Friday, December 28, 2007

how democratic of them!

among all the "good" and "bad" judgments offered up to the reader of this tripe in the supermarket check out, i spied one tiny note: "you decide" next to Jennifer Hewitt's butt (I leave out her middle name since the addition of the middle name is no more than a branded trademark which we "consumers" somehow feel we need to repeat. But I do not say "please pass the Campbell's Fully Loaded Hearty Soup." I say, "pass the soup."). In other words, after the august debate recently over whether her body was indeed "fat" or not, this tabloid is generously witholding judgment. We Americans Will Decide. Ah, freedom.

"fully loaded" (1)

"fully loaded" (2)

Flo and Santa Claus

92 year old Flo, a Jewish woman living in the old folks' home I work at, wore in the week before Christmas several Santa Claus earrings. On Christmas, as I shuffled feebly about the dining room, I noticed she had on a bright sweater decorated with a dozen Santas. I wish I had had my camera.

"People ask me, why do you like Santa Claus," she said to me. "Well, he's a great guy. He gives you presents, and you don't have to sleep with him!"

Oh Lordy. Her humorous, and refreshing, lack of prudery says something about a difference between Jewish and mainstream attitudes toward the body. Also, her embrace of Santa as a (secular) symbol of mainstream society, even as she proudly asserts her minority identity, is a powerful act. At the same time she is asserting membership in a particular ethnic identity and refusing to let it be defined solely in opposition to the mainstream. Part of her Judaism is the generous and hearty embrace of a good guy among the Goyim -- Santa. Flo is an example of identity that does not devolve into walls of exclusivism. Oh Flo!

zigzag rocks

beetle-headed men

Isn’t there a way you can
help us get out said the woman
in the elevator everything’s
gone dark and still
and you’re a man after all
Isn’t there something you can
something you something
a beam of light broke in
anything at all
Rescuers hammered outside echoing
Down the shaft

Aren’t you happy to be
rescued she asked their faces
came into view they had peed politely
in a corner rescued at long last she
I feel so alive aren’t you
she said happy to be
she said Who are these
men he asked I was
content to die together in our
little place content oh so
It was so dark she said recoiling
letting go the warm arm embarrassed
at the reek of piss

Perfect he said it was unscarred
by light I am so Get those beams
outta my face get those beams
Gleaming beetle-heads
dragged him out outta
my face he said
It was discovered he
had sabotaged the
elevator he had
done an excellent job in
marketing research they said the woman
makes a superb egg nog on the
holidays isn’t she just the isn’t she aren’t we all so lucky she said

Eyebrows arched earnestly
The poor man she said saying It’s a shame
she said We just love your
egg nog we’re all just so lucky to
have to have been and to just
so so wow yeah my eyes did
hurt right at first eleven hours
you know it’s a long time long she
didn’t say With him she didn’t

But now I’m oh so she didn’t
let on how close she’d felt to
the guy who’d trapped her he
well he won’t be back at his desk she
shivered and dealt the cards
shivering he Die together here he'd said and oh how
you know it all was so she cries and
Can’t explain to her husband this
ominous weight of weeks so she
just smiles she smiles she
that’s right a real
trouper a thing like that can you even
imagine! Oh if only oh
but how could I ever I mean
he’s crazy but she doesn’t
ever doesn’t ever say it she
builds a new smile she

December 27, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

an "internet wow"

I just had an "internet wow." I was browsing around looking for websites from which to improve my arabic, a language that has haunted me like a white whale since the early nineties. I came across the one above. It is a language learning site -- but it does this by pairing people all over the world. So, the old idea of the language exchange is suddenly going global. Berlitz is toast (in my imagination). By using Skype technology, I can potentially meet someone far away who can answer my questions about the dad-blasted Arabic article I have spent days poring over. And help them learn something as well. Or I could pay him or her. WWWWWWWWWWWOOOOOOOW.

It is almost as if the whole earth suddenly were becoming crystal, transparent below my feet. . .as if I could look through at faces peering through from the other side, just below me. Imagine everyone in the world being able to talk over the internet for very cheaply! For a myriad of aims! (yes, bad ones too). A Yemeni woman wants to know how to make pumpkin pie out of jack o lanterns? Here I am. I want to henna my nose? She is there for me. Oh, the places we can go. . . .

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Star Trek's Jews

I was surprised to hear a group referred to as "the Ferengehs" on one of the later Star Trek program. According to my younger brothers, they fit the stereotype of the wandering, greedy Jews who live by commerce and usury.

What makes this truly weird, though, is that "Ferengeh" sounds quite close to the Arabic word for "Frank" or "Frankish," the medieval name for Europeans, specifically, Crusaders. The word even now refers to Westerners in in general. Ifranj is the plural in Standard Arabic. Of course the "g" sound is typical of Egyptian Arabic.

What little impulse was spinning through who's sleep-deprived head as the series was being produced?

Spanish words from Arabic

I found this interesting, if rather bombastic, page. Most of the Spanish words listed I do not know, but some I do (alcalde=mayor, etc). I remember when I learned the word "azafata" last year (for air stewardess) I thought, this has to have come from Arabic. And it does.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Taxi to the Dark Side

This link discusses "Taxi to the Dark Side," about the corruption of the rule of law that occurred in the US military once it began to torture. I found the link on a website for the Association of Christian Veterans of New Jersey. The director decided to do the film after reading the last paragraph of a NY Times story, where an interrogator says that even after they had decided the man they were beating was innocent, they kept beating him. And he died. It was murder . . . which started out as torture. . .which started out as fear. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.

"political jokesters" (1)

"political jokesters" (2)

"political jokesters" (3)

"political jokesters" (4)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"all options are on the table"

this phrase, whose only purpose is to threaten military attack without using the precise words, is one of many examples of the corruption of our political establishment. euphemisms such as this become useful for allowing thuggish behavior to put on a mask of civility, like an ogre lurking about a costume ball. the values of this rank establishment (who are neither left nor right but devoted solely to profit) are so pervasive that any candidate for president who dares to argue that some options should be kept off the table will be pilloried.

how dare you take away our sacred right to invade sovereign nations on the slightest pretext? thus speaks our spineless plutocracy, which lacks the guts for accepting difference in the Other -- which lacks, in short, the guts for peace. which lacks the courage to do away with the nuclear "security" blanket.

i wanted to draw the figure of a thug posing as a gentleman, but it seemed beyond my rough skills, so i drew a devil in a tux instead. i know this is to make my point with a sledgehammer, but -- oh well.

erotic manipulation: soap as food

this trend, of marketing soaps and lotions as practically good enough to eat, is not new. i guess it must be 10 or 15 years old. think of the rise of soap marketing: the obsession with erasing the natural smells and excretions of the body from social space, the paranoia over smelling "human," the expulsion of the animal from the person. in that light, selling soap of coconut creme or luscious mango is an interesting trend. the body, long since swept clean of all that is unpleasantly animal, is now a blank screen upon which a censored, fragrant version of nature can be re-implanted.

this is a good example of the way american industry makes good money off of the emotional, sensory, social, and erotic deprivation of most americans. these complex cravings are manipulated through the mouth and the nose. people grow fat through loneliness and the junk food offered them to ease the condition. it is only a small step to make non-food industrial products smell like food, and ride the same gravy train to maximum profits.

Reagan was a Nuke Abolitionist

One of the more compelling articles I have read recently is by Jonathan Schell in the December 24 edition of The Nation magazine. One reason it is so compelling is that he cites 80s history to argue that Reagan was in fact a strong proponent of total nuclear disarmament. He was not so when he first came to office, but by 1983 he had realized that nuclear deterrence was morally wrong. His announcement of the Star Wars initiative in that year was meant to make nukes strategically useless and so "pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the weapons themselves."

Apparently his top officials were caught by surprise by this proposal, which included sharing the SDI technology with the Soviets.

At the Reykjavik summit in 1986, he and Gorbachev discussed the elimination of their entire arsenals. For a few days this dream hung in the air between the two men. In the end, disagreements over how SDI would be tested and shared scuttled the dream.

I grew up in the Reagan years, and supported him because my parents did. Since then, I have realized how he harmed the US in so many ways. But now I see there is more to the eye than what the Right chooses to emphasize: that he was a lion who conquered evil through force or the threat of force. And there is truth to that. He did rape central America because he feared, somehow, that Cubans could conquer the US from the south. But I am glad to find that this lion of the Right was in favor of nuclear disarmament, even as the current establisment, right and left, seems completely paralyzed and incognizant in the face of the danger of nuclear weapons to human survival.

The article is called, "The Old and New Shapes of Nuclear Danger."

"al-andalus without arab muslims"

just now i have been listening to a program on Public Radio International called, i think, "afro-pop." this segment deals with jewish music in africa. amazingly, the section on the restoration of christian monarchies' control over the entire iberian peninsula in 1492 makes not one mention of arabs or muslims, who were expelled and persecuted alongside the jews. likewise, the observation is made that jews lived and thrived in "al-andalus," in spain, from the 8th to the 15th century without a word to hint that "al-andalus" was an arab kingdom. and finally, no mention is made of either arab or islamic civilization in north africa, where most of these iberian jews sought refuge after the reconquest of spain. by using the name "north africa," the commentator is able to avoid the messy reality of history: that in iberia and north africa, jewish civilization intertwined with arab civilization. at the end of the segment, a moroccan jewish singer sings an algerian song. it is arab music, plain and simple. but the word is never spoken. the interconnectedness of the peoples of the middle east does not fit the mainstream media's neat and orderly narrative of "ancient hatreds" and other myths -- myths which are so profitable to the military-industrial complex.

kids' cereal scam

one of many recent examples of candy brands and companies attempting to branch out into other products. cereal aimed at kids make good money off of their brand recognition, which does a great service to the fattening of the american populace. but kids are not the only vulnerable ones. one of the most popular ice creams recently at the retirement home i work at is "butterfinger crunch."

a walk down the cereal aisle in a poor neighborhood is more egregious in this regard. i had to look around in my local stop and shop to find these highly produced, visually manipulative cereals. many cereals there were aimed at health conscious middle and upper class adults, who will have little truck with candy disguised as cereal. the packaging is sober and respectable and replete with words like bran and nutrition. but i remember in inwood in manhattan, my god, the cereal aisles there were frickin' ridiculous. even the "grey ladies" of cerealdom, the grape nut-type products whose packaging has hardly changed in 50 years, were tarted up with impish cartoon characters and multi-colored marshmallows.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

laundromat, snowy night

brother and cat

obama's fans

a few days ago i went to a meeting for people wanting to volunteer to get out the vote ("GOTV") for Obama in New Hampshire in the weeks leading up to the primary.

the place was packed; there were 50 or 60 people in a space meant for 20. the most interesting part of the meeting was when the operatives gave the volunteers a chance to voice their views. i was amazed at how many spoke of the desire to be part of history; of the sense that obama and obama alone could "restore america's place in the world"; that his election would seal the speaker's sense that america had really gone beyond the battles of the past. one 10 year old spoke as well, using the word "recession" and brandishing a copy of Time magazine with Obama on the cover. everyone clapped. what filled the room was faith and desire, often expressed in moving terms.

i think i was the only one who voiced a pragmatic view: that he was not far enough to the left for me, but that he was the only realistic alternative to clinton winning the democratic candidacy. while he is clearly acceptable to the establishment power brokers, a fact which has muted the fieriness of his speech over the last few years, all the same he takes some principled positions, such as his stance that all nuclear weapons should be removed from existence. clinton will not follow suit, "leaving all options on the table," in the cowardly euphemism of those who would threaten others with annihilation and still pretend a civilized demeanor.

what i saw was an obsession with personal charm and charisma -- with celebrity, in short. no man or woman, no matter how heroic, can change history. it is hard enough to know oneself, let alone know and master a nation. while desire is a sacred thing on its own, in politics we need reason as well, instructing desire, testing the facts, and comparing them with what we wish to be. while i admit obama's charisma, it means little to me. in many areas he falls short for me: he lacks the courage to really say anything outside the narrow mainstream regarding palestine, for example.

and i think the idea that someone charismatic can "transcend" politics is absurd and even dangerous. what is this wish but a fantasy of evasion? of giving up the hard work of thought and negotiation for the easy dream of becoming a passive specatator?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"flying horses," 1893

i love photos which break open the illusion that the past was never alive. while many old photos give us a sense of real existence, their stillness makes them seem eternal: the people gravely pose, knowing they will never die. this photo (an enlarged copy of which is hanging in new haven's union station) is so different; the movement of limbs, even the joy of the boys in that movement, is evident. we can believe that that grinning boy, and the little one straining to keep up, were flying like the horses of the fire engine. we can believe they kept right on moving and one day died in circumstances not at all like those of that moment when the shutter went "click." see the firefighter still pulling on his boot!

parallax aesthetic

the other night my brother rented "the parallax view," a conspiracy thriller starring warren beatty from 1974, whose visual creepiness was more important than the details of its plot. not only were the settings all bland and unmemorable to the point of monstrosity -- corporate buildings, convention centers, parking lots, escalators in airports, dams -- but the camera too conspired to act normal. in other words, the camera did not hype or privilege particular details. nor did music "cue" our nervous emotions. we see beatty reasoning, without him saying a word, that a bomb is on the plane on which he is travelling. we see him write a note on a napkin; he slips it into the middle of the pile from which the stewardess is drawing as she serves drinks. as he sits and drinks his coke and waits for her to discover the note, we wait too. in silence. the camera simply watches the cart inch forward, getting farther away. it is that cover of dead mundanity that cannot be broken (or he will be suspected) that oppresses. within the texture of everyday moments horrors exist, wedged into economy class, open secrets that penetrate everything. we see two people discuss assasinations in a parking lot outside a supermarket, at a kids' softball game.

sure, horror movies always start out with happy bucolic scenes like kids' ball games. but this film did not shove your face in sentimentality. its eye was cold, as cold as a surveillance camera. and that coldness of looking, and waiting, and knowing, and being trapped in that cold, mute, deaf landscape -- and welded into that way of looking -- was its own suffering.

as i got in the car at the parking garage tonight in new haven, i leaned over looking at a train opening its doors and thought that that view would have fit into the parallax view: the deadness of a modern center of finance, cleared of human imprint, where people scurry about, useless Lilliputians.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

security, taiwan style

i cannot imagine this kind of sign in the US. in this country, the concept "security" is always connected to great size and bulk. many people buy SUVs, thinking that they will be safer in accidents. this cultural notion of security is so deeply rooted that i laughed immediately upon seeing this sign in the taoyuan international airport in taiwan. of course, there is nothing illogical in the fact that small dogs can sniff out dangerous or illegal things as well as large ones. but i suppose it takes a small country, one not obsessed with safety through brute strength, to see such possibilities. and not laugh at them! security through smarts and agility? hmm, i don't know.

its pretty cute, huh? "police beagles"! what a name for a new reality show. . .

formosa girl

Monday, December 3, 2007


i wish i had a photo of this. at the anthropology conference i was walking with my mom and dad through the lobby of the hotel on the way to a job interview. we came up behind a man with rather long dreadlocks. he was holding a baby of a year or less on his shoulder. this little tot was happily munching on one of dad's dreadlocks! how adorable he was. . .

envelope, on-velope

standing in line in the post office a mother came in with a little girl. "put the on-velopes in the slot," said the mother, and the girl made her way through the people to the slot. i thought to myself: is that a new york pronunciation? i grew up saying "envelope." but was that what my classmates said? or was i copying my western-born parents?

growing up in suburbs is to lack a common origin. i don't even know if my pronunciation of this word is due to the "local" pronunciation or that of my family. i don't even know what "the local" is. or was.

the mother steadfastly avoided making any eye contact with the people in line. she kept her attention focused steadily on her daughter. many people who live here would feel bound to make a small gesture of politeness, such as a quick smile to the person nearest her, an acknowledgement of the cuteness of the girl. this habit is not because of any local custom or practice, but the lack of one. in this lack, people are super polite.

so i concluded, from two pieces of evidence, that the mother came from new york. it is amazing. even with such a blurred notion of place and origin, we can still find clues -- we still dare draw conclusions.

please pardon our progress

i saw a sign with this sentence on it in the marriott hotel where i attended an anthropology conference in washington dc. the sign was next to an escalator which was not working.

normally, such a sign would say, "please pardon our appearance." in other words, we are sorry for making you look at such a mess.

but now some corporate official has decided to apologize for progress. there is a logical problem here. if maintenance work is defined only as "progress," then why should anyone be apologizing for it, asking our pardon for it, or pardoning it?

it is a disingenuous masking of an already polite phrase. it reminds me of the story of victorians who found other names for "table legs," as if switching words could bring less offense to the delicate hearer. changing the word "mess" or "appearance" to "progress" is a kind of linguistic tarp placed over a construction site. but it makes no logical sense, as well as looking excessively fawning. in their haste to please customers, corporate people are muffling polite phrases which are covering something ugly.

or is it ugly? is maintenance work really ugly and offensive? or is it simply mundane? is the real reason for its physical and linguistic screening and muffling not about viewer's delicate constitutions, but rather a prudish corporate obsession with image?

imagine a police officer running along a subway platform shouting, "please forgive our security!" as another officer comes running along behind, in pursuit of a criminal. as a commuter is pushed onto the tracks below, the officer turns hastily and calls out, "sorry for making you safe like this!" what is asked forgiveness for is not security -- an abstraction close to meaninglessness -- but a concrete situation differing from the norm.

corporations always run from the concrete in any case, except as a sensory tease to get consumers to spend money on uniform, abstractly planned and engineered products.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

REM political?

i have always thought REM used politics as material for a sort of abstract modern dance. they filled their songs with references to the world of politics and ideology: radio free europe, guatemala (a clear political reference in the eighties), leonid brezhnev. . um, i can't think of any more, but i am sure there are more. anyway, they made a kind of culturally aware ambience which, when one listened closer, made little sense. their songs were like abstract paintings in which elements were pastiched in without clear relationships to one another. i felt stipe was hiding away from clear meaning -- and maybe the draw of his music was in part this enigmatic quality. although there have been, especially in his later music, plenty of songs which did make a clear kind of sense, like "night swimming" or "losing my religion."

finally last night i heard him sing an openly political song. or two, actually. i saw them sing on tv. and i do not think their impact suffered from clarity. clarity does not have to mean a loss of poetic eloquence. if anything, the second song he sang seemed to clearly depict a yawning abyss of uncertainty which is, in itself, a political position for peace. in other words, he has not lost the power of the ambiguity that he wields so well: he has just positioned it more obviously within this concrete historical moment.

but then again, didn't he do the same thing with "its the end of the world as we know it" -- albeit in much cheerier vein?

the song ended with him crying out "why? why? why?" i will have to find out the title of the song. thank you, michael stipe, for not being afraid to step up and connect to our common crisis.

fish and visitors. . .

a visit to faider's seafood in baltimore's old lexington market informed me of the source of one of my favorite sayings: "fish and visitors smell after three days." i was wrong. it goes, "fish and company go bad in three days." and ben franklin coined the saying.

east asian car culture

for some years i have seen on taiwan's streets this sort of tail light: silver casing studded with red lights. this look was a kind of thuggish car counter-cultural symbol: only bad boys modified their cars or scooters in this way. i suspect this style came from japan, as much of taiwan's pop culture does.

i guess that nissan drew the inspiration for this tail light's color scheme from this same street hood car culture.

baby, a work of art

this is little elliot with his grandma. elliot is sojung and hojun's baby. hojun is my korean classmate. i was lucky enough to have all of them visit my and my brother's home for a few days last week. at the entrance to their apartment in new jersey the mirror and lamp seemed a good backdrop for a photo: baby as work of art.

affordable housing: dirty word

Dear Editor, December 2, 2007

In recent years, I have noticed in Madison a swing away from the most deleterious aspects of suburban life. Perhaps due to influence from New York City, cultural life – whether it is the quality of the Shoreline Times writing or the presence of a farmer’s market or writing group -- is flourishing. The excellent article (Nov. 28) on builder and designer Chris Dowler was yet another indication of a shift in thinking about suburban life. I applaud Mr. Dowler’s attempt to remove the stigma from the term “high density.”

If “density” has been, in Dowler’s words, a “four letter word,” then the term “affordable housing” must be considered outright blasphemy. Ever since I was quite young, I was aware that this term was a code for something bigger. Indeed, I now see that the negative interpretation of “affordable housing” lies at the very heart of what a suburb is.

What is a town? A town is a place where people of different classes live. What is a suburb? A suburb is a place where people of one social class are allowed to live. Or, more accurately, it is a place where people below a certain income threshold are excluded by legal and regulatory means, such as rules on minimum lot size.

Madison is a suburb which was once a town. The physical remains of the town are carefully preserved, but the heart that made this place a town is gone. One can drive along older roads in Madison and see small houses on small lots, remnants of a time when Madison was still a town, when having a modest income was not grounds for exclusion.

I would like to challenge the post-1950s notion that the presence of working class people is a threat to quality of life or even to property values. After all, these wage workers care for us and our loved ones when sick, cook for us, and paint our nails. Are they not fit to live near us? Are their children not deserving of good education? I support the building of affordable housing in Madison. In this era when racial biases are eroding, we ought not to let class prejudice go unchallenged. Let’s make Madison a town once again.

Friday, November 23, 2007

"be the hammer"

tonight i saw a cadillac advertisement on television. cadillac has, in the space of ten years, gone from old man car to asshole car. this ad proves it. it shows a young white man, with stubble and a suit, driving a shiny red cadillac SUV in a tunnel. he talks in his head about how people always told him "the nail that sticks out gets the hammer," and that being different is bad.

suddenly he hits the gas, and raucous guitar music sounds, and he says, "or, you can be the hammer."

in other words, rather than growing the callouses needed to take being hit, or being tough enough to be different and take the shit the world throws at you for being different -- just get high on power. and, naturally, as the one in power, you can hit others for being different. for getting power virtually requires that one trade in one's true uniqueness. wonderful message. be an asshole and anesthetize your inner being with an injection of egotism. yuck. this commercial, unfortunately, reveals the schizophrenic soul of our society. but it has the virtue of being honest -- unlike the sentimental animated films full of messages about being yourself and accepting difference, while the movie business model is driven by celebrity, and power worship, and conformity.

leaving arizona

today there was a young guy scrubbing down the front of the stoves in our kitchen at the retirement home. i had seen him playing bingo with alzheimer's sufferers a couple of days ago. as he scrubbed away i asked him what brought him to volunteer here. his answer was unexpected. he raised his loose mop of hair and said, "I got fined 24 hours of community service for drunk driving."

it turned out he had dreamed for a long time of going to arizona state university and living the rest of his life there. he had visited resorts in the mountains, and fallen in love with the state's natural beauty. he had looked forward to partying as well. three months after going out there with high hopes for his first year, he was back, deeply disillusioned. "when i woke up in the hospital trying to rip out the IV in my arm because i was so messed up by the drug, i knew i had better get out or i'd end up dead," he said. someone had slipped a "roofie," or a date rape drug, in his drink at a fraternity party.

what scared him was the sense of danger on all sides: from homeless vagrants on the streets of tempe, to untrustworthy fraternity brothers, to brutal police. the wild partying stimulated wide public support for iron-fisted measures in response. "if you run from a cop, he will beat you down," he said, admitting nostalgia for the madison police. when i told him i had gotten a ticket for jay walking in tempe 15 years ago, he nodded his head, saying it was like that before, too. possession of pot is counted as a felony, he said. and the new university president was cracking down on fraternities, driving them off campus so as to limit liability.

it sounded like a nightmare to me. all his non-arizona friends out there had decided not to stay enrolled. a clash of a demagogic police state and a mindless pursuit of inebriation, on a mass scale. the phoenix area is home to sherrif joe arpaio, who wins election after election by promising to demean and break down offenders with pink prison garb and work camps.

what can one expect from a society growing economically, but totally cut off from the natural environment? there is an aggressiveness inherent in the political atmosphere there, an aggressiveness that comes from the system of wealth creation, which is based on relentless erasure of nature. wealth there is a mean train that leers at you and warns you to stay the hell out of its way -- or else. arizona scares me. if it is that mean when its train is chugging loud and strong, think how mean it will be if and when the housing market crashes!

black friday

black friday, the huge shopping day after thanksgiving, is becoming a folk holiday of its own, like popular festivities that grow up around official feast days or state holidays. this morning alicia, a cook and young mother, stumbled in saying she had only slept two or three hours. at four she had lined up at Wal Mart in Branford. the line stretched across the lot. with police present, the line was orderly.

but the moment the doors opened, a tremendous energy swept the crowd. people clapped and cheered, and pressed forward. the line disintegrated. alicia's face conveyed the excitement of the moment, as well as the madness that took place within the store. she told of people scooping up a dozen of a particular product, ten laptop computers. she laughed telling of people grabbing at the same thing, of the loser cursing out the winner, of the quicker grabber giving the other the finger at his demand and running away.

there was grabbing from the store as well. she saw a guy put a camera in his pocket; but no alarm went off, even though there are devices inside the cameras. someone must have turned the detector off, she said. she told of people she knew who in past years had stolen things. it was a fever of running, quick decisions, cooperation with friends, grabbing, piling high. it was laughter at the absurdity of the situation, of alicia pulling two loaded baskets by herself, of seeing people spend 1200, 3000 dollars at the checkout. of people cursing loudly when, ten minutes after opening, the Dell computers so eagerly snatched up were announced as recalled!

the store benefits, overall, from this carnival atmosphere, even as there are inevitable losses. the catholic church, too, must have made similar calculations at carnavals of the past: there are excesses, sure, but they revel in the name of the Lord.

amazingly, while the pleasure of collective madness accrues to the mother, she also anticipates another pleasure entirely different: "i do it for the look on her face when she opens the presents up," said alicia, "that makes it all worth it." but clearly this moment is not the only reward: black friday's excitement belongs all to the mother.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

the swan's in the park

the cutest thing, as we walked over to pick up E from school, was W (A's dad) chanting forcefully in rhythm with his steps, "the swan's in the park, the swan's in the park," while A, on his shoulders, tagged along arhythmically in her little voice, "swan's in the park. . .swan's in the park." my sister K carried her at first, then W took over. there was indeed a swan in the park, busily eating.

80s: cold but mushy

in New York a few nights ago i came across a box of old videotapes left out on the sidewalk. i am a packrat, so i rifled through them and brought some home. today i popped in "Nine 1/2 Weeks," from 1986. It was terrible. Nothing but Mickey Rourke's smug smirk -- did Bruce Willis learn this smirk from him? -- and the female lead looking uncomfortable.

beyond the erotic story, i noticed two aesthetic elements whose combination says a lot to me about an "eighties aesthetic," or maybe even something more, a cultural zeitgeist, a current of sentiment. almost every scene used white, cloudy light, which lent the scenes a stillness. and many scenes also used soft, cheesy music, keyboard tones from easy-listening pop songs. in other words, the scenes are suffused with cold light and overly soft music. we see the two people making love on a bed, on a kitchen floor, on a table; behind them are venetian mini-blinds pierced with this chill white light; after their climax a keyboard sounds a few saccharine-sweet notes.

it is an odious combination, like heavy perfumed wafted into a sterile office or parking garage, something false dolloped atop something exceedingly chilly, even harsh. like a sugary donut eaten on an empty stomach -- or worse yet, a ring ding made three months ago in a factory. you get the picture. yuck.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

corn in central park

this is just a tiny bit of proof about how certain themes current in the social unconscious are everywhere. the movie poster for will smith's new movie shows new york as deserted, with corn growing in central park. just as these hollywood script writers were toiling away on this movie, i was thinking up a novel i would like to write, about political crisis and the suburbs. an image that entranced me was the lawns of once-coveted suburban homes turned into cornfields due to the flight of the wealthy to the cities. clearly, the fascination with decline, decay, return to survivalism, the possibility of existence beyond or below industrial civilization is extremely powerful in this country.

i feel sure these fantasies exhibit desire for freedom from the structures that constrict and shape everyday life. there is a desire for destruction, and release. the idea of planting one's own crops is fascinating: for the supermarket to disappear, for a new relationship with the earth. oddly, in this particular movie, this fantasy is a solitary one. there is no new ordering of society; society just disappears!

even Toyota. . .

even Toyota has succumbed, lemming-like, to the massive, long-term trend toward fierceness in headlights. interestingly, there have finally been some good looking tail lights on cars recently. but even as head lights get more sophisticated in their elements (individual bulbs disaggregated, as in the land rover headlights), the overall "tone" and shape of these lights is to mimic angry, glaring eyes, projecting aggressiveness. the overall sameness, even with small variations, is tiresome. somehow efficiency and competence, the cultural values most prized in our economy, are seen as inevitably ruthless. there are some counter currents, toward boxiness -- the scion, honda element, the new jeep four door, which imitates land rover's high roof.


here are my neice and nephew who live in New York, looking at ducks in a pond.

public art

New York has some great public art. Here are two examples from my visit there the other day -- one in the NR Canal Street subway station and the other in Morningside Park. The bottom one is curious -- drawing you into looking for meaning where there is none. The graphics are little enigmas.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"your money" (1)

TV: "on CNN tonight, a report on how the government is spending YOUR MONEY on pork-barrel projects."

man: "my money. . .?"

"your money" (2)

TV: "senator Clinton's health care plan would cost 65 billion dollars of YOUR hard earned money."

man: "MY money."

"your money" (3)

TV: "is YOUR money being sent to educate other people's kids, in other districts?"

man: "my money!"

"your money" (4)

TV: "today congress approved 148 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little debate."

man: "our troops!"

Saturday, November 17, 2007

oh, the arrogance

As her former top aide, Philip Zelikow, puts it: "The paramount problem is what is the future of the Arab and Muslim world and how it relates to modernity and globalization. What do they want to be when they grow up? … The Palestinian issue is not at [the] center of that framework, but moving down that process is essential to progress because this issue is a source of constant resentment across the Arab world that makes it harder to focus on the future. They keep looking at this open sore instead of thinking of what they're going to do tomorrow."

I came across this quote in an article on Rice's efforts to put together a peace conference between the Israelis and the Palestinians, written by Newsweek's Michael Hirsh. Hirsh made no comment on these absurd comments, as if to agree tacitly with the notion that Palestinians were somehow stuck in the past simply because of cultural immaturity and not the monstrous fact of military occupation. How patronizing, for this official living in total comfort and privilege, to make such comments. If only these towel heads would think about the future, instead of about trivial details like lack of rights, sovereignty, respect, water, health care, etc etc. Surely, if we Americans were in their position, under foreign rule, we would have already turned that desert into the next Hong Kong! The arrogance, the arrogance -- which is just another word for the laziness of privilege.

the internet and democracy

this is an interesting interview with legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who argues that the internet is increasing political polarization, by allowing and encouraging people to only view things that suit their preferences. some of his reasoning i find to be shallow, such as arguing that some opinions are "inherently" more believable -- without regard for how a person is situated vis a vis opinions. but overall i think his reasoning has basis. i know i often seek out only leftist or liberal views. it is comfortable. but then i also crave contact, debate, combat. i feel bored just reading what i already think. so i do sometimes seek out conservative blogs, and it fires me up -- and makes me more sure that tolerance for difference is a civil religion we desperately need. and in no way does tolerance for others mean we must temper our opinions or the fierceness of our clashes.


these are two photos of my wife, Sara (Yiqian), in Taiwan this past August, right before we were married. the top one shows her (barely) with her mom and grandma.

backyard, fall morning

Friday, November 16, 2007

in my day. . .

today in the lounge of the assisted living residence where i work an old man commented to me how fast everyone drives on I-95. "i go 65, and never pass anyone. i guess in my day i drove like that, but not anymore."

what a curious phrase: one's youth is "one's day." furthermore, youth is not a matter of days, but "day." does "day" here mean something like "era" or "time"? if someone says "in my day," is the implication that the current age belongs to other, younger people? or is it instead that each person has a different "day," a personal era when one was at the height of powers and beauty? and this day is only spoken of in this way when it has already gone, as if the sun is only spoken of once it has set. . .a phrase of melancholy, but also of pride.

"i wanna get my boobs done," said a 17 year old girl in the kitchen at work. she is a nice looking girl, in her day if anyone ever was. but she does not see it that way. she wants to buy some accessories that are inserted under her skin.

the "your money" lie

i will get to this post soon.

"gifted and talented"

A while ago a wreck of a man appeared at one of the tables I served in an upscale nursing home. His name was Sid. He carried an oxygen tank in his walker. His ears stuck out, his eyes sagged and bulged open at the same time. But even this shell of a man lived with a habitual gusto. He devoured his food like there was no tomorrow, so unlike the pained picking and prodding of the rest of the residents. He asked for his sundae with the rest of his meal, and left a semicircle of crumbs and stains on the table cloth when he shuffled off.

His voice was special. It was raspy and big and windblown. His expressions were flamboyant, idiosyncratic. Once when I set down all his food with particular style he said, “B--, you’re a chaaarm!” Another time another server came into the kitchen laughing. “You know what Sid said to me? He said, ‘I want a baloney sandwich. Pile the baloney as thick as my no-o-se!’” Just these tiny crumbs of speech make me wish I had worked there when he was healthier, or known him in his life outside.

Then last week I heard from another waiter he had died. I had only seen him for a couple of weeks. One night as I was carrying a tray of dirty dishes and glasses to the kitchen I saw a woman whose face I felt sure I recognized. Her face was vaguely reminiscent of Barbra Streisand. “Mrs. Lehr,” I said behind her. She walked into the elevator. I repeated her name, louder. She turned, and I hurriedly explained who I was – that I had been her student in fourth grade, some 30 years before. “I’m flattered he still recognizes me!” she said to the person she was with. She explained that her father had just died, and I realized her father was the voracious Sid. I told her I was sorry to hear that. I was excited to have seen her after so long, but I let her go.

I realized she had not been my regular teacher, but the teacher in a “gifted and talented” program, which I attended once a week. A couple of days later I saw her again, with her husband, and I was able to talk to her a little bit more. I told her how much I had liked her father, even in his weakened state. Apparently he had been an athlete and an all around presence. She said she remembered my love of history, unusual for kids my age. I said it may have been related to my Mormon upbringing – all those stories of our origin in persecutions of the 1830s and 40s. I told her I was studying anthropology. I asked her her name.

Later that night I told my Dad on the phone I had seen her, and he said at the time they had wanted to continue me in the program but could not afford it. They had felt bad about it. I was surprised to know there was a fee attached to the program. Frankly I remembered little about it, other than that it was fun and more focused on ongoing projects than regular classes.

How strange it is that Mrs. Lehr’s appearance in my work place should stir up this memory. My very presence in the kitchen of a nursing home attests, not only to my lack of money, but to my philosophical rejection of an elitist meritocracy. I chose to be in this place, at age thirty eight, grabbing slippery silverware from plates and tossing them into a basin, slamming the plates against the inside of the garbage can to dislodge their food, stooping to hear old people sigh, “I guess I’ll have the tuna melt.”

It is one of the happiest job experiences I have ever had. So unlike the definition of power in this society, whereby greater position means the luxury of separation from others, in this job I am constantly in contact with dozens of other people, of a wide range of social and cultural backgrounds. As I race about, scooping out ice cream for dessert, or taking out the laundry, or setting out cookies for afternoon snack, the currency of staff interactions is to make little jokes or comments. We are like ants constantly rubbing antenna before hurrying along on our busy ways.

So within a ten minute period, I might interact with over a dozen different people, from South American waitresses, to Italian-American cooks, to African-American CNAs (certified nurses assistants), to a smattering of WASP types like myself, to high school “bad girls,” to old Yankee and Jewish blue bloods tottering about on walkers. Literally every moment one is adjusting oneself to meet and mirror a different person, like a city on speed. Especially in the kitchen, the banter flies fast and thick, and is almost a necessary part of the work itself. This constant ebb and flow of talk, a glorious flotsam and jetsam of complaints (what happened to the tartar sauce??), insults (bite me!), high spirits (singing along to radio songs), confession (I was abused as a child) and random commentary (Abe just took out his false teeth!), is the best cultural work there is, an ocean of words in which self and other are both merged and distinct.

I shine in this milieu, giving of myself and my creativity and quirkiness, but only in interaction with all their distinct personalities and qualities, which shine as well. The best of society is not a zero sum game where one person’s gain is another’s loss, but a place where all flourish together in a mad give and take. The premise of “gifted and talented” education is that weaker people hold back the stronger. That is wrong. Because of all these working class people and their diverse spirits I shine brighter than ever. And they too shine brighter because of me. Utopia occurs right there in the middle of wage labor.

If one person is held back or held down, everyone suffers. This explains why the division of peoples by class, race, gender, and worst of all, consumer choices, dims the bright explosive light that flares up with true communion of spirits. But everywhere this hidden sun of humanity peeks through in tiny pinpricks of light, in kitchens and train stations and barracks and schools the world over, anywhere people are pushed together, oppressed, press-ganged – into an earthly, earthy nirvana.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

out like a trout

even the high school kids working in the kitchen have their moments of artistic language.

the chicken had not been cooked. the two high school girls in charge frantically thought of ways to heat it in time. fuckin' richard, said the real tough one, every time somethin' happens, before it happens, he's out like a trout! out like a trout, i laughed.

that's right, said the other one, also from guilford, out like a trout in winter.

how could i have never heard this one before?

crass like a bass? they smiled at this, but i was clearly just bullshitting. it lacked the force of common acceptance.

on my aunt's baby daughter

on my aunt's baby daughter, said the cook, i would never, ever treat someone that way. she was leaning forward over the steam table, forearms resting on the shelf for the plates, looking at us. she was swearing, taking an oath, on the most sacred thing she knew: the precious wriggling girl born of her aunt. she herself is childless. this little girl, unknowing, had become the witness for her utter truthfulness. this baby was her bible. if anyone doubted her word, we were daring to doubt the purity and pricelessness of that baby girl!

99 year old woman

you have such a nice smile, the old woman was saying to tamara, a personal aide. doesn't she have a nice smile? she asked me. i set down a paper place mat in front of her.

wouldn't it be good to go among the colored people to find a boyfriend for her? she asked me in low tones.

you're too young for 99, laughed tamara, shaking her head. i placed a knife and spoon on her place mat.

do you set the table at home? she asked me. yes, i said.

that is so wonderful, she said. and is your wife the only one, and you've never forgotten what it was that made her the only one? yes, i said.

i know, she said. you do it so you can sit with your paper and she will bring you coffee. i tried saying something but she was already somewhere else.

i haven't seen a nice boy like you for such a long time, she said, reaching out for my hand. i let her take it. i had one just like you, with blond hair and blue eyes. the aides laughed. i am not blond.

do you know how i met my husband? she said. at a party. he came in the door, saw me, and said "You!" he came over and said, I'm going to marry you. And he did! i began stacking cups out of the dishwasher.

if she heard two lines of (italian name), she said, she would go crazy, she said to me about tamara. so, sing it, i said. she croaked out some alien words. tamara was still sane.

i had ten years of music, she said. don't be afraid to let your children know opera. let them sing it in the house. i will, i said.

will both of you work all your lives? she asked.

probably, i said.

i never saw her speak, i said. she has her days, tamara said to me.

her words had a mysterious force, as if coming from somewhere very far away, as if her head were above a layer of clouds but her words were still audible. her nose was slightly hooked, her hair short, her eyes bright. i imagined upper society pasts for her: a flapper at parties, or in an opera box. was she a performer? she had that "qizhi," Chinese for personal aura or air, or the tautological "character." it was a grandiosity of statements still operating, even if the brain was more and more muddled, 99 years from the source. she was becoming an oracle.

Monday, November 12, 2007

palaces in the clouds

the above article tries to explain the financial crisis currently unfolding around us. i do not get the details, but the whole thing looks like a complex Ponzi scheme, where money was borrowed from one person to pay another, and it kept working as long as money kept pouring it, buoyed by fictitious "structured finance," fairy tales of endless profit. the whole thing is a case of money built up like palaces in the clouds. down thunders the rain.


When I was little I remember very clearly the day my mother taught my Sunday School class, the one where the killing of Joseph Smith was described for the first time. I remember her voice catching, her tears, shocking us children to silence. I remember the awful details of the event retold, the guns' muzzles belching smoke and fire into the room through the doorway, the "Joseph, I am a dead man" from Joseph's brother Hyrum, the pathos of the scene, of Joseph himself falling from the window through the bullets of the mob below. That word "mob" was so prominent in these stories. . .and even though we were suburban children in a wealthy country, those stories of our collective origin in persecution marked us all, I think, in ways hard to really understand. We were part of the mainstream, we would listen to the pop music other teenagers listened to -- but we had a secret identity. We revered a martyr. I remember very clearly this was the first time I understood that word, enunciated reverently by my mother, with tears in her eyes, in that classroom. She explained it to us. We knew.

I wonder if the Mormon Church still uses the word "martyr" in its teaching materials for young people. I wonder if the shadow of the religious war believed in by most Americans has fallen over this invisible minority, the Mormons. Has the word "martyr" been so stained by association with Muslim fanatics dying in suicide attacks that they no longer dare use it? Simply describing his Godly self-sacrifice in a linguistic detour around the precise word that denotes all this?

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I love this word. It connotes dogged effort in obtaining something: specifically, a patient working at something with one's fingers, wiggling it free. Think of a bent nail in a board. What do you do? Nag at it, work at it. Or better yet: think of a bit of meat between one's teeth. One keeps at it with tongue and tooth until it comes loose. We do not use finagle with these situations, because finagle refers only to a metaphorical wiggling loose. Did the word in the past have a "physical" meaning? I do not know, but I suspect so.

Now it is mostly used in bureaucratic situations, to convey the effort and flexibility needed to wiggle a desired result out of a complex process. "Let's try to finagle it so we are approved for a business rather than a personal loan." Actually, there is an element of manipulation in this example: the weak side using strategy and opportunism to get a certain result.

Is this word yet another Irish Gaelic addition to english? (see article below). No, what am I thinking? This word must be from Yiddish. It rhymes with "bagel," right? Being a linguist is really so easy.

Today at the place i work an old woman poked her head in the kitchen and asked, "could I finagle a cup of milk?" In using the word, she was exaggerating to humorous effect the labor and difficulty of her own request.

kat kong

i saw the children's book of this name in the RJ Julia Bookstore in downtown Madison. wow. i will try to get a photo to post here. mice capture a vicious tom cat and exhibit him in the big city. cat rampages.

regression through cheese

a major technique of advertising is humor, and a big strain of humorous advertising is laughing at the way adults become children in their unreasoning craving for a certain product. my god, these ads are all over the place. and they are funny. but isn't one laughing at the fool who is reduced to an infant state for a starburst or some other industrial edible?

just tonight i saw one on tv. it was for subway. a husband and wife and their son were walking by a subway restaurant. the husband saw the poster for the philly cheese steak sandwich and said petulantly, "that sandwich is so cheesy good, gimme one right now, right now!! i want it!" he threw a tantrum. the woman said, "jonathan, please don't act this way." we are still in doubt who this male is. then the little boy breaks it to us by saying, "Dad, come on, act your age." he flails his arms and stamps his feet. the next scene shows the baby/dad pacified, munching satisfiedly on his sandwich, mom/wife looking on with weary knowingness.

i wonder why this type of advertising is so prevalent now. is making people laugh at themselves considered effective? or is it more a sympathetic laughter regarding the (purported) human weakness of greed, turned into a charming foible to be indulged? is there a breaking of taboos in a comic way: its OK to be irrationally attached to a thing. but i think it is also significant that this advertising seems to be used mostly for food. the link is clearly made between regression to childhood and oral fixation -- in the case of the subway ad, the wife turns to responsible mother mediating the baby/husband's pleasure.

bizarre, that's what i say. peurile and pitiful. it might be said to critics like myself: lighten up, its just an ad. i would respond: if lightening up means accepting a debased view of humanity, a humanity captive to greed, i don't think i will lighten up, thank you.

the real push behind this kind of advice -- which is heard all over the culture, a blanket popular condemnation of all sorts of critics as people unable to just relax and get over their bizarre hangups like morality, thought, ideals, and other assorted eccentricities. "lighten up" is just another term for "detach from one's own reactions" to experience. if one can lighten up, detach, let go, deaden one's responses, one can get used to almost anything!

i am put in mind of what my coworker in the kitchen at an assisted living facility said. yesterday she revealed she had danced in a topless club some years back. today i asked her if the experience had changed her view of men. she said she had been able to differentiate the pigs and tyrants and the lonely ones. and she said she had been able to separate herself from what was happening to her as she stood onstage. she shed that "onstage self" once she left the club. i was just addicted to money, she said. and in the process damaged her liver and wrecked the cartilage in her knees, from kneeling down for the men's viewing pleasure.

lighten up enough and all kinds of horrors become acceptable -- such as destroying an independent state through unprovoked invasion. saddam did it to kuwait in 1989. we did it to iraq in 2003. how fast we learn!

oh that melty melty cheese. just focus on cheap bodily thrills (preferably solitary ones like fast food -- less messy than sex) and tune out that big bad world. regress! and enjoy!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Humdinger of a Project: Tracing Slang to Ireland

Growing up Irish in Queens and on Long Island, Daniel Cassidy was nicknamed Glom.

“I used to ask my mother, ‘Why Glom?’ and she’d say, ‘Because you’re always grabbing, always taking things,’” he said, imitating his mother’s accent and limited patience, shaped by a lifetime in Irish neighborhoods in New York City.

It was not exactly an etymological explanation, and Mr. Cassidy’s curiosity about the working-class Irish vernacular he grew up with kept growing. Some years back, leafing through a pocket Gaelic dictionary, he began looking for phonetic equivalents of the terms, which English dictionaries described as having “unknown origin.”

“Glom” seemed to come from the Irish word “glam,” meaning to grab or to snatch. He found the word “balbhán,” meaning a silent person, and he surmised that it was why his quiet grandfather was called the similarly pronounced Boliver.

He began finding one word after another that seemed to derive from the strain of Gaelic spoken in Ireland, known as Irish. The word “gimmick” seemed to come from “camag,” meaning trick or deceit, or a hook or crooked stick.

Could “scam” have derived from the expression “’S cam é,” meaning a trick or a deception? Similarly, “slum” seemed similar to an expression meaning “It is poverty.” “Dork” resembled “dorc,” which Mr. Cassidy’s dictionary called “a small lumpish person.” As for “twerp,” the Irish word for dwarf is “duirb.”

Mr. Cassidy, 63, began compiling a lexicon of hundreds of Irish-inspired slang words and recently published them in a book called “How the Irish Invented Slang,” which last month won the 2007 American Book Award for nonfiction, and which he is in New York this week promoting.

“The whole project started with a hunch — hunch, from the Irish word ‘aithint,’ meaning recognition or perception,” the verbose Mr. Cassidy said in an interview on Monday at O’Lunney’s, a bar and restaurant on West 45th Street. He has worked as a merchant seaman, a labor organizer and a screenwriter, and he lives in San Francisco, where he teaches Irish studies at the New College of California.

He pulled out his pocket Irish dictionary and began pointing out words that he said had been Americanized by the millions of Irish immigrants who turned New York into an extension of the Ghaeltacht, or Irish-speaking regions of Ireland.

“Even growing up around it, little shards of the language stayed alive in our mouths and came out as slang,” he said, spouting a string of words that sounded straight out of a James Cagney movie.

“Snazzy” comes from “snasach,” which means polished, glossy or elegant. The word “scram” comes from “scaraim,” meaning “I get away.” The word “swell” comes from “sóúil,” meaning luxurious, rich and prosperous, and “sucker” comes from “sách úr,” or, loosely, fat cat.

There is “Say uncle!” (“anacal” means mercy), “razzmatazz,” and “malarkey,” and even expressions like “gee whiz” and “holy cow” and “holy mackerel” are Anglicized versions of Irish expressions, he said. So are “doozy,” “hokum,” “humdinger,” “jerk,” “punk,” “swanky,” “grifter,” “bailiwick,” “sap,” “mug,” “wallop,” “helter-skelter,” “shack,” “shanty,” “slob,” “slacker” and “knack.”

Mr. Cassidy chatted with an Irish-born worker at O’Lunney’s, Ronan O’Reilly, 21, who said he grew up in County Meath speaking Irish. He nodded in agreement as Mr. Cassidy explained that Irish survived in New York as slang.

“It was a back-room language, whispered in kitchens and spoken in the saloons,” Mr. Cassidy said.

Mr. O’Reilly nodded and said, “Sometimes my friends and I will use it amongst ourselves, sort of like an underground language.

“Some of your words here sound like they are taken straight from Irish, even expressions directly translated, like ‘top of the morning’ or ‘thanks a million,’” he continued. “In Ireland, we pick up American slang from TV, like the word ‘buddy.’”

Mr. Cassidy laughed. “Buddy,” he contends, actually comes from “bodach,” Irish for a strong, lusty youth.

Another employee came up, Lawrence Rapp, 25, who said he was an Irishman from London, where the art of rhyming slang is practiced.

“If you have to piddle, you say ‘Jimmy Riddle,’” he said.

Mr. Rapp said Londoners often used the word “geezer” to describe people, and Mr. Cassidy pointed out that the term derives from the Irish word “gaosmhar,” or wise person.

“Even the word ‘dude’ comes from the Irish word ‘dúid,’ or a foolish-looking fellow, a dolt,” Mr. Cassidy said. “They called the guys dudes who came down to the Five Points section of Manhattan to chase the colleens.”

He showed a passage in his book that notes that the Feb. 25, 1883, edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the coining of the word “dude,” referring to, among other things, a man who “wears trousers of extreme tightness.”

“You dig?” he said. “‘Dig,’ as in ‘tuig,’ or understand.”

this is from the November 9, 2007 New York Times.

peace group forming

The Source
Letters to the Editor
Re: Madison Anti-war Group Forming

Dear Editor, November 9, 2007

In our market-organized society, people tend to sense the occurrence of crises only through the narrow lens of prices. But by the time a social or political crisis begins to affect prices, the crisis is already well advanced. The crisis of American power in the Middle East was masked until September 11. After that day, this crisis has grown clearer, not only to close observers of the region in Madison, but even to apolitical citizens, through the rising price of gasoline.

It has often been said that indifference to politics, even stupidity, is the right of citizenship in this country. I beg to differ: rather than a right, indifference is in fact a privilege. Moreover, this (fool’s) privilege is fast disappearing as the crisis overseas spreads to the shores of the nation, in the form not only of rising prices but in political failure at the center. The situation is akin to the spread of a cancer from some small corner of the body to the central organs. The days of suburban – and American -- insularity are disappearing. One can buy security, but not peace of mind.

I welcome this new age with a spirit of openness and possibility. Terrorism and war need not entail greater defensiveness and hostility: peace is a choice made of courage.

I would like to welcome people interested in taking a deeper look at American power beyond our shores to join an anti-war group to meet in Madison. Guilford, which has long had a peace group, possesses a proud tradition of civic engagement. We Madisonians need not sit on the sidelines, narrowly focused on our own “island” of investments and privileges. In any case, this island of class privileges is intimately connected to American power in the world. Whether one wishes to preserve these privileges or distribute them differently, it is our duty as citizens to understand the linkages between morality, power, and privilege. The era of optional attention to the undersides of power is ending. Rule by experts is no longer working: greater democracy is the only (good) answer.

For anyone interested in such a group, please e-mail me at We can decide the shape and format of this group together.

Thank you,

"not-profiling profiling" (1)

A: so, we're gonna "map out" Muslim communities in LA? Aint that sorta. . .racial profiling?

B: Nah, it ain't racial, or religious, or any kind of profiling. It's "research" so we can improve "services."

"profiling" (2)

A: it's not "religious"? then what's Islam, a lifestyle choice?

B: well, no, its a . . .hereditary condition!

A: and what are these "services"?

B: better wiretapping. . . you know, nice crisp digital sound!

note: the point about the mapping project not being religious or any other kind of profiling but an activity related to "service" provision was made by the LAPD's public affairs officer on NPR's "All Things Considered" on November 9, 2007. And how much do these propaganda robots get paid to peddle patent falsehoods?

"patriots" (1)

A: so now they want government-controlled health care! since when has government done anything right?

B: you said it! cut taxes, i say. . .starve the beast!

"patriot" (2)

A: and the schools are cramming secularism down kids' throats! home schooling is the only way in this corrupt culture.

B: and Hollywood!

"patriot" (3)

A: you know what i say? ship all the liberals off to Kali and New England, and let em have their Marxist paradise!

B: let em grab-ass and gay-marry all they want!