Monday, February 21, 2005

Those of you who remain loyal to this blog have no doubt wondered where I've gone or why I have not updated this site in awhile. Rest assured I have not been assimilated by the Borg or swallow'd by any large whales. I'm just working offsite for the month of February, at the National Archive in fact. It is wonderful not being in my nasty grey cube. The National Archive facility in College Park, Maryland is an archetectural marvel of space and light: a rarity in any government building, and the exact opposite of the old facility in downtown D.C., which is cramped and dark (albeit not without some residual art deco charm).

I'm writing tonight at a very advanced hour because I'm still a bit amped from teaching, and because I heard some sad news tonight.

I'm sure most of you are at least marginally familiar with Thompson. He was a journalist and an individualist, and a walking mass of contradictions. He took lots of drugs. He told tall tales. He had adventures. He wrote funny books. He could be crude and cruel, as well as charming and benign. I loved "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and somewhat self-consciously hold it up as the gold standard of road trips to be emulated and envied. I relate to him personally on many levels, but probably mostly because he is an intellectual pugilist with left-leaning politics and an understanding that firearms are too dangerous to be left in the hands of right-wingers alone.

He claimed to be a "gonzo" journalist, which means absolutely nothing and anybody who says they know what it means is making it up. "Gonzo" journalism just means whatever Thompson happened to write (and I'm making that up). Whatever it means, Hunter S. Thompson is/was an American icon and doesn't fit into comfortable catagories at all. He was an original. I was first exposed to him by the esteemable Sexton Seamus McGinty who used "Hunter S. Thompson" as a pen name long before I even knew what drugs, or the 1960s, or Nixon even were.

Thompson killed himself last night in his fortified compound in Colorado. Shot himself with one of his beloved firearms. He was 67.

His friends on the radio keep expressing bewilderment at this act, claiming that Thompson "loved life" and would never have wanted it to end. One called it a selfish act from a man who was actually (despite the literary ego) quite selfless.

Fuck that. I don't find it mysterious at all. Old people get tired of living or are suffering from some terrible degenerative illess kill themselves all the time. Killing oneself is the ultimate expression of freedom and freedom was Thompson's one true love. He fought for it all his life. He was criticized by the best for demonstrating that freedom can often be dangerous, and scary, and unsafe in addition to all the good things it can bring. He was a pioneer of freedom. If he wants to die by his own hand as an old man, no one has a right to call that "selfish". Thompson didn't owe anyone anything else. May he rest in peace -- a peace he probably couldn't find in life and for which absence we are all of us made better through that which he left behind.

Friday, February 04, 2005

In the News:

Marine Lt. General James Mattis, when asked about fighting in Afghanistan, said:

"Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot," Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. "It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling."

In regard to the terrorists, he said: "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." [CNN]

This, in iteself, is a shocking display of public bluster, but really nothing surprising from a grunt. Guys this in love with killing are exactly in the right profession at the right time in history.

Civilized members of society need guys like this out on the fringe. We need them to be sponges. They soak up bullets so the rest of us don't have to. For that, maybe we should cut them some slack and flatter their pretentions to greater manliness and glory. Maybe. But I don't think so. The best soldiers this country ever produced hated war.

Not to mention that guys like this, when made Lt. General, are not just risking themselves in war. He's risking America's other soldiers, too, ass-slapping them to an early grave like linemen in the Big Game, blissfully ignoring the absolutely shattering lifelong effect of combat on the lives of so many others. (For an indication of what Mattis will actually be doing in combat, read between the lines of "I'll be right up there with you". This is Pentagonspeak for "I'll be following reports of your progress from a desk in Washington and bragging about the flag in support.")

But what really bugs me about this is the bullshit PR the Marine Corps spews out in response to Mattis' statement. Marine Comandant Gen. Michael Hagee justified away the comments by saying:

"While I understand that some people may take issue with the comments made by him, I also know he intended to reflect the unfortunate and harsh realities of war."

First of all, while Mattis' claiming that war is a "hell of a hoot" does not sound like any sort of reality at all, it *certainly* doesn't imply reality 'unfortunate' or 'harsh'. So what the Comandant is really doing is putting words into the Lt. General's mouth in order to make the Marine Corps seem less bloodthirsty. Sorry, asshole. Nobody's fooled by that. Try again.

Another Pentagon apologist, a guy named Pace, said "The last three times that that general has been in combat...his actions and those of his troops clearly show that he understands the value of proper leadership and the value of human life."

Somehow, I'm doutful that this guy Mathis understands 'proper' anything or he wouldn't be sounding off about how fun it is to kill, and his very own words make it pretty darn plain, regardless of whatever Pace might want to believe, that the Lt. General doesn't give a shit about human life: either American or anybody elses.

If that old soldier, honed by deskbound combat at the Pentagon and a few lukewarm mini-wars, really likes to "brawl", he should plant his own ass on the firing line. The insurgents will just knock his glasses off and call him a pussy.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I'm altering the address of this blog, so update your templates:

it is now
I'm playing professor this semseter. I've got the beard and everything. No tweed jacket, though. Just the usual corporate shell, minus the tie. (This morning in the elevator I ran into my boss, a bigwig in the pentagon. Coffee was dribbling down my hand and my hair was askew. He glowered at me and removed his leather gloves. I expected a silenced Beretta to emerge from his tan trenchcoat...*thwok* *thwok*, a man-sized splish in a nearby culvert, bye bye never were a very good institution man.)

But professoring...yes, its true. I'm teaching "Civil War in Washington" for a real professor who fell ill suddenly. I had to make up a syllabus and a reading list and I have to lecture 2 hours a week to 30 undergrads.

Two weeks into class, after much fretting, planning, and organizing, here is the verdict:

Teaching is a blast. I love it. I get to stand up in front of a crowd and talk about history. And not just any history, but the history of a subject that has always been fascinating and is still "important" to know (if indeed anything is). But its really the teaching part I like. I get amped for it. I get into the "zone". This kind of enthusiasm is 100% absent from every desk-job cubicle squatting job I've ever held.

I dropped a surprise reading quiz on them last night. It went over like a lead balloon. They hadn't done their reading. No surprise there. Undergrads never do their reading unless they are kicked into it. This is one of the reasons liberal arts education is a joke: there is no accountability and no real expectation of performance from students. Never fear, though. I know all the tricks. I'm a congenial instructor generally, but when students get lazy I can go from passionate demagogue to cold wind in an ice galaxy in less time than it takes for Speedy Gonzales to crap.
I'm going to ride them all semester like a lamprey glued to a unicycle until they open a book. And I admit, being a working stiff these days, I will derive a certain amount of pleasure from it. Students have it easy. They don't have to haul rocks 12 hours a day, or wash dishes, or sell their bodies to sweaty men, or get shot at. All they have to do is read books and come to class.

On other fronts: I heard an NPR story about "podcasting" yesterday and I'm SOLD. I've been wanting to put together a weekly web-based radio show for a long time now and it seems that technology has caught up. There is an (apparently) easy-to-use interface that enables people to just record whatever they want and plop it onto a server. I'm going to take the Clay Sails franchise to the PEOPLE, dammit.

Problem is, I don't know what show format to use.

I certainly want to include ranting and monologing (see a theme here? I like to hear my own voice.)

I want to include true, actual amateur music of people like me who make sound for kicks.

I want to bring some of my fictional characters to life in a serial-drama format (cliffhanger type stuff).

Read poetry, comment on politics, tell jokes, fart into the microphone.

Etc. Etc.

Anybody have any ideas about podcasting? Want to help me put this together? Have material to send me?

Email me at:

yellowtavern at hotmail dot com