Monday, January 31, 2005
Thursday, January 27, 2005
It's Not Just a Vodka
Anyway. If you've ever heard Sibelius' gorgeous Finlandia, which you probably have even if you don't know it, you understand the type of emotional response it can stir. Sibelius composed it in 1899, and it became sort of an unofficial national anthem, representing God and country and all of that. Under Nazi occupation, symphonies in Finland were forbidden to play for fear of stirring nationalist fervor. Incidentally, this kind of control over artistic expression by an oppressing power always strikes me as particularly perceptive in its recognition of the subversive power of art, and particularly insidious (in its recognition and manipulation of same).
So, according to the story, there was a Helsinki orchestra performance at which some top Nazi officials were present. The orchestra intended to play Finlandia for the audience, but of course this was verboten. So they simply put a different name in the program, on the hunch that the Nazi officials didn't actually know the tune of the piece so much as the title, and they performed their Finlandia to the delight of the audience with Nazi officials sitting right there, happily swaying their heads to the tune. I picture the Von Trapp family performance of Edelweiss at the Salzburg music festival at the end of The Sound of Music, except with the added twist of deception. Triumph of humanity and civilization under the very thumb of brute fascism and all that. I'm just a sucker for that kind of thing.
I had hoped to put together a longer post on the relationship of art and theater and music with oppressive forces and the particular banality of the oppressors (it's completely fitting that the Nazis would not recognize the tune), and how at the same time this dissident role can cripple art even as it ennobles it... But I've got some banal tasks to take care of myself, so you're off the hook. Because Havel would have definitely made another appearance. Oh yes he would.
Nazi forces surrounded the city on September 8, 1941, cutting the nearly 3 million inhabitants off from all land links and from food and fuel supplies. The city had stocked enough to last for 1-2 months. The siege lasted 2 and half years. In the worst months, during the extraordinarily brutal winter of 1941-42, the residents starved on a ration of only 1/4 pound of bread a day, without heat, without electricity, and without water. 200,000 died in a two month period during this winter from starvation, hypothermia, shelling. Numbers vary for the total death toll, but good estimates put it at 1.1 million. The stories of what people did to survive, and the conditions under which they tried survive are as numbing and unfathomable as you'd imagine.
There was no land link, but there was water. And in the depths of winter, when Lake Ladoga froze enough for heavy vehicles to cross, supplies would trickle in across what became called the "Road of Life," and thousands were evacuated out on this icy highway. After the worst of the winter, the inhabitants had to wait until the lake thawed enough for the ice to break up so that ferries could run supplies in and residents out.
Irina's grandmother survived the worst months of the siege and was evacuated by ferry afterwards, only to learn that her favorite brother had been executed by Stalin's terror campaign years before. She said that her grandmother never had much faith in the efficiency of the Soviet troops, but was astonished by her evacuation. She ferried quickly across the lake under protection, and when she arrived on the other side, transport vehicles were revving and waiting and she was rushed into them and out of the way while troops provided cover from bombardment.
Dmitri Shostakovich began composing his seventh symphony during the siege of Leningrad, and he finished it after he was evacuated himself. Known as the Symphony of Leningrad, it was performed in the city during the siege to provide comfort and succour to the residents and to serve as a defiant statement against the fascist forces trying to break the will of the city.
The Russian suffering during World War II is scarcely imaginable, and it would speak well of us to remember and commemorate along with them.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
A Lion in Winter
Like today. Her Russian soul has been lifted over the last few days by the snow. She has regressed into a little Soviet girl flitting around Leningrad once more. At lunch today, she went out for some soup and she wandered under a building that has always reminded her of the Kremlin. "And you know, Syuzan, it was so nice with Kremlin there and the snow. And I pick some of it up, and it is—you know how there is different snows that are wet and dry—I could tell. This is professional snow. So I made the leetle balls and I threw them, like a few of them. And people kept looking funny, so I decided not to throw the balls but to make a leetle snow creature. Not a man. A creature. I was probably only democracy professional doing this today on street. " Yes indeed, Irina. I imagine you were.
On Monday, we had the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, of course, a national obsession that has long since puzzled Irina. So, naturally curious, she paused in her Monday morning commute to ask a pro-life protester why he was so obsessed with abortion. "I really want to know," she told me, "so I ask him—very nice man—isn't there other things, like disgraceful war in Iraq and like thousands people die in New York and social security going to take away the pensions like I came from Russia to escape, and so why this thing?" And as he was no doubt patiently explaining his viewpoint to this funny woman with her funny accent, dear Irina picked up on another detail. The man had two little babies with him out in the cold and snow. And Irina, well. Irina gave him hell. How dare you, what could you be thinking, take them home right away, it is so terrible for them.
This is why I love my office mate, really. Who else could get away with lecturing pro-life protesters on their criminal mistreatment of their babies?
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Man Dog Love
A Lion in Winter
Happy Snow Day ever'body!
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
I left my office around 6:30, and between me and my bus stop two blocks away was a solid, unmoving knot of screeching and howling vehicular traffic. Intersections were stuffed solid with an orgy of noses bumping fenders nudging rear doors sideswiping bumpers. And we freezing pedestrians meandered through this maze like water droplets trickling around stones and boulders in masonry walls. I could hear sirens coming from everywhere, and hoped that anybody in need had a Plan B. You could choke on the road rage out there.
At any rate, it was clear to me that I was not getting home any time soon. So instead I walked over to Dupont Circle to wait out the hysteria with a hot toddy and some books. (One reason I knew fairly quickly after moving here that despite our differences DC and I would ulitimately be okay was the presence of a great bookstore with a fully-stocked bar inside. Coffee is okay in a pinch, you know, but any place that encourages you to settle in with a Shiner and a new book is a step above.) As you may recall, Kramerbooks cafe was the spot that featured the genius Trent Lotte back during the Strom birthday scandal ("separate but equal parts coffee and milk.") They haven't left the puns behind. There was a nod to the holidays with an amaretto and oj drink special called the "I Have a Dreamsicle." In honor of inauguration week, we have drinks dubbed "Red State" and "Blue State," and there's a "Bushwhacker" as well. On the menu, I was tempted by the Condoleeza Rice Pudding. But it quickly descended from there. I detected on that menu the stale stench of angry desperation so familiar to me these days. They abandoned all pretense at witty puns and just made angry angry dishes. For example: Rod Paige's Terrorist NEA Chili. What does that mean? I don't know. But I understand. And if you want a big heapin' helpin' of bile a la carte, please help yourself to Gonzales' Torture Gorgonzola Tortellini. Prepared with dismay and served with a sigh. Again, I don't know, but I understand. I empathize with the tortellini. I do.
Where to begin?
Similarities Only Skin Deep: McNabb and Vick are both black but play quarterback position differently
Now, that's not the headline on the article - just the link and subhead description on the main page. I can't be bothered to read about pro football for more than 10 seconds, so I'm just left to hope that this is not an accurate summary of the man's article. I mean, really. How can they play quarterback differently? As it says, they're both black.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
I'm just a girl!
This was one of my rare visits to this math course, falling as it did right after my bartending shift at the Cactus, and although this was a 2pm class, I was inevitably bollocksed at this point and slowly tottering to nap on the soft, warm earth in the vicinity of South Mall. Or if I wasn't drunk, I'd inevitably run into someone on the way to this class, and we'd say, "It's raining! Let's go get a beer." or: "It's too nice a day! Let's go get a beer." or: "Does your nose itch? Cause mine does. Better go get a beer." (This is why we're glad that Sue entered the Real World prior to applying to graduate school. She had to develop a work ethic. Also: detox.) Thank God for grade inflation is all I have to say.
Anyway, back to math is hard.
One day, I went to class. And somewhere inbetween non-euclidean geometry and set theory, our professor stopped to ask us why we thought that there weren't more women represented in the upper echelon of the math world: department heads, academies of maths or whatever, etc. I did the quick calc in my head and figured, okay, so these math gurus are probably in their 60s at min, so they probably went to school in the early 1950s or 60s, when women were just starting to really make their presence felt in higher education at all... Probably we'll see these numbers correct themselves over time to some degree as more recent generations of mathemeticians become more prominent in their field, etc. I didn't think of other factors that have been ably mentioned by the many people now commenting on this topic, but that one seemed pretty satisfying to me at the time. (As a bonus: it also helps explain the equally pernicious but less blogosphere-debated hot-button topic of gender gap in symphony orchestras. Seriously.)
Anyway, because I've been oppressed by the patriarchy into keeping my mouth shut, I didn't offer my opinion. Luckily, a sweet young thing in the front row with Shirley Temple curls shot her little hand up, and this young woman who was a member of the honors program and thus the very cream of the intellectual crop at our university, announced that "Girls' brains are different from boys'." In the seat next to her a little pony tail bobbed up and down excitedly, "Yeah, it's true. Plus, women want to have babies so they can't, like, research."
I mean, Summers to a tee, right? I was aghast at the time. Is the best answer they could think of? I wondered. Did the last 50 years just not happen? Are these the critical thinking skills we're imparting to young women at our university? Should I have pointed towards my anecdotal evidence that beer is what makes girls bad at math? The point is, I've already been deadened to the shock of this line of thinking: Larry, you're just totally derivative of my colleague, Shirley Temple Head.
Friday, January 14, 2005
I'm beginning to see the light
Thursday, January 13, 2005
My Ulcers are Legion
Look, I understand that there are people that think this is not a bad thing. But let's be honest with what we're talking about. Empowering our intelligence personnel to use "extreme tactics" (hi, euphemism, how's it going?) may strike people as a valid, tough-minded way to get some information. People may think that not to play x-treme hard-ball with detainees is appeasement. Fine. But be prepared, then, to accept the ramifications of being a nation that condones this sort of thing, with the weighty symbolic backing of the White House no less. Realize what this makes us. Accept that we sacrifice our ability to advocate on behalf of our own imprisoned soldiers. Accept that we sacrifice our effectiveness in condemning regimes that do far, far worse. If you're willing to shoot craps with our long-term interests in order to justify a tactic prone to abuse and of uncertain utility, then let's be up front about it. The country I know and love is not a country that suffers such things lightly, but maybe yours is.
But you think I'm piping mad? Check out Andrew Sullivan:
THEY SUPPORT CIA TORTURE:
It's hard to find clearer evidence that Condi Rice wants to keep torturing detainees than the fact that the administration refused to acquiecse in a legislative ban on CIA torture last December. The techniques include Algerian-style water-boarding. Does Alberto Gonzales find that "abhorrent"? Will some reporter now do his job and ask Rumsfeld whether he endorses this CIA technique? The trouble with this president is - how do I put it? - he's lying. He publicly says he finds torture abhorrent, and yet he ensures that the CIA's expansion of torture techniques is retained. Remember that these relaxed CIA rules were widely disseminated throughout the military, where they are clearly illegal; and helped form the atmosphere and misunderstandings (or were they actually correct understandings?) of what was permitted and what was not.
I need to stop reading Havel once and for all. The cognitive dissonance between the vision and moral authority of a real leader and the cravenness of our current crop is just too painful. Is it too much to just want a leader who slams his fist down and says "No. We do not do this. We have no part of this. We're America, and we're better than that."
Well, it looks like if the leaders won't say it, at least Americans are. 60% of respondents to this USA Today poll reported that they were unwilling to support torture of known terrorists even if they had knowledge of a future attack inside the U.S. Depending on the question 70-80% think it is wrong to hold prisoners chained to the floor in uncomfortable positions, threatened by dogs, and other "frat boy antics" we've seen employed. Good for us. Faith in humanity marginally restored! Hoorah!
I can’t remember precisely when my mother told me I had been switched at birth, but it must have made an impression.
Like all children, I imagine, I nursed furtive fantasies that this prosaic suburban family of mine could not have produced me. My kin were the travelers in Narnia, the Murry children of a Wrinkle in Time. Many days I impatiently expected the portal to secret worlds to appear. It’s possible that I greeted her surprising news with more enthusiasm than she might have suspected. Finally! A remarkable tale of my very own.
My real family, it seemed clear to me, was an exiled coterie of royals; naturally there was never any question that I was actually a princess. My imagination never quite tackled the logistical quandary of what might have compelled the blue-bloods to Amarillo, Texas, but this mustn’t have bothered me. Perhaps they were fond of the rodeo.
In the end, my glee had only one insurmountable hurdle: I had been switched back. Rather promptly, at that. When my Mother noted the remarkably copious hair on her previously bald child’s head and found a different ID number on the little one’s bracelet, she ran banshee shrieking into the hallway. I’ve got the wrong baby! she yelped before being swallowed by a mob of nurses who had the fear of God or litigation in them something powerful. I was next door, in the arms of another woman (undoubtedly a queen), pensively wondering where her little darling’s hair had gone.
But dreams come true in funny ways. That I am indeed a changeling is the easiest explanation for how an Amarillo girl ended up with a wanderlust for those lonesome parts of the world so remote that they would have seemed like Narnia to a child. And as some will attest with rolling eyes, I did turn out to be something of a princess after all.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Oh, Pardon Us Ma'am
CATHERINE: GOD. if they try to pull that on me, i'm going to tell them i'm a prostitute flown in to service republican inaugural attendees.
I love a gal with a plan.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
How I spent my summer vacation
Here's the thing.
We all know that questions like these are begging for the dramatic personal narrative. Nobody wants to read an "about me" essay on "I like to read a lot" or "I once met Santana" or "I was switched a birth." [I actually was! But I was switched back pretty quickly, so the dramatic arc crumbles pretty quickly.] At the risk of jinxing everything, I've been pretty lucky in my life thus far. After the whole switching-at-birth incident, it's been pretty smooth sailing for me. And the people I do know that have had some pretty tumultuous and trying obstacles in their childhoods and young adulthoods are precisely the least likely people to trumpet these in some "about me" essay. Ergo, this is a bullshit topic.
Anything that is relevant to me has been carefully interwoven and subtly presented in my finely crafted personal statement that took me ages to perfect. Now I have to blow all that work with some throw-away garbage on how I used to be a clarinet player. You know, ask me for a writing sample, ask me for a relevant essay, but don't base even a portion of your admissions decision on my ability to tell an amusing anecdote. What I'm saying is, don't make me take out the mole story...
Hot damn, are gummi bears good. And only Haribo. And not the orange ones which are objectively vile. Oh somebody help me because I'm not leaving this computer until essays are done.
Outrage del Dia
...from your security budget. I guess Dick Cheney wasn't kidding: a vote for Kerry does make us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks...
[thanks to the Narcissists for the tip.]
Monday, January 10, 2005
I Know a Secret
Blogless Erik? Is blogless no more.
So let's all give a big blogosphere welcome to our newest addition. Sniff. Oh, I promised myself I wouldn't cry; I'm just no good at blog births.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
SueAndNotU: Now Featuring...
Friday, January 07, 2005
Old Dominion v. Sanity
When a fetal death occurs without medical attendance, it shall be the woman's responsibility to report the death to the law-enforcement agency in the jurisdiction of which the delivery occurs within 12 hours after the delivery. A violation of this section shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.
If you give benefit of the doubt, this is a criminally careless bill. If Cosgrove's intent is to indeed prevent newborn abandonment, I can think of a few very simply edits that ought to clear things up really nicely.
Until then, any Virginia residents, or those who still have legal residency in Virginia, feel free to raise some hell.
Your State is Red, My State is Blue
The message Mr. Gonzales left with senators was unmistakable: As attorney general, he will seek no change in practices that have led to the torture and killing of scores of detainees and to the blackening of U.S. moral authority around the world. Instead, the Bush administration will continue to issue public declarations such as those Mr. Gonzales repeated yesterday -- "that torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration" -- while in practice sanctioning procedures that the International Red Cross and many lawyers inside the government consider to be illegal and improper.
In broad terms, Mr. Gonzales offered the politically necessary repudiation of the Justice Department memo that said Mr. Bush could authorize Americans to torture prisoners with impunity and that redefined torture to exclude almost any brutality.
But it took a half-dozen questions by almost as many senators to get Mr. Gonzales to say declaratively that he now rejects that specific view, which the administration allowed to stand for nearly two years, until it was disclosed by news accounts. And then he equivocated astonishingly when asked whether American soldiers or intelligence agents could "legally engage in torture under any circumstances."
"I don't believe so, but I'd want to get back to you on that and make sure I don't provide a misleading answer," said Mr. Gonzales, who went through many hours of preparation for these very questions.
Dallas Morning News:
To his credit, Mr. Gonzales also resisted Senate Democrats' efforts to get him to comment on whether as a lawyer, he believed that the president had the authority to override the government's nontorture policies and international treaties. His terse response: "The president has said we're not going to engage in torture." It's a clear, precise answer that can't be misconstrued.
So far, Mr. Gonzales has handled these hearings with the class and incisive legal mind that prompted the president to nominate him. Mr. Gonzales has gone a long way toward dispelling the doubts about his ability to act as an independent attorney general.
I'm going to tell the Dallas Morning News editorial board that I am opposed to violence whilst punching them in the face. That ought to go a long way toward dispelling any doubts they may have about my ability to calm the fuck down while scoundrels who should be drummed out of the capital in shame are promoted and lauded and only suffer cursory barbs from a defanged opposition. I can't talk about it. I become literally incapacitated with rage.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Anyway, there was an anecdote that struck me, especially in light of my recent long-winded paean to Vaclav Havel and his thoughts about living under a totalitarian regime while trying to maintain dignity. I've thought about Havel a lot while reading this, actually, and how his thinking on dissidence was in reaction to a regime that at this point was far less brutal. He sacrificed and risked a great deal, and he suffered in prison, but there was more latitude in his activity. Were he a woman, he would not face death by stoning, or lashings, or arbitrary cruelty for the most minor expressions. Living with dignity in such conditions - how can it even be possible?
The anecdote gives an example. At the University of Teheran, where the author taught literature, there was another legendary professor of drama and film. His classes had no time limit - they might take three hours, or they might not. But no one could leave early, and no one wanted to. Film and drama students from other universities used to scale the university walls to sneak into his class, and would stand for hours to get a spot standing inside the lecture hall.
In the early days of the revolution, students were running havoc over the university in a frenzy of revolutionary idealism: they expelled professors, they ruined careers, they banned immoral books. Here's what happened in the drama department:
One day the radical students and faculty members of the Drama Department...convened to change the student curriculum. They felt certain that certain courses were too bourgeois and were not needed anymore, and they wanted to add new, revolutionary courses. Heated debates had ensued in that packed meeting as drama students demanded that Aeschylus, Shakespeare and Racine be replaced with Brecht and Gorky, as well as some Marx and Engels—revolutionary theory was more important than plays.
Then, oh how I love this, enters our legendary professor...
In a nod to democracy, it was asked if anyone disapproved of the new proposal. From the back of the room, a voice said quietly, "I disagree." A silence fell over the room. The voice gave as his reason his conviction that as far as he was concerned, there was no one, and he meant no one, certainly no revolutionary leader or political hero, more important than Racine. What he could teach was Racine. If they did not want to know about Racine, that was up to them. Whenever they decided they wanted to run a proper university and reinstate Racine, then he would be happy to come back and teach.
...[cries of condemnation, decadence, etc.]...
When he spoke again, it was to say that he felt one single film by Laurel and Hardy was worth more than all their revolutionary tracts, including those of Marx and Lenin. What they called passion was not passion, not even madness; it was some coarse emotion not worthy of true literature. He said that if they changed the curriculum, he would refuse to teach.
And that's just what happened. And that is the start of how a revolution devours itself, once it's finished with its best and brightest.
(Taking down Marx with Laurel and Hardy. Devastating. How can you not love that?)
Laugh and the World Laughs With You
Man #1: Aren't you freezing?
Man #2: Not really. Ever since I got hit by lightning I don't really feel the cold.
Man #1: Ah. OK, so anyway...
--Lafayette St. & Astor Place
Chick#1: What an asshole. Do I look like a transvestite?
Chick#1: Sometimes when a woman is tall and she's dressed like a woman, she really is a woman.
Chick#2: Unless you're in Chelsea.
Broker #1: That dog is really cute.
Broker #2: Yeah, but we still need more coke.
--St. Mark's Place & 2nd Ave.
Hipster Chick: So she's the heiress to like--what, K-mart or some shit?--and she can't afford to buy us all drinks? Fuck her!
Woman #1: It's really small, you know, but the sex is wonderful.
Woman #2: You mean he's rich?
Woman #1: Yeah. Exactly.
Stylish woman: Oh my god! This corn flan is amazing. It's corn...but it's flan...I can't even begin to describe it.
--North Square, Waverly Place
Smells Like Team Spirit
And just because I can't resist kicking an entire state when it's down (hey, I still have to keep my Texas citizenship active somehow), I feel it necessary to point out that when you click on the tab for Oklahoma City's newspaper, "The Oklahoman," you are not taken to the front page of the paper chock-full of local and global news and information. No, indeed. You are taken to a web form that says: "Submit A Story Idea - If you have a story idea or breaking news tip for the Oklahoman submit your information below." Translation: What is the news? We don't know! Where do we find it? Will you send us some? Help!! Okay, allow me to un-recommend Oklahoma journalism schools. And please, I pray to the good Lord for the strength to not fill out that form with: Breaking News! Oklahoma no longer justified in carrying out farce of legitimate statehood; probably ought to just give up and become exurb of Greater Dallas.
Monday, January 03, 2005
Gift of the Magi
But the day his guitar was stolen out of the car a few years ago was the Day the Music Died.
Therefore, I decided to be an Amazing Girlfriend this Christmas and get him a new guitar so that he could commence writing songs about me. As a side perk, I would thus also have access to a guitar. I am no rock 'n' roll superstar, but I hope it is not bragging if I suggest that I am an off-key warbling folk goddess. (I used to fantasize about finding a small town where all the inhabitants were tone-deaf and adored my renditions of CSN&Y classics.)
The plan was in motion. Blogless Erik joined me on a trip to the guitar store to pick out a suitable model, and he was sworn to secrecy. The gig was nearly up at Catherine and Tommy's Christmas party when a friend started to ask Kriston about his new guitar. But I gave her the "shut the hell up!" face before she revealed anything, and she managed to shimmy and shuffle and soft-shoe her way out of that conversation with no harm done. Somehow I managed to preserve secrecy, even as I honed my pickin' skills on his present. (You know. Just to make sure it worked). It was exciting. He's going to be so suprised! I thought. Maybe he'll even write a song about it!
But the joke was on me, or rather on us. Because at present-exchanging time, we both looked slack-jawed as each of us gripped in hand a brand-new guitar hand-picked for the other one. Reality only set in with the chorus of laughs coming from my sister and Erik, who had accompanied both of us separately to the guitar store without blowing the joke.
I haven't yet fully recovered from the supreme lameness of us, but when I do, you better watch out for our debut emo folk album coming soon to discount bins near you.