wishes to see a good fantasy movie check out the new animated movie "Spirited Away". As a fan (but not a fanatic, or even an expert) on Japanese anime, "Spirited Away" stands as one of the best I've ever seen. I think its better than "Princess Mononoke" and "Akira" -- two other great anime classics. What makes it (and other Japanese anime) so worthwhile is the uniqueness of the imagery and the archetypes. Although Disney distributes films from this particular Japanese studio (Ghibli), there are none of the usual humdrum Western fantasy archetypes: goblins, wizards, paladins. There is a dragon, but it doesn't look like Puff. Otherwise, it mixes modernity with "the spirit world" and avoids even the standard Japanese cartoon cliche: the apocalyptic, earth-devouring atomic mutant. In place, there is a haunted amusement park and a "raddish spirit". Good stuff. If good animation is your thing, or you like highly original fantasy, go see it.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

The Song Four Theory Revisited:

I know that people will claim there are more pressing issues in the world to discuss than "Song Four Theory", but like the budding "birth-order" theory, the position which a song appears on a CD is a vital clue to the overall virtue of the CD. The difference between "Song Four Theory" and "Birth-Order" theory is less in approach than in overall utility. You see, birth-order theory is utterly baseless and pseudo-scientific -- it seeks to ascribe to individuals certain pre-determined characteristics based on the order in which they squirt out of the womb. Except for the various dynamics of sibling rivalry and the learning-curve parents undergo whilst progressing through the chaotic uncertainties of child-rearing (neither of which is so uniform as to conform to a set of numerologically ordained truisms), birth-order is no more reliable than astrology, which is just modern magic for goofballs. Song Four Theory -- the idea that the fourth song on every good album is *really* good -- is not some kakamamie scheme to sell self-help books -- its been methodically and scientifically tested on at least two albums. I vouch for it personally. Its a tool to assist you in those moments when you're standing around at Borders trying to decide if that Dixie Chicks album is *really* worth $16.99 -- or if David Hasselhof's latest might be the one to launch him into the stratosphere in America and *you* want to be in on the ground floor. Just listen to song #4. If its good, you're on safe ground.

At least that's how its supposed to work. That's how I thought it worked when I came up with it a few months ago. However, a comment from Epidapheles has put my theory on its head, and forced me to re-evaluate. E said the theory didn't work on the latest good album he purchased. It *almost* worked, he said. Song three was good and song five was grrrreat. [I'm paraphrasing] Like all good scientists, I have had to admit that my own testing methodology was flawed. The two albums I used in my pathbreaking study (Wilco's "Hotel Foxtrot" and Belle and Sebastian's "If You're Feeling Sinister") proved it beyond a doubt. Unfortunately, I am forced to admit that they may not be as representative as I'd assumed. They might only anecdotally (worse -- acidentally) prove my theory. A greater initial sample would have put me on stronger ground. Hence, being a good scientist, and faced with incontrovertable evidence that "Song Four" might not itself be universally demonstrative of the quality of the entire album, I offer the following amendment to the theory:

The quality of song four is *very likely* directly indicative of the quality of an album. However, on any given great album, the true indicator of its greatness will either be song four, or will be a song immediately before or after song four (generally this will conform song three or five).

I think with this amendment, I not only restore my reputation as a scientist of the common world, but I avoid the inelegant necessity of renaiming it "Song Three, Four, or Five Theory". This is key, because by any other name, it wouldn't be "Song Four Theory."

For my next sojourn into the deepening body of evidence pertaining to the larger catagory of "Song Order Theory" I will confront the seeming paradox of applying "Song Four Theory" to an album with less than four songs, or the even more unusual occurance of an album with *more than one* song four.

Wish me luck. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

More Bitching About the War:

Before I speak my my mind, allow me to put myself squarely in the thick of the ongoing "debate" about the War on Iraq. Here is my position: the war was stupid, unnecessary, and will cause us more headaches and insecurity in the future than it will alleviate. The pompous, unilateralist, and arrogant way American leaders proceeded to build a "coalition" was disastrous. The 1.2 billion people Ari Fleischer claimed to belong to the "coalition of the willing" is a statistical farce: public opinion polls in virtually every country outside of the U.S. indicate that the war is *extremely* unpopular. In other words: we (America) fucked up by getting into this at the wrong time and in the wrong way.

That being said, now that we're in the thick of it: get on with it. Get it done. Get it over with. Win. Kill Saddam. Lets finish this mess so we can find the only silver lining there is: whatever else happens, Saddam will be gone. Who will be in his place? I don't know. Will things be better for the Iraqis? Probably. Will the Iraqis hate us anyway? Probably. Do I care? Yes. What a friggin mess. Even if we win, we lose. Thank you, Mr. Bush. But thats not what I'm fixin' to bitch at.

I want to bitch at the US's whining about Iraqi irregular tactics.

"They're violating the Geneva Convention" we whine.
"Al Jazeera showed our P.O.W.s" we whine.
"They're acting like *terrorists*" we whine.

The Minutemen not withstanding, who are we fucking kidding? Not only do we eschew, disregard, and flaunt the Geneva convention whenever it is inconvenient (Re: John Aschroft, Camp X-Ray, Secret Military Tribunals, etc.) but what would WE fucking do if someone came into our backyard and invaded? Would we whip out our pocket-sized Geneva convention and read what Rule 58.3b says about showing P.O.W.'s on TV? Hell no. We'd do whatever the hell we could to kill the motherfuckers who came into our country. We'd recognize that invasion itself is the bigger crime and we'd deny that we had any responsibility at all to play by the invader's "rules". If we want to drive around in SUVs with guns and kill invading soldiers how can that *possibley* be illegal? It legitimates the broader war if we afford our enemies "legal" status.

My complaint is with hypocrisy, not with the conduct of war. War is horrible. I don't say that glibly. I have no expectation that war will ever be conducted within "civilized rules". Its a fine thing to aspire to -- the fact that we're even *trying* to be humane with our bombing is miraculous -- but when the shit is on the line, everyone does *whatever* they can to win. Atrocities rarely assist victory, so I never advocate that, but "tricking" an invading army is perfectly legitimate: you play to your enemies weaknesses, you play to their biases -- you use every weapon you have to kill enemy soldiers. It is rediculous for us to expect our enemies to conform to our own notions of "fair play" -- especially when we've stacked the deck against them.

In the meantime, civilians will *die*. Small children, innocent men and women will be burned and maimed. Limbs will be blown off. People will collect brains in buckets and jars. Old women formerly full of love and wisdom will die and rot and be eaten by maggots in forgotten corners of the war. Etc. My point is this:

Show it

Show all of it.

Show how fucked up it is so we can judge if the outcome is worth the price. And to be honest, it might turn out to be worth it. Truly, I'm against this war but Bush might turn out to be correct. We'll never know how to judge that if we don't know the full cost.

So let Al Jazeera spout its propaganda. Its called "free speech". Its something we used to care about. "I may not agree with what you say or how you say it, but I defend your right to say it" -- isn't that what we are supposed to aspire to? We should be able to handle raw images of a war we started. Sorry it isn't convenient, Mr. Rumsfeld.

And as for Al Jazeera, fucking A -- something great is happening there. The Arab world is finally gaining a modern, secular institution -- a pan-Arab institution -- that isn't dominated by monarchs or big oil or Radio Free America. So it has spin. So what. So does Fox. We learn more from Al Jazeera than we do from our own public propaganda networks. Watch how many times Al Jazeera footage appears on your TV screen.

So here's my advice to the US warmakers: get the war won. Quit bitching that the enemy is not playing fair. Tell the Iraqi civilians that you're sorry but they'd better duck because in order to win the war you're going to have to fight in the streets. Roll up your sleeves and get going -- the sooner this is over the better. Meanwhile, if I keep hearing people telling people like me that shutting up is the best way to support troops in the field, I'll roll up my sleeves and get ready to do some street fighting of my own. I hope nobody starts whining when they realize that not all anti-war protesters are pacifists.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

There is a terrible scourge in the world today. A distracting, mind-numbing drama that prevents me from attending to my blogging responsibilities (note to readers: blogging for me is truly a "responsibility" -- I sold my soul to Satan in exchange for an instant international blog audience, but that's another story). Anyway: the scourge...

It plays over and over again in my mind, green-screened mixed with flashes of fuzzy white, distorted, incoherent voices. There are huge implications for the future, too many unknowns, anxiety...

Yes, I am talking about Comprehensive Exams. They are just a few short weeks away. I must pass them or I will not be awarded my degree. This would be an unmitigated tragedy. Studying for this has dominated my general efforts of late as I try to recall snatches of old lectures I should have paid attention to, as I try to picture the green chalkboards of my youth (they seemed to be greener back then...).

Meanwhile I've heard there's a war going on. This is quite possibly a worse trauma than my impending exams. People appear to be fighting over who gets to dig up buried chemical substances, one drop of which can blister, paralyze, or kill a human being. Why anybody would want to dig up such obviously dangerous materiel is beyond me. Maybe earthworms have a secret lobby in Washington. Despite my skepticism, if the US really wants to find buried chemical weapons, all they need to do is dig up the soccer field outside of my office at American University. AU donated that land to the US Army during WWI for chemical weapons testing. After the war the Army dug a trench where the soccer field is and dumped its leftover stockpile. Its all still there for Hans Blix to find. I guess maybe its too late to stop the explosive momentum of Operation Iraqi Freedom. But its not too late for:


Here is a summary of the major stories as reported on CBS, ABC and FOX:

1. A US helecopter crashed in Kuwait, killing 12 in the name of our freedom.
2. The road from Kuwait City to Baghdad is *very* bumpy.
3. A British helecopter crashed over the Persian Gulf, killing five in the name of our freedom.
4. The fertile crescent is VERY GREEN. Even at night, everything has an odd glowing quality to it. Nothing is ever in focus.
5. The Academy Awards (TM) will go on in the name of our freedom.
6. A father of a dead marine is extremely aggrieved, but takes solace that his son died for our freedom.
7. A 4 year old Iraqi boy made a heroic sacrifice by donating 70% of his little body to be burned for the cause of Iraqi freedom.
8. Granite palaces are extremely flammable.
9. A US soldier attacked his own unit with grenades, killing one and wounding 13 defenders of freedom.
10. The Academy Awards (TM) will go to demonstrate our indomitable freedom.
11. The brother of a dead marine is extremely sad and bummed out, but takes solace that his brother died for our freedom.
12. Several Coalition of the Willing (TM) soldiers were killed in a car accident in Kuwait while driving for freedom.
13. A group of independent journalists were ambushed and killed by Iraqis. These journalists had too much freedom..
13. The US shot down an approaching British helecopter which was flying for the cause of freedom.
15. The mother of a soldier killed in a car accident is very distraught right now, but takes solace that her son died for our freedom.
16. The Academy Awards (TM) will go on to show the Iraqis that by forcing us to invade they can't take our freedom.

[stay tuned for: planes unloading body bags, somber funeral processions, silver trumpets playing "Taps", and dramatic eulogies of heroes shot down, crashed, and fragged by our own forces in the name of freedom]

Thursday, March 20, 2003

"Dear" "Readers",

"You "might" "be" "wondering" "why" "I" "haven't" "written" "in" "awhile". "You" "see", "I've" "been" "thinking"... "'bout" "truth" "mainly". "I" "guess" "the" "problem" "is" "I" "don't" "trust" "words" "no" "more", "their" "meaning" "'n" "all". "Everything" "needs" "to" "be" "qualified" "or" "no" "one" "can" "say" "nothin'", "know" "what" "I" "mean" "?" "Are" "we" "all" "just" "cowards" "or" "do" "the" "things" "we" "say" "not" "actually" "say" "what" "we" "mean" "?" "I" "guess" "when" "I" "figure" "that" "one" "out" "I'll" "get" "back" "to" "yer". "Until" "then" "happy" "war".

"Sincerely", "I" "guess",


Thursday, March 13, 2003

Now that I look back at it, I didn't leave the house all day. Not even to go to my car. Yikes. This winter thing is bad. Or maybe I'm just a homebody. Lets see, my day...

Woke up.
Drank five cups of coffee.
Watched 'Road to Perdition'. A useless movie. You seen it? Tom Hanks. Jude Law. Paul whats-his-name. Some gangster we're supposed to care about loses his wife, goes on a rampage. Everybody who should die dies, and right at the right moment, too. The acting is good. The music is just right. The plot is pitch perfect. Still, its empty. Or is it just me?
Nah. I'm full of it. All the time.
Anyway. Watched 'Road to Perdition', resolved to study for comps. Read one line in a historiography essay, something like 'Hofstadter's synthesis remained the most important...' blah blah blah 'for thirty years' blah blah. Am I a burnout? You betcha. Can't *wait* to be out of grad school. Waiting's the problem, in fact. I shouldn't be waiting for shit -- I should be studying so I make sure I make it out.
Or something...
Went to Texas this weekend. Saw my newest nephew. He's cute. Name's "Evan". I'm not normally one to say babies are cute. Sure, I'll lie to you if you dangle your larvae in my eye and ask my opinion, but this is a blog. No need to lie. My nephew's cute. My sister's into "Dr. Sears" or "Dr. Spock" or "Dr. Weil" or "Dr. Atkins" -- whoever the latest fad Dr. is: keep the kid in a sling until its five, never say "no", can't spoil a baby. Whatever. People have been raising babies for decades longer than Dr. Sears has been writing. My sister's got common sense and that's what she needs more than all the mothering advice in the world. I guess she needs that and a UHF tube full of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street.
But anyway, Texas: can't say I like the place much. In fact, its the most miserable state there is. Mainly its miserable because the people there think they know happiness and happiness is living in Texas. Still, I had fun out there this weekend and the mexican food in Austin is pretty good.

So after I finished "Road to Perdition" and read my single sentence of homework, I started working on a detective story. I'd read part of a George Pellecanos book on the plane and it got me to thinking. He's a good pulp writer but many pulp writers suck. I suck, so why can't I be a pulp writer? Even if I don't suck, I can be like George Pellecanos. Or something like that. [decipher logic both at your discretion and peril]

My detective just got out of jail for beating someone to death. He's old, anachronistic, and angry. His brother is uppity, educated, and concerned. Something will happen to get them mixed up with the bad guys. Tough talk will be exchanged. Blood will flow. It'll be a race against boredom: can I write a pulp novel before losing focus and turning my main characters into smack-addicted clowns with Mon Chi Chi fetishes and heads full of alien DNA? We'll see. Most likely this latest effor will just languish on my computer with all the other half-finished, half-baked ideas I've given up on. Oh -- don't be depressed for me. I'll print it all out and sell it for a dime someday after I sell a hit record.

Which reminds me. I got headphones on right now so I can't hear you. I also got a head full of whiskey, cause why not have a head full of whiskey on spring break? I got a Fender guitar jacked into my brain and a slow wah cycling over and over to a C chord trapped on endless delay. Endless until the batteries run out. I can make my guitar talk like Frampton. All it seems to be saying is:

"Go to sleep, its 2:26 a.m."

Anyway. I was talking about my day. My wife came home at 3:30. I was on the couch with the laptop, writing. The blinds were still drawn. I guess I showered somewhere in there but I could tell from the look on her face she either couldn't tell or didn't care. I don't blame her. All I needed was curlers and "Wheel of Fortune".

Did I tell you we hiked up twin pink granite domes this weekend? There's a place called "Enchanted Rock" out in the "Hill Country" west of Austin. I'm sure a teenage boy would find twin pink granite domes enchanting. I just found them neat. And crowded. And my cute new nephew slept contentedly the whole time in a sling perscribed by Dr. somebody or other.

Well, who knows where the rest of my day went. I finished my chapter sometime around midnight while "Blind Date" was on. That's a great show. Its better than Springer and all the other reality TV shows -- I love the sarcastic captions. They could take the suavest dude and his put-together date and make them seem like Snuggles meets Mrs. Butterworth.

Somewhere between the perpetual C chord and the end of the story, I hit the emergency liquor supply and cranked the Fender up to 7. I have to because the Persian lady upstairs is nearly deaf. Played the closed blinds midnight end-of-winter blues to her. She's dying of something up there. Least I can do, really.

I'll do my best not to waste tomorrow. I'm sure there's something I ought to be doing besides just living. Somebody remind me to tie a string around my finger so I won't forget.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Well, world events have progressed far enough that it is time for some political commentary/predictions. I was dead wrong about my last prediction (that Al Qaida would attack on the 1-year anneversary of 9-11). I was premature in my assessment that a redeployment of B-1 bombers heralded immenent war (that was 2 months ago). Nevertheless, here I go. If I speculate early and often, I'll get something right one of these days. Then I'll be heralded a prescient genius like Nostradamus and Alan Greenspan.

Iraq Iraq Iraq Iraq.
More Iraq.
All Iraq, all the time.
North Korea.
Iraq Iraq Iraq North Korea.
North Korea Iraq Iraq Iraq Iran.
Iran Iraq North Korea.

Does anybody remember that the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s used to be called "the Gulf War"? Then we got embroiled in a much smaller conflict in the region and *that* became "THE Gulf War". Now that we're at it again, the second thing we called "the Gulf War" is now called "the First Gulf War". Anyway.

I think I'm the only one left who thinks the first Bush's decision to leave Saddam in power made strategic sense. From the point of view of the U.S., deposing Saddam in the early 1990s would have forced us into a longer term commitment which nobody wanted. More importantly, we were realistic enough at the time to realize that eliminating Saddam would have created a power-vacuum which might have been filled by Shia seperatists, Kurdish separatists and who knows who else. On the other hand, leaving a weakend but still centralized authority in Iraq would eliminate our responsibility for keeping the lid on things and still achieve our objective of securing our oil supply. (Oh but you thought we rescued Kuwait out of a desire to spread democracy? Bwahaha.) So we decided to stick with the devil we knew (Saddam) versus the devil we didn't want to know (Iranian-style revolution, Kurdish insurgency, etc.). It made sense then, it makes sense now.

So this "second" war on Iraq is basically opening a can of worms. Fortunately we're the biggest fish in the pond right now, and fish like worms. But countries like France and Germany and Russia and China combined make an even bigger fish. It reminds me of this Leo Leoni book I used to read when I was a kid: a big fish was terrorizing these minnows and the minnows banded together to scare him away. We're about to be sent packing from our superpowerful place in the world by a coalition of Western Europe, Russia and China. I saw this one coming during the Clinton years when the EU started planning for a non-NATO defense force. I just didn't think it'd happen so quickly or with so much diplomatic bungling on our part. I guess that's what we get when we leave the details up to God and George Bush.

On North Korea I think we've got a whole different game going on. The Administration's soft-peddling won't last long. It will last only long enough for us to threaten to pull out of South Korea, which will scare the shit out of many South Koreans, at which point we will adopt a hard-line position against North Korea and flatten its nuke plant. Hopefully Seoul and Tokyo and Los Angeles won't become casualties, but hey. That's what missle shields are for...

The second explanation for our continuing "appeasement" of an obviously aggressive North Korea is the following: who benefits from an arms race in Asia? Oh yeah: us. Not only do we make billions of dollars re-arming Japan, but a nuclear Japan provides a sizeable counterweight to a nuclear China, which is the U.S.'s main concern in the region. The less harmonious North Asia is, the more people think they need ol' Uncle Sam. People who talk about a nuclear armed North Korea igniting an arms race have it half right: it *will* motivate countries like Japan to arm, but countries like China are *already* in an arms race with us. Don't doubt that.

Irrespective of the nuclear destruction of Tokyo, Seoul, or Los Angeles, North Korea can be knocked down by a stiff wind blowing from Donald Rumsfeld's gaping rectal cavity. But an actual US war against North Korea would be an even worse disaster if China doesn't think it will get a sizeable cut in the development of a new, unified Korea. A war with China would be an expensive, bloody mess.

So whats the solution? I dunno. Bomb somebody. I can think of a few places to start. Just give me a minute to get under my desk.

Monday, March 03, 2003

I decided to ignore the critics this weekend and see "Gods and Generals" -- the Civil War movie about...well...the Civil War. Since I am about as well read on the subject as all but a few absolute die-hards, and since I used to work at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park (which includes Chancellorsville and the Wilderness, as well as a shrine to Stonewall Jackson) as well as Ball's Bluff Regional Park, I figured I would enjoy the movie regardless of how trite or sappy it was.

Boy was I wrong.

Boy was it bad.

It was the Civil War told by cliche. Every major famous quote uttered or attributed to the various main characters appeared exactly on cue, delivered in stilted, dull, o'er flowery 19th Century English. Every reference to how "terrible" war was (as lifted from Ceasar or Hannibal or Voltaire) was juxtaposed against awkwardly dramatized heroics. The battles were reduced to their simplest, undramatic form: too removed from actual war to be terrible, yet too abstracted from the actual situation to be dramatic. The womenfolk were cautious, weepy, and ultimately unfailingly supportive of their men. The main problem with it was that it tried to tell too many stories without true focus on the nuances of any particular one, and so despite its four hour length, it failed to tell even one decent story. *Sigh* I didn't expect much, to be sure, but I did expect better.

Apparently I'm not the only one who should have listened to the critics. Before I explain that, let me tell you a story about a novel:

In 1953 a famous British writer published a novel about a sad little French colony in Southeast Asia. The colony was in the midst of an independence struggle against the French. Communists ran the revolution, and seemed to be doing quite well. The main character was a British journalist whose name I cannot remember. He went about his business trying to remain detached and neutral. Enter the Americans. Rather, enter an American named only "Pyle". Pyle is some sort of representative of the U.S. government and he is utterly steeped in the simplistic "good versus evil" anti-communist beliefs of the time. Pyle's innocence to the complexities and the true character of the war he is stepping into the middle of become utterly destructive as he starts using his official capacity to meddle into local affairs. He winds up supporting some local warlords whose corruption is well known, and alienates various potential allies, etc. It becomes clear that Americans are taking over the war from the French. It is also clear that the author views American ignorance about the colony in question and its people to be a fatal flaw. As a result America will not only lose its war, but also its innocence. Meanwhile, countless lives will be destroyed. The conflict for the main character comes when he realizes that as Pyle's only friend in the country, he has earned Pyle's confidence, but he recognizes that his journalistic "neutrality" is a fiction and his previously studied (read "jaded") impartiality is impossible to maintain.

The country is, of course, Vietnam and the book is "The Quiet American" by Graham Greene. It is one of the truly prescient works of fiction in that it predicted not only the U.S.'s defeat in a war which would not fully develop for twelve years, but it pegged the *psychology* of American intervention.

At the time of publication, the United States was still in the McCarthy era. The second major "red scare" of the 20th century was in full swing. Upon learning of the book, American officials did the only patriotic thing: they denounced it. They banned it. Some people burned it.

Sometime in the early to mid 1960s Graham Greene agreed to allow it to be turned into film. The acting was good. The plot was riveting. All in all, the film was quite faithful to the book: except for the final five minutes. In the final five minutes of the movie, the filmmaker turned the entire thing on its head and made the reporter -- who in Greene's book acted independently and with great conflict -- into an inadvertant dupe of COMMUNIST AGENTS. In other words, the entire point of the book (that conscience sometimes conflicts with friendship, that Americans might have good intentions but are often too simplistic to do real good abroad) was subverted to prove that even good people (like the reporter) can become dupes of dastardly, Asiatic communists.

Graham Greene never again spoke of "The Quiet American", nor did he ever again consent to allow his books to be made into film.

Fast forward to 2001. Fast forward to a re-make of "The Quiet American" starring Michael Caine. Fast forward to rave critical reviews and a historical film farce finally put right. Fast forward to a film in the fast lane toward mainstream success. Fast forward to 9-11, when the distributors pulled the plug on US distribution because the film was thought to be "too inflamatory" and "un-American" at a time when the national mood was so "sensitive".

Fast forward to the most critical moment in recent history, when we are facing another potentially disastrous foreign adventure and we have Pyle this time not as a diplomatic attache to an embassy, but sitting in the White House...

You get the idea.

You seen the remake of "The Quiet American" Neither have I. Two years later its been "approved" by whomever to be shown only on limited release in uptown art house theaters.