Friday, August 18, 2006


I have met a lot of people here in Tennessee that I almost certainly would not have met in Michigan; partly because Tennessee is growing, partly because my social circle is necessarily rather ad hoc down here. Not that I did not know any religious people in Michigan, or drug dealers, but I certainly did not tend to live with them in rather close quarters.

One person I met was a young guy who had lived in Saudi Arabia with his father, who had some ongoing business in the KoSA. Some people think SA is terribly anti-American; while I agree that it is rather bigoted, certainly Western society, as a whole, presented a similarly depressing picture back in the day. And that is what I took from this young man. First, the Saudis are not under any illusions that the KoSA is rather unique: when you disembark you are required to sign a document that informs you, in stark language, that the penalty under sharia law for many minor offenses is either death or something close to it. We find this disturbing. I would find it far more disturbing if they tried to cover it up or claim it was normal, a la the Islamic Rebublic of Iran. KoSA is every bit as exceptionalist as the U.S. but in a different way: homeland of Mecca and Medina, SA is almost the Vatican, the Solomon's Temple, of the Islamic world and, indeed, as you might expect of the Papal States, the royal family is terribly weak unless, and only unless, their official acts are seen as completely orthodox and conservative; then they act from a position of strength. Note that bin Laden turned professionally anti-American when the King allowed American soldiers in the Kingdom only to repel Iraq from Kuwait. That act was a radical change and radical change is bad.

How old-fashioned is Saudi Arabia? This kid told me a story of tooling around the desert in a dune buggy until his old man cut it short. The father saw, on a far dune, horsemen: the bedou. In the old days, the bedou made pocket change by raiding and kidnapping. Since it is hard to tell if a man cares he is living in the 21st century by his distantly-viewed face, the father got his kid out of there in a hurry: they were known to hit isolated targets even today.

It is romantic, in a way, to think of the bedou, old even in the time of Christ, as a going concern. It is also a bit frightening, given that even the city Arabs and Turks found them troublesome and rebellious. It is a living reminder of the age of the world and the thin veneer of civilization papering over all that blood and strife, just as I feel when I read, pace some blogger, that the age of the iPod is in fact powered by electricity usually generated by coal.

My landlord is another type I had not met in Michigan; an ex-Colombian living in the U.S. College-educated, his first name is Adolfo. He was named after Adolf Hitler.

He was born in 1960.

As it turns out, his grandfather was severely burned in a barn fire as a boy. He ended up in Germany, which was the only country which could, more or less, repair burns of that extent. Apparently, in addition to the medical care, the young man was quite impressed by the Nazi response to the Depression. And thus "Adolfo".

The truly humorous part of all this is that the grandson is quite liberal. I mean, Socialist. Which means simply that he pursues the same old bad ends from an international, not chauvinist, perspective. One might be tempted to suggest different ends. One might also harbor fantasies of a Five Year Plan for peace in the Middle East. According to this guy:

- Vincente Fox is all for the rich. (Yeah, what did those lousy Morgans, Fords, Gates and Astors ever do for America?) The next Mexican President, of a different party, will also be for the rich.

- The U.S. government dictates currency devaluation in all of South America.

- South Americans are only allowed to buy Esso (you know, Exxon) oil while the Norte Americanos must share their home market with British Petroleum. The same goes for cars, soda, &c. This is the way the U.S. wants it and Europe and Japan meekly accept this.

- France is full of diplomatic geniuses thwarted by that cowboy in the White House.

- South American pharmaceutical companies produced "generic" anti-HIV drugs before the bad U.S. free-trade agreements. The term "pirate" never occurs to him, just as it never did to the Russians I met who thought Linux was a bad deal when you could "distribute" MS Windows for the cost of a CD-R.

- He has no idea why South American unemployment skyrocketed in the 1990s. Apparently, the thought that Malaysians, Taiwanese, Koreans, Chinese and Indians are now in the jobs market does not occur to him, nor that the Norte Americanos also suffered from this dislocation.

- The Chinese will soon overtake America as the great power. Their crippling bad debts and political rigidity does not occur to him, nor that they may suffer the fate of the Japanese. ("Our Economy Is Stuck On Suck.") Nor does he think that trade will tie their war hand.

This reminds me of the great blog post on the Arab Parallel Universe. In fact, I see one of the commenters spelled it out: "Man, I feel so related to this post: change Arab Parallel Universe for Latin American Parallel Universe, and you get almost the same. And I thought we were [the] land of Magical Realism!"

Apparently, our State Department sucks far more than I thought: these thoughts are the common currency of people who do not read hard news. Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus indeed. What do we pay those goons in Foggy Bottom for, again? Are we no longer the land of Madison Avenue? Deep down I know that America was like this back in the day: Washington and Adams both risked ultimate defeat in negotiating peace treaties with England and France because the great mass of American opinion, among the low, in those days was virulently paranoid about aristocratic, monarchial, European influence on our way of life and our government. We were lucky to go through that then, before the age of nukes, before suicide bombers and sarin gas.

"I am not a Pillar, but a Buttress, of the Established Church. I support it from without."–Lord Melbourne

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Where's somercet?

I will get the address for everyone soon, which reminds me that I will have to take it to the bank to change the address there. The phone is cell only. I am writing this at work because the Internet connection at the new place is wireless and I have no Wifi adapter.

New landlord: nice guy. Stupidly liberal in that weird, So. American way. He does outreach for Latinos and the Catholic Church. If you think some Americans are paranoid about Wal-Mart, go talk to a Latino. You will get a whole new appreciation of living in a country that does not hate capitalism. Politics aside, he is pretty cool for a total neat freak. I did laundry all day today, and have a bunch of clothes in my closet with a floor fan blowing the air in on them. I am bunking on my camping pad and a blanket, using my sleeping bag for warmth. I am enjoying the wonderful, whole townhouse cleanliness while I can, before I am embittered by excessive housework.

Oh, and don't bother with the Fastmail address, either. That is unreachable as well. Please write me at Dell, although that means that any pictures you send me pretty much have to be pried out of email and sent along to my home (long story). In fact, if you have any pictures, please send them to Fastmail. I will get them eventually.

Oh, and I saw my first black widow spider last night, just outside my new place. Something new everyday, huh?

Clerks ii or, the reckoning

Sometimes, one of the hardest things in life is to admit what you really want. Gay kids used to suffer from this a lot, of course, and now have champions who denounce all who might drag them back to the opposite sex, but in truth, most of this confusion is purely human.

Currently, we have a society with rankings, slowly and ever changing, that provide good enough lives for the majority and opportunities for the minorities to negotiate different lives. Our generalized others have priorities. Some people think it possible to eliminate this; I think any change will simply substitute one bigotry for another. Eliminate all social ranking and a few will be happy without oppression and the majority will flail about looking for guidance. (You may try to convince me this would be better; you may also teach a pig to sing, if you like. As I noted, a good society allows the dissatisfied to spend their time however they wish.)

Are you satisfied working a counter nights? Do you like "fat" chicks or "loser" guys? Do you think Hudson Hawk is sorely underrated? Is reality television the greatest thing ever? Do you really not want to get married? (Most twenty-somethings who denounce marriage and/or kids do so in the same way that eight year-olds pronounce sex "icky" and may safely be ignored in my little poll, or you may regard them, per my theory, as breeders unwilling to admit they do wish to hitch up and squeeze out a few puppies.)

Either way, how do you know what you really want? And if you figure it out, will you proclaim it proudly or skulk in the corners?

In 1994 Clerks. was a cornerstone film for me. Kevin Smith described my life perfectly: annoying customers, romantic failure and buddies driven by American pop culture and pr0n. Wanting a cinematographer and cash, Smith created a pure comedy of words not seen since the Marx Bros. were at the top of their game. I was dating Stacy at the time. I love her still but hindsight shows what I knew but did not want to know at the time: we were not working out and we never would. I was twenty-five years old and had worked at Majik Market, Gateway Shell and the Speedy Marathon across from the Kalamazoo Fisher Body plant (since closed). I could quote any Bob Dylan song you could name. Smith's world was mine.

Twelve years later, Smith gives us Clerks II. In purely cinematic terms, II is a little under-written. (I am almost aghast that Smith found no time to brutalize the Star Wars prequels, and am surprised that Smith seems unwilling to include politics, which is, in the 21st century, a kind of pop culture.) May I perish before including spoilers, but Randal's speech at the end was crunchy because Randal has to admit what he really wants... and it made me think.

I am living 531 miles from the place I called home before it drove me from its shores (bear with me, I am feeling poetical) with watered-down Socialism that the paranoid voice-in-my-head tells me is designed to "right-size" the native population for some purpose obviously nefarious because it is otherwise senseless. I have never been too fond of Michigan. A lot of people criticize it for being unfriendly, something I, in my perma-bubble, have never noticed. Some people in Michigan, though, were and are important to me. Some I loved are now dead. Two of them are not only alive but ready to kill me for leaving. I have known both for more than twenty years: unimaginable for a kid who moved around all his young life. The one I loved enough to marry. The other, again pace Kevin Smith, "Hello, I'm Jay and this is my hetero life-mate, Silent Bob." (Really, we even look like them!) And, of course, I have my own little rugrat who specializes in adorability and obstructionism.

Leaving was not easy. I am living farther from my family than anyone else I know. My brother was further when he left Allentown, PA for college in Wisconsin, if only by a couple hundred miles (and our extended family was there in Greater Cleveland for emergency outreach). But here I am. Why? My wife told me, some time before I left, that if I did not have a job it was because I was not looking hard enough. My reply now is, boy, were you right. I had to look a lot harder, and farther, to find one. Was it worth it?

A hard question, that. I think I still have not found my niche in life. I am good at computer support, but would rather work on the server side of things. I may never be qualified for that. On the other hand, maintaining this blog is reawakening my taste for writing. I know I have not written much lately, but if you only knew how much this job exhausts me. I am an unpeople person in a people job. But really, I have never known just what I would be best (or just really, really good) at. I read biographies where people meet a person who changes their track entirely or helps them on the right one and I almost explode with envy. I am, of course, thrilled to be making money. Everyone down here is pretty upbeat and friendly. Life is stressful but fairly rewarding.

I may never know what I want, but I know what I need right now and, apparently, TN and DOC are it. It sucks a bit that not everyone is completely supportive, but enough of the right people are and I can not ask for anything more.... Well, heh, who am I kidding?

Definition: the generalized other is not "what the people you know will think", it is "what the people the people you know will think." The people you know are significant others; we know this because you, uh, know them.

Modern Grotesque

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