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!"