Forever's gonna start tonight

Tuesday was BOGO day at the local Subway franchise. For those of you who are ignorant of the English language, BOGO means "buy one get one [free]". It's a little more elegant in chinese: 买一赠一.

Now I'm no big fan of Subway. And the one thing that makes Subway good in the USA - giardiniera - is tragically unavailable in China. Moreover, there's another sub place in Beijing, which is non-chain, much cheaper, actually has good bread, and has cheap, good french fries too. (China-living compatriots, this place is a godsend, it's called 站点 (Tube Station) and it's across the street from 北京师范大学 near the 北太平庄 bus stop on 新街口外大街, just south of 三环路 and within walking distance straight north of 积水滩 subway stop.)

But Subway is on the bike ride to school, and 站点 is definitely not, so Subway has that going for it, especially on BOGO day.

So here I was sitting in Subway, reading the survey history of modern Japan by which I hope to become interested in Japanese history, when all of a sudden the background music starts playing "Total Eclipse of the Heart". As many of you know, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is one of the best songs of all time, and probably the best song of the 1980s. (Can anyone think of any rivals? Possibly something off Slippery When Wet.) Good music is hard to come by in China, so this was a beautiful moment for me that I wanted to share with you all.

The only moment that might rival it was last summer when I was walking by Mr Pizza, which has speakers outside playing music. This nerdy-looking Chinese guy was walking toward me, singing along without a hint of self-consciousness, belting out, "Unbreak my heart! Say you'll love me again!" A good song too, tho it obviously falls short of "Total Eclipse of the Heart". But the guy singing along transformed what would have been quiet appreciation into a magical China moment that I'll never forget.


Big day today

The East Asia Summit meets, the first regional grouping that has excluded the United States (tho American clients Japan, Australia, and New Zealand all made it in). Important elections in Bolivia, which could bring another left-wing leader to power in Latin America. Elections in Iraq too. And most of my remaining grad school applications are due.



Winter started for real in Beijing ten days ago. That means terrible cold and strong winds off the Mongolian plains. I was just walking around for 10 minutes yesterday and my fingers went numb. Beijing winters, alas, have almost no snow. During the summer they fire mortars into the sky to seed the clouds and make it rain. I don't think they do that during winter to help out the poor American boys from the Midwest who miss the snow.

I now have a regular 20 minute bike commute from home to school in cold and wind. The onset of winter doesn't seem to have driven many Chinese people off the bike lanes, and half of them don't even wear anything on their head. My bike ride isn't so bad, really. The nice thing is that the cold makes you forget how your knees hurt from riding a bike that's too small into the wind, and dodging other bikers and cars helps you forget about the cold.



I'm sitting here in my fairly-sweet apartment near Beijing's 北五环路/Fifth Ring Road - to give an idea of how far away that is from everything, the Sixth Ring Road is just a planner's dream. I'm eating 烧茄子 (eggplant in sweet brown sauce) and some Lay's stewed bean curd meat flavor potato chips (no actual meat) - you lose a lot foodwise when you come to China, but you also definitely gain some important things. I'm listening to The Smiths, reading people's blogs, and feeling leisured for the first time in about a month.

The main problem is applying to grad school, but I've at last finished a rough draft of the personal statement and sent off transcript requests today. Granted, I'm willfully ignoring half a dozen other things that really should have been taken care of by now, not to mention the great looming need to deal with a writing sample, but the time pressure feels slightly diminished. Applying to grad school isn't really a hardship, but it is a constant pain in the ass with task after task that must get done, accompanied by nagging anxiety on whether you'll actually get in.

In any case, China is treating me well, aside from the pollution-induced headaches. Sorry to fall mute to everyone, as the grad school stuff continues to diminish I'll try to keep in touch better.


Another victory against corporations

Here's a story that can give us inspiration:

A small group of dedicated activists used their passion and righteousness to bring corporate giant Sony to terms and forced the record company to release the unjustly imprisoned album Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple. Using street protests and innovative demonstrations involving foam apples, the dedicated members of Free Fiona have finally triumphed and the album will be out October 4.

Well, actually there was some miscommunication and the album wasn't so much being withheld as it was victim to bickering between a spoiled music star and her recording company over how many more hundreds of thousands of dollars she'd have access to. But we've all learned a valuable lesson about the power of solidarity: as Fiona says, "It's good to know that if you organize you can make change, because that's certainly not what I was doing."


The unemployed expat in Beijing

I decided to take a nap Saturday at 4pm, and woke up Sunday at 6am. Jet lag and this miserable cold I've had since I got here, "THEIR POWERS COMBINED...!" and all that.

Yesterday I paid far too much for mediocre Vietnamese food at one of those dimly-lit restaurants around 后海 whose main attraction is that they ooze pre-revolutionary Chinese decadence, which they accomplish primarily thru dim lighting. But when all the people you were taking classes with get jobs in the business sector and start making expat wages, this is your lot in life.

Meanwhile I've spent a lot of unpaid time on job stuff that may or may not produce anything, and a lot of time looking for apartments whose rent is unreasonably high just because they're in the English-language listings. This place I looked at yesterday had a bed that was essentially an extra-long fold-out card table. For 1500元! (Last year I paid 1200, itself inflated, at a place that was nicer and had an actual bed.)

But this is all so much grumbling and I'm actually happy to be back. Even tho Chicago has a lot more that I like (and is much easier on the lungs), being there feels like sitting still, here feels like moving forward.


3 things that let you know you're back in Beijing

The sound of a saw in use is omnipresent;
you can see elementary school kids being drilled military-style out your window;
a thick blanket of pollution blots out the very sun.

Return to Red China

Here's the numbers for the Chicago-Beijing trip:

Hours spent in flight: 16
Hours spent waiting at airports: 8
Number of times security people were assholes: 2/2
Cost of 740 ml bottle of water at O'Hare: $2.63
Cost of 596 ml bottle of water in Beijing store: $0.11
Cost of mediocre medium-sized burrito at LAX: $8.11
Cost of breakfast at the Beijing hotel that the American businessman I was sitting next to is staying at: 150 yuan (~$20)
Cost of a meal at a typical Chinese restaurant in Beijing: 10 yuan (~$1.50)
Number of books I took with me: 27

The contrast in water is particulary striking. It would have been one thing if O'Hare had its own counterpart to Midway's Midway Springs bottled water (the marketing brilliance of selling water ostensibly collected from the clean, all-natural surroundings of an airport is incredible). Then I would have been happy to pay the airport price. But instead I got this Vasa spring water with soothing bourgeois blues and teals on the label. The Beijing water on the other hand, already 20 times cheaper, also has Chinese hearthrob Wang Lihong on the label. Now that's value!


The beer you should drink to regain 1950s masculinity

Check out these incredible commercials Errol Morris made for Miller High Life. Analysis is almost superfluous once you've seen them, but to entice your interest I'll just say that white male working-class masculinity is what each one is about. Also, if there were still any doubt, the connection between meat-eating and masculinity is hereby conclusively proven.

Public notice

Due to emotional exhaustion, I'm imposing a moratorium on future acerbic editions. At least till a tv deal comes thru and I can get some sort of monetary recompense. Sorry to eveyone who had such a fun time.


Movies lately III (acerbic edition)

Batman Begins (2005). This movie restores some dignity to the Batman genre after the disgrace of the post-Tim Burton movies. It's competent in all the ways you want Batman to be, from action to plot to atmosphere. It's also the first Batman movie to raise the issue of criminality as a social problem, rather than merely a matter of moral weakness or psychological deformity. But the film doesn't stop there, bringing a hard light to bear on amoral corporations, corrupt cops and judges, and genocidal ninja cults.

The possiblity of an interesting social critique is certainly undermined by the silly conspiracy elements of the plot, which among other things ascribe economic depression to the machinations of a secret cabal (jesus, even mainstream economists admit that depression is caused by capitalism). But maybe social critique is foreclosed from the start by the fundamental assumption behind Batman: that society can only be redeemed thru the heroic efforts of singular men and women (mainly one very rich man in particular, but also a handful of incorruptible public servants) against the grip of corruption and crime. In this drama everyone else is merely audience, understanding little and utterly incapable of themselves taking the stage. I'm pretty sure this model of social change hasn't actually produced much other than dictatorships of the proletariat and stories about the lamb of god.

The Notebook (2004). I guess it's sort of sociologically interesting that people still take seriously movies as stunningly ingenuous and painfully predictable as this one. It's not really any different from a communist propaganda film, with hardships to be endured, obstacles to be overcome, but ultimate triumph ensured - with swelling music to let us know when we should feel moved. We look at that communist stuff and laugh at it. The plots are uninteresting, the techniques of manipulation insulting, and the social uses of the movies despicable. Yet somehow love-propaganda films are different? Isn't cynicism the mark of our times? If people still believe in something, why couldn't it be, say, liberation or equality?

Bring It On (2000). I know the obvious reading of this movie has to do with race and class, how the disadvantaged can succeed thru hard work, but that our sympathy ultimately lies with the rich white people who are, deep down, good-hearted. But I choose to read it as a tragedy, the descent of two super-cool alternative kids (Eliza Dushku and Jesse Bradford) into lamedom. Unable to transcend their identities as white rich kids, the two are drawn into a vortex of inanity by Kirsten Dunst, who is not to be seen as a villain in this interpretation but rather a mere agent of fate bringing the Pantone siblings' tragic flaw to its inevitable conclusion. O, the pathos!


Movies lately II

Konjanik (2003). Holy shit! Who would have thought a Croatian movie set in the Balkans of the 1740s could be so intense and penetrating? The plot is pretty standard Romeo and Juliet stuff, but the film takes things in a much more interesting direction than trite love and examines identity in the frontier between the Ottoman and Austrian empires and the republic of Venezia. Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims all proclaim their faiths loudly, but the way they act tells us something different. Identity becomes fluid under the influence of desire, political expediency, the search for livelihood, or merely trying to survive. Overrun with violence and backstabbing, the film's portrayal of interpersonal and intercommunal conflict rings remarkably true. At the center of this maelstrom is the tragic figure of the Venetian diplomat, who makes heroic if naive efforts to negotiate these incommensurable interests and identities, but ultimately must fail.

Lagaan (2001). Bollywood movie about defeating British imperialism by learning to play cricket. I know it was supposed to generate nationalistic pride, but I couldn't help thinking about how overwhelmingly the plot centers on accepting the imperialists' terms for fighting imperialism. And the top British guys sort of got let off the hook in favor of demonizing a relatively low-ranking officer. Also, how did the white woman learn Hindi in 2 days? That was a little disorienting. But I won't say it wasn't enjoyable.

Young Guns and Young Guns II (1988, 1990). All the hot young actors of the time. The music of Jon Bon Jovi. Emilio Estevez in his best role. Death and hilarity side by side. What more could you want? These movies have a special place in my childhood, but I think there's other stuff to like too. Young Guns is a bizarre, disjointed, and deeply nihilistic sprint thru Billy the Kid's murder/revenge spree. Young Guns II is slightly less weird and clearly has superior music, but maintains the subversive ethic of friendship-thru-murder. On first glance these two seem pretty conventional, but if you think about it for a minute what they're saying is pretty disturbing.

The Lost Boys (1987). Kiefer Sutherland is surprisingly effective as a vampire, especially in contrast with his urbane outlaw character in Young Guns. The movie supposedly takes place in the murder capital of America, but I'm pretty skeptical that a beachfront California town not afflicted by deindustrialization and white flight could take that prize.

The Outsiders (1983). Decent Coppola movie based on the S E Hinton novel. The pat ending is lame, but otherwise it's pretty watchable. The real question raised by the film is: would you rather sleep with Patrick Swayze or Rob Lowe?

Blackmail (1929). Boring early Hitchcock. Aside from one sweet single-take camera shot of 2 people walking up stairs, there's not much to recommend this one. On the other hand, you do learn the terrible consequences for women who exercise independence from their men. You might also learn how not to try and blackmail someone, as the guy who tries it here is totally incompetent.


He that lives upon hope will die fasting

Sometimes I feel sad when I read the news, but bad shit is something I expect, I only really get surprised when people suddenly - and randomly - pick something messed up and get angry about it. Mostly everyone else expects it too, and knows there isn't much they can do, so they don't say anything either.

Reading about the 60s makes me sad in a completely different way. Because then people had hope, they were willing to try to do something about all the bad shit, they were willing to radically change their lives and envision a better world. Then they gave up. I get sad that they stopped hoping, and I get sad that we who came after them have never bothered to try it again.


Movies lately I

The Brothers Grimm (2005). Don't bother with this one. We all like Terry Gilliam, we all remember fondly Brazil and thought 12 Monkeys was pretty cool, and the material here had a lot of promise, but whoever was making final decisions just couldn't decide on one direction. The movie keeps making us think it's going to go down a particular path, but then erratically changes its mind and starts down a different one. At the beginning there's a hint that we might get to experience the true horror of pre-sanitized/Disneyized fairy tales, but that's quickly abandoned. At certain points it looks like Gilliam's specialty of creating bizarre characters could come thru, but in the end none of them come together very well. Three-quarters of the way in, Gilliam (or someone) decides to suddenly make an embarassing half-hearted effort at giving the main characters psychological depth, but then seems to realize it's too little too late and quickly gives up. Finally the whole rambling mess ends in conventional style, never having grabbed our attention.

Broken Flowers (2005). I was pretty disappointed with Coffee and Cigarettes, so it's nice to see Jarmusch finally come out with an actual movie again. This one doesn't let you down. While I didn't find it nearly as enjoyable as Dead Man or Ghost Dog, its power to capture the feeling of our age makes it more intellectually satisfying. ("Feeling of our age" sounds kind of grandiloquent, but I think it's appropriate.) Jarmusch concentrates on Bill Murray, a rich man with no meaning in his life and little desire to pursue any, but also gives an important place to Jeffrey Wright, his working-class friend whose eager but naive engagement with life is so great that it actually pushes Bill Murray's character out of his stasis. The quest that follows is a study in subtle acting as every encounter explores the feelings that swirl around relationships long gone, intercut with the tedium of moving between events that we, perhaps against the evidence, take to be the substance of our lives. But the real payoff comes with the end, which is perfect to the movie, and which exactly portrays where we - as individuals and a society - stand today. And the soundtrack is pretty sweet too.

Election (1999). Apparently I'm the only person who still hadn't seen this movie. It's not only a hilarious black comedy, it's also the best portrayal of the American political system I've ever seen. But in a way it's ultimately conservative, since the only character willing to challenge the system itself, Tammy Metzler, merely manipulates events to pursue her own personal goals, and quickly forgets her "revolutionary" rhetoric (does it sound stupid analyzing comedy this way?). This makes perfect sense in the context of overall despair for radical change, and we can't really fault the movie for reflecting reality, but it would be really nice to see some hope out there somewhere.

Bottle Rocket (1996). Okay, enough of these pretentious reviews. Bottle Rocket is cute, funny, and harmless. I'll spare you the WSWS-style class analysis.

Prime Cut (1972). The main reason to see this movie is that Lee Marvin is such a badass! The plot had a lot of potential, way way more than it knew what to do with. Gene Hackman plays a Kansas City meat baron, who also trades in human flesh. Lee Marvin is a Chicago enforcer for an Irish gang sent to extract debts from Gene Hackman. I want to emphasize that the gang is Irish, because the movie nearly overwhelms you with names like O'Brien, Shaughnessy, Delaney, and features a family of about 6 redheads. Lee Marvin and his men even come in for a good amount of mick-baiting from Gene Hackman and his super-Aryan henchmen. Who knew the Irish still weren't white in the '70s? Anyway, the setup is perfect for questioning the distinction we make between exploiting animals and exploiting women, but instead the movie takes the easy way out and makes the good-hearted mob enforcer teach Gene Hackman an important lesson about human supremacy. Plus the climactic fight/shoot-out was pretty lackluster. Oh well, Lee Marvin is still awesome.


A philosophical enquiry into biking

I've been doing a lot of bike riding lately, which is a great joy to me. All thanks to Jenny letting me use her sweet baby-blue-with-yellow-fenders bike. The obvious question is: does riding all over the city on a girls' bike challenge my masculinity? The answer is no, for two reasons: 1) living in China, where bikes are not gendered, has mostly eroded my need for a straight bar on the bike to reassure me that I'm not a woman; 2) it's such a sweet-looking bike!

One of the most pleasurable things in life is to sail past all the poor fools in their cars stuck in traffic. "How I am lost in admiration! How I laugh! How I rejoice! I'm full of exaltation then as I see so many great kings who by public report were accepted into heaven groaning in the deepest darkness!" There's some pretty obvious unhealthy slave morality stuff going on here. But the thing about slave morality is it's so satisfying. Who wants to give that up? And it's pretty hard to avoid ressentiment when drivers insist on almost killing you every time you go biking.

I did Critical Mass last week, which is definitely the most fun quasi-protest I've been in. What makes Critical Mass different from conventional protests includes: 1) no annoying speakers beforehand, 2) no hopelessly simplistic slogans that make you think about all the nuances that are missing, 3) you get to bike instead of walk, 4) no ISO or Spartacist contingents to make you realize how bad the left is doing, 5) you wave at onlookers and wish them happy Friday instead of shouting at them, 6) Critical Mass usually features a naked guy standing on a median holding his bike above him. Sure the lack of an explicitly anti-car message is a bit dissatisfying, but as we lay the groundwork for an anti-car coup d'etat we might as well have a good time.


Who knew Philly is so hip?

From The New York Times:
Philadelphia Story: The Next Borough

I've always heard bad things about Philadelphia, but this article makes it sound like some cool stuff is going on too. But, since it's in The Times, some of the "cool" stuff the journalist digs up is actually nothing but rank yuppification. Anyone know anything about Philadelphia? Sounds like the music scene isn't bad. What about activism?


Book orgy

Yesterday I went to the Seminary Co-op bookstore in Hyde Park, the best bookstore in Chicago and one of the best in the country. First good (English-language) bookstore I've been to in a year, and I got pretty excited. As Chris said, I looked like a much younger Jake set free in a candy store. Good bookstores bring a special joy, and being surrounded by all the history books made me look forward to joining the discussion with my own research (whenever that starts).

So, yes, I did drop $200 on books. But I regard that figure as relatively restrained given that I willed myself to not buy the $80 Korean-imported printing of Bruce Cumings's The Origins of the Korean War, vol. 2, which I've been lusting after for quite awhile now. I got 4 history books on China, using grad school applications as the excuse, 2 volumes of Proust's Recherche (having fallen under Ariel's baleful influence), and some Gramsci and Althusser since I've been under pressure from several sources to prove myself a real Marxist by reading them. Now I just have to get thru another 1000 pages of the Nazi Germany book and right into the new stuff.


The coming Scientology holocaust

The other day I saw a picture in the newspaper of various celebrities at a Scientology charity event. One of them was Beck. Oh Beck, what have you done?

So listening to the new Beck cd, the natural thing to do was look up Scientology in Wikipedia. The results went far beyond any possible expectations in terms of both hilarity and terror.

As you're reading at first, you're just thinking, "Okay, another lame new-agey religion." But then you arrive at the story of Xenu. Apparently 75 million years ago, the galactic ruler Xenu faced a bad overpopulation problem (average population of the planets he ruled: 178 billion). So, in alliance with the psychiatrists (see below), he paralyzed billions of people and transported them to Teegeeack (today called Earth), stacked them around a bunch of volcanos, and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Their immortal souls were then collected by Xenu and taken to a movie theater, where they were fucked up by watching a "three-D, super colossal motion picture". These souls are still with us, clinging to us normal people and messing up our lives. Which is why you should be a Scientologist, because they have (expensive) ways of dealing with these guys.

This is only the beginning of the Scientology wackiness, which also includes a deep hatred of psychiatrists, who were once involved in a conspiracy to create a world government and run it on behalf of the Soviet Union, and are also responsible for World War I, the rise of Hitler and Stalin, and 9/11, among other crimes.

But the world faces bigger problems than just psychiatrists. Scientologists give everyone a number on a "tone scale" that ranks emotions and behavior. Once you know the scale you can interact more productively with people, enhancing your personal life and business prospects, and enabling you to raise others on their scale. The scale goes as high as 40, but the average is (charitably) 2.8. Where you're at on this scale also determines how useful you are to society. Says L Ron Hubbard:
There are only two answers for the handling of people from 2.0 down on the Tone Scale, neither one of which has anything to do with reasoning with them or listening to their justification of their acts. The first is to raise them on the Tone Scale by unenturbulating some of their theta [ie soul] by any one of the three valid processes. The other is to dispose of them quietly and without sorrow.

Wtf?!?! Did he actually say that?! You should kill people below 2? Let's read on:
Not all the beauty nor the handsomeness nor artificial social value nor property can atone for the vicious damage such people do to sane men and women. The sudden and abrupt deletion of all individuals occupying the lower bands of the Tone Scale from the social order would result in an almost instant rise in the cultural tone and would interrupt the dwindling spiral into which any society may have entered.... A Venezualan dictator once decided to stop leprosy. He saw that most lepers in his country were also beggars. By the simple expedient of collecting and destroying all the beggars in Venezuala, an end was put to leprosy in that country.

Fucking hell man, who knew Scientology advocated mass murder? Suddenly the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes romance doesn't seem so cute.


Argyle St and some hot Orson Welles action

Yesterday I went to "Chinatown North", which is mostly Vietnamese, but confusingly the signs all have Chinese and Vietnamese on them, so it's best to just call it Argyle St. This was long overdue, especially acquiring Nagaraya peanuts, which was a staple food for me until I was cruelly thrown into the snack wasteland of Beijing. But, if you want to go down to Argyle and get a tasty vegetarian sandwich from Bale, DO NOT go around the corner and eat it on the sidewalk in front of an apartment building. Or the maintenance guy will condescendingly chew you out.

It was nice to see Chinese on the signs, even if it's all in laborious-to-read complex characters. It was also nice to buy all kinds of groceries for $14. But apparently you can only buy sesame oil in enormous metal tins that look like gasoline canisters. They sell the soy sauce of white people, Kikkoman, so why can't they have white-people-friendly-sized sesame oil?

Yesterday I also saw the only movie (to my knowledge) that features Orson Welles as the mastermind of the Holocaust. Apparently The Stranger was something Welles signed onto to prove that he could direct Hollywood schlock and get money for doing good work. So despite some sweet camera work - and a corpse sniffing dog - the movie was pretty disappointing.

Here's a question for everyone: is the young Orson Welles hot? I say yes, but there seems to be some underinformed opposition on the matter.


If I had a home this would be it

The Iowa exile is at an end and I've finally returned to Chicago. I know I promised friends that my return would recall Lenin's triumphant return to Russia, but it turns out there's no train from Dubuque to Chicago so the sealed railway car provided by the Germans didn't work out.

I have learned one valuable lesson since getting here: cars should be rented from Enterprise and not Hertz. Altho from the degree of her boosterism, I fear that Kristina is actually a guerrilla marketer in the employ of Enterprise. Well at least we can be sure that cars should not be rented from Hertz. (That practical point made, I feel obligated to add that cars should not be rented at all, since private vehicles should not be allowed in cities. But this just bolsters the recent accusation that I'm one of the most ideological people my friends know.)

I now look forward to a month or so of life as an unemployed freeloader in one of the greatest cities in the world, with only my status as unemployed freeloader to worry about. I know many of my friends are kind of down on Chicago lately, but having survived Beijing*, southern California, and Iowa over the past year, I feel justified in feeling good about Chicago. My first girlfriend had this disturbingly intense love for southern California, and at the time I just thought it was silly. While it's obviously morally unacceptable to have even rudimentary positive feelings about southern California, I can sort of understand the sentiment now, and I'm glad to be back.

* I don't want to imply that Beijing was intolerable, but it did lack a good many nice things that I missed. On the other hand, I have no problem implying that southern California and Iowa are intolerable.


Homosexual pervert Nazis!

Speaking of books, one of the two I've been reading since getting back to the States is The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The author is generally liberal-minded but on one issue he's solidly a man of his times (the book was published in 1959). Apparently "many of [the S.A.'s] top leaders, beginning with its chief, Roehm, were notorious homosexual perverts. Lieutenant Edmund Heines, who led the Munich S.A., was not only a homosexual but a convicted murderer. These two and dozens of others quarreled and feuded as only men of unnatural sexual inclinations, with their peculiar jealousies, can." (p. 120)


Being reunited with my books was one of the few things I was looking forward to about being in Iowa. But now I've picked out exactly 30 that I absolutely must bring with me to Chicago then China. Clearly this is not viable. But how can you choose between Inequality and Poverty in China in the Age of Globalization and The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi Delta, 1350-1988? At least there's no way to go wrong.


What if Malcolm X was John the Baptist and Tupac was Jesus?

Tonight I was watching MTV's Cribs and one of the guys showing off his house had, covering an entire wall, a painting of Malcolm X baptizing Tupac.

Malcolm X baptizing Tupac. In a river.

Take a few minutes and think about all the many many ways that this simultaneously makes no goddamn sense and is so appropriately over the top.

Based on his near incoherency in explaining the painting, the guy clearly had some trouble putting into language how he received the inspiration for it and what it meant to him. But he did manage to tell us the title: "What If".

What if indeed.


A visit to the homeland

Much like the Suck-cut of Wayne's World fame, Iowa is sucking my will to live. It's not that Iowa is inherently bad (tho the food is, both morally and tastingly), it's that I am drained of purpose here. My days are structured by when I go online, when I watch tv, and when I eat junk food. Perhaps partly because of jet lag, but probably mainly because of my own degeneracy, I spend the hours 11pm-4am aimlessly watching tv. Important parts of my life - like finding a job, preparing grad school aps, writing about politics, and moving more than 5 meters at a time - are thrown aside, and I descend into a quasi-suburban hell.

On the plus side, I am now reacculturated to American life. A week in southern California brutally reintroduced me to car culture, and now I've been reacquainted with television. Whether good clean fun from Adult Swim, the lassitude-inducing experience of watching tv news, or simply watching the same 6 videos repeating endlessly on MTV, I know I'm home.

Speaking of which, based on field research this is MTV's current rotation:
1. Kanye West, the video about blood diamonds,
2. a video by one of five interchangeable pop punk bands, moving in the ruts of safe alternativeness established 15 years ago, but more upbeat,
3. one of six interchangeable gangstas-and-hip-hop-hos videos (interchangeable except that the 50 Cent video contains not just black hip hop hos, but white ones and Asian ones as well, each with their own section of the video, the Asians complete with Oriental fans),
4. either Jessica Simpson's slutty video or Pussycat Dolls,
5. one of two No Doubt videos, sometimes substituted with Gorillaz,
6. Coldplay. (repeat)

And by far the best video here is the Jessica Simpson one. It is hilarious! I can just imagine the production team, thinking "We have the whole bar girl w/stripper hip action sequence, followed by a dancing Hooters waitress sequence, but there's just something missing. Wait, that's it! A bikini car wash scene!"