Thursday, August 31, 2006

I Can Actually Say I Love Something about New Mexico

Despite the amount that I mock New Mexico, I did live there for five years and there are actually things that I miss about the place, not the least of which is the police and drinking. But this is not about drunk cops. Living in Texas, the two primary cuisines are barbecue and Tex-Mex. Barbecue, excepting the possibilities of Kansas City and Memphis, is done better nowhere. Tex-Mex is a good dining option, don’t get me wrong. But I miss spice and flavor in combination. Chili powder and Tobasco can only add so much to a dish.

A couple of nights ago, a friend of mine asked me for use of my grill to roast some raw New Mexico chiles he had bought from the primarily Hispanic grocery store we shop at (if you want twenty pounds of tripe and beef tongue, there’s only one place to go). I’d never really roasted chiles en masse, but it seemed like fun and he promised free chiles, so he brought over a fifteen pound burlap sac full of beautiful peppers. After letting some of them grill for a second, the air was filled with a scent I hadn’t smelled in a long time. It was Proust’s synesthesia in action. I was on Palace Ave in summer buying a pretty mediocre looking breakfast taco; mediocre, that is, until the seller opened the cart and ladled a pile of steaming green chile, whose fumes made me tear up, over the rubbery eggs. New Mexicans are alchemists; they can turn crap to gold with a simple sauce. Amazing.

So, we roasted the chiles and drank a lot of Busch; I burned my hand a little over the exceedingly hot flame and picked out the best looking specimens (especially the ones that hadn’t gone all the way red yet and were orange, looking like little burned carrots) to eat fresh off the grill. Raw, hot chile is such a great experience. First, a subtle flavor, then the heat kicks in and the endorphins from the pain start pumping and you have to sit down. Got a couple pounds of chiles and some good nostalgia out of the deal, to boot.

Anyway, it was nice to remember one of the really fantastic things about a place that, looking back, I’m shocked I didn’t run screaming from after my first year.

It's Rough Being A Man. Or Not.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday. This middle-aged woman is the definition of the word moderate in all parts of her life. She was reading some kind of feminist Latin American history, though I don't know what exactly. She started talking to me about how it was anti-male and asked if that stuff bothered me.

The answer was an emphatic No! Why should that bother me? Whether in history or contemporary society, how exactly do men not get a fair shake? How do men not oppress women for their own advantage? Isn't analysis of these problems a complete positive? Anything we can do to promote gender equality, whether as scholars or as citizens is a good thing. If a book comes off as anti-male, it's probably because men deserve it.

This same critique relates to race analysis. So many men talk about how liberals are anti-male and anti-white. Oh, this book is so negative to white people. Boo Hoo.

Yeah, it's real hard being a white male in today's world. We don't have any power at all. God, you can't even call a woman a slut because she won't sleep with you anymore without the bitch charging you with sexual harassment. I can't tell a joke about the darkeys without some National Association for the Advancement of Communist People drawing up a lawsuit against me. What a burden my white skin and testicles are in modern America.

Give me a break.

There are lots of wonderful men and wonderful white people out there. But you simply cannot deny the way gender and race defines power in modern society with a straight face. Or at least I can't.

So bring on the anti-men books. And the anti-white books too. No doubt they are well-deserved and long overdue.


Frank Bruni's column today gets at a very interesting question:

What's up with the fresh pepper served by waiters at restaurants?

How do you know if you want pepper until you taste your food? Why pepper and not salt or oregano or something else? How did this start? When?

I guess I first started noticing it 8-10 years ago. It's probably gone on longer since I'm hardly the first to notice these kinds of things. At first, I had them put pepper on my salads and other stuff because I felt like I was supposed to or something. I always feel like a novice doing anything that seems to require a touch of class or decorum. Then I was just like, I don't want any damn pepper. And if I do, can't I just put it on there myself.

Anyway, it's annoying as hell and I wish it would stop.

Book Review--Dana Frank, Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America

As a young historian, I ponder on how to make my work matter. My work combines working-class and environmental history so I am in fields where I could theoretically make a difference. I mention this because I recently picked up Dana Frank's new book, Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America, published in 2005 by South End Press. I am familiar with Frank's work from her earlier book, Purchasing Power, on the Seattle labor movement after World War I. I was surprised that this new book was so far in distance (both physical and within the field of labor history) from her earlier work.

Bananeras examines the recent history of gender and labor organizing in the banana unions of Central America. Focusing on Honduras, but looking at the banana region as a whole, which extends from Guatemala to Ecuador, she writes of the difficult history of labor in this region and the particular role of women in breaking into the labor movement.

The best part about this book is Frank's understanding that no effective class analysis can exist without an understanding of the role of gender among working-class people and that a feminist analysis is hopeless without being grounded in class consciousness. The female banana workers of Latin America face multiple obstacles in their quest for justice. On one level, they face the same struggles as male workers. The banana companies want to crush unions at all costs. The Ecuadoran government has made their nation a haven for non-union banana plantations, undermining union organizing throughout the region. The police work in conjunction with companies and governments to undermine even the slightest sniff of radicalism. The AFL-CIO made Latin America a major part of their anti-communist union campaigns during the Cold War, seriously undermining the long-term support for any unions from the US working class. Conditions are poor and pay is bad.

But female workers also suffer from an entire additional set of obstacles. Within the workplace, they have particular concerns. Maternity leave is something that the companies don't want to give. Sexual harrassment is an enormous problem. Many Latin American employers fire women when they become pregnant. And the male-dominated union structures don't care. They are usually opposed to female involvement in decision making. They think women's issues don't exist within unions. They laugh at any sort of gender equity. Women, especially in Honduras and Nicaragua, according to Frank, have successfully fought some of this but in most of Latin America it remains a major problem. Women also have to serve as homemakers. Machismo stands in the way of most men doing anything to help around the house. So women might work 10 hours a day, do union work afterwards, and then come home to clean the house. Many husbands resent their wives being invovled in the public sphere. Domestic abuse is a major problem. Homophobia is as well, leading to women, even activist women, being afraid to raise their sons in a gender-neutral way for fear that they will be labeled as homosexuals.

But what I really took from this book is that despite all of these obstacles, for many women union work is incredibly liberating on both a personal and a class level. It gives women something outside of the norm to fill their lives. Not all women can participate because of the problems outlined above, but for those who can break through, it is a wonderful experience.

Bananeras is a well-written and thoughtful book on the role of women in the recent labor history of Latin America. Most importantly, it's a great example of the kind of useful history and writing that a smart scholar can do.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Death Penalty

Last Friday I saw a performance of The Exonerated, a play telling the stories of people convicted of murders they did not commit and given the death penalty. The acting was strong throughout, especially for a local production. The direction was kind of so-so. But the point here is not to discuss that in much depth. The play itself is what it is--there are heartbreaking moments but really it's a position paper more than a piece of art.

But as a position paper, it has its strengths. All of these people had their lives completely fucked for things they didn't do. And that is just infuriating.

Why does the United States still have a death penalty? On a deeper level, what is wrong with our society? Why are we so pleased with revenge? Why do we romanticize and value violence? Why does a large percentage of our population think their lives are better if other people are suffering, whether in Iraq or Huntsville? Why do we accept and even want our prisons to be inhuman, degrading, and soul-crushing?

I think the answers to these questions go deep into American mythology about violence. While I hated reading Richard Slotkin's Regeneration through Violence trilogy in graduate school, I think he is right. Americans, all the way back to the colonial period, placed great value on violence and the importance of that violence in creating American society. Our sick fascination with violence has very long historical roots. I have no idea how to transcend this history and in fact I don't think we ever will, at least in my lifetime.

Given the sheer amount of innocent people on death row, it is simply immoral to continue allowing death as a possible punishment. But we need to go further and demand real standards of guilt in convicting people. I have no doubt that most people who are in prison committed their crimes. Punishment and rehabilitation are needed, the latter being more important than the former. But with so many innocent people in there, we have to be more stringent in giving people a chance to prove their innocent. The first step simply has to be giving the prosecution and defense an equal amount of resources. The public defender system is not good enough--how can an overworked public defender possibly muster enough energy to compete with a state determined to see the accused be punished? It is impossible. And this gets to the crux of the system--the prison system in general and especially the death penalty are a punishment to the poor. No one with real attorneys gets the death penalty. But if you're poor and especially if your skin is brown, you face shocking disadvantages.

Just to give one of innumerable examples, yesterday former major league pitcher Jeff Reardon was found not guilty by reason of insanity after robbing a jewelry store in a mall. No doubt this was the correct verdict--the guy's son had just died from an overdose and he was on some serious medication. But what if he wasn't rich and white. Anyone who thinks a poor black man who did the same thing wouldn't be facing prison time is living with their head in the sand.

How can Americans claim to have a just and moral country so long as these inequalities run unchecked?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Link of the Day--The Electoral College

Scott has an excellent post on the history of the electoral college. This undemocratic structure of American politics existed to protect the degenerate institutions of American life. Historically, this meant slavery. Today, it means lunatic anti-abortion activists, evangelical control over the nation, and retrograde tax policies.

I've heard even progressives from small states argue that the electoral college is a good thing because it makes the small states important. This is absurd on the face of it because no one campaigns in any states if they are not in play. Montana might not get much attention without the electoral college but it doesn't anyway. Meanwhile, states like South Carolina and Mississippi have more national power than California and New York. I don't see how this is good for anyone except racists and those who want to destroy the last barriers between church and state.

Anyway, read the whole thing. It's quite excellent.

Bill Richardson and Cockfighting

Normally Albuquerque mayor Martin Chavez is the worst kind of Democrat--lap dog of big business, friend to developers, hater of youth culture. But he is right in his statement that New Mexico governor Bill Richardson needs to get off the fence and make a statement on cockfighting. Those of you who aren't from New Mexico are probably saying, Erik, what the hell are you talking about? Cockfighting?

But yes, cockfighting is legal in New Mexico. The Las Cruces Sun-News ran a story about Richardson riding the fence last week which was picked up by the excerable Matt Drudge and has since become a joke for Leno. If Richardson wants to be taken seriously as a presidental candidate, he needs to kill this issue now. His state is a national joke for having legal cockfights and he is a national joke as a waffling politician.

However, this is more complicated than it looks. Richardson clearly doesn't want to alienate animal-rights groups and cockfighting is certainly pretty damn offensive from that perspective. It's really hard to defend cockfighting. The one legitimate defense is precisely why Richardson doesn't want to make a statement on the issue--it is an old part of New Mexico culture and it is certainly part of the state's heritage. Cockfighting has been happening in the state for hundreds of years. As New Mexico's traditional culture changes under the impact of Anglo migration to the state and other forms of globalization, these kind of issues come under increasing scrutiny.

To what extent should we respect local customs in the face of increasingly homogenized America and world? When those customs are deeply offensive to the modern thinker, whether cockfighting in New Mexico, domestic violence in South Korea, prostitution in Thailand, or genital mutilation in Nigeria, to what extent do national and international communities have the right (or even the duty in certain cases) to condemn local practice? There's no easy answer. I think it has to depend on the individual case. I have no problem condemning Koreans for hitting their women or Africans for mutilating young women. There has to be certain standards of right and wrong that transcend local custom.

But what about something less obnoxious such as cockfighting. It seems likely that from a political perspective, Bill Richardson is going to have a hard time winning the Democratic nomination with this issue on his back. This isn't a bad thing since Richardson shouldn't be the nominee in any case. But balancing respect for local culture and condemning a pretty loathesome practice is not an easy proposition. Richardson's present plight certainly should give us something to think about.

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging: Vito Marcantonio

After the post-2000 political disaster, I have largely come to believe that 3rd parties are an absurd novelty in American political life. But I still believe there are cases where 3rd parties can make a real difference on the local level. If the Green Party hadn't hitched their wagon to Ralph Nader and instead focused on building from the ground up, either within or without of the Democratic Party, they could have made a real difference. Instead, they became a national joke and a direct cause of the disasters befalling the United States and the world. Of course, no one ever accused ex-hippies of having even slightest understanding of the American political system or of complex thinking about the world. Or at least I haven't made this accusation.

Anyway, what the Greens could have done is follow the example of Vito Marcantonio and the American Labor Party. Marcantonio is the closest thing to a communist to ever serve in the United States Congress. In 1934, he was elected from East Harlem after being key to the reelection of Fiorello LaGuardia as New York's mayor. But after being defeated for reelection in 1936, he came to a epiphany, for reasons that I am unsure of at this point, and joined the American Labor Party, winning back his congressional seat in 1938 and serving until 1951. He gave the left a strong voice within the Congress in a safely Democratic district and thus forced the Democrats to run to his positions. The American Labor Party was heavily backed by the Communists and thus Marcantonio was subject to red-baiting throughout his political career. He was defeated in 1951, not by a Republican, but by Democrat James Donovan after he refused to vote for US participation in the Korean War. While in hindsight, voting against the Korean War is a move I feel ambivalent about, I certainly respect his principles. Unfortunately he became an early political casualty of the Cold War.

Marcantonio served labor and peace interests throughout his tenure and in 1940 came out against US participation in World War II, something that he understandably changed his mind about after Pearl Harbor. He fought for civil rights for all Americans, regardless of color, at a time when most Americans thought this was absurd. Of course J. Edgar Hoover hated him and the FBI investigated him throughout the 1940s and up to his death. I imagine this was a badge of honor for Marcantonio. He remained politically active after his defeat but died far too young, in 1954, from a heart attack at the age of 51. It would have been interesting to see how Marcantonio would have been received in the late 1960s, when he would have been in his 60s. Would he have been an elder statesmen to the youth of that generation or a has-been? Hard to know but fascinating to think about.

Marcantonio serves as an example of a progressive who went to the mat for things he believed in, regardless of where on the political spectrum this put him. He gave a voice in Congress to people that neither of the major parties really cared too much about in the 1930s and 1940s. Also, say what you want about the communists, but they knew something about building political movements. They worked from the ground up rather than stupidly challenging the national party from the left and throwing elections to the right. That they failed says much more about local conditions, national identity, and mythology in the United States than their own methods, at least up until the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. While I'm neither defending nor condemning American communists here, I do think that they serve as an interesting case study of alternative political movements in American history and that Vito Marcantonio is a shining light of these often forgotten movements.

Quick Film Review--Clean (2004)

1. This is the first Olivier Assayas film I've seen. I certainly want to see more. Maggie Cheung is such a great actor too. Why is she not used more? Her English is perfect and I don't speak French but it certainly sounded capable enough. She's beautiful and she's shockingly talented. Seems like a natural selection for so many filmmakers. I understand that Hollywood has tried to get Cheung to take stupid roles in movies like Memoirs of a Geisha that she has turned down. Good move. But there has to be some seriously good roles out there for her.

2. I loved the scene where she is explaining drugs to her 6 year old son. I don't want to give anything away but it is a necessary part of the story. She is totally honest with him and just says that drugs can be great but that the cost for using them is very high. I imagine that if you tried to lie about something like that to a child they would see through it so the talk seemed pretty convincing to me. Moreover, it's just nice to see an honest discussion of these things in film. The movie neither romanticized nor condemned drug use. It was something the characters did. Considering how many movies about drugs are just awful (Permanent Midnight anyone?), this was refreshing.

3. Nick Nolte is such an interesting actor. He can move from total shit to really outstanding performances between roles and back again with ease like no one this side of Christopher Walken. Why does he do so many bad films when in movies like this and Affliction he is so good? I imagine he just wants to work. And of course he's kind of a nut in his personal life so who knows. But he sure is strong in this film.

Monday, August 28, 2006

AFC Preview: Addendum

Seems I made no picks for the playoffs. I don't want to seem wishy-washy about what will happen after week 17, but the Simool System has been suspended for violating substance policies, so I guess I'm just going to have to wing it.

Divisional Winners--Cincinnatti, Indianapolis, Miami, Denver
Wildcards--New England, Pittsburgh
AFC Championship--Denver beats Miami
Super Bowl--Denver beats Seattle

Ohio--The Cornhole State

When I was traveling through Ohio a couple of weeks ago, I was amazed to see signs for something called "Cornhole." Clearly what they think it means is not what I think it means. After hearing several rants about this from Ohio native Mr. Trend, I thought I'd do a little research. I came across this site for the American Cornhole Association. Yes, that's right. There's an American Cornhole Association. Evidentally it is some sort of bean bag tossing game. I guess the bags are filled with corn. Some say the game comes from Cincinnati, others from western Kentucky. In any case, what the fuck? Cornhole? This must be the worst named game in the entire world. On the other hand, an American Cornhole Association hat or shirt would be nice to own....

NFL Preview: NFC

I've been slacking so Lyrad got his AFC preview out first. I have no system. Just a gut feeling.

NFC East
1. New York. I don't actually like any of these NFC North teams. In fact, generally the NFC is like the AFC was in the early 90s. Pathetic with a good team or two. But I'll take New York here. I think Eli Manning will progress decently and Tiki Barber will have another good season in him. But they are getting sick of Tom Coughlin's act so they could go anywhere from 12-4 to 6-10. I think it'll be closer to the former but it could go either way.

2. Philadelphia. A team without any good running backs or wide receivers. But they are still experienced and solid. If McNabb stays healthy, they should compete for a wild card spot.

3. Dallas. Everyone's favorite for the Super Bowl. Give me a break. Even if TO is healthy and trying, this is not a Super Bowl team, even in the NFC. Drew Bledsoe? Yeah, right. Hell, I heard Chris Mortensen compare Tony Romo to Tom Brady last week on the Dan Patrick Show, since Romo could step in to this solid team and to what Brady did. Uh, no. I do like the defense Parcells has put together but it's not enough.

4. Washington. This has all the makings of a disaster. Preseason doesn't mean too much but they are getting blown out. Could be the worst team in the NFC.

NFC North.

God what a pathetic division.

1. Chicago. I guess I'll go with the Bears here at about 8-8. The defense is pretty good. Rex Grossman? Yeah, I don't know about that. But who else are you going to pick?

2. Minnesota. Maybe the Vikings could take this but they aren't very good. Still dealing with the messes of last year and then Koren Robinson blows his career up again. Bad team.

3. Detroit. Kitna at least provides a little stability as this team tries to get it together. Probably a slight improvement over last year. Still a bad team.

4. Green Bay. Hate to see Favre go out this way but he should have retired. A terrible team.

NFC South

Probably the best division in the NFC, top to bottom.

1. Carolina--Seattle's only real competition for the Super Bowl. Solid, experienced team. No glaring weaknesses. Clearly not a great team and probably only a wildcard team in the AFC. But more than good enough here.

2. Atlanta. One of these days, Vick has to put it together and do something doesn't he? Maybe. I think they are good enough for the playoffs anyway.

3. Tampa Bay. A team still in transition. Chris Simms might be OK long-term. I don't know. But they won't suck.

4. New Orleans. Clearly a team on the rise. Drew Brees was a huge improvement over Aaron Brooks and Reggie Bush gives fans a reason to come again. They are still weak in a lot of areas but I like them over the next 2-3 years.

NFC West.

1. My Seattle Seahawks. Clearly the class of the NFC. The whole Super Bowl loser not making the playoffs the next year hex is just stupid. Assuming Hasselbeck and Alexander don't both get hurt, it's hard to see them not winning this division going away. Losing Steve Hutchison sucks but getting Nate Burleson and Julian Peterson helps a lot.

2. St. Louis. Obviously a team in major transition but they still have enough weapons to make things interesting. I hope Steven Jackson does well because I spent way too much money on him in my fantasy draft. I also hate the Rams. I thought that when the Seahawks switched to the NFC, it would take years to have a rivalry I cared about. Then the Rams beat the Seahawks 3 times in 2004. So I hate them a great deal. I hope they go 0-16.

3. Arizona. Lots of people are picking the Cardinals to make the playoffs. Whatever. They're the Cardinals. Great receivers but I don't think paying all that money to Edgerrin James does much at all. And Kurt Warner is still the QB.

4. San Francisco. They are going to be paying for picking Alex Smith for a long time. I have a hard time thinking they get out of this spot for the next several years. I did like them picking Vernon Davis in the draft. Could be the league's next dominant TE.


Divisional Winners--New York, Chicago, Carolina, Seattle
Wild Cards--Atlanta, Philadelphia
NFC Title Game--Seattle defeats Carolina.

Go Seahawks!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Mike Dillon's Gogo Jungle @ Dan's Silverleaf

I don’t go to a lot of shows without knowing the performers, and I haven’t actually done so in years until Friday, when Dan’s Silverleaf brought in Mike Dillon’s Gogo Jungle. I decided to go based on four criteria: The band’s name kicks ass, it was described as punk/experimental rock, this punk music was led by a vibraphone, and the only picture I could find of the band had Vibraphonist Mike Dillon sweating, thrashing the vibes in a fur vest. I was sold.

I had the show time wrong, so got to the bar way, way too early, but conveniently didn’t have to pay a cover. The place was deserted and, never having worn a watch and not having a very good internal sense of time, when I stood around with my Shiner or two, I got nervous that nobody was going to show up. Eventually, they did but, seeing who was showing, I wished I had been the only person there. Two distinct groups showed. One was a group of 8-10 middle-aged, well-dressed people who looked like they’d just got off work and congregated at Dan’s for a little drinking and vibes. The other was a gaggle of hippies just out of a drum circle…not a good sign. Now, I have no inherent problem with true-blue hippies. They have a philosophy that, while I may not completely understand, works for them and they are harmless. However, the privileged, trust-fund hippy that populated my, and many other, pretentious, high-tone college drives me crazy. There’s very little of the selfless communist philosophy in the decision to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to college, because you can, for the express purpose of getting stoned and playing drums (news flash, Moonbeam, go to the fucking park). Anyway, it was these two groups and me, totaling probably less than thirty total people watching when the band got on stage.

Dillon himself looks like a complete cretin. Slouched, tattooed, and kind of mean looking, it seemed like the punk epithet might be true. He was set up with the set of vibraphones and a little kit of homemade drums. Especially for how rough he looked, it was surprising the changes in subtlety and speed he made. These parts of the show were best, and sometimes very fine. When he went to his little kit, though, it became simple jam-band pretension and this is when the hippies started spinning, closer and closer to me until I had to move to get away from the smell of patchouli. The drummer, “Gogo,” and the bass player, “Jungle,” (get it, Mike Dillon’s Gogo Jungle) were both excellent but, make no mistake, this was neither experimental rock or punk. It runs more closely to Herbie Hancock or Medeski, Martin, and Wood than anything. It had its moments. I bought the CD, more because I’d attended the show for free, and the unique instrumentation was interesting, but I would really like to see people of this skill level rise above simple party band posturing.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Lyrad's Random 10

I'd been wondering when the Calypso would show itself....

1. Hawaiian Serenaders--Honolulu Stomp
2. Neocantes--La rosa mas bella
3. Kurt Weill--Threepenny Opera: Ballade vom angenehmen Leben
4. John Zorn--Golden Boat (Soundtrack): End Titles
5. Leadbelly--Salty Dog
6. Felix Mendellsohn--Die shone melusine for Orchestra
7. John Oswald--Way
8. Neurosis--Chronology for Survival
9. Velvet Underground--Train 'Round the Bend
10. The Caresser with Codallo's Top Hatters Orchestra--Amanja Soqua Me

Mister Trend's Random 10

And now, my prodigal weekly 10.

1. "(I Want to Be An) Anglepoise Lamp" - The Soft Boys
2. "Valses Nobles Et Sentimentales - Epilogue: Lent" - Maurice Ravel
3. "Dreamfinger" - Sonic Youth
4. "Cantata No. 147, BWV 147 - Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire" - Johann Sebastian Bach
5. "Out of Nowhere" - Cody ChesnuTT
6. "Stem/Long Stem/Transmission 2" - DJ Shadow
7. "Marieta" - Ibrahim Ferrer
8. "Johnny Come Home" - Isobel Campbell
9. "All Around" - Bebel Gilberto
10. "Evil Woman Blues" - Big Bill Broonzy

Erik's Random 10

1. Jay Clark, Hills of Home
2. Drive-By Truckers, Sands of Iwo Jima
3. Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerard, West Virginia My Home
4. Buena Vista Social Club, Pueblo Nuevo
5. Robinella & the CC String Band, No Saint, No Prize
6. Myth Science, Space Fling
7. Greg Brown, Sadness
8. Otis Redding, My Girl
9. Tom Russell, Prairie in the Sky
10. Tom Waits, I'll Be Gone

Thursday, August 24, 2006

NFL Preview: AFC Edition

This represents all the definitive answers to what will occur in the American Football Conference during the 2006 campaign toward Super Bowl XLI. The results are based partly on a nine category statistical analysis on a rating of 1-13 known by some as The Simool System and partly by how I, as an individual, feel the schedules will shake down. Eat it, Nostradamus, these are predictions you can bank on.

AFC NORTH: CINCINNATTI BENGALS: (12-4) [8.66]: The offense has really come into its own. While they have some defensive problems on their front seven and will probably give up a lot of points, they have the highest power offense in the AFC right now and shouldn’t have a problem. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (10-6) [9.22]: Our defending Super Bowl Champions will not be repeating this year, and their record will reflect the level of talent. Their defense will be one of the best in the league, but their short game offense will force them into a lot of close games and they won’t be able to win all of them. BALTIMORE RAVENS (7-9) [7.66]: The Ravens are going to be a much better team this year, but their record will not reflect it in the end. The RB corps is fantastic with the acquisition of Mike Anderson, Steve McNair should add some electricity to the offense, and the defense is still strong and made better with the addition of Oregon’s Haloti Ngata, but their schedule is tough. A lot of close games for them, and they’ll come on the losing end of it. CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-13) [6.33]: I’m sorry Mr. Trend, but it’s true. Cleveland is, by the Simool System, the worst team in the NFL this year. The best thing they have going for them on the field is Ruben Droughns which doesn’t say a lot (Charlie Frye, who?). Plus, having to play the above three teams six times is rough. They should be thankful they don’t have the Lions’ organization.

AFC SOUTH: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (10-6) [10.00]: Peyton Manning is great and all, but they’ve lost some key people that make me think that the magic is over. They’ll still beat up on the weakest division in the AFC, but better opposition will cause them woes in the end. TENNESSEE TITANS (8-8) [7.77]: The Titans have a strong defense with an underrated line, they have a formidable group of RBs, but their situation at QB is pretty discouraging. If Young is put in and plays like a prodigy, they’ll do better, but Billy Volek isn’t getting anything done for anybody. HOUSTON TEXANS (7-9) [6.66]: I’m very curious to see how Gary Kubiak does with Denver’s system over the next couple of years, but they don’t have the players to succeed…maybe soon. Carr and Davis are worthy players, but need support that just isn’t there. The only reason is only so good because of the Jaguars and the Titans. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (6-10) [6.77]: An offense led by Byron Leftwich and Fred Taylor? Somebody catch me; I’m going to faint. What an offense. They have a good secondary, and that’s the only thing that will give them a chance for points.

AFC EAST: MIAMI DOLPHINS (12-4) [8.44]: The Dolphins is my outside pick to win it all this year. They’re underrated, and Culpepper could collapse again, but I think they’ve acquired outstanding depth and are the most improved team in the league this year. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-5) [8.55]: The popular pick, no doubt, from recent successes, and I think they’ll be a very good team, but I was never one for the popular pick. What both the Pats and the Dolphins benefit from is playing the Bills and the Jets. What a couple of sad sack teams. BUFFALO BILLS (4-12) [7.77]: I think that, since the string of Super Bowl losses, the Bills are cursed for all times. Kelly Holcomb and JP Losman throwing to Josh Reed and Lee Evans?..good lord. Defensively, they could do some damage, but there are a lot of questions about health and age there. NEW YORK JETS (3-13) [6.88]: Personally, I believe that the J-E-T-S are the worst team in the NFL this season, so my heart goes out to the Cleveland Browns, but the Simool System is what it is. They’re a JV team in pro uniforms. Weak on offense, weak on defense, weak on the sidelines, weak everywhere.

AFC WEST: DENVER BRONCOS (13-3) [10.33]: I’ll grant that I’m a Broncos fan and, I suppose, will have no credibility during the next few sentences. Be that as it may, the Simool System has them as the best team and they tie for best record in the AFC coming from the toughest division in the conference. They have the second best overall defense and the best 4-3 LBs in the NFL. The only question mark for me is at quarterback; Jake Plummer makes too many mistakes and I don’t want to see Jay Cutler play a down until next year. Whether or not they win the Super Bowl, I have my biases, but I do believe they are the team best suited for the AFC Championship. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (10-6) [9.44]: Ok, my credibility has come back. The Chiefs are scary. Herman Edwards is scary; the Jets were crazy to let him go. Larry Johnson is scary; he seems even better than Priest Holmes ever way. Defensively, they’re always seriously scary. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (8-8) [9.22]: If only Gates, McCardell, and Tomlinson had somebody to throw to them, they’d be a hell of a lot better. One can say that Philip Rivers will be good, but I’ll believe it when I see it. They have some of the best players in football, and this is the best they will do. They won’t be able to keep up with either the Broncos or the Chiefs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (6-10) [7.00]: The Raiders have taken a lot of steps to becoming a better team—Art Shell and Aaron Brooks most namely. They aren’t there and I don’t think Al Davis has enough going on upstairs anymore to run a vacuum cleaner, let alone a pro football team. I’m not sold on the idea of bringing in old blood to ease a team’s troubles, but Davis is far superior to Norv Turner. Many key players are in place to make a good team, but the organization is shot and can’t support success.

In the end, there will be a fight for the playoffs with Kansas City and Pittsburgh, and I think the Steelers will return and send the Chiefs packing. Denver will likely make the AFC Championship if they don’t have to face the Colts, since the Broncos don’t like to let the Colts punt during playoff games. I’m guessing they’ll face the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, and it’ll be just like the old AFC West “rivalries,” and it’ll be fun to see.

The Dangers of Teaching

Today was my first real class of the semester. I'm lecturing and I move my hands a lot. I do this when I talk anyway. So I thrust my hands into my pocket and get a wicked hangnail that starts bleeding all over the place. I start sucking my finger and I have to tell my students why. They now think I'm crazy, which to be fair they would have figured out pretty quickly anyway. I'm still talking and writing on the board of course while all this is going on and I get blood all over this piece of chalk, which is of course really gross and I end up looking at all the pieces of chalk after class to find it so that I throw it away because nothing would be more disgusting than being the next instructor in that room, picking up the piece of chalk, and finding it covered with blood.

I wonder if I can get workers' comp for this.


I have never understood the fascination with lawns. I am hardly the only person to feel this way and many scholars have recently studied the phenomenon, including historian Ted Steinberg who has written American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn. Although I've heard good things about this, I haven't yet read it. But this is a weird and I think particularly American phenomenon. I once drove across rural Tennessee with an Australian friend of mine and she was amazed by the massive lawns. People build their homes and then take down every tree between that home and the road, sometimes 50 yards away. They might plant a little tree or two that will eventually provide some shade. Then they plant grass over the entire swath. My friend couldn't understand why someone would do that and I honestly had no answer. My Dad in Oregon is the same way. We had a much smaller house but my God that man loves his lawn. Why? Who knows. I was just noticing this phenomenon again on my trip to Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. Why would you destroy all those beautiful trees to have a damn lawn? I suppose some of it has to do with the desire to be master over one's own domain--the long view is something people like. Part of it may also have to do with the conveniences of modern heating and cooling--you don't actually need those trees to shade the hot summer sun when you have central air.

While I find this phenomenon disturbing everywhere, in the American West it is disgusting. Michelle Nijhuis' article in the August 21 issue of High Country News explores the lawn in the West (sadly available by subscription only). Westerners love their lawns as much as anyone else. But they live in a place that cannot sustain them naturally. Thus, they use a ton of water and fertilizers that runs into water supplies. If they stop doing this, the lawns will die quickly. But they are going to have their patch of green no matter what by God. Lawns in the West show how completely disconnected people are from the environment they live in. This is a place where no one should grow grass. If you are going to live in the West, you need to understand the limitations of the land and climate. But most people willfully ignore this and it's leading to increasingly significant consequences as water supplies in states like Nevada and Utah are under serious strain--in many cities in these states outdoor water use accounts for 2/3 of residential water consumption.

Here in Albuquerque, most people are much better than the average westerner when it comes to lawns. You hardly ever see lawns and when you do, the grass is usually a variety of Bermuda grass that only greens up when it rains naturally--you rarely actually see a sprinkler. Some people don't get it of course, but the average Albuquerque resident does way better than their contemporaries in Phoenix or Las Vegas. Some of the worst violators seem to be large agencies. The University of New Mexico is a fascinating case--here you see one patch that is growing with native plants and another that is watering the hell out of a patch of lawn. My understanding is that this discrepancy has to do with the desires of people in power when the landscaping was put in and the grass by God constituencies that work next to these grassy areas. This isn't so surprising--urban planning in the West is haphazard anyway.

Luckily, some people are moving away from the lawn. In Albuquerque lots of people xeriscape their yard--using native plants that are drought-resistance and don't need special watering. I have seen some truly beautiful yards using cactus, shrubs, and other native species. These yards are easily as beautiful as any lawn, although they don't have the functionality that the lawn does--it's hard to hold a barbecue when there's prickly pear and cholla around. Could get unpleasant. But any long term planning in the West is going to have to deal with people and their lawns.

Wake Up Wal-Mart Tour

Yesterday I saw the bus for the Wake Up Wal-Mart Tour, possibly coming to a city near you. That is, if you live in a city that already opposes the environmental, planning, and labor policies of Wal-Mart. I'm happy enough to attack Wal-Mart because of these terrible policies. But what is the point of a bus tour that simply hits the liberal centers of America while almost skipping entirely the regions where Wal-Mart is the strongest. The tour began on the East Coast, went through the Great Lakes region, then busted ass through the Midwest clearly because they had no other way to go, got to New Mexico and is heading toward California and the West Coast. But Wal-Mart is strongest on the Great Plains and in the South. Why not go there?

The last thing we need is another preaching to the converted tour. Why not go to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina if you want to take it to Wal-Mart. Tell the people who still think Wal-Mart is the greatest thing ever how bad the country is. What are those trips to San Francisco and Seattle going to accomplish? No doubt lots of college kids who would never shop there anyway will show up. Big deal.

It just seems totally pointless to me unless you go to Tulsa, Birmingham, and Savannah as well as Madison, Santa Monica, and Detroit.

Places I Won't be Dining...

For exercises in poor taste, check out this new restaurant in Bombay...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The US in Mindanao. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

From Asia Times comes this story about the US wanting to build a military base in Mindanao as part of the war on terrorism.

Hey, I believe in fighting terrorism but this seems like a really bad idea. First, it's a reassertion of our colonial history over the Philippines. It was only 20 years ago that the Filipinos finally kicked the US military off the island for the first time since 1898. Given the history between the two nations, it seems to me that a military base would only make anti-Americanism stronger. Second, if you're a nationalist-Islamic military organization, wouldn't your ultimate enemy building a military base in your claimed territory be like a gift from God, er, Allah? Wouldn't a stronger US military presence just make your points for you?

We are putting a ton of money into Mindanao for infrastructure. This is a good idea. Creating a better life for the people of the southern Philippines will help US goals and the people of Mindanao. A US military base? I don't see this doing any good at all.

But what am I thinking? When hasn't a US military presence in the developing world helped our aims? I know I can't think of an example....

Defending Thailand

This little article on Thailand brought me to my limit of anti-Thailand propaganda. Unfortunately, this John Karr character was caught in Bangkok. Strictly a coincidence since he had also lived in various other countries before this. So now everyone is reminded of Thailand, the land of no morals, Thailand, the land of pedophilia, Thailand, the land of ping pong shooting strippers.

Well, this is a part of the country but it's far from the whole story. I haven't traveled to a ton of places in my life, but Thailand is far and away the best country I've traveled to. It's beautiful. The people are absolutely wonderful. It's incredibly relaxed. There is a wide variety of landscapes to hang out in. It's even fairly multicultural, with Buddhist Thais, but also large populations of Chinese, hill peoples, and a Muslim-dominated south. And this doesn't even take the food into account.

Sure, Thailand has problems. Yes, prostitution is a major issue there, though generally prostitutes aren't scorned by general society as they are here and that's a good thing. Yes, Germans come there for their pedophilia and that's profoundly fucked up. But before we start promoting the image of Thailand as a place of lawlessness and danger, let's remember that it's white people who are doing most of these things. Thai men certainly are large customers of prostitution, but it was US soldiers during the Cold War who helped make this such a big part of Thai society. It's Germans, Belgians, and Dutch men, among others, who use Thailand to rape children. The police are corrupt but a) that's not any different than the rest of Asia and b) this is at least partly the result of US attitudes during the Cold War that allowed repression anywhere so long it was in the name of anti-communism. Is it the Thais fault that they are so relaxed? Should they be like the US, like Germany, like Australia instead?

It's fine to exam the problems of Thai society but can we please keep it in perspective?

This Date in History...

Happy 48th (so-called) birthday, Julio Franco. When I was learning baseball in the mid-1980s, you were on my Cleveland Indians, and thanks to you, there is still a player in Major League Baseball who was playing when I started collecting baseball cards. I still admire the geri-curl you rocked on the 1987 cards....

Feliz cumpleanos, Julio, from me and millions of baseball fans from the past and present.

More Galling Actions from the US Government

Much ado is (rightfully) being made of the "natural disaster" of Katrina (and let's get one thing straight - hurricanes aren't "natural disasters" - they're part of nature; Katrina was a HUMAN disaster, particularly from the perspective of governmental response. But that's another blog...) and the fact that New Orleans and parts of Mississippi STILL have yet to even begin to recover or get cleaned up and rebuilt.

A few weeks ago, Erik commented that, it shouldn't be possible, but the government still finds ways to appal us. In a new addition to that department....the government pledged about 110 billion dollars to Katrina recovery. Sounds good, right? Well, if you've seen recent photos of New Orleans and the Gulf coast, you may ask, "um...there have been some improvements, but wasn't there supposed to be a more complete recovery?" Well, in a report on CNN this morning, they reported that, of that 110 billion dollars, 85 billion of it IMMEDIATELY went to FEMA, and ultimately, only 4 billion of it has gone to funds to actually help homeowners who were affected. Of that four billion, homeowners WILL receive (but have not yet receieved) checks for 150,000 dollars.

So, just to recap: an agency that's proven itself completely inept, particularly given the fact that it's been subsumed into larger organs of the governmental bureaucracy under the Homeland Security department (remember when Republicans were anti-big government?) gets almost all of the emergency money, while the people actually affected have yet to get any aid from the state, and when they do, it probably won't match the cost of repairs and rebuilding.

Does anybody in Washington believe the (apparently old-fashioned) notion that states are supposed to HELP their citizens, and not just strike fear into their hearts while culling their tax money for war crimes?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Illegailty of Bush's Wiretapping

I'm not very lucid in such matters, but the recent Federal Court ruling on the illegality of Bush's wiretap approvals for the NSA has the potential (if anybody chooses to act on it - a big if) to really be a watershed in the rest of this administration, and how we deal with the Bush court both historically and legally. What's really frightening for this Latin Americanist is how much the wiretapping policies specifically, and the Bush regime's policies more generally (perhaps most evident in his ideoological hyper-black-white worldview that paints an "us vs. them" attitude at its most looks like a [barely] candy-coated version of the military dictatorships. And if that seems to "radical" for some, bear in mind that, while those governments weren't "elected," they did witness popular support in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and elsewhere...

For a really good analysis/discussion of it, see today's post at Empire Burlesque, where the journalist mentioned is far more concise and informed on the issue than I ever could be. And, as he points out, the "just following orders" defenses that were so common from Nuremburg through Latin America in the present (see the stories about Argentina still dealing with court cases 23 years after it's military state fell, and the ongoing saga of Pinochet), we may see future examples of NSA employees pulling similar lines, all in the name of "national defense." The more things change geopolitically, the more they stay the same...

Black Musicians as New Mexico Sheriffs

I had long known that Bo Diddley spent some time in the 1970s as sheriff of beautiful Los Lunas, New Mexico. But last night I found that Gatemouth Brown had the same job in Farmington in the 1960s.

This is a very strange coincidence. What else will I find out? James Brown as sheriff of Hatch (he's hot, like green chile!)? Prince as sheriff of Mora? Rick James as sheriff of Española? Oh, that last one would be appropriate.

Tuesday Forgotten American Blogging--Wesley Everest

Unlike the previous posts in this serious, almost nobody in the world knows who Wesley Everest is. Everest was an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer working in the Pacific Northwest woods during the late 1910s. A center of IWW work was the town of Centralia, in southwestern Washington. Today, this area (actually its neighboring town of Chehalis) is known for a right-wing billboard that has "graced" a spot along I-5 for as long as I can remember. Originally on a spot between the two towns, the farmer who found it nice to promote his views of foreigners as evil and Hillary Clinton having killed Vince Foster, eventually sold his land to Green Giant. The owners of Green Giant, although they probably agreed with everything he said, particularly the anti-labor propaganda, didn't want the publicity so they announced they were taking the sign down. Chehalis decided to move it into town so the old man could still publicize his insanity to tens of thousands of people every day. So the story I'm about tell about this area probably won't surprise you.

The IWW had a union hall in Centralia, just north of downtown. This was their second hall--the first was destroyed in 1918 by local 100% Americanists. The IWW had organized in the forests throughout the 1910s and by World War I had thrown the region into turmoil. Why? Because timber operators treated their workers like animals. Not even providing bedding (except for vermin-infested hay) and serving often tainted food, these camp operators forced as many workers as possible into truly disgusting bunk houses that were filled with various diseases. Fresh water in the camps was often hard to find and work days were long, hard, and extraordinarily dangerous (I have an excellent story of a man getting impaled on a shovel for instance). So loggers were pretty happy to fight for better conditions, something the IWW took full advantage of.

By 1917, strikes were rampant through the forests. Normally, the federal government probably wouldn't have done anything about it. But airplanes were a new weapon in the war. In particular, the military needed Sitka spruce, a tree that grows only in the temperate rainforests of the northern Pacific Coast to build the planes. So the government went in, forced the camp operators to give the workers decent living conditions, set up a government-sponsored company union called the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, and told the striking loggers that they could work if they renounced the IWW. This was incredibly successful and the IWW died almost immediately. After the war, the companies kept the 4-L going until 1937 and prevented the IWW from making a meaningful return.

But the IWW still hung on among some loggers. So they had a union hall in Centralia in 1919. The newly formed American Legion, containing the pride of the Centralia community, decided to turn their parade on the first anniversary of Armistice Day into an attack on the IWW hall. But the IWW had been warned and instead of letting the good people of Centralia destroy their hall like the year before, they posted sentries on hill above the town, armed everyone, and started firing. 4 Legion members were killed. Wesley Everest, one of the IWW organizers, was lynched that night.

Everest was not particularly exceptional in any way. After his death, the IWW tried to make him into a hyper-masculinized Christ-like figure, which is amusing to the present-day historian (at least this one), but not at all convincing. Why Everest is worth knowing about is that he is representative of radical labor in the 1910s that tried to revolutionize America and as the most famous person involved in the lumber organizing of the period. I am usually quite contempuous of the IWW. I believe that anarchism is a pernicious influence on the left and has been for over 100 years now. It serves the interests of capitalism better than anything the capitalists could possibly invent themselves. Sure the IWW had some big victories during their heyday, but those unions all disappeared within a year of their famous confrontations. They couldn't organize 2 people, never mind thousands.

But the Pacific Northwest was a little different. Because they organized primarily over conditions that affected thousands of people over a large geographical space, they managed to build some real unions over the years. But they only did this by underplaying their own ideological foundations and focusing on the kind of bread and butter goals that the AFL used in these same years. I don't think the IWW got unionism in the Northwest any better than they did anywhere else (though the AFL didn't get it either since they weren't even a presence in the forests. Too many Finns to organize I guess), but they did understand what workers needed and sacrificed everything, including the life of Wesley Everest, to get it for them. Ultimately, they had some success because had they not spent the previous decade causing havoc in the forests, the government never would have gone in there and improved those conditions. Of course, they won at the price of losing but nonetheless, you have to judge their actions a success on one level.

Less admirable is the American Legion, one of the most pernicious organizations in American history. Used as a paramilitary organization in the Imperial Valley during the 1920s and 1930s, and as anti-labor, anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-woman organization throughout the nation, their actions at Centralia were lauded, not denounced by the American public as a whole. This was approximately the same time as the Palmer Raids, which launched the career of J. Edgar Hoover, and the anti-immigration laws that among other things ensured that Jewish children couldn't come to the US to escape Adolf Hitler. Both of these things had the strong support of the Legion. Now that the WWII generation is dying off, I really hope the Legion goes the way of the dodo and passenger pigeon.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Is that what they call "sportsmanship"?

I've been following baseball a long time, but you don't need to be an expert to know your season's in bad shape when your manager and a pitcher are practically coming to blows...

Thank you, Toronto, for making me, as a Cleveland Indians fan, not feel so bad about my team this year.

And now, a moment of silence for the glory days of the Blue Jays-they are clearly a thing of the past.

NCAA Top 25--Preseason Rankings

Each week this year, I'll be giving my college top 25 rankings with comments for some teams. Also, look for Lyrad and myself to put out an NFL preview toward the end of this week.

1. Ohio St.--I was going to put Oklahoma in this spot but the loss of Bomar changes that. I have trouble buying a convincing argument for any team other than Ohio St. at this point. Looking forward to that Texas game.

2. West Virginia--They may not be the 2nd best team, but you can certainly make a better case for them going undefeated than any team in the country.

3. Florida--Urban Meyer in his second year should lead this team to great things. Too bad because I hate Florida.

4. Auburn--It seems like Auburn should have won a national championship in my lifetime. Maybe it'll be this year.

5. LSU--But Auburn would have to beat a solid LSU team.

6. USC--They have to replace a lot. They might have the best talent in football but it's hard to see them not making a misstep or two along the way.

7. California--I believe this is a very solid team that could make a real run. They play at Tennessee early. It should tell us a lot.

8. Oklahoma--No Bomar, but they still have Adrian Peterson and that means a lot. Also the Big 12 is the most overrated conference in football so they should do pretty well.

9. Louisville--A lot of firepower and a favorable schedule makes for a dangerous team. Looking forward to Louisville-West Virginia.

10. Texas--There is no way this is a #1 or #2 team. No Vince Young. No QB with any experience. Tons of starters lost. I know they have a lot of talent and in 2007 this could be a champion level team again. But not this year.

11. Michigan--Maybe this will be the year they play up to expectations. A fairly weak Big 10 will help.

12. Oregon--A tough early schedule but I could see them making a solid run. The QBs getting experience last year after Clemens got hurt last year makes a huge difference, as does nearly beating Oklahoma in the Holiday Bowl.

13. Notre Dame--I am not a believer. Notre Dame played an incredibly easy schedule last year. Yes, they almost beat USC but Ohio St. showed just how undeserved ND's BCS bid was.

14. Miami--Also not a believer in this team. I imagine they'll be pretty good and might even win the ACC, but they seem to be on a downward cycle.

15. Virginia Tech--They could easily win the ACC too, especially with the distraction of Marcus Vick gone.

16. TCU--They could go undefeated this year in the Mountain West.

17. Georgia--They lost a lot but it's hard to see them slipping too far.

18. Florida St--I'm really tempted to place them even lower. The Miami game early in the season will be interesting.

19. Utah--Pretty good team, weak conference. It's TCU, Utah, and a bunch of scrubs in the Mountain West this year.

20. Iowa--I can't lie--I know nothing about this team. But it seems like a good spot for probably the #3 team in the Big 10.

21. Arizona St.--They should be tough this year. But everyone said that last year too.

22. Clemson--Could be the sleeper in the ACC.

23. South Carolina--Sleeper of the SEC in Spurrier's second year.

24. Boise St.--Never count out the power of this team.

25. Arizona--I think this is a fast rising team. They will upset some people this year. Mike Stoops is a great recruiter.

Major teams not making it:

Nebraska (wait and see), Penn St. (lost a lot and last year was probably a fluke), Tennessee (terrible last year and tons of discipline problems already), Alabama (just not that good), Texas Tech (they could make a run but I'm not ready to say that yet)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mr. Trend's Benefits of being out of the country (II): "News"

Another benefit? No CNN, who, as of tonight, summarized this "news" story with the following:

"JonBenet suspect gets royal treatment

The plane carrying John Mark Karr is expected to land in the United States after midnight ET. The suspect in the killing of JonBenet Ramsey sat in business class and dined on pate, shrimp and champagne with the government picking up the tab for the 15-hour flight. But experts say it could be a good investment for prosecutors."


What Good Is Michael Bay's Presence on the Earth?

Can anyone give me a good reason why Michael Bay should be allowed to direct a movie based on the Transformers? Maybe the movie will be more than meets the eye. Somehow I doubt it.

The Irrelevance of Mainstream Country Music

So Los Angeles has joined New York and San Francisco as markets without a country music station. I wonder why? Could it be that the music is so bad, so completely vapid and worthless, that people aren't listening anymore? This is so shocking. And I would have thought that production values reminiscent of Journey albums and songs about how much you still love your wife would really resonate with the public.

Seriously, Nashville is run by some of the stupidest people on the planet. There is still a potential market for country music in this country. But not the worthless shit that Nashville puts forward as their stars. Why listen to Faith Hill or Tim McGraw when you could listen to, well, just about any other music on the planet.

That it's Los Angeles says a lot too. LA has always been a country music haven because of the mass migration of southerners to the region beginning in the 1930s and then exploding during and after World War II. Bob Wills moved out there in the 40s to play his legendary concerts on the Santa Monica Pier. Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Wynn Stewart got their starts in Bakersfield and of course played LA all the time. This is the equivalent of not having a country station in Dallas or Oklahoma City. And if Nashville keeps putting out this shit, they probably won't have stations in those cities either.

I Am So Sick of Iowa and New Hampshire

I applaud the Democratic National Committee for trying to downplay the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire in the presidential races. But those states are fighting back and possible 2008 candidates are afraid to challenge them. I don't really blame the potential candidates--those states hold so much power over American political life. The best plan that I've heard is to have 4 primary days each cycle with the states split into 4 regions and the different regions rotating into the lead position. This makes as much sense as anything else I've heard.

Right now we have 2 incredibly small, white, and relatively irrelevant states controlling who our candidate is going to be. The DNC is pushing Nevada and South Carolina to the foreground as well. I'd rather see California, New York, or one of the Great Lakes states rather than these small states, but at least Nevada and South Carolina have significant non-white populations that will have some representation.

In any case, this system needs to change now.

Efforts towards Justice in Argentina

There's an interesting article in the New York Times today on the revival of trials against officers involved in torture in Argentina's most recent dictatorship (1976-1983). It's worth checking out, as it ably reveals both the benefits and the problems of trying to bring such men to justice more than twenty years later. These problems confront not just a legal system trying to make a case that's more than twenty years old, but also for the victims, many of whom, under the current system, will have to testify again and again, reliving painful memories for cases that still may never see punishment. Nor is Argentina the sole example of this, as the far-more-famous Pinochet case has demonstrated similar problems. At any rate, it's worth checking out, for it reveals how the military dictatorships that the U.S. openly supported in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s do not end with their leaders, but have social, cultural, and economic effects that refuse to go away from the public arena.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Film Review--8 Women

I enjoy Francois Ozon’s films a lot; I’ve discussed this in the past. But his 2002 musical tribute to French cinema’s “Grande Dame,” 8 Women, also more than a titular homage to George Cukor’s 1939 The Women, exemplifies the aspects of his films that I like so much and is a welcome change of pace in Ozon’s body of work.

Suzon comes home from college for Christmas break to find her father dead. She, along with all her extended family and servants, get snowed in, so must solve the mystery themselves. In the process, deep family secrets are revealed, and the fabric of a rich family is torn asunder. Supporting this Agatha Christie plot is a litany of great French actresses that represent the past, present, and future of French filmmaking, and are allowed to explode in all their melodramatic glory. We have Suzon, her sister Catherine (Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier, two of the fastest rising young stars in France [Sagnier has been fantastic in two other films for Ozon, as well]), and their mother Gaby (Catherine Deneuve, whose unbelievable skill and beauty are the stuff of legend) as the immediate family of the deceased. Gaby’s mother Mamy (Danielle Darrieux, who is currently celebrating her 75th year in film) and virginal, hyper-tense sister Augustine (Isabelle Huppert, cast in a role far against type) have come to live at the estate and leech off the fortune. The dead dad’s estranged sister Pierrette (Fanny Ardant) just happens to pop by that morning, and the maids (Emmanuelle Beart and Firmine Richard) are acting pretty weird in their own right. The strange twists and dark turns that come on this windy road are all tongue-in-cheek, especially when the ladies break into song just after revealing some of the most damning insight into the situation. There’s nothing conventional about the plot, although the outcome does not come from nowhere, and the revelations certainly agree with my esthetic, if nothing else.

With a few exceptions, I’m not the biggest fan of film stage productions, which 8 Women certainly feels like. But Jeanne Lapoire’s cinematography is fantastic and, even though there is essentially one room the action takes place in, he breathes a vivid life into a setting that, while often over the top, never feels put on. Ozon, having just previously directed his successful film adaptation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Water Drops on Burning Rocks, manages the action with master’s skill. No actress is upstaged, and all of them flow through this lush front room of the mansion with grace and ease. They all act together believably as a family; all the bickering and changes of allegiance ring hilariously true.

Often, even in his comedies like Sitcom, Ozon’s films have a weighty cloud of satire, commentary, and seriousness over them, but 8 Women is pure, uninhibited fun. Watching all these actresses at their comedic best more than makes up for some plotting that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and, like a more restrained David Lynch, it is sometimes better to go along for the ride and take in the big picture, because red herrings are the name of the game here.

Best News I've Heard All Week

Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons went to the Yankees-Red Sox game today, visiting both clubhouses. He had a brain aneurysm in June and nearly died. He's on the mend and I can't wait to hear and read his commentary next year.

Deindustrialization and Poverty in Rural Oregon

I was pleased to see Erik Eckholm's New York Times article today on Oakridge, Oregon. I grew up about 40 miles from Oakridge so it's a town I know fairly well. Eckholm is right on in describing the disaster that has overtaken not only Oakridge but a plethora of small Oregon mountain towns--Coquille, Drain, Sweet Home, etc. All of these towns were as dependent on lumber as Akron was on rubber and Flint on cars. We usually think of deindustrialization in terms of large urban centers and factories. But industrialization always had complex roots in small towns, particularly in the American West where resource extraction dominated local economies. The 1980s were good times in these towns. But these were bound to end because they were predicated on unsustainable timber harvests. When that happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in part because most of the big trees were gone and in part because of the listing of the Northern spotted owl on the Endangered Species List, these towns had nothing to fall back on. I think the only reason for Oakridge to exist today is a) it's the first town with gas over the mountains on Highway 58 and b) as a speed trap.

While the story of deindustrialization is one of human tragedy, at the same time, I'm not sure why we should want people to keep living there. Most people are either not working or commuting to Eugene anyway. It's not responsible in an environmental or planning way to have people driving 45 miles down a winding mountain road to get to work every day.

What I found remarkable about the story was the woman who moved to Oakridge from Las Vegas not only because it seemed safe to raise her kids (which I question given meth use in that area) but because she could raise them on little money--it seems quite clear from the article that her intention to work much or find some kind of way to improve her life seems limited at best. Usually I am quite sympathetic with people in these situations, except that she had the agency to move several hundred miles north to make that lifestyle work for her. Really, if you have that kind of energy, why not try to find something a little better than a run-down trailer in Oakridge?

CIA and Crack

From Roxanne via Scott--this story from the LA Times about the now 10 year old story that the CIA facilitated the supply of crack into inner-city communities in the 1980s.

10 years ago I didn't quite understand the CIA. Maybe I still don't but I know a whole lot more than I did then. Then, I didn't think it was possible. Why would they do that, I asked. Now I still don't know the extent that the CIA was involved, but it is clearly possible. A combination with a right-wing government organization during the Reagan presidency that clearly didn't care about blacks and the desire to see the Contras win at any human cost certainly could have led to the CIA at least turning their heads the other way to Nicaraguan dealers.

In fact, given the nefarious nature of the CIA and the known bizarro projects they engaged in over the years (funneling money to abstract artists to turn the art world against socialist realism for instance or the quixotic attempts to kill Castro), it actually seems quite plausible now that I write about it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

10 Treasures of Albuquerque

In trying to be more positive about Albuquerque, I am listing 10 things that are really great about this town.

1. Green chile. OK, this is all over New Mexico. Albuquerque has great stuff but maybe not better than the rest of the state. But most of you outside of New Mexico don't have a local cuisine that even touches New Mexican food. Eat your chile!

2. Ta Lin. Why does Albuquerque have such a spectacular Asian food market? I have no idea but we sure as hell are lucky.

3. The Sandias. New Mexico is beautiful. Albuquerque pretty much isn't. But at least we have some beautiful mountains behind us to go hang out in.

4. Summer. Right now, most of you are sweating profusely. It's about 84 in Albuquerque today and beautiful. Spring may suck here but we have the best weather in the country right now (with the possible exception of Seattle).

5. Flying Star. I don't know how many times I've been in various cities and wanted a total kick ass dessert late at night. Here, I can get that. What a great place.

6. KUNM. People kind of rip on KUNM frequently. I disagree. I think it's a great station. Sure, I don't listen to every show. Not even close. But there is some kind of show for every music fan. How many cities have a community radio station with this kind of coverage. Public radio in general is great here. There is another radio station, KANW, that does most of the NPR stuff that I have only a moderate interest in, like Prairie Home Companion and Car Talk. If I'm in the mood, I can tune in there.

7. Insanity. In this city, you never ever know what is going to happen. Sure, some of it is scary. OK, a lot of it is scary. But at least it's interesting.

8. La Montanita Co-op. Normal apples suck. At La Montanita, I can almost always find varieties of apples I've never heard of. It's actually made me like apples. Plus I can shop with hippies and who doesn't like that.

9. We're not Santa Fe. A special message from me to the city of Santa Fe: Burn in hell you pretentious, turquoise-jeweled, fringe-wearing motherfuckers. The next time you people rip on Albuquerque, remember that you have no soul. Love, Erik

10. The smell of the rain. There's something about rain in the Southwest that brings out the most wonderful smell in the soil. I'd lived in rainy places my whole life and I didn't know that smell until I came to New Mexico. It may not rain much here (except for this summer) but when it does, it is so wonderful.

Lyrad's Random 10

Finally, the last and greatest of all "Random 10's" for the week:

1. Melvins--Goggles
2. Reverend E.D. Campbell with his congregation--Saul of Tarsus
3. Skin of Tears--The Man in the Mountains
4. Belisario Romero--Mi novia es cieba
5. Al Cook--My Barrelhouse Mama
6. Townes Van Zandt--Talkin' Thunderbird Blues
7. Rage Against the Machine--Bombtrack
8. Bob Dylan--Bye and Bye
9. Iceburn--Brick; 8. Deconstruction
10. Charlie Barnett and the California Ramblers--Down South Camp Meeting

Erik's Random 10

I can't believe Mr. Trend got his up before me. I must be slacking.

1. Miles Davis, Gemini/Double Image
2. Charles Wuornien, Third Piano Concerto
3. Flaco Jimenez, Un Viejo Amor
4. Bell Oeil, Je Ne Suis Qu'Un Attendé
5. Ken Orrick, Long Black Veil
6. Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, The Charging Sky
7. Billy Bang, Seeing Together
8. Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time, Tuesday's Gone
9. Robinella & the CC String Band, Dress Me Up, Dress Me Down
10. The Osborne Brothers, Muddy Bottom

Mister Trend's Random 10

1. "Little Trouble Girl" - Sonic Youth
2. "Hardhearted Hannah" - Ray Charles
3. "Please Have Mercy" - John Lee Hooker
4. "This Year's Love" - David Gray
5. "X Offender" - Blondie
6. "Akhnaten: Act III, Scene IV: Epilogue" - Philip Glass
7. "Devil's Sidewalk" - Neil Young
8. "Just Got Paid" - ZZ Top
9. "Ruined in '84" - K.C. Accidental
10. "King of Spain" - Galaxie 500

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Greatest Idea in the History of Western Civilization

I just read this post about an all macaroni and cheese restaurant in New York.

What could I possibly add to this except to say that I wish I lived in New York right now.

The Jonbenet Ramsey Case and What It Says about America (II): Sexuality

There is another particularly troubling component of the Ramsey case, one that everybody seems to ignore, and that's the sexual aspect. Though it's speculation right now, it seems fair that, given the fact that police determined Ramsey had been sexually abused, and that Karr was arrested via investigation into sexual abuse in Thailand where he was hiding, the sexual component will be heavily played out, both in the media and (if it gets that far) the courts. People will condemn him as a sexual deviant and declare, "how could he do that to a six-year-old girl?"

But where's the blame of the parents here? They become victims with Ramsey's death, but they were the FIRST people to sexualize her. In this particular case, everybody now says, "oh, it's too bad Patsy Ramsey died before she could see this day," but where are the questions about why she made her daughter look like a glorified, wealthy tramp at the age of four, five, six??? That is the nature of all of these absurd childhood beauty pageants. You dress your child up to look like, at best, a "beautiful" and "glamorous" 20-something-year-old object of sexuality, or, at worst, a glorified call girl. You put them in glamorous dresses and skimpy outfits, with obscene amounts of makeup, have them parade around the country, displaying their bodies and their "beauty" in front of numerous adults, and say, "look how beautiful she is!" And then you're shocked, SHOCKED, when others sexually assault these same children?

Yet we in America find no blame for the parents, not just the Ramseys, but all parents who put their children through such experiences (to say nothing of the authoritarian and exploitative nature of the parents who abuse their children in such a way, and make no mistake about it, childhood pageants of the kind Ramsey was in are abuse). We condemn sexual criminals, do all we can to lock up men and women who abuse young boys and girls physically through fondling, kissing, or rape. And certainly, I'm not apologizing for those people - what they do is not very defensible. But it's time we moved beyond condemning just the people who go to jail for such crimes, and also began questioning parents (and even a society) that make their children into sexual objects for the purposes of displays, pageants, and trophies.

The Jonbenet Ramsey Case and What It Says about America (I): Race

I'm certainly not the first person to raise this issue, but suffice to say, I find it at the same time appalling and not the least bit surprising that, with the alleged confession of her so-called "murderer," JonBenet Ramsey is once again national news. Keep in mind, folks, that, as a ten-year-old murder case, this story has now outlived Ms. Ramsey by 4 years. And here we are, suddenly captivated by the murder of a white girl in Colorado - it preempts all news of how many people we are killing or who are being killed in Iraq; it preempts any attention to the continued plight of Africans in various parts of that continent, be it through disease or war; it pre-empts the death of Alfredo Stroessner, one of Latin America's longest-lasting dictators, one who set the paradigm for open cooperation with the US during the Cold War and whose privatization policies and neoliberal agreements with the US set the stage for similar policies in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and elsewhere, effects of which are still felt today.

And we're concerned about some white guy admitting to killing a white girl.

All this of course just continues to show how deeply rooted our racism in the United States is. It's sinister for the way it "hides" itself. We proclaim that racial epithets are no longer appropriate, and anybody caught using them against any group in any mental state is immediately chastized.

Yet what would our reaction have been had Ramsey not been white? Again, I'm not the first to point this out, but it bears repeating as much as often - the US just prefers white. Elizabeth Smart could go missing for a few days (and ultimately 10 months) in 2002, and it was national news for good 8 weeks during her absence, and upon discovering she was still alive and the police capturing her kidnappers, it became national again. But did anybody bat an eye when a young, poor, African-American girl went missing for sixteen months in 2001-2002? No. And consider that number - SIXTEEN months. Think of where you were sixteen months ago...that's a relatively long time. And the news totally ignored (and ignores) cases like Rilya Wilson's, while becoming totally involved with cases like Smart's and Ramsey's, even though it has virtually no bearing on the direction of the nation, or even of the people beyond the immediate impact of the case.

Additionally, it's not just that Ramsey's white - what if her alleged killer had been black? The outrage wouldn't be as open or blatant as that in the fictional-yet-dead-on tale told in Richard Wright's "Native Son," but it's very reasonable to suppose it wouldn't be that far removed, either.

Racism isn't dead - it's just masked.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

After an absence of six years, I visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park last week. Located on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, it is America's most visited national park. It's also one of our most interesting to think about.

The Smokies lack the iconic awe-inspiring grandeur that most of our most famous national parks have. Yellowstone has Old Faithful. Yosemite has Yosemite Falls. Grand Canyon has the Grand Canyon. Except during the fall color season, the Smokies lack anything like this. The Smokies are the highest part of the ancient Appalachian mountain chain. The highest elevation is less than 7000 feet and most of it is less than 5000. Given that on the first glance, it's not one of America's most amazing places, why is it so popular?

I think there are several reasons for this. I'll list them, but not in any particular order:

1. First, whites have really screwed up the environment of the eastern half of the United States. At one time, most of the East looked like the Smokies. Now there's only a few places that compare--Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Adirondacks, maybe a couple other spots. The Smokies are the one place that millions of Americans can easily go to get away from cities and into a relatively unchanged nature, even though any scientist or environmental historian can tell you that in fact the Smokies today are quite different than 400 years ago.

2. The most popular part of the Smokies is Cades Cove, an old farming community from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A lot of the buildings still stand and the fields are mostly kept clear. Although this is to some extent a historical fantasy because the Park Service is presenting a certain version of Cades Cove's past that erases its history as a resort community, it is clear that Cades Cove represents a space where nostalgia can be unloosed with actual buildings for it to bounce off of. The anti-urban prejudice remains strong in America. Suburbanization is part of this. While Cades Cove is a long way from a suburb, its popularity has many of the same historical origins. It is a cool place to go, especially during the fall. But there are lots of cool places in the area--it's the historical nostalgia that drives its popularity.

3. It's free. Because of rules included in the original park legislation, it's one of the only major national parks to not charge a fee. I don't know if this makes a huge difference, since it's not as if the Grand Canyon is hurting for visitors. But it no doubt helps. It also means that the Smokies have very little money, causing a big backlog in maintenance, park programs, etc.

4. The Dark Side--The Smokies, particularly on the Tennessee side, is dominated by the theme parks just outside its borders. The towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge attract far more people than the mountains do. Most of these visitors probably enter the park at some point. But they come to play at Dollywood and the chintzy-ass stores in Pigeon Forge. Gatlinburg may be slightly less offensive, but just slightly. Here, the fact of the mountains are almost completely erased by the theme park tourism promoted and consumed by millions. Once, I was driving from Atlanta to Knoxville through the Smokies. It became dark about at Newfound Gap, the top of the Smokies. It was pitch black for the rest of the trip until I reached Gatlinburg, which literally goes up to the edge of the park. I turn a corner and BOOM, the lights of Gatlinburg. Incredibly alienating.

I think what's really amazing about this place though is none of the above. It's the sublime beauty that hiking or even driving through the Smokies provides. No, there are no whitecapped peaks, no giant waterfalls, no grizzly bears or moose. But the sheer biological diversity is remarkable. Just a short walk through the forest shows the amazing diversity--plants of all sizes, many kinds of trees, mushrooms, mosses, ferns, small animals, fish, deer, turkeys, bear. Around each corner you are bound to see something different if you look. On a short walk, I saw at least 5 different types of mushrooms. Not many places you can do this. If we stop and take in the place, I don't know that there is a better park in the national park system.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Grossly Underappreciated Author

Many people poo-poo science fiction as a genre. They tend to equate it to stories of far-off planets where dragons not only exist but speak and sometimes dominate, where there are fantastical creatures, and where humans have names that invariably provide new innovations in the combinations of vowels and consonants. However, such a notion does a great disservice to the notion of science fiction (indeed, what I just described is fantasy, not science fiction, but that's for another blog). Some of the finest films of the last 50 years, ranging from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Blade Runner, from Solaris to The Man Who Fell to Earth, are based on science fiction novels that have as much, if not more, to say than these remarkable films.

Which leads us into one of the most underappreciated authors of the last 50 years. Certainly, Philip K. Dick has legions of fans within the science fiction community. Yet outside of it, he remains virtually unknown, and unfairly so. Many people (including many I've spoken with in my days in retail life at a bookstore) instantly shy away from the notion that he could be a science fiction, both without understanding what science fiction says and offers, thinking it's the domain of some stereotypical Dungeons & Dragons group of people who never date and don't move out of their parents' house. Recent film productions of his work haven't helped him much later, be it Ben Affleck's appalling "Paycheck" (based on a Dick Short Story, thus violating the rule that "a two-hour-film does not a twenty-page-story make") to this summer's under-the-radar "A Scanner Darkly."

Yet go to your local bookstore, and select any Philip K. Dick book. Give the back of it a read, or start off reading the first few pages (the first chapters of his corpus are generally short). You may notice that the publisher describes him as "our Calvino, our Borges," and while it is certainly an economically-motivated praise, it is one that is not far off base, either. Like the previous two, Dick masterfully demonstrates the popular idea that science fiction is "beach reading" is an utter falsehood. His works deal with questions of divinity, reality, freedom, drug use, the Cold War (after all, he wrote from the 1950s to his death in 1982). His works can encompass the humorous, the existential, the tragic, and the paranoid easily, from one chapter to another, and his ability to make you question not only the characters' perceived reality, but our own, with one plot twist is unrivalled. Although he draws heavily on themes risen from life in the center of nuclear competition in the Cold War, the nature of governments both in the US and elsewhere in the 1960s and 1970s, and the use of psychedelics (of which he partook openly) in the 1960s, his works hold up remarkably well over time. Notions of a post-apocalyptic world do not make the subject matter he tackles dated (indeed, the more-revered "Alas Babylon" does not hold up NEARLY as well). In our current times, in which geopolitics are often riven by the war on "terror" that splits the world into dichotomies (just like the Cold War), Reagan's "war on drugs" was never terminated, and the government increasingly looks like the authoritarian governments of his work, Philip Dick's work remains incredibly relevant and useful for exploring issues like the role of states and society, what is reality, and the simple human attempt to deal with life on a daily basis. All the while, he keeps it unique enough, be it in terms of characters (human or otherwise), planets (not-earth), and means of salvation (an aerosol can that offers it) to make it as fantastical as anything Borges or Calvino or Garcia Marquez wrote.

There are numerous places you could start. If you'd like a broad study of humanity in times of trial, check out "The Man in the Castle." If you're prefer issues of personal identity, see "We Can Make You." "Radio Free Albemuth" tackles the issue of increasingly repressive governments, while "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" and "The Man Who Japed" deal with just what reality is. If you're more interested in his satirical, perhaps begin with "The Zap Gun." And if you want to start with something that may look a little familiar, check out "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" (which became Blade Runner - I think you'll find the movie is radically different from the book it was based on).

So check out some Philip Dick, and see what one of the best American authors of the last 50 years had to say, and see how germane it still is, nearly 25 years after his death.

Tuesday Forgotten Americans Blogging--John Quincy Adams

Given the surprising popularity of my William Howard Taft post last week, I've decided to blog about a forgotten American every Tuesday. One can question whether ex-presidents are really forgotten about, but nobody knows anything about most of them and they should.

Today, I want to present one John Quincy Adams. I imagine no one out there knows much of anything about Adams. But he's really a remarkable individual and under different circumstances and with a slightly different personality could have been one of our greatest presidents. Born in 1767, to John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers and the second president of the United States, JQ Adams was trained from an early age to be prominent American. Adams Sr. took JQ with him to Europe in the early days of the republic. When he was 11, he lived in Paris and later moved to Amsterdam and then the German states.

With these formative experiences, a smart mind, and the high expectations of his parents, John Quincy was named US minister to Amsterdam in 1794, at the age of 27. Pretty impressive. His early career was dominated by foreign matters, which are perhaps of limited interest. He served in various countries and came back for a time to serve in Congress.

Where Adams gets interesting is after his appointment by James Monroe as Secretary of State in 1817. The US was very weak at this time--it had barely survived the War of 1812 that ended only 2 years before--but it was looking to expand its boundaries. He negoitated the Adams-Onis treaty of 1819 that gave Florida to the US (after Andrew Jackson pretty much decided to take it by force). But his biggest foreign policy success was the Monroe Doctrine.

Adams authored this statement which is often excoriated by progressives today, and with good reason. But at the time, 1823, Adams didn't intend this to be an instrument of US agression in the Americas. Rather, he wanted to protect both US interests and the people of Latin America. The nations of Latin America had just become independent of Spain and there were fears of European invasions to recolonize these lands. Adams composed the Monroe Doctrine to both protect those nations but also to assert US primacy in the region. It wasn't really until Theodore Roosevelt's presidency that the Monroe Doctrine became a weapon of imperialism. The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine gave the US the right to intervene in the affairs of Latin American nations whenever we thought it necessary--from that point forward, US policy toward the region became far more paternalistic and interventionalist. But the original doctrine did no such thing.

Adams became president in 1824. No one questioned his qualifications. But because it was a 4 party race, he was voted in by the House, even though Andrew Jackson had more electoral votes. Believing that the most competent people should serve in the Cabinet, he named Henry Clay Secretary of State. However, Clay had used his influence as the 4th place and therefore ineligbile candidate once the election went to the House to have his voters go for Adams. Thus, Jackson's supporters claimed it was a "corrupt bargain" made between Adams and Clay. In fact, it was not but Adams was a terrible politician and ignored the obvious problems naming Clay would cause. This undermined his presidential career, which could have been great. He had an expansive vision of the federal government and hoped to use his power to improve the educational and intellectual life of the country. He proposed for instance a series of national astronomy observatories for instance--this was ridiculed at the time but it seems to me that such a program could have done a lot of good for the young nation, and in fact we could use some of this today. But he was crushed in the 1828 election by Jackson.

It was really after his presidency that Adams became a shining light. Not willing to give up politics, he entered Congress from 1831 until his death in 1848. Here he became the early congressional leader in the antislavery movement. It was largely because of Adams' obsessive reading of antislavery petitions on the House floor that Congress implemented a gag order prohibiting these to be read. He represented the Amistad slaves in their fight for freedom. Until his death, Adams used his significant power to advance the antislavery cause at a time when it was largely unpopular, even in the North.

Overall then, Adams certainly is one of the most interesting Americans of all time. With a widely varied career that allowed him to use his talents in various fields, Adams always held principles higher than politics, something that was disastrous in a president in 1825, not to mention today. But it is hard to argue that America would not be a better place with more politicans like John Quincy Adams.

Quick Film Review--Sweet Sixteen (2002)

1. Ken Loach. What a fun guy.

2. Loach is so much better when he leaves the overt politics behind and just tells a story. While I have a certain lefty appreciation for films like Carla's Song and Land and Freedom, they are basically propaganda pieces with a limited artistic vision. Sweet Sixteen is the story of a kid whose Mom is in prison on drug charges. He wants to build a new life with her so he works to get her a new place to live for when she gets out. It ultimately doesn't work and disaster results. This story is as political as anything Loach has done. What he's saying is that we can't look at working-class kids who do stupid things and end up in prison as criminals. They are beseiged on all fronts, especially by the adults in their lives. They often want to do better but it's very hard. This is at least as profound as most movies Loach has done. It's much the same as political music--shut up with the propaganda and tell your story. Loach has done that here and he's made a hell of a good movie.

3. We talk about an English language. As if it were one thing. We all know that people speak differently. People who grow up in rural Alabama, the Bronx, North Dakota, and the San Fernando Valley all speak differently, not to mention England and Australia. But Jesus that working-class Scottish accent is difficult. Completely incomprehensible. Thank God for subtitles. Even reading the subtitles, I could understand maybe 1/2 of what they said. To some extent it's the local jargon but most of it is that they are basically speaking another language. I also found the use of the word "cunt" remarkable. In the US, it's basically a taboo word. There are a few words less accepted, but they are few. Evidentally, in Scotland this is not the case. It's a perjorative, no question. But it seems to serve a pretty much catch-all purpose. Hey, maybe I can start a similar trend here....